New album: “Catherine Wheel”

A few days ago, I completed my third “run” at the annual NaSoAlMo (National Solo Album Month) songwriting/recording challenge, and here is the collective fruit-basket of my labours…

“Catherine Wheel” sees me have a go at producing some songs in a stripped-down, largely acoustic guitar-based approach. I had in mind, something along the lines of “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake and “Roman Candle” by Elliott Smith, but for all sorts of reasons I think this album came out a bit differently!

You may notice some variety in the sound between songs, as a result of me experimenting with microphone placement and the like (and also due to me mixing the songs as I went along). I suppose a bit of the old “spice of life” doesn’t hurt…?

Anyway, “Catherine Wheel” is a “name your price” download from my Bandcamp page (and yes, the price can be zero if you’re having one of those “tight” months). Upon purchase, you should get the option to download a CD inlay in PDF format, if you would find this of use and/or interest.

I’ll be adding a page on this album to the “My Music” section, at some stage in the future when I can get around to penning a note or two about how I made it all. In the meantime: hope you enjoy this little firework 🙂

(Update (Dec 2016): The “My Music” page for “Catherine Wheel” is now up, with a few more notes regarding the album and its making.)


Gearing up for NaSoAlMo 2016

On 1st November, barely a few days away, I’ll be starting my participation in National Solo Album Month (NaSoAlMo) 2015.

For those who haven’t encountered it before, the aim of the challenge is to compose and record at least 28 minutes of musical material (songs, instrumentals, whatever), entirely within the month of November. It’s entirely possible, and this is my third year of participation: 2014 saw me produce “Moquettes” (under the band-pseudonym The Pattern Store), whilst my 2015 demos are currently on Soundcloud (as “Phone Home”).

With only a weekend to go until the 2016 challenge begins, I admit I find myself in a real quandary about how I should approach it. I have two possible “paths” I am thinking of taking:

  • A stripped-down, largely acoustic guitar-based set, along the lines of “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake, or “Roman Candle” by Elliott Smith (except without the substance references and most of the angst); or
  • a set of “electronica”-oriented songs, founded on “groovebox” apps such as Figure and FunkBox—partly inspired by Ben Kronberg’s Internet-only album “Just Songs”.

Both have their pros and cons, and I have been swinging on an almost daily basis between them! Whichever “route” I end up taking, I think I would keep the other “in reserve” for a future project, as I really want to have a go at both creative paths at some point.

In short: I still haven’t decided which approach to take… so I’m going to see how things go when I reach November. It’s not inconceivable that I’ll end up mixing the two—I’m no stranger to “guitars with electronica” in my past work!—so I’m going to take a hold of myself and stop agonising over the question, and just “get on with it”…

So, to keep up with my NaSoAlMo progress, you can either follow my Twitter feed or my Facebook “artist” page, as I’ll be posting updates to both along the way. Hope you’ll join me… see you cheering by the roadside?

Mid-2016 update

Just thought I’d drop you good readers a quick line—as we’ve reached the halfway point of 2016, it seemed like as good an excuse as any!

However you’ve reached my site, and are reading my sporadic jottings—search engine, WordPress subscription, RSS feed, etc.—thank you for showing an interest in what I’m up to.

Firstly: if you’ve ever wondered by there are relatively few updates here… I must confess that at this point in time, this site isn’t usually the “centre” of my online activity (although I have no plans to “move out”, and plan to make more active use of this facility in the future). If you’d like to keep up to date more “intensively” with what I’m up to, I’d advise following me on Twitter, “liking” my Facebook artist page or (if you’re more visually-inclined) follow my Instagram.

In the meantime: what am I up to at the moment? Well, “everyday life”, primarily, but in musical terms, a couple of activities are worth noting:

  • A couple of weeks ago, I started writing and recording some new material—I suppose you can think of it at this stage, as “flying kites”, to see what might work. Keep an ear to ground (especially at Twitter and my Facebook artist page) for further news on progress over the summer.
  • I also have a semi-formed intention to “do something” with the demos I recorded for NaSoAlMo (National Solo Album Month) 2015 last November. At present, the “rough” mixes of the demos that I made at the time, can be heard at my SoundCloud page. However, I feel these mixes are… well, rough (!), and if I’m going to do anything else with them, I want to make some better mixes. The good news is, I re-recorded two of the tracks in more “polished” form near the end of 2015, but haven’t figured out what to do with them either (see a pattern?)… so I’m minded to assemble a “complete NaSoAlMo 2015” album, featuring the remixed demos plus the two re-recorded songs. If I do this, it may come together quite quickly—if so, I will let you know via my various “channels” when and where the album will be available (probably my Bandcamp page).
  • And… whilst on the subject of NaSoAlMo: I’m thinking again of entering the challenge, for what would be the third year running. I have four more months (!) to ponder that point, but at present I’m thinking of a largely “acoustic” approach (think: Rick Rubin’s Johnny Cash albums?). Time will tell…

So, that’s where I’m “at”, anyway—thanks again for reading, and see you out there on the Interwebs!

