To Lead or Not to Lead

Playing music again has been the best thing that I could have done with my life.  There was a time not that long ago that I could have counted the people I knew outside of my day job and my family on my fingers.  Maybe even one hand.  I certainly didn’t need to use my toes.  Playing music changed that for the better.

When I started playing again I thought I would have been content playing music in someone’s basement with maybe a gig at a bar from time to time.  This second crack at a musical life has certainly worked out much better than I ever though it could.  The musical challenges keep getting better and better and I now need a lot more fingers and toes to count the people I know.  600 and something according to Facebook.  Sure, I haven’t met a lot of those folks but many of them I have and I can call friends.

Many of those friends are musicians and some of them I work for although you can hardly call it work if you are doing something that you love.   But there are musicians who can turn something you love into something rather ugly fairly quickly.  Bands break up and people fall out and like any relationship it’s most often about money or ego or both.  That along with poor management or leadership can leave a group of musicians spinning their wheels and going nowhere.

So which musicians do I want to work for?    Ultimately I want to play bass for the ones that make me smile whether that’s due to their talent or personality.  That’s an easy measurement for sorting out who you want to be with in any aspect of your life.  I want the leader to call me with a date, length of the gig and how much the show will pay.  Although it’s not always about the money so don’t just assume I’ll say no because the gig doesn’t pay much or anything at all.

What I really appreciate are the leaders who know what they want when they hear it and what they don’t want and aren’t afraid to say it.  Contrast that with the leader who wants to run a tune again and I ask if there is anything they’d like me or any member of the group to change.  “Let’s just run it again”, is the response.  If it was a good run through and there’s nothing to change or observations to improve the show why run it again?

Feast or Famine?

All of a sudden after what has been a steady two-three years of regular gigs I find myself looking at March and April and wondering what happened. At the moment there are two gigs in March and one in April. It’s a little hard to get used to since playing music is what feeds my soul. And that soul has been well fed for some time. So what’s changed? I used to do a lot of gigs at the Aeolian Hall as part of their jazz series. Sadly, the audience for live jazz is dwindling and based on the majority of the audience demographic that attended the Aeolian Shows or other events like Jazz for the People the audience might actually be dead soon as well. The result of that is that the Aeolian did not do a jazz series for this year simply because the Hall has to make money off of shows. My friend Chris Norley says that jazz isn’t dead it just smells funny. Maybe it is dead. I wonder what we’d have to call a ‘live jazz’ show that would sound interesting to folks looking to spend some $ on local entertainment. And pay the musicians. Continue reading

Franc, Facebook and life coming full circle.

Franc Rota and I played in the Oakville Minor Football League on a team sponsored by Syd A Vince Insurance.   When I came to Canada, after playing the gentler sport of rugby in Scotland, I really wanted to play ‘American’ Football.   My Aunt Norma had sent me Minnesota Vikings fan gear so I wanted to experience the game.   At one practice early in the season the team met and there was a player on the team who was busy running laps of the White Oaks High School track.   That was Franc.   I have a memory of Franc saying it was a punishment of some sort but I’m not sure he remembers this.

The fact that someone was actually following through on some sort of punishment on a weekend when nobody would have known if he did it or not struck me that Franc must be a stand up guy, even as a teenager.   Continue reading

My musical journey through album covers

Music has been part of my life for a very long time. I remember taking piano lessons from Mrs Mountain in Edinburgh as a little kid. She had two grand pianos in the house. Of course like many kids I gave it up. She said I had something musically. Maybe she was right. Seems to have worked out that way although playing one note at a time, more or less, on bass is a little bit removed from 10 fingers on a piano.

My Dad was a jazz fan when he was growing up and Mum loved the crooners. Frank Sinatra was always a hit in the house. Mario Lanza was another that I remember hearing. There were the Beach Boys, The Carpenters and a smattering of Jesus Christ Superstar at different times in the house. There was even a brief prog rock thing that my Dad went through with the band Focus. Continue reading

Forest for the trees

One of the questions I get asked when people find out I am a musician is, “What band are you in?”   My answer is usually something about not being in any particular band.   I’m what some people call freelance.   Some musicians play in one band with a few friends, some play in several different groups or projects. Since I started playing bass again in 2004, and gigging fairly regularly in the last few years, my mantra has been that I want to play music with people that make me smile.  I’m trying to experience as much music as I can before I can’t anymore.   After all I’ve got a lot of years to make up for when I wasn’t playing.

For the most part that mantra seems to lead to exactly those types of situations.   Good musicians playing good music with egos checked at the door.    It might be playing with my friend Mark Henning at his annual event for the London Food Bank.   Or playing with a Choir like the Karen Scheussler Singers.   Or maybe just throwing the bass on my back and heading for the blues jam at the London Music Club on a Thursday night.   More often than not just being able to play music is a pleasure all on it’s on regardless of whether I’m getting paid or not.

