Sunday, 29 December 2013

Looking back over 2013

Good to meet, sorry to part, look who's done great... all that 2013 stuff

Everyone's doing reviews this week. The newspapers and telly are full of epic people who did epic things. Lots of grand stuff.  

This stuff isn’t grand, but it's great. It’s about creative talent at its newest, freshest and purest. That's more important, in my view.

So, here's part 2. Part 1 is here. Some striking, amusing, enchanting, and saddening things from 2013. And some things I’d like to see, and things which will happen next year. Of course, I’ve missed things.  


If our paths have crossed this year, and I haven’t listed you, please don’t take umbrage. You can't squeeze 60+ posts into one. I want to hear about your best of 2013 too - do, please, leave comments. 

Sunday, 22 December 2013

5 lessons learned this year: Musos are more interesting than Jocks...

Do it for the love of it. You won't let anyone down, even if you get let down.

As last year, here's five lessons I learned in 2013. But before I get to those, a word about this blog. 

I am really, really happy, to report that Radio To Go’s readership has grown quite nicely: from ten thousand total page views at 2011 year-end, it chalked up forty thousand total views a year later. And now, it's over one hundred and twenty seven thousand

That's more than trebling total views two years in a row. Thank you! Bashing out 1500 words each week is a great discipline. Recently I’ve tried out tiny one-topic midweek posts too. They are easier to spark debate with, because they are one-topic issues. 

So that's the good news. After the jump, here's five things I learned - or maybe finally admitted  to myself - in writing this blog this year.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Don't you point that thing at me, pal #4: Steve Gerrard @ Brumlive

It's not all about spraying and praying... there's detail, there's action, there's a story 

I don't write gig reviews. There are excellent West Midlands sites that do; you'll find links to several down the right of this page.

One of these sites is Brum Live, run by Steve Gerrard the long-established music photographer. Brum Live exists partly to be a platform for new photographers and writers. If that interests you, there's an email address at the bottom of this post.

Steve is a details guy. Just look at this shot. He's done tons of big names, lots of local guys, and he still prefers smaller gigs. It's all about the gig, the musicians, the crowd, the interaction... the action. All shots are reproduced here by kind permission. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Brothers Groove

You can play 35 notes if you really want. 3 sounds just fine from over here

Brothers Groove have a lot of miles on the clock. Their music is not, by any definition, cutting edge or new: stylish blues and funk with a little bit of jazz in the mix. Hipster bands half their age might well sniff – until they see how much work the band gets.

Then again, hip or not hip is beside the point.  Lots of people try to get this stuff right in the UK; many miss the mark. Brothers Groove are doing ok: their music breathes. It has space and taste. Think Robben Ford, Crusaders, Little Feat, Steely Dan in their prime. That kind of ballpark. And...` they’re brummies. There’s a second album in the can - samples later in in this post - and a plan.

Friday, 29 November 2013

This Is Tmrw: New bands, new music, new promoters

For some time I've been thinking of writing about how promoters work. But I haven't got around to it. Why? partly because it's complex and secretive - and not everybody operates, shall we say, fairly. Few promoters will offer up financial details, obviously, and that's something I'd really like to write about. 

So I am grateful to Julia Gilbert and the This is Tmrw team for stepping up to the plate - and we didn't really discuss money anyway. Like musicians, promoters do gigs for different reasons. Here's two teams taking parallel directions with different approaches. Both of them share some problems and have some solutions. Both are idealists. One team does it for love; one for love and, with a bit of luck, money. Both are important to the music infrastructure of the West Midlands. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Recouping on Spotify? You'll wait a LONG time

More on that level playing field - here's how it works in the Spotify corner


In the last two months Thom Yorke, David Byrne and many others have gone public about Spotify's poor payments. Led Zeppelin and the Beatles are largely absent from the site, arguing there's more to be made from back catalogue sales of their bodies of work than the site's streaming royalties. 

It's hard to disagree when you look at the numbers. But: we're not in 1985 anymore; in 2013 there’s a new, harsher, musicbiz reality. I don't think there's ever been a fair and equitable payment system for musos. But now? Clear winners, clear losers, and way too many barriers between the two... 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Urban Folk Quartet: what happens when a key member leaves? The classic problem.

