Sunday, 13 October 2019

A Life in Music: Steve Ajao. The deeeeepest voice in Brum.

A proper Renaissance Man, is Steve

A stalwart of the Birmingham music scene, Steve has been laying down greasy guitar blues and elegant cerebral Jazz sax in equal quantities, for generations. Oh, and he builds guitars, beautifully... and he's completely self-taught. And he's got the deepest voice in all Birmingham. His Blues trio can be found playing live in all the best joints in the Midlands and beyond. They are astonishingly relaxed and extremely tight - something that comes from decades of playing together. 

On top of this, Steve Ajao's facebook feed carries all sorts of other titbits, such as recipes for homemade Sauerkraut, gardening tips, and more. He's into loads of stuff :-) Gourmet, gardener, guitar restorer, blues shouter, cool saxman. I'm sure there's more.

We talked for ages at Steve's place for the Lives in Music interview. 
The podcast has just been published: go here to listen, subscribe and/or download or go to the player at the bottom of this post. 


The theme music for this series comes from Big Q Fish, a seriously uncompromising Birmingham band that I suggest you check out. The song is 'Boksburg Jive Toon', written by guitarist Brian Neil. There's plenty more to listen to if you follow the link. They're also on YouTube.

On top of this, you'll hear Steve play an improvisation on Steel Guitar in the podcast itself, as part of the interview.


Steve Ajao's Blues Giants website
Steve Ajao's Blues Giants on Facebook
Steve's Club Bebop on Facebook: currently a weekly Wednesday residency at Fletchers Bar in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

And there's a ton of stuff to check out on YouTube, both Jazz and Blues.

Podcast Player

Also published in Lives In Music 

1 - Ruby Turner: show notes here; download / subscribe / stream podcast here

Lives in Music 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.


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Monday, 7 October 2019

A life in Music: Ruby Turner

She's only been knocking the ball out of the park for four decades

This is a companion blog post to accompany the first episode of my new podcast series: Lives in Music

The podcast has just been published: go here to listen and/or download or go to the player at the bottom of this post. 

The plan is for the series to appear everywhere podcasts are to found, but it’s early days.That link should get you started. 

Romantic notions? Pah.

I had a theory that there must have been some sort of genius music teacher in Handsworth back in the seventies. Because for three years straight, that mixed and punchy Brum inner city suburb delivered an act each year that went on to shake the foundations worldwide: Steel Pulse, Apache Indian, and Ruby herself. 

And, face it, kids like Robin Campbell of UB40 and Ranking Roger of the Beat were hanging out at the shebeens, soaking it all up. Handsworth did a lot for popular music back in the day.

I put that notion to Ruby during our Lives in Music chat. She, as you'll hear, slapped it right down as my being romantic and fanciful.

There's not a lot of music in this podcast: copyright regulations prevent that. Any music has to be podcast-friendly. So no copyright infringements, and anything used must have the agreement of the performer. So there are no clips of Ruby to listen to, apart from when she bursts into song in mid conversation. That's a shame, because the stuff she does with Jools Holland and with her own band is bloody marvellous. But skip down to the links list, and you can explore to your heart's content.   

The Lives in Music Podcast Series

There are ten episodes in this first series of Lives in Music. They will appear weekly from October until early December 2019. I'm now working on Series 2. The central thrust is to honour and highlight those people who have, literally, spent their lives in music, whether it's making music or empowering those who do. 

Also now published:  

2 - Steve Ajao: show notes here; download / subscribe / stream podcast here 

Links and credits

Download (and share) the podcast here: Lives in Music: Ruby Turner 

Or stream here:

Ruby Turner's website
Jools Holland's website
Find out about Fado music
Handsworth Evolution: a documentary I made in 2010.
Ruby Turner on YouTube

The theme music for this series is by local band Big Q Fish. 'Boksburg Jive Toon' was written by Brian Neil, and recorded at the Jam House, Birmingham, in 2017.


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Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Lives in Music: a new Radio To Go Podcast series

When you've played for ever, you've got stories to tell

    I'm launching Lives in Music, a podcast series. The first episode drops this Sunday, October 6th.

