April has been a creative whirlwind for me and I have barely stopped. But when I have, I have been watching crime dramas!

‘No comment’

‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Wee Donkey!’

Of course, Line of Duty season 6 is out, being released weekly and whilst we leave in an on demand culture, I like the weekly anticipation that is culminated from the thrill ride that is this TV series. It’s convoluted, engaging, and outright daft at times, and Adrian Dunbar’s catchphrases crack me up every time. The interrogation scenes are also part of the magic as well.

But whilst I have been waiting for the release of each episode, I’ve been watching ITV’s Unforgotten, which I happened upon via a former lecturer of mine singing it’s praises on Facebook.

As far as marketing goes, nothing quite beats recommendations and word of mouth.

And in contrast to the thrills, interrogation and big crime syndicate series long plot of ‘Line of Duty’, ‘Unforgotten’ is a character focused series, often slow, patient, considered and above anything else, extraordinarily empathetic.

The lead characters Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar are wonderful together and their own personal stories intertwined with the cases they work to solve are a treat.

The premise is based on crimes that took place decades ago, the impact they had on the victims and their loved ones and the persons involved with the murder in some way or another. From there, is an unravelling of lies, secrets that have been kept and revelations that have been tragic or shocking. It’s heavy stuff, but the way it is crafted by the writer Chris Lang is engaging and compelling.

I highly recommend this series.

Chosen Family

Pop songs released today rarely have much sincerity or authenticity.

At least not on the level of ‘Chosen Family’ by Rina Sawayama.

And the collaboration with Elton John is extraordinarily poignant given the context of the song. (Credit to Elton John, he’s the most vocal and enthusiastic legend about new music and gets involved…respect!)

Sawayama’s debut album last year was one of my favourite releases. Musically, it’s eclectic and doesn’t cater specifically to a genre, so much to the point that a lot of labels turned down signing it…more fool them!

‘Chosen Family’ focuses on a theme that runs through the album that deals with the question of family legacy and how you navigate through your life when things with your parents or immediate family is defined by tension and a lack of acceptance.

It could be because of your sexual orientation, or Dreams for the future or anything else for that matter. In that situation, friends become even more important and whilst we can’t choose our blood relatives, we can choose the friends we have and make a family out of them, and share our stories, vulnerabilities and love.

The Oscars

They came and went with many people not knowing they had even happened!

I consider myself to be someone who is interested in the awards because I’m curious about what films have received plaudits and if they deserve them. I also enjoy Mark Kermode’s take on them in his podcast.

I also enjoy many of the films themselves, I thought ‘Parasite’ was a tremendous master class in film making and it was even more satisfying to see it win a landmark victory with the best film category and provoke a whine fest from the toddler in chief at the time.

I have to admit that this year, many of the films have passed me by. Cinemas are closed so unless it’s on Netflix or Prime, there is very little chance I’ll know about it, let alone seeing it.

The cinema world has to reevaluate the process regarding distribution. Why is it so hard to see these films?

Minari was out behind a £10 paywall for home viewing in the U.K. Why would I pay that!? It’s more than going to the cinema itself. Especially when there is so much else to watch that is oh high quality.

Even the critic Jack Howard had struggled to see some of the films listed when talking about the nominees on the Kermode on film podcast!

I look forward to eventually catching up with some of these films, but in an era without cinema theatres, the film business has got to find ways to reach people like me who are interested when our time and money is already stretched.

How I organise my sessions

I think I’ve recovered from last week’s adrenaline rush of a recording session.

This is my sixth album, and producing them are always an enormous undertaking, especially the ones I do on my own so I have to have a system in place to which I can organise everything because otherwise, I’m drowning in hundreds, maybe even thousands of audio files! I thought I’d share some of the administrative processes I have in place.

Here goes.

1. Title everything properly

Give each song a working title that’s clear and distinct. It’ll save you time as you won’t be trying to remember what the name of the demo is when you’re trying to open it up!

2. Mark all arrangements

Write in where your intros end, your verses, your choruses etc. Visualising the arrangement of your song makes it so much easier to get a macro view of everything!

3. Colour code everything

This is another essential visual aide. You’ll be able to see your drums, guitars and vocals etc. much more clearly. Also use different shades for different things of the same instrument, for e.g. clean and distorted guitars. Also colour code your files! Mine are red.

4. Write up documentation on track progress

Track what progress you’ve made and outline what you need to do next. This could be a tick system. I like using tables these days. It is an aide to helping you see how far you’ve come along on your creative journey and what’s to be done next!

