New Year’s unresolved issues…

January 17th, 2013

As two-faced Janus watches Father Time cut the Gordian knot and let slip the dogs of war, I reflect that my New Year’s resolution to use less pretentious metaphors may have gone out of the window already. Even now it feels like 2013 has been with us forever and whatever belly full of Olympic sunshine (see what I did there?) 2012 brought has been norovirus-propelled onto the frozen January pavements to crystallise like the crushed baubles of a discarded Christmas tree.

It’s in such times of austerity, hardship and general bleakitude that people turn to a higher power (or at least to a more expensive energy tariff if EDF have anything to do with it) when religions, myths and superheroes are born from whispers, hope and rumour*. Legend tells of a place of power, a mystic gateway hidden in the dark valleys of Stroud, where a sorcerer toils, night and day. He curses passing Minstrels (regrettably, he’s diabetic) but welcomes troubadours, balladeers and jongleurs and helps them to weave elemental magic into their songs, creating spellbinding sagas that can bind generations together in wonder and bring a tear to any mortal eye. The mighty wizard has finally found the chosen bards of destiny and is, even now, aiding them in creating a collection of songs that will bring balance to the universe, warmth to the winter and hope to the human race.

Sadly, the legend turns out to be a load of utter bollocks but fortunately, Stroud is home to DB studios, where a transformation no less magical has been taking place. Like a skilled makeover artist turning Cerberus into Atomic Kitten, Andy has been working tirelessly (except when the band are there, when ‘long-sufferingly’ would be a better term) to craft the disparate mix of cluelessness, ham-fistedness and balls-out plagiarism that is very much the Layers’ metier into something, mercifully, entirely unlike Atomic Kitten.

Here at Layers HQ, we’re familiar enough with the vicissitudes of capricious fate to know that one should never count one’s chickens whilst trying to conceal them in one’s trousers at Customs, so we’re loathe to announce a date for the announcement of the date for the release of the album. We can report, however, that several tracks are now in an advanced state of mixing and what little recording is left to do is the equivalent of a lick of paint and a few screws tightening rather than the fitting of a new damp course, head gasket and kidney. Which reminds me to question this bill from the garage if nothing else.

So we may not restore hope to mankind or balance to the universe but we are reasonably confident of brightening up an evening or two in the next couple of months as we get out gigging again and launch a new collection of songs. We’re pleased and proud of what we’ve achieved so far; we think there are some pleasant surprises in store for our loyal and long-suffering fans, too.

Watch this space!

Layers out.

*I think they’re Chris Martin’s kids.

Goats in the machine

November 20th, 2012

Star date 36-24-36, if I’m lucky. Chief Science officer’s log. Captain of the USS Layers – her five year mission to boldly explore new ways to cock up perfectly good songs – is absent from the bridge and not, for a change, because he’s nipped out for a piss.

In front of us is a baffling array of knobs. No, we’re not in the viewers gallery in Parliament, we’re back at DB studios and, instead of Checkov pushing buttons at the controls, our old friend and producer Andy is back at the helm.

It’s a chilly Saturday morning in Stroud and we’re a month into the slow process of recording a second studio album. DB is a cosy little studio, the wood paneling in the control room giving the vague impression that Caleb’s currently recording a rhythm part in a sauna. The naked Swedish man thrashing him with a birch twig is entirely incidental.

Allusions to Mr Spock’s scanner are entirely appropriate; I’d forgotten since the scene of our last crimes against music quite how forensic the degree of scrutiny to which the songs are subjected. It’s a painstaking progress, listening intently to parts in isolation, then against the drums, then in other combinations, ironing out errant beats and fluffed phrasings. I can see how recording a subsequent album can be the breaking point for a lot of bands; it takes a certain amount of patient camaraderie to survive the level of criticism vital to this process. Once the novelty of initial sessions has worn off, it must be easy to start falling out during these grueling iterations. Fortunately, it’s always been friendship before musicianship in The Layers and, as usual, it’s all smiles, laughter and joking.

Vocal recording is imminent and this is the part we look forward to and dread in equal measure.  The lyrics and music come alive when our ever-richer vocal harmonies work together but it’s an area that requires more discipline than most.

It’s been five years since our last album, the same amount of time it has taken us to get our music onto iTunes, Spotify and the other plethora of online music stores. Coincidentally it’s also the same amount of time it has taken for [insert funny thing about Rupert here*]…

We urge loyal fans and regular perusers of the blog (hello Dave!) to slip their restraints, cheek their medication and get online to serve us up some rave reviews – and we know that many of you are, if nothing else, raving. Fame, fortune and glory beckon.

