Live performance of Bill Frost's Flying Machine. Bill Frost's Flying Machine was inspired by a local legend in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire where I spent a lot of my childhood. There's a story which claims that a Saundersfoot local called Bill Frost managed to design and build the first powered flying machine, and that he flew it briefly in the decade before the Wright Brothers. He crashed the machine and before he could recover it there was a gale which scattered the various bits of the machine, Frost was unable to repair or recreate it. The story has long been considered something of a tall tale, but recent research has in fact uncovered a patent for a flying machine filed by Bill Frost, so who knows!? The song is told from the point of view of the machine, and it's disappointment not to achieve the worldwide fame that was "only a flight away."
Sometimes I've been guilty of getting a bit jealous or cynical when I see someone doing well in my line of work, or exploiting an opportunity which I feel has passed me by. It's take me a while to acknowledge a couple of fairly obvious truths that I've known all along;
1) jealousy comes from one's own dissatisfaction, and the best way to deal with it is to look at my own situation and see what needs fixing.
2) The chances are the opportunity didn't pass me by, it was available to me I just didn't see it.
3) People do well because they are working hard.
4) We are a community, and it is much better for everyone if we support one another and feel happy for the success of others.
5) Everyone's journey is different, and we will each have our moments.
6) Thank the universe for the success of others because it proves that it's possible and gives me a kick up the bum bum to get stuff done.
How do you deal with this stuff?
Really interesting ideas here. Not wanting to sit on the fence or anything but Joe and Damian are both right... musicians should be paid and streaming is not a great deal for creators. However pandora has well and truly opened her box and I think it’s highly unlikely we will go back to how things were.
But then how were things? How many artists got paid properly anyway? For every Rolling Stones there was several bands who got fleeced by the industry and never saw any of the money that their music generated. Did successful, iconic bands exist purely on their mega record sales? I don’t think so, they were sophisticated businesses that sold hats, t shirts, concert tickets, books et al.
I crowdfunded my last album. It was something many people had suggested I should do but for a long time I resisted. Wasn’t it just like begging? Then I had an epiphany; crowd funding is a commission. People like what you do and ask you to do more. That’s been the business plan for artists for centuries! And not just musicians; did Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling out of love and artistic passion? Well no not really, he was commissioned by Pope Julius II, would rather have been sculpting than painting and even ran away from Rome for a while to avoid doing the job. At least when I was making my album I had complete artistic control without a label (or the pope) telling me what I should be doing.
It’s a privilege to be making a living from creativity, be that in any of the various forms I’ve found myself doing including writing, performing and teaching. Yes at times I’m a salesman (all business are marketing businesses) and on many occasions I think a touring performer is basically a long distance driver who plays a gig in between motorway journeys.
The situation we are in is the one we are in. I think that there are incredible opportunities for creative approaches to all this, and it’s exciting to be part of the development.
Hear me playing live and chatting to BB Skone on his Pembrokeshire Music Show from Sunday 11th August. We went quite deep on subjects including creativity, protest songs and the state of the music industry. We also discuss the story behind my song Bill Frost’s Flying Machine.
I’m also artist of the week and will be played on shows throughout the schedule. Thanks BB!
Follow this link to hear the podcast of the show
Hear Alex Noble play my song Who Do You Think You’re Talking For on BBC Introducing in the West Midlands show from the 10th of August. Song at
“He tells a story in every single song”
I was already playing a bit of guitar, but had decided I was happy being a chord strummer and apart from a few riffs I wasn’t that bothered about learning to play lead or solos. That changed when I saw Eric Clapton on TV, performing While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Concert in 2002. Something about Eric’s ability to communicate so much and move thousands of people just by tiny movements of his fingers changed my life. Over the next few years I embarked on a wonderful journey of musical discovery that took me to Cream, The Bluesbreakers and onto Eric’s own influences like BB King, Robert Johnson, Freddie King et al.
Eric’s playing is always so beautiful and, well, musical! It’s a completely pointless idea to compare musicians, particularly guitarists because the “best” or “favourite” is highly subjective and everyone’s emotional response to a piece of music is different There are a few things that get said about Clapton’s guitar playing that annoy me though. While many of my guitar contemporaries would dismiss Clapton and praise the undeniable technical prowess of the 80s heavy metal guitar gods, their speed and fretboard mastery would often leave me cold. So what if they could play hundreds of notes faster than the next guitarist; that didn’t communicate to me emotionally.
