Thursday, 6 August 2020

A journey though a massive and messy music library

 Well, we all knew lockdown was going to be weird...

Fortunately for me, a project dropped into my lap in March, and it kept me very busy for months. I am only now rocking gently in my backwater, blinking, looking around, thinking of other projects.

With projects, I always go in too deep. This was no different. But oh, was it ever fascinating.

Some background first. For much of my time in radio, I have been gainfully employed sorting out other people's programming disasters, the ones that crop up in music scheduling and database systems.

The programming  beast 

The leading system I've worked in is, still, RCS GSelector, along with its RCS predecessors. If you're a fan, it's a splendid beast. But with all such systems, it's easy to paint yourself into a corner. You need decent music nous, allied to geekiness and tenacity. It's a tricky balance. Too much geekiness squeezes out on-air spontaneity.

The thinking behind computer music scheduling is, I find, often shared by musicians. Their shows are planned out: sets kick off with bangers, new material is nicely balanced, there's a flow built in, and the audience goes on a journey. Even when set lists are starting points rather than a rigid show structure, the same principles apply. If you know your stuff and your audience, you don't need a fixed safety net, either at radio or onstage. And that's as far as I'm going with that particular debate. 


The work

My cleanup work has taken me all over the UK and Europe. Often, one job has led to another; other times I have been put forward by much appreciated colleagues. It's been a lovely, magic carpet ride. But Covid19 has put an end to flying off to distant lands; now it's Zoom meetings and distance work.

I'm happy to work in any music format: the fundamentals, be they in Pop, Rock or Classical, are the same. Seriously, they really are, even while library sizes and presenter freedom vary enormously. Personally, I prefer a deep library in a station that values its presenters for their knowledge, but that's just my taste.


The Classical differences

But Classical? Well, there are differences. Tricky ones. Take durations for a start: Classical music radio is not the home of the 3'30” pop edit. Amazing works of 15 minutes and longer are common; you simply can't do without them. The 'bleeding chunks' debate - chopping out moments from Concerti or Symphonies - continues. Now, I love a complete work, an entire opera, a splendid soloist delivering fireworks to an audience... when I'm in that audience. But music radio doesn't work that way; instead, it offers a flow of music to take with you while you go about your day. Radio is rarely an 'appointment to listen' medium; you can now listen again with ease. So that's two challenges right there.

I've worked on Classical databases four times now: firstly in Ireland with the splendid RTE Lyric FM, where more than half the personnel were active musicians. Later came Bartok Radio in Budapest, and more recently pre-launch setup work at Scala Radio in London. And the most recent project, with all the Zooming and remote working, was for Radio Classic in Finland.

My job was to tidy up a messy database and set it up in GSelector before handing it back to the local team to take it onward. I won't go into all the gory details, but every conceivable data entry mistake was there... it was a tangle.


Mind your Language!

The interesting areas were the use of language, and the local market. Finland values its culture and identity. It supports the arts: national and regional orchestras are properly funded, unlike in the UK. It's admirable; I so wish we took this approach with the Arts in general, and music in particular. I also wish we had Finland's admirably low Covid19 infection rates.

From a population of less than 6 million, Finland exports a steady and impressive flow of talent: the first two conductors to follow Simon Rattle when he left the CBSO came from Finland; one of them now splits his duties between orchestras in Los Angeles, San Francisco and London.

Of course there were local composers whose works I wasn't familiar with; with these, the plan is for the Radio Classic team to strike the right balance. And that's the proper approach: radio has to reflect its locality, be it national or regional. Dumping a generic format onto a station is cheap; it directly affects the bottom line, but it may not build audiences. We often hear of 'MacDonalds Radio' in this context, but in truth, even that giant corporation goes to great lengths to cater for local markets. And it's worth pointing out that Classic Radio Finland are part of Bauer Media, who, admirably, have given their station free rein to develop as they see fit. It's easy to jump to conclusions about massive corporate radio groups, but those conclusions are not always spot-on.

So – back to the Classical job. How to describe a work? What language do you use? Do you say the Magic Flute? Or the original Die Zauberflote? Or the Finnish Taikahuilu? Verdi was, I am told, passionately in favour of works being sung in the language of the country where the performance was taking place. But, with works and orchestras in at least six languages, this aspect was increasingly complex.


