Gigging Through Coronavirus

The past few weeks have been tough. The government says that jobs in the arts and entertainment sectors are ‘not viable’. In a huge slap-in-the-face to the thousands of artists, performers and technicians who have dedicated years of their lives to making their craft their career, they suggest we get ‘better jobs’.

Plenty of people have written more thoroughly and more eloquently than I could about this tremendous insult to our industry, and the impact this sort of attitude is having on all our lives. On a personal level, I have felt angry and alone, misunderstood and taken for granted. It’s been a difficult time.

But this weekend I was on the road, gigging with ’90s Jam for the first time since the beginning of March. Even just a couple of days before, I was convinced the gigs would not in fact go ahead as more and more restrictions on events were announced during last week. At times over the past week, it has felt like the government were deliberately making arts jobs ‘unviable’ by placing as many obstacles as possible in the way of us being able to do our jobs, whilst not actually locking venues back down again.

But go ahead they did! And they were cathartic, and life-affirming, and an all-round brilliant experience. A wonderful, timely reminder of why we do what we do.

Our audiences – half-capacity, socially-distanced, and unable to dance or sing along to their favourite tunes – showed their appreciation for what we do just by showing up at all. But also by clapping, stamping and banging on tables. Feeling that atmosphere in the room, that determination to enjoy the night despite all the current restrictions, was a phenomenal experience. During our encore on Friday night, I admit I got a little emotional as I played the intro on the piano.

Gigs might not look normal right now. Everyone is struggling, and we all have to adapt, and make allowances. But my experiences this weekend have shown me that live music is valued. For the past couple of weeks, I have felt like I have been shouting into a gale – I have felt like no one cares about people who work in music, no one understands us, and the people in power who make decisions are quite happy to let our industry sink without trace. It’s been a little hard not to take that personally.

This weekend, all the people who bought tickets, all the people who clapped, all the people who spoke to me after the show and said how brilliant it was to have live entertainment back in venues again… Those people showed me that music doesn’t only matter to musicians but that music is for everyone, and that we are not alone in our fight to save our industry from drowning. People want live music; they are voting with their feet, and making the opinions known. They don’t want us all to just throw in the towel, retrain and get office jobs; they want gigs back just as much as we do. That realisation is what has helped me sleep tonight.

When The Autumn Comes Music Video

The music video for the title track of my new EP, When The Autumn Comes is available in full on YouTube now. Shot at the Anteros Arts Foundation in Norwich in 2015 (shortly after the song the song was written) with photography by Boo Marshall Photography and Dynamic Dog Productions, this was a really fun video to make which captures the tone and mood of the song brilliantly – and I am extremely excited to finally get to share it with everybody ahead of the EP’s release date on 3rd October.

When The Autumn Comes

The past few months have been a difficult time for many people in the music industry. Lockdown has meant a complete lack of live gigs – and coupled with school closures, a lot of us have found ourselves with very little work, and with an unexpected amount of time on our hands instead. This has been quite a challenging period for me, with a large proportion of my normal work coming from touring. However, I have been recording and producing in my studio more than ever before, and this has also presented opportunities.

Over the last couple of months, I have revisited several songs which I began writing a while back, but which never got finished as I ran out of steam or became too busy to finish working on them. Gradually, these songs have become an EP which I have called When The Autumn Comes (after one of the tracks on the record).

When The Autumn Comes is a collection of five original songs, initially written between 2014 and 2016, and completed during the first half of 2020. The songs are all written and performed by me – except guitars (James Porter, Jamie Roe and Simon Yaxley), and bass guitar (Giles Meehan) – and recorded and mixed by me in my own studio at home.

When The Autumn Comes will be released digitally on 3rd October 2020, and will be my first new piece of work as a solo artist since my album Bones From My Back came out in 2014.

When The Autumn Comes artwork with release date banner

Axis Percussion Artist

Axis bass drum pedals and hihat stands have been been my number one choice for years. For me, the build quality and the responsiveness of the direct-drive mechanism Axis use are second-to-none.