How can Urban Folk Quartet handle Frank Moon's departure? Time for radical thinking.

       Joe, Paloma and Tom are staying....    Frank's going....    and Dan's coming  
Urban Folk Quartet are a cheerful bunch. They're fun to watch and very good at going about their business. In fact, they're a shining example of how to do things; other bands could learn from them. Musically, they deliver mainly storming high-octane instrumentals, with a bit of vocals and a lot of badinage, and bravura instrumental work from all four members. 

Up to now, this included fabulous oud and guitar playing from Frank Moon. But Frank's skills and career are taking him to all sorts of new places. So, regretfully, he is moving on, leaving UFQ with a huge hole to fill. The big question was: how do you replace someone like Frank Moon, who has been so integral to the band?  How do you transition?

Joe Broughton (fiddle, expansive personality) and Tom Chapman (cajon, percussion, clever stuff with triangles) spent time with me this month going though their options. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Sofar Birmingham: Songs from a Birmingham Room with Cannon Street

Pop-up gigs in strange spaces. Who's on? Don't know. Take a sense of adventure with you

There's a great story in here, about doing the right thing. The story takes in a folk festival, sharp idealistic new talent, several up and coming folk bands, putting it out there and getting something back, some very solid principles - like showing some respect and really listening to performers - and a lot of people who just do what should be done. 

I love watching new talent emerge. There’s a buzz to catching someone fresh and exciting for the first time. If they're good, you almost have to support them. Interestingly, there are a surprising number of people who feel the same way, and are dedicated to helping this process along: Paul Murphy’s wonderful Songwriters Café sessions, hopefully soon to return, Sophie Handy’s Muzikstan and Tom Martin’s Tower of Song are three West Midlands examples; there are many more.

That great story? You may have heard of Cannon Street: they are Nadi and Rukaiayah Qazi. If you haven’t listened to them yet, you should, so there’s a couple of Soundcloud links further down this post.

Cannon Street on the Moseley Folk Lunar Stage, 2013
Cannon Street are enthusiastic and inventive. They write lovely songs, pick interesting covers, and deliver all of this with charm and passion. I did a tiny piece about them in this blog post
, after their debut last summer at Moseley Folk.

And here's the really great bit of that great story: Two years ago, they volunteered at the festival: you do two shifts and catch the rest of the festival for free; maybe you do a bit of schmoozing and networking. Oxford’s Stornoway were a main attraction. Radio 2’s Janice Long, as usual, was compering, and listening out for new talent, as she always does.
 
Nadi: 2011 was the year we volunteered! We got talking to Janice Long who very kindly introduced us to Stornoway after we told her we were big fans and that we sang a cover of one of their songs... We then found ourselves singing it to them backstage in their dressing room tent! Pretty surreal really! Stornoway have kept in touch ever since – Ollie (Steadman) has been an amazing supporter. 
You never know wno's listening. You never know who will react to what you put out. One thing leads to another. 

Sofar Sao Paulo: pic from Madman.com.br blog
It turns out that Ollie Steadman is the Oxford organiser for Sofar SoundsSofar? It stands for Songs From A Room. It is grassroots music making, co-ordinated globally through a pretty slick website. Organisers put on ‘secret’ gigs in living rooms worldwide. These are then shared and streamed to music-lovers on the web. If you sign up for a gig, you won’t know who is playing, or where the gig is – just the date. The rest is revealed when you get there. So you’re trusting the organisers. You might think it’s an iffy proposition, but it’s not. Paul Murphy works the same way, and the Songwriters Café never lets you down.
Nadi: We were asked to play at the first Oxford Sofar – our first or second ever gig. Ollie Steadman runs it in Oxford. So then we volunteered to do one in Birmingham. We hosted it in our living room. Four bands – ourselves, Goodnight Lenin, Count Drachma (Ollie Steadmans’ side project) and To Kill A King. It was lovely. From there, Sofar asked us to carry on… 

