the stupidest policy in the universe

 

RECOGNISING STUPIDITY WHEN I COME ACROSS IT

like my late father before me, I find that there are certain aspects of life that are just so stupid, that you can’t help but become agitated and very outspoken when one of these “stupidities” comes to light.

I actually have a real knack for recognising stupid issues, and that realisation came home to me in a quite surreal experience I had at a Guitar Craft course held in Ojai, California back in the 1990s. It was a very good course, with mostly good weather, and we got to listen to Robert Fripp rehearse his Soundscapes, not to mention hearing an early DAT of the then non-existent King Crimson album “Vrooom”, which of course preceeded the album “proper” which is the even more awesome “THRAK”.

but i digress, the incident that confirmed to me that I do have a real knack or propensity, if you will, for seeing stupidity for what it is, and usually, confronting it head on….started like this:

A GUITAR CRAFT STORY

The course was in a lovely, big house on a lovely big green hilltop, a grassy hilltop lawn that of couse, being in California, was fully equipped with sprinklers, which went off automatically at pre-set intervals, to keep that hilltop lawn watered and healthy and looking good.  That is absolutely standard practice in southern California, because, if you don’t water…your lawn, and / or your plants, turn brown and then die.  California, after all, is basically, an artificially-irrigated desert, with water piped in from other states! – from many hundreds of miles away.

part way through the course, on a rare rainy day, where it was raining pretty hard, but in that warm kind of unconvincing California way…   I believe it was just before lunch, and the whole group, including Robert were sitting in silence (as you do quite often at Guitar Craft) and of course, if you are not quiet inwardly (as I often wasn’t) your attention may start to wander, and I confess that at this point, where a long, uneasy silence was waiting to hopefully, become a proper silence…I was looking out the window, watching the rain and looking  at the plants and the lawn.

the silence went on and on, and after an uncomfortably long time, suddenly, Robert spoke: “can anyone” (he said, addressing the entire course) “give me an example of real stupidity that is going on here, right now” and he sort of, gazed up and around the room.

confused silence was the first response, while people tried to think if perhaps, THEY had done something stupid earlier on, and now here was Robert Fripp calling them out?  You could sense some rising panic in some of the faces…but no one answered.

then, the answer smacked me right in the brain, that Stafford tradition (my Dad would have been so proud of me!!!!) came back and I blurted out “the sprinklers”.  “The sprinklers are on, watering, while its pouring with rain”. I added.

“Thats right, the sprinklers” Robert agreed.

And of course, thats pretty much the only time that I had the answer when the gathered elders of Guitar Craft did not, so I was pleased that I’d seen it so quickly.  And no one except Robert had a clue, it is just one of those things that people born in California, are used to seeing, all the time, all of your life.

And, it IS a pretty stupid thing, to have your sprinklers busily overwatering your lawn, and indeed, the combination of a substantial rainfall and the powerful large radius-coverage sprinklers running at the same time, could and often did turn your lawn into a green soaking wet sludge –  serious over watering can occur.

I have told this story before, in a more abbreviated form, and I apologise if you have heard it before – but it was necessary for me to restate my “credentials” as a more than “averagely aware of stupidity” kind of person.  I see stupidity in many designs, processes, and even in well establish practices, where people are doing activities in a particularly stupid way, when a much better way is or at least, might be available.

for example – sprinkler systems that can be overridden and can be programmed NOT to turn on, in the case of rain.

clearly, the owner of that nice house on the hill in Ojai, was unaware of this possibility, and because of that, would be always overwatering his lawn and plants when the sprinklers regularly came on while it was raining!

Stupidity at work, in the universe…a perfect example, and both Robert Fripp and I, while looking out the window at the garden in the pouring rain, had realised what was going on just outside the room, while the other fifty five people were only thinking inside the room, or, hadn’t noticed  or, hadn’t realised – that a really stupid thing was going on, right then and there – but outside, not inside!

It’s a day I’ve never forgotten, not only because I knew the answer when RF was the only other person who did, but because it was a great course, and my “Stupidity Detector” was clearly working better than it ever had done before.  A very useful tool, being able to recognise stupidity when you see it – and, if you look around, you will often find that its … EVERYWHERE!!

So what does this long and somewhat tedious Guitar Craft story have to do with today’s blog?  Not a lot, really, except perhaps, to establish that I have this knack, this ability to spot stupid practices, and that, coupled with some forty years in the business world, makes me the Customer From Hell, when companies have to deal with me.

THE ISSUE IN QUESTION

Today’s blog, however, is not about a gentle, somewhat forgivable stupidity such as watering your lawn while its raining…no, today’s blog is about something much, much stupider than that – and therefore, a hundred times more irritating because the stupidity actually has a real, negative effect on you.

I am writing today about a very specific “policy” that a particular music store has, which is, in short:  supplying the wrong type of power supply with almost every guitar effects unit they sell: a European power supply with round pins that cannot be plugged into the wall in the UK! (where we use flat pin power supplies only). To me, this “policy”…is right up there on my “stupidity radar” – supplying a useless power supply that could only work in Europe…in the UK.

a) it is a policy that makes NO logical sense – and the stream of useless Euro power supplies arriving every few months – utterly useless

b) I am sick and tired of ARGUING about it each time I make a purchase – and, an important point here – having to ask in the first place is bang out of order – when it SHOULD HAVE BEEN in the box when it arrived!!

Life is literally too short for me to waste my time railing against such a stupid thing – and they, unwilling to do as I, the customer politely asks again and again – well, the most recent sale they made to me – will be the last bit of business they get from me…I need vendors that will work with me on this.

Not, fight me tooth and nail when I try to get a useable power supply for my effects unit – that I have already paid for (it is part of the effect units’ purchase price)

Meanwhile, I have grown so frustrated with this “policy” over the past six or seven years (!!!!!!!) that I have recently reached the point where I told them that, if they were unwilling to continue to make the situation right, each time I make a purchase of an effects pedal from them (containing a European supply), that they will no longer get my repeat business or any of my business, because I refuse to participate in this specific power supply stupidity any more!

ANALOGY

I’d like now, to ask you a few simple rhetorical questions:

Note: today’s “stupidity” only occurs in the United Kingdom to my knowledge.  It does not occur in Europe or elsewhere that I know of.  This is important to remember.

 

So – UK residents only, then – when you buy a new toaster (or any small appliance) do you expect it to have a UK style plug (flat blades, three pronged) attached, so you can plug it in the moment you get home, and have some nice toast with your cuppa tea?

when you buy a new iron, do you expect it to have a UK style plug attached, the correct flat-bladed UK style plug, so that when you get home, you can plug that iron in right awaty, and get your three week backlog of ironing done in a jiffy?

when you buy a new hair dryer, do you expect to be able to plug it into the wall, and dry your soaking wet hair right away, without waiting?

when you buy a new alarm clock, do you expect a UK style plug attached right to it, so you can plug it in straight away, set the alarm, and then get woken up ever so gently to the quiet strains of Rammstein’s “Zwitters” blasting out at 6:05 a.m., at volume 10…?

when you buy a new Hoover, you expect it to have its UK style flat bladed plug already attached, so when you get home, you can plug it in straight away, and hoover your dirty ole carpets to yer heart’s content?

If you got a new set of hair straighteners, you would definitely want to go hone and plug them straight into your UK 230 volt wall outlet, so you can then wait for them to heat up, and straighten your hair to PERFECTION??

Let’s go large now, you finally bought that brand new washing machine you wanted, and I just know you will expect that it will come with a UK style plug already attached, so you can plug it straight into the wall outlet, hook up the water, and wash all those dirty clothes that have piled up everywhere??

I think you can see the everyday truth in the above statements.  Nothing tricky about them – just ordinary appliance purchases and expectations.

 

You may have gathered that I am making a point, and I am, and yes, OK I have rather belaboured that point (apologies)…but there is a reason for the many, many examples of ordinary electrical appliances both small and large – so that we can establish that for any electrical item that you buy in the United Kingdom, you have developed the perfectly reasonable expectation that the moment you get it home, whatever it is – you can plug it in, and start using it immediately.

however.

What if that were NOT the case? What if, you brought that toaster home, and it didn’t have a UK plug on it, or with it, so you couldn’t plug it into your common, ordinary, garden UK 230v outlet – in fact – you couldn’t plug it in anywhere in the UK.

First of all – that would make you feel very frustrated, because, you couldn’t feed that horde of screaming children waiting for their morning toast.  You would all starve, or at least you’d be eating untoasted bread which is almost as bad – when you want toast. and it goes on for days and days and days – no toast, and a useless, cold toaster.

That scenario is pretty unpleasant, but let me take this story one step further.  Let’s say that on that same day, the day you got home, took that toaster out of the box, and THEN realised that you couldn’t plug it in…that you rang up the store you bought it from, and asked them to please provide a proper UK plug, and they said, yeah, OK we’ll do that, you will get it in a couple of days.

