Sunday, 26 February 2012

Urban Folk Quartet; TG Collective. Two GREAT bands. Folk, Jazz, Latin, World. Your call.

New CDs launching this and next month. Shared musicians and connections. Academic rigour, passion and skill. 
New nujazzfolk albums abound in Birmingham this spring. They’re all different, but with common threads. The musicians all work with each other, for a start. Tracking who plays where is bewildering. It’s musical promiscuity of the highest order, and as always with promiscuous behaviour – let’s put this delicately - cross pollination will take place. I think I’ll stop exploring that analogy any further before I get into trouble. 

Both bands here are as much into Jazz as they are Folk. The key is experimentation, adventure, and a lot of fun on the side. The danger is that we take this brave and appealing work for granted. Please, don’t ever do that. Savour it; appreciate it, support it if you like; but don’t take it for granted.  

Urban Folk Quartet
UFQ: Broughton, Trigas, Moon and Chapman
Less than three years ago, UFQ – short for Urban Folk Quartet - didn’t officially exist. Three albums on, they’re one of the guvnor UK folk bands. They set a fearsome standard, effortlessly winning must-book status on folk and festival circuits across the UK and Europe. Teaching forms a large part of their background, the widest of wide musical experiences another, jaw-dropping technical skills a third, and genial enthusiasm and experimentation a fourth. 

I caught their first two gigs – opening for Jo Hamilton at the Glee Club in Birmingham City centre, and their official lunch at the Cross in Moseley. Both were lovely, musicianly, powerful, confident affairs. I loved them, but I wondered then how they would fare. I didn’t have to worry. For a brand new operation, they’ve done really rather well…

“We were quite careful about when we became a brand new operation”, explains UFQ cajonista Tom Chapman. “We probably did a little bit more prep and rehearsal before we started gigging. After our first Birmingham gigs, we headed out to Belgium, Spain and Italy. It’s always been part of the ethos of the band to try and get work abroad. With Joe and Paloma s' histories, having travelled widely and built up some ready made connections, that’s how that part of things came together”. 

It doesn’t hurt that they’re well connected. Joe Broughton teaches at Birmingham Conservatoire, of which more later, and he and Paloma Trigas teach at the Guildhall School in London. Tom also works with Joe for Music For Youth, and at the Barbican in London. So there is a certain academic cast to the band. Frank Moon, the fourth member of the band also teaches, has probably played in more bands in Birmingham than anyone else (of course, maybe you know better) .and is an examiner; and they all teach workshops too.
“Joe and I do a workshop called Folkworld in Devon, which is rather fun. Joe led a group at the Last Night of the School proms, with Music For Youth. They let me play cowbell…  The workshops are all about live music and getting kids going, getting them really excited about music. We don’t use any notated music at all. No music stands… everyone’s standing up ”
Tom’s background includes the excellent Old Dance School, who are also about to release a new CD, and session work with Katrina Gilmore and Jamie Roberts, TG Collective… and a lot of jazz. In fact, many of the nufolk musicians I’ve talked to recently are also seriously into jazz. So this is where I shot myself down in flames: 

Why do you think the Folk scene is so much healthier than the jazz scene?

"Oooh. That’s an interesting one. It depends on how you define ‘healthy’. The jazz scene in Birmingham is amazing; there are so many people playing. It’s harder to create a full-time career out of it." 
Who would you cite as doing really interesting jazz in Birmingham at the moment?
“Michael Fletcher is really good. He runs a night at the Spotted Dog in Digbeth, every Tuesday. The bands that he gets up, every week, are fantastic. He’s a really good example of a graduate musician (from Birmingham Conservatoire) who’s doing really well. And Soweto Kinch, obviously. He’s someone who has managed to have a bit more mainstream success.… “
UFQ’s Birmingham CD launch gig is right at the beginning of the March tour, March 3rd at The Yardbird. While you’re waiting, here’s something from 'Off Beaten Tracks' to whet your appetite.
Rosiña's Story by The Urban Folk Quartet
On Saturday 3rd March, UFQ played a scorching and very showy set at the Yardbird in Birmingham. The crowd? seething and seriously up for it. You don't get that too often with Folk music. Great skill and musicianship I expected, and got; what really knocked me out was the old-fashioned showbiz savvy they built into their show. Haven't seen that since Horslips, ages ago..

