Sunday, 28 September 2014

Peaky Blinders: Birmingham grabs a slice of the London pie, with extreme violence. Oh, wait, that's fiction...

Concerned Birmingham License Fee payers arrive at Broadcasting House
in London for a friendly chat about the way their money is being spent

Red carpet capers

The BBC very nicely invited me to a Peaky Blinders preview last Sunday. It starts on BBC2 this week. Ripsnorting fun it was, too. The acting's top-notch; series 2 is a lot more violent and sweary than series 1. Even the Brummy accents are more accurate – they're not quite there, but they're better. 

Author Steven Knight has delivered a great story. It looks like he's given a lot of thought to the Birmingham-London relationship - never exactly a two-way affair of mutual love and respect. The show's going to make money for the Corporation and the London production company that made it, Tiger Aspect.

But, but, but...when the BBC and Tiger Aspect decided to make Peaky Blinders, I wonder - did they even think to base production offices in Birmingham? I could run through a list of invigorating BBC dramas all set in, and featuring, the regions. They were all made in the towns they portrayed. But not Peaky Blinders.

Plot spoiler alert

But the show itself is a winner. Posters are up to sell the series. Look, here's Cillian Murphy looking ominous and meaningful – and what a caption! 'London's For The Taking'. It doesn't take much to work out that his character, the unstoppable Thomas Shelby, is going to head down to the decadent fleshpots of the Smoke to mete out spectacular balletic violence and claim his slice of the pie. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I really like that idea. You may well agree once you've seen the first episode.

The BBC loves loves loves Birmingham, honest

Before the preview screened, we had speeches. You know, the Corporation really, really, honestly, really, does totally love Birmingham. What's more, jobs really, honestly, really, are coming back: 200 training jobs; a mysterious team of six digital hipsters somewhere down Fazeley Street cooking up unspecified brilliance; a 600-parter World War 1 radio drama series. And the usual reminders of existing output: the Drama Village, The Archers, Radio WM. 

All good, of course. Except that that modest output was in place two years ago, Home Front excepted. And most of the promised new teams have yet to arrive. What wasn't mentioned was that existing BBC teams in Birmingham are still facing further cuts. These may run up to 25% in some departments. One step forward, two steps back...

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm very happy that jobs, even if only vaguely connected with broadcasting, are on their way. It's not before time. But, in truth, not a lot has changed. So why is the region producing so little? I'll come to that. It's grim stuff. 

They do make tiny bits of Peaky Blinders in the region. Our hero was led through a warren of back streets by a local urchin in the very identifiable Black Country Museum. But even then, they didn't use any local talent. Instead, they brought in a freelance make-up team from Manchester instead of using local freelances. So the total spend was probably a few quid on meals and petrol to get people back home to Leeds or London.

So where is the work? And where is the money?

I learned this week that Birmingham based actors are now using friends' addresses in Manchester when applying for work at the the BBC in the North. It seems casting directors and producers are bypassing the Midlands in favour of talent closer to where they are based. This is all about the perceived viability of local talent pools, and I'll come back to that. 

2013 proportion of BBC license fees spent in region.
Figures from Campaign For Regional Broadcasting
The grisly core of it all is this: there is a vast and disproportionate amount of license fee funding flowing out from our region, the largest in terms of license fees paid, to be spent in London. Since I first wrote about this two years ago, the slice of license fees retained to be spent in the Midlands has shrunk, again, to less than nine percent. That's right, less than nine percent. This is far, far less that any of the other BBC Regions: it is derisively, contemptuously, insultingly small. 

So we Midlanders send around £830 million a year south. Interestingly, London license fee payers kick in about half of that. Once in London, Midlands money helps fund trifles like New Broadcasting House, expensive and failed IT systems, huge payoffs to sacked senior execs – thankfully now mainly in the past – and London-based companies who make shows like Peaky Blinders. 

This horrible funding imbalance was wrong when it was first flagged up. It's wrong now. It rankles. The BBC serves the nation, but dismisses and patronises its largest region while helping itself to that region's funding. And over the past twenty years, we have seen a hideous contraction in facilities and jobs across the whole of the Midlands, while every other BBC region has enjoyed significant investment.   

