A bit of Errol information
Describing Errol's music [it isn’t actually his - more on this later] is a little difficult, as it is not like a lot of other music you may be familiar with. It is certainly guitar music, but perhaps a little different from other guitar music you may have heard.
Rather then song writing or storytelling, the objective is to describe a moment or a feeling. These occur in a frozen point in time. They are fragments, not necessarily in a series or a part of a puzzle. They exist as entities in themselves, in a similar manner as a De Stijl painting exists as an entity in itself. This does not mean the music is unapproachable, quite the contrary.
The motivation for the music is as contribution to the well being of the world. The music could not be described as avant-garde or confrontational, although hopefully the term innovative may seem appropriate. You may be comfortable with the term ‘atmospheric’ or ‘ambient’, you’d better throw the word ‘guitar’ in there as well somewhere, perhaps ‘electronic’ may be appropriate as well and we are now probably as close as we can get to a tidy definition of what Errol music is. I have no objection to being ‘categorised’ or ‘put into a box’. I am happy to approach any suggestions on this topic.
I will say that I am interested in getting to the places that other guitarists cannot get to or choose not to. I was always interested in the instrumental tracks on the rock albums I listened to as a teenager. As a child the first single I bought [thanks to a gift voucher from one of my fabulous sisters] was ‘The Letter’ by the Boxtops with Alex Chilton on lead vocals. The next single was ‘Love is Blue’ by Paul Marriot and the Love is Blue orchestra. I think the next was ‘The High Chaparral’, I believe this was written by David Rose. When I listened to Black Sabbath for instance, it was the instrumental tracks that caught my attention.
How do you listen to this stuff? The ideal situation for the audience is to be involved in another perhaps productive activity like drawing, sculpting, making things, reading, cooking. One critic described my efforts as ‘bonking music’. Fine by me, but I take no responsibility for the size of your family. The music has a duality in that it can be scrutinised closely or it can function on an atmospheric or ambient basis. This explanation may seem intellectually feeble for a reasonably complex activity, but it is the best explanation I can offer, and I make no apologies for this.
Errol's musical influences
If you like any of the following artists:
Aerosmith, William Ackerman, Allman Brothers, America, Tori Amos, And an A, Aphex Twin, Chet Atkins, Aztec Camera, Bach, Wally Badarou, Bartok, Banco de Gaia, Skunk Baxter, The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Beethoven, Adrian Belew, Big Country, Boards of Canada, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Sam Blight, The Blue Nile, The Blue Hour, Julian Bream, David Bridie, Dave Brubeck, David Bromberg, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, Hiram Bullock, California Guitar Trio, Chicane, Harry Connick jr, Bruce Cockburn, B52s, Jim Croce, Coldplay, Colourbox, The Comsat Angels, Ry Cooder, Elvis Costello, The Cranberries, Crash Test Dummies, Marshall Crenshaw, Crowded House, Stewart Copeland, Cocteau Twins, The Cult, The Cure, Holger Czukay, Dead Can Dance, Dali’s Car, Miles Davis, Deep Purple, Del Amitri, Detroit Escalator Company, Depeche Mode, Al Di Meola, DJ Shadow, Thomas Dolby, The Doors, The Doobie Brothers, Jerry Douglas, The Durutti Column, The Eagles, Echo & the Bunnymen, Tommy Emmanuel (there are two stories there by the way), Enigma, Brian Eno, Everything But The Girl, Endorphin, Faithless, Fear Factory, Felt, Frente!, Robert Fripp, Bill Frisell, Future Sound Of London, Peter Gabriel, David Gilmour, Egberto Gismonti, Philip Glass, Global Communication, The Go Betweens, Gondwanaland, Grateful Dead, Al Green, Slava Grigoryan, Freddie Grigson, Trey Gunn, Daryl Hall, Jim Hall, He Said, Michael Hedges, The Hellboys, Gil Scott-Heron, His name is Alive, Hoodoo Gurus, The Icicle Works, Indigo Girls, Ice Tiger, Michael Jackson, Keith Jarrett, The