This month we feature Bassist Colin Edwin…
First of all thanks so much for this interview. Tell us, how did you get started playing bass?
At the age of about 15 I was spending so much time listening to that I felt I wanted to get involved in actually playing somehow. Despite coming from a musical family, unlike my older siblings, I never learned an instrument as a young child.
Once I expressed an interest my father, somewhat hesitantly, bought me a second-hand Japanese Fender Jazz copy, a move suggested by my mother, since both my dad and my older brother played guitar; I guess she thought it would be useful to have a bass player in the family.
Amazingly, within a week or two, I met a highly skilled session bass player, Martin Elliott, who at the time lived locally. He offered me a lot of guidance simply on the condition I practice whatever he gave me to do. Over a couple of years he gave me some fantastic real-world advice and I also got familiar with a lot of the necessary, working musician skills, like reading music and being able to follow chord charts.
I find it kind of amazing that I made such a lucky connection; I am still in touch with Martin and we get together from time to time. Among other things, Martin has been composer Michael Nyman’s long time bass player, which is a kind of unique gig with some very specific technical challenges.
Anyway, I did a lot of the usual things, like forming a band with some schoolmates. Initially I never thought I’d ever get beyond the garage we rehearsed in, and I remember clearly my guitarist mate telling me how great it would be if we could get it together to do a gig in the local pub, and my thinking to myself that it was such a distant goal, “that will never happen!” But we persevered and got out of the garage eventually playing some decent gigs around London.
My parents were really supportive when I told them I was going to drop out of education and try my luck either as a musician or sound engineer. After leaving school I spent a fair bit of time practicing bass at home, in between a succession of really awful dead-end jobs. Gradually, I gave them up as I started to get more work as a bass player, and my interest in different sorts of music grew as a result.
In order to try and get started as an engineer, I offered my services as a painter and decorator to a guy I was introduced to, who was setting up a recording studio. The theory was I’d do some of the painting and decorating he needed doing, in return for him showing me how to operate the mixing desk. I worked on his place, and although we became friends, he never once showed me anything. However, I did get to see lots of musical activity and play with lots of different people who came to the studio as a result of my hanging there, which certainly helped. In regards to my painting and decorating, his only comment was, “Colin, you are completely useless at anything except playing the bass,” which was encouragement of a kind and certainly helped me finally decide to commit to my path.
Who are some of your major influences?
I absorbed all sorts of things growing up, including my brother’s classical guitar playing and the sounds coming from my sister’s bedroom. They were listening to a lot of 70’s and early ’80’s Soul and the likes of Chic and Sister Sledge, and also things like Ian Dury, The Stranglers and the early Police albums.
Later on, I discovered jazz through my father’s record collection, he played jazz guitar and inherited his vinyl collection. He introduced me to artists like Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Django Reinhardt, etc.
I really got interested in double bass after checking out a John Martyn, that album my older brother had left behind when he moved out. I was sort of bored and put it on fully expecting it to be a load of hippy nonsense that I wouldn’t like, but hearing Danny Thompson’s beautiful and powerful upright sound was a real ‘light-bulb moment’ for me. I resolved to get an upright bass as soon as I could.
I latched onto the more alternative end of ’80’s music, stuff like Magazine, The Smiths, Public Image etc., but thinking about it now, there was a lot of upfront bass playing all over the rock and pop records of the 1980’s, so there was a lot of bass coming at me, even in stuff I didn’t particularly like.
I discovered the fretless bass through hearing Mick Karn, a truly unique player, especially his work with Dali’s Car, which is an obscure and short lived project but an amazingly off-the-wall record, which still sounds otherworldly and engaging to me even after all this time.
As a listener, I also went backwards to discover the music of the 60’s and 70’s: Can, Gong, Frank Zappa, Weather Report, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, etc.
