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.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The for-Wards project


40 Wards 10 Districts 10 Composers 40 Community Groups 10 public performances... One person's vision


I'm sitting in Moseley's Maison Mayci with Bobbie-Jane Gardner. Her project, for-Wards, is about to shift up a gear, with tangible (and audible) results. This is an impressive and complex programme which will have generated ten specific works of music, each one inspired and in many ways powered by ten districts in Birmingham.

Bobbie-Jane deserves huge respect for nurturing such a project into life. Long-term, complex projects are always tricky to set up, and it's always tougher than ever to secure enough funding to support the work.


Sunday, 20 May 2018

BRMB Stories: It's half past one in the morning. How are YOU doing?


Don't play 'Misty' on the Late Show. Older readers will get this - or just look it up.


I'm still deep in my archives. Here's another story, ahead of our night of BRMB Radio nostalgia this Thursday 24th at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in King's Heath. More details on that below.

It's the end of the 70s. Punk was pushing Rock dinosaurs out the way; the savviest punk operators (Police, Squeeze, etc.) were already going mainstream. Joining Punk was Two-Tone, straight outta the West Midlands. Coming up on the other flank was Disco. Different strands picked and pulled at what had been solid for ten years. Things were changing. Rock was on the back foot.

Maybe with that in mind, BRMB Radio moved me from evenings to the late shift. Maybe they thought rock was over. Maybe management didn't actually like rock. Maybe they were just sick of me being intense about early Dire Straits. 

Something had to give.

Monday, 14 May 2018

BRMB stories: the night Judas Priest blew up Barbarellas

Priests's last ever gig at Barbarellas: literally a blinder. 


I'm in the mood for stories, ahead of our BRMB night on May 24th. Scroll down for info on that, if you like.

This is a 70s tale of the early years of Judas Priest, and my days as rock jock on the old BRMB Radio.

In 1974, the first album by Judas Priest was released, shortly after BRMB went on air. I flat-out refused to give it airtime. Dug in my heels, very much got on my high horse. Nope, nada. My stance caused some tension with the record company. There were repercussions; I'll come to those in a bit.

Looking back, you have to ask why a rock jock worth his salt would snub a local band that became Heavy Metal standard bearers? Ridiculous, right?

Well, no, not quite. I had my reasons...

Sunday, 6 May 2018

A dig around in my scrapbook.

 

Stuff to be proud of! And deeply embarrassed about too...

 

In a couple of weeks, on Thursday 24th May, I'll be perched on a stool, trying to get a word in edgeways in between the Ross brothers, Les and Tom. We'll be at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, Jenny Wilkes and John Slater too. 

We're doing a benefit gig: a shamelessly nostalgic BRMB night honouring our colleague Ed Doolan. It's a tiny venue; you'll be able see the whites of our eyes. So if you want to go, get your skates on. There's really not that many tickets left. Full details are at the bottom of the post; here's the link for tickets... 

However, do read on: I have some corking stuff to tell you about.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Disposable? Sure. Remembered? Oh, yes.

We don't always realise what we're doing when we're in the thick of it. 


Next February, it will be 45 years since the old BRMB went on air from Radio House in Aston. Of course, a get-together is planned with as many of the old crew as we can summon up. It's not just to celebrate; we had a knees-up for the 40th birthday, after all. But, increasingly, we're losing some of our old colleagues. So we're not going to risk leaving it to the 50th anniversary in 2024.

Now, while everyone can still actually walk, these old work bashes are brilliant fun. But they're for us. There's quite another dimension: the audience. The listeners, the people who listened to and engaged with the old station.



WOLD? Not quite. And if you don't know what that means, this isn't for you.


I'm not claiming that pop radio of the 70s 80s and 90s was the be all and end all of broadcast milestones, far from it. We were disposable, like everything else. But it's easy to ignore the relationship the old BRMB built with its audience. If you dig back on Facebook's frankly lovely Old Pics of Brum pages, you'll find, somewhere around mid-March, a shot of a young Les Ross at the BBC Birmingham studios, where he had registered a solid impact (amazingly, considering the early restrictions imposed on BBC Local Radio), before eventually making the jump to BRMB. You'll note well over a hundred comments on that Facebook page, all brimming with warmth and nostalgia, mostly for what Les cooked up back in the day once he moved to Aston Cross.   

