Archive for the ‘Music’ category

Lovin’ the library

May 22, 2009

I found myself becoming incredibly frustrated by my guitar today, but it resolved itself in the most unexpected way.

I tried learning a few different songs but – as is so often the case with music notation posted online – no two people had interpreted the notes the same and rather than tabulate the music, all I was able to find was chord progressions.  This is not unusual and normally it doesn’t bug me but today I wanted to play some songs which I knew required picking and I couldn’t find the tab for them anywhere.

Eventually, I set the guitar down, lamenting that official tab books are too expensive and that I couldn’t just borrow them from a library.

Now there’s a thought…

It had never occured to me to think of books of sheet music as, well, books, but suddenly something clicked.

I remembered being told by a friend that every edition of every book currently in print in the UK is housed in the British Library.  I am not a member of the British Library, however, I do have library cards for Birmingham – first obtained when I was trying to find a cost effective way of reading Terry Pratchett’s back catelogue on the cheap – as well as both Halton and Liverpool, for when I’m visiting my parents. If they possess even a small percentage of what’s contained within the British Library, then surely they must have some books of guitar tab.

So, for the first time in many months, I brought up the site for birmingham libraries, typed “guitar tab” into the search bar and hit enter.

Found 1000 results under category Single Copy Playing Scores.

Well, that’ll do.

Obviously not every book is a hit.  I don’t think I shall be picking up a copy of Sting for Easy Guitar Tab for example.  But several of my favourite bands like Travis and The Who are well represented.

Searches in the Halton and Liverpool library systems yielded similar results, though no such luck for Vienna, which is a shame, but at least I have a wealth of tab to go through when I return home this September.

The Ting Tings at Flex

May 3, 2009

Of all the acts playing in Vienna while I am here, the Ting Tings would not have been at the top of my “must see” list.

However, a friend needed to sell her ticket, several other friends were going and I had heard rave reviews about Flex, the bar where they were playing, so it seemed inevitable I would spend my saturday evening €20 poorer, dancing with a bunch of neon clad Austrians.

The dancefloor and stage at Flex

The dancefloor and stage at Flex

Flex is a bar down by the Danube Canal.  It was not exactly a high class riverside venue; the interior was mostly black walls with the occasional poster, but that was all covered by a constant lightshow, which gave the place a constant paty feel.  The only major problem was the unfortunate placement of several pillars, which could mean that whilst watching a band perform, all certain members of the audience were able to see was a black roof support.

The gig was packed out, making it difficult for my group to move more than a few feet from where we were.  Not that we wanted to as we’d set up camp by the bar, but, because of the aforementioned pillars, we had to choose between getting drinks or being able to see the band… or at least the taller members faced that difficult decision.  I discovered last night that Austrians are generally quite a tall people; my short arse wouldn’t have been able to see the band even if I had stood in the middle of the dancefloor!

The warm up act was a DJ who was playing generic dance tunes as we got into the venue and The Ting Tings came on stage soon after we arrived, though not before their manager came out and requested – in English – no flash photography.

Katie White of the Ting Tings

Katie White of the Ting Tings

As far as I can tell, the Ting Tings are an experiment in minimalism, most of their music is produced through a synthesiser or guitar playing over a drum while Katie White sings.  I would be interested to hear how the Ting Tings would sound unplugged, because so much of what you hear comes from post production – reverb, dubbing, harmonising lyrics – that the live show sounds no different from the CD version of the songs.  And very few of the songs are outstanding hits. 

In short, the Ting Tings hit upon a good singalong gimmick with That’s Not My Name, but failed to do anything original to follow it up.

Apart from one funny, self-depricating speech in German, read off a sheet of paper by White, sounding like a school girl reading her homework out to the class, you got the overall feeling that you would have got the same result had you put the Ting Tings album on shuffle and let it play.  There was little to no audience interaction between songs – I don’t think Jules de Martino spoke once – and the music really didn’t make the most of Flex’s sound system (allegedly the best in Vienna).  Not to mention the gig was finished by 9:45 and everyone was herded out so the club could charge another €20 for the DJ set afterwards, which left me with the feeling of having been left with just the warm up act and kicked out before the headliner came on.

The only reason the gig was passable to me was because after the first few songs, I largely let the music slip into the background and chatted with my friends, which was only interrupted so we could dance to That’s Not My Name. I went to the gig with high hopes, maybe for an experience similar to the one I had at Ingrid Michaelson’s gig, but left vaguely disappointed and was in bed before midnight.  Not one I’d recommend to my friends.

The Ting Tings can be found online at http://www.thetingtings.com/

A classic is something that everybody wants to have heard

April 28, 2009

I admit that since I arrived in Vienna, culture has not been my watchword.  Not least when it comes to music.  Thus far I’ve seen a jazz concert, an American folk singer and I’ll be going to see the Ting Tings this Saturday.  Yesterday, however, I redeemed myself.

One of my Irish friends, John, plays the double bass for orchestras in both Ireland and here in Vienna.  I saw him play just before Easter with the Uni Wien orchestra and he recently invited me to go and watch a performance by a professional orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin, perform Mahler’s 6th Symphony.  Feeling I should embrace the culture of the city, I said yes.