The management consultants**have been busy producing Gant charts, Excel spreadsheets, key performance indicators and one pie chart, which Caleb ate. We have no idea what any of it means but we’re aiming to get a beautiful, vintage style CD mixed, mastered and ready for Christmas stockings with a simultaneous release (oo-er, missus) via the aforementioned colossi of e-commerce. Watch this space for news of a star-studded launch event.

For now, we should probably get our noses back to the grindstone.

Layers out

*Let’s have an online poll. Vote for: a) Roo to admit he wrote for Jim to Fix it for him; b) Roo to master the drum parts from ‘Belly full of Sunshine’; c) Random penis enlarger based joke; d) For us to get Roo to sleep through the night.

**We have no idea who they are; presumably, what with the state of the economy, there’s a surplus of useless middle management nob-heads looking for work…

We’re bringing ‘vex-y’ back…

October 3rd, 2012

Sometimes, you wonder where the revolutionary spirit has gone - not Layers fans, of course, who largely understand the term to mean ‘innovative liquor’ and know exactly where they’ve stashed the concoction of mouthwash, fermented tea leaves and stolen urinal cakes distilled in a copper bed pan ripped from the wall of their secure facility. It’s easy, though, to look at the rest of the population, labouring (briefly, between fag breaks and checking their Facebook status) under the yoke of their privileged oppressors and wonder why there’s not more in the way of revolutionary political movements, thrusting political debate, debunking of untenable dogma and… oh, yeah, that’s why.

Well, at the very least, you’d think there would be more rioting.

Here at Layers HQ, a search of recent compositions has revealed a mellowing of the rage that drove some of our early music and, whilst it’s nice to find that still small voice of calm from time to time, there comes a point to let the beast out of its cage.

To that end, one of the numbers we’ll be committing to a meticulously crafted wax cylinder in the high-tech hub of DB studios this autumn is ‘Tear You Down’ - a barbaric yawp to rail against those culpable for the manifold sufferings around us.

Trembling… terrible… hidden beneath years of vapid acquisition; knee-jerk hatred springs unbidden from your idle, heavy tongue… bereft of hope; your useless mission, the soul’s excision from the world that you sell to the young…

Fuck your reputation, I will tear you down. Damn your temples, I will burn them to the ground. Stand against me, I will bring you down, I swear - I will tear you down.

Feel me burn with hostile rage at this twisted, gilded mess you’ve made: the groping dullards - drunken, aimless… spectre of their youth still fading… but the lines of fate carved on your faces will not erase the words inside my head, they will not change.

Fuck your reputation, I will tear you down. Damn your temples, I will burn them to the ground. Stand against me, I will bring you down, I swear - I will tear you down.

Is our tongue still somewhat in cheek? Well, yes. It’s fun to play and, we sincerely hope, will be fun to listen to. We make music because we enjoy it. If there’s a serious side, it’s not the bald sentiment herein, rather our frustration that there are so few fora in which to vent one’s spleen and to truly challenge the status quo (and if we ever play the same venue, we will. They’re getting on. We could take ‘em…) that it wouldn’t matter if we were subtly joking or actively planning war. We’d still be ignored. Perhaps we need fans in high places instead of upholstered bedrooms.

Buy your MP a copy of the new album for Christmas. Win-win.

Layers out.

The perils of getting paid…

September 26th, 2012

It’s been an uncommonly busy period for a band that normally gigs so occasionally that our typical performing schedule could be plotted on a chart of geological time (probably showing fossil remains of Plaedagigghan Noephuccasaurus). In an unprecedented burst of activity, we’ve actually gigged every week for the last month (the strain being so much for Paul that he had to take a holiday…) and, in an even more unusual turn of events, we’ve even been paid. Twice.

Really, I think that there may have been a distant roll of thunder as I typed that.

I’ve been examining my thoughts on the issue of payment for musicians - fans and regular readers of this blog will be no strangers to regular examinations of their heads - prompted by the coincidental appearance of stray groats in the Layers coffers and this meme that’s popped up recently on Facebook (and probably lots of other wordless social media streams used by scoffing touchscreen technorati that think blogging is so last century)

I feel able to comment on this particular comparison because in both the fields of plumbing and music I’m a barely competent amateur but willing to have a bash for free if it makes my friends happy. I’m going to examine both sides of the argument.