Radio House at night, back then. Photo Andy Wint  

I read all the comments. The affection that Les's work still commands is touching. It's just as touching for me when I get letters to this blog from people who used to listen to me playing rock music and local bands as they revised for their A levels, back in the day.

It's amazing when you think about it. But a lot of those 70s and 80s stations had a curiously effective impact, emerging as they did in a pretty restricted radio field. You only see that when you look back; it's often the way. But there is a powerful sense of nostalgia among a certain age group: boomers.  And nobody's stumbled on it, in my town at least, until now. 


Most pop radio reflects the time it is part of; then it's gone, instant ephemeral fun. But that entirely disposable entertainment plays a part in our lives. Sadly, the people who take it too seriously are often the jocks themselves. That's a mistake in my view, considering how the role of Radio DJ – a bringer of music, bathing in that music's reflected glory – was tenuous at best, and has now been massively undercut by the arrival of web services. 

I really think that that Radio DJ role belongs in the past century, when it still mattered. And there is a deep well of affection and nostalgia among many people for what the old BRMB managed to achieve, in its bumbling and well-meaning way, from the 70s onwards, in its 40 years. So memories spark, here and there. Maybe it's time to see if there's something more tangible.     

Come say hello...


Valk, Wilkes, Ross (T) in back, Ross (L) & Slater upfront
May 24th sees a gathering of old BRMB presenters at the tiny Kitchen Garden Cafe in King's Heath in South Brum. I'll be there, along with John Slater, who inherited the rock shows from me when I became a backroom boy. That alone, in terms of Brum rock history, is an interesting combination; it's well-suited to the venue too. But that's by no means all. Les Ross will be there. Jenny Wilkes, who still presents a Northern Soul show at BBC WM is coming. And the most passionate sports commentator I've ever met, Tom Ross, will be there as well.

... and raise a bit of money.


We're not making anything from the event. The night will raise funds for both Dementia research and the Ed Doolan Memorial fund, honouring our old colleague. That's very important to all of us; it was a joint decision.

So this is new: a first public night of BRMB memories and tales with some of us who were there at the time. A first face to face Q and A with old Birmingham radio hands. Tom never ceases to remind me that he was the longest-serving BRMB employee; I can respond by reminding him that I was the very first DJ the old station hired. We've all got stories to tell.  

This is an experiment, and it is slightly skewed towards the rockist end of BRMB's listenership, what with me and Slater, gassing away at the Kitchen Garden Cafe. I expect Les, Tom and Jenny to redress that. It's going to be a lot of fun. There will, I hope, be a bunch of other old hands in attendance, but what really tickles me is the prospect of talking to listeners.

But think beyond that, to the other events that were sparked by BRMB: events like the Walkathon. Think of some of the other presenters that you might remember with affection. Think of events like the creation of XTRA-AM, hands down the most successful Gold station this country has ever seen. Think back to Trevor Francis being merrily lambasted by Tony Butler when he became the country's first million pound footballer. Or the Villa fans walking past BRMB studios of a Saturday afternoon, raining down fruity abuse on Butler's head. I could go on.

This implies that we might see more events like this; I hope so. It all depends on how this one goes. 40 years of radio action doesn't, can't, completely fade away... until the people who listened fade away too. 


Links


The BRMB gathering is at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, York Street, King's Heath, Birmingham B14, on May 24th. Advance tickets are £10 from We Got Tickets; more on the door.

The gig is organised by Music Majors who run monthly music Q and A sessions at the Kitchen Garden Cafe.


Ed Doolan - an appreciation on this blog; other associated posts here.
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Sunday, 25 March 2018

A conversation With Music: Gordon Giltrap.

This week, I'm thinking guitars and guitarists. Especially those with a few miles on the clock.


