Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Concert on a Houseboat - the wonders of modern gigging

Hello friends,

Thanks to the almighty Couch Surfing community, but mainly the legend that is Piotr Jaworski, I had the opportunity to play a very special and unique concert on Saturday 23rd October. First a little bit of back story... I met Pio at Averecht (the open mic night in Utrecht) while I was there with The Fongster100. Pio is a very active member of the couch surfing community and one of the friendliest and nicest people I have met. We hit it off straight away, chatting about music, travelling, life in general etc.

After my set that night, Pio asked me if I would be willing to perform at a house concert on his houseboat. I very quickly agreed, knowing that it would be something special and a chance for me to play a set longer then twenty minutes. As a street performer my sets come in two forms, the first being the 'on the streets' set, which can be really long (if the security guards leave me alone) and mainly consists of cover songs that people might know and therefor possibly open to giving a little change or at the very least a smile for. The other type of sets is the short sharp in a venue open mic style, these have a maximum of twenty minutes, so I try to cram in as many of my own compositions in these sets as I can.

Pio asked me 'can you put together an hour set?' to which I responded with a resounding 'of course'. Two weeks later and the house concert was a reality.

I set up the corner of the room like my busking spot, with my guitar case in front and my CD's nicely displayed. I had my books rested on the little cat stool thing.

Linda did a support set, singing solo, and I backed her on guitar for one song. After that, I played for an hour, we had a break, then I played for another hour and a half, maybe longer (I'm not sure). There were over twenty people there, all sitting listening and drinking. I managed to sell 8 CD's as well (a new record for me). The evening had such a nice atmosphere, couch surfers are such lovely people, and so multi cultural. I even played some of my brand new songs from my upcoming Autumn record.

After my extra long performance, the event quickly turned into a full on party, complete with loud blaring music and much laughter and merriment. I stayed around for a couple of hours and then caught the last bus back home. I was later informed that the party continued for many more hours and even involved some late night skinny dipping in the water (I am glad I wasn't present for that actually). A fun time was had by all, especially me and Chiana (my guitar).

I would love to do more house concerts should the opportunity arise :)

Peace and infinite love

Andy x

Monday, 17 October 2011

How to write/record/enjoy a new song in 4 hours (with Rick Franssens)

Hello Friends,

When Beauty and I first came to Utrecht we had the fortune to meet the wonderful Rick Franssens. He was playing at the very first open mic night we went to at Averecht and we had both been amazed at how good he was on the stage.

We met again at another open mic the following week and spent some time chatting, finding out we had much in common and deciding that we should try doing some collaborative work on music. Rick very kindly invited me to his to see what creative sparks we could make fly.

Once he had come and picked me up from the station in his car, we got to his, had some lunch and chatted about our musical histories. Once the chinese soup and turkish bread had settled in our stomachs, we turned our attention to the task at hand, making up a new song.

Rick at the mixing Mac, guitar having a chill on the seat.
We set ourselves up in Ricks living room, even though he had another room that was already pretty set up to record. Since we were only going to be using Garage Band and a laptop, it seemed to make sense for us to sit in comfort while we created. Now, lyrics have never really proved to be a problem for me, I love writing lyrics and coming up with ideas for lyrics, the music is the part that I struggle more with. Rick, is the opposite it seems. So we played to our strengths for our first collaboration. Rick sat playing his guitar, working out some nice chords and progressions for our song.  While he did that, I flicked through my book of lyrics and settled on a set called 'Unordinary Day'. I tried to sing them along to the things Rick was twiddling, but they weren't working out for me (which is probably why I hadn't tried to ever use them myself). I decided, probably better just to come up with some new ones. I flicked to a blank sheet in the book and started musing. There were a couple of trails from planes across the sky, and these caught my imagination to begin with, a couple of lines about that came out. Then I hooked into a different idea all of a sudden...'This fork in the brain, blunts like a knife'...yeah, that worked. From that start point I started to formulate further ideas. All the while, Rick was strumming and picking at the guitar, shaping his sequences.

