An Introduction to the Cajon

Playing-the-cajonGiven that the very word Cajon means box in Spanish, it is pretty easy to guess the evolution of this popular percussion instrument. Displaced African Slaves would use packing crates to replicate the drums of their homeland and the latin music of South America similarly employed old drawers and boxes in the same way and so the instrument was born. Musical necessity is the beat keeping mother of invention, it would seem. The instrument has since become associated with all forms of folk music, in the broad sense, meaning not just the folk genre, but blues, flamenco, country, bluegrass, gypsy…any music born out of the more impoverished strata of society.

Ironically, even in these more affluent times, the instrument is undergoing a renaissance, less out of practicality but more because modern musicians are exploring the authentic roots sounds of the past and incorporating them into all forms of indie, pop, nu-folk even dance and urban music.

Although if you are looking for real authenticity you could make or appropriate your own from discarded crates, cases or boxes, as a modern instrument the best approach is to purchase a professionally made Cajon, one that has a number of features that enhances the sound and allows you complete control and range whilst playing it. Most instruments will have the same common features.cajon_playing

Bearing in mind that you sit on the instrument itself to play it, comfort and versatility are important. A padded seat is an obvious starting point, especially if you are planning to sit down and play for a couple of hours at a gig but also features such as adjustable feet mean that you can change the position of the instrument for maximum comfort and non-slip rubber feet will mean that you don’t become the star of the show for the wrong reasons. Drum rolls should only happen when intended.

A Cajon’s unique sound comes largely from the snare wires within and these need to be adjustable, just like any other instrument you will want to change the sound from time to time or even from song to song.  Different wood finishes might make the instrument look great but it is also these that define the acoustic quality so try a few different ones out to find what works for you. You can also think about using a kick pedal or even brushes to create even more sound variation.

Price wise you can largely pay what you want and expect to get what you pay for, even under the $100 mark you will find perfect and fully functional cajons though the more you pay obviously the quality and capability of the instrument evolves from a basic percussive crate right up to electronic studio instruments. Its all there for the asking, you just need to decide what best serves your purpose… and pocketbook.

The Cajon has come along way from a discarded box reused to create beat and rhythm by industrious Peruvian musicians in the 18th century to the cool and contemporary, nu-folk musical weapon of choice. There is a wealth of instruments available to the modern percussionist, options ranging from the all encompassing, professional precision piece to the cheap and practical starter instrument. And if you are looking for the perfect place to start then you get that for free – http://cajonguide.com/the-box-cajon-drums/

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Mark Fisher and The XTC Bumper Book of Fun For Boys and Girls @ Swindon Central Library

32116780_598609900505909_156945689908084736_nWe live in an information age. Actually we live in a too much information age, especially when it comes to knowing about your favourite bands. There was a time when musicians where a thing of mystery, strange nocturnal creatives, slinging guitars and waxing lyrical, today..well, not so much. Want to know what artist X had for breakfast? There’s a picture on instagram. Want to hear the next record before it is officially released? There’s a free teaser video on their Facebook page. Interested in what other, like-minded fans think about any and every aspect of the band in question? Join a forum, go without sleep and give up work.

It seems almost unbelievable today but there was a time when none of that was possible, before the internet, personal computers, mobile phones and reality TV, a much simpler time indeed. How did bands and fans communicate with each other? The answer of course is The Fanzine. Outside of going to gigs and buying the records, fanzines were the main, possibly only, conduit between band and fan. A type written, black and white, Zeroxed collection of words, pictures, Letraset and staples that would come through the post a few times every year.

Continue reading “Mark Fisher and The XTC Bumper Book of Fun For Boys and Girls @ Swindon Central Library”

So fare thee well NME…

516748GOdPL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_As much as I slowly fell out of love with The NME from about the mid nineties onwards, though that could just as easily be because I was neither that enthused with grunge or that excited about Brit-pop, admiring greatness has to be a relative thing, something done from a distance. After all Liz Frazer was 19 when The Cocteau Twins made Garlands, as was Kate Bush when she made The Kick Inside and Van Morrison only 23 when he made Astral Weeks.

The point is sometimes artists best work happens because of the energy of youth and you could argue that the paper did its best work in its twenties. Writes Like Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent, Ian McDonald and Mick Farren guided the music fan through the golden age of rock excess, before the likes of Burchill and Parsons gonzoed their way through the punk years.

