Music of our time: GoGo Penguin

GoGo Penguin is a Manchester band, signed to the greatest jazz label in the world, Bluenote. They have just released their 3rd album, Man Made Object.

This is All Res.  Why does it sound, and feel, so good?

It’s not jazz.  It’s contemporary music.  Music of our time.  The soundtrack of our lives.  That’s more of a problem with our collective hang-ups about tagging genres than a comment about what Blue Note is best known for.

I imagine being a fly on the wall of the rehearsal room as they put together a new tune;  plenty of spontaneity, busking ideas, interplay, but the tunes are structured and arranged, I’m not hearing much space for improv in the finished article. And please, don’t tell me it’s all written in a sequencer, like the kids do now!

As with all new, original, unique music, it is a development of everything that has gone before.  They have ingested the music they love, and spat it out as the next step forward.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that applies to the sound the trio make as well as their influences

So what can we hear in GoGo Penguin?

Jazz.  I’ll let you have that.  The drumming styles, the raw energy, complex grooves.  Compare GoGo Penguin with the Esbjörn Svensson Trio.  EST was jazz, GoGo Penguin has that breeding, plus social mobility.

Classical.  The thundering pianists – Rachmaninov, Listz, Beethoven – and the delicate piano composers too – Chopin, Debussy and his French mates.  And then hints of all the C20th classical heroes – Stravinsky,  Shostakovich, and the Brits, like Britten, Walton and Vaughan Williams.  The dynamics are ppp to fff.  Minimal to distortion, gradual rises and falls, sudden jumps and drops.  Listen to Unspeakable World or, frankly, any of the tunes.

Pop. Hooks.  Listen to the start of Quiet Mind.

Electronica. Surprising, for an acoustic trio, yet the sound they make (especially live) has the overpowering energry, the experimental edge of electronica.

Dance music.  Mad, drum’n’bass and trip hop stuff, looping grooves, building textures, short repeating riffs, breakdowns and build-ups.  Harmony is at times remarkly simple, they breaks free of chord sequences, playing loosely around a key.

English folk music. Simple, song like melodies, modal harmony, bitter-sweet moods, an organic sound. Listen to the piano melody in Initiate  and the bass at the start of Weird Cat.

Film music. (Cheap catch all, I know). Instantly appealing melodies that float over more complex accompaniment, musical language on many levels, juxtapositions of unlikely bed fellows all over the place.  Pick out any of the high piano melodies, often just a few notes, over a load of busy-ness.  And music in the movies is the one place where we don’t have hang-ups about genres, we accept eclecticism.

Experimental.  It’s not all grooving 4/4 you know, we’re teased with moments of free tempo and time signatures you’d struggle to transcribe, like the opening of All Res.

And despite finding this stuff to try and analyse, I just love how the music makes me feel good in a way I can’t explain.

If you like your music to absorb and inspire you, to lift you up, buy the album, and better still, go to a gig, where they turn it up loud and take you away.


Please read the Wall Street Journal review of this album by Jim Fusilli.

New online audio mixer

In the summer of 2009, my friend Chris Savage made an online audio mixer for me.  I used it to show how I deliver separate stems of my string stuff, and many other musicians have subsequently used it for their own needs.

At the time my wife (who has since left me, hey-ho) was having treatment for cancer, and to get the server files for the mixer I asked for a small donation to Macmillan, the cancer care charity.  We raised over 700 GB pounds.

A couple of years ago I talked to Chris about updating the mixer to html5, to be compatible with more devices.  Shortly after, Chris, who was still a young man, died suddenly.

Now, my friend and colleague Julian Cole has completed the job.  This new mixer will also be a fund-raiser, for suicide prevention charity  Samaritans.  


To receive the files and installation instructions, I ask you to make a small donation. donate

If you already donated for the original mixer, let me know if you want the new one and I’ll send you the files without any further cost to you.

The mixer works in recent browsers – Chrome, Firefox and Safari.  You will need to have a basic understanding of html to get the mixer working on your own server.  I managed it, and my html level is very basic.

Hit me with any questions and please share!


Free stuff

Over the years, I’ve made some string files available for free or in exchange for a donation to charity.  Here’s the full list.

