Aug 7 2011

Westminster To Introduce Evening & Weekend Parking Charges: A Rant

Many of you, especially musicians, will already be aware of Westminster Council’s plans to introduce evening and Sunday parking charges in London’s West End later this year. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Until now there has always been free meter and single yellow spaces after 6.30pm and on Sundays. Like there are all around the country. Westminster Council proposes to scrap the free parking period until midnight during the week and up to 6.30pm on Sundays. They also plan to put the hourly parking rate up to a preposterous £5.00 an hour.

There has already been strong protest from local businesses, musicians and Westminster churchgoers, many of whom travel from outside the parish to attend services on a Sunday morning. I first heard talk of these proposals at the beginning of the year and assumed the plans had since been quashed but yesterday I learnt the plans were still being pushed through to be implemented towards the end of the year.

In these times of cutbacks in arts funding these measures will have serious impact on the currently thriving music and theatre scene in London’s West End. Many Londoners (especially the elderly) visiting the West End of an evening need to travel by car in order to get home at the end of the night as public transport link shut down and a taxi proves prohibitively expensive, not to mention those who live out of town.

Musicians like myself will find gigs in town (and we’re talking specifically about Soho, Covent Garden and Marylebone here) are no longer financially viable. The average common-or-garden jazz gig in town will pay between £40 and £80 per night. The extended parking charges would cost me an extra £20-£25 per night, not to mention the dreaded Congestion Charge if the soundcheck was before 6pm. Many London gigs would simply be wiped out as musicians and patrons are priced out of the West End by the sheer expense of the visit. I have no choice but to drive to gigs with all the large and heavy equipment I need to carry, plus the fact that I live out of town and have no easy access to public transport. I’m sure the last thing Westminster Council wants is for me to rock up at tube stations with a double bass and an amp. Not to mention the drummers… And at the end of the night when the tube and train services have stopped running, how are we meant to get home safely?

Dave Webster, of the Musicians’ Union, says

Musicians are often required to work unsociable hours and carry heavy and valuable instruments and equipment that makes it difficult and risky to use public transport.

Many of our members are self-employed and are not sufficiently well-paid to be able to afford the proposed extended parking charges.

Westminster Council have justified these planned measures by stating that it will keep traffic flowing through the capitol and raise up to 7 million pounds in additional revenue. They also state that many of the West End’s NCP carparks are empty of an evening. They obviously don’t know how much it costs to park there for a few hours. The amount of available spaces of an evening when you remove the single yellow spots from the equation simply do not add up. The whole plan smacks of money-grabbing with little or no regard for the visitors and workers that make that part of our city thrive of an evening.

This simply cannot be allowed to go through. I trust the Musicians Union and local businesses are doing all they can to prevent the charges coming into force before it’s too late.

The plans are currently set to go into place in December for an 18 month trial period. Just long enough to kill the West End…

Jul 21 2011

Back at the National Theatre

Thought I’d drop a quick post to let you know what’s been happening of late. Those of you that follow me on Twitter will already know that for the past few weeks I’ve been back at the National Theatre working on a new series of plays.

The series is called Double Feature, and we perform two short plays per night. There are four plays in total and they will eventually alternate each night. They are:

  • Edgar & Annabel by Sam Holcroft
  • The Swan by DC Moore
  • Nightwatchman by Prasanna Puwanarajah
  • There Is A War by Tom Basden

We’ve just finished three previews of the first two plays and are about to start technical rehearsals for the next two. The plays are being staged in the National Theatre’s Paint Frame which has been transformed into a unique performance space. This is the first time the space has been used to stage theatre and everyone is really excited about the project.

We have a four piece band drawn from the Duke Special gang. Our MD is Ben Castle and we are joined by Phil Wilkinson and Mark Edwards. We’ve got some great music and I’m getting a chance to play my Dano 63 again which has been great fun.

I really love working at the National on the Southbank. It’s one of my favourite parts of London. I’ve also been taking the opportunity to take lots of photos with the wonderful Hipstamatic for iPhone (my latest obsession). Here’s a few choice pics from the last couple of weeks…

The press nights are in a couple of weeks so there’s still a little while to go with previews. Hopefully see some of you there in the near future. The Double Feature runs until September 10th.

Until next time 🙂

ps. I had another lovely review for The Knowledge of Things To Come on Guitar Jar last week. You can read the review Here.

