Space Elevator recording

August 20, 2015 | Posted in Bands, Space Elevator

I’ve been doing some more gigs with Space Elevator and and feeling a little more like a fulltime member of the band now that we’ve got our first recording session booked for new material. Exciting stuff!


Beelzebozo return – but not for long.

August 20, 2015 | Posted in Public Gigs

Most recently one of my old bands have got together to rehearse for a one-off gig on Saturday 5th September. We’ve been Beelzebozo for quite some time now but we stopped gigging a few years ago, tried to find a new member when our singer left, floundered about for some time before deciding to stop altogether and start something new. Within days of making that decision we’d been asked to reform for a gig with another Oxford band who’ve got back together for a one-off: Black Candy will also be playing and lending the event a little more class. We used to gig with these guys a lot years ago, so it will be good to relive the old days one more time.
The gig will be at the site of most of Beelzebozo’s gigs – the Wheatsheaf in Oxford. Tickets are officially sold out, but if you know me personally give me a shout; I may be able to lay hands on one or two…


Blakes Funk Project

July 20, 2015 | Posted in Bands, Blake's Funk

Recently I’ve been doing some gigs with the Blake’s Heaven’s funk offshoot – still not sure exactly whether there’s an official name yet but Blake’s Funk Project seems to be the favourite contender so far. After an initial demo recording we’ve decided we like the format so much we’ve started intense rehearsals looking to record another ten or so for the first album – watch this space..


Toneheadz – recording planned for jazz fusion band

June 10, 2015 | Posted in Bands, Recording

It seems to be the season for recording projects! The Toneheadz jazz fusion band are also about to start recording – rehearsals are tricky as we all live a fair distance from each other and are all quite busy, but we are planning a recording session in the near future. We’ve done some recordings of rehearsals and we’re enjoying how it’s all sounding so far, we’re just trying to book rehearsal and studio time that fits in with our schedules – always a tricky prospect even when there’s only three of you to think about!

We plan to get about 4 or 5 songs down to show a bit of variety in what we do, the idea being to get something quickly so we can start getting some gigs. We’ll be playing a mixture of covers and original material and are just starting to write more songs as a band.

The band are the rhythm section of Lost in Music – one of the function bands I regularly work with, and we’ve found we work well together which is how the idea of becoming a band of our own right came about. It’s going to be fun to write and record with this band!


Hard drive woes – nursing it through file transfer…

March 20, 2015 | Posted in General, Hints and tips, Studio

I’ve just replaced my main music computer. My ageing iMac was becoming unable to cope with what I ask of it (running Cubase and some video editing being my main concerns) without showing what a friend of mine has called “the rainbow wheel of perpetual patience” after every click of the mouse.

So just after I bought the new machine to replace it I started seeing one of my external hard drives was unexpectedly ejecting itself and showing signs of being in need of replacement too.

First opportunity I had (today) I started copying things off the external drive onto a new one, but already the drive was starting to stop even more often – I have about 250GB on this drive which I wouldn’t really want to lose and I was managing to copy about a gig at a time before the drive would shut down. It would spin up, appear in the Finder, I’d grab a few files, it would copy some of them, then it would stop. A message appears on the Mac saying “The disk was not ejected properly” then after a few seconds it spins up again, mounts, appears in the finder then the message about ejecting appears again.

If I switch the drive off for a while I can get a bit of use out of it (about 5-10 minutes) then it starts ejecting again.

A quick search led me to believe that the drive was possibly failing when it was getting hot, so out came the screwdriver and I took the drive out of its case. I stood the drive on its edge (to get the most of the surface area cooling) and directed a desk fan at it. This allowed my about an hour of use before it would get too hot and eject again. So I grabbed the most important stuff first and continued through until I’d copied everything over to the new drive.

Cooling an external hard drive to save files from certain death!