    I've been working on this for some time; I've thought about this for even longer. The series will feature musicians and music workers from our patch who have put in some serious time. These are people who have literally spent their lives making, or supporting the making of, music. Some are very well known; others less so. But they're all pretty damn fabulous and/or interesting. After hundreds of gigs - maybe even a thousand or more - which have brought me great pleasure, I want to try to give back just a bit. Hence this series of interviews. It's a tip of the hat. And the stories I'm hearing are amazing.

    So many people, so little time. 

    I have a list as long as your arm of people to talk to. I've recorded quite a few, aiming to complete an episode a week. That doesn't mean I'll be able to drop a podcast every week. There's editing, polishing, illustrating, and all the podcast gubbins to do. That takes time. So Lives in Music Series 1, kicking off this Sunday, will be a ten-parter, with an episode dropping each week. Lives in Music Series 2 will kick off after Christmas, all being well.

    Nailing some people down can be a challenge, too: after all, some of our outstanding musos are out playing five or six nights a week with different outfits, making money – at last - through their versatility. You can't begrudge them that when some were barely scraping a living forty years ago. 

    Free your mind and your music chops will follow

    I've long felt that musos can go in one of two ways in terms of creativity and craft as they get older. They can stick with what they know, playing the steady, the safe and the familiar; there's a market for that, and good luck to them. 

    Or - and this is where it gets interesting and wondrous - they expand and blossom as they grow older, embracing more styles and experience, for the love and the exhilaration of it all.  Often you find those guys tearing it up with huge smiles on their faces, in tiny places. Those guys interest me, and they're the ones I want to feature.  

    Not forgetting the enablers

    But there's also a host of people who work in and around the industry, who love the business of making music: promoters, instrument makers, managers. They also help to make all this possible. I'm talking with several for the series; several more have agreed to chat. 

    The joy of small venues where the magic happens

    These days, I spend more gig time in small venues, close up to the artist, than ever I did in enormodomes back in the day. The attraction? Well, apart from cheaper drinks and free parking, it's the music and the musicians, naturally. Especially the sheer craft of people who have been playing forty years or more. 

    I get more out of it, whether it's places like the Hare and Hounds in  Birmingham, or the Kitchen Garden Cafe across the road for Jazz and Folk, or any of the venues where the peerless Lisa Travis has been in charge, including her newest perch, the Prince Of Wales. There's plenty more - space prevents me listing everywhere. But I should mention, and give a tip of the hat to, the wonderful Paul Murphy. Paul ran his second Songwriter's Cafe for several years from his treehouse venue; I did online continuity for him. He was one of the people who showed me just how powerful great music, crafted from deep experience, could be in a tiny intimate venue. He was in no small way responsible for my thinking in this area, especially since he passed on.  

    So... who's on the menu?

    Ah, that would be telling. Series 1 will be an interesting mix. I'll have a fresh blog post, with all the relevant details, to go with each podcast episode. You'll be able to keep across who's in the series by following the Lives in Music podcast once the first episode drops. On top of that there'll be the usual Facebook and Tweetage. 

    But there is one stalwart, who I recorded with, who won't be going up as a podcast. Sadly, the audio quality just wasn't good enough. But not all is lost; I will transcribe, and it will be worth it. Steve Gibbons and I talked for two hours straight about growing up in Brum, where his first gigs were, who looked after him, and how he got started. He was meticulous. So that episode will see the light of day as a Radio To Go blog post... and I will be spending a lot of time researching pictures of the locations. It's making for brilliant Birmingham rock history. 

    It all starts this Sunday. Watch this space for a specific blog post, or check feeds on Facebook and the like. I'm very excited. 


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    Thursday, 19 September 2019

    RTE Lyric FM: a genius radio station under threat?

    Well hello there... my, it's been a long, long time.
    How'm I doing? Well, I guess I'm doing fine.

