I had some piano lessons about 11 years old which I found very boring, and played cornet (badly) in the school band. Both of these gave me a decent basic understanding of music ie. chords, melody time signatures etc.
I played the drums in a few local bands in the 80s the first of which was "A prowl of sixes" which later became "The dangerous sports club".
My first gig with A prowl of sixes early 80s.
I've played the acoustic guitar as a hobby since the early 80s, but around the end of 2002 I set myself the target of playing and singing in front of people I don't know.
Before then I had only sung in front of a couple of friends or girlfriends. I set myself this target on the week I came up to Dunkeld for a holiday.
The Taybank pub in Dunkeld had an acoustic music club every Friday, where anyone can play/sing.
Everybody has a shot each and the first time it came to my turn I just couldn't do it, I was a nervous wreck.
Anyway with a bit of encouragement I managed to play very badly next time round.
After about three months I could play as good in front of people as I do on my own.
In June 2003 I played my first solo gig as a singer/guitarist.
In July 2003 I played and sang solo at the Rosyth festival in front of about 500 people(although only about 4 people were paying any attention).
Still an achievement so soon after being nervous in front of a handful of people. I was totally relaxed throughout this gig.
Here's me casually fingerpicking on my 12 string simon and patrick at the Rosyth festival.
In 2004, after a few weeks traveling to the south of France then down the Spanish coast, I ended up staying in the Algarve Portugal looking for work playing guitar and singing in hotels and restaurants.
I played around 10/15 gigs from September to June, and on 21st of June I was offered my first weekly spot on Tuesdays at the Plough and Harrow bar/restaurant in Luz.
I then had two more regular spots, Thursdays at the Boa vista golf restaurant near Lagos and Fridays in the Pestana Alvor Praia 5 star hotel in Alvor.
Here's a poster I made for the Alvor spot :
I'm proud of the fact that I was playing professionally in a 5 star hotel just over 2 years after my first performance in front of strangers.
I'm also one of a minority of people who can say that they have achieved their dream, but I suddenly realised when I was on stage one night that it's a shit dream.
My own opinion of performing in a 5 star hotel is that you are just background music and another servant to all the pretend snobs who stay in the hotel.
Most of the time people payed no attention to me and it was almost unusual for anyone to applaude. I saw some excellent musicians in hotels playing away un-noticed.
I was originally excited when I was told I can have a free shower and meal before every performance. I thought "wow, free meal in a 5 star hotel".
I was stunned to find out pretty much a completely separate building inside the hotel which is hidden from the paying guests.
There are doors, corridors and lifts that are marked no entry. These are for the workers, my meal was in a basement canteen similar to a prison canteen.
The food looked like left-overs and was between warm and hot. The shower room was very bad with dead cockroaches in the showers, broken tiles, and exposed pipework everywhere.
My own opinion again, but it made me realise how false the whole facade is with people getting paid minimum wages, working long hours, smiling in the faces of the guests.
So I gave it up and headed back to Scotland. I now only play music in venues where people actually listen to you and appreciate music, like folk clubs and music sessions.
The end of 1999 I finished my NOTHING MUSIC CD which was all very original instrumental stuff using synths, a drum module, electric guitar etc.
In May 2005 I finished the 11 track SAUGHNGZ CD. This was really just a demo Cd of cover versions for trying to get gigs in restaurants/hotels.
In Feb 2007 I finished the 9 track FOREST LIGHT CD. There are five self penned songs, two original instrumentals and two cover versions that are given my original touch.
In 2012 I was working on my next album which was sort of a mix between Nothing Music and Forest light being a combination of acoustic guitar/voice with added synths, drums, electric guitar and effects.
But, in 2013 I started a collaboration with Jill Bryson from Strawberry Switchblade so I'm concentrating fully on that.
Some musical equipment I've owned over the years includes :
For the Nothing music album : Atari STE upgraded to 4mb total memory ( WOW! 4mb! ) using Breakthru by Gajit sequencing software and a replay 16 sampler, Tascam porta 05 4 track, Yamaha MT120 4 track, Echo Darla sound card, Kawai K1 synth, Kawai K4R synth module, Alesis D4 drum module, Korg N5 synth.
