Jim Fleeting wins scholarship

I must take a ride down to Ripon to meet Jim Fleeting one of these weekends.

A GIFTED Ripon guitar maker
will travel to California to learn from a master of his craft after
being awarded a prestigious scholarship.

Fleeting will head to London next month to receive £2,990 from the
Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust at the annual lunch of the Royal
Warrant Holders’ Association.

He will then fly to America to
study under Ervin Somogyi, a guitar-maker based in the San Francisco
Bay Area who teaches at an extremely advanced level, drawing upon
techniques, theories and expertise that are presently unavailable in
the UK.

Jim explained: “Mr Somogyi focuses on the ways an
acoustic guitar’s ‘voice’ is influenced by timber selection, thickness
planing and the carving of braces on a guitar’s soundboard. His
teaching will enhance my ability to control the ‘voice’ of my acoustic
guitars, which I build by hand.

“I will be the first British
luthier to study with Ervin Somogyi and I look forward to bringing this
traditional yet cutting-edge expertise to the UK for the first time.

Ripon guitar maker strikes right chord with royal scholarship – Wetherby Today

ESP semi electro acoustic

I can’t afford one, but if I could I’d have to try one of these:

FEATURES: set neck construction; 25” scale; mahogany body (flamed maple top for Brown Sunburst); 3-piece mahogany neck; rosewood fingerboard; pearl block inlays; B-Band Electret film transducer pickup system; volume, treble & bass boost/cut controls; chrome hardware; Earvana compensated nut; Grover tuners; rosewood acoustic bridge; triple layer creme binding on body, neck & headstock; 22 XJ frets

CD Review – Marianne Keith – beautiful distraction

Disclosure – I got this CD for free

This debut album by 22 year old Marianne Keith has been in regular rotation on the playlist here at Thumbrella Towers since I got it a few weeks ago. A very clean, radio friendly poppy sound brings us Marianne’s tales of (mainly) love, lost, unfulfilled and several other varieties too. There is certainly good songwriting talent here, and I know that comparisons are odious, so it is probably a good job that I can’t remember who I am reminded of when I listen to Marianne’s voice.

The first and title track, “beautiful distraction”, sounds like a single to me (but another track has been chosen) and there’s some nice underplayed guitar work with a touch of wah.

Some nice twangy guitar brings us to “The Angry Song” – yup, another “love” song:

“We don’t even have anything in common anymore, except for the fact that we fight”

For one so young (Keith is 22), she seems to have had her fair share of failed relationships – unless all of these songs are about the same relationship, of course.

We move into a rockier feel and a happier Marianne with “Happy Girl”, with a lyrical nod to Joni’s Big Yellow Taxi. I’m glad that she manages to find something to be happy about!

The vast majority of instruments on this album are played by producer Bruce Witkin, who has worked with Adam Ant and Johnny Depp amongst others. He gets a good sound from all of the instruments – most of the tracks have a similar sound and feel, as if there was a band playing, but are different enough to keep us interested.

I think female singer/songwriters are one of several flavours of the month. As a result it could be easy for some to be overlooked by the public. I hope this doesn’t happen in Marianne’s case, as she has some very good songs and a great voice. I think it might also be the case that female singers are simply discounted by a wide section of the music buying public – this too would be a mistake in Marianne’s case.

One of my favourite songs is “Something Real” – I like the melody and the full guitar sound and vocal harmonies.

The next track is “Kiss Me In The Rain”, the song chosen as a single. You can listen to it here and watch a video here. I don’t listen to the radio very much, but others in Thumbrella Towers tell me this tale of unrequited love would fit right in with stuff that’s being played on daytime mainstream radio.

The next track “Make You Mine” managed to win Marianne the Orange County Music Award in the Best Country category – I’d call it more crossover than straight country, but there’s some more good twangy guitar here.

The moody “On The Line” comes next – very modern sounding and another one of my favourites from the album.
The piano ballad “Sideways Rain” winds us down a little before final track “I’m Not The Girl For You” with a funky feel to it.

So this album will be played a lot round here, not just by me, but by other family members – I hope you’ll give it a shot too. And if Marianne needs a guitar player for her UK tour, just give me a call!

(Marianne also has a myspace page here.)

DeeExpus CD Launch/Listening Party/Review

A couple of years ago I spent a Sunday afternoon getting very wet taking photos of a band in Witton Le Wear. The bass player in that band was Andy Ditchfield, and it is he who is the main man behind the DeeExpus Project. He’s had his chance at being a rock star with The Real McCabe; when that went west he quit music, then heard some Porcupine Tree and was reinvigorated. He’s been working on this album for some time now, as well as trying to recruit a band that could do it justice in a live setting. The album “Half Way Home” is released on June 1st, and I was amongst a select audience yesterday who attended the CD Launch and Listening party.