Firstly, I don’t think that it’s a terribly fair comparison. For one thing, calling out plumbers after 6pm is overtime. I know a few plumbers, sparkies and other allied tradespersons and most of them get up at the crack of dawn and work their arses off. Secondly, playing music is fun. That’s why you do it. I’ve done a few minor plumbing jobs and, although I like helping out friends and manual labour makes a nice change of pace from my everyday life, I couldn’t describe it as fun. I had to call out an emergency drain guy a few weeks ago for a backed up sewer and I have to say, that looked a very long way from fun. You see a guy playing guitar in a wedding band and can bet he’s not thinking “I wish I was up to my elbows in other people’s shit.” Thirdly, if you think a plumber’s too expensive, you can’t replace him with an iPod and have half the people at your party not notice the difference. Finally, a plumber doesn’t expect to be applauded, told he’s great and to have the pick of the single women at the, er… drain blockage.

OK, time to stick up for the musicians.

I’ve written before about the issues around being paid for music, as have others who are actually professional musicians. I wouldn’t for a second denigrate the efforts of the people that I know who make wonderful music and take it seriously enough to dedicate their professional lives to it. I went to see my friends The Black Feathers put on a show a couple of nights ago and there’s no way that they should be that good and stony broke from it. Go and see them, they’re heart-stoppingly wonderful.

The thing is, a wedding band is the thing that you have to do as a musician to pay for the music that you love to make. The people who moan about the cost of a wedding band are, like the musicians, victims of a screwed up system of values. We live in a world that’s been tricked, bullied and manipulated into thinking that it’s stuff that matters: shiny gadgets, logos, brand names - that the only stuff worth paying for comes from some shiny Hollywood-high-tech dream factory. Somehow, walking around the corner and putting a few quid in a hat to see wonderful local musicians is a waste of a couple of quid but staying in and paying a premium rate phone line to vote for a warbling, melodyned twat or a dancing dog on the TV is value. Or as my friend Brigid observes, 99c for an iPhone app that makes fart noises is value but 99c for a well-crafted song is a rip off.

We’ll put our hard earned gig money into recording our new album. We’re lucky, though, that we’re able to make music purely for fun. We have jobs that we’re good at and we get reasonable recompense for them. The music’s a hobby - any of us in The Layers would be amongst the first to admit that when you listen to us, you’re listening to amateurs. If we were plumbers, when we finished a job at your house you’d flush the crapper and water would probably come out of the light sockets. We could only expect to get paid for that if you were planning an avant-garde dinner party and in need of a conversation piece and we’d have to gracefully accept whatever payment we might be offered. That’s about how we market the music. If you’re a crap plumber, you don’t expect to become minted for fixing a Khan’s khazi or a billionaire’s bidet. If you’re a crap wedding band then you’re ripping people off by gouging them for a couple of grand on the most expensive day of their lives.

Professionals who do a good job deserve to be paid a fair rate for what they do. We choose a trade, we choose how much work and practice we put into it and we have to accept that demand for our services may vary. There should always be a chance for a good plumber or a good musician to earn a living wage but that won’t happen in a society with such a messed up set of values as ours. We can help, though. Next time that you go to a bar and see a great band for free, offer an extra quid for the CD or offer to pass around a hat for the musicians. Every pound in the hat is a pound less in Simon Cowell’s pocket, for a start. If we all work together, we might bankrupt the smarmy wanker and he’ll have to become a plumber. There’s no one I’d rather see groping around in a U bend.

Tales from the recording studio soon - we hope the new album will be available for Christmas. It’s six thousand quid a copy. What’s wrong with that?

Neil out.

Sects, Doug and rock and roll.

September 6th, 2012

If you go down in the woods today… you’ll probably attract the attention of that nice man from the Forestry Commission. So stop all that sordid, bosky fellatio and go looking for good, wholesome family entertainment instead. Not a term often used in connection with The Layers, it has to be said, unless preceded by a phrase like ‘the very antithesis of…”

However, this summer we were offered the chance to play a mellow, family friendly set at Treefest, Westonbirt Arboretum’s celebration of all things, er… tree related, by the lovely people at the 4014 project.

Friday night’s gig was for the benefit of campers, stall holders and others there for the weekend. We rolled up to a big top, a big stage and a friendly crew. The weather meant that the sides were on the big top and that produced an incredible reverberation effect every time Roo’s famously quiet and understated snare drum was hit. We’d started wishing that we were playing on a sunny, late summer evening but as the crowd started filtering in to the preceding act, a ukulele duo from Bristol, we realised that conditions were playing into our hands and the damp was granting us a captive audience.