The Web. Upending things. Again. Everywhere.

In working through the Radio Classic library, something else struck me: just how much emphasis has moved away from tradition and towards powerful performances. I contrasted an opera aria from a revered Finnish veteran, recorded in the 60s, with a fresh recording of the same piece by a contemporary superstar. The difference was extraordinary. The veteran was polite, formal and understated. The superstar was showy and explosive. That, change, in my view, has been driven by opera houses and orchestras competing online to deliver more of an experience to a wider audience, the more so because a lot of their work is now filmed and distributed either live or as special cinematic events. The days of 19th century polite salon performances of music designed to be played at home, once all the rage, are long gone. As elsewhere, the web has had its way, and we are now in the world of short-term spectacle.


Bottom line, as usual: what matters, and to whom?

The initial clean-up task completed, Radio Classic are now up and running. What are the next steps? Many classical stations embrace movie soundtracks; others rush to programme contemporary 'mindful' piano work from the likes of Ludovico Einaudi; still others incorporate gaming music, written for teenagers and young adults, into their output. Gaming companies are now so flush with cash that they can afford to hire entire orchestras to record their material – but I'm really not sure that an orchestra's playing qualifies a piece of music for use in Classical radio. It's a sliding scale of age appeal, which doesn't tempt me, but then I am very aged. That said, I can't say I'm exactly a purist either. The big question is to recognise the demands of the market, as I mentioned earlier.

My personal view? The great works are there because they have found their place over decades and centuries. That timescale means things change slowly; it's the complete opposite of pop. Recordings of individual Classical works may not generate huge sales figures, but that's partly because there are often literally hundreds of different versions of the same work available to the listener. Therefore popularity has to be measured in a different way; chart sales, downloads and influencer-driven YouTube views don't work in this arena. The picture is further muddied by a combination of stuffy conservatism in the classical industry itself, and the shift to showier, flashier performances that new technology has fostered, as mentioned earlier.

It's never easy. But right now, my best wishes go to the good folk at Radio Classic Finland, who are now navigating these tricky waters. I think they'll do just fine. You can, of course, listen to them here: 
https://radioplay.fi/radio-classic/

and if that doesn't work, go here: https://tinyurl.com/y4dstoxe

See more radio and broadcasting posts on Radio To Go

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Friday, 27 March 2020

A Life In Music: Simon Duggal (not forgetting brother Diamond Duggal)

Go On, name a music genre these guys haven't worked on. Just try...

Simon Duggal, with his brother Diamond Duggal, is a hugely influential producer, promoter and now record label manager. They may not be that well known to you, but they work worldwide across as many genres as they can handle. 

Like Ruby Turner, Steel Pulse and Apache Indian, they started out in Handsworth, Birmingham. 

Their own brand/band, Swami, is massive across Asia. On top of that, they had their very own 'Oh Brother Where are Thou' style breakout hit in Birmingham while barely out of their teens. 

And that's before we get on to Shania Twain...

Simon, like his brother, is meticulous in his ability to recall career details. That's what made this such an entertaining interview. He also is a serious recording equipment geek. I can't tell you all the kit he has accumulated, but some of it has serious music history. 

This blog is a companion piece to the Lives in Music Podcast, which you can grab here. Or if you like, you can scroll down this page and listen to the embedded player. 


Links

Swami wiki page
Up! album version
Apache Indian wiki page




Lives in Music


The Lives in Music series celebrates people who have spent a lifetime in music. They may be famous; they may be people who have spent their lives working in the background for the love of it. But they all have stories.


The podcast



The intro and outro music in this series comes from the great bass player Mike Hatton, who you can hear interviewed in series 1, here. 'Everything Changes' is included in his excellent 2019 album 'Bassic Salvation'. 


Subscribe!

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If you would prefer email updates each time a podcast episode (or blog post) is published, you can subscribe to the mailing list. Head here and scroll down to the signup form.


Friday, 20 March 2020

A Life In Music: Roy Williams

A mighty influencer. You Tube kids, you don't know you're born. 



In this edition I'm talking with an extraordinary, super-capable, veteran music pro from the Black Country of the UK, who has, quietly, had a massive influence on music making in this neck of the woods and far, far beyond. 