    Willie Nelson wrote that song, Funny How Time Slips Away. There are dozens of fine versions. It's a simple, truthful song of enormous quality. Songs like that get better with age. So do some radio stations, when they get the chance to grow into themselves. And so do some people, who blossom over the years. I'll come back to that. I'm working up a podcast series; I'll go into great detail in the next post.

    I've used that couplet because I have been quiet of late on this blog. I've been not so much under the weather as comprehensively flattened. It's taken me a while to wrestle myself back upright. So, my apologies if you've been missing any, er, shining thoughts. Now, to the meat of this post...

      Classical Music and the arts on the Radio. Under threat. Again.

    Photo: Peter Hopper
    I wrapped up a six month consult gig in April this year. The job was to set up the initial library and scheduling database for Bauer Media's new Classical music station, Scala Radio. It was enormous fun; it's work I love to do. What you heard at launch date was pretty much what I had been beavering away on since September 2018.

    I would not have got that gig without experience gained twenty years ago with the team at RTE Lyric FM. I worked with them, on and off, for five years from 1998. Now, Scala's project was top secret when I joined. So that made me a good fit, being the only person they could find in the UK with Classical programming chops who wasn't at Radio 3 or Classic FM. I had also worked in New York on the RCS gSelector scheduling engine, and that came in useful too. I wrote the online help there. Since then, of course, it's been much expanded to go with the program's development. And it was a strange thing to look afresh at the work I did in 2009.

    Lyric FM 

    Of course I didn't know it back in 1998, but the Lyric work opened the Scala door for me. Lyric was the most fun place I ever worked for. There were, and I'm sure there still are, some brilliant, articulate, eloquent broadcasters. The Irish can put their English colleagues to shame with their use of language when so minded. Lyric was bursting with talent and enthusiasm. It's the only music station I worked at where the majority of the staff actually made music. Over its twenty years, Lyric has been garlanded with awards at home and abroad. They run on a shoestring budget. Lyric's funding to awards ratio must be one the most respectable in Europe. But now for the bad news.

    A casual remark on an RTE TV show last week suggests that RTE are considering 'cutting' Lyric FM. It's all about costs: RTE are in even deeper financial difficulties than the BBC.

    It must have been sickening to learn this information at third hand. There's a part of me that wonders if the mooted decision to 'cut' Lyric FM was helped by geography. Lyric is based in Limerick; Most of RTE in based in Dublin. I know, to my cost, how capital city workers frequently regard work done outside the capital with contempt. In the UK, it happened at Pebble Mill in Birmingham time and time again. In fact, this week, In the Radio Times, John Sergeant bemoaned the fact that sometimes he was forced to travel outside London to do his BBC work. The poor lamb. It must have been frightful. The provinces! I shudder for him.

    Time for action?

    Be that as it may, the bald fact is that Lyric is under threat. And I encourage you, wherever you are, to sign petitions, tweet and email your support.

    Lyric is bold and adventurous. It is also a nursery slope, a training ground and a solid platform for broadcast talent that is out of the ordinary. Lyric champions a wonderful range of music. It is the home for much of RTE's Arts coverage. And it is astonishingly good value. If you haven't done so yet, take a listen here

    Here are some links to follow and addresses to contact: both the basic facts and the people who make the decisions. They need to hear from you if you care about adventurous radio.

    This link takes you to the facts as reported

    Dee Forbes (Director General, RTE)
    Richard Bruton (Minister for Communications) 

    On Twitter there is a group voicing their opinion: g
    o to @RTÉlyricfm 
    And use the hashtags: #lyricfmpublicservicebroadcasting #savelyricfm

    And sign this petition 

    See more radio and broadcasting posts on Radio To Go


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    Tuesday, 19 February 2019

    BRMB: 45 years ago today, a station came out to play

    Sedate? Pah. I was expecting big fun, tidal waves of emotion and mawkish sentiment. Why? Well some of us old originals at BRMB Radio threw a bash last Friday for staff members, to mark the 45th anniversary of the launch date, February 19th 1974. That's today. And the day after Friday's bash...I felt distinctly fragile. 

    I'm one of the BRMB originals. They'd hired me the previous November, along with the great John Howard; we were the first jocks on board. John left, quite early, to make his way to Radio 4. I stuck around for twenty years, ten on them on air as, mainly, a rock jock.

