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Carrie Melbourne


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UPDATE! 2011 - Carrie Melbourne's Website

Carrie Melbourne Website Link

by Andy Long

Carrie Melbourne is one of only three female Chapman Stick players in the U.K. at the moment, and to listen to her work on the album Indian Ocean by Melbourne, the band she has formed with her husband Doug, is to hear one of the instruments truly innovative exponents.  It's no surprise then to find that Carrie's musical pedigree is formidable, including stints with Tricky and Mike Oldfield.  But it was Carrie's first brush with success that was truly unbelievable.  After completing her studies in music at St. Andrew's University in Scotland, Carrie was invited to join the band Babylon Zoo, and shortly afterwards, in 1996, their debut single hit number one in the U.K.  It went on to be a number one hit in 44 Countries.  I'll just say that again, in case you missed it...  It was number one in 44 countries!  When I spoke to Carrie recently I began by asking her how that felt at the time.

"Em ... great!", she smiled.  "It was my first professional band, and I loved every minute of it.  I will never forget getting the audition, then rehearsing the next day for the 'Top of the Pops' exclusive, in that black rubber dress which had previously been worn by another girl in one of Elton John's videos!  After our appearance the single 'Spaceman' shot to number 1 and we were off round Europe and the world.  It was a very exciting time.  I remember being in the car with my husband Doug, waiting to see if George Michael was still number 1 for the next week with 'Jesus To A Child.'  Then when they announced our band was number 1 with 'Spaceman', I remember looking out of the car window, on the A40 in London, and thinking 'So that's it then!'  We both laughed - we couldn't believe it.  So, yes, it was a very special time for me, and I was very grateful to Jas Mann for creating that wonderful world and wonderful music which we all could share.  Terrific!"

Babylon Zoo released another two singles in 1996, but neither matched the heights of 'Spaceman.'  The band came to an end within a year, but Carrie remembers the time fondly.

"The band finished in Christmas '96, then Jas released a 2nd album some time in '97, I think.  I do miss Babylon Zoo.  It was an excellent live band, and I thought Jas was a real star, bright and shining and very talented.  Shame that it all disappeared!"

Carrie's next gig was on tour with Tricky.  I asked her, rather naively, how she got to work with him.

"Through my agent!" was the obvious answer.  "After Babylon Zoo finished in Christmas '96, I had to wait a while because everyone thought that I was still working for them, whereas in reality I was on the lookout for some new work.  Tricky was booked for the 'Lollapalooza' tour of the US and Canada for summer '97.  I went to the audition, got it, and flew out to Miami the next day for a 36 date tour of American 'sheds', which in US parlance is short for open-air venues holding 15,000 people!  It was wonderful, playing on the same bill as the Marley Brothers, James, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tool, the Prodigy, the Orb and Orbital.  It was a great time, and Tricky's music was very bassy and good to play."

Around this time Carrie was busily expanding her instrumental capabilities with the addition of Chapman Stick, and, during the Tricky tour, spent a lot of time practicing.  After the tour finished she found herself looking for more opportunities and soon got the chance to play with Mike Oldfield.

"Well I got the job again through my agent.  Working for Mike has been the very best thing I have done to date.  Those shows were massive, so musically enjoyable.  They were great experiences; I felt very lucky to be a part of such a spectacular series of events.  I played for Mike at his 'Horseguards Parade' show in London in September '98 for the world premiere of 'Tubular Bells 3', on various TV shows for him, on his 'Then & Now' tour of the UK, and Europe in summer '99, and for his Millennium show in Berlin New Year's Eve '99, with the 'Art in Heaven' lightshow."