And what a great audience they were. We’d picked the gentlest numbers, left Neil’s amp at home and hastily substituted any offensive words in the set with something equally meaningful but less controversial. We had some worries that the gentle set might lack impact but the reception from the crowd started cordial and got warmer by the song. As children wrestled like mating frogs in front of the stage, we worked our way through the most melodic parts of our repertoire. The audience were responsive, up for a chat and by the time the set was coming to its end, we decided that it was time to get out the banner and teach the world to sing Surf Trip… and sing they did. There’s something magical about hearing strangers sing your own song back at you and it made for a terrific climax to the set.

One of the audience members who wasn’t a stranger was Doug, ‘Dusty’ Jopling, who alert fans, medication depending, may remember joined The Layers for a short stint in the big apple a few years back. It was great to have 125% of the band in one place again and Doug enjoyed himself so much that he decided to come back to see us again the following week for the noisier, swearier set at The Vaults.

Apart from decibels and coarse language, the other chief difference at this gig was the size of the audience; thanks so much to the family and friends that turned out to support us but wow, there must have been something amazing on telly that evening.

Despite the dearth of spectators and eyeball-melting Czech moonshine that we’d been drinking, courtesy of our Pardubice-based promoter friend Viktor (you’ll have to backtrack to 2008 to cath up on those tales) we managed to get through brand new songs ‘Sapphire’ and ‘Tear You Down’ with enough panache and conviction to convince us that they’re worth recording on one of those new-fangled compact discs we’ve been reading about so next month, we’re off to the studio - more on that in a subsequent blog.

As an added bonus, Doug made a brief guest appearance on ‘Shadowpictures’ and ‘Belly Full of Sunshine’, giving Roo the opportunity to appreciate the band from the audience perspective. He’s become a big fan.

Next it’s off to the Zeitgeist Media Festival in Hampshire - okay, they’re nothing like a sect, it just made for a good title. If you don’t know anything about Zeitgeist, it’s a sort of apolitical political movement aiming to bring about the kind of world that favours people over money, fairness over greed and peace over war. Ridiculous, when you think about it, but a gig’s a gig and then we can get back to running our sweatshops and slave trading rings and generally trampling on the poor. If you’re not too busy selling crack to schoolchildren on 15th September, why not come down and check it out?

That will be it, gig-wise, for a little while (unless Lady Gaga comes begging for a support act again…) until we hope to be playing an album release party just in time for Christmas. More on that as the recording sessions go ahead.

Until then, thanks to everyone that’s come out to support us over the last couple of months; we love you all.

Layers out.

Ain’t no one gonna rain on my parade…

July 12th, 2012

…my Fiesta may not escape so lightly. Indeed, as England, or ‘New Atlantis’ as it seems likely to be called next year, seems determined to soak everyone’s wick this July - a month supposedly named for a Roman emperor but lately more evocative of King Cnut - certainly when some daft… promoter tries to organise an outdoor music event in what for want of a better term we’ll call the ‘British Summertime’.

Never let it be said, though, that The Layers are willing to have our spirits dampened; no indeed, we drink them neat, as nature intended. It’s perhaps that haze of drink that makes us able to get out there and expose our amplifiers and tender white skin to the elements at rainy outdoor gigs.

Yes, gentle readers; it was Tetbury Fiesta time again. You may have missed the extensive publicity if you have a habit of skipping the adverts on your Sky box or if your court mandated therapist has suspended TV privileges.

Of course, one fly in our ointment would have been lonely, so to keep the weather company, a certain tennis player had gone from being miserably Scottish to being as British as strawberries and cream by reaching a Wimbledon final*. The dial on our audience size estimation device was going down faster than the value of a Barclay’s pension fund as we trudged onto the recreation ground.

As usual, the Fiesta, with its unique blend of Rock n’ Roll and Splat t’ Rat, had attracted a varied group of artists. The programme started with some terrific acoustic acts and then, as the Layers assembled at full strength, moved on to the plugged-in noisemeisters. The first of these was the very embodiment of what middle-aged rockers such as ourselves fear becoming. As the old saying goes: if you can’t be a good example, at least be a terrible warning. Well, certainly a score there.

Fortunately, from there, the only way was up and the standard gradually improved as the afternoon wore on and, as if encouraged, the clouds parted and the sun came out. All we needed was for one of the tennis players to suffer a catastrophe and we were in with the chance of an audience. Lo and behold, the rain that we’d been expecting decided to fall mainly over Wimbledon and while the roof was erected (clearly modelled on a 1967 Triumph Herald, it takes half an hour) a few extra people shambled, blinking, out of the bar. We had an audience. Sort of.