My view during the performance

My view during the performance

We had standing tickets and it was quite literally standing room only; the concert hall was so packed that we could not, in fact, see the performers.  I was surprised that the place had sold out, moreso that the demographics were pretty varied.  The audience seemed to range from my age to people in their golden years.  The other thing that I noticed was how warm a room can become when lots of people are standing together in a non-air-conditioned room, I was half asleep on my feet by the time the orchestra (allegedly) took the stage.

Because, of course, the music is the important thing here.  However, I always find myself facing a problem when whenever I hear classical music.  I can enjoy it, and appreciate the subtle melding of different melodies in a piece, but because there are no lyrics to explain what the song is trying to convey, I don’t really understand the emotion of what I’m hearing.  For example, the start of Mahler’s 6th was rather rousing, but I found it made me thing of the first Star Wars movie, I imagined a great power or evil chasing after a nobler soul and I found myself wondering what story the music was really trying to convey.  I felt that if I’d had a better understanding of what was happening I would have been able to better appreciate what I was hearing.

I’m curious if I would be able to follow along had I had a book explaining what the different staves meant, as I saw several people in the concert hall reading them.  As it was, for most of the performance I found myself zoning in and out and the most memorable moment was when a half-asleep old lady jumped out of her skin at a sudden crash of percussion.

This is not to say I was rude during the performance.  I was surprised to find that every squeaky floorboard seemed amplified even during the louder orchestral pieces and I was desperately worried of receiving disdainful looks from my fellow audience members every time I shifted my weight, even in spite of people committing the much greater classical music crimes of receiving phone calls or walking out of the concert hall doors during the performance.

I may be a philistine, but at least I am a respectful philistine.

Though I didn't enjoy the concert, the architecture in the concert hall was amazing!

Though I didn't enjoy the concert, the architecture in the concert hall was amazing!

Ingrid Michaelson at Chelsea

April 22, 2009

Thou shall not think having a blog makes you a journalist

– From Thou Shall Always Kill (De La Edit),

Dan LeSac Vs Scroobius Pip

I should probably start with that point.  I am fully aware that I hardly qualify as part of the new wave of journalism.  I will not be reporting,  nor offering commentary about the news any time soon, mostly because if I were to look into what’s going on in the world today, my first stop would be Wikipedia.  However, one of the great many benefits of having a blogging account is that I’m able to give into certain pretensions, certain desires to be something like a journalist.  And so it is that in this entry, I will be reviewing a gig.

I’ve adopted the view that, whatever I do, I’ll leave my Erasmus year in considerable debt so I may as well enjoy myself.  So it was that last night I found myself in the Chelsea pub to watch Ingrid Michaelson perform live.

Before the gig, I had never heard Ingrid Michaelson, I’d barely even heard of her, nor had I been to the bar she was playing at, despite it being a major Viennese venue for up-and-coming performers.  I went in with absolutely no expectations, nor preconceptions about what I was about to see, which made the overall experience all the better

Chelsea

Chelsea

Chelsea is the perfect underground music club; built into the arches of a U-bahn bridge just outside of the city centre.  It reminded me of the Cavern in Liverpool, all brick archways and windowless walls with tattered posters everywhere and I was lucky enough to arrive early with my friends and find a perch at the bar next to the stage, a perfect place for music appreciation, especially if the band turns out to be bad.

Martin and James

Martin and James

The warm up act were a couple of Glaswegian guys called Martin and James who played a set of acoustic indie songs, which to my mind were completely indistiguishable from one another.  This is not to say they were bad, they both had voices tempered by a Gallic lilt and they played their instruments well, but there was no song or tune which stood out and stuck in my memory.  They did manage to generate a good rapport with the crowd and I got the feeling that they have a charisma which they’ve not yet fully tapped.  Maybe in a few years I’ll come across them again and I’ll reserve full judgement when and if that time comes.

The main event however, was a totally different story.  Ingrid is a talented songwriter; each song is distinct and she makes use of several different instruments (Piano, Guitar and Ukelele), while following the same folk style.  Her songs speak of love and happiness in simplicity, with memorable lyrics and tunes which make me smile when I hear them all sung in a voice which is simply beautiful.  It should say something that the morning after the gig, I downloaded Ingrid’s first album from iTunes because I still had Breakable stuck in my head.

The highlight of the gig was her banter with the audience between songs.  You can see that she enjoys her job and it shines through as she jokes about such simple things – an audience member’s high pitched sneeze, for example – with a quick wit and improvisation which would put many stand up comedians to shame.  She has a very self-depricating sense of humour as well.  She joked several times about how she and her sidewoman, the charming and understated Allie Moss, stare at each other during her love songs and was not afraid to laugh at herself when she made a mistake mid-song.

Ingrid Michealson (Right) performing with Allie Moss

Ingrid Michealson (Right) performing with Allie Moss

From going in having never heard a single Ingrid Michaelson song, I left sad that the encore – a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, in which she showed off her vocal skills – hadn’t been longer or contained more of her own songs.

At the very least I would recommend her first album Girls and Boys to people, but I would most certainly go out of my way to attend a gig if she were playing near me again.

Ingrid Michaelson can be found at http://www.ingridmichaelson.com/

Martin and James can be found at http://www.myspace.com/martinandjames