NaSoAlMo 2014: the “de-brief”

So, the “‘Reader’s Digest’ version”: I completed NaSoAlMo 2014 (under the band-nom de plume of The Pattern Store), and the resulting album, “Moquettes”, is now available for download on Bandcamp.

Longer version: how do I feel it went?

In his sleevenotes for at least some of the mid-2000s CD reissues of his 1970s albums, singer-songwriter Peter Hammill begins his thoughts on each album with the following statement of intent:

With every album I hoped to do something new and to learn something. With every album I expected to make mistakes. Some of these. of course, were educational in nature.

Hammill then proceeds to ask himself (and answer) what those four items were for the album he is writing about. I thought I would have a go at this myself, with regard to NaSoAlMo 2014… and to my surprise, I found the four answers were quite closely intertwined.

Something New?

A “band-pseudonym”… and the constraints which accompany it.

Something Learned?

In the right scenario, an “exercise” such a “virtual band” can be rewarding and conducive to creativity.

A Mistake?

I am not now convinced, that an intensive songwriting/recording exercise like NaSoAlMo or FAWM, is the “right scenario”.

An Education?

Album “concepts” and constrained deadlines don’t mix… at least for me.

Well, there you have it in a nutshell.

On the positive side: I enjoy composing and recording, and usually find intensive songwriting challenges rewarding and involving, as well as finding that sometimes, they can generate songs and other material that might not come to exist otherwise. To an extent, this was also true of NaSoAlMo 2014, and overall I am pleased with a good part of the final output (you will be hearing some of this material again, I can reveal).

However, this particular exercise has shown me the risks of “strait-jacketing” myself into a particular musical or compositional style, especially when entering an intensive songwriting challenge. I have found that these “intensive songwriting challenges” only really work for me, if I give myself total freedom to go with whatever idea (compositional, stylistic, etc.) comes to me. Time is so constrained in these challenges, that I simply cannot afford to discard any ideas or other material, just because it does not “fit” the stylistic constraint(s) I have placed upon myself for the activity. In short: if it comes to me, I just have to “run with it”.

So, summing up: whilst overall I am quite pleased with “Moquettes”, I think that it succeeded almost in spite of the “virtual band” concept. Let me be clear: I feel my idea of a “band identity” orientated towards 60s-influenced, guitar-based “psych-pop” with an English flavour, leavened with what I’d call “anachronistic elements” (non-60s electronica, etc.), is a sound one.

One day, I’d love to make another Pattern Store album, which would be much closer to the original “vision” I have of the “band”, than I was able to produce within the extreme time-constraints of NaSoAlMo. The album “Moquettes”, I think, has ended up being a “fusion” of what The Pattern Store “should” sound like, and the kind of work I would produce under my own name for an intensive songwriting challenge.

However, when all is said, done, etc.: I think “Moquettes” is a rather good effort (if I say so myself), so do feel free to go and grab your download now 🙂

New album: The Pattern Store – “Moquettes”

Well, I completed NaSoAlMo 2014… and here is the resulting album, the first from my “virtual band” The Pattern Store:

(Note that the embedded player starts at track 6, so if you’d prefer to hear the album from the beginning, I suggest going to the album page on Bandcamp… and for best results, download your own copy (see below).)

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with “Moquettes”, especially given that I had to do the whole lot in one month (and no more), and even within that period I hadn’t much time to work on the album… that said, I think it came out rather well, if I say so myself!

You can listen to the album above (or via The Pattern Store’s “Moquettes” page on Bandcamp), and best of all: I decided to make it a free download 🙂 Go and grab your copy in whatever format you desire… only, I’d do so soon, as I can’t guarantee how long the album will remain available in this form. In particular, I’m contemplating producing a “Special Edition” at some point—the vocals and the mixing were all done in a hurry, under less than ideal conditions, and I may take the time one day to deal with these possible shortcomings.

Until then, I hope you enjoy “Moquettes”—stay tuned for a “debrief” of NaSoAlMo 2014, where I’ll look at what I thought went well (or not), and whether I might try this again another year 🙂

NaSoAlMo 2014: three days to go!

Well, I said I’d try and return here with an update on NaSoAlMo 2014, before it started… and here’s a quick post to that effect!