TG Collective
TG Collective: Barker, Pursglove, Fekete, Slater and Jones
About a month later, the first official CD outing from the TG collective arrives: It’s called ‘Release the Penguins’, and TGC have also kindly allowed me to include some material from it.

The kernel of TGC - Sam Slater and Jamie Fekete - were two thirds of Trio Gitano; when   Sophia Johnson, departed for Western Swing and Country with Toy Hearts, Slater and Fekete settled into a more flexible line-up as TG Collective

You’ve got a lot of different people working with you in the Collective. That implies flexibility.

“It’s fairly settled”, explained Sam Slater this week. “We are six musicians. Occasionally we’ll get special guests in, and have fixed deps when we need them.  Depending on our set and venue, we also sometimes perform with Ana Garcia, a great flamenco dancer.”
There’s a degree of musical promiscuity in Birmingham, where people fly from band to band, infecting each other with musical ideas…
“It’s true! There’s a lot of cross-breeding going on.”
And how is it that the Folk/NuFolk/Experimental sector, which you are seen to be part of, is so much more prominent  than Jazz? What’s your take?
“I suppose Folk has always been popular and perceived as more accessible for audiences, from the fifties folk revival onwards… And Jazz has (often unfairly) sometimes got ‘that’ image if people don't know much about it. If you sell yourself solely as a ‘jazz band’, it has to be different. It can’t be just another standard bebop tune if you're trying to do something new.  And you have to be an incredible instrumentalist.  In Birmingham it’s actually going rather well, with the Spotted Dog sessions, Cobweb Collective stuff, Harmonic Festival and Birmingham Jazz.  I don't think we're particularly 'folky', but folk (especially some festivals) now seems to encompass a lot of broader styles all with their own followings – you can include singer-songwriters, world music, and an awful lot more. Even the Destroyers can find a place there”

TG Collective - On The Run
After all this time, this is a first album for TGC. The album was recorded in a cottage in Shropshire, with two London-based engineers, Joe Peat and Alex Merola, both friends of the band, using portable kit.
“They took all the gear in; you could work to your own hours. If you wanted to do something at 2 in the morning, you could. It was a really nice vibe. Most of the material was put down there, with a couple of overdubs in London. It feels… right.  Alex is Uruguyan, so has a different perspective on things, and that added to the mix.  Him and Joe were just as important as musicians in the band, and now do our live sound as well.  Gypsy Jazz is one element, Flamencos’ a second, and Contemporary Classical another ”
And there I was thinking I was going to write up experimental Folk….
“Of course! But it’s quite hard to put your finger on it and say this is what we are”
It’s been a long time coming.

“Yes. We didn’t finish with Trio until 2006, and the Collective didn’t start until later that year. It’s been a while.  It took a year or two until we settled on a line-up that we were happy with. Logistically, recording was tricky. Various band members – there’s that promiscuity thing again - had other projects and family obligations.”
Percussion is a newer element. Players who are part of the collective include Tom Chapman (see above) from UFQ and Joelle Barker from ADO and half a dozen other outfits. Louis Robinson of the Destroyers takes a key role; Percy Pursglove - Jazz lecturer at Birmingham Conservatoire - is now a fixture on trumpet and double bass. 
Release the Penguins - TG Collective  
All this is making me think about the role of the Conservatoire in supplying players, teachers, mentors and musos who have chosen to live and work in town. And the next steps for TGC?
“After taking god knows how many years to produce this album, finances permitting, we’ve certainly got another couple we’d like to do pretty soon. We quite like the idea of having a couple of full band pieces, and then me and Jamie working up two-guitar pieces, but with different guest players on Kora, Sitar… a different recording direction”
Urban Folk Quartet site  
TG Collective site 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Birmingham Opera and the New York Met: different creativity, different audiences, different marketing. Same goals.

