Another Songwriting Masterclass – Nik Kershaw

Nik Kershaw at the Sage 2 in Gateshead last night was another songwriting masterclass highlight for me this year. A great wee venue, a great engaging performer and superb songs. Nik Kershaw is one of my all time favourite songwriters. Master lyric writer and catchy tunes. Awesome.

He did sing one my favourite songs too: the song about the cereal eating mule ‘Donkey Oatey’

Ujezd Tarantella – Dutch vocals

As part of a special release of Consent Under Coercion for the Netherlands we just recorded a Dutch vocal version of Ujezd Tarantella. We recorded the vocals a few days ago plan to get the song remixed and re-mastered fairly quickly to meet the Dutch release of the alum of 30 July.

Video Filming for new single Ujezd Tarantella

We’re preparing to film a video next week to support the release of the single Ujezd Tarantella (Taste the Fear) from the Consent Under Coercion album. Yes it’s a long name for a single but there you go.
 
It’s quite a dark song about facing up to your fears and I tried to give it the Danny Elfman ‘big strings’ effect over a heavy guitar riff to create a menacing mood so we are all practising looking mean and moody for the video shoot.
 
We are filming it as a ‘performance video’ as a band with a few guest musicians (Luke Anderson on bass and Roan Anderson on drums) joining Kevin on guitar/vocals and me on keys. It should be a fun day.

Chris Difford Songwriting Retreat 2017

I’m still buzzing. I have just returned from a totally inspirational and educational week at the Chris Difford 2017 Song Writing Retreat.

It was a privilege an an honour being among such a range of supremely talented songwriters and musicians.

It was great fun, inspiring, creative and humbling working with these guys. Never before have I been in the presence of such an amount of awesome creative musical talent in the one place.

I was challenged and learned a lot from this talented bunch of songwriters

Kudos, thanks and respect to Chris Difford Songwriting Retreat, The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation, Bob Harris (WBBC) and all the people I engaged with at the retreat.

Total inspiration from Steve Hackett Live

 I recently saw Steve Hackett live in Glasgow. I guess this is around the 12th time I have see Steve Hackett: my first being in 1981 or so on the Spectral Mornings tour at Glasgow Apollo (a fine venue sadly missed).

Steve Hackett is one of rocks ‘perfect musicians’ and has all the attributes I admire in an artist. He’s innovative, he works hard, he has  a true mastery of his instrument, he has no fear of trying new things. And he has a lot of humility. He humbly plays and engages with the audience who view him with the utmost respect and admiration.

Odd, since I am a keyboard player, you would think? Nah. I think anyone who continues to work at and perfect their art (or indeed any specialist subject) deserves much credit and praise.

And he caters to his audience too. He is very well aware that a lot of the prog fan base like early Genesis (ie during his time/Peter Gabriel’s time.

Rather than bury the past he proudly embraces his past and mixes this with his current and ongoing work. He and his band (including the awesome Nick Beggs on bass) play Genesis songs with extreme precision, accuracy and gives the audience what they want from his Genesis time.

That authenticity is great cos, goodness knows, there are enough Genesis tribute bands out there and unfortunately dreadful Genesis clones and derivatives out there.

He continues to write great new material and innovate with new forms, textures and sounds. The mark of a true pioneer. As a song writer he has such an ear for melody, arrangements and dynamics in a song. Its always intriguing and exciting to see what he does next.  

l cant stand predictability in music: I mean what’s the point? Why churn out the same songs and style all your life.

As an artist if you are not gonna try something new and try to be original then why bother? Lets get some more surprises into music……. just like Steve Hackett does.

It’s not all about guitar histrionics either. He knows what the guitar can add in every song: he keeps the guitar out of the way when it is time and unleashes its power bringing it to the front when it needs to be. Total class.

He demonstrates such an important attribute in a band. No egos, no, prima donnas: just play what the song demands.

Shadow of Hierophant is an excellent example of a song which, on the surface, is a very simple but Steve Hackett piles on the dynamics throughout the song reaching a magnificent crescendo with a power that mostly orchestras can achieved but that few bands can achieve.

And Nick Beggs totally rocking playing Taurus bass pedals with his hands while sitting on the floor. Superb.  Kudos to Nick Beggs for making a new type of cool for playing bass pedals with your hands. And, like Hackett being a master of his instruments (bass and chapman stick)

Hackett has clear respect for other artists and is happy with to play/guest with a range of people such as Nick Beggs, Nik Kershaw, Ray Wilson, Roine Stolt, Chris Squire, Carl Palmer, Steve Howe and many more.

Thank goodness for Steve Hackett flying the flag for prog/original and unique rock music. Long may he continue innovating, entertaining and educating us all.

As musicians many of us could learn so much from Steve Hackett in all aspects of our art in songwriting, arrangement, artistry, collaboration, performance, and not least of all humility. Truly inspirational.

Consent Under Coercion – now streaming

I finally got Consent Under Coercion on to Apple Music. It’s now available for streaming on Apple Music (via CD Baby) and a few other sources. Of course the best place to stream the music (or even pay a few quid to download the entire album) is on my website at www.brianjohnstone.com

If you are old school you can even order a physical CD with lovely printed cover and a CD jewel case to sit amidst your impressive music collection.

No vinyl though. I couldn’t fit the the whole of the song/suite ‘The Course of Empire’ as it’s too long for one side of vinyl. You gotta love digital.

Easy as XYZ: Xcess, Yes and Jimmy Z

While in Los Angeles recently I was recording some backing tracks for my new album I bumped into Jimmy Zavala. Better known as Jimmy Z (and his band Z Tribe) he is best known for his legendary harmonica and sax work with The Eurythmics, Etta James, Bon Jovi, Dr Dre, Rod Stewart, Tom Petty, Yes and more.

A perhaps less known factoid is that Jimmy famously played the harmonica solo on one of  Yes’ best ‘rock guitar’ tracks ‘Love Will Find Way’ from album The Big Generator. A mouth organ on a Yes track? Gasp! Absolutely.

It is doubled with a guitar solo performed by Trevor Rabin but the solo demonstrates superbly how to mix instrument styles and techniques which can appear, at first sight, not to sit well together.

A classic American blues instrument mixed with classic UK progressive rock music? You bet.  That is the very essence of progressive rock in my opinion: ie music that shows signs of progression; do some thing new, shake it up,  lots of influences, defy expectations, challenge preconceptions.

Not only is Jimmy  great harmonica player but he is also an excellent sax player, writer and singer, educator, blogger and deliverer of workshops.

He is also a great singer with a great delivery and a deep rich soulful voice which has (in my ears) echoes of Greg Lake and Dave Lee Roth.  You can hear some of his work at www.ztribe.com

I am hoping to work with Jimmy Z in future which would make for awesome, new and interesting sounds.