I’m a massive fan of Hendrix and Jimmy Page, two guitarists who both seemed to be much more venerated than Eric by my fellow guitarists at university. It’s very possible that Hendrix’s early death and the ending of Led Zeppelin in 1980 had something to do with it; Eric survived and made a lot of music that is fairly middle of the road, safe and unexciting. But to compare like for like and look at the history; Eric was 3 years younger than Hendrix, 1 year younger than Page but yet made his mark before either of them. Legend has it that Hendrix only agreed to come to England if a meeting with Clapton could be arranged. By the time Zeppelin had kicked off Eric had walked away from Cream in search of something different to the hard rock, guitar virtuoso image he’d help to invent (in the two years Cream were together!) Hendrix was an extraordinary songwriter and performer and his rhythm/lead style was unique, but it’s simply not the case that his lead playing in the middle/late 60s was any faster or more exciting that Eric’s with Cream or Derek and the Dominos.
If you asked me what my favourite ever piece of lead guitar playing was I think I would have to go for Cream’s Badge. The guitar tone in the break between the second verse and the bridge bit is sensational and the solo a little while later is jaw dropping. I don’t think it has ever been bettered. Also Strange Brew, Eric’s interplay with Billy Preston at the end of That’s the way God planned it, While My Guitar Gently Weeps…
There were many John Lennons. He was the witty, intellectual one from The Beatles. He was the loving and caring bringer of the message of Love and Peace. He was a yobbish scouse Teddy Boy with a penchant for vandalising phone boxes and mugging English Sailors in Hamburg Night Clubs, he was a devoted family man who took five years out of being a super star to raise his son, he neglected and finally left his first wife and child.
He was the archetypal angry young man, with a chip on his shoulder that was bigger than his feet. He had a tragic childhood, having lost through circumstance or death at least three of the most important people in his life by the time his was 20. (One of them, his mother, he'd actually lost twice) He was violent. He put Cavern DJ Bob Wooler in hospital for jokingly inferring that Lennon was having a gay relationship with Brian Epstein. He admitted to having hit the women in his early life in jealous rages. I think this makes it all the more remarkable that he spent his later years banging on about peace; he managed to change his behaviour. He did, however, maintain that angry, sarcastic streak which could be very damaging to people.
I think he felt less musical than Paul McCartney. When they first met Paul had more ability than Lennon, despite being younger. From the outside it looks as if Paul was always more confident in this regard than Lennon, and John used bluff and sarcasm to guard against his own insecurities. At times Lennon dismissed McCartney as a schmaltzy writer of "boring songs about boring people" I think we can see his true feelings in other stories, such as how Here, There and Everywhere was his favourite song on Revolver. Personally I think that the Beatles, in particular Lennon, thrived because of their limitations. As is the case with most musical innovation they invented a lot because they couldn't quite do what they were intending to copy.
It's a well recorded fact that Lennon was insecure about his singing. If you listen it's pretty obvious. To begin with, compare the vocal on early, confident Beatles tracks with the solo stuff. Beatle Mania John's voice was thick and raucous. Solo John often had a thin, almost timid voice. Don't get me wrong, I love everything he sang. In fact the singing on a track like Jealous Guy is so beautiful because it is timid and heartfelt. His rocky voice changed too. On Beatles Rock and Roll covers he sounds like he might just kill you, and tracks like Mother and Gimme Some Truth he sounds like a man declaring all his inner issues and using them to kill himself.
Throughout his recording career he did his best to change and disguise his vocal. On the solo records he used delay and reverb effects, I've heard one producer say he wouldn't sing a note in the studio until his favourite effect was dialed in. Once the Beatles started to use four track machines practically every Lennon vocal was double tracked to sound thicker, and a little later he instigated the creation of Artificial Double Tracking, simply to save time by electronically beefing up his vocal sound rather than physically recording each vocal twice.
Even before the Beatles used studio tools and tricks to change their sound we can hear how Lennon, despite being ostensibly the lead singer, frequently used George and Paul to harmonise with him for huge sections of songs. In my view this was an attempt, perhaps unconsciously, to cover up his own singing.
Luckily for us Lennon's arrogance and wish to be leader proved to be stronger than his insecurities about singing and writing. For me the fact that the biggest cultural and musical icon of the 20th Century doubted his abilities so much only makes him more fascinating and dare I say it, inspiring.
He may have died six years before I was born, but I love the man
For people who don't know much about McCartney here's some xfactor stylie big facts and stats;
His song Yesterday is the most covered song in the history of recorded music.
His song Mull of Kintyre remains the biggest selling non charity song in the UK.
He has written or co-written 32 Billboard Hot 100 number 1 singles.
He has sold over 100 million singles and 100 million albums.
Make of this one what you will, he is the only artist to reach the UK number one as a soloist and as part of a duo, trio, quartet, and quintet.
