Denmark Street, Corporate Barbarians, and Shiny Black Guitars

The accelerating destruction of one of my favourite parts of London is well documented elsewhere. I won’t even attempt the whole story, but here’s my synopsis: Denmark Street, a.k.a London’s Tin Pan Alley, and other parts of Soho, London are being “regenerated” (read: legally vandalised, offered to the highest bidder and/or destroyed ) and regurgitated as some brave new vision of fuck-knows-what. With profits going fuck-knows-where.

Me and Denmark Street, we go back a long way

I’m not about to go all sentimental here. Most of the guitars were overpriced and I never did meet any rock legends there. But Denmark Street was  simply a small yet important part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I liked the vibes. It was always My World and nothing to do with boring day jobs, or family problems, or anything in my life that was giving me grief.  I could just mooch around at my own speed, checking out the goodies and occasionally buying more than strings and picks. Back in the seventies – then based in Liverpool – I’d gone down for a weekend and returned with a shiny black Ibanez acoustic with a Fender-style headstock from Andy’s. Purchased from Andy himself.  Super cool when everyone else in the Pool had hideous generic jumbos that looked like they’d been made from a front room sideboard.

In 2000,  I bought my lovely  SG -I Gibson in a shop that to date is Macari’s, but was then seemingly owned by Rokas, later known as Rockers. Let’s  hope it won’t shortly be owned by 02.

IMG_1995

An uncharacteristically good deal for a West End guitar!

A wake-up call I ignored

I haven’t lived in London for over 14 years and for most of them Denmark street and the surrounding area was my default place to revisit. In my head – and only in my head –  it was still the same street I’d hung out in for three decades on and off,  before moving to Berlin. The demolition of the nearby Astoria, where I’d seen a pre-mega Nirvana and danced to the Reverend Horton Heat was a wake-up call that I ignored. I didn’t like the ever-increasing number of hoardings around the Crossrail project at Tottenham Court Road every time I visited,  but tried not to think about it.

Then petitions were appearing on Facebook and I realised just how bad things really were in my old stomping ground.When public opinion and petitions were totally and cynically ignored, and the eviction order served on the  legendary 12 Bar Club, with neighbouring shops and businesses under a similar threat, I was moved to write this song:

(words and lyrics copyright Kathy Freeman 2015 )

to finish off….. a photo from a show I did at the 12 Bar.  By the way I’m playing my Other Lovely SG. It lives in London to save the hassle of transporting guitars on planes. But that’s another story….

12 bar 19 07 13

I never played at the 12 Bar when I lived in the UK, but had a great time playing there in 2013

Kathy Freeman Songs: BANDCAMP

More about Kathy Freeman at KATHY-FREEMAN.DE

Ramblings about front room concerts, forgotten lyrics, and Amanda Palmer

Fact: Some people are invariably more into drink ordering, I-phone checking, hen partying or anything else under the sun than listening  to what’s on stage. Many musician friends feel deeply wounded by this apparent lack of respect. I’m not. Which makes me  totally Zen or totally in denial, or both. I just direct myself at the good folk who ARE listening and go with the flow.  And  corporate-type events  where I’m officially background ear candy are  actually great opportunities to experiment, and to improve on new or rusty repertoire.

However when I played a  Wohnzimmer (Front room) Konzert  two months ago near Chemnitz at the Scala Adorf  (official title of Micha and Kat’s front room, in the country village where they host monthly invite-only events) ……. something very different happened.

Everyone was listening in rapturous pin-dropping silence ……and that’s just while I looking for my plectrum. Ah, that’s what respect is! You have to truly deliver to deserve it. Time to  be totally focused, totally honest…. and to think on my feet.  I played the intro of one song, and then faced the singer’s ultimate nightmare – total lyrics blank. After 3 unusually long seconds, I announced that my subconscious was telling me not to play that song, and moved on. (and it’s still telling me, because I can’t remember which song it was) But the songs I did remember went down really well, we got that connection going, and I was firing on all four.  By the second set  it felt less like a poetry reading and more like rock’n’roll.