Jazz Butcher, Billy Joel, Howard Jones, Eric Johnson, Elton John, Tommy Keene, Paul Kelly, Killing Heidi, King Pig, King Crimson, Kiss of Reality, Mark Knopfler, Leo Kottke, Led Zeppelin. Love Pump, Adrian Legg, Tony Levin, Little Feat, The Lightning Seeds, Living Colour, Madness, Phil Manzanera, Sidi Mansour, Johnny Marr, John Martyn, Tony McManus, John McLaughlin, Natalie Merchant, Pat Metheny, John Meyer, The Mission, Dominic Miller, Steve Miller, Ministry of Sound, Moby, A Month of Sundays, Keith Moon, Steve Morse, Mouth Music, Mozart, Pete Murphy, My Friend the Chocolate Cake, Not Drowning Waving, Simon Nield, Oasis, SinÃ©ad O’Connor, Mike Oldfield, Orange Juice, The Orb, Orbital, Roy Orbison, Oregon, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Les Paul, Mary Paul, Pearl Jam, Penguin CafÃ© Orchestra, A Perfect Circle, The Pet Shop Boys, Photek, Planxty, Pink Floyd (get over it), Polestar, The Police, Powderfinger, Prince, Propoganda, REM, Steve Reich, Django Reinhardt, Stan Ridgway, Roachford, Run DMC, The Saints, Salt ‘n Pepa, Santana, Joe Satriani, Earl Scruggs Review, John Scofield, Schubert, Scritti Pollitti, Severed Heads, Max Sharam, Sieg Ã¼ber die Sonne, Simple Minds, Single Gun Theory, Sisters of Mercy, Snow Patrol, Bruce Springsteen, Spinal Tap, Squarepusher, Steely Dan, Steeleye Span, Sting, Storytime, David Sylvian, The Sundays, Matthew Sweet, Tao, James Taylor (get over that too), The Tea Party, The Teardrop Explodes, Television, Texas, This Mortal Coil, The Triffids, Thompson Twins, Steve Tibbetts, Richard Thompson, Pete Townsend, Ralph Towner, Cathie Travers, Tangerine Dream, This Mortal Coil, The Tourists, Underworld, Underground Lovers, U2, Steve Vai, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Vivaldi, Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, The Waterboys, Was not Was, John Williams, Wire, Jah Wobble, World Party, Neil Young, Frank and Dweezil Zappa
then you may like the music I make as they all appear in my music collection. If you find resonance in their music you may have some interest in what I do. Or maybe not. I find myself influenced, one way or another, by just about everything I listen to.
The danger of making a list of what you ‘like’ is that you immediately run the risk of omitting something [where’s Ornette Coleman?] and the reader may mistakenly be lead to the conclusion that you don’t like something that is not listed. I’ll take the risk and ‘expose the wound’.
How does Errol compose music?
I have been asked many times how I compose music and I have not answered the question as I believe most people are not REALLY interested in my answer. The question normally hides a statement of how the person asking the question composes. The following presents my beliefs. No one else’s. I take no responsibility for how anyone else works. Lots of people have different ways of doing things and I treat their methods with respect. This is how I go about it, and I would recommend the following process to no-one.
The short answer to the question above is that I don’t. I don’t compose music. It already exists and I try and catch it as it flies past. I also try and keep out of the way to let the piece be what it wants to be. This is a damn sight easier said than done. More on this below.
At different points in time the answer I would have given to this question would have been different. By this I mean my point of view has changed with time. Once upon a time I would have gone along with what Kurt Vonnegut had to say in his book ‘Palm Sunday’ [Granada, New York, 1981].His quote below comes from the chapter entitled ‘Playmates’, which includes a number of obituaries and other speeches about people he ‘knows’. In a speech entitled ‘The Noodle Factory’ delivered 1st October 1976 at the dedication of a new library at Connecticut College in New London, Vonnegut is discussing the work of the painter Syd Solomon, an abstract expressionist. He asked the artist what he thought he was doing with paint, as Vonnegut was required to write an essay about his paintings for a retrospective exhibition.
‘Was I ever in for a shock! Syd could not tell me what he thought he was doing!