Rick at the mic, recording some noises.
Rick got a phone call, from a new student of his (he teaches guitar for a living), so began explaining things in Dutch over the phone. I got up and went to sit on the balcony, taking the book with me just incase further inspiration struck. Luckily it did, and the opening lyric to the song was born in the cold air 'Infinity in a grain of sugar'. Once I had that line, the rest just flowed out. I love to rhyme most of the time, at least, in the way that a singer can (by sometimes bending words a bit).

It didn't take us long to piece the song together, Rick had verses, an intro, a transition to chorus bit, and a chorus. I picked through the mess of words I had put down and pulled out the structure. We played it through a couple of times, with me singing and Rick playing the guitar. Once we were happy with the structure we moved straight to recording. Rick recorded the guitar part first, then I did the main vocal line, then Rick added bass and backing vocals. Then I added another vocal line, before we moved on to hitting pots and pans, making shakers from kitchen objects and making silly noises with our mouths.

After 4 hours we had a finished track, and here it is 'Huh!'(Excuse Me) - by Rick Franssens and Andy Jackson.

HUH! (with Andy Jackson) by rickfranssens

It took us about 4 hours to finnish, from conception to final track, not bad for a first track together. I look forward to working with Rick again, on a more serious song next time I expect.

Peace and infinite love

Andy x

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Art show in a squat bank

Hello friends,

So on Sunday 9th of October I went with The Fongster100 to Amsterdam to play in an artist's squat on Bos en Lommerweg. There were several open houses/places where art was being displayed, all around the area. We were in a former bank, with a big safe (not full of money though - I wonder if it was a symbol of all other banks!).

Awesome art by Mirdije and Robert
This was to be the first gig that I offered my busking CD 'in the making' to the public, I had only previously had it out on my guitar case while busking (without making a sale) so I was hopeful I might make a few euro. The space was amazing, full of art by both the curators Mirdije and Robert as well as a few other artists (whose names escape me, sorry guys!). 

There was a rug set up as a performance space, as well as a cooking station where Robert cooked up some of the best pancakes ever made in the history of art shows in squat banks. There was a calm beautiful atmosphere about the place, and at several points throughout the day I had to go and look around at all the awesome artwork again, and again.

I set myself up just as I would in the street, with my guitar case on the floor, CD's lined in front of my shoddy '€5 only' sign, my hat with some loose change in it, my water bottle and my book of songs (I have far too many songs to remember them all, plus I do like to smoke pot quite a lot). I decided to play it like a busker, to begin with. So I played a few on my own songs and then many of the covers that I have been lining the streets with.

After I played a set for half an hour, The Fongster100 did a set, but he didn't take to the carpet, and people seemed to pass him by. Also, he wasn't amplified, and he only had an electric guitar with him. We rectified that for the set he did later, plugging him directly into the PA system. The sound carried nicely around the space, bouncing back enough to be a warm reverb, but not too much.

Robert setting up the Fongster100 (who is also called Robert)
The day continued with another busking set by myself, and then another by The Fongster100. I managed to sell a total of 6 CD's, not bad for their first airing. I also debuted a new song there, 'Riot', which will be included on my next 'in the...' record. It went down well, and a video of it can be seen on my facebook page.

We checked out the big safe at the back, and decided it would be an excellent place to record, so possibly, if it stays a squat for a little longer, we will get to record in the safe.

The event went so well that I am working out when I can go back there and record a whole busking set, for my new upcoming project 'Busking Online'. More details to come on that one very soon.
More Amazing Art 

It rained all day while we were there, spitting rain, not big heavy rain, but still, it got you wet. Lots of people still came through the show though, which just goes to prove that the Dutch are hardcore art lovers, no weather will stop them taking in a bit of culture.

Peace and infinite love

Andy x

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Flying Carpet Jam Sessions at ACU - something extra special

Hello friends,

Every first, third and fifth (if there is one) Tuesday of the month, there is an excellent jam session at ACU in Utrecht. ACU is a fantastic venue, with a great cafe/restaurant at the front (which serves superb food at affordable prices). The Flying Carpet jam session is run by Monique Veenswijk, and you can check out the website for it here

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to help Monique set up the last jam session. Although I have little to no experience of being a sound engineer, I have spent lots of time either watching or assisting sound engineers with the rigging of studio's, venue's and clubs. It was a great opportunity for me to get a bit closer to the technical side (something that usually freaks out acoustic musicians like myself). Wires and knobs ahoy!

