Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 review

I promised myself I was going to write one of these yearly reviews every year ;) I may have skipped a couple, for one reason or another, but heres my 2012 review. It was a fairly busy and eclectic year really. All kinds of stuff going on musically with collaborations going from black metal remixes (Eïs - Auf kargen Klippen) to appearing on a record with Shane MacGowan from The Pogues. Record label changes, singer changes, relocating to Liverpool after 16 years absence, owning my first TV since 1984. Its all good.

2012 kicked off with a collaboration with my good friend and great singer/songwriter Pete Courtney. Pete's mother sadly passed away in 2011 and he decided to record her favourite track of his, White Roses, and release it as a charity single. Pete invited me to play bass on the record, and I was made up to be asked. All proceeds went to the Irish Hospice Foundation. I'm proud to be involved with this, a great track and a great cause. Click on the pic for the iTunes page.

Pete Courtney - White Roses

Next up was the completion of the first Alternative 4 art video 'Underlooked',  which was directed and shot in Berlin by Nicolas Giraldon and Mehdi Messouci. The lads did a great job, grasping the lyrical concept and using their own creative licence to nail it. The track itself is based on an overrated artist whose career has been built on stealing other peoples work. The unhealthy attention that media hype brings, and the general ugliness of it all. Its rare these days to find people who are sincere when it comes to creativity. The importance of working with people who actually 'get it'. Good stuff.

Alternative 4 - Underlooked

After a few months of little-to-no-news or communication from our (then) record label Avantgarde Music I had to make steps to make sure the Alternative 4 project wasn't going to fizzle out, just months after the release of our debut album The Brink. After some honest dialogue between us, Avantgarde kindly did the decent thing and allowed us to move on to a label with more ambition. Step up Prophecy Productions, the label who contacted me when I was trying to get the Antimatter project off the ground all those years ago. So I ended up signing a long term deal with them. A bit of history repeating in a way.
Speaking of Antimatter, Mick Moss and myself did a charity walk around that time in aid of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. For those of you not aware of this charity; Sophie and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were kicked, stamped on and left unconscious – for nothing more than looking different. Sophie later died from her injuries. Following the horrific murder of Sophie Lancaster, her family wanted to ensure a lasting legacy to their beautiful, bright creative daughter and so The Sophie Lancaster Foundation was established and it became a registered charity in 2009. Anyway, myself and The Boy Moss got our walking boots on and went on a ramble around the Dee Valley in Wales. We got absolutely drenched with the lovely Welsh weather, but it was a worthwhile cause and we had a great night out later with the locals once we dried off.
Onto more charity work now. I was then invited to play on a single with Pogues legend Shane MacGowan called 'The Rockier Road To Poland'. This was to be an unofficial EURO 2012 anthem for the Republic Of Ireland football team, and all proceeds went to the Simon Community of Ireland for the homeless. Another great tune and a great cause, plus on a self-satisfying level it was a huge honour to appear on a song with one of my musical idols. Boss.

Shane MacGowan, The Aftermath & Friends - The Rockier Road To Poland

Back to my own music now. Just before Summer I started sketching out basic ideas for the new Alternative 4 album 'The Obscurants'.

Meanwhile, the second promo video from 'The Brink' was made public to coincide with the re-release of The Brink (which includes the promo videos on a bonus DVD, along with live tracks from Istanbul). False Light was directed by Luis Rolo and Rui Gil in Guarda, Portugal. Again it was a pleasure to work with people who genuinely understood the concept, and contributed their own ideas to it.
The concept behind False Light runs in parallels really. 'False Light' is actually a legal term, not dissimilar to defamation, but more in order to protect the victim's mental and emotional well-being. Ive used it alongside the abuse of power, and people not quite knowing why they follow whoever is in the spotlight. Whether its political, or religious power, or their favourite rock star in the spotlight. The video producers grasped it really well, and I love the way they depicted the lead actor as being 'addicted to light' in a way that bears no common sense if you think about it. Top schedule!