This did not wobble my opinions of Syd or his work. Syd and his paintings remained as honourable and beautiful as ever. What I lost faith in was the English language - by far the largest language in the world, incidentally. We have more words than anybody.
But our great language, when confronted by abstract expressionism, was failing Syd and me - and every art critic ever read.
The language was speechless!
Until that moment of truth, I had agreed with the Nobel-prize chemist, the late Irving Langmuir, who once said within my hearing, "Any person who can't explain his work to a fourteen-year-old is a charlatan’.
I couldn't believe that anymore.
So what I finally wrote for Syd's catalogue was your standard load of horse crap about modem art.
It may be in your library here. Enjoy it in good health.
But the puzzle has been on my mind ever since - and I have good news for you today. I can once again agree with Dr. Langmuir about charlatans. Here, in simple English, is what Syd Solomon does:
He meditates. He connects his hand and paintbrush to the deeper, quieter, more mysterious parts of his mind - and he paints pictures of what he sees and feels down there.
This accounts for the pleasurable shock of recognition we experience when we look at what he does.
Hooray for Syd Solomon! I say. He is certainly more enterprising and useful than all the quack holy men who meditate deeply, who then announce smugly that it is impossible for them to express what they have seen and felt.
The heck with inarticulate meditators! And three cheers for all artists who dare to show and tell.’
I remembered this from reading it in the 80’s, but could not locate it. I have been doing some academic research and It has taken me ten years to find this quote again. How bad is that? Whilst I totally agree with the tone of the idea above, especially the bit about charlatans, I now differ from Vonnegut’s suggestion of looking inside and making music based on what I see there. My insides are my own business, and they should be of very little interest to anyone with any discerning taste. I have no interest in what some people call ‘self expression’.
In August 1987 at Claymont Court in West Virginia, January 1990 in Auckland New Zealand, December 2009 in San Cugat in BarcelonaIa and in June 2015 in Hope New Jersey, I attended courses held by a movement called ‘Guitar Craft’. These were run by Robert Fripp. The experiences there continue to effect my operations. Please note - I do not claim to be a Crafty Guitarist and have never performed with them. I am in no position to write about Guitar Craft. Those that may be interested may wish to visit http://www.guitarcraft.com/. Within that movement there is a suggestion that music is a presence that is available to us all. This I do agree with. We, as aspirant musicians, make ourselves available to this presence. One of the many things I picked up in Guitar Craft is that this takes a lot of work to develop the sensitivity we need to make ourselves available and present when music comes to visit.
In a recently aired TV documentary, Philip Glass suggested that music is a river flowing underground. You don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going to, but you run with it. You can hear it if you choose to listen. This is not too far from the Guitar Craft suggestion. His method is to make himself available. How does he do this? He gets up early and works all day.
I make myself available. This means being ready when music calls. One of the best ways for me to do this is to be in my music room, preferably with a guitar in my hands. My way of working changed in May 1998 when I finally buckled under the pressure and bought a computer and hard disk recording software. I had tried to resist this for many years. The computer has many great things and not so great things about it. I will quote my friend Graham Greene who looked at my effect box and smiled and said ‘Well Errol - shit goes in shit comes out!’ Having said that, I have had a lot of really good results with the following method of working with a computer.
And it goes like this...
I’m not kidding. Just start you’ll never complete a fabulous piece of music unless you do. ‘How do I start?’ is a common question. Divine inspiration has never come my way, and is not likely to. It might be a percussion or drum track. It might be a bass part, which you then build on. It might be a really strange sample. It might be a really nice guitar phrase that you can then develop, build on, make variations of. Still stuck? It is acceptable for a thief to steal an idea as long as they make the idea their own. Copy something you really like. By the time you are finished it will be nothing like the original. For me, I am ashamed to admit that my aural skills are not particularly strong so deviation from the original path is pretty quick in appearing.
Now listen to what the piece of music is telling you to do. I’ll say that again - Now listen to what the piece of music is telling you to do. It’s not going to keep telling you forever by the way, so try and get it pretty smartly. I try and keep myself out of the way. This is, in fact impossible. I am a human being and I have a series of life experiences that have made me a person with certain things that resonate for me and some that do not. This means I like some things that other musicians may not and vice versa. This is why I make the music I do and other musicians make different music. So I cannot really keep myself out of the way, but I have found that music trusts me enough to not make a total bollix of it.