The eighties were a bit trickier but for every Paul Morley banging on about dead philosophers in a dense and unreadable style, you had a Stephen Wells and his wonderfully antagonistic tirades, a knowledgable Barney Hoskins and a whole host of people who now get wheeled out as talking heads on Sky Arts documentaries.

I read all the other papers too, Sounds for the more rock orientated coverage, Melody Maker for the pop stuff, and between the three of them and the likes of John Peel’s quasi-religious broadcasts, in this pre-internet age, they helped me find bands that I may never have otherwise got acquainted with.

NME may have turned into Just 17 trying to be Rolling Stone magazine in its twilight years but there was always something about the legacy of NME’s early writers, much of which now sits as collected anthologies on my bookshelves. I loved its aloofness, its elitism, its snobbery, its journalistic standards and ability to break the rules, even its own.I loved its depth, its left field stance and writing that made me sit up and take notice of of some great bands. It had been a long time since we last hung out together my old friend and you were a changed entity from one I remember from my youth but I still mourn your passing. Sleep well my snarky little inky.

Skimming Stones across London

english-rock-group-the-rolling-stones-with-manager-andrew-loog-oldham-london-1963-left-to-right-andrew-loog-oldham-keith-richards-bill-wyman-charlie-watts-mick-jagger-and-brian-jo.jpgThere are certain places, which just resonate with the spirit of a time and a sound. All along Mathew Street in Liverpool you can hear the sound of pop, as we know it today music taking it’s first tentative steps and Bleecker Street in New York still oozes with the primordial juices that gave birth to a certain strain of street punk. There are certain dark corners and forgotten alleyways that are still haunted by the ghosts of the 60’s rock and roll boom and in particular its most famous sons…The Rolling Stones.

Suburban boys they may have been, stealing into the blues clubs and bars to sit in with established bandleaders such as Alexis Korner and learn their trade, but from the moment they had found their musical soul mates, they were at the heart of London’s music scene and the sixties could really get underway.

Flamingo Club, 33-37 Wardour St, London

 

If the story of The Stones as a gigging band starts anywhere, it starts here on 14th January 1963. There had been formative versions of the band throughout the previous year but this was the first time Mick, Keith, Brian, Bill, Charlie and the soon to be sidelined Ian “Stu” Stewart played their first full live gig together. It’s now just a regular chain pub but you can still have a pint and dream about those heady days.

Ken Colyer’s Studio 51, 10 Great Newport St, London

 

And anyone on the Rolling Stone’s trail will want to find themselves at the place where things really took off for the band. Outside what was then called Studio 51, manager Andrew Loog Oldham bumped into Lennon and McCartney and talked them into donating one of their songs to help put The Stones on the map. The result was top 20 hit, I Wanna Be Your Man, which both launched their career and proved that any rivalry between the bands was just clever marketing.

Hyde Park, London

 

Hyde Park has gone down in Stones lore as an iconic marker, coming as it did 2 days after the death of Brian Jones. Mick Taylor was recruited to the band and the show did indeed go on…to half a million punters.

Olympic Studios, 117-123 Church Road, London

 

And if The Beatles are synonymous with Abbey Road, The Stones are associated with Olympic Studios. After recording in America where the technology had advanced beyond what the UK had to offer at the time, this was the site of the band coming home and finding a new sound. It is a sound typified by songs such as Sympathy For The Devil and is highlighted by Jean-Luc Godard’s famous footage of the band’s recording of that track. The building is once again the site of a recording studio and art house cinema.

Munro Terrace and Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London

 

And once the money was rolling in, they did what every self –respecting rock star does and bought a nice swanky house in Chelsea. There, members of the band have owned property here; hence it’s nickname of Rolling Stones Row! Keith bought No 3 in 1968, Mick moved in to no 48 the same year and Ronnie owned 103 for a couple of years in the early 2000’s. Munro Terrace is also of interest as it was the bands office and a Stones throw away from their residences.

 

5 Breaking Coachella Acts To Watch

UnknownOver the last twenty or so years, Coachella Festival has grown in both size and importance to become one of the must attend gatherings of the year. Born as the festival was from an act of outsider non-conformity (Pearl Jam trying to break Ticketmaster’s vice-like grip over live gigs) it seems only natural that we look not at those big names which drive the events annual success but at some of the smaller, breaking acts which ensure its longer term future. I’m sure Radiohead, Lady Gaga and Bon Iver will have enough column inches written about them, but what about those acts waiting in the wings?