Roy was one of the team that launched the legendary JBs in Dudley, where anybody who was anybody simply had to play. Then he went on to managing, sound mixing, often for a lifetime friend, Robert Plant. and just doing an awful lot for an awful lot of people, simply because it was the right thing to do. 

But it's the sidelines that make this conversation so interesting - the by ways, the diversions, and the way he frequently drops hints and prompts about interesting music areas - areas that eventually emerge as having been profoundly influenced by him. And, of course, the stories.

This is a companion blog piece to go with the Roy Williams Lives in Music PodcastYou can jump to all the podcast episodes here - there are 18 other Lives in Music available right now - or scroll down to listen to the embedded player on this page. 


Photo credit: Suzy Gallier


Links


Robert Plant website
JBs Dudley facebook page

Saving Grace 2019 review



Lives in Music


The Lives in Music series celebrates people who have spent a lifetime in music. They may be famous; they may be people who have spent their lives working in the background for the love of it. They all have stories. Lives in Music is a Radio To Go production.

The intro and outro music in this series comes from the great bass player Mike Hatton, who you can hear interviewed in series 1, here. 'Everything Changes' is included in his excellent 2019 album 'Bassic Salvation'. 


The Podcast





Published in Series 2  (series 1 episodes listed here)

1 - Brian Travers of UB40
2 - Ricky Cool
3 - Mark 'Foxy' Robinson of the CBSO
4 - Roy Adams
5 - Gavin Monaghan of Magic Garden studios 
6 - John Mostyn
7 - Stewart Johnson: taking UK Country back across the pond
8 - Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention

9 - Roy Willams
10 - Simon Duggal (Simon & Diamond, Apache Indian, Shania Twain, Desi Beats)


Subscribe!

Subscribe to the Podcast through your podcast app to automatically download each episode to your device. These will then land with you first, before everyone else hears about it.

If you would prefer email updates each time a podcast episode (or blog post) is published, you can subscribe to the mailing list. Head here and scroll down to the signup form.


Saturday, 14 March 2020

A Life In Music: Dave Pegg - a bass player with serious history

'One of the world's top bass players - within my price range'


Dave Pegg has played Bass with one group for half a century: the excellent Fairport Convention. Fairport have one of the most tumultuous histories in British Folk-Rock. But, like many groups that survive that long, they have a spectacularly loyal following, and that now means that they are on a more stable footing than at any time in their history.

But before Fairport, there was Rock, gigging five nights a week in the effervescent 60s Birmingham pubrock scene, a stint with the legendary Ian Campbell Group, and the not insignificant matter of 15 years holding down the bass chair with Jethro Tull.

In the podcast, one thing struck me forcibly - when Dave describes the 1970 band as getting really good, really fast. I think this illustrates that statement perfectly. Just look at Peggy go!





Peggy, as everyone calls him, has a stock of anecdotes... catching a Bjork show with Shadows guitarist Hank Marvin in Sydney, Australia, or booking the 83 year-old Petula Clark for Fairport's Cropedy Convention. He has an encyclopaedic memory, and can reel off the names of obscure bands he cut his teeth with back in the day.  A great man to pass time with over a pint.

This is a companion blog piece to go with the Dave Pegg Lives in Music Podcast. You can jump to all the podcast episodes here - there are 17 other Lives in Music available right now - or scroll down to listen to the embedded player on this page. 


Links


Fairport Convention
Ian Campbell Folk Group wiki
Dave Pegg wiki
Jethro Tull



Lives in Music


The Lives in Music series celebrates people who have spent a lifetime in music. They may be famous; they may be people who have spent their lives working in the background for the love of it. They all have stories. Lives in Music is a Radio To Go production.


The intro and outro music in this series comes from the great bass player Mike Hatton, who you can hear interviewed in series 1, here. 'Everything Changes' is included in his excellent 2019 album 'Bassic Salvation'.

Published in Series 2  (series 1 episodes listed here)

1 - Brian Travers of UB40
2 - Ricky Cool
3 - Mark 'Foxy' Robinson of the CBSO
4 - Roy Adams
5 - Gavin Monaghan of Magic Garden studios 
6 - John Mostyn
7 - Stewart Johnson: taking UK Country back across the pond
8 - Dave Pegg

9 - Roy Willams (JB's, Little Acre, Weapon of Peace, Robert Plant)
10 - Simon Duggal (Simon & Diamond, Apache Indian, Shania Twain, Desi Beats)


The Podcast



Subscribe!