So there you are, he is a successful chap. I'm well aware that for many Paul presents a certain winsome, middle of the road, even cheesy persona. Indeed John Lennon went as far as to describe one of his former partners' tunes as "granny music." I've had various (often drunken) conversations with people determined to debunk The Beatles and rebel against the received wisdom that they are the greatest band. One young man even said "people only like the Beatles because they are told too... I mean McCartney plays bass with a pick!" funnily enough the person saying this wasn't a bass player himself...
In a way I sometimes think that the success of artists like McCartney gets in the way of people appreciating the music. Likewise for every modern standard that you could argue gets over played (Hey Jude, Yesterday, Let it Be) there are wonderful songs that get overlooked.
So I want to demonstrate why McCartney has been such an important influence to me as a musician, songwriter and in life generally. I'll be focusing on three connected but also individually important areas; his talents as a Musician, Writer and Singer.
Let's start with my friends comments about Paul's bass playing. He did indeed play bass with a pic. He also helped change the bass into an instrument that was cool to play, and one that didn't have to stick to the route notes and walking bass lines that were pretty much a requirement when he picked up the instrument.
Like the rest of The Beatles, McCartney is a self-taught and unschooled musician. His father was a semi professional musician and presumably this led to Paul's natural musicality.
The happy coincidences of having a natural gift for melody and being at the cutting edge of record production at just the moment technology allowed the bass to become a feature meant that McCartney was able to create wonderful bass lines. Things like Paperback Writer and With a Little Help from My Friends.
Of course he wasn't the only bass pioneer of the time and his respect for other musicians like James Jamerson further developed his style. When the music called for it he did stick to the route notes, another strength.
It wasn't just the bass, there are also a handful of Paul Guitar solos in The Beatles catalogue that just work perfectly such as Taxman and Another Girl. His acoustic style is pretty unique; simple but also right; see Blackbird. He also became a good pianist writing many of his best songs on the keys, including some very tricky things like Martha My Dear.
His approach is idiosyncratic, musical and always just right for the song.
There is a popular line of thought that marks out Lennon as the genius wordsmith and McCartney as naturally gifted writer of sublime melody. Not to put too fine a point on it but this is bullshit.
It is true that Lennon wrote great lyrics and McCartney beautiful tunes, but vice versa, as anyone who listens can tell. John's How, Jealous Guy and many others are astonishingly lovely melodies. Paul wrote fabulous lyrics. Eleanor Rigby isn't an accident, neither is She's Leaving Home. He has written many excellent story songs that create a vivid sense of time and place like Penny Lane, Two of Us and When I'm Sixty Four. Perhaps it is the case that he can't claim as many insightful or "clever" lyrics as Lennon, and it could be argued that he has often veered into the mundane or plain daft (especially at points in his solo career...) but I think Paul's main strength as a lyricist is to put together phrases that can been interpreted in various ways by millions of people.
Sir Paul has often been criticised for some of the music he's released over the years. The prime target tends to be the infamous We All Stand Together commonly known as the frog chorus. There has been so much mud flung at this track, as if people think McCartney himself wrote and released it as a piece of work of equal stature to Yesterday or Hey Jude. It was the theme tune to an animated Rupert the Bear film! That's the point about him as a writer; he's turned his hand to so many styles and been pretty successful most of the time. It may be true that he never again reached the artistic peaks that he did as a member of THAT band, but many writers are celebrated for much lesser works than Paul has given the world in his solo career.
McCartney was the best singer in The Beatles. There, I said it! Best in terms of range, technicality and indeed reliability. Doesn't mean he has to be your, or my, or anyone's favourite, but it is true.
It’s my personal view that John's voice has the ability to touch so many people because of the insecurity and vulnerability laid bare in his singing. With Paul it's confidence and brashness that push forward his vocal delivery.
A naturally gifted singer with a very wide range, McCartney is also a talented mimic. Hence his many convincing Little Richard type performances in the early days like I'm Down and She's A Woman giving him a powerful and exciting voice which matured in amazing vocals like Oh Darling and Call Me Back Again.
His powerful tenor range was also a very important part of The Beatles sound, from the delicious harmonies of Beatlemania where Paul's backing vocals often sounded more like the lead line, to soaring and graceful vocals on tracks like For No One.
In conclusion Paul's great and you won't convince me otherwise. Do I have a favourite Beatle? Do I need to? I'm happy living in a world where I can enjoy everything they did, together and apart.
To sum it all up here's a track where he plays all the instruments, including fabulous lead guitar, and delivers an astonishing vocal. Musically it's beautiful, lyrically it's simple but just perfect.