"For the 'Then & Now' tour of summer '99, we did not have a lot of time to prepare and get rehearsed up all the music that we were playing for the show.  Some of us (me!) had worked on Mike's 'Horseguards Parade' show in '98, which was for the premiere of his beautiful 'Tubular Bells 3' album, one of my favourites of his works.  But other musicians were coming in cold and had all the new stuff to learn as well as the older tracks.  So it was tough for all of us - but we did it, and the first show was superb.  After that it was plain sailing.  The Spanish shows were my favourites - screaming hoards of anything from 10,000 to 18,000 people, culminating in 100,000 for La Coruna, the last show of the tour.  Mike is very exacting about his music, most musicians are, aren't they?  But he was also very practical and flexible and very courteous as well, so I really enjoyed working for him.  It was without a doubt the very best tour I have ever done, and the Millennium show in Berlin on New Year's Eve night Dec 31st '99 was incredible.  Seven hundred and fifty thousand people, and with Mike's music, which he had specially written for the occasion, the Millennium Bell, and his Berlin 2000 finale.  I was very proud to be a part of such a monumental musical celebration and light show, which was provided by the superb production 'Art in Heaven'.  I recommend the DVD which should be coming out shortly.  I have the video and it captures the occasion very well."

So with such a fantastic pedigree behind her it was time for Carrie to strike out on her own with some solo Chapman Stick gigs and band work with 'Melbourne'.

"Playing solo stick is very important for me because it gives people a chance to hear what this still relatively rare instrument has to offer.  There are so many fantastic players, really technical geniuses, many of them in America, quite a few in the UK, but we need more converts!  Nick Beggs' style is wonderful - saw him with John Paul Jones recently.  And my teacher, Jim Lampi, is reputed to be the best stick player in the world.  In our group 'Melbourne' I use the stick for about 50% of the tracks, in a more 'band' environment, so it's a strong treble sound, and pump up the bass!  But solo you can be more subtle, bring out more harmonics and colours.  I adore the stick.  It is my favourite instrument of the ones that I play, and although I think I've built up quite a good repertoire of pieces, I still feel I've barely scratched the surface of the stick's marvelous potential.  I owe a lot to the inventor Emmett Chapman for creating an instrument that truly changed my life.  The stick copes with any style admirably.  In our band we play very much rock music with world and ambient influences, but I've heard just about everything on the stick - classical, jazz, country music, reggae, it all works wonderfully.  I don't know why really.  Maybe it's in the build of the instrument.  For my solo shows I just do stick and voice, so it's real exposure for me!"

Being in a band with your spouse can't always be easy.  I wondered if Carrie and Doug found it a natural enough arrangement, or whether they were always fighting over who gets the lead break and stuff?

"Doug and I work surprisingly well together.  I think we make a very good team as we're both very strong-minded, and yes we do try to work to get the very best from both of each other rather than take the 'I'm right!' line!  I think that we are pretty good now at interpreting the other's songs and adding to them.   Doug often arranges my piano and voice or stick and voice efforts, or he will write an instrumental piece and I'll add melody and lyrics, stick and bass or some guitar.  It's a question of compromise - yes, but dynamic compromise, i.e., working together with the same aim in mind : wads of cash and a steady retirement plan!  But also good music as well hopefully!"

The Melbourne official website lists among their influences a plethora of prog rock, and, as Doug is also the keyboard player in Genesis tribute band 'Re-Genesis', I asked Carrie if they considered their own music to be in the prog vein.

"Doug is a big fan of Peter Gabriel and Genesis, and I have played for Mike Oldfield, but in terms of our own music I think it is more influenced by world music, rock music and Latin & ambient rhythms.  Progressive rock as the term is, is a very stylized form of music, and I don't think there's much cross-over with ours, but, having said that, Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Crimson have been 'mainstay' listenings over the years."

So who exactly does Carrie count amongst her own influences as a bassist and as a Stick player and just as a musician?