It was only a half hour set and sometimes it can take a while to get warmed up but on this occasion, barring a few tuning issues with Caleb’s guitar, we were into it like Jude Law into an unattended au pair. Wasted and Fallen Kings, perennial favourites, a quick downshift to the gentler strains of Bratislava and My Father and then time to debut ‘Whiskey’. Sometimes a new number can be hesitant but this one felt like a natural part of the set from the first moment. The backing vocals worked a treat and we could see the audience, small but perfectly formed though it was, looking up, taking an interest and even nodding along in time. A rocked-out Shadowpictures and then for the first time in a long time, Surf Trip with the right, laid-back groove. The last a capella strains were still fading as some of the audience came up to the stage. There’s always at least one nutter on the bus type who’ll come up to a band after of a performance and tell you that you’re the best thing since sliced bread, nice to hear but not worth getting excited about, but on this occasion we were blessed with two really encouraging pieces of praise. The first was from the lead singer of the day’s headline act, Whole Lotta Led, who not only went out of his way to tell us how much he liked the tunes and the harmonies but even bought a CD. The second was from our sound engineer. He’d already given us a great sound on and off stage but he too took a CD and told us how much he liked the music. High praise indeed from a man who works with Peter Gabriel.

It’s turning into a good year for The Layers; we have some great new tunes ready to introduce, an album’s worth of songs ready for the studio and what could be a great gig at Westonbirt later this summer - either in the woods or underwater, depending on the weather. There will be a gig at The Vaults soon to blood some new songs - dates will be announced soon so that our many secure unit-based fans can effect a timely break and come along and wave arms. Anyone’s arms, we don’t care.

We’ve got permission to invite fans along to the exclusive Friday night performance at Westonbirt, featuring us and some other great bands, so if you’d like to come along, drop us a line.

Layers out.

*Don’t worry, he’s back to being as Scottish as Tennent’s Super and cold chips…

You thought that it would never happen but…

June 20th, 2012

Yep, it’s a serious Layers blog. Anyone who had five and a half years in the sweepstake - that eighty seven pence is yours.

It’s really a response to a response to a response to an article. This isn’t looking much like a serious blog, is it? I’ll hurry to the point. A few musicians have been writing about this article by Emily White in which she confesses to music piracy, not caring about liner notes and bestiality.  Or not. Read it for yourself and get the facts, don’t make up your mind on the basis of someone else’s reading of the article. What are you, the Daily Mail?

David Lowery, on the Trichordist, a community blog supporting artist’s rights on an ‘ethical Internet’ (I think that’s one where the dolphins have signed consent forms) composed this thoughtful reply, which was reposted by the talented and lovely Dan Beames and then referenced by the talented and even lovelier Brigid Kaelin.

Both Dan and Brigid make their living in the music business. Both are fantastically talented musicians, performers and song writers, so give their opinions on this issue the consideration that they deserve. I don’t disagree; I have observations and questions: grist for the mill, I hope.

On one hand, we (The Layers) could be held up as an argument that artists can support themselves by other means. I don’t like that, even though that argument - that the arts are the fruits of civilisation and should be shared equally is valid: if every member of that civilisation gets an equal crack at being fed, clothed and housed. We don’t, though. Actually, we live in a dog-eat-dog capitalist dystopia and the only way for artists like Brigid and Dan to eat is to try to take some token fiscal advantage of their talents, just as say, a banker profits from a good head for figures and a total disregard for the wellbeing of his fellow man or the English upper classes profit from a talent for having ancestors that killed people, sold slaves and oppressed the poor.

I’m not saying that anyone should make as much money as, say, Bono, just from being in U2. I am saying, though, that a good musician should have the same chance to make a living from talent, hard work and practice as, say, a good plumber.

Let’s be fair. There are plenty of would-be rock stars that beggar that argument by not practising, putting on crappy gigs and thinking that it’s all about wearing shades indoors, taking drugs and sleeping with impressionable models. Pete Doherty, take a bow. Sorry, take a blow. To the cranium. I’m not suggesting that everyone that tries should make a living from it. I know a lot of wonderfully talented musicians, though, that put their hearts and souls into making wonderful music. They should at least get the chance to spend a few years perfecting their craft and to give it a go.

You see, Emily White, in the article, describes herself as a ‘music lover’. But is she?