5. Journal conceptualisation

Lyrics, track titles, orders, artwork, additional personnel. Keep it in a handwritten journal and document all your thoughts. It’s a great way to gather your ideas and make concrete choices moving forward.

6. Have a ‘Finals’ folder

Final mixes, final masters, final artwork, final liner notes. Move it all to a designated and clear folder to which you can scrutinise every detail with a fine tooth comb and declare that it is all ready to launch!

7. Back everything up!

The much needed contingency for accidental deletion or computer malfunction. Back it up on an external hard drive and back it up on the cloud. It’s an act of kindness for your future self!

Moral Principles

What standards do we set in our institutions and systems?

What is commonplace for us in terms of expectations as to how we behave?

For instance, unless there’s a legitimate reason to do so, you cannot shout ‘fire’ for the hell of it when you are on a plane.

This is a problem that social media has to grapple with. There’s free speech sure, but there’s also the responsibility of knowing what is and can be acceptable.

In some institutions, standards have slipped drastically, so much to the point that lying is normalised.

This not only undermines the trustworthiness that bounds our cultures together, it causes long term damage.

Honesty and integrity, two values that should be encouraged by everyone for everyone as we move forwards.

Vision comes to life

This has been a wonderful week for me. A lot of which is to do with the title, a vision coming to life.

Musical ideas I’ve been working on for a year came together in the studio. I also helped other musicians achieve their visions in the studio. I am honoured to be involved with so many projects and I’ll be sharing them as soon as I can!

Finally, I managed to attend a rehearsal of a string quartet who agreed to work on my piece. I cannot tell you how I elated I was to hear human performers playing a piece I wrote after months dealing with Sibelius midi and sample libraries.

It was a week where hard work from many people resulted in magical moments.

These heightened moments don’t happen every week. Many times, you have to thrash, grind and merely do the work and sometimes, it’s very hard to keep motivated.

But the moments I experienced this week are why I keep persisting through the tougher moments.

Lean into it

Recording vocals is an enormously challenging task.

Not only is the post production process a real challenge in terms of balance, automation, EQ, compression and making a voice sit in the mix, it’s also getting the right take, in the right space and at the right time.

Frustratingly, some people are born with an innate ability to just sing and that is that.

The rest of us have to work hard and then some.

The perceptions of a good performance can become murky quite quickly. Forget X factor culture, (which I could easily provide a extended rant about), Judi Dench’s performance of ‘Send in the Clowns’ is a fascinating case study for me because it’s out of tune, technically on a vocal level, somewhat wrong, but despite all that, it’s so right!

The reason I think it worked is because she found the soul and the narrative of the song.

I was producing a singer today who has a lovely voice but for whatever reason, her voice just wasn’t capturing what I knew it could. I then realised, she was too self aware, too unrelaxed and I needed to find little ways I could support, encourage her and help her find that spark.

I turned the studio lights off, I then turned the control room and then asked her to tell me what the song was about. It was one that required vulnerability and a sense of pathos and as soon as that became the focus, the performance changed, words were sung more softly, things were held back, a phrase changed naturally and…magic!

I knew there was more though, so I told her she was there and just needed to lean in a little more.

We got the take.

It was a hugely enriching moment for the three of us (there was an additional band member) in the studio and I was proud of what we had achieved.

I like the whole idea of leaning into something.

And whilst it happened today in this scenario, I think it is possible to lean in elsewhere.

Recording ‘real’ instruments

I was reading Slipperman’s guide to recording distorted guitars from hell.

Besides being irreverent, grumpy, shouty, sweary and quite frankly hilarious, it is also highly informative and you learn a lot about the painstaking hours that goes into the craft of recording distorted guitars. It’s an EQ mind field with so many possibilities for things to go horrendously wrong.

He took a real stab at people who record using digital amps, to which I wanted to stand up and applause!

Because if you get a killer sound with killer gear though, you are onto something.

And people do not appreciate the effort of this enough these days!

Don’t get me wrong, I think the emancipation of recorded music is a good thing and everyone can put themselves out there but whilst the whole notion that you can make some things sparkle in quality with a small interface and a laptop is somewhat applicable, it ain’t got nothing on the real deal!

Listen to the opening two tracks of ‘Dirt’ by Alice in Chains, (and then the whole album for that matter). A painstaking amount of hours of thought and effort went into that record and Jerry Cantrell’s guitars sound is UNBELIEVABLY gnarly…heads and shoulders above so many guitar sounds from records today.