"Too many to mention!  Bass-players who have influenced me : Jaco Pastorius, his playing on Pat Metheney's 'Bright Size Life' and Joni Mitchell's "Shadows and Light' as well as his first solo album; Mick Karn from Japan, Tony Levin from King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, Flea from the Chillis.... Stick-wise, my teacher Jim Lampi, of course, the inventor Emmett Chapman, an Argentinean stick virtuoso Guillermo Cides, and again Tony Levin, who defined 'stick bass'.  But really Jim my teacher, who has taught me everything.  Other important influences : Sting - his bass playing, songs and voice over the years have really touched my soul, Segovia's beautiful Spanish guitar playing, early English Elizabethan madrigals and sacred music, Gregorian chant and plainsong, Vaughan Williams and the English classical romantic composers, Chopin, and er ... Phil Collins.  Well, Phil gets such a bashing from Genesis fans nowadays, but his virtuoso drumming all these years has been way above and beyond the call of any musician, and I love his voice ... to me it's like a friend singing.  And if a woman loves a particular man's voice, well whatever anyone else might say as criticism - hard luck!  heh heh.  Oh yes and Daniel Lanois's album 'Arcadie' was a massive influence on me at the time.  I love his soulful singing and guitar playing.  Wonderful, a must-have in the old cd collection."

Plenty to choose from there then.  It's no wonder that Melbourne's recorded work is such an eclectic mix of influences and feelings.

Melbourne released their first album, 'Indian Ocean' at the beginning of 1999.  The album was well received worldwide and drew some great reviews, including a very praiseworthy write-up from Chapman Stick inventor Emmett Chapman who said "Her chordally rich Stick arrangements are blended with precision into larger orchestral textures with keyboard synthesisers and percussion by Doug Melbourne....I'd say Carrie has taken her white injection moulded polycarbonate Stick number 2366 a long way. Many thanks for this excellent Stick album".  They have since gone on to record a new e.p. that is scheduled for release soon.

"Our e.p. now has Jamie Fisher on drums and electronic drums," Carrie explained.  "So the 5 songs have a harder edge to them, and are also more 'commercial' in that they are mostly in song-format.  Having said that there is a very interesting classical-Indian inspired piece at the end, 'Shanti' which I wrote on stick, and which Jamie has added an incredible drum pattern to, it has to be listened to to be believed - stunning!  The e.p. also opens with a drum and bass rap, called 'Deep Deep Deep' which features again amazing drumming, and very ambient keyboards from Doug, and on initial listening this has proved to be a lot of people's favourite.  We then go on to surprise people with two rock songs which are quite gentle and contemplative, then a 'classic' 70's rock ballad, which I wrote, which finishes with a massive instrumental climax and a typically 70's electric guitar solo, by myself.  So having said earlier 'oh we're not influenced by prog' I certainly remember trying to do my best Dave Gilmour impression for that number!  It's called 'She Wants You' and is one of the most personal songs which I have written to date.  I'm very proud of it.  It won't chart, but what the hell!  The e.p. will be finished in spring 2001, and we will then release it over the internet and sell it at our shows, it will be published by Eaton Music, our music publishers, as a forerunner for getting a larger record deal."

This summer will see some more Melbourne live dates, giving them the chance to showcase the new material to a wider audience.  They've already tried out the songs live as a taster for their tour.

"In a live forum is the best place to find out 'what works' and 'what doesn't work' from both a playing and an audience point of view.  E.g., when we played 'She Wants You' people rocked out in the audience to the end passage, whereas on another number which we recently performed, people looked very quizzical!  Sometimes you do refashion the music if you feel that the audience reaction hasn't been as you were expecting, but other times you just decide to keep playing the same thing until people decide they like it!  Either that or they can always retreat to the bar!  It depends always on the individual situation.  You have to strike a balance between understanding what your audience likes to hear from you, and understanding what you need to play for yourself, as a musician.  And best of all, obviously, is when the two meet in the middle!" 

When I asked Carrie what she was working on at the moment, she said "I'm just tumble-drying our cotton underblanket for the bed in the tumble dryer - it's on its fourth hour, on the 'hot' setting, and it's still wet!  It was made in Germany.  Have you noticed how anything made in Germany is built to last?  I love that quality to German-built things.  Our car's like that.  And my bass, come to think of it - it's a Warwick.  I think we should get a German manager for our band ... we're currently on the look-out!" 