I was at a gig last week, packed with music veterans. Among them, the great guitar player Tony Kelsey, who, along with fellow muso Matt Worley, has criss-crossed the country collecting superstar guitarist signatures on a Fender, soon to be auctioned, to benefit Jerry Donahue: that particular story is here. There's hardly any room left on the guitar for more famous names. I came away thinking... guitar.
 

Guitarists. Skills. Seems to be a good combination.


Guitarists just seem to carry on longer than many in rock. The Guardian just ran a review listing the many incarnations of 70s prog-rockers Yes, all of whom tour; it's not just UB40 who have a bad case of multiple fractious identities. The last sentence was key:
Arguments still rage about which band is really Yes, but with 70-year-old guitarist (Steve) Howe’s virtuosity undimmed... these time-served warriors are surely entitled to a few more moments in the sun.”
So, the incredibly ancient Steve Howe still struts his stuff. Good luck to him. 


The joy of watching skills honed over a lifetime


I take huge pleasure in watching veteran musos still at the top of their game. It's long been said that the very act of playing music is good for you, and I believe that. Of course, you need to avoid rock and roll excess, and factor in the sheer physical strain of, say, strapping a plank of wood across your shoulders for half a century.

But it's heartening to see so many of the musos I know from back in the day, still spry, still up for it, still savvy, and still, above all, thoroughly enjoying their craft.



A reunion forty years on


And that brings me to the newest radio show I've been working on. In 1976, as a young rock DJ at the old BRMB, I was very taken with an album from Gordon Giltrap. Again, I invite you to look him up if you're under 40. We met when he did the radio circuit to plug his album; it was a nice interview. 

A few years later, Gordon hit pay-dirt with 'Heartsong', which he still plays. That paydirt got richer still when the song was chosen to be the theme tune for BBC TV's Holiday programme.

And late last year, we met up again. Gordon's still here, and happy to be here too. He's still spry, as nimble-fingered as always, and as positive as ever. I went to his house to for what turned out to be a long and very convivial chat. Gordon is a man with stories: he has extraordinary tales of the UK 60s folk scene, when, starting as a fresh-faced 18 year old, he met, befriended, played and collaborated with some of the giants of the UK folk revival.


Conversations with music. Live music.


Now, every so often, I've been lucky to conduct an interview with a musician, who in between the chat, will sing and play right there in the studio. I did one a few years back with Brum favourites Steve Gibbons and John Caswell; another with Steve Ajao and Dave Wakelin. They were lovely shows to do, recorded under studio conditions, and if you are interested, Brum Radio has both on its listen-again page, here and here.

I love this kind of show. I've long wanted to do more. But of course, you need the right elements. Those are: favourable recording conditions, a musician of stature and experience, who can, and will, switch seamlessly between story telling and playing, ideally as naturally as if you were simply having a conversation. I'm thinking fondly of some rather fine pub nights in Killaloe in the West of Ireland, some 16 years back. Music conversations flowed and sang across the room. 



Pick up your guitar and play....


But you know what? Those elements all came together when I sat down with Gordon Giltrap. Gordon rolled out some great stories, and the cherry on the cake was that he was happy to break out his guitars, talk about them, discuss structure and technique, and above all play some stunning stuff. It was thrilling to sit three feet away from a great virtuoso, watching him play, really close up. I was very lucky.

So now, after some careful assembly work, you can hear the results. It is, indeed, a conversation with music. I haven't made this as a DJ show, with in-show intros for every piece of music; Gordon's live work is front and centre in the show, but on top of this absolute luxury, there are snatches of music from influential stars of the day as they came up in the conversation.

If you know all of these pieces, you're probably over 40 years old. If you don't, I list them at the end of the show. And when the show goes on to listen-again, as it will after its two Brum Radio airings, every detail will come up on your player as it happens.

That's why it's a conversation with music. Listen online right here...




I'm planning on doing more.  