Trust the process. This is the really important bit. This means I have to keep going until it sounds really, really good. I realise this reads very poorly but it is true. This is fairly difficult, as you now have to be the audience as well as the performer. This is normally the role of the producer. I cannot afford one, which is a shame as they are worth their weight in gold. You have to trust in your ability to hear what the music is telling you. Glenn Murcutt [the famous Australian Architect] said he did not feel that he was the greatest designer in the world but he knew when it still looked terrible. Be like this with the music you are hearing as you proceed. Be vigorous and rigorous with your standards but don’t beat yourself up because you don’t deserve it.
I never trust what a computer offers you first time as they have no taste. They also smell fear like rabid dog. Don’t stop till it sounds good and never tell yourself, or anyone else, that you are hopeless because they will very soon agree with you. None of this is easy in my experience.
I find that playing my pieces to people for comment has value. It is important that [a] you ask the right people that you share a level of communication and respect with and [b] you listen and act on their constructive criticism. I do not work in isolation even though I work in a small music room on my own. I would rather not, but it’s not a perfect world. The idea of asking for constructive criticism is to test the music on an audience. Audiences are generally pretty good at constructive criticism in that you are pretty likely to be ignored if you performing poor material.
I prefer to complete a piece before I commence the next one. I find that leaving things half finished does not work for me. I do not know what other people do. How do I know when it’s finished? If I cannot see that it is complete then it is likely an audience will not feel a piece is complete. If I am not sure - then it is not complete. I keep going until I am sure it is done true to the idea.
I realise that there a number of issues that the paragraphs above raise. I may write more about this if there are enough angry comments from this webpage.
Other methods of composing Errol has engaged in...
I have been involved in a number of collaborative working situations. One of the most remarkable was a group, which went on to become an instrumental group called ‘The Less Said the Better’. We met each week and we had to bring a drawing, a story, a moment, an observation and present it to the group. These varied from comic book illustrations to observations of prostitutes walking down Northbridge streets. We would then try to capture that scene, or moment or idea with music. We had some results that I still cannot explain without sounding like a blissed out hippy. We actually had whole pieces arrive in one go that we never had to revise as everyone felt they were born with ‘all limbs intact’. This has never happened to me before or since. The power of a group can never be underestimated. We caught whole pieces live, in the moment. I remember one piece arriving complete and I asked the Neil Trainor [the bass player] what he was thinking about when he played it. His reply was ‘Driving a Bus’. The piece immediately had a name.
In my experience this direct connection with music cannot be achieved on a computer. I find the process to be much slower. No doubt there are musicians that can work much faster, and perhaps some do have music arrive complete. If they do they have my envy and undying respect. For me a three minute piece may take hours, days or months to develop in a digital studio whereas live is a different ball game. When I work with Dr. Mark McAndrew the progress is measured in terms of seasons, not weeks or months.
Neither live work nor computer music are particularly easy, in my experience. It takes a lot of work to get one’s head in the right space and it is incredibly easy for your head to slip out of the space. Perhaps I may write more about my experiences in this area, but not now.
Why does Errol compose music?
A short answer is I do music because I can.
To justify this seemingly smug statement I should point out that I worked for a number of years with disabled people. This became an inspiration for how I structure my life. I noticed a number of people did an incredibly large amount of things with what is referred to as ‘disabilities’. I was struck by the way they did a lot with the [seemingly limited] opportunities they had. I decided this attitude had incredible value. I had the capacity to make music and I decided to exploit this. I felt I would be able to face my creator and say ‘This is what I have done with the gift if life that you have bestowed upon me’. I also felt I could contribute to the well-being of the world by doing so. I have developed the view that the world would be much better place if people would think more about what they could offer rather than what they could take from the world. I hold this view toward most things I am involved in and I realise this view is not shared by a lot of people. So be it.