Three days go by, with no toast made, that toaster not lighting up at all.  The toaster is dead.  The promised UK plug does NOT arrive.  You ring the store again, they say they will send the plug…so now three weeks have gone by and you still have no working toaster and no plug from the store…

After many calls, much argument with the store, pleading, cajoling…You reach the three month mark…THREE MONTHS WITHOUT TOAST…and finally, you get a UK style plug for your toaster delivered, finally sent by the store at long, long last.

And if the children haven’t all starved by now, they finally get some toast – but you’ve been through three months of hell trying to get the store to make things right for you, and you really begin to question your sanity.  You have argued calmly that it should have had a UK plug all along, but, the store seem unconcerned, and they also seem bent on supplying the NEXT item you buy from them…with ANOTHER useless Euro style plug.  Repeat of same scenario above.

Now, I could build a similar scenario for each and every item above, but it would take far too long, and I think the toaster example is a good enough example.

Three months without being able to plug in your new toaster?  Can you imagine?

 

Now – with the above everyday analogies, I’ve set up the background here, I’ve created practical examples of how it would feel if you got home to find that you could not plug your new toaster in, and then, the store you got this rather useless appliance from, took over three months to make it possible for you to plug it in and finally have some toast.

How would that make you feel?

 

IT’S BEEN MY EXPERIENCE…THAT WHEN THE ROW GETS SERIOUS…

A CERTAIN SILENCE WILL FALL.

 

How would that make you feel??

 

Now – that is a question.

Unfortunately, I can answer that question. I can provide in fact, a first hand account of exactly this “toaster experience” but with something else in the way of “small electrics” that I regularly purchase: effects pedals for guitar.

For the past several years, I’ve been purchasing the odd guitar pedal or two, and often from one of my favourite stores, DV24/7.  They were, and are, a good store – they delivered quickly, they always had the lowest price, and eventually, they got all of my business.

Until a few days ago, when I reached such a point of impatience and sheer frustration with their attitude regarding the power supplies for said guitar effects – that I’ve told them that I will be taking my business, my REPEAT business, to another guitar store.  ANY OTHER STORE. One that will truly want AND truly appreciate (not just say that they appreciate, but ACTUALLY appreciate) my repeat business. GAK, Dolphin, I really do not care. Just – no more Euro power supplies.  Please.

 

I must have at least six of these useless Lumps Of Plastic with round pins sticking out of them, cluttering up my storage area at home. They are worthless in the UK, sadly, they would be quite handy for any number of young guitarists in Europe.  I have enough for a whole Euro power pedalboard.  In Europe.  Where I don’t live.

They are doing me not one whit of good unless you think it’s perhaps, a good reminder from myself to myself to say NEVER AGAIN to accepting a Euro style power supply for any UK-purchase / UK-use electrical appliance or guitar effect pedal.  Ever.

 

DV24/7 refused to listen to the pure logic I presented to them regarding this very, very stupid “policy” of theirs – which is this:

Each effects unit they sell IN THE UNITED KINGDOM, comes supplied with a power supply (as intended by the manufacturers – who meant for the correct-country power supply to come with each pedal, it is included in the PURCHASE PRICE!) but with a twist; its a EUROPEAN power supply that DV24/7 regularly send to their UK CUSTOMERS.  That cannot be plugged into ANY power outlet IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.  Now – where, exactly, is the logic or sense in THAT?

Answer?  There is no logic present in this odd policy of supplying useless / wrong power supplies with each effects pedal sale.  If I just shelled out £400.00 for a really nifty pedal, it had darn well come with the CORRECT, USEFUL POWER SUPPLY.  That will plug into one of the many UK OUTLETS that I have in my UK HOUSE.

TALK ABOUT SPOILING YOUR ENJOYMENT!

So,  you’ve finally decided to buy your first Eventide H9, a truly powerful and exciting new guitar effects device – you order it from DV24/7; it arrives in a day or two..

but…BUT…it comes supplied with a EUROPEAN power supply.  So all that anticipation, all the excitement – dies, because you cannot PLUG IT IN.  So you then get to LOOK at it, but not use it, or hear it, for several days or even weeks, while you impatiently wait for the store to send you the right, usable power supply. After the fact, after the purchase….”oh please, kind sir, may I have a UK power supply so I csn actually USE my guitar effect??”.

 

Now, the first few times this happened, I would just ring or email them , and say “can you please send me a UK power supply for this REALLY EXPENSIVE pedal i just bought from you?”.  And – generally, they would.  I just had to ask.  (Not my job, really, but, whatever).

And I would then have to wait, a few days, a week, whatever, and the power supply arrives – so I can FINALLY plug in my brand new effects pedal.  Finally use it, finally hear it – at last. But it is just not the same, as being able to plug it in the moment it arrives…nope.  A third-rate experience at best.  Sheer frustration and mounting anger at the worst end of the “DV experience” 🙂

After this had gone on for some five years, let’s say, they started resisting me when I would insist on the proper UK power supply, and then finally, just a couple of weeks ago now,  their salesperson told me, in an email, no less “you will have to accept that some of these effects (read: all of these effects) will come with a Euro adapter, and we may then provide a UK plug adapter with the Euro power supply”.

And, that, dear reader, was the wrong thing to say to me.  my reply was “Salesperson’s Name Here, I must certainly do not “have to ACCEPT” anything – “I am the customer, and, you’ve set a precedent with me, i.e, you have been supplying me with the proper UK adapter, AFTER each effects sale, with NO ARGUMENT, and at no charge for several YEARS NOW – and now, you are reneging on that, and saying that I MUST ACCEPT Euro plugs, and a crappy plastic ‘plug adapter’ to go with it ! – no thank you, and furthermore,  I refuse to trust my really expensive device to a £1.79 plastic UK plug adapter”.

So because they instigated this new “policy”, where they no LONGER supply the proper UK power supply at request or at no charge…which they had done for about five years out of the six OR seven years (or more) I’ve been buying from them, I’ve had enough – more than enough of their attitude – and if it costs them money, to supply what should have been in the box all along – well, that is NOT my problem.

I was a good, repeat business customer, a good one – but over the past two years, I’ve had to argue, argue, argue, and eventually they would reluctantly send me a UK power supply for the device I had just bought.

I got really tired of the whole subject.  I even called the UK store manager in Romford, and had a long talk with him about..about just how incredibly STUPID (THERE IT IS….THE ‘S’ WORD) the policy of sending Euro plugs (aka, something that in the UK, MAY AS WELL BE A LUMP OF USELESS PLASTIC WITH SOME ROUND PINS STICKING OUT OF IT) – and he agreed it wasn’t the most brilliant policy, but I thought we had reached an agreement, that they would continue to supply them to me when I ask for them…but I was wrong.

not so.  In fact, after the last conversation with the boss, it was then that I waited THREE MONTHS for a UK adapter to arrive for my Ground Control Pro. Almost as if he had told them to drag their feet…

 

But not long after that, the real arguments started, and the salesman started telling me what I “MUST ACCEPT”.

That was the signal for me to end my relationship with DV24/7 (except of course, in the event of me needing to use one of my many, many, three year warranties that I have with them for a number of my effects devices).

So the income and the profit from sales to me have how stopped, permanently, they claimed, in an email that they “valued my repeat business” but basically, I would have to accept Euro plugs with UK plug adapters…so from that threat, I could tell that clearly, they do NOT value my repeat business at all.

If they did, the precedent set six or seven years ago, would still be in place, and I would still get a proper UK power supply for each device I purchased.  But – no more

All the other stores, I will be completely honest with them going forward:  I will EXPECT a UK adapter with each pedal I purchase – or, I will give the business to the vendor who will happily say “yes” to that humble, simple request.

 

WHAT THE MANUFACTURERS MEANT TO HAPPEN

(and what they supply to MAKE it happen in the different markets)

 

As if the all of the above wasn’t enough, now, please consider this:

Each manufacturer, for example, Eventide (USA based) or Electro-Harmonix (USA based) has included in the price of their effects pedal, a working power supply for that device, which should be different for each non-USA country it is sold in.

So let’s imagine that you bought a pedal from a well known online store in the USA, and you LIVE in the USA.

Let’s say it’s that Eventide H9 I mentioned earlier.  You would receive that H9 in a box, with a US style two-flat-bladed-plugs-bearing power supply.  You open the box; you plug that two prong flat bladed US style plug directly into the nearest 110v US outlet in your US home – And you are instantly delighting in the beauty of the H9 experience.

So let’s now imagine that you bought a pedal from a well known online store in Germany, and, YOU live in Germany…or anywhere in Europe except the UK.

Let’s say it’s that Eventide H9 I mentioned earlier. You would receive that H9 in a box, with a Euro style two-round-pins-plug bearing power supply. You open the box; you plug that two round pin style plug  directly into the nearest 220v German outlet in your German home – And, you are instantly delighting in the beauty of the H9 experience.