Cushion-cat watches me at the soundcheck.

Cushion-cat watches me at the soundcheck.

The Magic Carpet

The Magic Carpet

Micha is a massive Amanda Palmer fan, and this got me wondering how the evening would have gone with her at the wheel. Wohnzimmer concerts remove the filter of all those subplots that go on in traditional venues. It’s artist to audience undiluted. I’d read about how Amanda P had achieved total one-ness with her fans by letting them write all over her with felt-tip pens. While I got as far as encouraging them to sing along on a couple of numbers.  Maybe that’s why she’s made a million and I haven’t. But at least I didn’t have to stand in the shower afterwards for 20 minutes with a scrubbing brush and a jar of Swarfega.

My accomodation  was about six metres and a flight of stairs from the venue

My accomodation was about six metres and a flight of stairs from the venue

I can honestly say it was a great evening and I’m ready to do more like it! Especially if they make coffee like Micha does.

Farewell Scala Adorf (photo by Michael Reich)

Farewell Scala Adorf (photo by Michael Reich)

    You can hear some of the songs I played, and a shedload of other ones here at BANDCAMP

More about Kathy Freeman at  KATHY-FREEMAN.DE

I have plans. BIG plans…..

….they materialised from somewhere deep in that nebulous no-man’s land between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

It’s over two years since I experienced that curious mix of planning, luck, creativity and unbearable stress  a.k.a  Recording An Album at Home, and I’m about to do it again.

Time was, I’d go in a “real” studio with loads of gear and a massive clock on the wall, hoping we wouldn’t run into extra time. In a way, that got results. With a low budget indie label, there was a vanishingly small chance of redoing anything that wasn’t up to scratch, plus there’s nothing like a deadline to focus your performance.

Olstyn 2004 - Recording Ready for Anything

Recording “Ready for Anything” by Kathy X (Studio X Olstyn, Poland 2004) – had to concentrate VERY hard!

the desk was THIS big...

the desk was THIS big… according to our top-notch engineer Martin K

The 13-track Kathy X album took 5 days to record AND produce, and it still sounds good. Fast forward to now. I’m fortunate enough to be LIVING in a well-equipped home studio with my favourite bassist Mr Rob Raw – who also does audio-engineering. Yet it’ll be May earliest before the New Album – with a similar number of tracks –  is born. Why the time difference? The songs are no more complex.  Five chords will still be the height of sophistication.  It’s something like this:

A band is more than its members.     As a band, the members of Kathy X squabbled and argued and rarely rehearsed longer than 60 minutes a month,  but we pulled the rabbit out of the hat when it came to doing shows and putting down tracks. They all had that “band stamp”.  As a solo artist, recording with guest musicians who’ve rarely if ever played those songs live with me, it’s a different deal. Less arguing ….. less chemistry.  The onus is more on ME to work the magic, which takes time.  Without going into technical details… it’s akin to putting on make-up for hours to finally achieve the natural look.

Logistics.    I have up to three projects on the go at any given time, and so does Mr Rob Raw. It takes about two hours for me to get in the right headspace to record a single track, him up to two hours to get the sounds perfect before recording it, and between ten minutes and three hours to actually record it. Multiply that by all the tracks on all the songs, add production and mastering time, divide that by the amount of time we are both at home at the same time,  subtract a few hours for not having to travel, add them back on for answering the phone and emptying the washing machine….and you’ll be confused.

Anyway it’s more than five days.

 Decisions….    About artwork. About promotion. About pressing of physical copies. About all kinds of stuff that used to be decided by someone else or communally is now up to me, which is both liberating and a pain in the arse.

But it’ll all be worth it…so watch this space!

Studio 88 Special Effects Area

Studio 88 Special Effects Department

Kathy Freeman Songs: BANDCAMP

More about Kathy Freeman at KATHY-FREEMAN.DE

Shot to Dust with the help of a synth and a blue dress

For more information on Kathy Freeman go to the Website or Bandcamp

My video  Shot to Dust is safely up on You-tube with no hitches or glitches….and I can finally see it from the other side of the lens. I’m still taken aback by the process that got it to this point. I use the word “process” lightly, as a couple of lucky chance events propelled it into life.