Opera. Big-budget belters and small-scale savvy. It’s all good… but it’s still a bit of a secret. 

A fat lady. Not singing for BOC
With 21st century media, there’s no connection between what you find and what you pay. Works of towering genius go for free; silly sums are asked for derivative crap. Often, we're charged for the cost of distribution rather than the creativity. I can’t complain when I find brilliance for pennies. Creators, rightly, do. 

Two very different things are going on in Opera in Birmingham. There’s a local company that does brilliant work, so rooted in its market, with passionate local participation, that sell-outs are virtually guaranteed. People fight for tickets. The other operation offers work from one of the most powerful, stylish and all round fabulous companies on this planet, for a relative pittance. They have had to fight, ultimately successfully, for their audience. It doesn't make sense, but it's great all the same.

Although they’re not that well-kept a secret, the first time you’re likely to hear about Birmingham Opera Company (BOC for short) is when you read yet another five star review of an edgy, provocative performance that’s already been and gone. Venues are never conventional – warehouses, old factory premises – nor are the productions.  
BOC operates from a tiny office in the Jewellery Quarter, bulging with paperwork and posters. Luxurious it’s not. Jean Nicholson runs it; Graham Vick drives it, directing and working part-time. From a core full-time staff of three, staff numbers scale up and down around productions.  

Past BOC glories
 The company is famous for its shows and the way it involves you in those shows. The action explodes around you. Go to a show – if you can get a ticket – and you’ll be surrounded by singers. It’s great. People LOVE them. So now they have an interesting dilemna. 
Kindly reproduced courtesy of Birmingham Opera
“The ethos of the company is to take work to places audiences that didn’t get opera” explains Jean Nicholson, “to make opera speak to more people, and to have lots of involvement with local people alongside the professionals. One of the great myths is that it’s cheaper to do it this way.. but it’s not. It’s more expensive because it takes more people more time to get it to the standard you need it to be.”
You can guarantee to sell out these days – not least because of the number of people who are involved with the people who participate. So how does that square with your mission to take work to new areas and new audiences?
“In general the ticket-buying public, regular users or music, theatre and the like, know to book ahead. A lot of the people we’re trying to reach don’t. They’re very last minute. We have to skew our tickets to those people. That can make it hard to find tickets. It’s a difficult balance to achieve. I have to hold a proportion of the tickets for friends, relatives and colleagues of people who are appearing in the show. It’s of great importance that people who spend many, many weeks, working really hard, can get their kids, their partners, their grandparents in to see the show. Those people won’t be first in line with their credit cards, ready to buy tickets. And without those people, the shows don’t take place.” 
Kindly reproduced courtesy of Birmingham Opera
All that said, if you’re quick, you can grab tickets online. 50 percent of tickets for the next production are now on sale through Ticketsellers via the BOC website. So it’s possible that by the time you read this, they may have already gone.

The production ‘Life Is A Dream,’ a world-premiere production, runs for seven nights between 21st and 31st March at the Argyle Works, the former McDermot factory building in Digbeth, Birmingham. Here's a shot from the press show/
live rehearsal, by kind courtesy of Pete Ashton; there's more below, and a link to the full flickr page.