I don’t like the fact that so many records that are released today are artificial. I wish there were more records with real guitar and amp set ups, real drums and more mic’ed up stuff in general.

I think it is a gateway that makes it more likelier to make something unique and innovative. I’m not saying this can’t be achieved without it, but nevertheless I crave for more of this aesthetic.

And it’s why I’m proud that I’ve gone out of my way to record in a studio with all of this going on. This last weekend, we spent hours setting up…HOURS before actually pressing the record button. Moving mics, choosing cabs, pedals, guitars, moving knobs and making some informed decisions about what it actually is we are after sound wise.

Either way, what you get in is what you get out, and I applaud effort put into a record and dismiss laziness when I hear it.

From the player, to the gear, to the environment to the actual music itself, there are so many facets which make this whole process endlessly fascinating to me!

It’s worth considering all the options, possibilities and where your voice is in all of it.

And the dominoes collapse

Well that didn’t take long did it?

The whole chaos and debacle with the European Super League was a bit of an outlier in recent times, insofar that it United everyone in the global football community, pundits, clubs, supporters against a small minority of powerful wealthy business people who gave too much say in a sport that they couldn’t care less about.

The people won. The sense of outrage and anger was palpable.

This can happen with football and I’m happy that it did, but it makes me wonder when it can happen with other significantly more serious and bigger issues.

As I said yesterday, this situation is a by-product of so much of what is fundamentally wrong with our world when it comes to inequality, oligarchies, unrepresentative democracies and media moguls.

The global climate is being wrecked, and the 1% are responsible for it.

Income inequality is rife, so much to the point that millions of families live in relative poverty in a developed country like the U.K.

Hundreds of millions of people across the globe still live in poverty.

The internet and more specifically social media is designed to propel hatred and division above contribution and possibility.

Racism and prejudice are still rife, both overtly and systemically.

Derek Chauvin was convicted and it has felt like for the first time in a long time, accountability took place.

Justice is a long way off.

We proved that everyday people can rally against tyrants for something we love but is essentially a wonderful irrelevance.

It’s time to do it for things that really matter.

The Super League

This is what happens when you live in a Tower of Babel society.

Make no mistake about this, the proposed super league that teams have signed up to (including the one I support) are a symptom of the rife and outright grotesque levels of inequality that have run amok across society for far too long.

The privileged, the 1%s, the billionaire owners are all on a self entitled hedonic treadmill where they are completely in it for themselves. They govern based on their own interests, greed and that is in spite of everyone else.

It’s so obvious, but nothing gets done about it, accountability is out of the window, the ignorant are satiated and those at the top can do whatever the hell they like and get away with it.

Football is a universal sport, the sport I grew up with, the sport I enjoy playing and creating a social life out of and at the heart of that are clubs that operate on a community and grass roots based level. Football brings communities together and when done right, Sport is about competition that is held with integrity and respect and dignity for one another.

Football is however a commodity and one to which business tycoons have jumped on the opportunity to rip off all fans and followers and laugh their way to the bank. Tickets are too expensive, TV broadcasting is too expensive, merchandise is too expensive, not to mention the exploitation that goes on in poorer countries in the production line! Furthermore, the game has seen huge takeovers from owners, who are overseas and throwing huge amounts of money at selected clubs.

It would be hard not to think of victories in the sporting world as being bought.

It’s why I consider Leicester’s victory in 2015-16 to be one of the best things to have happened in the Premier League, because the underdogs fought hard against all odds and won!

Sport needs to have a levelled out playing field and allow for the surprises, the comebacks, the tactical minefields that make the game so good!

Instead, we have poor financial fair play rules and now this super league, which everyone’s reaction quite rightly is one of outright anger and disgust.

Exclusivity, the lack of funds to see clubs at smaller levels being able to properly function, especially during a pandemic and finally, the betrayal towards fans that have supported clubs.

My grandfather used to attend Manchester United games and he has grown up to the see the team transform to a city, fan driven club into a global corporate power house.

The ‘Big Six’…what a concept when three of the teams aren’t currently in a Champions league qualifying spot. The super league offers nothing other than brand names.

It is an absolute joke and a day of shame for the people behind these decisions.

Fans, history, heritage, cultures and local communities have been trampled on as a result of this decision.

And those responsible need to seriously reflect and consider the fact that some things should come before money.

‘You’ll always walk alone’.