I’m usually drawn to things that are quite spacious and minimal and I’ve spent a lot of time listening to reggae and dub, which has definitely informed my approach to coming up with bass parts, as I try my best to create closely integrated and memorable bass lines.
Musically, the person who has influenced me the most is (former Henry Cow multi instrumentalist) Geoff Leigh. After a chance meeting and discovering that we had a shared interest in Moroccan Gnawa music, we had a long running collaboration under the name Ex-Wise Heads. Geoff really encouraged me in lots of ways, and also introduced me to all sorts of ‘sometimes’ quite unorthodox musical ideas; he is easily one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. Geoff has incredible energy and has followed an underground and experimental musical path all his life, with a complete disregard for commerciality, which is very admirable.
Tell us more about your experience with the great Porcupine Tree band.
As soon as the first line up came together to play a short series of gigs and a radio session, I felt immediately that it was a great thing to be involved in, everyone found their role in the music very quickly, there was certainly an instant chemistry.
Over the years, the sound of the band really developed a lot, every album was quite different, from the earlier ambient and psychedelic, space-rock type material to the heavier and more song-based later albums.
We started from nowhere and the growth of the band’s popularity was extremely slow, so we really had to work hard. Without any mainstream exposure and no hit singles, we basically built our audience through solid, regular touring and keeping up the momentum. We certainly achieved a lot more than I, or probably anyone else expected us to.
There’s no substitute for real, practical road experience and although it was tough at times, the variety of situations we worked in have well equipped me to deal with the more fluid set-ups I tend to play in these days.
Creatively, in both line-ups, Porcupine Tree was mostly a good positive combination of ideas and personalities, we all came from quite different directions but we did have a common ground together, which made for some great music.
I know there’s still a lot of love out there for Porcupine Tree, which surprises me, I thought people would forget us quite rapidly, but if anything it feels like there’s more interest now than whilst we were working.
We know you have also tons of other projects going on, tell us something more!
My idea has always been to try and get involved in things that are new for me, and I am lucky in that I have connected with some truly original and creative musicians. It’s usually the case that one thing leads to another, especially if it works on artistic level.
Working with Italian experimental musician Eraldo Bernocchi and starting Metallic Taste of Blood together lead me, through the label connection, to forming Twinscapes, my bass duo with Lorenzo Feliciati.
Subsequently this led to getting involved with Obake, which in turn led to meeting vocalist Lef and forming O.R.k. along with Pat Mastelotto and Carmelo Pipitone.
Likewise, I can trace working with Tim Bowness to our playing a one-off gig together in Kiev, which lead to me playing on his last three solo albums and also my collaborating with Ukrainian female vocal duo Astarta. We made an album together (as Astarta/Edwin), which is very heavily influenced by Slavic folk music – something I was completely unfamiliar with prior to meeting them – but reworked through my own taste filter.
It was a really interesting creative process as I became familiar with their natural style of singing, full of unusual Eastern harmonies and songs, which flow around odd meter patterns.
Another good connection was meeting guitarist Jon Durant whilst on tour in the USA. He asked me to come and play on one of his solo albums, and we got on so well, that we’ve subsequently made three albums together in a more fully collaborative way and we’re continuing the process now.
In all these cases I think there’s been a successful musical chemistry, but I have also really just followed my instincts and tried to remain open. I am more or less aiming to have the creative process be as intuitive and natural as possible, and for me, collaborating with lots of people makes this easier.
For the immediate future, I am just about to do some gigs with SDang!, which is an instrumental guitar and bass duo from Italy, I previously connected with drummer Alessandro Pedretti and we made an album together under the name “Endless Tapes”.
Later over the summer I’ll be playing live with dub/electronica artist Guadi, which is another Metallic Taste of Blood connection, he completely reworked the track “Doctoring the Dead” from our second album for his upcoming release, so it makes total sense for me to join his live set up.
We are also planning another round of O.R.k. activity, which is an incredibly fulfilling band to play in, as the music somehow manages to develop in unexpected ways night to night.