Now, I’ve listened and relaxed to my fair share of progressive rock in my time, but it isn’t my usual music of choice and doesn’t feature at all on my ipod. But I’d heard a few of these tracks in their nascent forms on the band’s website and MySpace page, and I liked what I heard. It is clear that Andy is a highly talented guy, also a guy who is passionate about music; passionate about this music in particular. In his home studio, with some help from a few friends – especially Tony Wright on lead vocals – but mainly on his own, he has crafted songs that are interesting in so many ways – lyrically, musically and melodically. These certainly aren’t 3 minute “verse chorus verse bridge chorus” throwaway tunes – there’s nothing throwaway about any of this – the songs certainly repay repeated listening – I’m hearing new things every time I listen to the CD.

At the launch yesterday Andy told the stories behind the songs – and that was interesting, but for me the best part of the day (apart from the food!) was being able to listen to the album at a great listening volume. (All I needed was a comfy chair and my favourite relaxant – Rooibos Tea, in case you wonder, and it would have been ideal).

The album opens with Greed, a synth line starts, soon followed by a mighty riff doubled on guitar and bass. There’s some great keyboards here and a great guitar solo by Phil Sloane. Tony Wright’s vocals are clear over the changes, soaring at times. A good solid intro to the album – confident, needing to be taken seriously.

Pointless Child follows – a little more relaxed tempo to start with in this tale of lost love. Some clever backing vocals help to give the song plenty of interest. There’s a Kershaw-ish melody in the middle of this song – Andy cites Nik Kershaw as one of his influences, and whilst I don’t know a lot of Kershaw’s work, I can feel that influence here. Another great guitar solo, by Andy this time, and another good song finishes.

Now I would guess that there aren’t that many songs written about t-shirts! But the next track, PTtee is one of them. It tells the tale of a Porcupine Tree gig that blew Andy’s mind, inspired him to start creating music again – and the t-shirt that he bought there. I’m not familiar with Porcupine Tree’s work, so can’t compare any influence that they’ve had on this track, but I do know that musically it is another excellent track – a great guitar riff and a glockenspiel line that I can whistle!

Track 4 is “One Eight” a piece written after observing a group of people in a hotel bar. Quite plaintive to me to start with, at times it sounds as if, despite the sentiments in the words, the writer actually might have liked to be a part of this group of 8 friends. But just for a little while. A blistering guitar solo from Phil Sloane moves this song along nicely at the end.

One Day is a short piano and guitar instrumental piece leading into Seven Nights, a song that Andy dedicated to his partner Hil. More good vocal harmonies here, great melodies (both vocal and instrumental) and the excellent, ever present rhythm section.

At the CD party yesterday singer Tony Wright told the moving tale of the album’s title track Half Way Home and a series of tragic events that surrounded him at the time he wrote it. It was a very moving few moments. The song tells the tale of a schoolfriend of Tony’s, Jill. The song starts with a great guitar riff, then another one (where do they get these ideas from?) before the lyrics, wistful and nostalgic for times gone by, start the tale.

We sit together in I.T. class,
Me and Her, in nineteen eighty something.
Bits and Bytes playing second drum,
To our own curriculum.

We laugh and we joke, we live on a Prayer.
So early days, no burden, no care.
Everyone is in awe of her.
Perfect Beauty, I swear.

Behind the smile and Beautiful eyes,
A pain lies dormant, a deep hurt resides.
She didn’t know it, couldn’t have a clue.
What lay in store, and what she might do.

The tragic tale unfolds around us, swathed in haunting strings, broken by a fabulous guitar solo by Tony’s brother, Steve, and a clever use of spoken word about tragedy, loss and stress. As we come to the denouement of the piece, it seems that the end result is inevitable – we know how this will end:

She stands broken on the viaduct, on a cold and lonely night.
Holds her wedding band into her palm ‘til she feels the edges bite.
Salt water and mascara, track the canvas of her face,
A blurred painting in a gallery, she doesn’t seem to place.

The weather vane creaking to her right, suggests, persuades, directs.
The taxis drift behind her; a cortège of funeral guests.
She takes one last look into herself, what she’s become.
The penultimate rush of finality, here, yet only half way home.

As I said earlier, progressive rock isn’t my music of choice, but this is a very very good album. The standard of musicianship is faultless, the lyrics and arrangements are stunning, the whole sound of the album is exactly right – solid bass and drums, excellent guitar sounds and riffs, a wide and varied use of keyboards, and excellent lead and harmony vocals. This deserves to do very well, and I’m proud to say that I was there at the CD launch and know some of the folks involved.

The CD is released on June 1st and will be available from Amazon and itunes. There are plenty of samples and full tracks on the band’s website and myspace page too. I’m really looking forward to seeing this band play these songs in a live show.