To me, love nurtures and supports. If you love someone, you want them to grow, to become stronger, better, happier. If you analogise music with a person, I don’t think that Emily really loves music; I think that she thinks he’s cool but she’s taking advantage of him without really thinking about whether he’s going to be OK in the long run. She’s fine when he gives her stuff but she’s not really interested in doing anything to support him. She’s just bleeding him dry and assuming he’ll be OK. When music complains, she just bitches about how he could be better for her, not really thinking about the reciprocal side of that arrangement.

If you like an artist, you should be willing to pay the going rate for their music. You should show a bit of interest in turning up to a gig.

Here at Layers HQ, we took the decision to make music our hobby, not our living. You want the record? All we ask is that you consider making a donation as to what you think it’s worth. As Brigid points out, people are willing to pay for an app that makes their iPhone make fart noises but bitch about paying 9p for an MP3. So consumers have to decide what music is worth to them. More or less than a lightsaber for your smartphone? (sigh). It’s not just the cash. I’d like to think that the music that we write is worth more to a listener than a voicemail  recorded by Chris Moyles. Unless someone’s started doing snuff versions…

The industry, though, has a part to play, too. Because for years they’ve pimped out innocent boys to girls like Emily. All of those boys (remember, easily offended people, that this is still an analogy - boys are music, OK?) are carefully selected for cosmetic appeal, to be unchallenging, easily palatable and then flooded on to the market so that there’s no exposure and little chance for the unconventional, thoughtful boys to get a look in. And those ‘different’ boys that do get through are picked up and promoted until they’re exhausted. And when Emily’s had a couple of dates with a boy and the time comes for her to pay for dinner or introduce him to her friends… why bother? There’ll be an equally pretty boy along in a minute.

Emily: if you love music, you ought to be willing to do something for it. You can listen to a few tracks - flirting is free - but if you date, you should at least be willing to go Dutch.

Brigid, Dan and every other musician out there - perhaps we just love too much. Perhaps we do need to experiment with new ways to make a living from our passion. As long as we don’t feel that our rights are being violated and we can find partners who will go the distance.

I’m going to stop, because it’s getting smutty. Here’s the dirty little secret, though. Music is communication. There’s a real relationship between artist and listener and if either side of that relationship loses respect for the other and starts to take advantage, then we’re heading for a bitter end. Don’t let it happen. Let’s share a little love.

Layers out.

Her Majesty would be proud…

June 9th, 2012

Regular readers of the Layers blog may have noticed the sounds of street parties drifting through the bars on the window recently, although the staff probably keep bunting away from you - cheery and patriotic aren’t prized qualities in escape ropes and garottes. In case you’ve been wondering what the sounds of celebration and the union jack sketched into your gruel were all about, last weekend was the diamond jubilee of Elizabeth von Windsor - not the one from the ‘Carry On’ films. The other one.

Sarky comments aside, we’re neither royalist nor republican, really but the chance for a gig is the chance for a gig, so when The Abstracts’ Mark Harris invited us to join the line up for Cirencester’s Jubilee celebrations we were swift to mumble non-committally, scuttle home, check Google diaries and set off a flurry of confusing e-mails. Eventually it emerged that three-quarters of us were devoid of more pressing appointments while Paul was busy performing a ‘Mission Impossible’ style assignment, cracking into the top-secret headquarters of an evil corporation bent on world domination. The downside was that we’d be unable to rock out fully. On the plus side, not only were we handed an excuse to dust off the ‘unplugged’ set but, thanks to Paul, we’re now also in possession of Col. Sanders secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices. Would it be giving too much away to reveal that ten of them are salt? No? Well, the other is MSG. Imagine our surprise.

It wouldn’t really be an outdoor Layers gig without the threat of the sort of rain that normally comes with an eccentric Jew rounding up pairs of animals and the preceding few days promised to deliver. As it happened though, the Monday of the gig was grey, cool but mercifully dry. It wasn’t the sort of weather to send hordes reaching for the picnic blankets and out to the park so we were pleasantly surprised to get to the Abbey Grounds and see a crowd that was probably reaching into four figures milling around the various attractions.

Hats off to Mark and his team; the stage was up and well-equipped and the sound was cracking. As the first few bands went on, the weather gradually brightened and as three-quarters of The Layers got ready to take the stage, the Sun finally broke through and there was a real hint of summer festival in the air. It can be difficult to relax into a twenty minute set but we were fortunate to be following some great acts and the atmosphere was laid-back and positive. Without feeling nervous, we were able to give a decent account of “Is that Wrong?”, a blast from the past; three from the forthcoming album, “Bratislava”, “Magic Lantern Show” and “My Father” before we were joined on stage by John and Kev for perennial favourite, “Surf Trip”. It’s always a lovely way to close a set and always special to have some of our regular guests singing with us.

