Tag Archives: music

When is a bad gig not a bad gig?

As musicians, we all have our share of bad gigs – myself included. It’s worth remembering though, that regardless of how you felt a performance went, the audience doesn’t necessarily share your feelings.

I’ll give you an example: I played at a venue a while back where I really struggled to hear what my percussionist and I were playing due to inadequate sound separation between where we were playing and another room where a rock band had been booked. As an acoustic act, there was no way we were going to win that battle! I came off stage thinking ‘well that one was a write-off’ – despite trying to keep a professional front on things, I felt that my performance really suffered. I hadn’t played as well as I know I can, and I beat myself up for letting the situation get on top of me.

That ‘awful’ gig got a glowing review from one of the audience members, which he kindly shared on my Facebook site.

An even more poignant example is described in the post below from Rennie Sparks on the DIY Musician blog:

DIY Musician – How Good Things Can Come From the Worst Gigs

I’ll leave you with a quote from Rennie’s post, as it’s a nice summing up:

“…every chance you’re given to offer your art to the world is a chance for adding meaning to life (yours and other people’s). You may not know how meaningful your work is for some time. You may never know. Have faith, though, that what you’ve put your heart into will speak to the heart of another… It adds up.

There have been many other “horrible shows” along the path of my musical career, but the amazing thing is this: There have also been just as many times when fans have told me that they first saw us play and fell in love with our music at a show I remember distinctly as being god-awful, ignored, meaningless.”


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Two Thousand Trees 2013 – A Review

This review is a touch late (by about 6 months), but here goes anyway.

It’s now February, and, after one of the wettest starts to the year on record, my memories of 2000Trees Festival last summer have faded into a happy, hazy blur.

2012’s festival was defined by mud. Mud, mud, mud. Mud in rivers throughout the site. Oh, and rain. That’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, but the weather made most things a struggle. Last year, however, was like some mystical force had decided – for the first time in the festival’s history – that it was about time that Trees didn’t have any rain at all. In blazing Gloucestershire sunshine; 2013 would be defined by heat.

But the weather isn’t the main reason you go to a festival; Two Thousand Trees prides itself on lining up the best underground UK bands, and that pride is not misplaced. Over the years I’ve seen a few bands play here who have gone on to enjoy greater success, Frank Turner being the obvious example.

The line-up this year included two sets from Frank on the Thursday Early Entry and Friday nights, but as a firm favourite here, he popped up unofficially too and for each performance was greeted like a returning hero. Thursday night’s solo performance was a personal highlight for me, especially as I missed his ‘secret’ set* over at Camp Reuben on Friday. There was a good reason for this though – wandering round the site, we’d bumped into Dave McPherson trying to find his way up to the new secret garden area, accompanied him up there and stuck around to watch him play his own secret set. Which was awesome.

Other weekend music highlights included InMe in the Cave (which left me with moshpit bruises, but was so much fun – and loud… really loud!), Stealing Sheep’s impressive and innovative set headlining the Leaf Lounge, which ended in an outdoor un-amplified performance with their marching band (a joyous thing indeed), Stornoway on the main stage (despite sound issues that delayed the start of their set) and an emotional Ben Marwood playing to an adoring crowd at the Treehouse.

Ben Marwood at 2000Trees 2013

Ben Marwood at 2000Trees 2013

And let’s not forget eating icecream from the Split Screen Icecream Company, basking in the shade of the tree with cider, playing on the busk stops scattered through the site, and the delicious freshly-made pizza.

There were one or two negatives – the heat over the weekend was intense (the temperature in our tent was 50°C at one point! Phew) and hard to cope with at times (not that I am knocking the sunshine, just not being able to take a break from it), the sound on the main stage had a few more issues than it has in previous years, and a few people that we spoke to reported problems with security.

For me though, 2000Trees is still a fim favourite festival and I am definitely going to return again this year for more of the same – great line-up, great food and great times.


*I seem to have a habit of missing Frank’s unofficial appearances at Trees – the first year we went, hubby and I woke up to singing in the middle of the night, thinking ‘that sounds like Frank Turner…’. Too tired to get up and investigate, we discovered in the morning that it was indeed Mr Turner, resulting in a now-legendary campsite sing-along, which we missed.

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What Is ‘Real’ Music Anyway?

There’s a lot of discussion among music fans about what is ‘real music’ and what’s not. Usually, it’s more a question of ‘manufactured’ versus ‘proper musician’, which can lead to some frank and pretty derogatory discussions. It is, however, a difficult question answer when you really think about it, but for what it’s worth – here’s my twopence…

When we think about ‘real’ music, what we’re really talking about is how authentic the artist appears to be. Authenticity is about two things; how the artist portrays themselves, and the strength of their musical connection with the listener. When an artist makes a positive connection through their music, they create a relationship with the listener and this is the basis of fandom; the listener begins to buy in to the music and to the artist.