A problem that needs fixing

At least the BBC now grudgingly admits that broadcast centres across the Midlands have been woefully treated, Birmingham worst of all. That's good news. But there's a big problem: the damage has been done. It's seen as a done deal. Fixing it will be difficult. 

We all know that the BBC is under attack from an unsympathetic government and much of the London based UK press, which has much to gain. They will fill voids left by a diminished BBC with their own commercial activities.

But that doesn't absolve the BBC of responsibility to our region. Midlands talent and Midlands license fee payers deserve a steady, solid, well-planned resurgence in broadcast and production activity. That's the foundation. That's what's needed. 

How to set about it? Well, an affordable and realistic set of steps tied to a long-term plan would be good. Transparency would be good, too, but I think we can dream on there. It's worth noting that other people are stepping up the plate: here's Steven Knight talking about some exciting plans for production in the city. I can't tell you how refreshing this news is, after years and years of prevarication, dismissals, and bumbling incompetence elsewhere. Someone with industry nous has, at last. worked out that Birmingham is really well located, full of talent, and incredibly convenient to get to and from. 

What have we got to shout about? Talent. LOTS of it. 

We know that:

1       The West Midlands has a LOT going for it. To our shame, we don't shout about it. 
2       The West Midlands benefits from a young and inventive population. 
3       That population – I can't speak for the East Midlands or East Anglia – is pretty much the most diverse in the UK. 

I hear all this regularly from BBC executives when they do big up the region. There's much to celebrate. But, hey, I knew all that already. I've lived and worked in and from this region for most of my working life.

So let me add some more facts:

1       Our young and not so young population produces some of the most thrilling and refreshing music, dance, writing, video, indie film and theatre in the UK. It's never, ever, been better than right now. 
2       That output deserves to be supported and celebrated. 
3       We need those talent pools to ferment and grow across all sectors. The BBC can do this brilliantly when it wants to. It's at its best when multiple diverse talents inter-react and create. 

A wild and crazy idea: let's celebrate that talent 

If we take that as a starting point, an easy way - not the only way - to get the ball rolling would be to use radio. It's affordable and flexible. And the most popular and cost effective form of radio is music radio.

So here's a wild and crazy idea: why not place some nationally networked music shows in the region? I can't see any reason why not.

In Manchester, Marc Riley, Craig Charles, Radcliffe and Maconie and Mary Anne Hobbs deliver 31 hours a week for 6 music, as best as I can work out. There may be more, but the station is a trifle coy about telling us where the shows come from.

I'm not complaining about this. It's great. It means that presenters and production teams are based in that city, perfectly placed to spot new talent from the city; that's just what they do. Marc Riley does Manchester proud. And I'll bet you a pound to a penny that that local awareness at network level in Manchester leads to conversations with the local BBCLR Introducing teams. With that bridge built, career possibilities open right up. And the talent pool – remember that idea? - grows and develops.

None of that happens in the Midlands. Why not? There are brand-spanking new radio studios gathering dust in the Mailbox. There is raw material aplenty and presenting talent to burn across the region. Current and prospective staff are itching to develop their careers in their own region.

And, let me, once again, remind you: this region collects more money for the BBC than any other – 25% of all BBC licence fee income - and is by far the worst represented region in terms of broadcast output. It's time to start redressing the balance. It's not just fair, it's also the right thing to do.

Baby steps, huge rewards

So that's my modest, preliminary, just for starters proposal. I'm not even going to begin suggesting how this will be achieved; I expect the very idea will lead to howls of outrage and derision from Broadcasting House - the very people who should be implementing this kind of change. 

But if that nettle can be grasped, wouldn't it be good to see daytime weekday shows, in prime time, on both 6music and 1Xtra, and, hey, how about one edition of a week of Radio 3's Late Junction, all coming from the Mailbox? And can the Asian Network be encouraged to look beyond Bollywood and start championing some local creativity? While all that cooks up, it would be the right time for those Digbeth digital guerillas to surface with their hot new apps. I hope and pray they've got some stuff ready for music and video. 