We host secret events in popup gigs – unusual spaces, different venues. They’re really small, intimate events. We have three to five artists at each event. Everyone plays unplugged. Percussion is stripped back – brushes or muted with cloth, and minimal amplification – maybe just a bass amp. So bands can play. The idea is that you attend the whole gig. You sit on a sofa, or on the floor. 
So this is small-scale – thirty to forty people? 
If it’s a living room, which it often is, that’s right. 
That implies some serious thinking going on here about how performers and audiences can interreact. When it’s that intimate, you can get some special moments. 
It can be incredible – just that moment where you’re captivated by what’s going on in front of you. There can be a really broad mix. 
How do you pick the artists who appear? It must be very tricky to decide who’s going to play. 
It is. It’s our role to book artists. We also have a team of film makers and engineers who shoot and stream the events. We can see who is playing at other events, and request them to come and play at ours. We contact artists directly, and artists also get in touch online, offering to play. There is a waiting list. We slot them in where we think it the best fit for a really nice mix. 
In Berlin, from the Sofar Sounds Berlin Facebook page
Nadi, this is secret, but it’s not that secret, or we wouldn’t be talking. How do people hear about your gigs? How do they get in touch? 
We have a mailing list. If you check out our videos online, or our Soundcloud, there are links allowing you to subscribe. Or you can go to the Sofar website and subscribe. Then you are notified about the events that take place close to you. The location is revealed only the night before the event. 
You’re asking for a commitment, aren’t you? 
Yes, We want the best possible audience for the artist. We ask that people don’t talk during the performances unless they’re singing along, and that they don’t use their phones unless it’s to talk on Twitter, or Facebook, about what’s going on. 
I like that. You’re using all the trappings of 21st century social media to go back to the very essence of live performance. Lots of work though? 
Yes, but it’s worth it when you see the event take place. I think I’m quite spoiled now. 
If you dig around the Sofar website, it’s clear that a lot of time has gone into developing the concept so it can seed itself in new cities. The trick is always going to be to allow enough local autonomy to encourage grassroots growth, harnessing local idealism and savvy to a solid support and advice network. Nadi and Rukaiya have leant heavily on this support. 

Now tell me about your own music operation… How are you guys doing? 
We’re working on our first EP. We’re always exploring. We’re working out how we’re going to progress form being an acoustic act – two voices, one guitar - to having other instruments and extra musicians. Rukaiyah bought a really cool electric guitar the other day! We’ll be doing a video soon. We’re shooting next week, but I don’t know when that will be ready. 
I’ll stick it up on this blog post when it’s done...

I told you it was a great story. It touches on so many of the right things. I’m interested in the relationship between the audience and the song or the performer. You’re a performer, sending some ideas out. Who’s listening? Who’s reacting? Is anything getting in the way?

Pop and corporate mega acts can be fun, but that stuff doesn’t feed your soul. And it can not, ever, compare with the conversation that goes on when a person steps up and sings and plays, to you, live. When you’re ten feet away from a performer with something to say, it’s rare and special. It takes more than performance magic to make that happen. It takes a framework and an attitude – respect for performers and a welcoming open mind to listen with. I salute the people who make this happen. 

Links:
Cannon Street
Sofar Sounds

See also
Six acts latecomers missed at Moseley Folk 2013 

Tom Martin and the Tower of Song
Songwriters Cafe 2012: feeding the five hundred



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Sunday, 3 November 2013

Casino: Fourteen years of one step forward, two steps back.

A revised and expanded version of this post 
is included in the new Radio To Go ebook, Survivors 

Casino are still swinging. Their number might be coming up. At last. 

Photo from Jo Ostermeyer
For someone who has taken way too many false turns, who has run into endless broken promises, who’s gone back to square one far too often, Adam Zindani is remarkably chipper. Casino, one of the two bands he plays in, command great local loyalty. They deserve it, they're a fine rock band. But their story brutally illustrates just how much the record industry has changed around them during their fourteen years. From mega-deals to fighting to hold on to artistic control and self-production – it’s all there.