Dec 18 2009

As One Adventure Ends.. So Another Begins…

Hello folks,

Well the last few months have indeed been an exciting time. As you’ll know from my last post, the National’s production of Mother Courage & Her Children has officially finished now. I must say it was a rather sad day when we played the last two performances. They were definitely the best shows of the run and the audiences were fantastic. There is all manner of talk regarding the possibility of touring the production next year and I shall of course let you know when anything becomes definite. I’m pretty sure that it won’t be the last we hear from Mother Courage.
Incidentally, there is a marvelous article on Fiona Shaw in todays Independent. Well worth a look if you have a spare five minutes. And don’t forget to order your copy of the Mother Courage album form the Duke Special Store. We’ve had some great feedback about the album. And an exciting development is afoot on the Duke’s website. Fans can now become more involved with the release of the new three-disc boxed set via Duke Special Pledges. This is a brand new way to get hold of the Duke’s music and gain access to exclusive demos, rough mixes and live tracks to videos, tour diaries and photographs from the road. And a percentage of the Pledge will be donated to DePaul Ireland. You can find more information on the Pledge Music website.
As one adventure ends… so another begins…
I have been interested in Indian classical music since I was a teenager and have always listened to classical artists such as Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and Vilayat Khan, as well as the more jazz-influenced artists such as Trilok Gurtu and John McLaughlin’s band Shakti. As Mother Courage came to a close, I was looking for a new project to occupy my (now considerable!) free time. So I decided to learn sitar!
A couple of weeks ago I ventured forth into Southall to the fantastic Jas Musicals where I met the lovely and very knowledgeable owner Harjit. I discovered that they hold classes (both individual and group lessons) in a space under the shop and then went about the tricky business of buying an instrument that I have no idea how to play!

Luckily Harjit was incredibly helpful and put me on the right track. I went for the slightly more expensive ‘Super Deluxe’ model (essentially a prettier version of the one below it seems) and booked my first lesson. I returned to the shop last week to meet my teacher Gush without a clue as to even sit with the instrument properly. It is amazing how much misinformation there is online regarding playing the sitar. I have found numerous websites giving me completely different accounts as to the tuning, sitting position and playing technique. I was also determined to learn properly from a teacher from the outset rather than form a host of bad habits from YouTube!
In my first lesson Gush showed me the proper half-lotus sitting position and how to tune the sitar properly with the aid of an electronic tanpura. Having demonstrated various playing techniques, we then moved on to the Indian solfege (the Sargam) and a series of exercises to get me used to playing up and down the neck. Just so you know (and partly to remind myself), the Swaras are as follows;
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa.
These are the Shudha notes (ie; natural). And seeing as the Sitar is generally tuned to a C#, they translate to Western notation as follows;
C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C#
In Indian music notation, the Swaras are represented by the letter names rather than notes on a stave as in Western music. Flattened notes are known as Komal (only Re Ga Dha and Ni can be Komal) and Ma can be sharpened to Ma Thevar. Singing is integral to learning the music so learning the Swaras will be my main objective this week through the exercises I have been given.
I have already booked my next session with Gush for next week and have been practicing all week. In fact, I haven’t enjoyed practicing like this for such a long time it has already proved incredibly therapeutic. Gush also recommended listening to lots of different musicians which has given me a great excuse to walk around with my iPod for hours on end. Joy!
I’m intending to post fairly regularly here about my experiences as I learn to play the sitar. Both as a kind of online practice diary for myself but also for anyone who might be learning. I have discovered some useful websites (having sifted through all the dross) which may prove useful to anyone with an interest in either the sitar or Indian music in general;
Sharda has possibly the best beginners lessons and some useful Alankars for those interested in learning the sitar.
SitarsEtc has some good information as to some of the tuning alternatives (Ravi Shankar or Vilayat Khan style)
The University of California at Berkeley has a great Hindustani music resource page which I have used to download free tanpura loops to practice with (until I get an electronic tanpura). And let me tell you, practicing with a proper tanpura drone is a joy. I really recommend it if you are starting out.

And here are a few of the exercises I am currently working on…
S.ND, NDP, DPM, PMG, MGR, GRS (The dot after/above Sa denotes the higher octave)
Should keep me busy until next Tuesday. I’ll let you know how I get on. Until then…