I could go on, because it really shouldn't stop there. We need more than tinkering around the edges. A serious and proportionate share of Midlands license fee money spent back in the region would amount to north of £500 million a year. Think of the jobs and creativity that might unleash.

But kicking off with digital network radio shows and new digital creativity would be a terrific and cost-effective first step, and something to showcase. A start, a picking of low-hanging fruit. Set this up, and the door opens to the creative critical mass that makes the BBC so great. With it, the first tiny opportunities are opened to the next generation of broadcasters. And the BBC reaches out in a fresh way to its worst supported and most exploited region.

The possibilities are limitless, but it calls for a lot of goodwill and imagination from the powers that be. I remain to be convinced that that goodwill and imagination exists. 

But think about it, Auntie, please. There are riches for the taking. It would be nice to have an answer, too. Or do I have to send Mister Shelby and the boys round?

See also
I choose Birmingham interviews Steve Knight

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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Don't you point that thing at me, pal #5: Wayne Fox

“At the end of a performance, there's probably ten or fifteen seconds, the golden time – that's the best time for a photographer to get their shot in.”

Photo by Bianca Barrett  
A posse of snappers? A clutch of smudges? 

Moseley Folk, Friday afternoon. Wayne Fox comes barrelling down the hill, loaded down with kit, firing off shots of me and Richard Shakespeare having a natter. Between the three of us, there must have been close on a five figure sum's worth of Canon camera goodness. Me, I was packing a three year old Ixus - probably worth 40 quid tops. I know my place.

We have a rich crop of snapper talent in the region. Wayne's been shooting with the best of them for some years now. Running though the costs music snappers have to fork out, and the competition they face, I'm amazed. 

This post isn't about music; it's about musicians and the people who take an interest in them, visually and personally. Snappers deploy different skills, but the challenges and the risks are the same. 
Wayne Fox: I didn't really start intentionally. I was indirectly connected with the music industry, and I'd shot a few sessions, round about 2007 I think. People kept saying nice things, so I made the decision to step up a level. I decided to save up over a year, to see if I could afford a (decent) camera. 
Decent kit is, still, hellishly expensive. You knew exactly what camera, what model...? 
I went for Canon. My father had a range of brands – some of those weird eastern European makes. They smelled great!
I had a Halina...
Yes, that's the general area! But I went for Canon. Lots of buttons! But really, it was about being around music. And a lot of local promoters, like Carlo Solazzo, were very helpful in letting me get started. 
  Free School, 2012

What about your first shoot?
The first one that I felt I had enough skills, that I was pleased with, was the LaRoux gig at the Rainbow warehouse. She was on a crest of a wave at the time. It was quite dark, and I think I went home with about 400 photographs. Loved every minute of it. And obviously I've adjusted the shots since then. 
LaRoux - Wayne's most-copied from Flickr

That's a bit like collecting too much interview audio. You've got to think how much edit time you're letting yourself in for.
I've cut down a lot. Each shot takes me a lot of time, when I get it home and look at it with image editing software.
That's digital for you. And a world away from what Pogus Caesar does with his old-school film cameras. Festivals generally have a very relaxed vibe; lots of room for you guys. Surely it;s not always that way?
No. Etiquette is almost unspoken, though. You don't throw yourself about if you're in the pit; somebody will have word with you if you do. I try and keep as low as I can, in the pit, and that gives me a certain style. Others stand bolt upright. There are things you just learn. Sometimes, people are kind enough to tell you. And in very crowded situations, you don't obstruct the paying customers if at all possible. 

Violet at the Flapper, 2011

Wayne explains: 

This poor guy in Violet had an accident on-stage at The Flapper and Firkin, when his guitarist smashed his guitar neck into the guys face. Ouch!