Alesis Quadraverb GT, Alesis Midiverb 4, and Yamaha FX770 effects units, Spirit folio Rac Pac rackmount mixing desk, a unique rackmount unit that I designed myself and got made for free at a factory I worked in (see below).
It has my PC in the bottom and used to have a PC monitor in the space at the top. I played a few gigs around 1999 where I took all this equipment with me on stage just to prove to people that I made up all the music myself.
In my pc I would mute the electric guitar track on each song and play it live on my Yamaha RGX312 electric guitar, so the synth, drum machine and effect units were being midi controlled in realtime by the PC.
With extra audio tracks, guitar/voice etc. also being played by the PC which was all very CPU and ram intense on my at that time Pentium 4 1.3ghz.
This all took lots of planning and setting up and had a high risk of things going wrong, but I reckon not one single person who saw me perform knew the first thing about midi/wave software, and some people thought I was just a DJ.
I couldn't get any gigs locally ( Dunfermline, Edinburgh ) around that time becuase nobody else was performing in that way. Venues would tell me they only put bands on.
I recently ( 2006ish ) saw a guy doing a similar thing where he just sat on stage with an electric guitar and played along to a backing track that he had made up himself.
For the Forest light album : Recording onto a P4 3ghz, 1 gig ram laptop using a Motu Traveler firewire audio interface, two AKG C1000S mikes externally on the Taylor and my voice, audio technica ATM 73a headmike and the direct balanced output from the Taylor 614CE.
I chose the Traveler as it could record all these inputs simultaneously onto 4 seperate tracks using XLR connectors at 24bit. So I could record myself playing and singing at the same time.
At the time of buying the Traveler, hardly any interfaces could record more than 2 tracks simultaneously onto seperate tracks at 24bit, but they are much more common now.
I'm currently (2014) still playing the Taylor 614CE guitar ( bought Dec 2005 ) which I still absolutely love, and a DPA 4088 head mike ( bought May 2010 ) which is pretty much the rolls royce of head mikes.
I use a headmike because I'm always looking up and down the fretboard when I play. I had bad feedback problems with my first headmike (Audio technica ATM 73a).
I played a few gigs where the resident sound mixer couldn't get a decent level before feedback, since getting the DPA 4088 I've had no feedback problems.
The Taylor and the DPA were not cheap, but it feels good knowing you've got some of the best equipment. I also feel obliged to play well and keep improving to justify having such good gear.
In January 2014 I got my first proper studio monitors for mixing ( Tannoy reveal 601a ). Up until then I had done most of my mixing on earphones with cross checking on other hifi speakers and my car hifi.
In Febuary 2014 I got an absolute bargain price on ebay for a roland/cakewalk VS-700R. It's a bit of an upgrade from my Motu traveler and is considered to have very clean pre amps.
June 2016 update on guitars.
Around the start of 2016 I noticed I was making more mistakes than normal with my right hand. I thought I would try a classical guitar as they are easier to play.
I ended up buying a new Ibanez classical guitar that looks almost identical to my Taylor. I already had the Ibanez bass which also looks like the Taylor being black with white edging.
This then made my old yamaha rgx stand out so I got an Ibanez electric to match the others. Then my Simon and Patrick 12 string stood out so I got a new Ibanez 12 string.
I took the Ibanez 12 string back for a refund after never being happy with a dip in the top near the bridge.
I was going to sell my old Simon and Patrick 12 string after buying the Ibanez 12 string, but I decided to make it match the other guitars.
I recorded the whole painting process on video which is now on youtube, link in my Music videos page.
I was suffering from full matching set syndrome so I ended up spending a lot more than intended, but I really like having these guitars and I'm now playing much more than normal.
Also, shortly before buying these I had an inkling to do youtube videos where I film myself playing lots of instruments so the full matching set will be great for that.
From left to right, 2001 Simon and Patrick 12 string, 2009 Ibanez SRX360 bass, 2003 Taylor 614ce electro acoustic, 2014 Ibanez RGIR20FE-BK electric, 2015 Ibanez AEG10NII-BK classical.
I've tried all sorts of nail strengtheners, laquers e.t.c. which made my nails brittle and easy to break. A broken nail would be a disaster before a gig and have the same effect as a broken string.
In December 2006 I started applying acrylic coating to 4 of my fingernails on my right hand. I made it almost 2mm thick.