Soulecy rocking out!
After having a spot of (FREE) food, Mo and I headed into the venue, got all of the equipment down from the secret loft hatch, set up the magic carpets, rigged everything, plugged it all in, tested it, put the lights up (not literally, we just turned them from off to on), turned the smoke machine on a few times (because it's fun alright!), sound checked the opening act Soulecy (check them out on facebook! They are hardcore) and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.

The jam sessions all start with an opening act, so everything is set up for them first. Once they are done, Mo and I had to quickly rig up a couple of instruments, change parts of the drum kit etc. Then it was on to the jamming. Oh sweet Jam, how you come in many shapes and sizes, with many ego's and (hopefully) much talent.

Henk giving us some 'Humble Pie/Occupy'
Most Jam sessions (in my experience) take a while to come together, but at ACU, you can always rely on the legend Henk to kick start things with some power improv singing. With Occupy Wallstreet being high up on the agenda, the songs that were made up across the night all seemed to lean in someway towards the state of the world of money today. Henk is a master at spinning great meaningful rhymes, and the people of ACU were treated to a once only performance of 'Humble Pie/Occupy', which was something special. Henk needs to be on stage, it is a shame that the only chance anyone gets to see him perform is at the jam sessions, but really, you need to see him, he is the jam master.

The night continued to go swimmingly, with some more exciting jamming. I was very focused on the overall sound, wanting to make a good impression as Mo's sound help. The hardest part to control was the guitars, because they were going through their own amplification and were not controllable from the central desk. I kept ninja'ing around the back of the stage and turning them down, to keep the mix right. Guitarists don't like it when you turn them down though, so it was a bit of a constant battle. I took to the stage as a performer a couple of times, and we knocked out some upbeat Blues. I don't have much to feel Blue about at the moment, so I sung the Happiness Blues.
Monique the flying carpet pilot

The swimming goings of the evening turned a little when the toilets flooded (I think someone was trying to flush some Humble Pie). Monique got stuck in fixing them (I won't go into more detail about that, you can imagine for yourself if you really want to) and the jam continued.

The evening wound to a close about 1am, and once everything had been put away back safely in the roof hole, we sat in the bar listening to nice music (mainly chilled Radiohead, Devotchka, Beruit, Elbow etc) talked politics in Dutch (I didn't have much to add as I don't speak Dutch), and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.

Then to end the night, Henk and I carried a carpet to Monique's place, and then we found a couple of pretty flower heads that had fallen off, picked them up and used them as trumpets the whole way home. I bet we looked like crazy people making up songs with flowers, but the music was still in our souls, and we had to express it somehow.

Not long till the next one now...

Spontaneous music making in the living room

Hello friends,

Staying at Henk's pad has meant that live inspired original music flows like wine in an alcoholics wet dream. It's a place where singer songwriters share their wares, not in competition with each other, but in support of each others talents.

The sun was shining bright and although I still had illness in my bones I needed to get out in that sunshine and soak up some vitamin D. Beauty and I had been tasked with doing some gardening, and this was the perfect opportunity to get hands dirty and weeds rooted out. So we took to the garden and started de-rooting.

From up on Henk's balcony, we started to hear voices, which was quickly changed to music, sweet music. Henk was playing guitar with Monique (another great singer/songwriter from Utrecht), and the kids were playing percussion. We went up to join them, and after a quick shower to get all the mud off, we were in and joining in the musical explosion. I would put up a video of our work, but I haven't got approvals to do that so I wont.

Shortly after that came to end, Roy Schneider and Kim Mayfield arrived. They are amazing musicians from Florida, only visiting Utrecht for a day and night before going to play a gig in Den Haag. They had to go and see Utrecht (it would be a crime not to), but they were around for the evening. We decided to have an impromptu singer songwriter circle round at Sylvia's house.