From 'Life Is A Dream': photo Pete Ashton
Life was hectic in February, with full-scale choral rehearsals and detailed show prep work in hand; now with the production running, it's even more so.
“One of the biggest problems for us in choosing a venue is size. There are very few buildings that are big enough now. The nature of Birmingham’s industry is small engineering, so our choices are limited. We used this building two years ago, and we are going back there now – although the heating doesn’t work anymore!” 
Size matters. A BOC production involves a lot of people: around  200 people, and up to 500 audience members. I keep finding people I know – generally adventurous music types - who are deeply committed to BOC. They sing in the chorus, or build sets, or dj at afterparties. You read that right – afterparties. For an Opera company. The Dj in question last time out was Marc Reck. I find that impressive and very cool.   
Sue Nicholls is a BOC chorus member, when she’s not working on rock tours, or playing gigs. She loves it to bits.
“Mere mortals like me don’t get to perform at the BBC Proms! But we got to perform Britten’s ‘Curlew River’, the first staged opera in the history of the proms. And WE did it! Birmingham Opera did it! And we got four five-star reviews for it! You don’t get to do that in real life, and perform with world-renowned opera singers. It just takes your breath away. Five stars in the Times! And it’s innovative! And it’s in Birmingham!”
A brilliant institution. But tickets are hard to find, so go get yours now. And/or volunteer - they can use all the help they can find. Here's a link to the Life Is A Dream page on the BOC site. As on Monday 21st February , tickets went on sale. Great price, too. 

At the time of this mid March  update, the show is in mid-run, with an even more spectacular show promised for the summer. Here's some more shots from Pete Ashton's flickr page:
From 'Life Is A Dream': photo Pete Ashton 
From 'Life Is A Dream': photo Pete Ashton 
From 'Life Is A Dream': photo Pete Ashton 

Now, another best-kept secret. A world away from funky warehouses, in the Cineworld multiplex up at the top end of Broad Street, you can catch New York Metropolitan Opera performances, live, about once every three or four weeks. It's a bargain: work from one of the world’s biggest and best, flashiest and most stylish opera companies, for twelve quid a pop - the same as for BOC productions. You didn’t know about this? Nor do many people, but word is spreading fast. Three years ago, the Met productions were pulling in a few dozen people in Birmingham. Now, maybe four hundred roll up, and the numbers are growing. They’re thinking about running the shows in several rooms.
New York's Lincoln Centre, home of the Met
It’s a brilliantly simple concept: live relays of shows at the New York Metropolitan Opera, under the overall banner of 'Live in HD'. A 1pm matinee in Manhattan runs at 6pm in Birmingham, 7 pm in Paris, 8pm in Helsinki, and 10pm in Moscow.. They screen at Cineworld and a number of other locations around the Midlands. The productions are top notch, with the biggest names, great production, and brilliant onscreen hosts to walk you through the whole operation, working backstage and shooting live. A lot of spit and polish has gone into the relay, and it unquestionably works. The big challenge has been for Cineworld’s local staff to develop their audience.
“When we first started, we weren’t sure how it would be received” says Cineworld’s Vinod Mahindru. “We hadn’t shown Opera before, and our first audience numbers were pretty small. But we wound up talking to choirs, societies, our own audiences, and music institutions around Birmingham. It really was a question of getting the word out. Now, there’s strong word of mouth, and we’re very pleased”
Götterdämmerung's fabulously flexible hi-tech set. Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera
They should be. A week ago, the biggest screen in the multiplex was packed, for a six hour star-studded Wagner marathon – Götterdämmerung, the conclusion of the Ring Cycle. Go Vinod! That’s some going for an institution which knows how to sell 'The Iron Lady' or 'Shrek', but which has had to work out how to reach an entirely different audience. It turns out that Birmingham’s attendances are among the best across the Cineworld chain. What’s more, their audiences are now getting younger. And it appears they’re rather better behaved than your average 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Twilight' crowd.

Following the lead set by the New York Met, other opera and theatre companies are now offering live relays and repeat screenings. They’re going to have to work hard to catch up. The Met has gone out of its way to engage with its global audience. Just like Birmingham Opera, they don’t simply put out a show and wait for the punters. They reach out, very effectively.

The goal is to bring great work to new audiences. Both operations are succeeding. Both operations are totally different in scale, in budget, and in their own unique senses of adventure.  And I for one am really glad we have both of them in our town.