But sometimes there are bumps along the road.   I now understand why successful groups break up or take time off for their solo projects.   You wonder how it’s possible that succesful groups end up not touring or recording together any more be it The Beatles, The Stones, The Clash, or a local cover band playing Middle Eastern music.   Perhaps it’s a creative difference in a group writing original music or maybe it’s a debate about what will be on the setlist for a bar band playing covers that leads to something going wrong.   But as with anything in life be it our families, friends, work life it takes a certain amount of compromise to make something work.   And that’s where the trees come in.   It’s amazing how some musicians have great ears for music but tone deaf for hearing what others are saying.

 

 

My son, the metal head.

My son and heir is Sam Cooper Langford Clark.   The long name sounds a bit like old money but sadly he and we are not.   In fact he’ll probably be from substantial debt rather than new money.    It’s shocking to me that he’s now 16 years old.   With every year that goes by I understand my parents more and more.   When I moved out of their house they made more sense.   When Holly and I bought  our first house I understood them more.   When Sam came along everything clicked into place.   It’s still a marvel to me that he exists.

Sam at 16 - rock star!

Sam at 16 - rock star

As all good parents do we tried to introduce Sam to music at an early age.   There was the violin closely followed by the cello and then there was a bit of a lull for a while.   When Sam was young I hadn’t started playing again.   But when I did we introduced him to playing bass and that lasted for a while.  He still plays bass in his high school percussion ensemble as well as drums but more on that in a minute.     Guitar was the next instrument and he still plays that but the instrument of choice is now drums.   And what better way for a father and son to find common ground than as a bassist and drummer?   I wish I had bought one of those small kid drumsets for a Christmas or Birthday years ago although what we did get was Rockband.    I don’t know how you feel about it but it was a perfect way for Sam to find a path towards playing the drums.

A couple of years ago I found a good deal on a used drum kit and without him knowing I went to get the kit in Guelph one cold January evening.   I love doing things like this.  Spare the rod and spoil the child I say!   I got back to the house and walked in carrying a Sabian cymbal bag.   The look on his face was priceless.

I think some people must think we are a little crazy having a drummer pounding away on a kit in the basement below the TV room.   But it’s all music to our ears.  His metal band Psychopathy have a few gigs under their belt now.   I’m not sure that I get the growly metal vocal thing but they are great to watch live.   They’ve got all the moves down and my son has way more self confidence than I had at the same age.   Quite the extrovert drummer on stage.    The only downside is that he can play drums quite expensively.   Cymbals seem to last a finite time at the hands of my little rock star.   The best moment at a gig was his China cymbal finally giving up and a half moon shape broke right off of the cymbal.  The next thing I knew the piece of cymbal was between his teeth as he laid down the groove.   Awesome.

How I became nicest bassist. Part 3

Thankfully there have been more opportunities to play with Emm throughout the rest of 2010.   The next gig was Canada Day in Stratford as support for Steven Page of unclothed ladies fame.   That was the day before Emm’s show at Hugh’s Room in Toronto.   Now that was a bit of a surreal experience to say the least.   Emm added a few more tunes to my to do list and I got those under my fingers.  A bit easier this time but now the bar seemed to have been raised just a tad by going from the London Music Club to Hugh’s Room in Toronto.   There were also going to be some super secret guest singers on the gig.   Continue reading

How I became Nicest Bassist. Part 2.

Getting ready for my first gig with Emm seemed easy enough.  Four tunes to learn.   A rehearsal or two to run through the tunes.   How hard could it be?   I remember back in my days playing in bands in high school where you’d think nothing of learning 30+ tunes for a show.   I never wrote anything down back then.   No charts, no road maps for where the tune goes.   I just did it and went to a show and probably never even thought about whether I’d remember the tunes or not.   Perhaps a 15+ year break from music has something to do with it but as I mentioned in Part 1, I had become comfortable with using charts and Fakebooks with a music stand on many gigs. Continue reading

What a year! How I Became Nicest Bassist Part 1.

Here we are at the end of 2010. This really was one of my best years in this short musical life I restarted in 2004. If you had told me back in 2004 that I would find myself playing bass for one of Canada’s most prolific songwriters I’d have looked at you with more than a little skepticism. But in the end that’s what happened.

Sadly it was the earthquake in Haiti where the journey begins. The Aoelian Hall, one of my favourite places to play in London, held a benefit to raise money. I played bass for Jennifer Thorpe that night as well as Light of East Ensemble. One of the first performers to play was a very pregnant Emm Gryner. I knew the name of course as well as a few tunes but had no idea that there were 10 plus albums and counting and several Juno nominations. I don’t remember what tunes she played that night but I was struck by how good she was. We chatted about our Volkswagens back stage and then she was off. Possibly to give birth. Continue reading