Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The black keys are the loud ones, right?

This morning, I will mostly be sitting down and working my way through the tunes I have to learn in order to get through the first real rehearsal in September in one piece without eliciting a smack in the mouth from the other band members for being, well, crap.

Martin Orford, the (very talented) keyboardist and founder member of IQ, summed up the art and mystery of the keyboardist’s duties thus:
Keyboards is easy. I mean, you can play keyboards when you’re drunk. The low notes are one end and the high notes the other end.
No-one likes a smart-arse, Martin... ;-) Actually though, he’s right. All the clues as to what to play are right in front of you - go right for high notes, go left for low notes. The difficulties with this gig are much the same as they would be for a guitarist, drummer, bassist or singer, coming to a series of tunes with parts already recorded by someone else, viz:
  1. The parts themselves are not natural. Though they fit with the song, another person’s rhythms are always hard to decipher. What seems natural and ‘obvious’ to me will not be so to someone else and vice-versa. I work as a musician very much based on the feel of the constituent parts of a piece. It will seem very stilted until it finally gels in my head. And may take some time to do so.
  2. Many of the parts were recorded in the 1980s. This means that, in some areas, horrid keyboard stabs and some pretty ghastly preset sounds were used. This is in no way to denigrate the band themselves, merely the time in which these things were recorded. Fuck me, we all used to think that orchestra stabs (which reached their nadir on Paul Young’s Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down) were a good idea at one point. One only has to listen to Muse, Radiohead, Coldplay, Porcupine Tree, Keane and Mansun (among many others) to hear how the textural use of sounds has evolved across the years. Thank christ...
  3. Live gigs are not the same as recorded tracks. I know that seems to be stating the obvious, but too many bands attempt to faithfully reproduce exactly what was recorded in the studio live. Recording and gigging are very different things. When playing live there is an audience. Again, this sounds bloody obvious but, as a band, your duty to the audience is to put on a show, not to please yourself with how many notes-per-second you can get into a solo or how high you can sing, or any of the many other unforgivable “muso” indulgences. Most of the parts I’m working on are undoubtedly reproducible live, but many of them will be changed. Not just because “I want to”, but to improve what the audience get to hear and see, as well as to let some more important parts, simultaneously played by other band members, to breathe a bit.
  4. Some of the parts are simply not very good. I don’t mean technically, as they’re all in time and in tune. It’s just that there are some of them that crowd out other features of the songs (see point 3), as well as some that fight against the tone of the song that they sit within. This applies almost equally to some of the drum parts which, at times, unnecessarily follow the riff of a tune, instead of offering a backdrop for the riff to stand against. Back to the keys, there is a song, essentially about fascism, which really requires some Marilyn Manson-esque soundscapes, rather than the parts already existing. So, I’m coming up with new stuff to help bring a bit of ‘edge’ to this and a good few other tunes.
  5. I’m trying very hard not to buy a huge bunch of new gear with which to do a few gigs and then not be able to find a use for afterwards. Most of my keyboard sounds are generated by plugins within my various computers, so having a big pile of rack units is a bit on the redundant side. That said, computers have a gleeful ploy of nose-diving at the most inopportune moments, and these little sods will most likely leave me soundless right at the moment I have to leap into a big, pivotal part in a tune. Hmm, tricky. So, I’m keeping one eye on a few things on eBay for possible purchase, god help my bank accounts...
Fortunately, as long as I don’t eviscerate what any of the tunes essentially are, I’ve at least got a free rein to bring something new to the table. The guys are open to suggestion, though a couple don’t seem to have heard any new bands in the last twenty years (certainly outside of prog-land), so it could be a bit of an uphill struggle to find common reference material... ;-)

With regard to point 3 above, in the panoply of neo-prog bands around at the same time as us, there were two camps. One lot that wore cheesecloth shirts, patched jeans, long frizzy hair and studiously stood around, playing deeply anorak-y, yawn-worthy, earnest music and the second lot who, though playing reasonably technical stuff, tended to show more than a passing interest in make-up, ‘stage clothes’ and general leaping about, putting on a show. The band I’m joining may well have had a cheesecloth era, but they certainly weren’t like that by the time I knew them. Make-up, spandex and beads in the hair were all part of their show, along with the liberal use of props for the singer for some of the more ‘epic’ numbers. I was also a spandex devotee (fear not, I’m far too old for all of that now, it would just be too embarrassing for words) and had by far the most outrageous haircuts of any of the prog frontmen of the time.

Rest assured, I won’t be looking much like this again (that’s me on the right). I simply don’t have the hair any more...

Nice earrings...

There’s also a large chunk of inertia to fight on my part. Not that I don’t want to do the gigs, but it means ripping apart my studio setup to even rehearse, a task that shouldn’t take too long to do, but ages to put right. Then again, that has usually meant that I put it back together in a more usable fashion, so I should probably be grateful. Or something.

Today, now that I’ve shut up a couple of my major clients by throwing tons of work back at them, I’m going to be sorting through the tunes, attempting to work out whether I can do them all with the gear I have, without tying myself in knots or wrecking my studio to do so. I’ll keep you posted...


At 4:48 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

brilliant...reading with interest.


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