These are all copyright free, do anything you like with them.

  • 8 bar phrases.  There are a few files in this zip, recorded back in 2000 at the legendary Cutting Rooms in Manchester.
  • Zadok Just for fun, we recorded the opening section of Handel’s Zadok The Priest. Help yourself to the stems.
  • Mad rise It slides up, in a mad kind of stringy way.
  • Disco pull-downs. Or falls, whatever you want to call them.
  • Held notes string notes, that are held for a few seconds.
  • Lifeshare loops buy these from Loopmasters, with all proceeds going to homeless charity Lifeshare.


The return of Disco Strings

It’s taken me a few years, but finally, a 2nd instalment of Disco Strings, a loops pack of cheeky disco lines, is up on Loopmasters.


The first pack featured on hits by Skrillex and Bakermat and many other productions, I’m sure this 2nd pack is even more useful.

The pack includes 60 phrases, with full mixes and individual stems, plus the usual midi and scores.  And now, you can have a Kontakt version as well.

Here’s a demo track featuring some of the loops.

Merry Christmas 2015

It’s coming up to the end of 2015 and a time to reflect on the year past for each of us personally and in the world order. If you catch one of those reviews of the year on the news channels it will mostly be grim reminders of quite unfathomable atrocities, disasters and sorrow.

Yet we still, somehow, find optimism for the year ahead. I’m thankful that hope is the last of our emotions to die, and that resilience seems to be an auto-response.

I am, undoubtedly, a bumbling optimist, because if I look beyond the bloody nasty things that go on, the hate that seems to rule so many lives, I can find plenty to cheer me.  People striving to do good things, to help others, to make beauty and enjoy it.

I wish for you peace, love and happiness.

Lifeshare at Christmas 2015

lifehsareNot long till Lifeshare at Christmas, and once again I am seeking performers willing to give half an hour for the homeless of Manchester.

Lifeshare at Christmas is a week-long drop in at the charity’s premises on Dantzic Street in Manchester, where everyone gets a warm welcome, meals, medical support, chats, games and entertainment.  It is entirely run by volunteers, from the 23rd – the 29th December.

LifeshareStageIt’s a very informal setting.  There’s a small stage, a digital piano and an accompanist if you need one (me).  Performances are generally at 11 or 2, each day.

For people who have slipped below our society’s survival line, your performance is more than half an hour’s entertainment; it’s a gesture that shows  those who are suffering  the practical challenges of homelessness, and the emotional challenges of rejection and exclusion, that they have not been left behind.

LifesharePerformersIf any of my friends and colleagues who have taken part in previous years could leave a comment about how the experience was (even if you can’t do it this year), it might encourage others!

Not sure whether to go for it? Comment here or email me.


The Lifeshare Loops from Realstrings: Hip-Hop and RnB

The Lifeshare Loops from Realstrings: Hip-Hop and RnB

This is a loops pack with a difference.  You get 28, 4-bar, real strings phrases, minor  and modal keys, recorded at 90 bpm, written to work with urban, RnB and hip-hop styles, performed with all the guts and emotion of real strings.

And your money goes to the homeless charity Lifeshare.

All proceeds from the sale of this pack go to Lifeshare.

Homelessness is a devastaing social problem and it’s up to us to respond.  Buy this pack to get the raw emotion of real strings in your music and help to alleviate the hardship of homelessness as well.

With thanks to the string players (Sarah Brandwood-Spencer, Paulette Bayley, Alex Stemp, Simon Turner and Nick Trygstad), my colleague Julian Cole who has developed a Kontakt version, George Atkins at 80 Hertz studio and the guys at Loopmasters.

Zadok: the chords

Chord progressions fascinate me.  They communicate so much without ever being a melody.  For an arranger, the chord progession of a song is a good place to start to look for counter melodies.

Zadok The Priest by Handel, written in the 18th century has one of the best intros in music. There is no theme as such, yet the chord progression and the pulsing/rolling string arrangement is instantly recognisable.

We recorded the strings for this 22 bar introduction and I’ve tried to get my head round the chord progression in this short video.

Help yourself to the strings recording (6 separate stems).  These audio files are copyright free.