Saturday, 10 November 2012

Sleeping out for Centrepoint

Photo by Harriet Armstrong

I recently took part in Centrepoint's annual Sleepout, an event where more than 850 people spend a night sleeping on the street in Exchange Square in London, to raise awareness and money for the homeless charity. I was to perform with Kristyna Myles. Eliza Doolittle, Stooshe and comedian Tim Vine were also performing, and Sara Cox from Radio 1 and Richard Madeley were presenting the evening. 

A pic from last years sleepout

Prior to the day I prepared myself for spending a night sleeping out on the street, making sure I had thermals, hats, scarfs, gloves, waterproofs and a sleeping bag. I was advised that it was better to wear lots of thin layers than a few thick ones. I also read that it was good to consume as many calories as possible during the day, so that there would be more to burn off during the cold night. An idea which I found quite pleasing. 

We were to perform at two Centrepoint Sleepout locations during the evening, and after we'd sound checked at Exchange Square we headed to Canary Wharf for the first gig. I felt a bit like Phil Collins at Live Aid, except with a black cab instead of Conchord. The gig at Canary Wharf was great, the crowd were very enthusiastic. After we finished we jumped back in the cab and dashed to venue one. We had to make sure we were there and ready to play by '9:01pm' as it was being filmed for the live 3 hour TV show of the night. Before we played, Kristyna did an interview for the TV show with Sara Cox and Tim Vine. 

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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Songs of Praise

Earlier in the year we got the call to record a few tracks for Songs of Praise. The line up was to be Kristyna Myles, Joy Ononokpono singing backing vocals and myself on guitar. Initially there was a bit of negotiation over which songs we would perform; we needed to find some tracks that would suite Kristynas soulful vocal style and also fit into the Songs of Praise criteria. We eventually settled on two Alison Krauss tracks- 'Down in the River to Pray' and 'A Living Prayer', plus one of Kristyna's songs 'Your Love'.

We went into the studio with Adam Speakman to record the tracks so that Songs of Praise could hear the songs in advance. Then the idea was that on the day of filming, Joy and I would mime over the tracks we had already recorded and Kristyna would sing live. 

In Alison Krauss's version of Down in the River to Pray, more and more backing vocals come in throughout the song and the texture gets thicker and thicker. In our version, we tried to vary the texture as much as possible, sometimes having a verse with no guitar, sometimes Joy just singing 'oooh's' and sometimes singing the words in harmony with Kristyna. Joy layered up a few harmonies to give the recording a richer texture like the original. In the end the Songs of Praise team decided it would be better to only have one harmony, as it looked too creepy to have more than one voice coming out of Joys mouth. In Kristyna's song 'Your Love' Kristyna played keys and I was able to play some slide guitar over the top. And in 'A Living Prayer' we changed the style of the original to make it a bit more bluesy, which suited Kristyna's voice better.

A few weeks after recording the songs in the studio we headed to Longton Methodist Central Hall in Stoke for the filming. As we arrived a congregation of pensioners dressed in a myriad of pastel shades were finishing off their hymns. Then it was our turn. 

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Thursday, 27 September 2012

Kew Gardens

For a week in July I had the great opportunity to perform at Kew Gardens with Kristyna Myles. We were to be the support act on almost every night. The headline acts were Status Quo, The Straits, Chic, M-People, Tim Minchin, Pink Martini, Nerina Pallot, Will Young, Los Lobos and The Gypsy Kings. It was an incredible collection of acts to share a stage with.

After arriving on the first day we were shown to our dressing room which turned out to be a massive greenhouse full of tropical plants. Probably the best dressing room ever. We then walked through a series of greenhouses to the stage for soundcheck.

Kristyna and I were performing the gig as a duo. I had wondered how we would come across, playing to a large outdoor crowd every night. The audiences were in the region of 7000 people. When we first started performing as a duo, Kristyna sang and I played the guitar. Gradually we've added more and more weapons to our arsenal; Kristyna plays the keys now and I sing backing vocals. I also play a stomp box (which sounds like a bass drum) with one foot, and a tambourine with the other. People have said we create a really full sound for just two people, and it certainly didn't seem to be an issue at Kew, where the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Next year I have decided to head-butt a triangle to enhance the sound even further.

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Thursday, 6 September 2012

Channel 5 and a Busking Tour

I've had quite a busy summer of touring and gigs, so I've been neglecting my blog a little bit. I thought I'd try and catch up by looking back to the start of the summer, and a busking tour we did. Hopefully I'll be able to remember it all.

After Kristyna Myles was featured in some national papers, we were asked to perform live on The Myleene Klass show on Channel 5. This was the first time I'd done a live national TV performance so I was slightly nervous. It was all very surreal in the green room as members of S-Club 7 and various other celebrities came and went. A woman came in and called me in to make-up, to try and stop me looking too 'pasty'. 

Myleene was lovely and had a chat with Kristyna before the show to put her at ease. In her interview, Kristyna spoke about her record deal, and the upcoming busking tour to raise money for the homeless charity Centrepoint. She seemed very confident and relaxed like she'd been doing TV interviews for years. Then it was time to perform an acoustic version of Kristynas single 'I'm Not Going Back'. The TV show had requested that the performance was just over two minutes, so we'd worked out an arrangement of the tune that fitted into these time restraints. We had twenty seconds to get into position while they played a clip. And then we were off....

I can't remember much about the two minutes but when I watched it back it seemed to be ok. Someone said I couldn't have looked more relieved as i strummed the final chord, safe in the knowledge that I hadn't messed up. All in all it was a great experience. After the show I watched as Myleene Klass recorded three trailers for future shows, rattling through the words on the auto cue without slipping up, while a crowd of people waited to get a photo with her and T4 were banging on the door as they had the studio booked next. All after being live on the TV for three hours. I decided being a TV presenter looked like a fairly stressful job. 