When an artist is fully involved with the production of their music, and are seen to have creative control over it, the connection between fan and artist seems more direct, and thus more powerful. The artist is able to communicate effectively through their songs and through their media image exactly what they wish to portray, whatever genre or style they are working within.

‘Manufactured’ music that appears to be controlled heavily by outside influences (such as producers, additional songwriters and industry professionals) can, arguably, be less effective at creating these same strong relationships with music fans. The  relationships are more transient and changeable, often with the fans quickly moving on to the next big thing.

But the question is, does this make the music any less ‘real’? It may not have been written by the artist who is performing it, it may have snazzy production and Auto-tuned* vocals, but this is nothing new. All music has to be created by someone, be that a producer or the artist themselves. Someone has put their time and energy into writing, playing and recording the songs that you’re listening to. You might not like it, but then that’s your perogative.

So when the latest hit by whomever is topping the charts comes on the radio for the millionth time it’s very easy to dismiss it as manufactured, even when you understand the work that goes into making it. But the truth is, what’s happening there is simply the listener not connecting with the music that they are hearing. Even a self-confessed music snob like me can find examples of pop productions that I enjoy.

In the end, I think, it boils down to two types of music – that which you as a listener can find a connection with, and that which you can’t. You could call this ‘good’ and ‘bad’ if you like (and yes, we all often do!), but really it’s about music you like and music you don’t. It’s all down to taste.

*More on Auto-tune in a future post me-thinks

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Ells’ Helpful Guide To Music Things Part 4: Surviving Your First Open Mic

Ok, this post is a bit of a re-hash of a piece I did for the 4014 Radio show back in the day, but seeing as it’s nearly time for our annual 4014 Project Carnival Open Mic, I thought it would be good to go over again.

So, it’s your first Open Mic – that’s great! I hope you’re excited, but I expect that you’re pretty nervous too. Here’s my tips for making the most of your Open Mic experience:

  • Preparation – Practice, practice and then practice some more. Remember that you will be nervous on the night, and that this might make your performance a little less than perfect. The better you know your songs or pieces the better you’ll feel.

    Open Mics are a great opportunity to improve your stage presence and performance skills – the best way to get more confident on stage is to get on stage. They generally have a supportive and encouraging atmosphere too.

  • DO IT – If it’s your first time performing in front of a crowd, it takes guts to actually get up on the stage. Every musician out there will tell you that it’s worth it though.
  • Make Yourself known – There will probably be a slightly stressed looking somebody around with a list: that’s the person you need. Let them know that you want to play. I would try to get there early(ish – you don’t want to hang around tooo long), so that you’re guaranteed a place.
  • Are we sitting comfortably? – Position yourself so that you can comfortably sing into the mic. If you  need to look at the neck of your guitar or the keys of the piano (or whatever instrument you play), move the mic/mic stand so you can do so without singing ‘off mic’. Moving things about is not a crime – remember, the sound person wants you to sound your best, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

    As a side note, it’s a very good idea to practice with a mic if you can – it’ll help you get a good idea of the best placement for you.
  • Annnd relax….– Before you start your performance, take a deep breath and a second to try to relax. Your adrenaline level will probably be quite high, so it’s easy to rush in and play too fast.
  • Look at the audience… – Looking at the audience will make you seem more confident, regardless of how you’re feeling inside. If that freaks you out or puts you off, try looking over the audience. You don’t have to do it all the time, but if you don’t look up at all, you won’t make as strong a connection with your listeners.
  • Ignore the Chatter – There probably will be some people in the audience who talk. If you can, just try to ignore them. There are people who are listening, and they want you to do well.
  • Don’t worry if you make a mistake – It’s live music – nobody expects it to be perfect. All musicians have messed up on stage. If you can’t keep going, try to pick up from near where you left off. And if you’re bold and make a joke of it, then I bet you’ll get an even bigger cheer at the end of the song.
  • And finally – enjoy!Performing music in front of people is nerve-wracking, yes. But it’s also a great feeling, and once you start it’s hard to stop!

I hope you enjoy your first Open Mic experience – but even if things don’t go quite to plan, remember that it takes time to build your confidence and the more you get up on stage and play, the easier it will become.

The nerves may never leave you completely (I certainly still get nervous, and I’ve been at this for years now), but it’s all part of the experience, and the buzz after a great performance is pretty immense.

Why not share your experiences in the comments? I love hearing from you – and maybe I’ll even see a few of you at an Open Mic near by.

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My Essential Festival Checklist

It’s nearly festival time!

Festival campsite

2000trees campsite, 2010 (I think)

The first ‘proper’ festival that we’re attending this year is TwoThousandTrees near Cheltenham. It’s a great little festival and I am definitely looking forward to it, despite the doom and gloom forecast by our friends at the Met Office.