Another reason I do music is because, when it is working, I feel a connection with something else that is larger than me. I realise this also reads like a blissed out hippy again - tough. This experience first hit me when Brother Thomas took us to see Don Burrows with George Golla on guitar at the [then] recently completed Perth Concert Hall. They gently opened a door to a wider universe for me. They were also having fun and I’ve never forgotten that.
Projects and Groups Errol has been involved in...
In addition to his own albums Errol has been involved in the following projects and groups;
1972 and prior Theatre arts.
This was about the only thing I found easy at school. Brother Fitzgerald encouraged me to ‘tread the boards’ and I learned a lot about performing at an early age. This experience was to prove invaluable throughout my life.
1972-73 ‘Stars of the Future’
I was in the Trinity College singing group. We were regular guests, along with the Shirley Halliday dancers, on this channel 7 weekly talent contest programme. Yes - I could sing once. I happened to see Max Kay [the regular host of the show] at the carwash a few years ago and reminded him that we used to work together some thirty years before. ‘God - now I feel old!’ was his friendly reply. He was a really nice bloke in 1972 and still is.
Sadly, that thing that happens to thirteen year-old boys happened to me and, as I faltered with the high register, Brother Thomas suggested nicely that I may wish to learn the drums. I expressed my gratitude in my embarrassingly modulated voice and my interest in instrumental music was formally established. Brother Thomas was a bit of a mover and shaker and introduced the ‘Rock Mass’ as a form of religious worship at school. I was not up to speed to be the drummer, but he was. He did, however, let me rock out on his kit after he was finished with the drums. How cool was that?!
1974-75 Scotch College Pipe Band
I wasn’t a real musician I was tenor drummer. This is totally bizarre as pipe bands are really loud and are used, amongst other things, as an instrument of fear. The pipe band would play prior to the clan approaching the enemy, inspiring terror in their opponents. Within all this racket the tenor drums contribute nothing sonically. They are decorative as the only contribution they make is visual as the tenor drummers twirl their sticks around their head in a military like manner. The skin of the drum head is brushed rather than struck.
Apart form being huge amounts of fun, and dressing in a pretty ‘unique’ fashion, I learned the value of preparation of music prior to performance. This was one tight ensemble led by Lou McLellan who was a piper touched by the hand of God. He would play for us once a year or so and I felt honoured to be in his presence.
If playing ‘Amazing Grace’ with 1 piper later joined by another 24 does not bring shivers down your spine then nothing will. I also found the snare drum patterns were extremely funky. Listen closely sometime and perhaps you’ll see what I mean.
1984 ‘The Weeping Sores’
The original garage band that made [a] a lot of horrible noise and [b] a few people laugh. It was one of those situations where Pete Hobbs invited me to have a play with his band one evening. As I arrived he informed me that we had a gig at the Red Parrot [a fairly happening Perth night-club in the 80’s] the next evening. We also did a gig on the back of a ute through the streets of Fremantle. The cops shut us down after 50 metres, which shows what good musical taste the Fremantle police possess.
1985 ‘The Body Corporate’
An original three piece [largely electronic] group with Mark McAndrew and Peter Hadley. Apart from many other things this was the first time I got to see how electronic music is approached.
1987-1988 ‘The Beautiful Losers’
An original indi pop-rock group with Greg Dear, Russell Wilson and Cliff Kent. I learnt a lot about performing and also about recording. We made an album which was huge amounts of fun to do. The personnel in this band were really pleasant to work with.
1988 ‘The Less Said the Better’
A three-piece instrumental rock group with Neil Trainor and Craig Weighell. We attempted to offer instrumental rock music as a full performance idea - and it worked really well. Oddly, most of the melody came from Neil Trainor’s bass parts.
Contemporary dance-music collaboration with David Hobbs et al
1989 ‘The Less Said the Better’
1990 ‘Trains of Thought’
An acoustic trio with Jonathan Cope and John Bannister. Jonathan had a large repertoire of older jazz and blues standards. JB and I had a lot of fun twisting them.
1990 ‘Alea Ensemble’
A contemporary music ensemble with Lindsay Vickery et al. I was feeling a little bored with rock music and wishes to immerse myself in contemporary music. It was challenging, but, in retrospect, not really the place for me.