Repeat above  paragraph for Japanese market.

Repeat above paragraph for South American market.

Repeat above paragraph for any non-UK market.

 

Finally – let’s now imagine that you bought a pedal from a well known online store in the UK, and, YOU live in the UK.

Let’s say it’s that Eventide H9 I mentioned earlier. You would receive that H9 in a box, BUT, much to your everlasting astonishment – instead of the 3-flat-bladed UK style power supply you expected (just as with your toaster, your hair dryer, your washing machine, your hoover…) but instead, to your ultimate dismay – you find, inexplicably, that you have instead been sent – a Euro style two-round-pins-plug bearing power supply.

You open the box; you remove the wrongly supplied Euro power supply in disbelief, which you cannot plug in anywhere in the country you live in – And, you now have no idea what the H9 SOUNDS like, because you cannot plug it INTO THE WALL as you can in every OTHER COUNTRY ON THE PLANET.  And – you DO NOT GET TO DELIGHT in the beauty of the H9 experience.  Not for days or weeks or latterly, apparently – ever.

Eventide MEANT for you to get that box, open it, plug the RIGHT power supply into the proper outlet, and play your guitar through their pedal. Immediately.  You PAID for that, you paid for the good experience, the one where you get to actually use the pedal you just bought.

No..not here in the UK.  Instead…you get argument.  You spend literally hours, emailing, calling the DV24/7 boss AGAIN to complain.

THE LAST STRAW

There is one remaining wee story to tell.  And that story is about a device that I bought from DV24/7 … LAST YEAR.

I bought a new Voodoo Labs Ground Control Plus MIDI controller from DV24/7 in late October or early November – the actual date isnt really important.

 

you’ll never guess, to my amazement…it TOO, like the Eventides and the Electro-Harmonix pedals before it, the Ground Control Pro arrived…with a Euro style round pin power supply – with a twist, it was an AC adapter (rather than the much more common DC adapter), with a higher current requirement than most pedals have.   Still useless though…I did say “Euro” and “round pins”.

So standard procedure, I rang up or emailed DV24/7 and said “please send me the correct voltage Voodoo Labs UK power supply for my Ground Control Pro”.  I got argument and stalling.  I rang the boss yet again, applied pressure verbally…he promised they would send the adapter.

still no adapter.  Christmas passed.  I cajoled, I asked nicely, I became irritated…no result.

New Year passed.  I wrote again, this time simply saying “appalling customer service, making a good, repeat customer wait OVER THREE MONTHS for a lousy power supply that costs £2.00 to produce in Asia…you ought to be ashamed”.

Nothing.. No response to my emails anymore.

 

then, tonight, on January 20th, having waited thru November, thru December and thru most of January with no power supply – when I got home, a small box from DV24/7 had been delivered to my neighbour.  I went to retrieve it.  Finally – and, by the way, NOT a Voodoo Labs supply at all, but the cheapest of the cheap generic type adapter, BUT the right voltage 9 volts AC at 500 ma – so theoretically usable with the Ground Control.

The adapter was promised over and over, the salesman promied, then his BOSS promised it, and it didn’t arrive.

I doubt it was my “you ought to be ashamed” message that finally caused it to ship to me – but it should have been.

They still owe me a power supply for an EHX pedal I bought recently. But we shall see what happens with that one.  But, I won’t expend the least bit of effort on DV24/7 any more, no more chasing down a power supply EVERY SINGLE TIME I BOUGHT SOMETHING.  For SEVEN YEARS.

 

A SIMPLE, SIMPLE SOLUTION EXISTS

DV24/7 have some internal “problem” where some their stock that is to be sold in the UK, comes from Europe, and it has Euro plugs in it.  But guess what – the manufacturers make at least four different adapters, that are supposed to be sold in the US, the UK, Europe, and Japan.  So – you, as the distributor of these products, are supposed to be SMART ENOUGH to order the right boxes with the right adapters for each country you are selling them in.

A quick example of a smart policy:

You are a big music store with stores in Europe and in the UK.  Sales are roughly equivalent in both areas, so, instead of buying 1000 boxes of EURO Eventude H9s, you order instead, 500 boxes of Euro H9s (which you sell in EUROPE) and 500 boxes of UK BOXES, (which you sell IN THE UNITED KINGDOM). Simple.

Under my clever scheme (see above) the customers in BOTH Europe AND the UK END UP WITH THE CORRECT POWER SUPPLY when they receive their order. Rejoicing. No more phone calls.  No more emails. No more arguing with customers.  No more customers so traumatised by their never-ending NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE AT DV24/7 that they finally just say NO MORE.

NO MORE.

 

Now – clearly, their purchasing department wasn’t smart, and all their pedals are in EURO boxes.  So this won’t ever end, with DV.

BUT INSTEAD of them making their problem by MY problem, and pawning off their unwanted garbage/Euro Lumps Of Plastic onto UK customers who DO NOT WANT THEM…instead of you making your problem be my problem…why don’t you just SOLVE the problem, and buy the boxes with effects with UK power supplies in them, to SELL IN THE UNITED KINGDOM???

by the way:  I ***HATE*** it, when companies, or people, make THEIR PROBLEM be MY PROBLEM.  I refuse to allow that.  My time is too valuable, too precious to waste on the “Euro round pin power supply game”.  It is a game that sucks, I can tell you that much for free.

THE REAL INTENTIONS OF THE EFFECTS’ MANUFACTURERS

Remember, the manufacturers, WANT YOU not only to get a power supply with your device, but, they WANTED for it to have a power supply with it, that meets the following  criteria (you PAID for all this – it is included in the effect’s price!!!!):

a) fits the outlets in your country

b) supplies the right voltage and has the correct current handling requirements for your device and your country’s power outlets

c) you PAID FOR THAT privilege, to be able to plug right in and enjoy your purchase – whereas, I got to LOOK at how nice my new effects looked, for many days, while I waited for the “afterthought” correct UK adapter to arrive – and, looking is not HEARING or ENJOYING, is it?? and

d) they did NOT intend for you to receive the WRONG PLUG type, that does NOT plug in, in your country, and is, to a UK customer anyway, a useless LUMP OF PLASTIC with two round pins sticking our of it.

 

CONCLUSION (?)

 

i rest my case.  As Bryan Ferry once said “don’t let this happen to you!!”

I told you I could find the STUPID stuff.

 

 

 

peace and love and UK POWER SUPPLIES FOR ALL!!!!

 

Dave 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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King Crimson – September 5th, 2016,  Friar’s / Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK

Monday night, and it is the last of three (in a row, no less!) King Crimson concerts for us, and for the band, the last show on British soil for a while, after tonight; it’s off to Europe for the rest of the tour. But before they go, there is the remaining matter of the last of the three Aylesbury gigs, on a cool, cloudy Monday night at the Riverside Theatre.

Being the third show in as many nights, the kinks in the performances are starting to work out now, and the band is settling in to the routine of playing, the dealing with of cues and counts and stops and starts, pedals and programs, guitars and basses; allowing the players to relax just that little bit more, which made it possible for some interesting improvements and a bit more improvisation when compared to the previous two concerts.

Speaking of basses, we observed something last night that was interesting: Tony Levin has too many instruments! Mel Collins has no choice but to bring several instruments, for example, he plays baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones, so that’s three right there that he has no choice over – he has to have those, to be able to replicate all those very different sax parts from those early albums in particular. A selection of flutes is inevitable too, and I would not say a word if Mel turned up wth seventeen instruments…because each one would have a specific purpose for a specific song or songs.

Tony I think, could actually get by with fewer instruments, because his function nominally, is bass player. Robert has one or possibly two, guitars. Jakko gets by with just one guitar, his beautifully painted PRS electric. But Tony has a veritable arsenal of bass-related weaponry:

Stand-up fretless

Chapman Stick

Yellow Three Of A Perfect Pair 5-String Bass

Pink 6-String Bass

…and maybe a fifth bass

Note too that except for the fretless,they all have more than four strings!! This makes me believe that over time, Tony has become more of a frustrated guitarist to some degree (as you would do in the company of Jakko and Robert) than an ordinary “bassist”. He’s now graduated from 5-string to 6-string basses, which sound great, but aren’t actually “basses” by strict definition.

It may be more a matter of orchestrating the changes to minimise the number of changes required, but sometimes it seems like every time I look towards the centre of the stage, I see Tony Levin changing basses yet again, and again. It’s a tiny bit distracting if I am honest. OK, to be fair, Mel is changing instruments multiple times during many songs, but he has no choice, he can’t play a flute line with a baritone sax. And when he changes instruments, it’s subtle, quiet, you barely notice that he is doing it.

Tony, being Very Tall and also, standing basically at Centre Stage – cannot in any way disguise or downplay the swapping of one bass for another….over and over again.