In many ways Casino are carrying on the great Birmingham rock tradition, even if the band members weren't even born when the original 70s metal monsters roamed the land. Strong songs, good players, they look the part: all this has attracted regular interest from big music biz players … who then, regularly, don't follow through.

I’m interested in their durability. When the record industry was imploding in the face of web competition, they threw a lot of bands overboard, destroying careers at random. They did that to Casino, several times. In response, the band has been jumping hurdles just to stand still, for a long, long time. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The oldest Bitch in Birmingham

Rich Bitch studios. What kind of name is that? For starters, a pretty long-standing one

Update: Saturday 6th Dec sees a Rich Bitch Anniversary gig at the Crossing Birmingham.  Rob may even strap on a guitar again. Lots of star guests from the studio's history. Buy tickets here.
 
In the Lobby: Rich Bitch's
very own Manikin Pis
When you chart local music history, artists get most attention. Maybe a bit goes to venues, a tiny bit to the fans. But we don’t hear stories about the other guys: the road crew, the PA boys, the promoters who put up gigs, the lighting boys. All of them enterprises that both underpin and depend on the business of local music. 

Then there are rehearsal studios. I like rehearsal studios. They mix professionalism and knowledge with a constant stream of new young talent. Sure, there's muso ego and grandstanding, but there's also the chance for of ideas to flow and mix, for contacts to be made. These places smell of hope, potential, aspiration. And work and sweat - in a good way..

Here’s a story about the oldest rehearsal studio complex in the city, which also houses its oldest continuously working recording studio, with a client list that reads like a rock Who's Who: Rob Bruce's Rich Bitch. It's an odd name to work with in 2013, but we'll get to that. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

On being a DJ

The Buggles got it wrong. Radio killed the Radio Star; DJs now live somewhere else.

No, I didn't use this rig. Honest.
Thanks go to the Ableton forum.
Last week, I DJ’d a gig. Ruby Turner at the Crossing

I don’t DJ that often. When I do, it’s for serious fun and good reasons: because I like the idea, or the night, or the band, or the organisers, or whatever. 

On the way home from my stint, it struck me how the word has travelled, shifting in meaning from its radio origins. The noun DJ has become a verb. It has become a Title, a descriptor. Its meaning has changed, dramatically. Disk Jockeys often don't play disks these days.

Hey, when did it shift? Now we have DJ Culture. Now, you DJ a gig; or maybe you do a DJ set. Or you call yourself something like DJ Krooshal to tell people you’re doing a gig, fly-posting those traffic lights. Me, I’m DJ Urassic, I like that. But I don't fly-post. 

All this is a very long way from Make Believe Ballroom or the Geator with the Heater playing the Platters That Matter. The Geator's still going, still on US radio after well over fifty years. But that only takes us back to the sixties. You need to go back a further thirty years to when the term was coined.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Ozzy as Brum Rock Tsar! Nooooooo.....

Where are the dead megastars with mansions in Moseley when we need them?

Every so often, our elected and appointed leaders stir their stumps, look around blinking, and cry: “Music! Aha! Yes! That makes money! Let’s DO something to exploit our rich heritage!” 

They form committees. They write reports. Sometimes they do a bit of research; not much, though, that costs money. They witter on about music tourism. They print glossy brochures and pat themselves on the back; job done.   

Then it goes quiet. Something else grabs their attention. Politicians must have the worst cases of ADD. At the coalface, where today's musos toil away, nothing changes. And once in a while the press gets hold of this stuff and pulls out the most headline-grabbing story it can. It happened this week. 

Some bone-headed functionary at Oxford Economics, in a Government-backed report, has put forward the notion of music ambassadors for our major cities. And the ambassador for Birmingham would be… Ozzy Osbourne.  The Independent has jumped on this. 

Now, Ozzy's a nice chap, but come on. It’s not a great idea; really not. My reasons after the jump.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Redbeards From Texas started a joke. It very nearly got serious.

A tale of fake beards, real success, and pencil pushing bureaucrats.

A long time ago, a South Birmingham boozer, the Selly Park Tavern, was hosting a radio gathering: lots of people from West Midlands stations, many no longer in existence. 