The song was initially a half-hearted revamp of something I’d drafted in the nineties. Then I stumbled upon Setting 189 a.k.a Northern Winds on my partner’s ancient Kurzweil  synth and everything changed. My original concept of a quick afternoon shoot at Ceven‘s home studio to create a video I might release some time-maybe-whenever was out of the window…..we had a storm to create. As luck would have it we had access to the perfect location (as described in my last blog)

You can see and hear the Northern Winds on the video right now!

Northern Winds

Northern Winds

My other lucky stroke was finding the dress I wore throughout. A week before the shoot the song was screaming for something dramatic.  Designer labels were way beyond  budget. A thorough search of Neukoelln‘s finest Turkish wedding shops revealed nothing suitable (and would still have left me at least 300 euros out of pocket.) Dispirited, I was about to take the train home, empty handed. But something prompted me to have one last shot….I backtracked to an unprepossessing row of shops I’d not previously bothered with, and entered a generic looking unit crammed with an unnappetising mix of babyclothes, tracksuits and tacky lingerie. Hanging  randomly alone and unloved right at the back, still in a polythene wrap was MY dress….I just knew it had been waiting for me.  By now it was closing time and after the brief formality of trying it on, I took ownership – even getting a 3 euro discount as they didn’t have a card reader and I was short of the unbelievably modest asking price.

My Blue Dress. (The rosette had to go)

My Blue Dress at home (The rosette had to go)

indoor coloured

My Blue Dress on location

ranting at the elements

My Blue Dress on location (2)

Such is the impact of fairly random events on my life……

Shot to Dust

It happens that Steven Spielberg is in town working on his next big production. I don’t suppose the catering facilities look much like these:

Time for Tea

Time for Tea

But the humble nearby China-Bistro, a kettle that took ten minutes to boil, and an ancient woodburning grill were more than adequate for fuelling myself and my tiny loyal crew as we shot my next big production in a derelict former coalminer’s house circa four hours, two buses and three train-rides from the comfort of Berlin.

The plan: Overnighting meant an early start for filming  my next music video. One shoot in a desolate downstairs room.

Between Takes

Between Takes

The second under a towering glowering autumnal skyscape. Only it was the clearest, sunniest day for that time of year since records began….No matter, we found a place where the sun don’t shine

Swamp

Down by the Swamp

More on the whole adventure in my next blog – watch this space and don’t fall in any swamps…..

 Shot to Dust  refers to the song title in the upcoming video. For regular updates on me and my musical adventures join the mailing list.

P.S…..

I don't suppose Mr Spielberg's makeup people are busy tipping old makeup bags upside down in the hope of finding THAT postbox red lippy to save spending 4 Euros in Rossmann's on a new one

The makeup here took some organising! (Are Mr Spielberg’s makeup people busy tipping old makeup bags upside down in the vain hope of finding THAT postbox-red lippy?)

Don't Get Too Comfortable

Don’t Get Too Comfortable   The closest thing to a worksurface that came to hand.  But we weren’t fazed. Don’t ask me what the knife was for.

Making the scene

For updates on shows and projects: join the mailing list at my website

I never made permanent membership status for any subculture (“broke musician” doesn’t count ) but not for lack of trying. I’d always so wanted to belong to one scene only, with whatever  exclusive music, cars, clothes, hairstyles and unwritten social codes went with it.

It started when my big brother was hanging around with exciting people who smoked, listened to jazz music and only wore black. I dreaded them  spotting me in my school blazer (navy blue.)  Brother’s beatnik pals  hit the road and drifted out of my life, and the  logical next stop was hippie-town. Maybe I’d have lived my whole life out as a late-blooming flower child but  history intervened.

Heading West

Heading West

I was  living in a quasi-commune and even baking wholemeal bread for a while, when  along came punk and blew a big hole in all that Earth Mother rubbish.  I never wore flares again, and  only just missed hacking off my waist length hair and spiking it. I settled for bleaching my  fringe to  near-extinction My  former hippy pals blanked me in the street. So much for love and peace, man.

