Hey, we LOVE your music!

Never trust people who are too effusive about your talent. They’re probably preparing to shaft you. I’d hesitantly accepted a gig offer from a man I met in a bar while doing another gig  (that’s life at the top for you. ) He was “Something-To-Do-With-Art” – big on dramatic gestures and statements, small on details. Naturally he LOVED my music. I was to play for a soiree at the obscure art gallery where he reigned supreme as creator, director, coordinator and all round bigmouth.   Eccentric patrons are par for the course in Berlin, and it should have been good fun – but this guy gave me the creeps.

Relax!…. Before I could even open my guitar case, I was ordered to ‘RELAX!” In a room with no chairs, with him leering at me.  He meant “Start drinking”. I didn’t get drunk. Only bored. Fast forward 60 minutes – I just – as ever – want to play a good show. People are there. People are interested. But he was hellbent on wrong footing me…….

There was the drawn-out “testing, testing” soundcheck routine – in  a room not much bigger than my living room -which could have been done on arrival. (see  My Thoughts About Soundchecks)  Then, the interruption of the first set, mid-song, with a blast of Hawkwind.  Artistic statement? Next, the “veggie meal part of the deal” …. While the visitors were happily tucking into to generous portions of Chile con Carne, inconvenient non-meat eater here gets a last-minute unbuttered bread roll with soggy tomato slices.

IMG_3200 - Version 2

Guten Appetit

But head and shoulders over these minor woes…..NO!  NO! NO! You DON’T have to embrace the performer and give her a sloppy kiss at five minute intervals because people are clapping. Throughout the entire evening he was drunk, overly gushing, and all over me. As a feminist I wanted to kick him in the nuts. As a performer I wanted to do my job. Couldn’t find a way to do both. Cue BURNING SHAME AND INNER CONFLICT….a real fun night out.

Adding insult to injury… Later,  preparing my exit, I get hauled into a toe-curlingly embarrassing public debate about what I should be paid and whose pocket it should come out of. The resulting underpayment was buried so deep in bullshit that I only realised on the way home. But hey – we LOVE your music…..

PS: The whole sorry experience was worth it because it inspired me to write this song, which features the amazing Chris O, queen of the Australian blues scene, playing some devilishly good slide guitar.

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Jam Session Hell

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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

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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……….

The Day after the Night Before – Hamburg in the rain.

 

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The Night Before:

1622637_687901011272157_1624766221_nPoster by Arne

I’ll have you know my great grandmother was Irish!!

The Day after the Night Before:

Hotel checkout times aren’t synced to a muso lifestyle. Just forty-five minutes to rise and shine before the 11 a.m. checkout deadline. I luxuriate in the power shower for most of them –  ignoring  relentless, industrial volume hoovering and two  attempts to access my locked room. The  previously silent-as-the-grave phone rings at 10:59 to remind me. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

In the empty reception area, I eye the remaining buffet breakfast spread – especially  that massive flask of coffee. Three or four staff are enjoying a smoke in the doorway. The duty guy ambles in, and I ascertain that breakfast is NOT included in my deal. But I could have the last lonely dry roll for free.  No thanks. I have important time to kill. Three hours with a guitar and a  travel trolley in the Hamburg rain.

The Show – I’m the centre of attention. The Day After – I’m in the centre of nowhere

 IMG_1051 - Version 3

 The only encore I’m getting  now is a second cup of fairly average coffee (in a modest bakery one block from the rejected bread roll)  Never been more anonymous in my life. I didn’t bring my I-pad and I don’t possess a smartphone,  which is just fine, because I actually want to experience and explore this alone time.  It feels – surprisingly –  okay.  No urge to call home. No  bored-and-stranded terrors. My inner bitch berates me  for allowing a three hour void  to happen, but I manage to shrug it off.

I’m relaxed. At the show I was focusing ninety nine percent of my entire being on the show. (and one percent on the dodgy cable that might cut my guitar out at any second.)  But the only thing to concentrate on now is leaving an inch of foam in the cup  for an hour to prove that I haven’t officially finished it.  After my fairly-average-coffees  I take the S-Bahn to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, where I’m  meeting a friend in two hours and heading home to Berlin in three.

The station is unrelentingly hectic  and not a salubrious place to hang around in. Without the trolley I could at  least have a wander. I dither around in a room full of luggage lockers, drunks and tourists. Lack of sleep has caught up with me, and by  the time I’ve figured out the  instructions and realised most lockers are full (and sporting too many dire warnings about what isn’t safe to leave in them) another half hour has passed.  Out on the station concourse there’s a sad line of rain-spattered empty tour buses. YES! Something to do! I could see a large chunk of  wet Hamburg without getting wet myself. Something to validate these weird lost hours. But I find out the trip would take too long, and hell,  I wouldn’t have paid THAT for my own limo.

Then I spy the “Junge” Cafe-Bakerei where I could drink a slow tea with no-one hassling me. Nice people. Spontaneously start to write this   …. scrawling in biro on scrap paper for over an hour. I go to the loo in a basement that has remotely lock-able doors, with ultra-violet lights (all to keep out the junkies, the waiter apologetically explains)  Finally its time to see my friend and slot back into the flow of normal life (whatever that is.) I meet him at the ticket office, then we go back to the “Junge” where my teacup sits reassuringly on the table, exactly where I left it.

 

A month later

my second solo foray to Hamburg. This time, no weird gaps in the schedule and a great time was had by all at the PiPaPo (Stade)

 

20140412_005717 Kathy and Bjorn copy

 

 

 

 

Tips from the other side of the mic

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There’s a deluge of advice for performers and would-be-performers – do little humming warm up exercises, breath slowly and deeply,  be cool, be relaxed, don’t look at the floor…….. and engage in a open and non-threatening manner with those drunken psychos who happen to be there on your big night. And so on.

But there’s not much advice for that vital other half of the performance situation – the Audience. So I  scrawled out a few tips on beermats during the soundcheck, and here goes:

The stage – even if it’s one metre square between the bar and the fag-machine – is a sacred space.  Not a short cut to the toilets.

Great to see you dancing to the songs!  but don’t lunge into the mic-stand and break my teeth, thanks.

Occasionally I’ll have a crack at covering songs I only half-know. But if I’ve never heard of your request, sorry – no amount of pleading or even offers of hard cash will grant me the magic powers to play it

Please don’t ask me questions while I’m playing guitar. 

and double-don’t  while I’m playing guitar AND singing. (Some sweet but birdbrained young ladies actually did that recently. Although I could take it as a supreme compliment. They BELIEVE I can play, sing, listen and speak at the same time.)

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Lowdown Showdown – the onstage version (at Artliners, Berlin)

Studio Version (from the latest album by my project Kathy X) HERE

SHOWDOWN: Definitions  – noun

  1. (informal) an action that brings matters to a head or acts as a conclusion or point of decision
  2. (poker) the exposing of the cards in the players’ hands on the table at the end of the game

Synonyms = confrontation, crisis, clash, moment of truth, face-off

 Some people empathise, some negotiate, some run away….and some pile on the pressure till there’s an explosion. They blame everyone and everything but themselves. Crawling from the rubble -repeatedly – is what this song’s about. You tried and tried and tried but that person just does their same old stuff.

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Kathy Freeman: IT’S MY LIFE – the Video

kathyfreeman:

It’s My Life ….and if I want to prance around on video in a PVC catsuit at my age, then so be it.

It’s YOUR life.…unless you’re a Buddhist it may be the only one you’ll get….go for it!

It’s My Life is a raw video collage of action and photos. The moving footage – me now. The…

Kathy Freeman: IT’S MY LIFE – the Video