Onstage: The Redbeards From Texas. A seriously fun band that, later, came this close to breaking though; a whim that almost, almost made it. We’ll get to that. But that night, in front of the assembled might of Midlands radio, they were playing for laughs. They pulled people up onstage to sing with them. 

That was fun... until they fingered me. Ooops. I didn’t know the words to Born In The USA, so I bawled the chorus a couple of times, and retreated in confusion. Oh, the humiliation, and all in front of a roomful of my peers. Bastards. 

If you google ‘Redbeards From Texas’ now, thirty years after their glory days, you’ll find a surprising amount of material – videos, a discography and reminiscences. This was a band that made a mark. Craig Fenney (aka Bud Weiser), has a ton of stories after the jump.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Police Bastard: still angry after all these years, deep in Punk's underground


"I think there have been times when we’ve been in danger of disappearing up our own asses."  

Death, Doom, despair and TERRIFYING NOISE... discussed.

Mister Doom                            Mister Sampson
As a young rock DJ, I covered the decline of progressive and hard rock throughout the 70s. Pub-rock rose and fell, global forces like Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac emerged, and Birmingham moved from Monsters of Metal to cross-cultural mixes, (UB40, Apache Indian, the Beat, Ruby Turner). Oh, and let’s not forget New Romantics. On second thought, let’s.

By the end of the decade, Punk emerged, to be rapidly commoditised as product and fashion trend (Generation X anyone?), and used as a career-launching platform (Police, Squeeze and Boomtown Rats). Then the mainstream lost interest, so Punk went underground, morphing from a bunch of snotty teenagers flipping the bird at the man, into something else altogether. Above all, Punk developed staying power.

Police Bastard were punks once. Now they’re punk/metal/thrash, a set of 40 somethings with a remarkably long history, and a new album, Confined.  The dumb rebellious simplicity of the late 70s has been replaced by something more complex, more considered, even dutiful. The music? Savage as ever, of course – but now, these guys can play. Johnny Doom and Mark Sampson talk it up after the jump.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Black Country blues. From Detroit.

JST's latest CD - live, one take stuff
In November, a Detroit-based blues guitarist comes to Birmingham Town Hall. Nothing particularly unusual in that, of course, we get touring US musicians all the time. But this one’s different. Joanne Shaw Taylor is a Brit, born in the Black Country, raised in Solihull and elsewhere across the West Midlands, and she’s got a ton of local connections. .

Now, she’s based stateside, by no means the only Brit to have moved countries to further a career. More recently, Davy Knowles, from tiny Port St Mary in the Isle of Man, relocated to the US to further his blues career, while Birmingham’s Toy Hearts – familiar to Joanne from their sets at the Roadhouse in Stirchley, South Birmingham - are currently in the middle of a very extended spell playing Western Swing and Bluegrass and working out of Austin, Texas.

It's not the first time that British musos have taken their versions of USA music back to the mother ship. Rewarding though it may be, it’s not the easiest of paths to travel.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Eight musicians, eight different cultures. Five days to write, rehearse and prepare for one live gig.

A Birmingham story: Culture Shock
The inaugural Culture Shock in 2012
The day after this blog post is published, a clutch of musicians from across Birmingham will meet up for five days of intensive creation and experimentation, culminating in an evening of live music on Saturday 28th September, at St Annes Church, Park Hill in Moseley, Birmingham. 

This is Culture Shock, now in its second year. It’s a free event, supported by a range of institutions, and powered by the adventurous collaborative spirit of the participants - a leap of faith in many ways.

Keyboardist Pete Nickless holds this project together, working from a multi-purpose music studio at the seriously industrial top end of Digbeth, Birmingham. It bristles with instruments, including – oh joy – a Hammond organ complete with Leslie cabinet. And Pete's boundless enthusiasm. It's one hell of a brave project; yet another reason for us to have such fierce pride in our musicians.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Dan Whitehouse: old craft, new songs, growing audiences.

How a song develops, from raw demo to the finished article: hear both in this post. 

I first heard Dan Whitehouse when scheduling Rhubarb Radio’s output in 2011, in the dying days of its second incarnation. I used just local material, mixing the best of West Midlands music makers into one audio stream. 