Pete Townshend has been an inspiration to me for years. It really kicked in when I watched The Kids Are Alright the 1979 documentary movie of The Who. I bought the DVD to cheer myself up after a teenage romance ended badly, and the scene in which the band perform A Quick One While He's Away on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus just totally summed the musical power and inventiveness of The Who and in particular Pete. In this clip Pete sings, jumps all over the place, plays beautiful guitar, plays hard guitar and kicks over then rescues a drum mic mid song.
As well as the seminal performances on that DVD I also studied The Isle Of White 1970 DVD. So influential was Townshend that I could often be seen at gigs with my then band The Bleak emulating some of his stage craft. Windmills, jumping around, all that sort of thing. Many was the gig where I'd bloodied my hands and bruised my thumb. I carried on though and in my way I meant it. And Pete means it too, even going so far as to impale his hand on his Strat's wammy bar at a gig in the 80s.
I never smashed up my guitars though and I wouldn't recommend anyone else doing it either. (I heard a great story around this time about a local guitarist who smashed up his crappy old guitar at a gig because his band had just been signed to a major label. A day later not only had the deal fell through but he was scratching around for money for a new old crap guitar.) I would say I was too poor to smash up my gear but according to legend so were The Who in 1964. They didn't make proper money until the album Tommy in 1969 because of all the debt they had built up through being expected to destroy their gear at EVERY gig. It's hard to really appreciate now what effect this smashing of gear must have had when The Who were the first band to do it. It had only been a matter of a couple of years since the cutting edge of British Rock and Roll was Cliff and The Shadows (nothing against Cliff or The Shadows by the way, I love Move It and Wonderful Land)
So Pete the showman had a big effect on me. The Who were one of the most visually arresting groups in history and Pete's performance style had a very obvious effect on Jimi Hendrix in 1966 and thousands of others since. When I actually got to see The Who play in concert in 2007 it was astonishing to see Townshend, a man in his 60s, still being the frenetic and energetic showman he was in his 20s. He was also the only member of the band to stay on stage throughout the show.
Then there is his influence as a guitarist. If you look up his name in one of those great Rock Guitar Players lists you'll most likely find him described as a truly inventive rhythm player with an aggressive, staccato, almost flamenco style. This is very true and this alone makes it very likely that of all the 1960s guitar gods he has been influential on the most bands. I've got to add some more to that though. Whilst it's true that his lead guitar style never reached Clapton, Beck, Page or Hendrix levels of technicality and speed he did play a lot of stunning solo lines from the late 60s onwards. Maybe he hasn't got the big famous solos of other players but he always did the right thing. You can't improve on the lead guitar in the intro of Eminence Front, or the beautifully melodic breaks in tracks like Join Together. Very often his rough edges made the perfect sound, such as in all those improvised jams in the Woodstock/Tommy era. He also has a fabulous acoustic style which can go from delicate finger picking back to that aggressive rhythm.
So he helped make me the guitarist and the performer I am today. Thanks Mr Townshend. Most important of all, of course, is his song writing. By the time he was in his early 20s age Pete had already written I can't Explain and My Generation. Had this been his only contribution to the cannon of British popular music he would be a giant, but by 1969 he was working towards Tommy and from there Who's Next and Quadrophenia...
There are so many of Pete's songs that I love both mega famous and criminally under valued. The lyrics on Quadrophenia, the Synths on Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again, the beauty of Blue, Red and Grey, none of these things are accidents.
Great songs, great performer, exceptional guitarist.
When I first started playing solo Pete's appearances on the webcast series In The Attic were very helpful in convincing me to make the plunge. I even had a slightly surreal dream in which I sought Pete's assurances that I should perform solo and he said yes. I don't think he liked me much though...
A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend a week writing songs in the company of Sir Ray Davies and 15 others wonderful songwriters from around the world. Thanks to Ray for taking the time to listen and gently teaching me that my songs are worth listening to and my ideas and instincts are often pretty spot on.
Thanks also for this memorable exchange;
"Ray you suggested these chords but I'm thinking of doing this..."
"Do it your way it suits you better."
Pause, hand on my shoulder. "It's very John Lennon."
Turns his back and gently walks away. I carry on playing thinking not a lot of it and then realise that has come from a man who actually met and hung out with John Lennon.
A few weeks later I was invited to an art show at his Konk studios and without really saying hello he spots me and sings the chorus of one of my songs at me "Alone now, I'm alone..."
"You remembered it!"
"It's very memorable!"
From the writer of You Really Got Me and Lola.
A few other beautiful and important memories but you know what I might just keep them to myself for a while.
I love teaching guitar lessons. I teach people with a range of abilities and playing experience and I've given to lessons to students with ages ranging from 4 to over 80.