Subscribe to the Podcast through your podcast app to automatically download each episode to your device. These will then land with you first, before everyone else hears about it.

If you would prefer email updates each time a podcast episode (or blog post) is published, you can subscribe to the mailing list. Head here and scroll down to the signup form.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

A Life In Music: Stewart Johnson

A Country Music dynasty. Made in Brum.



Ask any Lives in Music participant, and you'll get the same answer - there's no easy or straight route through life as a musician. You go where the work is, and if you're very, very lucky, you get to call a few shots in due course. 

This blog post is a companion piece to Stewart's Lives in Music Podcast episode, which you can listen to here, or you can scroll down to the bottom of the page and listen there. 

In Stewart's case his life took him all over Europe and the UK as a post-war Army brat, and that exposed him to a host of influences. From there, he went in to rock, with some success, followed by stage work, all the while nurturing his deep love for bluegrass and the best in country music. He's passed this on to his children, leading to the first family band in Brum, and kicking off his daughters' solo careers, crafted in the teeth of opposition on both sides of the Atlantic. It's a great story.


Links

Hannah Johnson

The Lives in Music series celebrates people who have spent a lifetime in music. They may be famous; they may be people who have spent their lives working in the background for the love of it. They all have stories. Lives in Music is a Radio To Go production. All published episodes can be found here

Published in Series 2  (series 1 episodes listed here)

1 - Brian Travers of UB40
2 - Ricky Cool
3 - Mark 'Foxy' Robinson of the CBSO
4 - Roy Adams
5 - Gavin Monaghan of Magic Garden studios 
6 - John Mostyn
7 - Stewart Johnson
8 - Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention

9 - Roy Willams (JB's, Little Acre, Weapon of Peace, Robert Plant)

10 - Simon Duggal (Simon & Diamond, Apache Indian, Shania Twain, Desi Beats)

The podcast episode



The intro and outro music in this series comes from the great bass player Mike Hatton, who you can hear interviewed in series 1, here. 'Everything Changes' is included in his excellent 2019 album 'Bassic Salvation'. 

Subscribe!
Subscribe to the Podcast through your podcast host to automatically download each episode to your chosen device. These will then land with you first, before everyone else hears about it.


If you would prefer email updates each time a podcast episode (or blog post) is published, you can subscribe to the mailing list. Head here and scroll down to the signup form.


Tuesday, 25 February 2020

A Life In Music: John Mostyn

Birmingham's Music renaissance man



Photo: Graham Young, Birmingham Live
With some fifty years in the business across a dizzying range of bands and activities, John Mostyn is endlessly interesting. He's done the mega-deals, battled with the music industry at the very top levels, and he's worked just as hard on small local projects which simply deserved some help. 

And he has some incredible stories.

There's a lot to be gleaned from listening to John's experiences. Not that John minds; he's always been happy to share and lend a hand. And there are always, always, new projects, which you might never have considered in a month of Sundays.

This is a companion blog piece to the John Mostyyn Lives in Music Podcast, which you can listen to here. Or just scroll down to the bottom of this page and listen to the embedded file.

Links


Carpe Aqua If you don't know about this, you're missing out.
The Beat (led by the late Ranking Roger)
The English Beat (led by Dave Wakelin)
Fine Young Cannibals wikipedia page

Ocean Colour Scene



Lives in Music


The Lives in Music series celebrates people who have spent a lifetime in music. They may be famous; they may be people who have spent their lives working in the background for the love of it. But they all have stories.



The intro and outro music in this series comes from the great bass player Mike Hatton, who you can hear interviewed in series 1, here. 'Everything Changes' is included in his excellent 2019 album 'Bassic Salvation'. 



Subscribe!

Subscribe to the Podcast through your podcast host to automatically download each episode to your chosen device. These will then land with you first, before everyone else hears about it.

If you would prefer email updates each time a podcast episode (or blog post) is published, you can subscribe to the mailing list. Head here and scroll down to the signup form.