It was all over far too quickly but music went on throughout the evening, the crowd gradually swelling until The Abstracts produced a fitting finale and socks were most definitely rocked off.

It’s not all been kow-towing to the over privileged classes, though. The extra day’s bank holiday and the return of our bass player from special ops gave us the chance to stage a bonus-length rehearsal and really get our teeth into some new material. The happy news for fans desperately awaiting the slipping of a new Layers CD beneath their cell door is that two new songs have gone from being inklings to, if not perfectly fried calamari, at least a mass of writhing tentacles (I’m really going to have to have words with our tortuous metaphor contractor…). This means that we’re almost up to an album’s worth of songs. One or two more to coax from deranged idea to reanimated flesh lurching towards the nearest village and we’ll be ready to throw ourselves into another session in the studios.

In other exciting news, there’s a new addition to the family - yes, Caleb’s just texted us all to say that he’s the proud recipient of a healthy, 45lb amplifier and cab. We’re mentioning this partly in celebration and partly as a warning that this is probably a good time to put sticky-back plastic across the window panes, start jamming cotton wool into the kids’ ears and sedate your pets. It’s going to be loud on a scale where decibels give up, go home and call in the Richter Scale.

Thanks to everyone that turned out to show their support at The Jubilee and to the organisers for a great day’s entertainment. Come and see The Layers play a longer, louder (probably much louder) set at the Tetbury Fiesta on the 8th July and then at Westonbirt in August.

Layers out.

Four-moist in our field…

May 13th, 2012

It seems likely that Bono and his ilk (it’s actually a moose head that he bought in a charity auction. Blame the Irish accent) have someone to ask them, “Hey, Bono, y’lazy arse. Have you written anything on the blog lately?” and Bono gets his butler to tell his agent to get his assistant to write something for the blog.

Here at Layers HQ we have no such staffing luxuries; our tiny, overburdened staff consisting of just a few chefs on twenty-four hour rotation in case Caleb should need a sandwich, a driver, in case sandwich supplies run low and a beautiful masseuse, who spends most of her time popping out to get Caleb a sandwich, have no time to get involved with the blog and so it’s left entirely up to Neil’s memory and conscience. Sadly, the former has been somewhat eroded by repeated concussions and a recent discount on Jameson’s Whiskey and the latter is suspected to have never existed by several eminent psychologists and the child from whom he just stole a lolly.

However, it seems appropriate during this brief period of lucidity to let followers, fans and some other Layers-related group who can be conveniently labelled with an f-word that all is well with the band and that they haven’t been carted off to the Moon-Osbourne memorial home for deluded old rockers just yet.

A lingering degree of post-traumatic stress disorder might have been in order following last month’s gig: a marquee-based birthday party in rural Gloucestershire whilst Britain was languishing under drought conditions? Naturally, it was like a bog-snorkelling competition with loud music. Managing to get in and erect a PA went relatively smoothly and the exercise helped to keep the band warm as the mercury descended gently to ‘bracing’, then down to ‘nippy’, ‘life-threatening’ and finally settled on ‘August bank holiday in Prestatyn’. With stiff little fingers (not the band) and the drummer sat in a refreshing breeze, it looked like it was going to be hard work for a little while but a warm crowd and some skilled knob twiddling from our semi-resident engineer Cam got some heads nodding and toes tapping and we were able to relax sufficiently to enjoy ourselves and rock out a little with the chance to concentrate on the noisier part of the set. In the end, we were smiling and almost able to feel the handshakes as backs were patted and kind words issued. We were privileged to be supporting Duke, who put on a great show and then it was time to venture out into the dark and the rain and a field that had seen a little traffic and a little more water since our initial forays. Still, equipped with the world’s least capacious 4×4 and a burning desire to spend twenty minutes pushing an Audi through a bog we were able to get unloaded and on the road in a matter of hours.

Jesting aside – Dan’s birthday party was a lovely gig for us; more good times and laughter and just enough mud to remind us of adventures at Green Man.

Our next adventure with outdoor gigging comes in August at Westonbirt Arboretum’s Treefest, an enchanting mix of music and craft as well as the customary dendriform diversions. Attendance is mandatory, so brush the festival detritus out of your gigging tent and get your butt down there.

In other news, we’re starting to tentatively plan recording a new album later this year and we may well be seeking video extras amongst our more pulchritudinous devotees. Feel free to send in audition pictures but please keep them decent. We don’t want the staff here at Layers HQ distracted. They’re behind on the sandwiches as it is…

Layers out.

