Jul 2 2012

New Duke Record ‘Oh Pioneer’ Out Today!!

Ladies and gentlemen!! The new Duke Special record Oh Pioneer is released in the UK today!!

Oh yes indeed. It’s been a while since the last album came out but the wait is finally over. I spent a couple of days with the Duke in the studio earlier in the year to record some bass and lots of backing vocals along with Dorie Jackson and producer Paul Pilot. It was a really interesting album to work on and the recording process was so open and creative that the results are pretty special. All the backing vocals were put down very early in the proceedings so the arrangements were bulit up gradually around the songs themselves. Fantastic concept for building an album.

Here’s a little teaser video from the Duke sessions…

I recommend you all go out and buy this record immediately. I’ve been a big fan of Peter’s music since he supported The Divine Comedy back in 2006, way before I joined his band, and this is my favourite album of his to date. There are some fantastic songs on this record and it sounds beautiful thanks to the sterling work of Paul Pilot and engineer Dave Lynch.

Tell your mates…

And whilst you’re at it, you should also check our Paul Pilot’s new band Guidebooks. Their new EP In The Future has just bee released via Bandcamp. You can stream it below, or on their Bandcamp page. Enjoy! 🙂


Feb 18 2010

Back on the road with Maggie Reilly..

Hello folks

It’s been rather manic here so apologies for the distinct lack of bloggery. I’ve been involved with a number of projects over the last few weeks which I thought I’d take a moment to let you all know about.
The main development over the last fortnight, as those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, has been the little Danish adventure with Maggie Reilly. I drove up to Glasgow in the new bass-mobile a couple of weeks ago for three days of rehearsals. The lineup this time was slightly different and consisted of the usual core band of Maggie, Stuart MacKillop on keyboards, Gordon Dougall on rhythm guitar and keyboards and me on bass with the new additions of Ali Murray on drums and Jim Condy on lead guitar. We added a few new songs to the set this time including Replay, Echoes and Talking To Myself (which has become a favourite of mine live). I had no idea how cold it got in Glasgow compared to here in London. My Winter wardrobe leaves a lot to be desired and I found myself battling with the elements on more than one occasion. But that was nohing compared to how cold it was in Denmark…
We arrived in Denmark on the 10th to be greeted with huge mounds of snow, the like of which I have never really experienced. Apparently the Danes have not had snow like this for at least seven years and this kind of cold weather was particularly unusual, but it transpires that they are far more adept at dealing with the snow than us Brits. In fact we had no trouble at all with the roads or flights. Deep joy.
Our first show was at Rampelys. This was one of the first venues I’d payed in Denmark when I first started coming over with Maggie and it was great to revisit the place. It’s a great little folky club in Silkeborg with a fantastic Mexican restaurant underneath it. Needless to say we visited said restaurant straight after the soundcheck. It’s one of those clubs that seem to be quite common in Denmark where it is run by a society that pool their resources and bring in the acts they want to see. We were sold out with about 250 in the audience and ha a great time.
We played the Stubhuset in Stovring the following day, a slightly larger arts centre type venue with a much larger stage. The stage at Rampelys is a tad small for our six-piece lineup (it was tricky when we played there as a five-piece several years ago!), so it was great to have a bit more space. We had another appreciative if somewhat quieter audience. Maggie and Jim added in a bluesy version of Jesus on the Mainline which went down well.
We moved on to the Kielgasten in Holstebro on the Saturday. This was another venue we’d played before and one of my favourites (in fact, it was the place we played after my journey from Hell from Paris with TDC if you remember that particular blog post..). It’s a great little rock club, probably around the same size as the others (250/300 capacity) and has just the right atmosphere for a proper gig. It is a mixture of seated areas and standing so you feel far more connected to the audience. My favourite venue in Denmark is still the Train in Aarhus, which is entirely standing. The Kielgasten was definitely the best show of the run; I’m looking forward to going back there soon.
By this point the weather had warmed up a little bit, although the snow was showing no sign of melting. Our final show was at the Huset in Nakskov. We were playing at four in the afternoon on Valentines day as part of some kind of Maggie Reilly Valentines spectacular! I must admit that I was slightly concerned about such an early show but it proved to be a lot of fun and the audience were really marvelous. We had to get up incredibly early to drive down from Holstebro and catch the ferry but it was worth it. The staff at the Huset were lovely and really looked after us. There’s a chance we’ll be returning there in May for a little warm-up show before the Danish festival we’re playing.
I really look forward to the little ferry crossings in Denmark. Sad but true. This is mainly due to the marvelous hotdogs they invariably sell on board. Anyone who nows me well will know that I am virtually always unable to resist a good hotdog/chillidog and these are definitely right up there with the best. I managed to convince all the non-veggie in the band to get in on the sausage action too. Actually, Gordon didn’t take much convincing…
We had a lot of fun on this little Danish run. It was great to be out on the road with the guys again. We should be back in May so keep you’re eyes peeled for upcoming dates on my MySpace page.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been involved with a few other projects of late. A couple of days ago I recording some bass for my friends Sorana Santos and Chris Lane, aka Lyrebird for their forthcoming EP. Chris posted a little video of me recording on The Art of Staying Alive this morning. Thought you might like to have a look…

