On Porcupine Tree’s new album, Octane Twisted, bassist Colin Edwin lays down lines of great elegance that complement his band’s complex, shifting music. It’s the kind of supple and accomplished bass playing we’ve come to expect from this master of modern prog, so we were interested to learn about the music that inspires his bass work. Asked how he evolved his style, he points directly towards a mixed bag of influences – including the five killer albums below.
1. John Martyn – Bless The Weather
I first became interested in learning to play the double bass after first hearing Danny Thompson’s beautiful upright bass tone on this album. I was heavily influenced in upright bass terms by the later LP – and all-time Martyn classic – Solid Air as well. Danny’s playing radiates a real feeling of strength and gives a lot of weight to the music, and I absolutely love the way the recording sounds as if the musicians are in the same room with you. It’s all very atmospheric.
Lots of interesting bass players stick out from the early 80s, such as Norman Watt-Roy, Jah Wobble, Peter Hook and JJ Burnel – but I listened to Barry Adamson in a big way. His lines are upfront, providing real sub-hooks to the songs, while being supportive at the same time – for example on ‘Feed The Enemy’. He also puts in lots of unexpected articulations in his basslines, like the string bends on ‘Permafrost’. I have a soft spot for his heavily flanged, picked bass tone too.
I’ve always loved Sting’s minimal but powerful bass playing. It’s difficult to choose a single Police album for this feature, because they’re all so great. They were probably the first pop or rock band whose albums I took apart completely in order to learn every single bassline, but this album gets the nod as it features ‘Walking On The Moon’, ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’ and ‘Bring On The Night’, which are probably my three favourite Police songs of all time.
This surreal album has Mick Karn at his most unusual, playing incredibly imaginative fretless bass-lines, complemented by his unique woodwinds. The title track is a study in fretless articulations, with its use of open strings, double stops, big slides and vibrato. The second track, ‘His Box’, is probably the weirdest ostinato of all time. I always thought Mick was just trying to be cool when he said that he didn’t really know what he was doing, but I later found it to be true.
Bill Laswell uses space masterfully on this album, with economical, memorable bass-lines. This album shows how simple bass parts can be extremely effective, while still having a lot of character and depth. The line on ‘Touch You’ is a really good illustration of his approach: the minimalist rhythmic bass parts propel the groove and bring the other elements in the track together. Some of the bass-lines on this album can be found on different tracks on Anton Fier’s Blindlight and Dreamspeed albums.