 

accs live 2

 

I  truly BELONGED  to punk for a while, but the intensity of that  flame dwindled as the eighties arrived along with a sea of synths and whining vocals.  The spirit remained, but my focus had to change.

For a moment  I was into motorbikes.  I earned a few  stripes by riding pillion on a Triumph from London to Liverpool and back. In the snow.  I’d  get a brief acknowledging nod from the bros in the biker pub with my honorary status as “righteous chick”. But that’s as far as it went.  The Biker Chick’s lot was not for me. Deep down I knew I’d always favour a shedload of musical paraphernalia blocking my hallway over a shedload of oily engine parts. And more importantly I couldn’t face a lifetime of never being able to have big hair because of the helmets.

Then there was Psychobilly, which could have been my default landing after Punk’s demise, but wasn’t.  I saw the seminal  Meteors in the Ace, Brixton in 1983, but the penny didn’t drop.  Several years passed before my next encounter,  when Joyryde supported Demented are Go at the Dublin Castle in Camden.  The sight of twenty sweating  fans with full body tattoos and Mohawks  (that was the men) wrecking on the dancefloor wasn’t my lightbulb moment though I liked what I was hearing. More years passed, before a chance meeting led to  playing guitar for the Death Valley Surfers. Once more I had that magic list of who to  hang out with, what to wear and what bands to listen to.

Death Valley Surfers

A cool ride while it lasted, but belonging to  the one tribe was  eventually thwarted; partly  due to  wrong hair (again)  and no tattoos, and largely  by the obstinate part of me that insisted on writing  and performing off-genre songs. My own psychobilly band got stick for not being “pure psychobilly” and I realised yet again, I couldn’t rest in anyones else’s comforting but temporary subcultural space.

Songs about not fitting in: HERE

Loner

 

Eight Lanes of Incomprehensible Internet traffic

For updates on shows and projects: join the mailing list at my website   For songs: Bandcamp

From a Facebook mail I sent,  which somehow survived deletion (Hi there N S A!)

“Hey XXXXX – thanks for your Fandalism invite ….I have to admit to being somewhat burned out with online networking/sharing activities – just counted at least SEVEN sites where my online musician persona is partying, singing and dancing and promoting its little self 24/7. But maybe number eight is my magic number? Or just more hours with a hunched back….I really don’t know – what do you reckon?”

What you see on this blog is the tip of a technological iceberg. Steep, steep learning curves got me here and most other Net places.  As an “I- don’t-read- the- manual” diehard, I just try things out, lose drafts, misunderstand instructions and occasionally burst into tears. Eventually its all fine and dandy – apart from the feeling I just lost a few hours of my life.

When my first significant band, The Accelerators came together you couldn’t be in eight places at once.

In fact the process of  getting people to know who we were was pretty damn simple.

ACCEL4

Promoters
You phoned promoters. You generally found they weren’t there or were “in a meeting” but got some clues as to when they would be, noted time in diary and tried again. Ad infinitum

Journalists

See “promoters”

Fans

They came to your shows. If they liked you, they’d come again.

Promotion

Photocopied flyers and posters plus the odd Band Photo for sending to Journalists/Promoters I’d actually managed to contact

Early Accelerators Poster

Early Accelerators Poster

Networking

I didn’t “get” networking, beyond saying hello to people at Erics.  Playing shows was the be-all and end-all of my existence.

It wasn’t ideal, but now I miss that safe and guiding wall of limited options that could never have allowed me to go running haplessly into eight lanes of incomprehensible Internet traffic.

I was not being relentlessly urged to connect with more people than I could handle if I had several lifetimes to do it in.. I did simple stuff like visiting musician friends without even phoning first. To talk about all kinds of things in real time over a brew and a spliff.

Enough!! – I hear the warning siren of a nostalgia alert.

See you

PS Talking of incomprehensible Internet traffic…..between you and me, I don’t actually understand how I manage to do this blog. It’s all trial and error. And the FAQ section is not for the fainthearted.