Hubby and I have been to a fair few festivals together over the years, so we like to think that we’ve got the preparation part down to a fine art (through learning experiences like that time we forgot both matches and lighter so we couldn’t light our camping stove…).

So, in the hopes of helping out first time revellers and in excitement for this momentous weekend coming, I thought I’d share my list of festival essentials for the prepared and happy camper:

  • Tickets – Seems pretty obvious, but don’t forget your tickets! And not just your festival tickets – make sure you have your travel or parking tickets sorted too.
  • Money – There’s usually a cash machine somewhere on a festival site, but there’s also usually a massive queue. Bring enough to keep you going, but keep it safe.
  • Tent and sleeping bag (of course) – Your home for the duration. Check that your tent and bedding are still ok before going if you haven’t used them for a while. Or, if you’ve got a shiny new tent, make sure you know how to put it up. Ever tried to put up an unfamiliar tent when it’s pouring and all your stuff is getting soaked? Believe me, it’s not fun.
  • Emergency phone – Note the word emergency there.. It is a most sensible thing to have a phone with you, especially if you’re with a group. But please, please don’t spend your whole time texting when you’re watching bands. It’s annoying for the people around you, and it’s more fun for everyone if you let yourself get into the music (sorry, personal bug-bear!).
  • Waterproofs – If you’re out in a field for a few days with only a tent for shelter, it’s bound to rain at some point – this is Britain! And with the summer being as wet as it has been this year, forget your waterproofs at your peril….
  • Wellies and comfy welly socks – Wet ground gets pretty churned up with thousands of people treading on it, so wellies are a definite must. It always amazes me how often you see people wandering around sporting the ‘soaked trainers with ineffective plastic bags over the top’ look.

    The welly socks are a must for me to help stop my always-very-cold feet getting very cold. It won’t work, but I’ll try anyway. Thick socks also keep your feet comfy when you have to walk around a lot between stages.
  • Suncream and Shades – It’s unlikely to be sunny for 2000Trees this year (boo!), but even wet days can have sunny spells. Don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun as you can get burnt much more quickly than you expect, especially if you’re fair-skinned like me.
  • Torch – Guy ropes are hard enough to see in the daytime, let alone at night. Sites normally have lighting round the stages, but getting through a mess of tents without a torch (and after a few drinks) is very, very tricky.
  • Wipes and Loo Roll – Toilet wipes and wet wipes/baby wipes. Baby wipes are good for general hygiene/cleaning up. Toilet wipes and toilet paper for any nasty surprises in the cubicle… put them in your bag or pocket so you’re not caught out! I don’t normally recommend specific products on this blog, but Method Flushable Wipes are pretty good and are environmentally friendly too.
  • Snacks – There’s some pretty tasty food stalls at festivals these days, but the cost of buying ALL your food on site adds up. Hubby and I normally take snacks and some emergency tins of beans etc. And tea. Because I run on tea.
  • Camping Stove and Pans – To heat up said emergency beans. Washing up gear is useful too, but bulky – hubby and I tend to take a sponge and then use our bigger pan as the bowl… a tea towel is also helpful when you don’t have anywhere to put wet pans. Oh, and don’t forget the lighter…
  • Prescription Medicines/Minor Injury Kit – If you have to take medicines regularly then you’ll probably automatically pack them, but it’s easy to forget everyday remedies like hay fever medicine (might just be me…!). Take some plasters, antiseptic wipes/cream and some insect bite cream for those minor mis-haps, and take note of where the medical tent is so you know where to go on the off-chance that something more serious happens.
  • Clothes – Take clothes that layer well together. Being a comfort-over-fashion kind of girl, I am definitely an advocate of bringing plenty of warm comfy clothes, which is a challenge when trying to pack lightly. However, even if you’re a proper fashionista, layers are still a good idea – then you can look good and be warm.

    It’s a good idea to keep a spare set of clothes in your tent that do not leave it. That way you’ve always got something dry to put on. Trust me, it can make a heck of a difference after a couple of hours in the rain.
  • Scissors and String – It’s really surprising how often you need a pair of scissors when you don’t have any to hand. And string is useful for lots of festival things: stringing up a banner so you can find your tent easily, bodged tent repairs, tying stuff to your rucksack to make it easier to carry home – the list goes on.
  • Main stage, 2000Trees

    Main stage, 2000Trees 2009 (not sure who’s playing, sorry)

  • Your sense of fun – Seeing as most of this list is full of sensible advice about being prepared, it’s worth remembering that festivals are about fun, music and letting yourself go a bit. So enjoy!

I’ve probably forgotten something – but hopefully this list will help you be festival-ready, especially if it’s your first time. Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve missed something important, or if you have any of your own tips for festival survival. I love hearing from you!