 

Shannon and The Clams

 

Unknown-1.jpegShannon and The Clams are nothing less than the perfect festival experience. They look just like they sound, a mix of indie chic and 60’s sartorial elegance to match their garage psych doo-wop and punk Buddy Holly references. This is fun, audience participation music which mixes past and present to create timeless party music.

 

Their live shows are hailed as the best on the current circuit and built around a sound that is both truly unique and very influential on the independent scene which they call home. Forged in the house party and small clubs of their native California, this Oakland based band is a great flag bearer for the home states music scene.

 

So, if you like the idea of a early sixties prom band getting dosed with acid or Etta James leading The 13th Floor Elevators through The Shangri La’s back catalogue then this is the band for you.

 

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

preservation-hall_gainesville-observed.jpgAnd proving that Coachella isn’t just about big name indie rock stars, pop icons and celebrity DJ’s, Preservation Hall Jazz Band are, as the name suggests, a straight up classic New Orleans jazz band. Founded in the 60’s in the city’s French Quarter and with a rotating roster of musicians, they are a musical institution with the baton being handed down to new generations keen to preserve the unique New Orleans sound.

Recent years has seen them rubbing shoulders with the likes of Tom Waits, Dr. John and Pete Seeger and even play at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.

In 2014 they closed the festival performing Wake Up with Arcade Fire but aside from the name-dropping and high profile gigs, if you want to hear the sound of La Nouvelle-Orléans in all it’s authentic glory, Preservation Hall Jazz Band are your one stop shop.

 

 

Show Me The Body

9_show_me_the_body_c_adam_kissick.jpgAlready being hailed as the most New York sounding band since The Strokes appeared on the scene 15 years ago, Show Me The Body are also a great example of the post-genre world. A blend of funk, art- punk, blues, rap, hardcore and Emily Dickinson, this is an intense experience of soul, spirit and aggression.

 

This Queens outfit embraces the chaos and veracity of their home city, even as the powers that be try to eradicate it; never has a sound felt so alive, never has a band been more relevant. This is the sound of The Big Apple with one almighty bite taken out of it.

 

Car Seat Headrest

 car-seat-headrest-central-presbyterian-03.jpgA mix of indie-rock vigor, pop sensibilities and proggy structures, Car Seat Headrest are a stand out band. The band has grown out of a Will Toledo solo project and evolved from lo-fi beginnings into full, widescreen indie, one not afraid to write long, mercurial and dynamically shifting songs and pepper them with wonderful pop highlights.

 

Three parts Pavement’s slacker grunge, two parts Beach Boy’s psychedelia, one part skittish post-punk and just a dash of urbane insolence; they are moody, introspective, melodic and structurally ambitious, this could indeed be the new face of rock.

Swet Shop Boys

 0008025823_10.jpgIn the hands of some this would be merely a celebrity vanity project but actor Riz Ahmed and rapper Heems bring something altogether more substantial to the table. London/New York underground rap exploring cultural and political themes all done with humour and subtlety, not to mention academic prowess. It isn’t often that The Iliad crops up in rap music!

Not only music full of very important messages, it is music that reflects the complexities and cross-cultural journeys people of our times.

 

Left Handed Guitars – A Buyer’s Guide

17510691_304I guess we have Jimi Hendrix to blame. As a left handed guitar player, those not in the know will frequently point out that if restringing a right-handed guitar and playing it upside down was good enough for him, then it is good enough for anyone. Right? Wrong! That was then and this is now. With so many more guitars being made for so many more players, it is only natural that the modern left-handed player should be catered for in a way that his earlier rival was not. And of course you have the added bonus of pointing out that Jimi Hendrix also learnt to play right-handed as his father thought left-handed playing was a sign of the devil! Thankfully times have changed. So what does the left handed guitarist, and in this case guitarist also means bass and anything in the broad guitar family, need to consider above and beyond his dexter-led, musical fellow travellers?

 

It’s not just a right-hander played backwards

 Albert King had a remarkably direct approach to accommodating the fact that he was pre-dominantly a left-handed player; he just took a right-handed Gibson Flying V and flipped it over. The major disadvantage to this is that the strings are now in the reverse order and whilst you could argue that it didn’t do King any harm, for most players it presents a challenge to shaping chords correctly and other rudimentary techniques.