But I’ll be back in a month.

Jam Session Hell

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For  Kathy Freeman songs go to Bandcamp

 

The Jam Session

If it’s a good one there’s an energy that’s more than the sum of its musical parts. It’s truly COOKING.  A mundane 12 bar blues jumps to a whole other level. For a few seconds the whole universe makes sense. I’ve experienced a handful of those. Sadly outnumbered by jam sessions from hell.

 

Jam sessions can get sticky sometimes.

Jam sessions can get sticky sometimes.

 

Three-sheets-to-the-wind Singer of Tuneless, Unstructured and Incomprehensible Socio-political Rants

Flashback to my first year in Berlin. Hungry to connect with local musicians, my social life consisted of a faithful rota between three session venues. The Acud,  the Floez and the Anker. The Acud was the edgiest. You never knew what was about to go off (and I don’t just mean onstage) It was a magnet for folk with a screw or two loose. At sessions a bassist and drummer generally stayed put for an hour or more, backing the  never-ending queue of guitarists, singers, horn-players and assorted wannabes. Unless you were high in the pecking order – which I wasn’t, being a) an outsider b) female  and c) sadly lacking in flashy effect pedals – you got max three songs. There was a particularly hot rhythm section that night and, happy to be next in line, I tuned up and stepped up. So did the Acud’s pet village idiot, a three-sheets-to-the-wind singer of tuneless, unstructured and incomprehensible socio-political rants.  The hot rhythm section stopped for a cold beer, only pausing  to make the stitch-up official by announcing me and him as the next act. Which is how I got stuck in front of at least 50 people with the task of making Sonny Jim sound like a rock star. Thanks guys.

Darkest chapter in  Jam Session History

…..The Floez folk were friendlier, but  had a weird guitar culture  – four or more volume 11 guitarists  might be onstage at any given time. (They’d play a mandatory 15 minute version of Pick up the Pieces by the Average White Band  every session, and if you got it wrong you  hadn’t made the grade.) But  I’m the queen of less-is-more.  Two guitarists, maybe (under strict supervision.)  Three’s a crowd.  Four’s a nightmare.  A new tactic was called for. I brushed up diligently on my basic bass skills and turned up one night with my lovely Fender Jazz bass.

My lovely Fender Jazz Bass

My lovely Fender Jazz Bass

I stood in the hallowed spot normally occupied by the regular Floez bassist, who was on holiday….. I’m actually doing OK for the first few songs, even managing occasional fancy turnarounds …till we start on Hey Joe, with that all-time defining killer bass line  hook which I hadn’t a clue how to play.  The self-appointed head guitar honcho – a mean little guy with a Hitler moustache  (who probably worked in the tax office for his day job) conspicuously crosses the stage, mid-song,  to tell me, – “We have to talk!” He consolidates his people skills by yelling through the mic at the end: ” Do we have any proper bass players here?” Some hairy muso, who’d been playing bass since birth, lurches onto the stage as I ignominiously slink off.

That’s all folks

These events were the lowest points, flanked by many less memorable, mediocre  onstage moments.  In which men (invariably men) listened with rapt attention….to their own instruments and little else. The magic times happened with those who listened to, and respected,  their fellow players. The Anker was much better for that, with a hot house-band who were flexible and welcoming. I’m still grateful to their frontman, Tom Blacksmith – a real gentleman who always gave me a break, and Nina Davies the  superb keyboard player who  was also happy to let me in.

In the end the jamming experiences  – both good and bad – motivated me to get my own band together. Goodbye sessions, hello Kathy X

Kathy X Leipzig Tattoo Convention 2003

Kathy X Leipzig Tattoo Convention 2003

Rambling about Marshall Stacks again

 

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I discarded 90% of my worldly goods when I moved to Berlin  but the Marshall Stack came with me.  Death Valley Surfers  had a New Year’s Eve show there at the end of 2000, and it came along in the van  (along with the other 10% of my worldly goods.)  I’d never envisioned the Stack not being a  part of my life,  but my life changed.  Gig requirements in my new home shifted from “band van” to “small car” or even “take the bus” shows.  My last-century  sound equipment was becoming more decorative than functional. It graced the minimally furnished front room of my first  Berlin flat, but it didn’t get around much.