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Productiveness and Practice

Image from oddquartet.com – print it out and stick it on things! You know you want to…

Practising: I am well aware that I need to do it, but I have a tendency to either get distracted by other things, or lapse for weeks if I don’t have performance to prepare for.

But, as I mentioned in my post the other week I’ve recently started taking piano lessons again. It’s been going pretty well so far – in four (five?) lessons I have three pieces that are starting to come together and I’m pleasantly surprised how quickly things are coming back to me. I’m pleased that I’m remembering how to read music again (which I haven’t done seriously since I left university… in 2004). But the main thing that starting lessons has given me – something to practise for every week.

My previous experience of piano lessons has been draconian attitudes and pressure to pass exams*, so it’s been a really refreshing experience to go to a teacher who told me on my first lesson ‘yeah, if you can get 15-30 minutes in 4 or 5 time a week, you’ll see some improvement’. And I am.

What I’ve tried to do these past few weeks is to keep track of how long I have practised each day, and record it on a prettily coloured chart to keep myself accountable. I’ve included rows for guitar and vocal practise too… but to be honest, once I’ve worked through my piano practise, picking up the guitar feels like a treat and not a chore.

So, lately I’ve been playing a lot more and this is an excellent thing: time spent playing is never time wasted. However, I am starting to feel like I’ve actually been less productive. I don’t have anything physical to show for my work. Despite spending way more time in the music room, I haven’t progressed further on my never-ending album, nor have I written much new material or worked on the bits hubby asked me to do for the relaunch of the radio show.

I can’t help but think that I could do with a few more hours in the day to fit everything in.

Or maybe I just need to get more organised…

*I had several teachers growing up, but the two that I had most of my lessons with were also the two that I feared the most… The first scarred me emotionally for life and made me hate everything to do with playing (which explains why I quit several times). The second made me work really hard and actually got me through grade 5 with merit. I have a lot to thank her for, even if she did terrify the young me.

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Natural History, Gigs, Friends and OMFG I’m Tired…

Friday the 13th, and we packed up early to head for London.

The main reason for our trip? A chance to see Frank Turner headlining Wembley Arena. The reason for the earliness? Dinosaurs! Specifically, an opportunity to go the Natural History Museum while we were in the area anyway.

Dinosaur at the Natural History Museum, London

We rocked up (see what I did there…?) at the museum in the early afternoon, expecting it to be busy but perhaps not queue-for-30-minutes-to-get-in-to-the-dinosaur-exhibit busy. Never mind: we’re British; we can queue with the best of them – and it was totally worth the wait. We spent hours wandering through throngs of people, taking in skeletons and fossils, birds and beasts preserved for posterity, and even the building itself, which is an impressive maze of exhibits and ornately decorated with all sorts of cool panels. The more modern Darwin Centre was really interesting too, with lots of interactive displays and stuff for kids (and big kids like me) to play with.

Dinosaur at the Natural History Museum

Ornate Pillar at the Natural History Museum

On to the big gig: I won’t ramble on about how awesome I think Frank Turner is – I’ve already done that many a time on this here blog – but I will say this: if anyone deserves to sell out a Wembley show, it is Frank. The man works hard, I tells ya.

Hubby and I were seated up in the rafters where we could hear the crowd almost as much as the band – and it was seriously the biggest sing-along I have ever heard. Almost every person knew almost every word to almost every song. And as much as I would have loved to have been jumping about down in the pit, hearing that from where we were was pretty fucking cool.

Support from Beans on Toast, Dan le Sac & Scroobious Pip and Billy Bragg was all good too – even if Beans on Toast did only manage to finish one song (he was charming enough to get away with it)!

The morning after, and the journey back was broken up only by a brief stop in Reading for an over-due catch up with our good friends Hayley and Mel over tea and hot cross buns. Which was nice.

A short stop at home, and we were off again – this time over to Cheltenham to catch some of the Trees on Fire Spring Fling mini festival at The Frog and Fiddle.  By this point I was a bit too tired to really pay attention to band names (getting old, see… and the cider may not have helped), so I can’t really point out my highlight sets other than Andy Oliveri and Ben Marwood, both of whom I’ve seen and met before (yep, favouritism, I admit it). There was a ska-type band that I liked early-ish in the afternoon, and the last band we saw (Arcane Roots, I think) were excellent – hard, heavy and dynamic.

Didn’t have a camera with me, but here’s DominicMeason’s photos of the event.

And then just like that it was Sunday, which I probably should have spent resting but decided instead to try to dig over some of my garden, and then fell asleep at just the right point to prevent me from sleeping at a sensible bed time.

I may have nearly fallen asleep at my desk today, but it was totally worth it. It’s been a hell of a weekend.

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