Tony however, can get bass notes out of any of the basses in my slightly incomplete list of his basses, so why all the fuss and constant back and forth from Stick to Fretless to Yellow to Pink and back to Stick again? I get that songs that require Stick, require Stick, but songs that require bass, do they require 5- and 6- string basses? Not really, in my humble opinion. I love Tony and the way he plays, I just wonder if he can minimise the visually distracting bass changeovers by reducing the number of instruments. If he has any spare basses, I could sure use a good bass 🙂

But that is just an observation made over three days and an observation that first started really gelling on night two, last night, and tonight I’m happy to report that the bass-changing has settled down a bit, thanks in part to changes in the set list, but overall, I didn’t seem to notice it as much – so that is a win.

Also noted on the previous two nights, were instances where it appeared that Robert was playing something, but zero sound came out, so we could see him playing but not hear it, and in one case we got complete silence for a moment before the sound kicked back in and the audio then supported the visual, instead of RF strumming away with no sound emerging until he got things under control.

But these observations really just prove that this band of superhuman players, are really human after all, and in the main, the sound you hear from those seven instruments, whatever combination they are in, is 99.8 percent perfect if you compare it to just about any other band.  

Each player knows their space, knows what has to be played, while still leaving open what might be played…and it’s in those moments, when one or more of the players just grab the bull by the horns and move out into previously uncharted territory, that’s when the live “Crimson magic” begins.  

It happens with Mel in almost every song, sure, he plays his parts, but then, he loses himself in the moment and is soon soaring on a high-flying improv that proves that he was and still is, the most innovative horn player in rock music (and you can’t forget his history either, of working with the Stones and being in Camel and of course, being in King Crimson for albums two, three, four and five), if you count “Earthbound” as the fifth album (I do). Mel has been around the block in terms of playing experience.

It happens to all the players in the band at some point, although the better the improviser they are, the better their ability to transcend an ordinary “part” and play something truly extraordinary instead. Mel and Robert do this almost constantly, while Tony and Jakko must stick to the script more, so opportunities to improvise are fewer, and for the drummers, probably only they themselves or the members of the band are aware when they do something amazing, although I feel that the drum section have produced both rehearsed and slightly improvised music each and every night – they are so well co-ordinated, but each also has his own style and their own series of wildly improvised and very astonishing percussion moments.  

What a trio they are, and when you combine that three-man percussive prowess with Mssrs. Fripp, Collins, Jakszyk and Levin…you get the “Crimson magic” – and every night, you will hear this, to a greater or lesser degree, if you listen with your ears open. Sure, they are “playing” the songs; but there is also opportunity for the occasional amazing riff or chord or entire solo or other Amazing Accidental Musical Moment In Time (AAMMIT).

By the way – in one of the silences someone shouted out “Happy Birthday Mel!!” which got an enormous cheer from the whole audience as well as a huge grin and sweeping wave of thanks from the man himself.

Before I go any further, here is the full set list:

Soundscapes

The Battle Of Glass Tears

Unknown / New Song (Instrumental – featuring two guitars) 

Pictures Of A City

Cirkus

Fracture

Hellhounds Of Krim or Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row (Drum Trio)

Easy Money

Meltdown

Epitaph

Red

[INTERMISSION]

Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row or Hellhounds Of Krim (Drum Trio) 

Level Five

Suitable Grounds For The Blues

The ConstruKction Of Light

Vrooom

The Letters

Sailor’s Tale

One More Red Nightmare

Starless

[ENCORE]

Banshee Legs Bell Hassle

Heroes

21st Century Schizoid Man

The only band I’ve seen recently that can even come close to King Crimson 2016, was King Crimson 2015 – who we were fortunate enough to see three times in three different cities last year – and those shows were brilliant.

This time around, after a little time, I would say that the first of the three shows was overall winner, because the band was more relaxed, and the setlist was amazing – and despite some technical teething problems, it was a superb performance that I will not soon forget.

The second night was sort of in the middle for me, it was nice to have “The Talking Drum / Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part 2” back in the set, but not really at the expense of “Sailor’s Tale” which made a very welcome return tonight.

Tonight, the band opened with the eerie and beautiful “Battle of Glass Tears” my personal favourite new / old track, which was just sublime, so atmospheric, and you could hear a pin drop at this point – followed immediately by that new song, minus it’s 2 chord intro, and of course, the audience had NO idea what was going on at this point…  That came to a slightly uncertain stop, and finally they launched into “Pictures Of A City” and all was well again.

While I have awarded the “Friends & Family” show as my personal favourite, there are of course, one or two exceptions I should note. Tonight’s show got off to a bit of a shaky start in that, the audience didn’t know whether to applaud or not after the second piece – so out of politeness, they didn’t applaud, so it wasn’t until the end of “Pictures Of A City” that they could let their hair down and scream and shout for the return of the Crimson King. The show only got better from there, and some particular highlights for me were, in no particular order:

“Fracture”, which was fantastic, and in my opinion, by far the best version over the three nights (so, as far as this song is concerned, THIS was the best version – even better than night one’s version). Robert and Mel were right on form, Jakko’s “mock violin” was incredible to watch and listen to – and the rhythm section simply smashed it along with Tony – a rocking version, and really tight – I loved it. Out of all of the new / old songs, I welcome “Fracture” back into the setlist with the most joy – it’s been a long time since KC tackled this twelve minute musical monstrosity – what a great tune, and the new arrangement is fantastical – really beautifully done.

It was great to hear “Cirkus” for the third time, it was consistently good each night, and in some ways, Mel’s solo in this is probably one of the best solos he has ever done, so to get to hear and see him play that beautiful, beautiful horn solo, for three nights running, is an incredible privilege – and, the saxes on “Cirkus” are amongst the most beautiful I have ever, ever heard, in any context or in any song – it’s an absolutely sublime, lovely solo – and I got to hear it three times in a row – so beautiful!

“One More Red Nightmare” – “Red” was great, every night, but this was better, and another “welcome return” to the setlist. A brilliant vocal from Jakko, indescribable ensemble work from the drum team, and just a blast of fun, all about a cool riff, with sinister saxophones and Jakko’s distorted auto-Wah sounded absolutely astonishing at the end – a great guitar sound! This track totally rocked tonight…in fact, the whole second half of the show was really exciting, and the section containing “Vrooom”, “The Letters”, “Sailor’s Tale” and finally “One More Red Nightmare” very nearly changed my mind about which concert was my favourite. Very nearly, but not quite 🙂

A stunningly beautiful “Starless” followed, which did bring the temperature down quite a bit – but then, we get to that amazing end section, with the fabulous guitars sliding up and down and the bass ripping a la John Wetton (Tony did really well on this version of “Starless”, I have to say – and it’s not an easy bass part to play!).

“Heroes” was pretty much a carbon copy each of the three nights, I still think night one has the edge, although tonight’s version got a very very good reaction from the audience, as did the final number, “21st Century Schizoid Man” including the aforementioned New Standard Tuning tasty jazz chords from Mr. Robert Fripp.

I noticed that sometimes during one of Mel’s longer tenor or soprano sax solos (and since we are talking about this song already, one prime example of this tonight was the final encore, “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which is possibly Mel’s longest solo of the night); that as soon as Mel settling into his solo, wherein he will absolutely be screaming away at speed – that Robert starts comping along to the solo, playing what he might call “particularly tasty inversions” of jazz chords, and that’s been an interesting thing to hear – Mel is soloing his heart out, and Robert starts slipping these fantastically lovely “jazz chords” into the tiny spaces that Mel leaves open in his solo – and how RF can select and play a series of interesting, jazzy chords to comp along to Mel’s insanely good sax solos is actually, beyond my musical understanding.

I wish I even knew those chords, and then I would worry about when to play them. And of course, they are all now in the new standard tuning, so over time Robert has relearned his 11th and 13th and 9th/b5th chords, and knows them well enough in NST now, to confidently insert them into the spaces left by one of rock’s master musicians, the extraordinary Mel Collins.  

The resulting sound, with the whole band in full on jazz swing mode, is nothing short of extraordinary. Mel is the not-so-secret weapon, who can be called upon almost on demand to produce a honking or screaming or deadly smooth slinky sleazy sax solo, with Rock’s best jazz guitarist Robert Fripp comping along with the tastiest of chords. What a sound that is. He may also have been doing this during Mel’s soloing in “Pictures Of A City” – but I am not sure about that, I can’t actually remember if “Schizoid Man” was the only time Fripp did this astonishing, clean jazz chord work – it blew me away.

Prior to Mel’s selfsame long solo in “Schizoid Man”, Robert took his solo, but it was different this time, to any of the previous shows – including the three shows we saw last year – I’ve only seen / heard this happen one time out of six shows, and that was during this guitar solo – he started it out with one of those impossible high-speed three-note trills (a la “St. Elmo’s Fire” by Brian Eno, where Fripp plays impossibly fast three-note trills over and over again) and also, the solo was quite a bit longer than on the other nights, and it included some more brief “exhibitions of reckless speed” in the lead guitar arena – he was really going at it, and it was a great little solo – and then, he handed it over to Mel as he always does – who then proceeded to attempt to out-do what Robert did – and that is when Robert changed over to a lovely clean sounding guitar, and did the chord comping I described previously.  