Deja vu all over again…

March 14th, 2012

Buried beneath myriad strata, warmed by the living fires that swirl inside the Earth’s core, two floors below Microsoft customer service and one above the realm of the Morlocks, a brown-coated minion scurried, clipboard in hand, along rows of dread machinery as it whirred and clicked incomprehensibly. Here, in a vast subterranean complex sunk at the centre of a triangle of ley lines and just off the Northampton bypass, lies the machinery that regulates the universe, washes and conditions the fabric of time and space and drives the cogs of fate itself. The minion paused, distracted for a second by a flashing light. He paused to read the dial beneath it, reset a counter to zero and wrote on his clipboard: “Layers drummer. Drama levels risen above threshold.”

Somewhere in the darkness, a valve closed with an ominous click…

At least that’s how we imagined things were panning out when we clapped eyes on Rupert setting up his drums with a skin pallor that suggested he’d not had time to get out of makeup after auditioning as an extra in ‘The Walking Dead.’

Earlier that very week a carrier pigeon had been faxed to Layers HQ bearing a coded microdot reminding us to occasionally check our e-mail. Fortuitously, a message had just arrived with the opportunity to fill in for a band that had pulled out at the last minute granting us the chance to play our first gig in Sweden. This was quite exciting until we realised that it said Swindon. Undeterred, we packed our trunks (we were on our way to the swimming pool) and made plans to wow the crowd of The Rolleston with our unique blend of rock and fluffed chords.

Unfortunately, Roo’s copy of “Middle Class Revolutionary’s Quarterly” had contained a scratch n’ catch guide to the most noxious pathogens of 2012 and his energy levels were on a par with a dazed sloth that had spent three weeks on the Karen Carpenter diet plan.

Fortunately, here at Layers HQ, we’re no strangers to a little bit of percussionist-based drama - in fact, this barely tipped the scales. So, ably supported by Ells Ponting and Shadowlight, we did our best to rock the world of a small but appreciative crowd.

There have been less error-strewn performances in the history of music, admittedly, but Roo rose to the occasion and gradually heads started to nod and some mobile phone footage was taken and a crowd was wowed. We finished with a couple of semi-acoustic numbers, including a version of Surf Trip that allowed Roo to lurch out from behind his newly-racked kit and cough along in harmony.

Many of the qualified epidemiologists in the audience that evening (you just never know with Swindon, do you?) were exchanging comments to the effect that it was unlikely that setting up, gigging and breaking down would do much for Rupert’s health. As it turned out, when Roo called on Friday to tell us that he wasn’t feeling that chipper using the ‘séance’ setting on his mobile, it looked like a grim prognosis for him and for Saturday’s much anticipated gig at the Vaults.

Not for one second did we doubt the awesome powers of our drummer. Well, we did, actually, but none of the other drummers that we knew were available so we got the wife to slip some Bob Martens in his soup and soon his little tail was wagging again.

To be serious for a second: massive props to Roo for powering through when he was feeling like death. Not only was he drumming for us but he was playing for the opposition too. No, no, not like that. I mean he was playing for Wilf, the awesome support act. He’s just a bit camp occasionally, honest.

Was it a brave performance considering his state of health? Hell no. It was much, much more. If this was drummer related drama it was epic not tragedy. Victory snatched from the slavering jaws of defeat.

Saturday night was one of those nights that we’ll be able to look back on in years to come and smile. With support and banter from a wonderful crowd, with fantastic guest appearances from Rob and Sarah on keyboards, Trevor and Kevin on backing vocals (not to mention most of the crowd), we had a cracking time. Several times during the gig I could hear the audience singing along so lustily that I could make them out over a backline that left my ears ringing on Sunday. There’s something about hearing virtual strangers singing lyrics that you’ve written that’s almost indescribably special.

Thanks once again must go to our favourite local venue, The Vaults. Even if we become globally famous (hmmm, ‘when’ we become…?) we’ll keep coming back, we promise. To Trev, who did a brilliant job of the sound despite being quite heavily monstered by the end. To Sarah, Rob, Kev and Trev (again) for joining the list of musicians who’ve been in the band for a little bit. If we all ever get together on stage, it’s going to look like the Mormon Tabernacle choir…

Thanks to the audience for cheerful and voiciferous support. You were as much a part of the gig as were we. And thanks, as ever, to Roo, Caleb and Paul. Just magnificent, chaps. A job well done.