What about your solo project? Are you going to release a new solo album in the near future?
I am always experimenting with various basses and FX and recording short sketches, something I do more or less daily to keep the imagination muscles working; it’s as important to me as practicing the bass in a more technical way.
If I feel an idea has any possibilities, and it doesn’t end up being developed with someone else, then I will generally carry on and develop it on my own. I have a lot of unreleased instrumental material and I’ve also completed a more song-based album with a vocalist friend of mine. I am planning to release much more material later in 2017, but in all honesty, it’s been difficult finding the time to devote to the somewhat tedious process of releasing it.
What gear are you currently using?
I have a built up a large collection of basses and I might try a few out on any given recording whilst tracking. I still use my Wal basses a lot and Spector made me a fantastic USA fretless that I’ve been using the last 4 years or so. With Obake I exclusively use my downtuned Spector Euro 453LX, it fits in nicely with Eraldo Bernocchi’s baritone guitars.
I also have a couple of Basslab basses, a fretted and a fretless Soul IV, which are very unusual as they are made from a tunable composite rather than wood, and I like to use them when I am unsure which bass sound to go for.
For more vintage type sounds I have a Yamaha BB1200A, strung with flatwounds, which gets a lot of use on various sessions, and I have two Ovation Magnums (both a I and a II) for more dub inspired sounds. There are a few things that come out occasionally too, a beautiful Rob Allen fretless (my only 5-string) and a Takamine acoustic bass guitar.
I try and play my upright as often as I can, it’s a relatively cheap plywood backed instrument made in the former East Germany sometime in the ’80’s, I’ve had it for years and it’s a great sounding bass. A while back I went in search of a better quality instrument, but I couldn’t find anything I thought sounded significantly better without selling my children into slavery and robbing a bank.
Amp wise, for both electric and upright, I have been an EBS user for a long time, and I’ve always liked their pedals. As well as sounding great, I find all their stuff really well made, solid and totally reliable.
For more experimental effects, I have a few lesser known, interesting pedals that I use a lot too, Electro Harmonix’s Ravish Sitar and SuperEgo, they are both quite “deep” and will reward the time you spend getting to know them. I love to use an ebow as well; it’s great for making textural and atmospheric sounds, especially in conjunction with a delay.
Talking of delays, I am still finding very cool stuff to do with the Digitech Timebender, some years after I got it, I can’t believe they’ve discontinued it.
It seems that today music has moved mostly to the web… what do you think?
If you mean the ease and greater possibilities for collaborative music making over the Internet, then I agree. The ever-increasing broadband speeds have made it really easy to exchange audio files and so forth. In recent years, I have had a steady flow of featured guest appearances, where people are usually contacting me through my website or whatever and we work together without meeting at all in the real world.
More often than not working alone, and often without a guide or any written part, you have to develop a certain sense of confidence in your creative decisions, especially as now there is the option of unlimited takes and many, many possible bass sounds, so your judgment becomes as important as your chops, perhaps more so.
I would say though, taking things live is really important to me. Apart from my solo material, every single project I mentioned in your previous question has played live at some point, I am not so interested in making purely recorded output with no possibilities for performance, especially as performing music offers the best way to develop it.
Do you have any suggestions for bass players, as well as any final thoughts?
I would encourage anyone starting out who’s interested in progressing their bass playing to try and play with others as much as possible, as there’s a certain sense of judgment that comes from jamming with people and learning how to fit in that I can’t imagine getting any other way. Secondly, ignore Tab and learn to read musical notation, it’s a fantastically useful skill, as well as being a great way to write down your ideas.
Don’t worry too much about equipment; just find something you’re comfortable playing. It also helps to remember that none of us arrive fully formed, be prepared to endure the mistakes you will inevitably make, but more importantly try your best to learn from them.
Finally, it might be stating the obvious, but look after your hearing.
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