Marshall Stack and Ms Ruby Freeman

Marshall Stack and Ms Ruby Freeman, Berlin 2003

Eventually  a move to a third floor apartment with no lift overtook all other considerations. Goodbye, Stack.

I was doing mainly salon and bar shows where a  compact and minimal setup was the way to go. After one or two experiments with a Beringer and a custom made Michael Bender (cult Berlin amp inventor),  I went for  a double act of sturdy new generation VOX-es.  They had precious little of the magic  I remember from the AC 30 I played in the seventies (though the little pink one scores  10 for cuteness)

Big Vox and Little Vox

I didn’t give Marshalls much more thought to be honest, until I made a trip to Liverpool with my partner in 2005. We chanced to see a poster in a  guitar shop, advertising none other than Jim Marshall,  signing copies of his new CD that day . The total lack of fanfare was unbelievable. I’ve seen better publicity for a church jumble sale.  Naturally we went in and he signed two posters for us. As can happen with meeting famous people, I could think of buggerall to say.  This was compounded by my guilt  for having ditched his creation the year before . But somehow I did manage  a couple of pleasantries, and will never forget the impression he made – courteous, unassuming and a total gentleman  – I’ll also never forget  my astonishment on hearing his CD  which was a million miles from the rock monster sound he’d created, more like granddad singing in the bath. Bless him.

Gentleman Jim Marshall, Liverpool 2005

Gentleman Jim Marshall, Liverpool 2005

Finally,  a photo  of the Stack on active service – at a  Joyryde recording at  Alaska studios, London in 1993.  I think the corrugated iron was there to make it even louder.  Scientific explanations  welcome.

Marshall Stack at Alaska Studios 1993

 

 

Rambling About Marshall stacks

For regular updates and free downloads from Kathy Freeman, join my mailing list

The wine was flowing at the birthday party, and our covers band was taking a break between sets. We were chatting to a fifty-something guest who’d renewed an old love affair with guitars and was embracing the sound technology  that hadn’t been there the first time round. He waxed lyrical about a Line 6 gizmo, which could be preset to recreate all the classic amps. I found myself agreeing that it must be wonderful to just press a key and sound like a Marshall stack. Probably minus some tedious pre-digital restraints of price, size, and temperamental valves. But something was bugging me. I felt strangely disloyal for smiling and nodding – as if I should be defending some ancient rock code of conduct.

The Birdhouse and the Marshall 1989

The Birdhouse

Would Hendrix have used a Line 6? Or is he turning in his grave?

Later on the way back to Berlin, with our (non-Marshall stack) equipment packed behind my seat I thought it over. If the Line 6 really DID sound identical to a Marshall, who was I to say “It’s not the same….” or “Back in the day…”  or any  other neo-Luddite remark…..? This is as near as I got to an answer…

Take gold. People  steal, they fight, or they give all they possess to acquire it. Rightly or wrongly it’s special. Now, if some 14th century alchemist had figured out how to create gold from horse manure, then it’d still be 100% gold. But no longer special. So it is with my perception of Marshalls. If a bunch of geeks put it to the test and had me listening to a Marshall and a Line 6, maybe I’d be unable to tell the difference. BUT none of these hypothetical geeks would have directly experienced the sheer physical presence and power of Jim Marshall’s sound engineering  masterpiece. None of them would have realised that it was truly in another league at that time. None of them would have put their hard-earned savings across the counter to buy  the damn thing.  The value of it is no longer in the sound but somewhere in my psyche. I’m SO glad I lived with the magnificent Marshall beast before it got reduced to a disposable software option. Even if I did have to lug it up the stairs at 4 a.m.

 

Joyryde and the Marshall 1996

Joyryde

Death Valley Surfers and the Marshall 1999

 The Death Valley Surfers

More to come on Marshalls later this summer –  watch this space……….