What do you try to capture? Emotions? A startling composition?
When I started, because I wasn't producing for any form of editorial, it was definitely, definitely from the artistic point of view. I'd make sure there was space, just to make you wonder when you looked at the photograph. Now, I'm filling the frame a bit more. But I like to put the artist in a sea of nothingness. Those are the ones that get talked about. 
First sale?
Ninety percent of the things I've sold have been to parents of the acts! The very first one was to a very nice lady who wanted a photo of her son playing the guitar. She'd bought the guitar – a beautiful blue guitar, it came out very nicely, perfectly lit and exposed, I was lucky – she didn't really care that her son was in the photograph. She really cared about the guitar!
Toy Hearts, 2011  

You do something because you love it, and you're really passionate about it. It's the same as with musicians. Then at some point the possibility of making some money arises. How do you transition to that?
It's difficult. I don't really get involved with sales. It's a time-honoured thing: anybody who's creative struggles with seeing that there's something you can monetise. And it's a reflection of your soul, at the end of the day. You don't rally want to charge for it, but – you have to, you have to. I didn't mean to spend so much money on equipment, but I have. I'd love to give away everything that I've done, but it's not going to be possible.
Crystal Castles, 2011   

The web has produced an economy where people are expected to give everything away for free.
I contribute a lot to a site called Gig Junkies. They used to be very West Midlands-oriented, now they're National. Have done for years. And that's for free. 
But following the music analogy, does the exposure that you get lead to commissions and other paid work?
I guess it does. A lot of people get in touch with me and name-check Gig Junkies.
Is it easy to name a price?
No! Not at all. Trying to strike the balance is really tricky. 
The web puts a downward price pressure on so many freelances and creative people; there's no regulation and there's always someone who'll work cheaper. 
At least I have a massive back catalogue of material now! But yes, in the photography community, you do notice people wandering into gigs, gigs with a very restrictive policy, that there a people with iPhones in the pit. It doesn't really bother me, but if a professional has been excluded – or one of his mates – and there's someone with an iPhone in the pit, it can get awkward. 
Tip and tricks?
At the end of a performance, there's probably ten or fifteen seconds, the golden time – that's the best time for a photographer to get their shot in. Often, they've given of themselves, they're spent. Sometimes they're quite vulnerable, and surprised by the response they get. And that's difficult for me; I love being where I am. It's quite a privilege. I've probably put my camera down, and I'm applauding too!
Boat to Row   
Favourite bands?
I like local bands, who I know: Boat To Row (shown at left), Goodnight Lenin...
Yes. Young, photogenic, very good looking, and talented. I hate them all. But good looking - or interesting looking - must really help from the snapper's point of view.
It does. I really like Free School and Victories at Sea – lovely looking guys, and they generate an amazing sound. I took in their first gig, and they sounded good then. But supporting the Editors – it was like someone had flicked a hundred switches. 

Wayne's flickr stream
Wayne Fox Photography
Gig Junkies

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Get Up, Stand Up, for your airplay rights!. A chat with Sam Redmore

“I handed Craig Charles a CD at a gig. The next week, he played something from it on 6 music”.

A year or so back, I looked at how the meaning of the word DJ has changed over the last 80 years or so. At radio, DJs have largely become 'talent', 'personalities', or 'presenters'. And they rarely play discs any more. Today's DJ is a club and studio beast: producing and mixing. Music knowledge, taste, imagination and production skills are now essential to craft a seriously good mix.

Sam Redmore is one such beast. He's increasingly picking up national airplay for his mixes. In particular, there's a fruitful relationship with Craig Charles at 6 music, who has given his work several airings. Sam is due to guest on the show next Saturday, 20th September. 

That moves Sam into a new position. He's recognised as a creator, an artist in his own right. He's releasing mixes on vinyl. Here's the latest in his own name – a limited edition vinyl pressing on specialist dance label Felt Tip.

Here's the thing: if you're an artist, you should get royalties for airplay. And mix artists should in turn pay royalties to musicians whose work they sample. That's the principle. It's also the law of the land. So, how does that work? 

