Monday, 29 September 2014

Book Review - Shout, Sister, Shout! Gayle F Wald

This book is a billed as "The Untold Story or Rock N Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe".

Some of you may recall my waxing lyrically about Sister Rosetta when celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Chorltonville blues gigs that ITV recorded in April 1964.  By then Sister Rosetta had over 20 years been at the head of her game.  Over the years principally known as a gospel artist she crossed into Swing in the early 40s to much controversy and then was accepted particularly on the European side of the Atlantic into the secular blues boom of the late 50s and 60s.

This book charts her entire life and career and is a fascinating read.  It is more a scholarly biographic work than a story and reads as such so whilst extremely well researched and very thorough it sadly isn't a whirlwind story.  Which is a shame since her life was like that, even to signing a deal to hold a wedding in 7 months as part of a huge gospel service/gig without a husband available!  She delivered the husband and the service/gig drew a crowd of over 20,000!  Just one of the great stories of her life.

Now my interest comes in her incredible guitar playing, I never realised how important she is in the development of blues/rock guitar.  She was a great acoustic player before electric guitars came along but along with T-Bone Walker she realised you could play an electric guitar differently, the increased sustain and note clarity on a solid body meaning she rewrote how to solo.  Also she was at one with the instrument.

So I'll give this book a single thumbs up on my scale - but that is a bit unfair given the quality of the story and the terrific research that has gone into it, just I'd have loved a more passionate involved personal narrative but that is me...

Go search her out on YouTube and other places - esp on the YouTube stuff and watch her strutting around and playing great solos infront of gospel choirs on USA tv shows, the brief but brilliant Chorltonville appearance is just terrific too.

Here are a two Youtube clips that sum her up in the 60s Didn't It Rain from Chorltonville and Up Above My Head from a US TV Gospel show - but do search out more and read the book which catalogues her life superbly. 

Sadly Sister Rosetta died in October 1973 just days after I got my first guitar for my 11 birthday from a blood clot on the brain brought on by diabetes over a number of years when she never sought treatment, she'd had to have a leg amputated after a stroke in 1970.

Now ... watch this woman... then remember she is this rocking black woman guitar toting genius in a time when she could barely get served in many hotels and restaurants in her home states.  Such an amazing lady and story.
I recommend the book highly 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

New project....

So my birthday is fast approaching... 52 before you ask...

Mrs F graciously offered to buy me a guitar kit again!  So following on from my Tele Build a while back I've ordered a Strat shaped 12 string ... yes you did just read that right.  I don't have an electric 12 string and this is a cheap and fun way to get one into the collection.

So the kit has everything you need - including a set of strings and a cable, both of iffy quality frankly!  I've ordered some finishing kits from Wudtone who's product I used on the Tele.  I've decided to used their neck finishing kit too this time since because the Danish Oil on the Tele neck was ok but I was so impressed with the body finish from Wudtone I thought I'd go for the neck kit too.

What I plan to do is not as complicated as the Tele build which is you remember I updated the pickups and ultimately the bridge as well, with this one I was going to build it as is... However I've spent an hour or so exploring some electrical options.  So I do plan a couple of electrical mods.

Firstly the wiring has no tone on the bridge pickup, standard strat, now my Squier is fitted with USA Standard electrics from the mid 90s with a TBX control on the middle and bridge.  Honestly the TBX added treble I don't get, it isn't needed so rarely use it but the ability to adjust (tame) the bridge pickup I've found indispensible.  So I plan to get the tone control into the circuit in a similar way... again I'll probably go for middle and bridge combined.  I've looked into the "magic seven" wiring too.  This is what Fender themselves offer on Strats with all single coils and fitted with the S1 switching system, which is a clever little button in the tip of the vol control, very discrete.  Now I don't think I'll splash out on new pots etc so I'm likely to just add a small switch somewhere on the scratchplate.  Essentially the "magic seven" adds just two sounds impossible to get on a standard strat namely; all three pickups on together and the bridge and neck on together.  I'll explain my choice of how I do this when I work on it all.