You can check out their music on Reverbnation and keep up with the progress of their EP on Twitter. They are well worth go to see if you get a chance…
Yesterday I found myself in the studio of a certain Mr Paul Pilot recording some saw for Duke upcoming tour dates and also for the fantastic band My First Tooth, who are incidentally also avid Twitterers. I recorded two tracks for their forthcoming album. Their music sounds great and Paul is doing a fine job of producing. I’ll let you know when it’s out so you can all go forth and purchase… Paul couldn’t resist having a go on the saw before I left and let’s face it, who could blame him?!
The big news this week is that I will be playing at The Bull’s Head in Barnes with the lovely Kate Eden in a quartet featuring pianist Alex Hutton and Josh Morrison on drums. Be there or be square people! We’ll also be playing The Spice of Life next Wednesday and the Ignite cafe at the Albert Hall on Friday 26th so there is no excuse for not making it down to at least one of the shows…
Anyway, must dash I’m afraid. I have sitar lesson number four this very afternoon and am in serious danger of being late if I continue writing. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post; feel free to share it all over the internet and leave lovely comments. I do as always appreciate your feedback.
Until next time x

Dec 2 2009

The Long-Awaited Mother Courage Post (Better late than never..)

Hello folks. Now, I realize that in my previous offering I promised a post regarding all things theatrical to follow soon and here we are nearly two and half months later. So sorry about that folks, but things have been rather hectic of late… I will try to keep it concise. Those of you who have been following my updates on Twitter will be well aware of all the day to day action. Incidentally, although the Duke himself has been tweeting (and how much do I despise using that word?!) for quite some time now, you can now follow Paul Pilot and Ben Castle to keep up with all the backstage news and shenanigans.

Tonight the Duke Special band will return to the National Theatre for our last short run of the marvelous Brecht play Mother Courage & Her Children. There are only seven performances left out of about 65, so I’m pretty sure we’ve got it down now… Although it was amazing how after nearly a month off I had lost all concept of the pacing of the show; lurking nervously backstage waiting for cues like a novice…

Anyway, back to the beginning. We started rehearsing this monster of a play back in mid-August, both at rehearsal studios and at the National. It wasn’t until quite late in the process that we were actually able to rehearse the music with the actors. Tony Kushner’s recent translation of the play had been put on once previously in New York with Meryl Streep as Mother Courage with the songs scored by Jeanine Tesori. Peter was asked to write a brand new score for this production after he met Fiona Shaw at an awards ceremony in Los Angeles.
During the rehearsal process the songs went through so many variations, cuts and key-changes as director Deborah Warner’s staging came into play. The Olivier Theatre (the largest of the three performance spaces at the National) is a vast space and the band were to be split between the stage itself and the two ‘ashtrays’ either side of the stage (two large raised podiums where we stationed ourselves permanently with percussion, keyboards and my main bass). It wasn’t until we joined the actors in one of the National’s huge rehearsal rooms that it became clear who could be on stage during each song and who would be positioned off stage in the ashtrays. Hence further re-orchestration! It was a fascinating process to go through and this continued right through into the technical rehearsals and even during the previews.
It was the long period of previews and tech rehearsal that proved the most arduous. We would arrive at the theatre in the morning for a full day of rehearsing onstage; refining the flow of the play and the scene changes, and then go on to perform the whole thing in preview each night. We spent the lion’s share of the tech rehearsal traipsing back and forth inside an enormous tent for scene two, which proved to be one of the more ambitious scene changes. At one point the entire band was meant to surreptitiously emerge on a lift inside the tent once it was in place and we must have spent at least two entire days going up and down and back and forth before it was decided that this was entirely impractical… Ah, how I will miss that tent!