Birmingham Opera Company

Metropolitan Opera Live In HD season details

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Micky Greaney and Dan Whitehouse: hearts and souls on the line

Two great talents. Two different creative approaches. Two tracks exclusive to this post.
Richard Shakespeare at Shakeypix
I might horrify a few people here, but I hold that Adele - six Grammy awards this weekend - has a lot in common with Micky Greaney and Dan Whitehouse. Of course, Adele is now rich as Croesus; Dan and Micky certainly aren't. But like Dan and Micky, she rips out great chunks of her heart and soul and presents them in song to the listener, directly, honestly and free of artifice. She, too, is a singer-songwriter. So she still has a tough time of it.  

More than other performers, singer-songwriters need your close attention, because they have something they want to say. It can be deeply personal, intense and passionate; it can be simply the sharing of a whimsical thought. If the audience is open and accepting, a bond forms between performer and listener, and all the pieces fit. 

 When it works it’s a wonderful thing. When it doesn’t work, say in a pub where punters just don't care about what you're doing, it’s painful. A gig last month comes to mind. 

Both Micky and Dan have albums in the works. Both have let me have an exclusive track for the blog. Interviews, links and tracks all follow...

Micky Greaney
Photo by Paul Ward
Back in the day, Micky Greaney, fronting a twelve-piece band, was regularly touted as the next big thing. That sort of thing can become a burden: as many will agree, there’s little, if any, correlation between great talent and potential, and ultimate success. 

Micky cut a wonderful 1994 album, ‘Little Symphonies For The Kids’ with Bob Lamb, at his studio in Kings Heath, Birmingham (now Highbury Studio).A link to some of the songs from that album is at the bottom of the post.

But now there's two more albums in the pipeline: a further album from sessions at Abbey road with John Leckie, only now seeing the light of day, and an album that will emerge from intensive sessions going on right now with Greaney's new band. This track is a preview track from Mickey's forthcoming long-lost second album.
Now, two decades later, he’s in full flow again, working on what will only be his third album.

Are the old songs are out of date? How do you feel about them now?

There’s nothing that’s going to date the songs... All the instruments we used,  could be fifteen years in the future, or it could be now, or fifteen years ago. Anything I put on is an organic instrument. But there’s little flavours in my song-writing that are of that era, which I probably didn’t notice when I was writing. 
Your older songs stand up well. Simple arrangements with mainly acoustic instrumentation. They're remembered with a lot of affection
People want the older material, because they know it. They can be quite precious about what I do! It’s hard sometimes to simply get up with an acoustic guitar and just present new material.
But how does it feel to know that people think they’ve got a piece of you?
I feel really flattered! If they care that much, it’s a sign I must be doing something right, as a writer. And I think the new group of songs I’m working on now are really beautiful.
So as of now, there’s a gig towards the end of the month, and another one in April. It’s not exactly start-again time, but there have been hiccups along the way… 
Yes, there have been. But I would rather focus on the amazing band I'm putting together and some positive directions. In some ways, it is a new beginning - positive and beautiful like the people I'm working with. The rehearsals are very special, it's our debut gig, and that really is the most important thing to me.
Who’s in the line-up?
Me, Jason Ensa on bass (RV: hooray!), Suzie Purkis and Hannah Malloy on vocals, Chris Shobrook on piano and keyboards and Matt Rheeston on drums
And what are we going to hear on the 23rd at Symphony Hall?
You’re going to hear a solo set from me, in the first half. The second half lets me debut the band. As for the songs - people who know me will know some of them. But we’ll play some new songs.
The Symphony Hall was a remarkable success, with BIG numbers, friends, family and fans. Micky reeled off some classics and some adventurous new material. 

You’ve been working at this for some time. What about the creative process in all of that?
The process to me is like… falling in love. I’ve got really good friends, who’ve invited me to their workshops. They meet up once a week, they write a song and they record it. That’s like asking me to fall in love, at the same place and the same time, once a week. When it works, the songs just fall out. Or I can wake up, having dreamed a song.
When you put your songs out there, highly passionate, personal, intense songs, you’re laying your heart out on a table in front of people.
If you deliver, an audience is a really appreciative lover. If you don’t you get the opposite reaction. It’s like any relationship. You can get complacent.
 Dan Whitehouse

Back in the 1998 days of Micky Greaney’s twelve piece band, Naomi Phoenix opened for him at the Irish Centre in Digbeth. Accompanying Phoenix on guitar was a young Dan Whitehouse.