Sam, what's the deal with rights to the original source material in your mixes, once they get a commercial release or proper airplay? Just curious....
There's no deal on them as such - I don't have the rights to the material, but the stuff on vinyl is pressed in such small quantities (500 copies) that we're unlikely to be taken to task over it. I've never received any money for 6 Music airplay.
 Wow. I figured that nobody's going to mess with small circulation material. But does that places a limit on ever making serious money? What is the route – is there a route - for mixer guys like you?
There's certainly not money to be made on sales in small quantities like this. Usually a reworking of a high-profile artist comes about for me with the intention of tailoring something to fit in better with my DJ sets (rather than creating a version to sell). If I get DJ bookings of the back of putting out these edits though, then I think that could ultimately be a way to make money from them. There's a DJ called Reflex. He has a huge re-edit release back catalogue. I don't know what he's made from sales, but his DJ fees are now a very decent amount. He's getting at least two bookings a week, so I guess it's working out fairly well for him!
The other route and the one that I'd like to move more in the direction of is making more original material, although obviously something that has 'Bob Marley' on the sleeve is more likely to get listens in the first place...
The interesting angle for me is that there are two copyrights in recorded works - composer for the song and mechanical for the recording. Both attract royalties. So, while you are sampling existing works, and so should cut a deal for commercial exploitation of these works - remember all that fuss over James Brown samples 25 years ago? - a creative mixer such as yourself is making work which needs both of these rights cleared. Especially the mechanical right, which is your creation, even if the building blocks come from somewhere else. 

I think that's why there's not too much of a fuss made over something which might get a play or two or get a limited run of 500 on disc - it's just too much trouble to go to court when the returns would be pennies. But airplay money on a national station is not to be sneezed at, and the mechanisms exist to collect royalties once you're in PRS. A lot of recorded work earns airplay fees that don't get to the creators. Money for one or two plays goes unclaimed for various... and flows into a general pool which is sliced up among existing members. And the big boys get the lion's share.When it's all your work, matters get much more lucrative, of course...
That's interesting, I hadn't really given it too much thought to be honest. I will be getting PRS registered very soon though, especially as I finally have some of my own material nearing completion.

As of publish date, the latest Sam Redmore remix on Soundcloud

It's pretty rare for a DJ mix to be picked up by mainstream radio. How did you get noticed by the likes of Charles and Stevens? 
Very simple - I went to a night Craig Charles was DJing at, and handed him a CD. I had no idea whether he would listen to it, or even remember to take it with him, but the following week he played something from it on his show. There were quite a few tracks on that CD that he went on to play, and then his manager got in touch (the CD obviously had my contact details on) asking if I could send him some more stuff. With most of the other 6 Music DJs like Huey Morgan and Rob Da Bank, their producers got in touch with me asking if I could send some stuff through. I guess they had probably heard some bits on Craig's show.
So it can work! Excellent. As you move more towards using real instruments to add texture to your mixes, is the role of mixer/creator becoming more important? 
There's certainly a creative element needed with most of the work I do now that wasn't there a few years ago. The first tracks I did were mash-ups, taking a vocal from one song and an instrumental from another. Everything was pretty much there to begin with, and it's about trying to find existing material and parts that work with each other, rather than composing anything new. Most of the tracks I work on now involve building things from the ground up, and that can include writing original parts. On the other hand the stuff I did with The Bluebeat Arkestra was based around taking a song that they had written and moulding all the different parts so that they worked together as one. This involved much less creating, but lots of mixing to make everything fit. 
What about incorporating new studio techniques live? Or is live always a matter of live sequencing of pre-recorded material, as opposed to flying in your own instrumentation? Are you turning full circle, or meeting bands with DJs halfway? 
I think that the studio work influences how I play live in so much as I tend to listen to the arrangement of the tracks I play and look for that perfect moment to mix from one tune to the next a bit more closely than I used to. I don't imagine that I'll ever move to playing any live instrumentation, simply because I'm not proficient enough at any instrument to be able to do so. There are lots of options out there today to make your sets more live, but if the end result is that the music doesn't sound as good, then it's not necessarily the right way to go. 
Combining live performance with DJ techniques can be wonderful and highly creative when done well – Fingathing, for example, mix turntablism and sampling with live double bass to tremendous effect. One of the things I like about DJing is having the freedom to play any tracks from any artist, any genre and in any order depending on how the night pans out. Playing my own music for an hour or so seems a bit... tedious. I have worked with a very talented local beatboxer called Ed Geater, where he's provided live beats to pre-prepared beatless tracks that I was playing. It went down really well. It made the set more interactive, more of a spectacle, but it's not something I'd be keen to do for a full set. 

