Tuesday, 24 December 2013

My album "Still Life" is Free for Christmas

Merry Christmas everybody, as a thanks I've decided to make my album Free for the foreseeable future on my Bandcamp page. You can of course "Pay What You Want" but please, if you can't afford to pay, just hit download and get it. I'd much rather you listen to my music than not.

As a taster here's a review that was posted on Amazon a short time ago by the author Mike Martin.

A fine solo work from Chris Picton (a founder member of the criminally underrated Quecia).

Chris's progressive rock roots and credentials run deep, but there's a lot more to his work than that. He isn't afraid to add to the mix and bring in other styles and influences, which gives his songs a modern feel whilst emphasising his belief in musicianship and attention to detail.

If you hark back to an era when the mastery of musical instruments and creative studio time drove bands to produce genuinely innovative music that stood the test of time, check this out. If you can't remember those days, check it out anyway. You might be surprised!

A brief rundown of the tracks:

Run On This Land: A mournful, atmospheric instrumental song dominated by an intriguing interplay of delicate piano, powerful sweeps of synthesiser and fine guitar work.

Judgement Day: Evocative keyboard interplay gives way to harder, guitar driven pieces interspaced with delicate interludes until drums and keyboards build to augment the guitar work on a standout track.

Face To Face: Hayley Mc Carrick (of Quecia) makes a welcome return, her vocals matched superbly by Chris's rich, multi-instrumental backdrop which drives the music without intruding on her sensitive and compelling performance.

Frozen In Time: Begins with a wash of haunting synthesiser and poignant guitar, and then builds nicely with drums and more guitar, weaving effortlessly in style and mood to great effect.

Solar Motion: A delicate, piano led introduction gains momentum when fuelled with driving drums, flowing rock guitar and potent synthesiser. The reprises of piano provide a beguiling contrast to the building tempo and power of a very well-crafted song.

Still Life: The title track is graced by Kirsty Mc Carrick (another Quecia stalwart). Yearning and angst are never overstated in a fine vocal performance ably matched by Chris's powerful but always complimentary and sympathetic instrumentals.

Free Fall: Mournful, evocative lead guitar dominates another fine instrumental track.

Sunny Side: A track in the same vein as Free Fall but with a lighter, more optimistic feel, where the other instruments are allowed more space to roam and interweave with the guitars.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Uriah Heep - Conquest

Uriah Heep's 1980 album "Conquest"
As a follow up to my post last week on vinyl I thought I'd share with you the latest addition to my collection.
I had a mooch round a market this morning and found this little gem. Although it cost me a fiver, which is still cheap, it's in mint condition and a 1st press to boot.
The 1980's era of Heep is kind of lost on me and this is a very much changed line-up to ones I'd been used to in the 70's. John Sloman was on lead vocals, Lee Kerslake had left to be replaced by Chris Slade on drums. Trevor Boulder was on bass along with regulars Ken Hensley keyboards, synth, guitars and vocals and the ever the present Mick Box on guitars and vocals.
On first listen, the album is very different to the heavier more progressive influences of the early 70's I'd grown up with. The musicianship is superb but it feels like the band are trying hard to be more commercial with a pop/rock type of sound and arrangements. The songs are quite short and punchy with some nice ballads. I think it will grow on me with a few more listens and I certainly don't think it's a bad album just different to what I expected.
The album got a couple of good reviews back in the day and charted in the Top 40 in the UK, unlike the 3 previous albums with John Lawton on lead vocals. Heep have never really been massive here since those early 70's classics but continue to be one of the hardest working bands around, touring all over the world. Check them out at www.uriah-heep.com but more importantly, if you get the chance, go and see them live, because they are superb and still rock!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela

Today is the 95th birthday of Nelson Mandela. Sadly he is not in good health but seems to be "steadily improving", spending several weeks in hospital in Pretoria. South Africans are being urged to match the former president and anti-aparteid leader's 67 years of public service with 67 minutes of charitable acts. 
The day starts off with millions of school children across South Africa singing Happy Birthday to Mr Mandela. To mark the former statesman's 67 years as a lawyer, activist, prisoner and president, volunteers will spend 67 minutes renovating schools and orphanages, cleaning hospitals and distributing food to the poor.What a brilliant idea in my view and something which could and should be extended throughout the world, on a weekly/monthly basis if you ask me!
I first became aware of the South African struggle to overcome Aparteid through music. Peter Gabriel released a song on I think his 3rd album in 1980 called "Biko". It quickly became an anthem after Steve Biko a student leader and anti-aparteid activist died in hospital after having being held in police custody. He was arrested under the anti terrorism act and was the 20th person to die in custody in an 18 month period. 
The track inspired me to research and support the struggle along with many other people across the world and hopefully the power of  music played some small part along with Mr Mandela and Steve Biko and many others to bring about such positive change in South Africa.
We can hardly imagine the oppression and struggle that these men and so many others have gone through but to quote the great man himself.
“It always seems impossible until it's done.” ― Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Strange Feet