Like Micky, Dan writes elegant songs that open up to you. But unlike Micky, Dan takes several different approaches to crafting his material.

I’m not interested in pure confession just for confession’s sake. It has to be filtered through skill and craft so it can be digested easily. 
How do the songs arrive? Micky says they just fall out when the time’s right… or he wakes up when he’s dreamed a song… a very pure and instinctual process… what about you?
Sometimes that’s happened. I’d echo that. I also very much feel that you have to get the guitar and the pen and the book out, that you have to get a lot of raw material out, in order to get to the little crystals, the little nuggets of gold that are in there. If you can’t write anything good, you have to write something mediocre. And then, later on you’ll write something good. It’s important to get stuff out. Little snippets and nuggets… almost every day. In the moment of creation, you might think something’s rubbish. Two weeks later, you might see it in an entirely different light.
Dan works and worries at his songs – he speaks fondly of a Songwriter’s workshop with Tom Robinson, and in turn he now conducts workshops in Birmingham; details of which are at the bottom of the post.
Tom Robinson introduced me to the Immersion Method. It’s wonderful. It’s an American idea, and it’s centred around a 20 song ‘game’. You set aside a 12 hour period. You then push yourself to compose twenty songs in one day, in complete isolation. It’s about going under, getting locked in, connecting with a sense of creativity where you are literally messing around – so that the ideas flow. It’s very difficult to find the time and space to do it, because there are so many distractions and responsibilities in our lives.
And that worked for you?
Certainly did. In that day I got to about 17 songs, and several of them are worthy of recording and release, including this song, "Come Back".
I asked this question of Micky too: what about presenting your very personal songs live for the very first time? 

Two things: One, other people have done it for me. I’ve been blessed to see great singer-songwriters revealing themselves. I’ve enjoyed that process of listening and watching so much. I want to return that. I love this art form. And also – I’ve always done this. My motivation for learning the guitar, since the age of 12, has been to express myself. In that sense, I’m comfortable with the process. If I’m playing a song for the first time, I’m nervous, because I know I’ll beat myself up if I don’t get it right. But I’m not nervous about revealing myself.
The next few gigs will see Dan showcase his current album – Dan Whitehouse – and some material from the next album. And as many others have done, including The Destroyers, as detailed in this blog, Dan is setting up a pledge campaign to fund his next album, with the working title of 'Landscape'. As for his collaborators, Dan is as thrilled as Micky…. 

There's a collective of Midlands musicians that work live and in the studio with me - John Large on Drums, Steve Clarke Bass, June Mori Piano, Tom Bounford Violin, Simon Smith on upright bass, and  Michael Clarke who produced his debut LP on Banjo/Synth/Guitar/Harmony vocals. Oh, and Joelle Barker on percussion and Chris Brown on Pedal Steel
You can stream the current Dan Whitehouse album for free from iTunes – but obviously he’d like you to buy it. And if you like what you hear and you write yourself, Dan also does Songwriting workshops himself, at Mac Birmingham (details below).