Links: Gordon Giltrap's website
Photos from Mick Dodsworth
 

See more music posts on Radio To Go

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Sunday, 18 March 2018

Paul Murphy with Ragman Jones - a last recording

It's been two years now, two years and some weeks,  since we lost Paul Murphy. 


Nick James - you may know him as Ragman Jones - has been putting out songs since I don't know when; I've been listening for maybe ten years. Just recently, he did something very special, putting up a MixCloud file of a session recorded with Paul Murphy, shortly before he died. These songs - and the chat, never forget the Murphy chat - must be one of the last things Paul committed to tape: rare, and very precious. 

The songs are typical Murphy: clear, direct melodies to carry complex subject matter, with beautiful lyrical invention. Just Paul's voice, his guitar and some judicious augmentation with banjo and xylophone. Then there's the stories and chit chat to enrich the experience. It sounds like it was done in Paul's kitchen, with a bit of reverb off the flagstones, and the hiss of the kettle. 

I got that prickle in my eyes...

All credit to Nick: it's magnificent listening. Sure and the levels from song to chat are a bit uneven, but it captures Paul in a way that I tried many a time to do, and never quite succeeded. Nick caught the stories on his phone:
"My involvement was firstly being around and allowing Paul to feel comfortable. I did take a lot of time thinking about how to turn the recordings into something that began to capture the essence of Paul's intent. And the stories - well, for that, I left my phone recording. We were recording conventionally anyway. The phone remained in record mode for almost the whole time. It was initially to create a reverb/echo room mic sound, but when I realised it had been on while we were chatting between songs, I left it running. I thought it would be good to capture 'story telling Paul' and it worked well because he didn't know... So that was part luck and part knowing it would be forgotten about."
Well, what a great thing to do. It also eclipses my botched attempts to do the same sort of thing. Paul and I spent hours and hours plotting and exploring, sometimes with the recorders running, more often not. But I never got anything like Nick's recording. I am so impressed, and so pleased that it's seen the light of day.


Paul Murphy's magic was his positivity and endless enthusiasm, and that combination of evocative songs and fountains of fantastical story-telling. This is how he worked best: relaxed, happy, expansive and hugely, poetically, articulate. He always had the ability to expand and improvise, to work the most unlikely material into something special. That, too, was what made his Songwriters Cafe sessions of a warm summer's evening so magical. Almost up to his death he was exploring, questing, encouraging, writing and planning.

There was always so much to talk about. Paul and I asked 'what if...?', over and over again, across a vast range of possibilities. Possibilities is the key word here. Nothing was impossible round Paul.

 
Thank you, Nick! The plan is to get this material out as widely as possible, to those who would appreciate listening to Paul one more time. I'm pleased and honoured to lend a hand. So check these links...


Links and Credits

Listen in full to Ragman Jones' recording

 
There's lots more Ragman Jones on his website, including a download of the above.
In 2016, I did a Paul Murphy audio tribute when I heard the news. It's Brum Radio's most-listened to item.

Photos: Richard Shakespeare (top, bottom); Ragman Jones (middle).
And check out this Songwriters Cafe blog post from 2012. Behind the scenes with Paul and the Aubergines.... 


See more music posts on Radio To Go


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Sunday, 4 February 2018

Dempsey / Broughton

Two generations of UK Folk. Oh, the stories...


Joe Broughton
likes to play varied crowds. Here's a clip of his Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, shot on Monday 25th. Joe took his 68-strong troupe to blast bleary-eyed morning and evening commuters at New Street station; it was part of Birmingham City University's open day. 

 


Audience numbers? Who knows, but maybe ten thousand people passing through the station caught the blast.

Dig around on YouTube and the like. You'll see Joe with his Urban Folk Quartet,
one of the finest Folk outfits the UK has right now. There are festival gigs filmed in Europe in front of audiences in their thousands. That's before you pick up on the specialist fiddle masterclasses, or his own one-day festival, Power Folk, at The Spotted Dog in Digbeth.

And in a couple of weeks he's playing the 60-seater Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath with long time friend and collaborator Kevin Dempsey. So is the Dempsey / Broughton gig likely to sell out? I would expect so.