Alternative 4 - False Light

We entered Transmission Rooms Studio, Republic of Ireland in November to record our second album The Obscurants. The same place where we tracked the drums for The Brink. The studio is owned by good friends of mine, and its in a lovely remote and tranquil location. I'd already done a lot of work on the pre-production side of things, so we were prepared well in advance. The recordings went steady with Mark Kelson doing a great job on the engineer's side of the desk. He was working really long hours, with a lot of patience, and a lot of coffee. New singer/guitarist Simon Flatley joined up with us halfway through the session and got to work on his parts. I can honestly say that this lad is the most suitable vocalist I have worked with, when it comes to my own compositions, and I have worked alongside some great singers. Also, we share a lot of common ground when it comes to the conceptual side of things, so he slotted straight in. To me, this album is one of those where things fall into place at the right time. Its not as 'extreme' as The Brink in the sense that its not overly morose and monotonous (which was intentional). And I just think it has that magic touch that happens sometimes, for whatever reason. The balance of the compositions, instrumentation, and Simon's voice just hit the spot. Really looking forward to getting it mixed and putting it out there with a decent label doing their job.

Myself, Mauro Frison, and Simon Flatley @ Transmission Rooms

Less than a week after we finished the recording sessions we started rehearsing in Dublin city centre for the tour. New member Simon didn't join us for this run of dates, as it was all booked before he came onboard. We had the same live line up as in 2011, with Martin Powell and Paulo Basilio as guests. The tour kicked off well with a great night in Dublin. An early flight to Belgium and a bus to Holland just about got us to Helmond the following day. A pleasant Sunday afternoon show at the Baroeg in Rotterdam was probably my favourite date of the tour. Then up north to Leeuwarden for a laid back Monday night show. For the Dutch gigs we were joined by talented cellist Elianne Anemaat, who plays in Celestial Season. She slotted in well and became 'one of the lads' pretty much right away, and was a great help navigating us around her homeland. Yet another early flight, this time to Helsinki, Finland, saw me struck down with some kind of flu virus. I had to skip a record store showcase, while I stayed in bed sweating and drinking Lemsips. I managed to get through the gig though, with the aid of hot whiskey and chilli. Groundhog day again, yes another early flight to Berlin and a long journey through the snow/wind/rain trying to find the venue. As much as I'm into the DIY approach, this was quite testing. Lugging all the instruments and suitcases around on public transport and walking. The gig itself was a special acoustic night in a magical setting called TheArter Gallerie, where we were treated really well by the owners. We were also joined by my good friend and long time collaborator Johnny Cronin, and his mandolinist Brian Murphy. They opened the night with a cracking set and made a big impression on everyone. The intimate setting gave a feeling of 'we're all in this together' kind of thing (or maybe I'd had one hot whiskey too many). Great night nevertheless.

Me in Berlin, full of flu. Live the dream!

Onto Poland then for 3 gigs to wrap up the tour. Johnny and Brian came with us to Poland where we were joined by Italian doom band (EchO). These lads are a cracking live band and I can see only great things coming from them in future, especially having heard some of their new demos. I enjoyed the gigs but all in all it had its ups and downs. Sometimes it felt like a hard slog, it takes a lot of effort to tour in the manner which we do. And when you've got everyone up at 5am to travel and go and play to 30 odd people in a city where tons of people (and 'friends') have emailed or posted on Facebook "Come to Krakow!" or wherever, it gets a bit disheartening. Hopefully with the new album, and decent promotion from the new label, it will make life easier in that respect. If not, then its not meant to be, and energies will be focused on more worthwhile ventures.

This tour turned out to be Mark Kelson's swansong with Alternative 4. In my heart of hearts I think we both knew that we were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, with regards to a lot of things ethical, conceptual, and also on the creative/innovative side. It was getting more and more obvious throughout the recording session and tour, but I guess we needed to go through that to be sure. So Mark has now departed from the Alternative 4 fold. I wish him the best of luck in life, and with his brainchild The Eternal (their new album is due for release this year). 

I have a lot of hope for this year, and I think we have created something special with this new album. Things have sorted themselves out, in regards to the balance and chemistry of the band. I'm making plans with other bands/musicians to arrange some special events in 2013.
Time to look to the future, work hard, and put ourselves out there.
A huge thanks to everyone who has supported me during the past year. A lot of favours have been made and returned, and I'm full of gratitude for the fact that I'm around people who like to work that way. Helping each other out and that, like things should be. On that note, I have been working on a track from Iranian post-rockers Across The Waves. These lads are the real deal, and beyond doubt that they're playing for the love of music. We really need more of that kind of thing to balance out the showponies.
Best wishes for 2013! Onwards and upwards!


Some highlights from 2012:

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
The Gathering - Disclosure
Spacegoat - Spacegoat E.P.
Everton finishing above Liverpool