One of my favourite lessons is when I teach some basic music theory which students can use to help them understand how chord sequences work and how to work out the chords to some songs by ear. They can also use these ideas in their own songwriting.
My starting point for this is to teach them how to play a chord sequence that is fundamental to popular music, the 12 bar blues. As it's name suggests it is a vital ingredient to blues music but it has also been used in rock and roll, country, reggae, pop, soul and just about any style you could think of. Adapted versions of the basic 12 bar blues have been developed which means it's influence spreads ever further from it's original blues beginnings. Despite being well used in countless songs the original chord sequence still turns up in much more modern sounding songs, as we shall see. The best part of teaching this lesson is seeing how amazed people are when they learn they can play thousands of very famous songs with the same chord sequence. It also reminds me how much I love this music!
For the most simple 12 Bar Blues we need just three chords. For a very brief explanation of how we find these chords I explain how the major scale is made up of seven notes. For example the notes that make the C Major scale are;
C D E F G A B
(in the case of C Major these just happen to be all the white notes on a piano)
If we give each note a number to represent where it comes in the scale we end up with;
C D E F G A B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
12 bar blues uses major chords based on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale. In the case of C major these would be C, F and G. Below is the chord sequence for 12 bar blues in the key of C Major. Each chord is played for one bar (4 beats.)
C C C C
F F C C
G F C C
Here's the table again but instead of the name of the chord I've used its number in the scale, represented by Roman Numerals because that looks nice.
I I I I
IV IV I I
V IV I I
The cool thing is that we can take the same formula and play 12 bar blues in any key. The notes of the D Major scale are D E F# G A B C# so the I is D, IV is G and V is A. The 12 bar blues in D would look like this;
D D D D
G G D D
A G D D
Here are some songs that use the 12 bar sequence. Although they are in different keys, styles and tempos you might start to spot that the have the same feel. The big give away is the last line of the sequence where we get 1 bar of the V chord, then 1 bar of the IV and then finally two bars of I before it starts again. In many blues and rock and roll songs we get an extra hint from the vocal because the lyric is in a AAB form, meaning first line is sung over the four bars of the I, then repeted over the two bars of IV and two bars of I before finally a pay off line is sung over the run down from V, IV to I.
Here's Big Joe Turner singing the original, blues version of Shake, Rattle and Roll. The song is in the key of Eb. (Start counting the 12 bar from where the vocal comes in, ignore the four bar instrumental intro)
Here's the same song in a rock and roll version by Bill Haley, this time in the key of F (with cleaner lyrics.) Again ignore the intro and start counting from where the vocal starts.
Sometimes we don't get the extra "clue" of having the first line of the lyric repeated but we can still hear the same 12 bar sequence. Here's Jerry Lee Lewis playing a 12 bar in C;
See what I mean? Maybe not but if we could sit and play through the chord sequence together perhaps that would help. Anyway here are some more songs from different decades, in different styles, keys and tempos which all use this basic 12 bar blues format. Sometimes we have an intro before the 12 bar starts, sometimes it's straight in. We may get different endings and stuff but the main idea is always the 12 bar chord sequence.
This one sounds different because we have the stops in the first four bars but if you count along you will find that it's still just four bars of I etc... Little Richard in C;
Here's Paolo Nutini in a much more recent outing with a 12 bar in D major. It's straight in after the drum into and it lasts for the whole song, verse and chorus.
Reggae you say? Still just a 12 bar in E.
Some more for your consideration;
Kansas City Wilbert Harrison C#
Meet Me In The Morning Bob Dylan E
Ball And Biscuit The White Strips E
Folsom Prison Blues Johnny Cash F
Tutti Frutti Little Richard F
Green Onions Booker T and the MGs F
Walkin Blues Eric Clapton G
Matchbox Carl Perkins A
Dizzy Miss Lizzy Beatles A
Let's Stick Together Bryan Ferry A
Goin Up The Country Canned Heat A#
The legend that is Janice Long played my song Bill Frost’s Flying Machine on her show. This is great, she’s one of the few radio presenters on a national show who can still play what she wants to play. On Wednesday she wanted to play me. Thanks Janice!
Hear Bill Frosts’s Flying Machine at 2:50:36
Learn how to play finger-style guitar with this classical piece. Please subscribe to my channel for lessons, songs and chat about creativity and the arts. Thanks!
My song Take As Long As You Need was played on BBC Music Introducing in the West Midlands on Saturday. This is a song I don't play live very often but which is rather important to me. You can hear the track at 11.14 followed by Alex Noble explaining the story behind the writing of the song.