What a great, great version of “Schizoid Man” – I loved it, if only just for the little extra bits of stunning Fripp guitar – that really added a lot to the experience for me – so again, of the three nights, that’s my favourite version of this particular song – but overall, I still think I preferred the first show out of the three – except for “Fracture” and “21st Century Schizoid Man” which were both definitely better tonight – they were absolutely brilliant, and along with the two tracks from “Islands” plus the two tracks from “Red” – there was a lot of very hot music going on this evening!

Here and now, in September 2016, for us, having the absolutely unique experience of seeing King Crimson play three gigs over three nights in the same elegant, beautiful theatre – and, each of those shows had its own individual “feel”, while at the same time, the three taken as a whole, gets you a really good overview of just exactly what this band is capable of…all I can say about that, is:

Europe, be ready – the great Crimson Beast is lumbering towards you (in an odd time signature, of course) so I hope you are ready, this band is going to change the way you see (and hear) live music forever, with its amazing “front line” of three incredible drummers, and it’s impossibly talented and experienced “back line” full of virtuoso strings and horns – and just 30 seconds worth of “Level Five” will melt you right into your seat! 🙂

Thanks for listening!

Dave

King Crimson Live – September 3rd, 2016, Friar’s / Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK

King Crimson, “Friends & Family” Event,  Friar’s, Waterside Theatre

Aylesbury, UK – September 3rd, 2016

The first unofficial show by the “new” King Crimson ended just a few short hours ago, and with the sound of the final selection of the night, “21st Century Schizoid Man” (complete with the original introduction mind you!) still ringing in my ears, I want to very quickly give my impressions of the show.

First of all, it was a “secret” show, a warm-up gig to the warm-up gigs tomorrow and Monday night (both at the same venue, on the 4th and 5th of September respectively). Attendance was by invitation only.

Second, I would very briefly mention that it really *was* friends and families, while we were waiting for the show to begin; in the foyer, and then later, in our seats – I kept seeing familiar faces and I kept getting greeted by many Crafty friends who had travelled from far and wide to see this special concert. I spoke to a couple of Crafties that had flown from the United States, and I was told that one Crafty had even travelled from Australia to see the show- now that made our own 7 hour journey from Scotland, by train and taxi, seem pretty tame – but it was a lovely, low-key way to travel, I can tell you for free. So I must have known 20 or 30 people in the audience, and spoke with a handful of them, or shook hands as I went by…it was very unusual and very nice to see and speak with a lot of people you know – mostly fellow Crafty guitarists.

But I digress…I return now, to the performance itself.

When I said the “new” King Crimson, I did mean King Crimson, 2016 version as compared to King Crimson, 2015 – the difference being, a swap of drummers – Bill Rieflin departing the band in March, 2016 and then being promptly replaced by new member Jeremy Stacey. So this “warm-up” gig would have been his first ever live performance with the band.  

I’ll take just a moment to say what a welcome and capable replacement Jeremy is: he sits in the same position (centre) of the three “front line” drummers, and like Rieflin before him, plays lots of piano, Mellotron and synthesizer parts as well as being an ace drummer. It’s a very, very seamless integration, and in fact, I would say that due to some excellent changes to the band’s repertoire, that Stacey actually played quite a bit more Mellotron especially, than Bill R. ever did. And he played it with complete confidence, as if he’d been doing it all along. He is a fully integrated member of the drum front line, and then by extension, since the drum front line works so well – of the band, too, the more string and horn oriented “back line”.

In short, Jeremy is an excellent, almost fit for fit / fit for purpose replacement for the departed Rieflin – and excellent choice, and his playing, both on the drums as well as on the keyboards, was basically flawless. A brilliant night for the front line, then.
In the back line – there were some opening night issues. Robert’s guitar was sometimes too low in the mix, as was Jakko’s, and there was a fairly disastrous tuning issue in the slow “relentless” section of “Starless” – which after about two minutes, was finally corrected by Jakko, which then put the song back on track.  Mel’s soprano sax on this song was sublime,  Beautiful playing.

Robert’s solo in “Easy Money” for me, was at first, so overly-reverbed, that I couldn’t distinguish the notes he was obviously playing, those notes, literally lost in space by a slightly too ambient patch on his effects unit. Then, as the solo progressed, he switched to the treble pickup, and finally I could start to hear the solo. It was almost inaudible for almost a minute – I could see him playing, but I couldn’t hear him playing. A few minor adjustments on the fly, and the solo finally took wing and flew – consummate professionalism every time.

Beyond those issues, there wasn’t much I could really find fault with, as we found with the 2015 band, the performances were well-rehearsed, well-polished, and the songs were filled with virtuoso moments from every player on the stage, from Tony Levin’s incredibly delicate fretless electric string bass solo on “Vrooom” to Robert Fripp’s impossible ascending / descending moving scales on “Fracture” (yes, I said “Fracture”!!!) this is a band of seasoned professionals, and the band’s collective ability to create virtually perfect renderings of material old or new is simply astonishing.

For me, having the incredibly capable Mel Collins back in the band, who then gets to re-create a series of basically impossible horn and flute solos, that he ad-libbed (probably) in the studio on albums made in 1970 (Lizard) and 1971 (Islands) and Red (1974)…

He also got to play horn parts originally performed by original King Crimson horn man Ian McDonald, and he got to replace Adrian Belew vocal parts with amazing flute solos or baritone saxes or soprano sax – and he is constantly switching between the flute and one of those saxes, and it’s fantastic, too, to hear him playing along with Fripp on pieces like “Starless”. The two sounded good together in 1970, 71 and 72, but they sound absolutely amazing together in King Crimson 2016.

I can’t of course, not say something about the redoubtable trio of drummers, Pat Mastelotto, new man Jeremy Stacey, and now-veteran (almost) Gavin Harrison – who is the “leader” of the drum team. Their unique approach to re-arranging some of the Crimson repertoire, for example, the song “Red” gets a whole new treatment from the trio, with a strange but wonderful slipping / synchronised tribal beat, that takes the song to a completely new place – it’s brilliant.

They also take quite a few solos, and have a couple of their own pieces which I can never keep straight, which one is which, so Crimson-drum-aficionados must forgive me if I guess the name of one of their drum numbers wrong. I probably WILL get it wrong…

Now – before I forget, I want to give you the set list, and I might then say one or two things about some of my personal favourite moments. As the 2015 band brought back and re-vitalised two tracks from the fourth Crimson studio album, 1971’s “Islands” in the form of “The Letters” and “Sailor’s Tale”, the decision was apparently taken that the oft-maligned third Crimson album, 1970’s “Lizard, now deserved some air time as well, so as I sat there tonight, I got a couple of real shocks to my system in terms of, ‘oh my God, I know what THIS is…’   …in fact, that happened three times: twice for two tracks taken from 1970’s “Lizard” and probably the most surprising of all – a track from “Starless And Bible Black” (1974) entitled “Fracture”.  

I was startled when Robert started playing this familiar riff, and his guitar was giving him a little bit of trouble during the first couple of bars, but he managed to straighten out whatever was wrong, and then dived into a nearly-faultless version of “Fracture” which of course contains long passages of his patented “perpetual vertical and horizontal picking” which to hear and see live, was absolutely amazing – he somehow managed to work out this entire, extremely complex piece of music in the New Standard Tuning, and with ace violin-emulation from Jakko Jakszyk – the band pulled off a pretty ripping version of the tune.

But I am getting ahead of myself here – here is the set list:

Soundscapes

Hellhound Of Krim or Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row (Drum Trio)

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part 1

Pictures Of A City

Cirkus

Fracture

The Battle Of Glass Tears

Meltdown

Red

The Letters

Sailor’s Tale

Epitaph

[INTERMISSION]

Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row or Hellhounds Of Krim (Drum Trio) 

The ConstruKction Of Light

Level Five

Suitable Grounds For The Blues

Unknown / New Song (Instrumental – featuring two guitars)

Vrooom

Easy Money

Starless

[ENCORE]

Banshee Legs Bell Hassle

Heroes

21st Century Schizoid Man

Finally, some very memorable moments for me…during the last section of “Pictures Of A City” Robert suddenly played an incredibly beautiful, long jazzy lick on his guitar that just shocked me – it was that good, and it just sounded so, so perfect in that moment, it really blew me away – brilliant!

When “Cirkus” started, I knew I was going to be bowled over by it, and it did not disappoint in any way. A powerful vocal from Jakko, and Mel had clearly spent many hours studying the original recording, has taken his already impossible, sleazy, beautiful, jazzy sax riffs and he’s gone and IMPROVED on them – meanwhile, new member Jeremy Stacey was playing the ominous Mellotron riff, as well as the piano introduction, switching between piano and Mellotron and drums effortlessly – an amazing performance, while Robert played the same riff on guitar, and would occasionally add additional Mellotrons to parts that required more than one – and in “Cirkus” you get this requirement.