In 2015 I started using gel coating which is similar to acrylic, but I find it easier to apply.
When I first tried out gel coating I got it applied at a nail salon.
The coating was nowhere near as thick as I normally have and I remembered the reason why as soon as I played my guitar.
If the coating is thin, the edge of my nail is thin enough to fit in the grooves of the windings on the thicker strings and this makes a scraping noise.
So I have the coating thick and I completely round the edge off so it glides over the string windings.
I then realised years later that a very thick coating around 2mm makes it easier for the coating to touch the string next to the one I'm plucking.
So I now make sure the edge that plucks the string is thick enough to round off and I file the outer surface right down to around 1mm.
I bought a good gel UV light and I usually apply a very thin base coat then four thick coats making sure I end up with too much gel which can be sanded down.
I use a rough 100 grit file first then a fine metal file then a three way foam sander to end up with a glass like finish.
As the nail grows, the coating moves with it leaving a gap which can be filled with more gel.
I usually replace the coating after about a month, but if the coating comes off before then, I can just super glue it back on and it's good for maybe over a week.
It's important to use primer before applying acrylic or gel otherwise the coating will come off easily. The primer is a strong acid that etches/softens the nail's surface to ensure a good bond.
MUSIC CLAIMS TO FAME
(Update 4th July 2013). I am extremely pleased to now officially be in a band with Jill Bryson. We are called The Shapists. I also built and look after the website.
More details in the Music with Jill Bryson page.
(Older update from 21st March 2012). I am very pleased to be currently building a website for Jill Bryson. Check the site out here
(Older update from 2010) I was very pleasantly surprised on the 1st November 2010 when I got an email saying I had received payment for one of my CDs from Jill Bryson.
I had to ask her to confirm if she was the Jill Bryson. She replied with this "Hello Craig, Yes I was in Strawberry Switchblade
Jill wrote both of these songs so it's a great honour for me to get her approval, but it's maybe because these songs mean so much to me that I can produce worthy cover versions.
I've been a massive Strawberry switchblade fan since first hearing them on the kid Jensen and John Peel sessions in 1982. I still have the cassette tape of those sessions that I have listened to loads.
I also have either vinyl, Cd or otherwise versions of almost everything they've recorded. A lot of which can be downloaded from Merrick's great Strawberry switchblade site.
When I started playing in hotels and restaurants I had to learn some "songs for the punters", but most of the songs I cover are songs that get to me emotionally.
So many SS songs really get to me, I find it hard to describe how I feel about SS without sounding like a pathetic fanatic, but they've always been a sort of unique, special favourite of mine.
Getting this payment from Jill out of the blue is currently the highlight of my music career, but I'm still waiting for an email from David Bowie or David Byrne.
I loved Devon Sproule and her husband Paul Curreri's performances on the Jools Holland show no.5 2008, and was inspired to do my own cover version of Stop by anytime.
After uploading it to youtube I thought I better email her asking if it was ok to upload a cover and if she had any problem with it I'd delete it immediately.
I was pleased when she quickly replied saying "Good LORD, that's terrific! Really classy, Craig. I'm thrilled!". I've since had a few email conversations with her.
I was close to supporting her when she played the voodoo rooms Edinburgh 2009. She said it would be ok for me to play as an opening act, but it ended up not happening through a communication error.
I was then very surprised in feb 2010 when she emailed asking if I had tablature for stop by anytime. I think that's brilliant, someone asking me for tab of their own song.
I didn't have tab, but spent about a week learning a tab program and eventually sent her a very accurate tablature of her version of the song which is very different from mine.
I met her and Paul at the Edinburgh gig, they are a couple of cool dudes. I spoke to Devon for a while and very much enjoyed the gig. She's a brilliant song writer, has a really nice touch on guitar and a lovely voice.
Aaron Kaplan and Anna Montgomery
I did a cover of the song After the rain from the end titles of the film "Flock" starring Richard Gere. It's an amazing song that grabbed me on first listen. (It's a great film too).
I did the same as I did with Devon Sproule and emailed Aaron Kaplan (the song writer) asking permission to upload to youtube in case there was any copyright problem. This is some of his reply :
"I am sincerely flattered!!" and "I've gotten a lot of fan mail since "The Flock" came out and am so happy to know that people dig the song. You, however, have really taken the cake! I am blown away.