It was great. I got to listen to lots of music in different combinations, which is always interesting. And I saw how unusual and new songs bedded in on air with consistent and repeated play, the way they are delivered on mainstream radio..

Dan’s songs worked brilliantly. The more they came round, the better they sounded. That may well be because of how he crafts his songs. They wear well; they stick in the memory. 

It seems to be working for him. On Sunday 29th September, Dan put together a particularly lavish hometown launch gig for his second album, Reaching For A State Of Mind. Unsurprisingly, the gig sold out.  


Sunday, 8 September 2013

Ruby Turner: keep your eyes on the prize.


I’m excited. Ruby’s got a hometown gig coming up. 
Ruby.  For people, not just midlanders, who know her and love her work, that’s all you need to say: Ruby. One word for one of the finest soul singers the UK has ever produced. She really is that good. 

For those who don’t know her, well, this is Ruby Turner, with a career that puts her all over Radio 2, on the bill at the Queen's Jubilee, as one of Jools Holland’s featured vocalists, on the bill at the 1999/2000 Millenium Dome launch, world tours, the lot. She's recorded with everybody, had hits worldwide, and for some time has very deliberately and calmly steered her own career with some hand-picked advisers.

So now we have a Ruby Turner band tour this autumn, with a hometown gig set for October 16th at the Crossing in Digbeth, Birmingham. I’m pleased. It’s been a long time…

Monday, 2 September 2013

Six acts that latecomers missed at Moseley Folk

It wasn't just about the headliners over a sunny weekend of music and more. 

I love the days at Moseley Folk Festival. There’s not the same focus as night-times. Instead, there’s a delicious open fluid vibe. People meet and collaborate; alliances and friendships are formed. Careers are launched. New talent is generously received by warm audiences; hardened established acts stop to check out the host of new local faces the festival showcases. 

I spent my time buzzing from stage to tent to stage, snapping, gassing, interviewing and recording; some of this is after the jump. The shots are mine except where credited. All but one of the recordings were taken live in the audience: warts, kids and crowd noise and all, and my deepest thanks go to the artists, and Moseley Folk Festival, for letting me post them. 

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Details: Too Late To Stop Now

When is a good time to start a band? And what do you want to do and say when you do start?

The Details attempt louche
Last week, at a motorway service station, two wannabe rock stars waltzed in as I slouched out. They were perfect. Shades, crucial hair, skinny jeans, tats, floppy t-shirts under leather jackets, and the killer look-at-me-I’m-a-star-flounce. 

Of course, had they been the real thing, they wouldn’t have strutted into Cherwell Valley services for a pee with the rest of us. But they wanted attention, throwing shapes while loading up on Krispy Kreme. Bless. 

It’s always a tricky thing, being in a band. But at least these boys had youth on their side to bash through the obstacles.

It’s trickier throwing yourself back in the game again after 40 years. The Details, four excellent musicianly veterans of the Birmingham scene, have just released a thoughtful, demanding album, loaded with sparkling fretwork and crafted songs. The biggest challenges they face will be getting new listeners to work at their music. And... they are old. Very old. Um, like me.


Sunday, 25 August 2013

West Midlands Acts on Video - who's watching?

YouTube views for local acts totted up, ranked and compared with the February numbers. There's some surprises...
Who the hell are are these guys? Read on...
Six months ago, just out of curiosity, I researched local acts on video, ranking by most-viewed. It was an interesting exercise, showing how different genres pull in some terrific figures. Six months on, here's a slightly refined repeat exercise. 

No such chart is perfect. With apologies to those artists I missed out on six months ago, I've cast the net wider, although this makes ranking some stuff difficult - do Rap Battles count? I've excluded these - but they might make an interesting sub-chart in their own right. I've also charted the increase in views over the past six months, which gives a rough indication of how an act may be progressing. In one case this has led to a spectacular and probably unrepeatable increase in viewing numbers. The new chart is after the jump.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Spoonfed by robots: What do we get from music streamers... and what do we give?