As a session musician playing a lot of live gigs every year, I need to have absolute confidence in the quality and reliability of the equipment I use – especially pedals, which take a big beating on every show. Even with the rigours and stresses of regular touring – traveling around the country and loading in and out of different venues all the time – I know that Axis pedals won’t let me down on the road, and that my feet will feel fully connected to the drumkit when I am onstage. I still regularly gig with the very first Axis pedal I ever bought, over ten years ago, and it feels just as comfortable to play on as it always has.

In the studio, the smoothness of the pedal action and the quality of the components mean that I always get the consistency of tone and the lack of extraneous pedal noise which my remote recording clients expect from my playing.

Over the lockdown period I have enjoyed some extremely productive discussions with the guys at Axis, and I am very honoured to be able to announce that I am joining the Axis Percussion artist roster this summer. I am proud to be associated with a brand whose products I have relied upon for so long, and to represent Axis Percussion as one of their artists.

Axis Percussion Artist

Your Sibelius Toolkit at Benslow Music Postponed

Due to the ongoing coronavirus situation, I am very sorry to have to announce that my Avid Sibelius workshop at Benslow Music entitled Your Sibelius Toolkit scheduled for June has been postponed, as the Benslow Music centre will remain closed until at least the end of June this year in line with current government and expert advice.

The staff at Benslow have been fantastic in supporting their tutors during this difficult and uncertain period. Of course we are all extremely disappointed to have to make this announcement, but the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved has the be the number one concern right now.

I am currently in discussions with Benslow Music to try and find alternative ways to deliver this course, so please watch this space if that is something you are interested in, and I’ll try to have more updates available on that soon.

As the situation changes very rapidly, all my postponements, rearrangements and cancellations are being updated regularly on the Calendar page.

19% Off All Remote Recording

These are extremely uncertain times for everybody in the music industry. With gig cancellations the norm right now, I am attempting to maximise the amount of work I can do from home – and to help other musicians and producers get what they need…

studio_promo_covid19 sm

So for at least the rest of this month, I am offering an appropriately specific 19% off all remote studio work – whether recording sessions on drums, percussion or keys, or mixing or production packages.

If you or anyone you know is looking for remote studio work at a good price during this difficult period, please do get in touch.

Sharma 2000 modifications

In November I achieved a small dream of mine, as a keys player – I bought a genuine old vintage rotary cab for gigs and sessions where I’m mainly playing Hammond organ-type parts. My studio setup has evolved so that I try to stay away from emulators, and capture the sounds of real hardware and genuine components, wherever possible. So to be able to record and play live with a real rotary speaker for that sweet bluesy organ tone was a really exciting prospect for me.

The speaker I got is a Sharma 2000 – Sharma was a British firm which was a competitor to the famous American Leslie cabs during the ’60s and ’70s. It maybe a lesser-known brand, but the Sharma speaker still sounds just like the organ tone I’ve always wanted from my playing, and put a huge grin on my face from the first moment I sat down to play organ through it. (I’m playing it from my workhorse Nord Stage 2 keyboard setup as a B3 emulator – you can’t avoid emulators altogether! – but with the Nord’s built-in rotary function switched off.)

The Sharma speaker has the same 9-pin Amphenol connector you get on Leslies which carries input signal, volume information and various other program-change style controls. But unlike Leslies, the Sharma also has a ¼” jack line-level input and separate volume and bass/treble tone pots… So because the Nord Stage doesn’t have an Amphenol output (and the cables seem quite expensive!) I just used the line-level jack input and left the Amphenol well alone. Until I wanted to change the speed of the rotary motor inside…

When you use the rotary emulator in the Nord, you can switch from the slow setting to the fast with a latch pedal. I use a basic Yamaha sustain pedal (the FC5) for this, and I can just stamp on it each time I want to change the rotary speed. But that is plugged directly into the keyboard, so with only the line-level output going from the Nord to the Sharma speaker there was no way for that pedal to control the speed at which the physical motor inside the Sharma cab was spinning. So I thought I’d open up the Sharma 2000 and have a look around, to see how the speed of the motor could be controlled.

At this point, I wasn’t even sure whether you could change the speed of the motor at all; barring a skeletal Wikipedia article, I could find nothing about Sharma as a company online nor any documentation about any of their products – maybe, unlike Leslies, the Sharma rotary cabs had been built with only one possible motor speed? But I thought this unlikely, since they were designed to be competitors to Leslies, so I went exploring.

