It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m taking stock. In many ways, this has been an extraordinarily diverse and creatively fresh year. I’ve found myself both trying new things with new techniques, and also handling old-school projects in new ways. I’ve met some truly great people, and worked with new and old friends and colleagues on some inspiring projects. I’ve pushed myself both creatively and technically, and winkled out some new skills. All that’s good, and in some ways a very pleasant surprise. But, as it says at the top… we live in interesting times. There are a lot of clouds on the horizon, both for music and radio. But let’s do the good stuff first, shall we?
Yesterday (Thursday 30th December), I spent a very refreshing and pleasant hour guesting with Brett Birks at BBC WM. It’s on the BBC iPlayer for the next six days or so here – scoot through to the start of hour 3 to hear it. We were talking music, local issues, and trailing the BBC WM transmission of my Handsworth Evolution documentary. This was a commission from Birmingham Music Heritage, and I don’t think that they or I had any idea of how the piece would be received. The doco is permanently up on SoundCloud; you can get there from this blog page. The doco was also aired on WCRFM in Wolverhampton on Boxing day, and it is due to get a further airing on Rhubarb Radio in the new year. That’s lots of stations, and the more the merrier, say I: as I stated when I put the thing upon this blog, the doco is available, free of charge and gratis, to any station that would like to run it – just drop me a line and I’ll get a copy to you.
This was a sweet, sweet project to work on. I have had some truly lovely feedback. There really was something special about the Birmingham Music scene in the late 70s and early 80s, both in Handsworth and Balsall Heath, and indeed across the whole city. New and enthusiastic players emerged from all sides, bursting with skill, creativity and optimism. Rock Against Racism played a crucial role in introducing audiences and musicians to each other.
I’d like to think that time laid some foundations for the sparkling cross-cultural collaborations we enjoy now. It’s too easy to view each new generation as sweeping away the conventions of their crusty and conservative forefathers. In fact, now that we are seeing some of the children of those great 70s and 80s musicians make their way in our local music scene, I know this is not the case. Sometimes, anyway.
Five or so weeks back from yesterday, we launched the Pilot Project website. I’ve written at length about this, and it’s fair to say that the site has had a gratifying impact. Lots of traffic, lots of time spent on the site exploring. I am especially grateful to my fantastic team of advisors and collaborators, some of whom went far, far beyond that extra mile to help the project find its feet. You know who you are; I can not thank you (or, indeed, pay you) enough.
The next steps are already underway. However, I won’t go into detail just yet about these. But if you haven’t been to the site yet, why not go there now? Click around. Read about how it came together. And, above all, explore some of the sensational music from our region.
There’s more: I've seen new and exotic client radio stations for the consultancy side of my business. I’m also now a proud member of the RNIB Talking Books reader panel, and I can’t wait for my next assignment. It’s serious fun, and I work with people, many from radio, who know the power of the spoken word in a way few others do. And I am pleased to be able to report that – tentatively – Rhubarb Radio seems to be building solid foundations for its future. Props to those good people who are making this happen.
Now… the downside. Mmmm. Where do you start?
I mourn for many of my talented radio colleagues, people I trained and worked with back in the day, who now, saddled with mortgages and bringing up families, have to carve out a new future outside of an industry that has decided it has no need for their talents as it rolls its radio ‘brands’ out across the country.
I hate the notion of a radio ‘brand’. It's got everything to do with not communicating... in an industry whose lifeblood is communicating. Maybe the Radio industry thinks its brands are akin to a chocolate bar…something you pick up easily because you know what it is, no matter where you are. And maybe that’s so. But maybe it’s also the case that a brand is such a familiar and known quantity that you can throw it away all too easily.
Here’s a scenario: I’m ditching my long-term fave station. I stuck with it when it suddenly morphed into Flake FM a couple of years ago. But I’m tired of that now, so think I’ll go over to Wispa FM. There’s really not a lot of difference, and somehow I don’t much care for either these days, but it’ll do for now. I suppose. Until something better comes along. Or maybe I’ll just go off cheap predictable sugary bland confectionery altogether, because they do this stuff better on the web or on the telly.
Closer to home, I hate the way our local music industry is being starved of venues because property developers want to make a quick buck running up shoddy flats, and in so doing, try to get long-established neighborhood music venues declared noise nuisances. I know we need more housing; no argument there. Possibly we don’t need so many ‘luxury’ flats, but I’m not the one selling these, so how would I know?
I do know we absolutely need our venues. We need our talent to be able to work in those venues. It’s all part of the local economy, dammit. The next UB40 is out there. But if they can’t get started, then there’s no chance that the next UB40 will develop into a long-term vibrant business that will generate dozens of jobs and millions and millions of pounds for the West Midlands economy over the next 30 years. But, hey, some property guy from out of town will have sold a few more cheap flats and made our neighborhoods even more sterile. So that’s all right then. If you doubt that this is the case, just read this.
There’s more of course: Arts funding, for example. But I think I’m going to stop there. I’ve ended this year in a much better place than I thought I would. For that, and for the talented and generous creative world of radio people, arts and music people and, especially, music makers, that I find myself sometimes part of, I am truly grateful.
Here’s to 2011. We all need a good year. I hope we get one.