Follow the NaSoAlMo link above for more general details on how I’m approaching the challenge, but to add to those:

  • Unlike FAWM (where participants generally upload each song as it is completed, for fellow FAWM-ers and other listeners to pore over), most NaSoAlMo participants tend to release the whole “package” after the challenge ends on 30 November. That’s basically what I intend to do myself, though I may possibly post a snippet or two on this site during November. No promises, though 😉
  • Rather than a specific number of songs, NaSoAlMo participants aim to record a specific length of “album”—to wit, about 29 minutes’-worth. My plan is to create ten (maybe eleven) tracks, and separate the challenge into two phases:
    1. Songwriting and “core” demo-recording—if I compose each song and record a “functional” demo of it, within 48 hours (as I do with FAWM), I should be able to create ten songs in twenty days.
    2. Overdubs/re-recording and mixing—the above leaves me roughly ten days to add further instruments/vocals (and/or correct “dodgy” existing ones!), and then mix the final stereo master tracks.
  • I already have a cover for the finished album, though I haven’t decided whether to give you a “sneak preview”, or unveil it with the album…
  • What will I do with the end-product? That depends on how I feel it “comes out”… but one way or another, you’ll get the opportunity to hear the album. Unless it’s really awful, of course 😉

NaSoAlMo starts this Saturday (1st November)—for the most up-to-the-minute updates, follow my Twitter feed, but if you’re content to stick with more sporadic “digests”, I’ll try and post a few on this site too.

On your marks…!

NaSoAlMo 2014… and a new musical ‘vehicle’

Ever since I took part in FAWM in February 2014—and decided to “sit out” the 50/90 Challenge in July—I have been aware that, with the exception of my “long-term” album endeavour (which, for now, I am nicknaming “The Prog Project”), I have a fair-sized gap in time where I have no real “target” to aim for, in terms of making myself write and record songs.

Whilst I currently have every intention of joining in for FAWM in February 2015 (and “The Prog Project”—which I estimate to be about 75% recorded at time of writing—could tide me over), I’m feeling in the mood for another songwriting/recording challenge… which is where NaSoAlMo comes in.

Inspired by NaNoWriMo, NaSoAlMo ((inter)National Solo Album Month) sounds, on the face of it, like a similar idea to FAWM: a challenge to write and record, from scratch, during the month of November, enough original compositions to fill an album of at least 29:09 minutes in duration (the length of the first Ramones LP, apparently).

Now, I know from having “done” two FAWM challenges, that if I set my mind to it, the above is entirely achievable. However, for my first “stab” at NaSoAlMo, I feel as if I’d like to try a slightly different approach from FAWM. I have been ruminating on the topic for a while, and it’s time to whip off the tarpaulin…

A good rummage through my recorded output on Bandcamp—and I feel this is particularly true of my FAWM and 50/90 material—will reveal that in terms of musical styles, I veer “all over the shop”. In my work, you’ll hear shades of everything from 60s guitar pop, through folk, psych, prog-rock to electronica and ambient, and whilst this diversity is quite representative of my own tastes, I sometimes wonder if the sheer eclecticism on offer might work against me. (Surely, I ask myself, listeners might like at least some idea of what they’re going to hear next?)

When I looked at the participants’ list for NaSoAlMo 2013, I noticed that most of them, despite being solo artists, adopted a “band pseudonym”. I’ve occasionally thought of doing the same, partly because I felt it might give me an excuse to create music which is all in a particular style (or related set of styles).

Therefore, for NaSoAlMo 2014, I’ve decided to “form” a “virtual band”, which will give me a framework to compose and record material for the challenge. Specifically, it’s going to major on one of my perennial favourite musical regions: “English”/60s-inflected guitar-pop with psych/whimsical leanings, and possible smatterings of electronica. Think: Beatles; Kinks; Kevin Ayers; Bonzo Dog Band; Tomorrow… and perhaps most of all in this context, Martin Newell and his own virtual band, the Cleaners From Venus.

As for the moniker for my “band”: I’ve thought of a suitably psych/whimsical name, for which I’ve Googled around and haven’t found another combo which beat me to it 😉 So, until such time as I hear otherwise: ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

The Pattern Store

The name carries a number of “resonances” for me; aside from the vaguely 1967-ish impression I think it conveys, it also refers to the building at the now-long-gone railway works in Swindon (the town I grew up in), which produced seat-coverings and other textile-based items for the Great Western Railway’s trains. (In a suitably-surreal twist, the Pattern Store at Swindon Works (the green-topped building in this photo) is now an Italian restaurant.)

On a related note: the name of the album I intend to produce from NaSoAlMo, is derived from one of the original Pattern Store’s main products: “Moquettes” (i.e. the patterned seat-coverings you still see on British trains).

If this first outing works for the “band”, I hope to keep The Pattern Store active for future recording projects in this specific genre. If I put out an album under my own name: basically, “all bets are off” (i.e. who knows what you’ll get 🙂 ), but a Pattern Store set will have a certain sound/approach, which I hope will please listeners who are pleased by that sort of thing!

NaSoAlMo 2014 kicks off on the 1st November. I’ll fill you in with updates nearer the time (and hopefully, during the challenge itself), and if all goes well, by early December I’ll be able to post the finished debut by The Pattern Store for your consumption and delectation.

I hope you can come along for the ride 🙂