Dan Whitehouse website

You can stream or buy Dan's current debut solo album at iTunes, or buy it from his site. 
Songwriting workshops at Mac

Monday, 6 February 2012

Shambala and Moseley Folk: summer scheming in the bleak midwinter

Quiet relaxing times for Birmingham's festival planners? Not a chance.
I’m so old, I was at festivals in the 60s. Dylan, The Band, Family, Third Ear Band, Tom Paxton, Richie Havens, the Moodies and more, at the Isle of Wight. It was chaotic, good-natured, and, of course, stoned; but not particularly expensive. The next year, Shepton Mallet: Zeppelin, Santana, Fairport, Canned Heat, Byrds, Country Joe, and on, and on, and on. More expensive; indescribable toilets. Just as stoned, of course. The UK Rock Festivals site covers all this rather well. I dug around to see if I could find myself in the crowd shots, but you try picking out one bearded pony tailed bloke with John Lennon shades from dozens of others on the grainy black and white crowd shots. A needle in a suburban hippie haystack. 
Those 60s and 70s festivals were full-on free enterprise ventures, overlaid with the faintest idealist ethos. Since then, festivals have - I use the word deliberately - mushroomed. There's hundreds. Some are great, some diverse and eccentric, some super-specialised, and some - too many - built to separate you from your money as efficiently as possible. Idealism is rare. Glastonbury is still seen as cool, by the BBC at least, and is a must-play venue for artists. Others give you little more for your money than touring acts on the take, a sea of mud,  expensive concession stands, and corporate branding upfront and centre.

There are exceptions…..

Summer festivals feel like a lifetime away. But for those who do the planning, right now is when it gets complicated and frantic. Birmingham’s Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul has already had its launch party; the festival itself isn’t until the end of June. Its big brother, Moseley Folk, runs at the end of August. And fabled but elusive Shambala, held in remotest Northamptonshire but organised from Birmingham, runs the preceding weekend.  

Half a year away from d-day, both Moseley Folk and Shambala are trying to pull off the interesting trick of bringing in advance ticket sales without revealing too much - or indeed, anything - too far in advance. Mystery, magic and surprise is part of the deal at Shambala, while Moseley builds anticipation by going  public about its star billings in a splashy, deliberate and calculated way. It's an interesting challenge to try to glean details of what's been settled already.  While I'm pretty confident about some of the brilliant local bands and acts who will appear - you'll find quite a few of them featured on this blog - it looks like both festival teams are busy painting their portraits not so much on canvas as on water.

Squeezing time out of organisers at this stage is difficult, but I eventually had long chats talking Shambala with Jonathan Walsh, of Kambé Events and Jibbering, and Moseley Folk with John Fell,  who also fronts the excellent Goodnight Lenin. Both were gracious, if rushed off their feet. Kambé also work with St Paul's Carnival Bristol and Reggae City Birmingham. Jibbering, some people may remember, was once a hip record shop in Moseley, with great expresso, cool music, and free wifi. A fine combination for customers. Sadly, there was only so much free browsing time Jibbering could afford to dish out to customers who then used Jibbering's free wifi to order the records Jibbering sold... from Amazon. Jibbering continues with regular promotions at places like the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham, and elsewhere 

Jon Walsh first…

It’s a crowded festival timetable. Yours takes place on the same weekend as Reading.
What’s the most important thing to nail right now?
JW: At this time of year, boringly, one of the most important things is the budget. What venues are we going to have at Shambala, what the make up of the event is going to be, what proportion of the budget we’re going to put into art installation, as opposed to music or site services…
When you started, what did you have in mind? Has it deviated? Is it a monster out of control?

JW: It is a monster, but it’s not out of control. When we started, it was a stage, and a few friends…. and a party!. Twelve years on, fundamentally, that’s still what it is. The analogy is, it’s a bit like a rolling stone that you guide along its path. It’s such a creative force in itself – new things pop up, new perspectives arise each year.
If we weren’t in the 21st century, I’d have thought I was having a conversation with you about a festival from the late 60s, full of idealism and goodwill. But this still a business, and it’s still got to pay its way…do you ever get caught in the middle?
JW: You're right. That ethos is still very very true. It’s a massive event with massive budgets now. Hand on heart, we try to make sure the whole event is fair. We won’t suddenly go out and book an artist for £50,000, and have to skew what’s happening across the rest of the event. In the early days, we did beg and borrow kit and make it happen. Now, we’ve moved into a realm where we have to put money in, and then balance that shift from doing it for the love of it to having to pay for certain things.
So, a philosophical approach. Beyond discussing the multimedia approach of  Shambala, John will not be drawn, either on who is appearing, or exactly what sort of non-music events are planned for the Festival, except to say that they do, inevitably, suffer from leaks... and this year it may lead to their publishing some details in advance... which might help sales along.
JW: The difference is that Shambala isn't so much about the acts, it's the fabric and depth to the event... the people, their respect for each other, and their open mindedness... something to discover every step of the way...
Nor is the Shambala location, a constant for some considerable time, ever formally disclosed. This may seem wilfully perverse, but it’s part of the package, and it works. Those who go swear by the festival, and return yearly if they possibly can. If you want to find out more, you need to ask around, or try to read between lines on the website. It was amusing to see the Guardian describe Shambala as a boutique festival last year – my guess is they didn’t have much of an idea what was planned.