Saturday, 22 February 2020

A Life In Music: Gavin Monaghan a legendary producer

The Wizard in his garden


Gavin Monaghan is a producer who commands massive respect worldwide, but who is just at home working with local bands that he has an affinity with. He loves his work. The people who work with him love his work as well. 

Gavin operates from an unassuming but brilliant studio complex, the third premises that he's named Magic Garden. Music of all shapes and descriptions flows from there out to the world. When I dropped by, Gavin was very calmly allowing his clients to work out and freely deliver something exceptional. It's a brilliant skill. Not all producers have it. 

Among his better-known local clients, you'll find Ocean Colour Scene, Carina Round, Paul Murphy, Editors, Scott Matthews, Robert PlantNizlopi and The Twang. That's one terrific range of talent. Among his newer clients, you'll find Pagans (Shepherds Of Humanity), Paper Buoys, Methods, Cherry LotusThe BlindersH√úDS, and more. 

Above all Gavin focuses on results - it's fascinating to hear how he gets those results, how he got started, and how technology has changed the creative music landscape. Craft skills, hard won and invaluable. 

That patient approach, and the love and nurturing of for new talent from a veteran's perspective chimes with what I want to cover in the Lives in Music series. To listen, you can jump to the podcast site to download and/or stream, or if you like, scroll down to the bottom of this page and stream from the embedded player. 

The story starts, as with many in this series, with a dedicated teacher, when Gavin was very, very young.

Links

Magic Garden facebook page

Lives in Music


The Lives in Music series celebrates people who have spent a lifetime in music. They may be famous; they may be people who have spent their lives working in the background for the love of it. But they all have stories.


Published in Series 2  (series 1 episodes listed here)

1 - Brian Travers of UB40
2 - Ricky Cool
3 - Mark 'Foxy' Robinson of the CBSO
4 - Roy Adams
5 - Gavin Monaghan of Magic Garden studios 
6 - John Mostyn
7 - Stewart Johnson: taking UK Country back across the pond
8 - Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention

9 - Roy Willams (JB's, Little Acre, Weapon of Peace, Robert Plant)

10 - Simon Duggal (Simon & Diamond, Apache Indian, Shania Twain, Desi Beats)

The Podcast



The intro and outro music in this series comes from the great bass player Mike Hatton, who you can hear interviewed in series 1, here. 'Everything Changes' is included in his excellent 2019 album 'Bassic Salvation'.


Subscribe!

Subscribe to the Podcast through your chosen podcast directory to automatically download each episode to your chosen device. These will then land with you first, before everyone else hears about it.

If you would prefer email updates each time a podcast episode (or blog post) is published, you can subscribe to the mailing list. Head here and scroll down to the signup form.


Friday, 14 February 2020

A Life in Music: Roy Adams

Exactly HOW many bands?


In this edition of Lives in Music, I'm talking with Roy Adams, who is a beast of a drummer - with excellent taste - across a wide variety of styles. 

It's tricky to list all the bands Roy currently plays with. He simply loves to play. You'll find him playing, with a huge smile on his face, in a bar with 50 people watching... or at a mega venue in front an audience of thousands in one of his two major gigs. He's held down the drum chair at Climax Blues Band for 35 years, and he's a fixture on the Roy Wood Christmas yearly extravaganza. For the rest, listen on: you'll know the names of some, if not all. 

For me, it was the combination of two of his 'do it for love' bands, that piqued my attention: The Quiet Men (they are not) and C-Jam, both of whom you will catch in small boozers with hip clientele. Those gigs are done for pure pleasure, for the joy of grooving with fellow musicians who can seriously play. In a way, those bands, and those tiny venues, are the very essence of what I'm aiming to cover in the Lives in Music series.

You can jump to the Podcast site to download and/or stream, or if you like, scroll down to the bottom of this page and stream from the embedded player. 



Links

Climax Blues Band: full Wikipedia history An extensive history at that.
...or catch Roy, this time looking dead serious, in this video clip. Veterans one and all, (apart from the string section)


Roy Wood


Lives in Music

The Lives in Music series celebrates people who have spent a lifetime in music. They may be famous; they may be people who have spent their lives working in the background for the love of it. But they all have stories.