Step aside, Radio. The web is the hot way to get new music. Or is it? How we relate to music and performers isn't a commodity you can easily exploit. 

2010 Facebook traffic. Look - that's me, Liking The Destroyers
A question: where do you go for new music? I follow tipoffs, or I catch a promising support act; I dig around. I use the web, but I'm not happy.

I rarely get any leads from radio now. After decades listening to people putting themselves before the music, or relegating music to filler status, there’s only a few shows I can stand to listen to. In truth, that's probably how it should be. 

And it's fun following my nose to live and local new stuff, before it becomes product. There are inventive, fresh performances to discover, played to interested audiences. Do this, and you’re a grassroots part of something unique, priceless and intangible, that’s at the very core of the music industry. That's what this post is all about.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Moseley Folk. John Fell would like a 30 hour day, please. And no hangovers.

2013 Festival season #4: Three weeks out from Moseley Folk, with four hour Goodnight Lenin rehearsals, This is Tmrw work and solo gigs to juggle…


Courtesy Skakeypix
John Fell is ridiculously difficult to get to in mid-summer. It’s not his fault – this is the halfway point between the two Moseley festivals, and he has segued from Festival booking team chores to stage manager, senior bottle-washer and soother of fevered muso brows. He has – hopefully - helped clear up after Mostly Jazz, while setting up for Moseley Folk. His band Goodnight Lenin have a slot at the Festival, clearly set on delivering something special ahead of a much delayed album release. So that means lots of rehearsals as the band shifts to a more raucous, punchier approach. 

And on top of this, weeks before Moseley Folk, John also signed up for solo gigs supporting the redoubtable Patty Griffin. Then there’s the gig with This Is Tmrw. So it’s been a struggle to pin the boy down. But I bet lots of people say that.


Monday, 29 July 2013

A new music team programmes at Town Hall and Symphony Hall

Before we get to the core of this post... what exactly does the word festival actually mean? 

Artwork courtesy Sound Lounge 21
The ones that get the coverage are full-on affairs featuring tents, endless mud and excess, often with clear intent to relieve you of as much money as possible. But there are also benevolent and idealistic affairs that stretch the imagination, not expressly commercially driven, like Shambala. Then there are the (relatively) sedate non-residential affairs like Moseley Folk or Reggae City. And that’s not counting classical institutions like Three Choirs or Lichfield.

So, a wide range of definitions. But all of them ask you to pay to get in. When you look at free festivals, it’s different rules. Summer freebies covered on this blog (Simmer Down and Ben Drummond’s Sutton Roots festival) are driven differently. Music and doing something good and right go together much more obviously. What the ‘good and right’ might be varies enormously.

That’s what makes this coming weekend’s Sound Lounge 21 Summer Music Festival really rather interesting. It’s not just the music, appetising is it is; it’s also how the thing came together, and why.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

UB40’s new album might just be a stroke of commercial genius. But they won't see a penny.


Lots of questions to ask about UB40. Where are they after years of turmoil? What's the real story? Brian Travers gets this a lot. He gives some of the answers.

Brian Travers bearing up under the strain
Seems like the only time the papers write up UB40 these days is to report bad news. They’ve had their fair share: bankruptcies, Ali leaving with harsh words about their financial management, the old Dep studios on Fazeley Street now a car park, and dark stories aplenty circulating round town. 

Recently, The Sun newspaper had a lovely time painting Brian Travers as so hard up that he’s had to play with UB40 cover bands. That little ploy backfired, leading to favourable coverage on 5 Live and WM, and even scoring a mention on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme. 

Beautifully timed, though. Next month sees the release of Getting Over The Storm, UB40’s new album, their first in years. If you thought the title might refer to the band’s troubles, you could be right. And the content? Well, it’s Country. I think it works. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Getting your music on the air - get the basics right and then work up.

UPDATED as of August 2013: Kris Halpin, who kicked off this whole post, has now scored  favourable reactions from Tom Robinson at 6music

It's never easy to get your new stuff on the radio, but you can do a lot to help your chances.