Mel was absolutely spot on, and to hear this song performed live is a dream I never dared dream – and a few hours ago – I watched and listened to King Crimson playing one of my favourite tracks from “Lizard” – the dramatic and strange “Cirkus” with perfect Gordon Haskell bass lines from Tony Levin and a great Jakko vocal (not to mention, Jakko playing the famous very rapid classical sounding acoustic guitar parts that occur twice in the song – at an incredible tempo) – brilliant!

But strangely enough, what really, really blew my socks away, was a near perfect rendition of “The Battle Of Glass Tears” (which was originally the third section of the side long so-called “Lizard Suite” which originally ran as):

1. Prince Rupert Awakes

2. Bolero

3. The Battle Of Glass Tears

4. Big Top

So removing it from the context of that, and playing it as a single, live piece of music, was an inspired move, the lyrics are absolutely beautiful, and Jakko did a fantastic job of rendering original singer Gordon Haskell’s somewhat strange melodic vocal – and in doing so, made it into an even better vocal performance than the original – and the band, were in complete jazz stealth mode, all playing super quietly while Jakko sang this strange tale of a sort of dream battle with it’s amazing Peter Sinfield lyrics – it was the most surprising of all – and I had just heard both “Cirkus” followed by “Fracture” – both of which had blown me away,,,but when new member Jeremy Stacey started playing the eerie, strange mellotrons from “The Battle Of Glass Tears” I knew what it was instantly, or rather, where it came from, I knew every word, and I actually sang along quietly because it’s such a beautiful lyric.

The whole band just excelled on this short, very odd piece of music, which was literally snatched out of the middle of a much larger work, but, for me, it draws attention to a single song that I always felt was one of the best moments on the whole album – it’s certainly my favourite lyric on the album, and it’s also the first time you hear singer Gordon Haskell’s voice after the sort of fairy-tale voice of guest singer Jon Anderson on the first part, “Prince Rupert Awakes”. Haskell’s voice is an acquired taste, but I absolutely love his bass playing (perfectly emulated thanks to the good Mr. Levin) and his singing on “Lizard” – I think he is top notch, especially at interpreting the rather tricky Peter Sinfield lyrics.

“Lizard” has taken a lot of abuse over the years, sort of the unwanted jazz child of “In The Court” and “In The Wake” but I love all four of those earliest records, each in their own way – the fourth one being “Islands” of course – and I was SO very happy that they have retained the two tracks from “Islands” in the setlist, the show wouldn’t have been the same without them!

I know this won’t be a popular opinion, but I really tend to enjoy the tracks from “Lizard” and “Islands” more than the tracks from “In The Court” or “In The Wake”. That’s just me. Don’t get me wrong; I love “Epitaph” and “Schizoid Man” and “Pictures Of A City” but I just prefer hearing the rarer (and somewhat more eccentric) tracks from “Lizard” and “Islands”.

They introduced then, new for this tour, three “old” King Crimson songs, that King Crimson 2015 did NOT play – and those three songs, two from “Lizard” and one from “Starless And Bible Black” we’re probably my favourite moments of this concert. 
They also played what I believe was a new song, a sort of menacing two guitars piece that was quite short, but quite enjoyable, it had a slightly strange beginning featuring Robert Fripp playing a major chord up a half step, so something like F sharp major to G major, not unlike the beginning of “Jailhouse Rock” but then it immediately mutated into twin guitar Krimson territory – I don’t know what the name of it was, but it was pleasant enough.

Just prior to a roaring final encore of “21st Century Schizoid Man” (which was firing on all cylinders tonight my friends!) they did something else a bit unexpected – they played David Bowie’s song “Heroes”, with Jakko doing his best David Bowie vocal imitation, while Robert Fripp reprised his beautiful, soaring long guitar riff that has made the song so famous, that he originally recorded on the original version of the song from the David Bowie album of the same name, way back in 1980 – when it was Eno, Bowie and Fripp all working together in Berlin.

So that felt like a really nice send-off for David – Robert Fripp reminding us that it was his guitar on that song, but also offering up a really bright, poppy almost, version of the song with an excellent vocal and great supporting guitar from Jakko – while the rhythm section and Tony were just having the time of their lives – it sounded (and looked) really fun to play, and hearing Robert keeping that one note sustained for so long, over and over again, you forget that he is the absolute master of the long, sustained guitar note – and he doesn’t depend on a gadget (like the energy bows that I favour so much) – he just keeps that note going, somehow.

It was an impressive performance, when it ended, the familiar steam organ type sounds that are the recorded “prelude” or short intro piece that precedes “21st Century Schizoid Man” were playing through the speakers, and with a huge crashing chord sequence, we were off on the final track of the evening – it simply couldn’t be anything else, could it?

I loved every minute of this show, the skill and the musicianship and the professionalism on show, the virtuoso playing on show, is almost too much to take. I was alternately fascinated by the interplay between Jakko and Robert, and sometimes absolutely gobsmacked by riffs or ideas or techniques that both would employ, and some amazing guitar tones were also to be heard during this concert – great guitar sounds, including acoustic emulation from Jakko during Epitaph, the only other number we got tonight from the classic first album, “In the Court Of The Crimson King”.

But I am willing to give up the title track of that album, in exchange for “Cirkus”, “Fracture” and “The Battle Of Glass Tears” – especially the last one, whose lyrics are still rattling around my brain…

Burnt with dream and taut with fear

Dawn’s misty shawl upon them.

Three hills apart great armies stir

Spit oath and curse as day breaks.

Forming lines of horse and steel

By even yards, march forward.

I could not have dreamed in a billion years, that one day I would see and hear King Crimson play “The Battle Of Glass Tears” – It’s simply not possible. But – earlier this evening – I did just that – and it was gorgeous, too!

By all accounts, besides a very few technical issues, an excellent first foray for King Crimson 2016!

Now I can sleep happy!!

Peace and love

Somewhere near Aylesbury, waiting for night 2
Dave & Dawn

the making of an epic prog rock “monsterpiece” – part two

So – the stage is literally set, I’ve at this point, got the majority of seven months’ of work behind me…

My last blog, recounted the first seven months of the project in a fair amount of detail – that was part one – but here in part two, we are looking at the final few days of work – the last four or five days in December, 2015 – that’s our “part two”:

 

The drums and bass have been locked down (except for final level setting, of course) for many months.

The keyboards are all locked down, and the intricate middle section has been completed, encompassing acoustic guitars, birdsong, ipad, and ambient electric guitars (the infamous “Hackett Guitars” – courtesy of the new Eventide H9 multi effects unit – that occur just before the second half of the song re-enters).

All that is left is – more work (on the second half only, after the new “middle section”) with the guitars, a few needing solos, and a few, needing some rhythm guitars.

I decided to use some of the extraordinary sounds from the Eventide H9 multi-effects unit, which only arrived in the final days of work on the song, so using it as my main guitar effects unit, that enabled me to do, for example, the ambient “Hackett Guitars”, as well as some of the rhythm and lead guitar work in the final section during “part two” – so I would characterise “part one” as being the main build of the song, plus, the first part of the guitar overdubs; while “part two” is two things, finishing touches – all done on guitar – and mixing, mixing, and more mixing.

I had originally thought that I would play a series of different guitar solos over the second half of the mix, but things happen…plans change.  And in this case, it was one of those weird accidents that you just can’t deny, that you have to go with – because you hear it, and the sound of it just says to you, you know it in your heart: “you know this is the right thing”.

I sat down to play the first of many solos, which, by my cunning plan, would have filled the end of the main track from the end of the middle section to the end of the song, bit by bit, a short burst of one guitar sound, a short burst of the next, and so on. The first solo, was to be an ebow solo.  So I got a nice sound for the ebow from the H9, and started making takes.

But what happened was something I never expected, as the track kept playing, after the section I was overdubbing – I kept going, I kept playing after the first section went past…and then the next, and then the next…and suddenly, I could hear the very end of the song approaching – so I went for a crazy, major key ascending scale that could not possibly fit at the very end of a really, really LONG ebow solo – and of course, almost as if it had planned that way – it fit just right, ending right alongside the existing “fast-Leslie” organ solo…

I listened back, astonished – because I never meant to play right through, I hadn’t imagined finishing the entire track with one very long, multi-key energy bow guitar solo – but that is exactly what happened.  At first, I thought, well, this creates a problem – what do I do?  How can I play different sections of lead guitar now, with this really nice solo filling up the entire second half of the track?