So... await some updates in the coming weeks.  I think the set up of a 12 string might test my patience just a little! 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Theatre review - To Kill a Mockingbird

Mrs F, Daughter-of-Furtheron and I went to the theatre last night to see a touring production of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Really enjoyed it.  I was half wondering how they'd stage it, the book is long with a complex set of intertwining plots written from a young girls point of view.  Through her innocence and naivety she exposes the prejudice and bigotry she sees in adults around her.  That is one of the things that makes Harper Lee's astonishing novel one of the most studied texts in the world of the English Language.  Also there is a lot of different settings, the Finch family yard, the Radley House, the street they live in and the courthouse where the trial of the negro Tom Robinson is the climax of the whole story.

The actors play characters but also take it in turns to be narrators reading as though Scout directly from the book.  This was clever, reminding you it was Scout's point of view throughout.  At the beginning of the play the stage which had been constructed on a slope toward the audience was a plain stage with little props other than the tree in the Finch's yard that is key in points of the story.  The actors with big lumps of chalk, like kids do near me where you can pick chalk up out the ground (we live on the chalk upland known as the Downs in England) drew out the street the houses etc.  This gave it a playground look and feel - making you feel again like seeing it through a child's eye as the book intended.

For the main courtroom drama the full stage was used but cleverly all the actors were position so that you the audience were made to feel like the jury.  Whenever an actor addressed the jury they looked straight out into the audience.  Of course this drew you in you felt sure you couldn't have returned any other verdict except... (I'll not spoil it if you are one of the dozen who don't know the story)... but of course this was in 1935 in Alabama and a Negro was on trial for raping a white woman.  What would I have done?  Again a theme in the book is repeated where Atticus Finch tried to get his children to see the world from other peoples points of view, so by making you feel part of the jury you are drawn into this conundrum of believing you would act in a certain way, but as someone 70 years on in a completely different multicultural society.

Brilliant all round, great writing to move it to the stage but not lose some important aspects of the text, clever production again to help with that setting of the point of view of the audience aligning with key characters of themes within the story.  Go see it if you get the chance!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

London Acoustic Guitar Show

I made what now seems to be becoming an annual pilgrimage to the Olympia Conference Centre last weekend to the LAGS.

The show was similar to last year with many of the main players even on exactly the same stands.  Taylor, Yamaha, Martin, Lowden all there along with big distributors like JHS showing off the latest and greatest models.

Highlights - Yamaha, the new LL/LS range is stunning.  I played a couple but the LS16 I tried was totally gorgeous, a good show offer on price made me struggle to hand it back and walk away frankly but I can't justify another guitar expense like that really.  Faith impressed me again this year if not more so than last, work with Patrick Eggle as designer they have a great range.  I tried several models and all impressed, from the naked parlour, mahogany topped auditorium sized cutaway model, all sounded and felt good.  I was most impressed with their High Gloss Parlour model though that was really nice.

Auden were another company that impressed.  I tried a couple of models out which impressed a mahogany topped parlour and a model with a thinner body designed for use in a rock band setting - that did seem to gut through the hubbub of a guitar show well so I think it would work well in that setting.

The biggest highlight of the day was attending the Jon Gomm masterclass.  Jon is just an unbelievable player.  He took some time out to explain some of the techniques he uses particularly around his two handed technique and talking about doing something with melody, rhythm and bass.  He joked his pet hate being youtube videos he sees with people playing an "irritating" motif with the left hand over a boring right hand bass line.  He graciously answered questions about how he amplifies and how it trains his hands - hours of endless scale and chromatic patterns which he wondered why others didn't do... because Jon it is bloody hard work that's why most of us just give and and play a tune!  Also seeing Darren Hodge play at the cafe whilst waiting for the masterclass was great - really impressive player.

Accompanying the show was "Electric Live" on the floor beneath, which whilst a bigger floor was less densely populated with stands.  And sadly people, the LAGS floor was crammed whilst the electric one was more empty when I walked around.  Got to try a Fret King John Etheridge model, not plugged in sadly but felt nice, I'd love a nice semi and this ticks the boxes, although I wasn't too impressed with the nut on the model I tried, it was ok but the slots way too deep.  Also played an Ibanez Artist which was a stonking guitar.  That was via a Laney Ironheart amp which was super impressive too.