The intro and outro music in this series comes from the great bass player Mike Hatton, who you can hear interviewed in series 1, here. 'Everything Changes' is included in his excellent 2019 album 'Bassic Salvation'. Follow the album link for more :-)





Subscribe!

Subscribe to the Podcast through your podcast app to automatically download each episode to your chosen device. These will then land with you first, before everyone else hears about it.

If you subscribe to the Radio To Go/Lives in Music mailing listyou'll get email updates each time a blog post or podcast episode is published.


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Friday, 7 February 2020

A Life In Music: Mark Robinson. 40 years at the CBSO

40 Years at the CBSO, the Fiddle in 'Fiddle and Bone', dangerous flirtations with rock ...


I owe a debt of gratitude to a great Birmingham muso, R. John Webb (aka Ryan Webb, late of Rhino and the Ranters), who, when learning that I wanted to find a Classical muso for this series, suggested I talk to Foxy... a pal of his from Moseley, the proudly boho bit of Brum.  

'Foxy who?' I ask.

'Oh, I don't know his real name. But he's Classical' says Ryan.

'That can cover a lot of things. Which orchestra?' say I.

'Oh, the Rattle one' came the reply.

That started my pursuit. In due course we met up in one of Moseley's nicer coffee joints, and talked for hours. Clearly I was being sized up. But in due course, Foxy - Mark Robinson - who will absolutely not tell me why he has that nickname, agreed to be interviewed. 



So now, a detailed and fascinating conversation...


And the result is this podcast episode. You can jump to my podcast host to stream or download here, or you can head down to the bottom of this post to listen now.  

Very precise detail is what Mark goes for.  We covered an enormous range of topics. But as always in this series, if you put forty or fifty years into your craft, then you have the stories and experience.


The conversation gave me a chance to look at the life of a musician in a BIG outfit. Orchestras can run to 90 or more, so touring a band like that is a bit more than assembling a road crew. The logistics must be a nightmare.


The Prince of Wales


The Prince of Wales in Moseley, Birmingham has played a considerable part in this podcast episode. The Prince is a Moseley musicians' watering hole, with a long history of live music, and in whose snug we captured most of the conversation. 


Mark made mention of a benefit which took place in 2005. This was for the legendary Steve Ajao, whose podcast episode is here. I am indebted to Reed Alan, who filmed the benefit performance, and who has kindly allowed me to embed this video clip here.



Lives in Music

The Lives in Music podcasts celebrates people who have spent a lifetime in music. They may be famous; they may be people who have spent their lives working in the background for the love of it. But they all have stories. Listen here:




The intro and outro music in this series comes from the great bass player Mike Hatton, who you can hear interviewed in series 1, here. 'Everything Changes' is included in his excellent 2019 album 'Bassic Salvation'. Follow the album link for more :-)



Subscribe!

Subscribe to the Podcast through your podcast app to automatically download each episode to your chosen device. These will then land with you first, before everyone else hears about it.
If you subscribe to the Radio To Go/Lives in Music mailing listyou'll get email updates each time a blog post or podcast episode is published.


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Friday, 31 January 2020

A Life in Music: Ricky Cool

Fifty years with a buzzcut


Ricky Cool is a music veteran... who adores vintage music. He's a walking encyclopedia of US roots music, and he's no slouch about the UK music scene over the past 50 years. 

In this episode, l get schooled about harmonica playing, and we get a fascinating look at what it meant to be in bands struggling to get ahead through the 70s, 80s, 90s, and on into this century. Things are - different - now. 

The latest incarnation of Ricky's band, Ricky Cool and The In Crowd, is a very slick and entertaining operation, which harks back over 50 years to the mid-60s days of ska and organ groove.  Be warned: there's one teeny little bit of louche behaviour described. A swear word. But it's not sweary.  

Links

Ricky Cool's website for history and gig updates



UK Folk (and associated) links

Lives in Music Podcast


The Lives in Music series celebrates people who have spent a lifetime in music. 

They may be famous; they may be people who have spent their lives working in the background for the love of it. 

But they all have stories. 

The intro and outro music in this series comes from the great bass player Mike Hatton, who you can hear interviewed in series 1, here. 'Everything Changes' is included in his excellent 2019 album 'Bassic Salvation'. Follow the album link for more :-)

Stream Ricky's podcast here 


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