My Feet
I was sitting listening to some music the other night and the iPad was resting on the table. Unbeknown to me the camera was switched on with the camera lense hanging over the edge of the table. As I looked down into the screen I saw an unusual view of my feet and my hand, which just happened to be in the frame. It made my feet look strangely small with a big hand in view.
I started playing about with different positions moving my feet around and came up with this shot which I thought was quite original, maybe it's not but it's something I'd not seen before.
Now I'm sure you're asking by now, what has this got to do with music? Well, when I'm recording or creating music I do like to experiment with changing the melody and harmonies. At times I'll be playing along to a track not thinking much about what I'm doing and hit a note that I'd never thought of playing. My reaction then is "ooh what's that?". This then takes me in a completely different direction. Composition by accident or improvisation even, but it is amazing how many times this happens. Other times I'll have discarded a sound, revisit it and now think "Ah yes that works now."
It's important to be original, don't just stick to tried and trusted formula in music or your art. Try something different and follow a new direction for you if you can. Don't worry about genre, or writing the next big hit for example, just try to create your best work. Not everybody likes the same and people will find you and love what you do if you do it well and stick to what you believe in...

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Vinyls in the Loft Anyone?

Phew its a warm one today, hottest day of the year if the weather forecasters have got it right. Been in the garden for a bit but need a break from the heat so I thought I'd put on some music.
In the last couple of years I've started listening to vinyl records again. My album collection used to be in the loft as I had no record deck and I'd find myself thumbing through the fantastic artwork whenever I was up there looking for Xmas decorations or suitcases or whatever. Then after some thought I decided to buy a deck. I found a Technics on ebay for £40 and the deal was done.
Wishbone Ash - Argus
I dragged all the albums down, linked it up and away I went. The usual crackles and pops didn't make any difference to my enjoyment, in fact they brought back happy memories if anything, but I did find I was liking the sound and had forgotten how good vinyl can be, especially the warmth in the bass end. I compared the sound to some CD's I had of the same album and then to MP3's and in my opinion a good unmarked, unscratched vinyl wins everytime, especially over MP3's. And if you want to get technical, the first pressings are even better as they are closer sounding to the Original Master tapes.
I know this could seem a bit sad of me or even snobbish but if you listen to music a lot its great to have the alternative. Of course I listen to stuff on my PC or iTunes but it's good to have a vinyl night every now and again, usually a Friday evening when there's time to chill.

Another great benefit I find is, you listen to the whole album, warts and all,  as the artist intended. With digital formats its too easy to skip tracks or part listen to a song and move on to the next track or even the next artist. With vinyl you put Side A on from start to finish, flip it over and listen to the other side.
I'm not saying every music fan should go out and buy a record deck like I did, but I know vinyl sales have gone up substantially in the last few years and if you still have a record collection like I did, why not spend a few quid on buying a "Record Player". You might find its the best 40 or 50 quid you've spent in a long time.
Finally - Markets, Charity Shops and Car Boots are great - Classic Albums for a quid, now you can't go wrong with that can you?
Back to the sunshine I reckon!!!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Album Coming Along Slowly

My Home Studio
Since my last post I have moved onto the 5th track of my album. I'm trying to work in a linear way as opposed to jumping from track to track as I find that can become confusing and you tend to to spend half your time reviewing what you did the last time you visited that particular piece of music.

I've done that in the past, got stuck on a guitar part or keyboard part and thought, stuff it and moved onto something else. Then when I eventually come back to the part, days or even weeks later I'm back to square one.
Other times it can be refreshing to leave something and revisit it later, then you put it down in one take and wonder what all the fuss was about.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to recording or creating a piece of music or any art form for that matter, be it Books, Painting, whatever. It can be good to give the brain or your ears a bit of time to rest and recover or you can push on through the problem and stay up all night until your happy. Then again you may review it the next day and end up deleting it anyway. Ha Ha!
For this album I've decided to work on recording one piece of music at a time. I tend to mix as I go along until I'm reasonably happy with how its sounding and then bounce it down to a stereo mix, back it up and move on to the next one. Remixing again when the recording process is done.

As for Mastering, i.e. adding the final polish - I will do that at the very end when all the tracks are mixed and I can work them all together to get the finished article. I do think Mastering is a completely different entity and should be treated that way and if funds allow get a professional Mastering Engineer to do it for you if you don't have experience in that field.
I hope that kind of makes sense and I do hope you're all enjoying the great weather... in the UK at least.