The answer, of course, was “you no longer need to”.  So instead of doing piecemeal solos, using different guitar sounds, etc. (as I did in the first half, as planned…) the second half now features one long, long ebow solo (which, to be fair, is actually in five sections, edited down from the best three takes – but if I had not told you that, you would not have known – it sounds like one solo – well, it is one solo, just, from the best three takes!) – it was quite a feat of editing, but editing ebow solos is one of the most amazing procedures out there, because – well, because a recorded ebow sounds, looks and acts like a pure sine wave, fading it in and out is never an issue, at a microscopic level (zoomed) or even at a normal level (not zoomed) and “switching” from one solo to another, from one take to another rather, at any point, is almost always very easy, because the notes are usually quite long, and, whether they are long or short, they have distinct silences in between – the perfect space to switch between take 1 and take 3, for example.

The editing task then was not that difficult, but I did spend quite a lot of time on it, as I wanted this final solo to really bring the whole piece together, and once I got used to it – I realised that it was the best idea all along – because it’s the only opportunity, really, for a nice long guitar solo – and there is nothing on earth like a nice long ebow solo – it’s the best! – so…I took that opportunity.  Accidentally “on purpose” 🙂

So while unintentional – that “accident”, of me just carrying on playing that ebow solo, not stopping when I should have – going on and on to the very end of the song – changed the whole planned character of the second half of the song, and gave me a glorious, long and lovely ebow solo to take us out to the final moments of the song.

I did some work with panning towards the end of the piece – I boosted the level of the existing “fast Leslie” organ solo to match the ebow solo better, and I gradually moved it from the centre to one side of the stereo image, while at the same time, in the opposite direction, I gradually moved the ebow solo to the opposite side of the stereo image, so it moves from being a homogeneous centralised pair of instruments at the beginning of the second half, to two distinct instruments, one on either side of you – and I love that slow, slow stereo spread of the two solos – it works for me.  In headphones, it’s very nice indeed.  On speakers, you might not really notice it as much, but it’s an important point – I wanted the solos to end, with them split, one hard left, the other hard right – and that is indeed, what I ended up with.

I think at that point, I breathed a huge, huge sigh of relief – because, except for a very few finishing touches – this long ebow solo meant that the song was “DONE”!!  At long, long last, and just before the year ended, too – it had always been my goal to complete the song in 2015, to allow it to then become, pureambient’s first release in 2016.  So I am happy to report that I did indeed, with just hours to spare, meet that goal.

So – what finishing touches? Well, I added in a few rhythm guitars, where I felt that solos needed some chord-based support, but overall, there is not a lot of rhythm playing in this song – being a prog song, all of the players (i.e., me, lol) love to play solos, they all think that they are master of their own instrument – so you have a whole band full of soloists!

But the lead guitarist (again, that’s Dave Stafford, lead guitar), can be, and did indeed, allow himself to be persuaded that some rhythm guitars (well, more than he had originally done or planned for, anyway!) would not go amiss.  One of those rhythm guitar parts, a simple chord played once and left to ring, for four bars, sounds nothing like a guitar, but rather, some mellifluous dream electric piano from the stars…a beautiful H9-produced sound.

I added some lovely chords in the second half of the piece, using the H9 to get some beautiful new clean sounds (and the modulation section of the H9 is simply the best – better than any effects unit or software I have ever owned – it is the best, for those of us who cannot possibly, ever, afford an “Axe-FXII” – this is just as good or better!) so I am really pleased with the last few guitar contributions – because the H9 makes them sound really, really good!

I also realised that so far, I had not woven any reverse guitar into the fabric of the song, and I love reverse guitar – I’d always meant to do a reverse solo – but I hadn’t done any so far in the song (a huge oversight, surely!) – I mean, come on, this is prog – so in the style of King Crimson circa 1970, I thought of “Prince Rupert’s Lament” (or rather, the “Lizard” suite) I decided I would add some reverse guitars in that style, clean and nice – so – how could I now incorporate it?  Where there is a will, there is a way – I recorded a few different takes of reverse guitar (again, courtesy of the remarkable H9 pedal) and then mixed them into the closing section of the song.

That took some getting used to, in fact, all of the changes to the second half took me some time to acclimate to, because for so long, it had just been, you know, drums, bass, keyboards, mellotron.  No guitars.  No rhythm guitar.  No reverse guitars.  So the second half evolved, and the more I worked on it, the happier I felt – I really felt good about this piece of music, and despite how long it took, and the many, many long hours and long days I had to put in to get it there (the weeks spent on the drums and bass alone ate up the first two months!!!) and there were times when I thought – “I am never going to get to play the guitars on this song….never!” – but, the day finally did come, at the end of November actually, and I really went into it with a happy heart – finally, I am working out guitar parts, to go with the long, long-existing bass, organ and mellotron parts.

Playing guitar along to the finished backing track was an absolute joy, and I could just jam along to almost any of the sections, because I know them so, so well by this point – I could just about have played the guitar parts LIVE really, once I’d rehearsed them.

I did go back, too, and “try again” on some of the toughest solos – I spent one entire day, “seeing if I could do better” – and in almost every case, I found that I could, so I ended up with some very natural sounding, very “live” guitar solos – where previously, in the initial final mixes (I know, that sounds odd, but, it’s the only way to describe it) I had kinda, pieced together some of the more difficult guitar parts.  No more, though – now, they are played live, as are most of the solos – the final ebow being the one exception to that – but, it’s very, very long, and it’s not likely that anyone could play for that long, without some imperfections – so I did have to fix a few touchy moments in the long solo.

Mostly, the guitar parts kinda “wrote themselves”: there were areas where they simply join the bass for a ride-along; and other areas where they do not, but instead, they mesh or interact with the bass – and there are some spectacular bass v. guitar “battles” in the first half of the song that could not have come out better had they been planned (and, they were NOT planned – it just worked out that way – when I added the guitar parts, the bassist was RIGHT THERE, answering me – it was amazing! – the guitar would play a riff, and suddenly, there was the bass, ripping off a super quick “tiny-space”-filling-run, at impossible speed (that’s our bass player, Dave Stafford, again!) – and it sounded like both the guitar and the bass had always been there, that the interaction was totally planned and totally natural…when in fact, it was yet another “happy accident” – but the joy that it brought me the first time I heard it play back – wow! Listen to THAT, was well worth it – the guitars and the basses are totally working together, playing off each other as if it’s a live track!

Sometimes, you are very, very fortunate.  I was really fortunate with the way that the final overdubs, the lead guitars worked with the drums, worked with the bass, worked with the organ, and worked with the mellotron – and in fact, the mellotron came and went with the eeriest perfection – perfect timing every time, arriving right when I needed it.  As if they knew what the guitar parts would be (when I clearly, did not!).

I think then, that the reverse guitars were the last significant thing that was actually played on the track; after that, the last two or three days of December, 2015, were spent on the final mix, which I sorted of re-built from scratch – I’d had a “working mix” the entire time, but rather than just carry that forward and build in the new parts, I decided to create a brand new, fresh mix, which gave me the opportunity for example, to ensure that the bass and the drums, could compete with the masses of guitars, and the intense keyboard and mellotron washes – I wanted to be able to hear everything as clearly as possible (obviously!).

Getting a nice clean mix when there are this many instruments can be tricky, but I just approached each one, first, separately, and then, in relation to the other instruments, until I reached a point where I felt happy with everything.

I also stripped out a lot of “individual” reverbs and other effects that I had quickly thrown on during production, and consolidated them in the output section – I created a full set of additional stereo bus outputs, so that every set of instruments had an overall level control, and, consistent, high quality, reverbs and effects – made at the output stage rather than connected directly to the track.

Certain tracks that were created early on, were just too complex to move to a bus, so I left them alone with their track-specific sounds – in one case, a complex arrangement of Waves GTR and Waves Stereo ADT – used for an extremely strange “guitar” track that slowly, slowly fades in during the first quarter of the song.  That was left alone, along with the bass which was sent out directly without any effects whatsoever – I wanted it to be dead clean.

I didn’t mess with the drums too much, either, I probably would have (I do love adding phase shifters to hi-hat and cymbal hits and similar…), but I didn’t want to add another two months to an already somewhat overly long-production schedule!  So I kept it to some bespoke panned sections (which I really, really like, because they appear so seldom!), and just little touches – the drum track is pretty basic, and the bass is just bass – in this case, the tone of the Scar-bee Rickenbacker is so perfect, I couldn’t see putting any effects whatsoever on it – so – it’s dry and clean!

So really, mixing was quite easy, mainly because I was so, so familiar with all of the component tracks, and with the individual stereo buses for guitars, organ, mellotron, bass, drums – getting relative levels was easy!  I had expected an agony of mixing hell – and the song surprised me – maybe because to some extent, I kept it simple (well, simple when compared to something like “wettonizer” (taken from the newest eternal album, the first of 2016, “progressive rock” by Dave Stafford), I suppose!).

Note: “wettonizer” was originally included on the gone native CD (which is still available) and download, but is now also available on the brand new 2016 eternal album collection “progressive rock” – alongside the brand new track “the complete unknown”.  This is comprised of a set of prog songs taken from gone native, along with  “the complete unknown”.