First off, you've given the tune a whole new life- I love the acoustic rendition/arrangement. Its beautiful. You have a nice voice. Again, I really appreciate this and find it to be an amazing tribute. Thank you again!! Aaron.
Soon after that I received an email from Anna Montgomery who sings on the original. Here is some of her email : "Hi Craig- Aaron just forwarded me your youtube recording of his song. I wanted to tell you how beautifully you do it.
I fell in love with the song when Aaron played it for me and understand what pleasure it brings to sing it. You play it QUITE well also. Aaron was very excited to see someone felt for the song enough to learn it."
Anna Montgomery has an amazing voice and very much helps to make the song so special. Again, I was very honoured and humbled by both replies.
Chris Simpson from Magna carta
I did a cover of Magna carta's Airport song from the 1970 Seasons album.
I think it's the world's nicest song (the Magna carta version). It has really nice acoustic guitars, violins, flutes, triangle etc.
I first heard it on a German satellite radio station around 1992 and soon hit the record button on my cassette deck. It took me about 5 years to find out who it was.
On 3rd march 2011 I got an email from Harry Pater who looks after the Magna carta website saying "Thank you for uploading your beautiful version of Magna Carta's Airport Song!
I just received an e-mail from Chris Simpson, who told me he's delighted to hear your version. He really likes it!."
Harry also embedded my video on the Magna carta site. I'm always a bit worried hearing from actual bands/songwriters in case they're going to sue my ass for copyright infringement.
So it was a great relief to get some good feedback, and a big privilege to have such a successfull and famous person spend time watching me perform.
The farmer's boys
I recently had two of my youtube vids added to the official unofficial Farmer's boys website
I listened to their "Get out and walk" album loads in the 80s and have a few other twelve inch singles.
"For you" is probably my favourite Farmer's boys song, but I don't think it would suit my style of playing guitar for a cover version or arrangement.
Here's my sort of ragtimey version of The way you made me cry.
And my more typical arrangement of A promise you can't keep.
Almost all of my guitar arrangements are my own unique version of a song.
When I first started playing a lot around 2002 I didn't have much of a repertiore and I learned a few cover songs by copying the original guitar part exactly.
But, copying something exactly is the opposite of creativity so I much prefer making my own version.
So I'm not concerned about playing the exact chords and I will regularly play chords that are just similar to the original or in jazzy songs I might use more basic chords.
I might use the guitar to play what a piano or violin or synth is playing in the original song and add chords and a simple bassline.
In my version of "Sittin on a fence" I'm playing an oboe melody from the Twice as much version along with chords and a bass line.
In "One day I'll fly away" I am playing close to the original bass line and adding chords to that at the same time.
In "Fifty ways to leave your lover" I'm trying to incorporate the feel of Steve Gadd's drums.
In other songs like "Rio" I first tried to incorporate the original bassline, but I wasn't too happy with that so I became roughly familiar with the song and just tried things out.
I might make a mistake which sounds ok and move more towards that or try out slightly different variations of bass/chord rhythms.
In "Rio" I ended up with a very different and unique version that still has some of the feel of the original and maybe adds a latin American feel which fits with the title.
In the middle section of my version of "White horses" that I made up for The shapists, I play the original melody with added notes in between and a slightly more complicated bass line.
For the verses I play my own unique melody which fits in with the main vocal melody.
That is currently my hardest arrangement to play well and I've never been satisfied with any performance of it at a session.
I've thought before that any bass player listening to that song will think the bass playing is not very inventive. But, there's no bass guitar in the song as I am playing all of the bass notes incorporated in my arrangement.
I will add a youtube video of that song as I sometimes wonder if anyone realises that it's all just one guitar part (apart from the solo at the end).
I never use tab or written music and a few times I've had to look at my own youtube videos to remember how I play songs I haven't played in a while.
I know I'm pretty good now (above average anyway) at playing guitar and singing, but I still don't have a lot of experience. As I mention at the top of the page I started playing in public 2002 and only knew a handful of songs then.
I've never really had high self confidence, so it helps me a lot when I get positive comments on my youtube vids or any contact from famous people as mentioned above.
If I go a while without positive comments I start to have doubts about my ability and wonder if I'm doing the right thing, so the comments help keep me on the right track and inspire me to keep playing.
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