Luckily, I keep backups of everything *really* important but it’s tricky (and costly) to keep buying hard drives to keep enough backups (my previous work in IT tells me you can never have enough backups!) so some stuff is sometimes at risk. I’m just grateful I was able to copy everything using my rigged up cooling system – I’d like to think that this tip will be useful for someone else!


Public gigs January 2015

January 8, 2015 | Posted in Bands, Joe Carey Quartet (funky jazz), Public Gigs, The Missing Persians

Had a lot of private function work over the last month or so (lots of Christmas parties and works “do”s as you’d expect for the time of year) and not many gigs which are open to the public this month, but there are a couple of public gigs in January 2015 that I can mention:

The Missing Persians at Oxford Folk Club

The Persians will be performing about an hour of original music in a (mostly) unplugged session at The White House in Oxford on Friday 16th January 2015. Doors at 8pm and entry is £5

Joe Carey Quartet the Nags Head in Abingdon

The awesome Joe Carey on saxophones and featuring Rory McInroy on keys, Ben Twyford on drums (and some bass player) at the Nags Head in Abingdon on Sunday 18th January 2015. Music starts at 5pm and entry is free!

Would be great to see you at one or other of these (or both!)


Loading, storing and packing – strange gig!

December 6, 2014 | Posted in Public Gigs

I did a gig in a “boutique” hotel in Oxford last night. This should have been an easy gig for me as I live in the area – a lot of my gigs have me traveling all over the country so was looking forward to a quick drive home (and maybe even get a rare chance to see my girlfriend on a Saturday night before she went to sleep).

When I arrived at the hotel (about 45 minutes early) a very helpful member of staff helped me in with my amp and directed me to the area where the PA was waiting to get access to the room. We couldn’t go in just yet as the room was still in use from the previous clients (we were told they were being very slow to leave).

Once the room was actually clear we started loading equipment into the lift. The lift was capable of carrying 8 people, although these 8 would need to have very few hang-ups about personal space; it was very cramped! There was only one lift, so we had to share it with guests at the hotel and staff (being a polite band we obviously gave precedence to everyone else first) but although it was tricky, we managed to get everything into the stage area quite quickly.

Once we’d set up we started looking for somewhere to store all the various cases and bags a seven piece band with their own PA and lights might have with them. Again, helpful staff directed us to an area behind the stage and we started moving all the cases here. However, it quickly became apparent that this was not going to be big enough to store our cases and also fulfill its main purpose as a fire exit, so we were given access to one of the hotel rooms and moved all our cases in there.

We played the gig, a good crowd (an American company’s annual awards and Christmas bash) made the gig even more fun and come 1am we started to pack down our gear.

It was after we finished the gig and started packing down that we learned that someone had been given “our” room (the one with all our cases in) and was sleeping in there. Apparently they knew we’d be going in at some point during the night and wouldn’t mind…

I never really found out who this was, but I’m guessing it wasn’t a hotel guest as it’s unusual to have to share a room with a van load of drum and guitar cases and PA equipment boxes. A tap on the door and a few moments wait and no answer so we used the key to get in. Whoever had been given our room was fast asleep, so we spent the next 15 minutes tiptoeing in and out carrying our cases as quietly as possible.

If it was you I hope we didn’t disturb your sleep! Although seeing as the room was so close to the stage I’m guessing the sleeping person had some very good earplugs…


New bands and old bands

November 21, 2014 | Posted in Public Gigs

What with working on new original songs with, and trying to organise a tour for The Missing Persians, and fitting that around the various function band commitments that pay for my bread and gruel I’ve been pretty busy recently, which has meant I’ve not really been able to find the time to post on here. Not complaining though – it’s been a good summer for functions gigs and the pre-Christmas work has been steadily building which means I can look out for projects that I feel like doing rather than just taking whatever comes!

A real mixture of stuff’s been coming my way – I’ve been rehearsing with the small version of the Blake’s Heaven Big Band (which might be called “Blake’s Seven” or “The Blake’s Heaven Seven” or “The Blake’s Heaven Funk Project”) Whatever it ends up being called, it’s a stripped down version of the big band and plays a much funkier set of Nick Blake original tunes. Still a challenge, but something I can have a real connection with – as a bassist I do love playing the funk… Gigs are being booked for early next year and I can’t wait!