The very last part of the song, after that energy bow climbs up to the top of that unlikely major scale, and then SLAMS down into reverb with an odd but lovely sound of wonderful completion, the song then almost comes to a halt, the keyboards are pretty much all that is playing, until suddenly, the Rickenbacker bass and the Hammond organ, join the drums for their final flourish – and then, a long, pure bass note is held, to remind us I think, of purity, of the beauty of just one note – and then, the drummer plays a few bars of precision military snare roll, and the long bass note and the snare drum, disappear forever into the complete unknown…the song is over.

I really, really enjoyed myself on this project, my only regret is that by becoming so involved in it, I was really unable to work on much of anything else, so other areas of my music suffered.  But that will change in 2016, I have an enormous amount of new music in the planning stages, including still more eternal albums on Bandcamp, and I hope to present more musical material, both old and new, in various formats, including hopefully, a return to video as well as audio only work.

We shall see!  But in the meantime, if you fancy a bit of old-style progressive rock, this could be the 17 minute long song for you – “the complete unknown”.  Give it a listen – it will take you right back to 1974…

 

Peace, Love and Groovy Mellotrons,

 

 

dave

pureambient hq

january 17th, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post-GuitarCraft Depression? Is that a thing?

Hello again

I’m recently returned from my latest Guitar Craft adventure, working for a short week and then giving a live performance, along with 61 other “Symphony of Crafty Guitarists” guitarists, that was stratospheric in every way.

It was an incredible experience, and my first impulse was to write at length about it – which I may well do in the future, but right now, I wanted to ask a question – I am wondering if any other attendees of Guitar Craft (or, Guitar Circles, I am now beholden to say as well) courses, suffer from this (possibly imaginary) malady, not just now, but over time – across the years – which maybe I am the sole inventor of, I don’t know.

My life is pretty ordinary – I live in an ordinary town, I have an ordinary job in that ordinary town, and ordinarily, I work on music at home, with the occasional Internet collaboration, because of a disability that makes performing very difficult indeed.

So attending Guitar Craft courses, which I’ve done in a very, very intermittent way, over many, many years (since September, 1988 in fact!) is a huge, huge privilege and it’s a real highlight – a rarity, for a number of reasons:

  1. A chance to socialise with like-minded musicians and others
  2. A chance to practice Alexander techniques – great for highly strung or stressed out people (i.e. me, a lot of the time) or, do Tai Chi – and, meditate regularly, too
  3. A chance to perform with like-minded musicians and others
  4. A chance to spend one week in a very positive, very safe, very forward-looking environment
  5. It’s something enjoyed only rarely, recently, every five or six years perhaps – therefore, a huge treat for me
  6. It’s something very memorable
  7. It’s an occasion where you meet up with old friends, and renew those friendships (yes, I’m talking about you, Frank, and you, John Lovaas, and you, Ray Peck)
  8. It’s an occasion when you meet new friends, some of which, will stay so for many, many years (I’m talking about you, Pablo, and you, Jules, and you, Jamie! – you all know who you are!)
  9. It’s something very special in an otherwise very ordinary life

So when you only experience this once every five or six years, that strange, strange feeling – that people think you are a good guitarist, that people look up to you and respect your musical ability, that people want to jam with you, that people want to hang out with you – whereas, in your normal life, where there are few to no like minded musicians or people – doing any of those things is very difficult to downright impossible.

Recently then, since it’s now almost a week since the end of the course, I began to have moments where it all became a bit too much for me, and I really wished I could be back in that house, back at Koos Vorrink, in Lage Voorsche, in Holland – you just wish that the course could maybe run a bit longer, or you could somehow bring that environment back with you, and continue to live among like-minded colleagues, whom you respect, and, who respect you.

I am one of the most isolated of all Crafties, being the only Crafty guitarist in the northern part of Britain, and my disability prevents me from any chance of any regular meetings with those very few other Crafties who do reside in Britain – mostly, waaaay down south where that round yellow thing * can be sometimes seen in the sky.

Other symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • no desire to hear music of any kind
  • no desire to play or perform music of any kind
  • no desire to work on music of any kind
  • a craving for silence – silence is what I crave – silence as experienced at the course I was just on

So it can be daunting, coming back to that ordinary life, and not putting away the stack of spare strings you took with you to the course, or the gig flyer, just leaving them on your desk to remind you, to make you feel like you are still there.  Don’t get me wrong though, I am so, so glad to be home, home is where the heart is, and I truly missed home while I was away in Koos Vorrink.  I am very glad to be home, and especially glad to no longer be parted from my partner.

I am not depressed in the normal sense, I am fine, but there is an odd feeling to life now, I miss the routines of Guitar Craft, the communal feeling at meals and at other times of shared work or play – and I’ve rarely seen a course run so smoothly as this one did, the kitchen was amazing, Fernando should be crowned king and…some of those desserts – wow!  What can I say?  As a veteran of many, many Kitchen Craft courses, I know exactly what it takes to run a kitchen for a large group like this, and the hard work and intense effort that goes into it, is almost invisible when you are on the receiving end of yet another amazing dish or dessert – it’s flawless.

The quality of that performance, absolutely inspired and fed into the quality of the musical performance of October 15th, 2015 (at Koos Vorrink, Lage Voorsche, Holland) which for me, was one of the single most amazing things I have ever been a part of, in my entire life – simply astonishing.  I’ve never heard or seen anything like it before, even my original “Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists (I)” course performance in Sant Cugat, in 2009 – which was brilliant – was not quite the performance that THIS was.

And here I am now, talking about the course, rather than about my reaction(s) to the course – my recent feeling of being adrift in the ordinary world, so I will have to reign that impulse in, and not describe that amazing performance right now – that’s for another time.  At the moment, I want to say, I can remember this strange feeling from other courses – I remember after one California course, I had to go shopping in a brightly lit, clean supermarket, with very few people in it – and each time I came around the corner of an aisle, I fully expected to see one of the 75 faces that I’d just spent the last 8 days with – and inevitably, I would feel disappointed to find that it was just a stranger – I expected the face of a Crafty, maybe holding a guitar, maybe clearing away dishes, but – someone I knew.  those [however many] people on your course, become the whole universe, and when you walk out of that universe – it’s very, very odd indeed.  Disconcerting, even!

This feeling persists for days, you keep expecting to see __________ – put in the name of anyone you were just on the course with here, you expect to see that face, I expect to see Fumi coming around a corner, with that huge, huge grin on his face, always laughing, or perhaps it’s one of the Vicious Queens, intent and intense, on the way to a VQ meeting, or Fernando, worrying about the menu, but secretly, thinking about the dessert…

so – there are things that remind you – I am washing the strawberries…and I notice they are from Holland.  sigh.  I see the waffle cookies in the cupboard, which evoke every memory of Holland – too sweet, too good, too delicious to believe.

reminders, and then, going back to work, and remembering that this is my reality 99.9999 percent of the time, and Guitar Craft is some tiny, tiny minuscule part of my life – but, the impact it has, is absolutely not minuscule!  not at all.  It does stay with you, for weeks, for months, for years – and that’s both good and bad.  hopefully, I will have, perhaps, finally learned the right way to hold my pick.  I get Robert to fix it every time I see him, he fixes it, and, I get closer to the ideal, every time.  It’s progress, although it can be painfully slow progress.  But that is still preferable to nothing!  It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything, I truly wouldn’t – but I just wonder if it affects other Crafties the way it sometimes affects me – it’s not so much a negative, as just a reminder of how ordinary life outside of Guitar Craft can be.  And how it makes you feel when quite suddenly, thanks to the extreme time compression of the Guitar Craft experience, you are thrust back into the ordinary world, and you start having to worry about connections and planes and trains and cabs and all that.

it’s jarring, it’s difficult to re-adjust, and after about a week, I don’t feel as if I have quite settled back into my ordinary life. Perhaps that is because I was part of an absolutely extraordinary group of people, that rehearsed and put on an absolutely extraordinary performance – probably.  Yes – that will be why.  And also knowing, that I won’t be able to take part in SOCGII – because it’s in South America, which is both a practical and a physical impossibility for me.  So that’s it – I was at the debut of the Symphony, but it’s doubtful that I will attend any future SOCG courses or circles.  It has just become too difficult, and, too geographically challenging.

sigh.  meanwhile, coming from a place of slight melancholia now – please let me know if you have experienced any post-Guitar Craft feelings of any kind, or, what other “reactions” you may have had within the first week or so after returning from a Guitar Craft or Guitar Circle course.  I’d like to compare notes, find out if others have had this kind of feeling before, upon returning to their normal life.  🙂 – whatever “normal” means, I suppose!

another sigh, then, before I go…

all the very best to everybody – thanks TEAM SOCGI, wherever you have scattered to now…

dave

* the sun