 

It can just be a right-hander played backwards

 So unlike those early pioneers, you don’t have to settle for flipping a right-handed guitar, but that isn’t to say that you can’t. If you have your eye on a certain model and nothing else will do then take the Hendrix route and flip it but then reverse the string order so that the chords and relationships between the strings match the standard was of doing things.

 

But these days you don’t have to

Thankfully the production levels of guitars are at an all time high, playing guitar is no longer an outsider occupation and playing in a band almost seems a rite of passage for most kids in college. More demand means more choice and the range of options available means that most decent sized music shops will have in stock or be able to order you something that meets all your requirements and be suitable to your left-handed needs.

 

Flipping has its limitations

Although I have pointed out that re-appropriating a right-handed design for your left handed needs is possible, it brings with it a lot of issues. That is, everything is now in the wrong place. You might be able to get around the issue of the strings but everything else, switches, tremolo arm, input socket and scratch guard are all now in the wrong place, or at least not the logical place for you the player.

 
Also on a more technical level, the guitars intonation, bridge set-up and pick up calibration are set to work with a certain string order. Reverse the strings and suddenly things aren’t working so well with each other. You can replace the pickups, but it might have been easier to have just bought a left-hander to begin with!

Reissues are easier to find than vintage

As implied at the top of the article, the further back in time you go, the less likely it is to find a classic model in a left-handed option. Instead of hunting endlessly for a vintage make, you may want to consider a re-issue, which are much more readily available. What’s more important, having the right guitar or being able to easily play the guitar? A reissue might be the perfect compromise.

Never has their been a better time to be a left-handed player. If you find “the one” and it isn’t available in a left handed model, then all sorts of resources and modifications are available for the flipped guitar. But with the amount of guitar options on offer to you now is also the time that you are less likely to have to resort to a repurposed instrument.

The Top Three – The most read articles on Dancing About Architecture for April ‘15

Gold Medal Position: Night of The Hunter – The Creature With The Atom Brain.

1503420_10155323056410647_9107706188574548136_n “Rooted in hypnotic psychedelic grooves that speak to the heart rather than the head, this platform is used as a base from which to assault the senses with weapons as diverse as clattering eastern vibes, skewed Latin guitars, dark disco-dirges, psychedelic wig-outs and anything else that passes across their eclectic vision. It seems the perfect way to put the decade long project to bed, with their most consistent album to date, or at least one that sums up most concisely the collision of ideas that could all too often confused the listener.”

Read in full HERE

Silver Medal Position: Pandemonium – Moors and McCumber.

10526068_815998821757420_2611027124562375576_n“Although it is easy to see how Moors and McCumber construct their songs, just because they are using the same musical tools, as their competition doesn’t mean that they bear much resemblance. On the surface perhaps but there is a depth and quality to the craftsmanship here that is rarely seen and even labels as great as “the new Simon and Garfunkel” still don’t quite capture what is at work here, though My Heart is Open is a song Paul Simon would have loved to have his name on I’m sure.”

Read in full HERE

Bronze Medal Position : Matilda Effect – The Corner Laughers.

matilda-effect-300x300“Their brand of Sunshine pop is just what the world needs to remind us of the joy of making music rather than the cynical careerism that seems to be the norm these days. By taking liberal doses of 60’s girl bands, soul, folk and acid-tinged pop, the infectiousness of The Beach Boys, the retro psychedelia of Redd Kross or Jellyfish, plus no small amount of fun, optimism and joyful abandonment, they have quite possibly created the perfect pop album. Let me repeat that, THE PERFECT POP ALBUM!”

Read in full HERE

The Top Three – The most read articles on Dancing About Architecture for March ‘15

Gold Medal Position: The Primitives E.P. – Art Nickels

1441514_1019462014746241_7446409939196448411_nAs they skitter across psychedelic, ambient and krautrock genres they weave a sound tapestry of fuzzy discordance, washy electronica and hazy vibes that seem to be tumble in and out of each other rather that be set to a pre-ordained pattern.