In a very different vein, I’ve also been rehearsing with a couple of guys from one of the function bands I play with – we’re working on some quite challenging material, featuring music by Tony Williams, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Joe Satriani, the Chick Corea Elektric Band among others. Some tricky time signatures and rhythms in much of this but we’re trying to choose pieces which still have a strong melodic content rather than just play things purely because they’re difficult! Still in the early stages but we hope to be doing some warm up gigs soon.

I’ve started working with a Queen tribute band. Queen had a great bass player in John Deacon – not flashy or flamboyant like Brian May or Freddie, but when you actually listen to the bass lines you can hear some very nice melodic stuff going on. Keeping the groove and doing what should be done for the song but with a lovely flourish just where it’s most needed; very satisfying to play. We’re also expecting to start gigging early in 2015. It’s not one of the “yellow jacket” Queen tribute acts, this band aim to recreate the songs with the fullness they deserve with live musicians rather than slavishly finding moustachioed front men and big-haired guitarists (which is lucky as I don’t look much like Mr Deacon).

Talking of Queen, I’ve also got a few gigs with a new band who have been compared to Queen – I’ll be playing with Space Elevator in December and possibly some more dates in the first half of next year. I’ve worked with both the singer and guitarist before and jumped at the chance to work with them again. They write some cracking songs and their singer The Duchess is as hilariously bonkers as you might have been led to believe!

Most recently the band that was Beelzebozo has been busy again. We struggled a bit this year after our singer decided to give up singing and we had some difficulty finding a suitable replacement. In the end it looks like the solution was right under our noses… We’ve promoted from within to fill the vocalist spot and could well have found another musician to join the fold and bring us back to being a four piece band again. The sound is likely to change a bit as we develop our style, but we expect to keep some of the old songs so it’ll be a progression rather than a brand new band. At the moment we’re thinking of it in terms of Beelzebo2.0

Of course, the biggest challenge of 2015 might be fitting it all in – if I get a bigger diary do you think this would help?


The Missing Persians – touring in 2015

November 2, 2014 | Posted in Public Gigs

I think we’ve had a really nice summer this year – not too hot, but regularly warm and dry, which has been great for the festival gigs! Sadly, the lovely weather we’ve been having has finally been replaced with some proper autumnal wind and rain and it feels like winter is just around the corner.

Fortunately there are a couple of interesting things on the horizon which gives me something to look forward to in 2015.

One of my bands (The Missing Persians) are discussing a couple of little tours next year – one in Italy and one in the Netherlands. No dates have been firmed up yet, but it’s looking likely that spring will see us playing among the windmills and possibly later in the year we could be visiting Potenza Picena. I’ve been to Holland a few times (I have some musical friends close to the German border) but I’ve yet to visit Italy so very hopeful that this comes together!

I’ll post more details when things get confirmed but while I’m sitting at my computer listening to the rain lashing against the windows at least it’s giving me a little bit of sunshine to look forward to!


The Missing Persians record their first album

July 21, 2014 | Posted in Bands, Hints and tips, Recording, Studio, The Missing Persians

After about a year of rehearsing and gigging, The Missing Persians decided to record their first album. It was released (or as our singer/songwriter Chris likes to say “escaped”) on Saturday 19th July 2014 at our Thamesfest performance – you can also hear and/or buy it from The Missing Persians Bandcamp page, either as a digital download or a physical CD.

We’ve all paid good money for recording time at studios, but there is something about the clock ticking away which can change the mood of a performance. Some people cope with the pressure better than others, but it only takes a technical problem with an instrument and you can lose a whole morning. That time has to either be paid for, or you are going to have to compromise on how much time you have to mix.