So, Roy, Kim, Henk and myself (later joined by Herijo and Sylvia) sat in a weirdly shaped circle and started to play songs to each other, one by one, going around the circle, with improvised backing for each song by the other members of the circle. I recorded most of the evening on my laptop, and once I've cut it up I might release some of it as a podcast. It's been a long time since I've done a proper podcast (since Products of Monkey Love fizzled out last year), so, if I can get it all together properly then there will be a Singer Songwriter circle from Utrecht podcast coming this space (not literally though, this space is just a blog on the internet and it will unlikely change unless the thought police force me to change it, but if that happens they would demand I remove the bit about the thought police, so only this pointless aside would be removed).

With the recent loss of Steve Jobs, my macbook has been feeling sad, so it has been harder to get my musical works done. My ambition often exceeds my grasp, but, I guess that's what keeps me driving forward, even if hardly anyone listens to my music, or reads my blog, or gives two flying shits if I was to live or die. Just so you know, I love you, and a big thanks to you for actually reading this, you have a skill that few seem to possess and you should cherish it. Most people have the ability to hear, but very few ever actually listen.

Me at Trippers Corner back in April
Peace and infinite love

Andy x

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Andy Jackson - 'in the Making' (a busking album)

Hello friends,

My busking adventures around Holland have taught me a lot, the main thing being that street performers don't often receive the respect they deserve (but, in this world that's nothing surprising right?!). The best (and worst) street performers tend to have some merchandise available next to their hat for any 'customers' interested in taking something away with them from their street based musical experience. Most often of course the merchandise available is a CD (I have seen cassettes as well believe it or not). So, I have decided I really should join this CD selling trend, since I have been involved in the making of several CD's of original material in my time.

But what should go on a busking CD? This is a tough question. Beauty and I discussed it at length, and decided that probably the best way for me to go with this was to record some of my busking covers, and then add some of my own original songs as well. That way I can pimp my own material on people a bit, but still give them the songs they recognise, know and love.

20 copies of my busking record, all with unique covers
So here it is 'Andy Jackson in the Making', my busking record. Available where ever you find me with my guitar, usually in Utrecht or Amsterdam. For only €5 you can own a unique copy of this very rare, hand crafted record. It contains half busking covers and half originals, the track listing is as such

1. You Can Call Me Al - the Paul Simon classic song, done in my acoustic street performing way. This song often earns me a good wack, so I tend to play it earlier in my busking sets.

2. All You Need is Love - the Beatles original, this one has been in my busking set since I first went round Europe with my friend Ali. It was a good earner back then, and it still is to this day.

3. High & Dry - by Radiohead, my acoustic version of this song makes me a pretty penny on the streets, I think it's because of the high singing bit :)

4. Not a Job - by Elbow, this song isn't that well known, but I do love to sing it, and spread the word of how awesome Elbow are where ever and when ever I can.

5. The Ballad of John and Yoko - the Beatles again, this one is fun to sing as well, but is more well known then Elbow. I make nice money for this song too.

6. Songs of Love - by The Divine Comedy. This song probably isn't that well known either, but it does contain the theme tune to Father Ted as the middle eight, which I always sing in a 'doo, doo', doo' way. It makes me think of Ted :)

7. No Worries - now on to my original songs, this one was from 'in the right place' and is about not worrying about everything if you can help it.

8. Out the Back Smoking - this was from 'in the shed'. I often busk this song as it has a nice walking pace to it's strumming. Makes me nice money too, even though it's about smoking.

9. Another Email - this is my Bob Dylan busking protest ranty song, although I don't busk it that often because it is not that upbeat. I make more money for my upbeat stuff.

10. Prime - I never busk this song, it's from 'in the right place'. I do this at open mic nights and gigs though, it goes down a treat in those environments.

11. Cat Found a Home - The Cat's demanded I put this one on.

12. Count Your Blessings - This is one of the songs I busk from time to time, it makes a euro or two. The chorus is big and bold, and there's lots of strumming involved so it holds it's own on the streets.

13. Salt - Not a song I busk, but one that goes down well at gigs/open mics etc.

14. Sleep - This song I would never even attempt to busk because it is all pretty and high, not bold and in your face. I put this as the last track because the mix I did of it is all spacey and echoes.

So that's it, the full track list of 'Andy Jackson in the Making'. Come and find me, pick up a copy :)