My first step was to find out more about the 9-pin Amphenol connectors, and what they could do. If it were possible to change the motor speed whilst the speaker was in use, it would be controlled from there – probably one of its pins carried information for rotary speed. Since the Sharma was designed to compete with Leslie cabs – for which there is a lot of documentation, not to mention a thriving online community, available – I went in search of a wiring pin diagram for Amphenol connectors used in Leslie cabs.

Typically for older engineering, it appeared that there was no standardised way to wire Amphenols for rotary speakers, and there were even variations in the numbers of pins used (some Leslie speakers being fitted with 5-pin, 6-pin, 11-pin or 12-pin versions of the connector instead) – but Uncle Harvey’s Guide To Leslie Pin-Outs proved invaluable, and I settled on a ‘most likely’ 9-pin configuration which suggested that grounding Pin 6 would result in a fast (‘tremolo’) rotary speed, whilst you grounded Pin 7 for the slow (‘chorale’) setting. The ground pin is Pin 1 – which explained why my Sharma had arrived with Pin 1 manually hardwired to Pin 6 with a small length of earth wire and a couple of cable crimps.

I ran a couple of quick tests, manually removing the cable crimped to Pin 6 and attaching it instead to Pin 7… And, success! The motor rotated slower, for the ‘chorale’ setting. I reattached the cable to Pin 6, and the motor sped up back to ‘tremolo’ speed. But I can’t get up from the keys mid-track, go round to the back of the speaker to fiddle with a little piece of wire every time I wanted to change the organ sound; now the challenge that remained was to be able to control this change from a footswitch whilst playing a song.

It was clear that I needed a pedal which could route a single source (ground) to one destination (Pin 6) to another (Pin 7) and back again. So unlike the momentary switching configuration of the Yamaha FC5 pedal I had been using to control the speed of the internal rotary emulator in my Nord Stage, this would need to be a single pole, double throw latching switch. Luckily this is the type of switch used in most standard guitar amp channel switching pedals – so I bought the cheapest generic guitar amp footswitch I could find which also had next-day delivery on Amazon, in the hopes of modifying it to suit my purpose in time to be able to use the Sharma 2000 (with a rotary speed switching pedal!) live on Sam Coe’s Comeback Queen album launch gig two days later.

My cheap generic footswitch (a ‘Neewer’-branded one with a pretty standard design) arrived the next day, and I opened it up to take a look at the wiring and see how I could adapt it to suit my needs. This pedal actually has two single pole, double throw switches wired to a ¼” TRS jack socket (one for each channel on a guitar amp), but I was only going to use one of the switches as I wanted to be able to stamp on the pedal in the same place all the time to change the speed without worrying about which switch was for ‘tremolo’ and which switch was for ‘chorale’. (A classic Hammond organ setup would utilise the second switch as the ‘brake’ function – ie. stopping the motor spinning altogether – but this wasn’t a priority for me as it’s not a function I use much in my playing, so I left it blank and focused on what I needed for the show in a couple of days’ time.)

As the Neewer pedal used a TRS jack socket to send its information – and came with a TRS jack-to-jack cable included – I needed another jack socket on the Sharma for the speed switcher input. Luckily I had some spare TRS sockets left over from another project, so I was able to just drill out a housing for it in the blank space on the panel at the rear of the cab next to where the other inputs and controls sit.

I re-soldered the wiring inside the pedal so that the single pole of switch number one was connected to the sleeve of the TRS socket, and the tip and ring were connected to one of each of the throws, then matched this on the TRS socket I had added to the panel on the rear of the Sharma speaker by soldering the sleeve to the earth wire crimped onto Pin 1, and removing the wiring the cables from the back of Pins 6 and 7 to solder one each to the tip and ring connectors, as per my wiring diagram below.

And all that was left to do was test it. See my YouTube video below for the full process and the final result!

 

And make sure to check out the video of Comeback Queen – the title track from Sam Coe’s debut solo album – live at Epic Studios in Norwich to hear the Sharma 2000 in action on a gig.