That wasn't exactly the answer I was looking for, but it did lead me neatly on to ask Carrie about the basses she plays, mostly Warwicks, what is it that she particularly likes about them. 

"I have played Warwick basses for a long time now.  When I was in Babylon Zoo I had to play Jas Mann's bass.  Meanwhile I nagged Trevor Cash at Warwick basses, and he knew I loved the Warwicks so he took me seriously and I got my Warwick sponsorship.  I've been playing those basses ever since.  I used to have a Warwick 4 string which I sold, but my main bass is a 5 string Streamer which used to belong to Charlie Jones, Robert Plant's son-in-law.  I love that bass, beautiful low warm rich sound, very bassy, very loud! I also own a Warwick 4 string Streamer fretless, such a lovely sweet tone and in many ways my favourite - I used it on our 'Rainy Day' song recording on our 'Indian Ocean' album.  I am very proud of that bass; it's gorgeous-looking, sexy, and very playable. I also have a 6 string Warwick Corvette, although I think that in spite of my admiration for Alain Caron and John Pattitucci I can't say I've explored it much!  I love the sound of that top C string on the 6 string bass; it is haunting and strange.  You can always recognize a 6 string bass from that unique sound it has.  I used it on a solo break on a track from our new 'Melbourne' e.p., which is out this summer in the UK.  I also have a 1970 Gibson EB3, shortscale, which I have longed to have again for years - and still do.  It's my Solicitor's bass, and if I don't pay him for it, he's going to want it back! (Hands off, readers it's mine I tell you).  A burgundy Gibson EB3 shortscale was the first bass I ever owned.  I love love loved it, and I'm not letting this one get away from me!  I've already used it for a trance-style 1960s song we've been cooking up in 'Melbourne', and it came out beautifully.  My favourite of my basses?  The Warwick fretless, she's classy and beautiful."  

So on to the Chapman Stick, I asked Carrie to tell us what is so special about her current model. 

"Each one is unique, hand- finished!  Which is a real privilege.  Imagine Leo Fender making up your guitar for you!  Emmett made mine for me from maple wood with paua inlays, 10 strings, normal pickup.  I also own another stick which I bought from my teacher Jim Lampi, white poly-carbon, made in the mid-80s, with midi.  It was the first stick I learned on.  I haven't got midi for the maple stick yet, but may do at some point; it is available.  I've loaned out my poly stick to an excellent bass-playing friend of mine, Bill Burnett, from fusion-prog supergroup Sphere.  I know he'll enjoy it!  Talking of basses, you said earlier what basses have I got.  Well, I also have a black bass which I designed myself, it was my first bass after the Gibson, and it was made by a Scottish guitar maker Ian Watt, who lived way out in the wilds of the Scottish countryside!  It used to take me 3 bus journeys from St Andrew's with an hour wait in between each, just to get to his house!  It's beautiful.  Very expertly made by Ian.  It is sort of shaped like a Steinberger, but with more curves, fretless 5 string, and lots of 80s style gadgets - parametric, active bass, headless, with the tuning pegs behind the bridge.  I might resurrect it for a 'Melbourne' show one of these fine days.  Think the electronics will need a bit of a 'once over' though!" 

So, does Carrie prefer to play stick, or is she a bass purist at heart? 

"Bass or stick?  Paris or the Seychelles?  Jennifer Lopez or Claudia Schiffer? I've always loved bass guitar, the groove, the sound it makes, the sense of belonging to the rhythm of the group when you play bass, but the stick I feel is the instrument I was born to play.  I can already find things on it, sounds that are unique to me, and that is very precious in a world where it is very hard nowadays to stand out, to claim your own little voice, your piece of territory.  So I am forever grateful to Emmett for having given me that opportunity to have something that I can call my own.  The stick for me is like my guardian angel. I can't be without it." 