As we all had some previous experience with home recording, we recorded and produced it entirely ourselves (with a couple of exceptions in the last stages). I’m pretty pleased how it turned out, so I thought I’d note down some of the things we learned:

  1. You can record your band yourselves in your home studio

    Admittedly, we did have a rather motley selection of microphones that we’d all gathered over the past 20+ years of being in bands, but most of these were good ol’ Shure SM58s. Not hugely expensive, but robust and decent quality. Vocal mics were Seinheiser. We set up (two guitars and one bass) in our friend JJ’s living room, with the drums set up in an adjoining room. The drum room was padded a little with duvet/sleeping bags to reduce some of the echo of the room, and I set up in the doorway so Nick and I could have eye contact while we were recording. We also had a set of drum mics which cost about £200. One contraversial thing we did was use a small mixing desk to mix the drums down to a stereo pair. This was done because we only had 8 inputs in our sound card, and we did live to regret this choice as we were unable to use a few takes because the drum mix had changed at some point without us noticing. The whole lot went into a reasonable spec desktop PC running Reaper – I’m more of a Cubase fan myself, but Reaper didn’t take long to learn how to use and was a cheap, useable solution (we did it this way as a) we couldn’t fit in my small studio at home and b) I didn’t want to move my studio 25 miles up the road while we recorded the album).

  2. Choose the best overall performance rather than the fewest mistakes

    We wanted to have a “live” sound, so we recorded the songs pretty much live (without vocals), then did a few overdubs for vocals, guitar solos and fixes. Often there was a really good sounding take (but with a number of mistakes) versus a slightly less exciting take which was note perfect. I’m sure it’s always better to choose the one that sounds liveliest and try to fix it, rather than choosing one that’s “technically” correct but doesn’t have the feel. Listen carefully to some Beatles or early Bowie on some really good headphones and you can hear things which were clearly mistakes, but recording again might have never got the same feel as the version that made the album.

  3. Take a long time over the mixing process

    I don’t mean take months over it, but if you’ve not done much of this before you need to accept that to get the sound right you are going to have to do a lot of experimentation. Listen to the song and keep gently refining it. Remember everything you hear affects everything else you hear (we kept using the phrase the “three stooges affect” where it sounded like everything is trying to get out of the same frequency range in the speaker). We all took turns at rough mixes and some of the first attempts were quite surprising (not always in a good way!) We explored how to control levels of instruments with a little compression (to make the louds not SO LOUD) and then use EQ, volume and panning to find space in the speakers for everything to sit. In the end, it worked out best for one of us (somehow the job fell to me) to sit in a room and work on the mixes, then share (Dropbox) works in progress for comment (digital recording means you can keep multiple mixes – just remember to name them sensibly so you can tell which is which!) We then got together at mine for final tweaks just before we finished the mixes.

  4. Once you think you’ve got the mix right, listen to it on as many devices as you can.

    Just stands to reason; you don’t know what people are going to listen to it on (earbuds, audiophile equipment, massive PA, laptop speakers) and you should try to make it sound as good as it can on all of these. You’ll be surprised how the bass can overpower some systems and be completely missing from others.

  5. Pay someone else to master it

    Just because you know how to play an instrument, and know how you want your songs to sound, it’s tempting to look for some digital software with a “Make it sound awesome” button on it. I don’t think that’s going to happen; just spend a few hundred quid on getting someone trusted to have a listen with their ears. You may be amazed at what they pick out that you hadn’t noticed, and it will sound all the better for it. We used Tim Turan in Oxford and I think he was worth every penny.

  6. It will cost more than you think

    Even doing most of the job ourselves, it did cost us quite a lot of money (£2000+) to produce 500 CDs (PC, audio card, microphones, mastering, duplication) but recording at a studio would have meant we couldn’t have done it over the course of several weeks, couldn’t have decided after listening back to rough mixes that a particular song didn’t have the feel and let’s do it again, and couldn’t have experimented quite so much with sounds and overdubs. We were also able to stay relaxed through the whole process, and I think that was one of the most important factors in making music we are proud of.