    Sunday, 23 September 2018

    What's The Product? Facebook tricks to consider

    I'm not a Facebook fan anymore. But I still check it daily. Others? Some NEED it. Still others USE it - really, really, use it. 

    Young users are deserting FacebookI persist, like many grey-hairs: I still want rich, funny, original posts.

    I read of milestones and music gigs. I'm in groups for old railways, radio stuff, local history, like that. I'm a nerd, and I don't care.

    I use it to announce my milestones, or to plug blog posts like this. If I score a reaction, I get that buzz. Facebook trades on people's neediness; I'm no different. Call me a hypocrite. I still don't care.

    Parish-pump Facebook stuff works. But as people shift elsewhere to talk to their pals, Facebook is increasingly about reaching potential punters and markets. Put brutally, we're product. That in itself is interesting.

    Saturday, 18 August 2018

    Have we hit peak Festival? Well, that depends.

    If your idea of a Festival is getting hilariously off your face in a stinky mud bath, with hopes of random copping off, your time has probably been and gone. But relax, they don't do that at Moseley anyway...

    Do NOT pray for rain. Photo by Alicia Zinn from Pexels
    It's been 49 years since Hendrix at Woodstock over there and Dylan at the Isle of White over here: 60s hippy enthusiasm sparking legends and juicy profits. Profits? Woodstock lost an absolute packet because of the rain (there's an ongoing theme here) but they seriously cashed in with the movie and the albums. 

    I have it on first-hand authority, by the way, that Woodstock was actually a ghastly ill-conceived and massively overcrowded shit-storm; to which I can add that the Isle of Wight shindig was rather fine, apart from the trek back to the ferry. But since then, things have rather evolved. The big boys moved in.

    Sunday, 29 July 2018

    That nice radio interview? Upcycle it to video

    Platforms for your audio, everywhere

    I've had a little play with some new software. I took some audio from a radio show I did a few months ago, and added images and captions. Now I've got a nice video clip. 

    The audio is excerpted from a lovely long interview I did with the great guitarist Gordon Giltrap, now based in the West Midlands. The full show is on Brum Radio's listen again page

    Gordon tells a terrific story early in the interview; I found myself telling and re-telling it to friends. Gordon tells lots of stories, often in very compelling ways: take in a live show and you'll see what I mean. So I don't want to use too many of them up. But this was an lovely little tale, a nice candidate to embellish. I've put it up in this post, as a YouTube clip, after the jump.

    Sunday, 17 June 2018

    Chris Bowden: new album, rave reviews, a '96 classic reissue, and major hometown gigs. Not bad.

    What a difference six months makes - 4,380 little hours...

    Half a year ago, I wrapped up a complex two hour documentary, 'The Lost Concert', about alto sax jazz hero Chris Bowden. It's still scoring nice numbers on Brum Radio's listen-again. I built it around an unheard 65 minute live set,  captured by Neil Hillman at the CBSO Centre in 2007. 

    Chris's thirty year career has seen amazing highs to go with some desperate lows. He was key to the 90s UK Acid Jazz scene; he helped launch the Heritage Orchestra; he has played with strings of super-influential outfits; he continues to create genre-busting brilliant music.

    Now, with a new album, there's been some interesting developments.

    Sunday, 10 June 2018

    Small steps, big success? A new take on crowdfunding

    A fledgling Brum publishing house takes a different tack.

    Now, a success story. Just under two weeks ago at date of this post, local author JP Watson launched a crowdfunding appeal for his Pound Project. The goal was to hit a modest target, funding printing of a short story and raising funds for a charity that supports new writing. As with many such projects, the more you put in, the sweeter the reward. JP has dreamed up some very attractive options.

    Good news: JP met his £500 target in three days flat, and the project is still pulling in funds. Why? because the short story in question comes from the wonderful Paul Murphy, who left us in 2016, having made a huge mark on the cultural life of Birmingham and beyond.

    There's lessons to be learned here. I chewed them over with JP last week.