But that doesn’t stop the marketing exercises, which are in full swing on Facebook right now.  And here’s a sweet video made last year.

Again, it comes down to selling the festival as an idea, rather than a music destination. Nor does it stop the advance sales. All the Shambala Early Bird tickets are already gone, and sales are 80% up this year on last.

Compare and contrast to Moseley Folk, five minutes away along Fazeley Street from Kambé's Custard Factory headquarters. The Moseley Folk team also delivers the Jazz/Funk/Soul festival and a string of other events throughout the year. Tickets do not go on sale until the end of this month. Moseley Folk announce details of headliners in advance of the event (but not just yet), following up with details on freshly booked acts,  to hopefully generate a steady stream of ticket sales. The affable John Fell of Goodnight Lenin - not a total surprise to see them happily already on the bill, as you'll see - does most of the festival publicity. 

What’s the most important thing to nail right now?

JF: The most important thing about any festival should be the music. At present, we’re working hard on bringing the line up; there’ll be a lot of acts that the usual Moseley Folk crowd may have not heard. We’re trying to confirm some international acts. We need to tie these in early to make sure we have the music which we want to promote.
When Moseley Folk started up, what did they have in mind? Has it deviated? Is it a monster out of control?
JF: The key aim was to give folk a platform. The same philosophy is still there although now at at a higher level. We are especially proud to offer local bands the opportunity to play along international household names.
Moseley Folk and Shambala have very different policies on announcing headline acts. You go public early. How soon to you tie yours down?
JF: We start to look into the line-up two months or so after the festival has finished although don’t start confirming bands until the New Year. Although we are confident that Moseley Folk has a regular audience who trust our programming, we like to announce the headliners as early as possible. This year we will be announcing the line up in segments to add a little excitement.
What about an early scoop on a star name - just one - for when I publish this conversation?

JF: Ha! Goodnight Lenin are on the Saturday bill!... Unfortunately, we're not announcing before 1st March. It's all very nu-school.
Shambala runs on exactly the same dates as Reading, and that is deliberate. What sets the timetable for Moseley’s festival dates?
We always run on the first weekend of September. It’s the best time: all the commercial have been and gone, and we can relax in the autumn with a beautiful independent inner city festival.
Posters, press, radio or word of mouth? What's best for you?
JF: Everything! There is a lot of competition when it comes to festivals although we don’t see it like that. We encourage new events all the time however have to be wary that if we don’t focus on all promotion channels we may not reach all those that would be interested in the acts that Moseley Folk books. Therefore we work with Radio, Press, and Posters which all help in creating a word of mouth buzz around the festival.
The festivals do not overlap; the choice is therefore yours - Shambala, Moseley, or even both. One thing to bear in mind: you’re going to see an awful lot of the same people at both festivals. It’s just that at Shambala people may look a little… weirder… but in a good way. Prices? Full price at Shambala will run you £119 for up to four days; Moseley Folk haven’t announced their prices yet, but the three-day Jazz Funk and Soul event will run you around £79; I expect something similar for Folk.  For comparison, Glastonbury tickets ran you £195 in 2011.

Moseley Folk