Things that didn't impress so much...   The level of noise as ever at one of these events makes it so difficult to judge anything really.  The vol of some of the demos in the electric hall in particular given it was quiet empty meant they carried way too far... yes Music Man I'm talking about your Devil Duel thing - fun but it did drown out the Yamaha stand where I was trying to hear a Pacifia I was trying out!  Having to pay extra for the masterclasses this year meant I limited myself to only one.  Before they were first come first served on the day and free.  I'd prefer that again so I could see more of them.  A couple of guitars were a little let down ... in particular I tried a Tanglewood parlour, they get good press Tanglewood but I wasn't impressed it was flat and bland in comparison to the Faith's I tried.  Probably just one persons sugar and all that but I picked it up expecting to be impressed and I sadly wasn't.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014


We interrupt the normal programming on this blog for a party political statement from our sponsor....

I've been watching with interest the Scottish Independence debate as the date for the poll gets closer.  The YES campaign slowly catching up the NO vote to the point where now in some polls the YES vote is predicted to win (btw how can a poll of approx 1,000 reflect the outcome from an electorate about 4 million?).

OK - cards on the table here, whilst not a Scot and living about as far away from Scotland as it is possible to in the UK I want them to stay in the Union.  Why?  Well I just feel we are better together (as the slogan goes).  I feel that it is better to work together on the issues of inequity in society etc.  I also like that the Scots are very pro the EU and I'd like to stay in that, losing them before that referendum may be a blow to the rest of the UK.

However I do feel now strongly that the Scots are getting their vote next week that the rest of the UK should have the right of reply on some of the issues raised.  Let us say they vote YES. The timetable then says that they will negotiate a separation with the rest of the UK.  This is a huge deal for everyone in the UK questions like
  • How much of the UK debt will Scotland take on?
  • Defence strategy?
  • Use of the pound in Scotland...

Do the rest of the electorate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland get any say?  We've seen the disaster of the Eurozone in recent years where currency integration without political integration has been a major problem, the slow recovery in the Eurozone is a direct result of this problem.  I'll admit some years back I thought we should rush into the Euro to help the UK in its trade with the rest of the EU.  Now our decision not to is completely vindicated and I'm a born again pound supporter.  So would I like a "Poundzone"?  No.  Simple Eurozone didn't work I fail to see any argument to convince me otherwise.  Also if Scotland is a new sovereign state then they can't get entry to the EU without taking the Euro by my reading of the rules.

The Scottish YES campaign have long stated that they would ensure the removal of UK nuclear weapons from Scottish bases.  To me therefore they cannot be part of a unified defence strategy - rightly or wrongly we currently maintain a nuclear deterrent, once you have that decision made then your whole defence strategy has to be worked around that both strategically and from a cost base point of view.  I fail to see how you can have a truly integrated strategy with one party not committed to that strategy.

Interesting that 4 million (less than half the population of London) seem to be determining some major issues for the rest of the country without those people then having a right of reply I feel.  Is this truly democracy at work?

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Gigs coming up

First of all on Sunday there is the next Rochester Music Cafe night... this one is "rock night".  This'll make you laugh... see for me you say rock and I'm in the late 60s and 70s, Hendrix, Cream, Purple et al.  But that's cos I'm an old fogey I suppose.  I forget many of those involved in the Cafe project are younger than my Strat and therefore to them rock means the 80s, big hair, tight trousers and boys with eye liner.  Anyway a set comprising of Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi and Heart is on order and I've been busy learning them.  Incidentally (just realised that is the word to use rather than the increasingly seen btw) I took the plunge and accepted an offer to sign up to Tab Pro via Ultimate Guitar Tabs.  Whenever I look for tabs seems that Tab Pro gets good ratings anyway I was offered some one off life time (we'll see about that!!) membership for about $45 or £32 (ish) which seemed better than the monthly subscription it has offered me before.  Often I buy sheet music from MusicRoom and or download tabs etc. but the advantage with Tab Pro is that it is interactive, you can loop a section etc. and whilst the built in sounds are naff actually that is an advantage as you do just hear the pure notes which helps me a bit.  I might do a brief review after a bit more use.

Secondly after over a year when I haven't played any solo acoustic gigs I've landed one in early October.  Via a local "find a musician" facebook page I joined yonks ago I saw someone looking for a couple of opening acts to play 20 min sets at a new live/jam night at a local pub. Finally for once rather than pondering what set, would I fit in etc. I simply sent him a message with a link to my Soundcloud page and within an hour was on the bill.  Now the panic sets in about - what set, will I fit in... haha.  Actually I plan to play a set mostly of instrumental pieces - well we'll see that is the thought at the moment.  More on that anon.