The play had it’s official opening at the end of September after the previews were extended. Once we were up and running, Peter started a series of free gigs in the foyer every Friday and Saturday night after the performance. These proved a massive hit with packed audiences (often including cast and crew) treated to impromptu sets from the entire band, featuring both Duke Special songs and one-off covers that we’d cobble together during the day. A lot of these performances were captured on video and are sprawled all across YouTube if you are that way inclined. We also had the great fortune to be joined by some very special guests including Fiona Shaw, Paul Pilot, Foy Vance and the marvelous Foreign Slippers.
Being a part of this production has been a real adventure. Until now I had done very little work in the theatre and I’d certainly never done a long run like this before. It’s been a fascinating experience seeing the production come together from the beginning, and being involved so deeply in the rehearsal process was a real privilege. Just watching director Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw (Mother Courage) work was an education in itself.
This was my first proper encounter with in-ear monitoring. As we were playing in various positions around the stage, all of us were using IEMs and most of our instruments were equipped with wireless systems so we were free to move about with the action. The wireless pickup on my stunt bass (ie; the one I parade around the stage with) was brilliant; I’ve worked a few little bass spins into the action over the last week as a tribute to the joy they bring! The IEMs took a lot of getting used to for me. I seemed to have the most trouble with wireless reception up in the ashtray (It reminded me of my old T-Mobile days!), but it was fantastic for vocals with my little Madonna mic strapped to my face.
At the beginning of the long run in October Peter and Paul began working on the Mother Courage album. This proved a rather exhausting project for the boys as they squeezed every last spare minute out of their busy schedule between shows to dash to the studio. The finished article finally arrived last week and the results are beautiful. If you don’t have your copy yet, you can pick one up at the Theatre or order it online at the Duke Special Store. The songs have been given the full Duke treatment for the album with some excellent additional string and brass arrangements from Ben Castle. We’re all very proud of the results. The Mother Courage and Her Children album is also available as part of the Duke’s The Stage, A Book & The Silver Screen boxed set, which also features The Silent World of Hector Mann and the Huckleberry Finn EP. In fact, I’d recommend you all go forth and buy this instantly; it really is quite fantastic…
So what have I learnt from this experience you may well ask? Well, I now know that I am not a big fan of tents and will probably not be going on a camping holiday anytime in the near future. I have discovered that I am not very good with ladders (I have virtually knee-capped myself at least a dozen times and had a big bruise on my right calf for at least half the run; it’s amazing how you don’t think about these things until you need to go up and down in a hurry). I have also come to the conclusion that in-ear monitors are not really my bag. I miss the trouser-flapping presence of a big bass amp behind me. And the length of the run and the number of shows was perfect for me. It was long enough to really get into the production and really feel part of the team at the National, but not too long as to take over my life. I’m not sure how I would fare in a long-running West end show…
So there’s still seven shows left starting tonight if you haven’t seen the show yet. I’d get booking your tickets straight away if I were you; I think it is virtually sold out. As it should be.
It just remains for me to give a big thanks to Peter for involving me in this amazing project and thank everybody at the National Theatre; the staff, cast and crew for all their help over the past few months and for making this whole experience a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable one. The National really is a marvelous institution. Here’s hoping they invite us back sometime in the future!
Until next time…