I wasn’t going to go to NAMM. I didn't have the urge to look at acres of new music gear. The competing noise emanating from a congregation of the world’s musos was not for me. I’ve had the same guitar, amp and pedalboard since the late '80s. My mentality simply does not agree with the ethos present in the world’s biggest music store.
What swung it was the people; the sheer number of friends and supporters of WaterBear attending made the event special. I could meet up with the world’s most innovative YouTubers and prolific musicians under one roof over a long weekend. This is beyond cool, and so I began a day-and-a-half suicide mission to LA. Jetlag be damned!
I arrived on the Friday in time to join Andy Guitar, Justin Guitar and old friend Lee Anderton for a poolside bar meet. They’d been hard at it filming and making content, and by the time I arrived, despite the hours already spent, they were surprisingly cheerful. I met YouTube prodigy, Mary Spender. She lives in Hove near the college (despite the geography we’d never crossed paths before) along with Peter Honoré, Mike Bradley and many other influential musicians – see if you can spot who’s who in the photo.
Interestingly, the mainstream music industry is so conservative these days. I truly believe in the spirit of Rock n Roll. Art, innovation and risk-taking are displayed more on YouTube and in memes than in most other places. I love hanging with these innovators! It’s the wild west, uncharted territory...
I know that, sadly, there will be always trolling and hostility online. However, by and large the community is characterised by warmth and an unrivalled sense of community.
The following day I headed to the show. Now, I really have the worst – and I mean THE worst – sense of direction. To make matters worse (and to save costs), I was travelling on my own. I can literally get lost in a straight line on one street. I should always have a tour manager and when I saw the sheer scale of NAMM and number of people, I felt a bit doomed. Coupled with intermittent WiFi, I literally had no way of contacting my mates. However, I didn’t need to worry. After an hour or two I’d done the rounds and got a feel for where everyone was. The UK made a solid impression at NAMM. Bare Knuckle pick-ups, Orange, Blackstar, Victory, Ashdown, Laney, etc., made a remarkable contribution with amazing stands, products and performances.
Inspired by this, it’s my hope that WaterBear will make a significant contribution to the UK’s cultural and creative exports. In a similar vein to our isles’ approach to music, we also do music education very well. British art and craft has a certain flair and I hope WaterBear can contribute to this.
I hooked up with the Brighton YouTube contingency and we scouted out cool musicians for masterclasses for the college. I’m always looking for grassroots innovators rather than big stars, but I bumped into Billy Sheehan, who was a massive influence on me growing up. The dude looked like a spring chicken and still plays like a god.
Highlights were found in the scores of tiny stands, cottage industries and small-scale entrepreneurs pitching their wares. I felt inextricable empathy with them, knowing what it takes to put everything on the line with a startup. I worried for some; they are pitching their individual products in a marketplace oversaturated by the giants of the music retail industry. I hoped they’d make the cut and the work would be worth it.
NAMM had so much innovation and human ingenuity on display. Too many mind-blowing products to list, it was inspiring and worrying in equal amounts. NAMM, and the wider industry, need to do much better with prioritising sustainability – so much plastic and waste!
Unfortunately, just like home, the minute you leave the centre you are faced with the reality of life on the streets of LA. There isn't a safety net here, and if you fall by the wayside, you could end up falling through the cracks. Sadly, I met musicians living this way, and Brighton is no exception. I don’t want to get political on a blog about NAMM. However, it does not seem right.
Rock and Metal has maintained its course and trajectory. ‘Everywhere you go the kids wanna rock' still seems to be the case, but maybe that's just an advertisement for these type of shows… One thing’s for sure I've heard so many twelve bars it has left me feeling blue.
That being said, there were some impressive performances on the Boss and Roland stage and it’s so great when people pull new ideas out of the bag. Mix styles and find new ways to make noise. Inspiring.
I haven't had a chance to play at all for months. With no hard skin on my fingers, I had a weird guitar shoved in my hands with loads of built-in effects, a preamp and a speaker, so it felt polite to give it a wizz. It’s called an Electrophonic and it was a right laugh hearing it feedback with random harmonics, almost like an ebow. I had a blast. I do need to get back into shape playing-wise as there is talk of Little Angels, my old band, going back out for a few shows and maybe a new record in 2021. Perhaps an update to the pedalboard…
Keep on rocking in the free world.
PS Here's a link to Alison, the excellent travel agent who put the itinerary together for me. She's brilliant for everything, from planning a family holiday to full tour.