A couple of months ago I spoke to Nick Beggs about his career as a bassist and stick-player and he told me that he thinks that the main reason that more people don't take up Chapman Stick is because it is phenomenally difficult to master.  Carrie's opinion was quite different though. 

"I admire Nick Beggs tremendously.  Love his bass-playing, and particularly his fabulous stick wizardry when he was playing with John Paul Jones recently... brilliant.  But what he's talking about in that the stick is 'phenomenally difficult to master'? - I'm not sure what he means by that.  I see it more like taming a wild horse.  If you have the confidence, it doesn't take long, but there is that point where you think you're never going to break it, then suddenly it all makes sense.  It took me 2 lessons from Jim to get a tune, and about a week of discovery work to break the sound open.  Then after that - that's when all the hard work starts! Here's a thing - if you are a bass player, you're used to thinking in 4ths, so as the treble side of the stick is in 4ths, you just transfer your bass knowledge into the higher register.  And the bass side of the stick is in 5ths, and, as my teacher Jim pointed out, the I-V-I axis is completely logical in music for the bass, the root of classical and piano music.  So once you get that in your head, and once you find all the chords in the left hand that are under the fingers, then you're away.  Now that I found the key to open the stick, you just keep discovering new things. It's so beautiful, and quite over-awing at times.  The thought of how much there is on there to discover is quite mind-blowing.  Tony Levin said an interesting thing, that when he went to a stick-players' conference, he was touched at how many different styles different people had come up with, that's how versatile the stick is.  I was asked very recently to play at a stick seminar in Milan with Tony Levin and I can't go.  I'm so disappointed!  It is run by one of the world's only female stick players, a fantastic player called Virna Splendore.  I hope to meet her one day.  Actually, perhaps Nick simply means that the stick, like any instrument, is difficult to master. You can get a tune out an instrument fairly quickly, but to master it takes a lifetime." 

Finally, in the much-loved gear section, what does Carrie plug all these basses and sticks into then? 

"Amps", she said - fair enough!  "Trace for bass, and lots of.  As much as my poor long-suffering roadies will carry.  More is more! I used a 600 watt head, 4 x 10 and 2 x 15 speakers for Tricky on our Lollapalooza '97 tour, and I loved it. For our Melbourne shows I'm carrying the gear at the moment.  I was thinking of using the Marshall 2 stack 'pocket amp' with its PP3 battery.  I hate carrying gear, and anyway it fits in my rucksack!  heh heh.  No, seriously, I use a Roland keyboard amp for my stick for our 'Melbourne' shows.  It's got stereo inputs, and I can just about manage the weight of it without tumbling down the stairs in my platform heels.  I weigh 8 stone without my platforms on, so gear-carrying is not really an option I can deal with.  But on organized shows such as the work I've done for Tricky and Mike Oldfield, then out come 'big gun' Trace amps.  I have a sponsorship with Trace also.  I take my sponsorships seriously in that I think hard about what I want, then stay faithful to the company I've chosen.  Although for some reason I'm very easy-going regarding bass-strings - an offer of a free packet of strings from the appropriate strings manufacturer and I'm anybody's!" 

Well, following that sickening plug from Carrie for a strings sponsorship, it's surely worth my while mentioning that the writer of this article is also available for string sponsorships, as well as basses, amps, clothing and cars.  Hey!  If the interviewee can try it on then so can the interviewer, right?  {And so can the webmaster, eh?}

Meanwhile I'm looking forward to catching Melbourne's live show later this year, and Carrie has promised that I can go to a soundcheck and try out that stick for myself - I'll let you know how I get on.


Andy Long  

Andy Long is our correspondent in the U.K. and the author of numerous articles in Global Bass for a number of issues. Andy will be continuing over 2001 with a series of interesting and provocative interviews with some of the U.K. best and brightest bass and stick players. 

Check out his official website at Third Bass.
Andy can be reached at his website.


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