Plenty of barriers to get round, past, through, or over
I got an email from a muso pal, Kris Halpin....  “I’ve got a new direction. I think it’s commercial – certainly it’s my best chance for success to date. And it’s picked up a bit of local airplay. You’re a radio guy – what do I do next?”   Kris's new direction - and it is indeed well-crafted and commercial - can be found later in this post. 

So what do I tell Kris? Does radio work for musos in 2013? It’s not what it was. I hear that with a few exceptions, big radio is over as a tool to sell records. We don’t need radio to get new music; its importance has declined. 

But I think that the right local music programmed the right way can serve local radio very nicely as part of the mix. So maybe that's where to startBut to do this, to use radio, you have to do the legwork: all of it, consistently, all the time, everywhere. 

I talked to a lot of people about this; here’s a distillation. A basic and incomplete recipe for 2013 progress. It may be what you need; it may be entirely wrong. There's some great tips here – like Toy Hearts’ detailed social media strategy tips, quoted verbatim because they are so good. All after the jump. 

Saturday, 29 June 2013

2013 Festival Season #2. Simmer Down in Handsworth


A chat with Simmer Down co-ordinator / stage manager and all round go-to person Clare Edwards. 

On Sunday 14th July, two weeks from today, the fourth Simmer Down party takes place in Handsworth Park, Birmingham. It’s a free festival, and it runs from morning to mid-evening. The event is preented by the Drum Arts Centre, directed by Mukhtar Dar and is co-ordinated and stage-managed by the able and unflappable Clare Edwards

Every town needs a Clare Edwards. She swims in shark-infested musicbiz waters, negotiates her way through stifling and complacent bureaucracy, charms officialdom, all this spanning a ridiculously wide musical range of activities, while retaining the respect and affection of her peers. Oh, and did I mention the choirs she sings in and/or manages? Or the major London Classical music activities? Maybe another time...

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Dealing with losing that radio gig

As another local broadcast veteran exits, now is a good time to ask: what do I do next?

It’s funny how newspapers never bother with radio unless there’s bad news to report. This week, they’ve been full of stories about the departure from BBC WM of Carl Chinn, after 19 years at the station. 

June has been a bad month, with the closure of Kerrang on local FM – so, lots of lovely radio distress copy for the papers to feed on.

In the meantime, for the radio people affected, there’s the awful matter of learning how to let go of something that you absolutely love.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Tom Martin: letting music breathe at the Tower of Song

A tiny venue in a south Birmingham suburb that does right by its musicians.

Last week’s post on crowd etiquette and the need to keep schtum and give some space for performers kicked up a nice ruckus - you can follow some of what happened in the comments section for that post; Facebook and Twitter also saw action. 

Understandably, most people agreed with me. But some said musicians need to be able to command the stage, and if they do, the audience will play along and make nice. And that’s not a bad point either. However, that only works if you’re that kind of battle-hardened musician. The big question then is: how do you get to that stage in you career? And do you even want to? Some people are all about the song and the music. And everyone has to start somewhere. 

One of the musicians I cited last week holds passionately that musicians need the chance to develop their craft on a live stage, and that the audience absolutely must play its part too.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

You there, in the audience. Yes, you. Shut up!

When you go to a gig, do you go to listen - or what?

Like the artwork? Want a copy? Email me
I’m at a venue in Birmingham City centre – a pretty unappealing place, all told - standing in the audience with a member of the headlining band; we’re two thirds of the way to the front, by the desk to get the best mix. We're also thoroughly enjoying the support act - it’s a hell of a good band. That’s what support gigs are about: getting yourself in front of a different crowd, and try to reach them. Seems to be working. 

But there’s a problem. It's a couple, ten feet away, who are positively braying. They’re well into each other, and oblivious to the band. The bloke clearly thinks he’s on to a good thing;  the girl is REALLY LOUD. What’s onstage zips right over their heads. Their loss – they missed a lovely set. 

My friend's a bit embarrassed. The support act are pals, invited up to play in Brum by her band, the headliners. And the crowd are not exacly treating them with respect. So she feels uncomfortable, and so do I. My attention shifts away from the braying couple, to the rest of the room. There’s a LOT of chat. This is really pissing me off now.