The next day we kicked off our busking tour. The idea was to busk in different cities all over the UK to raise money for the homeless charity Centrepoint, while fitting in as many radio stations as we could along the way. In the evenings we would perform at Malmaison hotels in each city, and this would serve as a showcase for the local press to come and see us perform. 

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Friday, 4 May 2012

Busking Tips

I thought I'd write a blog and share some of my experiences of busking. Hopefully it's good advice and will help people who are thinking of going busking for the first time. After Uni I went busking for a couple of years with Kristyna Myles to make a living, and now we're travelling around the U.K. raising money for the charity Centrepoint

  1.  There's no point in busking without amplification. -  Unless you're playing a saxophone or another instrument with a lot of natural volume, it can be very difficult to be heard in a busy city. When we first started out Kristyna and I tried busking unamplified in the Manchester Christmas Markets and couldn't be heard from just a few feet away. We barely made enough money to cover the parking.
  2. Get a car battery- Although you can get some battery powered amplifiers, most of these seem to run out of power quickly and sound distorted. We used a car battery attached to an inverter, which converts DC to AC. The best type of car battery is a gel leisure battery which are used for golf buggies etc. If you use a normal car battery the acid will soon burn little holes in all of your clothes. For an amplifier, I can't recommend the Roland AC30 highly enough. It has two channels, one for a guitar and one for a microphone.
  3. Other useful gear- A compact camping stool means that you can sit anywhere and don't need to rely on finding a bench. A trolley is important for carting all the gear around as it can weigh quite a lot. A battery charger for obvious reasons. If you're planning on reading music, take some pegs so that the wind doesn't blow it away. Fingerless gloves can help with guitar playing in icy conditions. A bag to store the money in afterwards can be useful.
  4. Check the weather forecast- There's no point setting out if there's going to be torrential rain all day. Unless you can find some cover to busk under, but even then people are likely to be wet, miserable and less generous.
  5. Two's company- Busking on your own has the advantage that you don't have to split the money. But if you go with two or more people it means one person can watch the gear while the other can buy food/drinks and take a toilet break, especially if you're making a day of it. It also makes you less vulnerable if there are more of you. 
  6. Be safe- Keep all your gear where you can see it. Empty the money out of the guitar case every now and again and hide it away. Busking at night can be more intimidating as people have had a few drinks and can be a bit 'lively'. We never had anything too serious happen to us. Kids threw sweets at our heads. Someone crept up to me and shouted 'BOO' in my ear which made me jump out of my skin, much to the amusement of the crowd that had built up. Occasionally people would make as if they were putting money in but actually slyly take money out. But generally the good outweighs the bad. And if you're busking in a busy town centre there will be a lot of people around if anything serious does happen. Click JUMP to read on

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Press Launch

Had a great day in London last week, at a Press Launch with Kristyna Myles. I didn't really have any idea what a press launch involved, so I wasn't too sure what to expect. We arrived at about 10 in the morning to meet up with everyone : the guys from Centrepoint, a singer called Tres B, and Kristyna's management and press team. Basically, the press launch involved running around all day having photos taken in cool places while the press team pieced together a story to put on 'the wire'. The wire, as far as i could tell, is a sort of private internet stream that all the newspapers subscribe to so they can see which stories are breaking. 

The rain poured down all day, during what was apparently the wettest drought since records began. Luckily we had some nice big Centrepoint umbrellas to keep us dry. 

The first couple of locations for photos were a cool looking alley and Tottenham Court Road, a road with a rich musical heritage as Pink Floyd used to gig there and The Kinks mention it in a song. There were also many guitar shops but no time to look in them. Torture. We did a spot of busking while the pictures were taken. When Kristyna and I finished Uni we busked for a couple of years to make a living. Now we're busking again, around the country to raise money for the charity Centrepoint which helps support the homeless. You can make a donation here

The next location was the famous Abbey Road zebra crossing. I was particularly excited about this, being a bit of a Beatles fanatic, and having had a big poster of the famous album cover on my wall when I was growing up. On the way to Abbey Road, Kristyna's manager Perry Hughes jumped out of the black cab, ran into Habitat, and came out 5 minutes later with a bright pink table to use as a prop for the shoot. That's thinking on your feet.

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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Recording Session

I recently spent a day in the studio recording two new tracks for Kristyna Myles debut album, due for release in September. The majority of the album has been ready for a while but it was decided that these two new songs were too good to leave off, so we rushed back into the studio to record them. It was great to be working with Ken Nelson again, the Grammy award winning producer responsible for Coldplay's first three albums, and Paolo Nutini amongst others.

The approach was slightly different this time in comparison with the original album session. The first time round we all played live in the same room (except the drums which were in the kitchen). There were a few overdubs afterwards but a lot of the recording was played live. As we had been performing those songs for a while we were all quite familiar with our parts. Ken made some great suggestions once in the studio, and as we took these onboard we moved from a live sound to a slightly more produced sound. A lot of the songs from this first session had been, in original demo form, acoustic versions of songs with just guitar and vocals, or just piano and vocals. As a band we were able to play around with the songs in rehearsals and through gigging to come up with our own arrangements and parts. 

The difference with these two new songs was that the demo versions had a full band sound built up already. Kristyna wrote both songs with Judie Tzuke and David Goodes. If a songwriter makes the demo of a song sound as close to the finished article as possible, then it can be easier for whoever's listening to grasp the song's full potential straight away. 

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