1990 ‘New Young Choreographers’
A dance performance with Jennifer Newman-Preston
1991 ‘Alea Ensemble’ + 'The Nova Ensemble'
A contemporary music ensemble with David Pye, Lee Buddell et al. Lee would later be kind enough to tutor me in music theory. He was also the MC at my wedding. Sadly for Lee, we look quite similar and we are often mistaken for each other. He told a funny story about being me secret brother
1992 ‘Alea Ensemble’ + 'The Nova Ensemble'
A raggle-taggle collection of musicians, mostly from the Nova Ensemble, playing music from all over the world.
1993 'The Real World Trio'
A rock cum jazz trio with Gary Ridge and John Albert, later to include Lindsay Wells for a short while.
1995 ‘Graham Greene and the Happy Sinners’
Errol fulfilled a lifetime ambition by playing second guitar in a glam-rock instrumental group - what a gas! Keeping up with Graham takes some doing, ‘cos he’s hotter’n a two dollar pistol. He has also been good enough to have given me guitar tuition in an attempt to bring my errant right hand to where it should be.
Dance and music collaboration with Mark McAndrew and many others.
1998 ‘Balanescu Quartet’ - ‘Utopia’ by Cathie Travers
Errol played live MIDI guitar with a string quartet from London. This concert was commissioned by the Adelaide Festival, and broadcast by the ABC. This was totally scary.
An ensemble for playing multiple interlocking guitar based instrumental pieces. The personnel was Gelnn Winter-Smith. Mike Dearn, Peter Hadley and Rosie Taylor. So far we have done show only. Hopefully there will be more to come
- Oxford Street Studio
- Federation Street Studio
- Ellesmere Street Studio
- Kirwan Street Studios
- Troy Terrace Studio
- Cross Street Studio
This involved [and continues to] playing with the joys of a modest digital studio and selling vast amounts of CDs over the Internet. This has paid for my chateau in the South of France and my collection of Rolls Royces, Ferraris and rare vintage guitars.
Formal music education
In Guitar Craft they use an expression along the lines of ‘I was taught by a fool that did not know what he was doing.’. This means I am self-taught. On occasion I have attempted to teach guitar. I am not the best person for this task.
I have had formal lessons with [Note - this is not to imply I have a continuing relationship with any of the people listed] Stefan Bulmer, Lee Buddle, Fred Grigson, John Meyer, Graham Greene and two Guitar Craft courses run by Robert Fripp. I have also learned a lot from watching a squillion other players from David Bromberg to John McLaughlin.
This is not a path I would recommend to anyone. I would suggest it is better to find someone that knows a lot more than you and learn from them.
Awards + Prizes
‘Sir James Carruthers Fellowship Award’
Trip to attend a Guitar Craft Seminar, West Virginia. This was run by Robert Fripp.
‘Album of the Year’
WA Rock Awards
‘Guitarist of the Year’
WA Rock Awards
‘Win a trip for two to the birthplace of Europe’s great composers’
Festival Records, QANTAS, PolLot Airways
‘RAIA Architectural Education Prize’
Awarded jointly to Steve Parkin and myself
‘Curtin University Scariest lecturer award’
So that no-one has to embarrass themselves by asking mundane questions, my equipment consists of the following;
Ovation Custom Legend 1867
Gibson Les Paul Custom
What was once a Squier Fender Telecaster. Scott Wise made it something else completely. Perry Ormsby later took it to another level.
Godin LGXT acoustic / electric / guitar synth
Pan Electra 1945 Ricnembacker frypan lap steel
Guitar Effect Box
2 Rockman Graphic Eqs
MXR phase 90
Roland SDE 200 digital delay
TC Electronic chorus, pitch modulator and flanger
2 TC Electronic booster line driver
Roland guitar synth
Studio GearMackie Micro series 1202 VLZ mixing desk
Korg X5DR synth module
Roland GI 10 Guitar MIDI interface
Samson Rubicon R5A studio monitors
Yamaha KX25 MIDI keyboard
My computer system is as follows;Cubase Pro 8
Steinberg UR 824 soundcard
Mac OSX Yosemite
I referred earlier to doing a lot with seemingly little’.