Full review here

 

Silver Medal Position: Start at The Finish – The Sums

10806237_10154758298730526_1475424889455222043_nThe Sums stay very much on the expectant guitar driven path but it is a path that meanders wonderfully, taking in psychedelic vibes, indie-folk approaches, a skewed Brit-pop slant and an accessible underground pop vibe. For all their connections with Gallagher senior, this is no Brit-pop pastiche, in fact as it snakes through strange new musical landscapes it is difficult to say exactly where it fits in.

Full Review Here

Bronze Medal Position: Everything Changed – L.A. Davis

cover170x170At a time when popular music seems to be created in a calculated and mathematical way by teams of writers and producers working to tried and tested formulas, the songs on this album spark with a vibrancy that such musical engineering seems to lack. Just listen to the old school disco funk drives of 365, the sultry late night grooves of Behind Closed Doors or the sheer infectiousness of 10 Rounds With Tyson and try not to dance, go on I dare you.

Full Review Here

Cultural Revolutions – with Dave Franklin

DAA founderDave Franklin, looks at 5 albums that impacted on his younger musical brain and have stayed with him over the years.

first-and-last-and-alwaysFirst and Last and Always – The Sisters of Mercy (1985)

 Standing at that point when an underground movement hit the big time but before later imitators brought the genre down to a lowest common denominator, the Sisters debut album is the perfect gothic album. Forget all of the frilled shirts romantics and the cyber-Goths who came later, this is an album soaked in an amphetamine haze, a bleak dystopian soundtrack but still carrying a certain amount of optimism in its hidden layers.

Stand out tracks: Black Planet, No Time to Cry, First and Last and Always.

 waterboysThis is The Sea – The Waterboys (1985)

Of all the bands that made up the “Big Music” sound (The Bunnymen, The Alarm, Big Country etc.) This was the one album that seemed to encompass its characteristics the best. Pitted against a musical landscape of sometimes inspired but more often-insipid synth fashion bands, their music seemed elemental. It soared to great heights, it crashed like waves on the rocks, it smelt of the earth and it burned with a raging intensity. Mike Scott may have led his musical minions off Pied Piper-like down a stranger and less obvious musical path as what amounted to an Irish pub band but he left us with this epic masterpiece.

Standout Tracks: Don’t Bang The Drum, This is The Sea, The Pan Within.

The-Men-They-Couldnt-Han-Waiting-For-Bonap-498796Waiting For Bonaparte – The Men They Couldn’t Hang (1989)

 TMTCH were the band that made me want to be a musician and by 1989 they had found a sound that was both unique and accessible. Coming out of the squat punk scene they fused rock, folk, history and social politics into songs that were half terrace anthems and half music to get down and dance to. Subjects included the social unrest of the industrial revolution, the homeward voyage of merchant seaman, smugglers, soldiers and mutineers. Lesser bands would have turned the subject matter into twee folk ditties or sing-along sea shanties but what TMTCH did so well live was give you a poetic history lesson whilst you danced and drank yourself into a drunken stupor.

Standout Tracks: The Crest, Bounty Hunter, The Colours

 Thunder-And-Consolation-coverThunder and Consolation – New Model Army (1989)

Whilst the first three albums had featured a punkier, harder hitting sound, Thunder and Consolation was the album that saw a more windswept and emotive sound taking centre stage. Mixing anthemic rallying cries with wistful reflections, political statement with songs about family and belonging it also marked the first and last forays into chart and national radio play with singles such as Vagabonds and Green and Grey. New Model Army are renowned for an ever evolving sound but this album formed the heart of what they stood for and informed everything they produced afterwards.

Standout Tracks: Family, Green and Grey, Vagabonds, Stupid Questions

 

51q31o5x4JL._SL500_AA280_Alnwick and Tyne – Blyth Power (1989)

 That Blyth Power never achieved commercial success is probably due to always seeming to be walking in the shadow of The Levellers and their meteoric rise. But where as Brighton’s finest headed off down an accessible hippy-folk route, this bunch of west-country ex-punks remained a cultish riot of folk, lush harmonies, punk verve, some of the most eloquent lyrics in contemporary music, wit, wisdom and wordplay. Not bad for a bunch of train spotters! Their old boys network contains both Wob and James Hince of the Kills and they remain the most quintessentially English band on the planet. Wat Tyler meets Noel Coward if you can imagine such a thing.

Standout Tracks: Lord of The Isles, McArthur, Better to Bat.

 

First published at Swindon Link Dec ’14

 

 

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