Sam's facebook page

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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Thirty Minutes On New Street

"Two songs in, someone gave me some money. And I thought - this is alright."

We'd fixed to meet up outside the Old Library, up at the top of the square, in the Friday lunchtime sunshine. No sign, though. Just a rather portly depressed chap parping out one euro folk melody on his trumpet, over and over. He didn't want to really talk; couldn't anyway. OK, he wasn't the guy I wanted.  But, Ping! Here's a text: My man was playing outside Morrisons.

So down the steps, across the square, past the Floozie and the Iron Man, and a bit of audio comes floating up New Street. There he was: Spence Cater, with mic, guitar and amp, and a little bit of cash in his guitar case. I watched for half an hour as he rattled through a range of different songs. And we talked.

Why did you start?
I'm a busking rookie, but I'm not new to music. I'm a songwriter; been in various bands, and it's something I've always fancied doing. I thought I'd try it and see. I'd always let fear get the better of me, always had those 'oh I need a licence', or 'I haven't got the right songs' or 'it's not the right weather'... all those excuses.
Good for you. Me, I'd be terrified. 
But it's very liberating. In early March I took my guitar into town to get it fixed. I was chatting... a guy just freed the whole thing up for me. He said you only need two or three songs, really. Because people just walk past. No one really stands round and listens for any longer than a couple of minutes. 
You know what? He was right. And the weather was great: one of those freaky days in March when it was like summer. SoI decided to do it. 
Two songs? Which ones?
Oh, I can't remember what I played now. I didn't really care - it was just more about doing it. So I put the bag down and I played in Victoria Square. I didn't know then that there are designated areas. I just thought anyone can do it - just put your bag down and have a go. So I did. 
Two songs in, someone gave me some money. And I thought - this is alright, it's not scary, no-one is attacking me, I'm actually feeling quite confident. So that was it. I carried on playing, me and my guitar around the city.
I quickly found all the other buskers had these little street cube amps. It's what you need if you to save your voice and your fingers.
One day, there was a guy from the council, called Mahendra (Chauhan) – he okays all the street events. So he came up... 
 “Have you got permission to busk here?” 
 I said, 'Well... I haven't asked anybody.' 
Basically they  auditioned me on the spot. I could carry on playing if they thought I was all right. And they did, and invited me in to have a talk about busking. He was keen to learn what was happening and how we could interact. 
So there was a meeting. There's a new law being drafted.
Aha. Not sure if I like he sound of that. What exactly is going to happen?
Don't know. As it stands busking isn't illegal. What  they're trying to do, I suppose, is to control it in a way with statutory fines. They can't fine you now. They can move you on, for obstructing the highway or something like that, but busking is not a crime. So once they've got this new law they can just slap you with a fine, 80 pounds, 100 pounds or whatever. Obviously most people will be put off by that. 
It is is fairly organised at the moment: there are designated spots. The idea is that once you've auditioned and been accepted, you ring up each morning, or in advance if you want, to book days in advance. The ideas is that they spread the best spots around accepted buskers. It doesn't really help because everybody wants the best spots, approved or not.  
So they would like to control it but it's not quite happening. Tell me about your fellow buskers? Ever pitched up at a favourite spot, when someone who's expecting to play rocks up and you're already there?
I hadn't really experienced anything like that. I don't know. I never got confronted in that way. There is a code, and it actually self-regulates. The unwritten busker's code is if someone's in a spot you don't go there or you set up in a place further down which isn't going to bleed into their sound.
What has busking done for you? Has it changed and developed you?
Yes. Completely. As a performer it's given me a lot of confidence. It's OK to make mistakes; you don't have to be perfect. At a gig, people tend to come up and say something, even if it's a platitude. On the street they've got no obligation to say anything, so if they come over and say you know that was really great. So you can start to see what works and what doesn't.
The downside is you're vulnerable. I go to different places at different times, but you're always guaranteed to be a magnet for disturbed people. They come up to you because you're a public figure. There's no boundaries, they come right in your face.
Is a slightly deranged person rotating around you bad for business?
What they want is a reaction, to engage with them. So I pretend it's not happening. I just carry on playing. And it works for me anyway: they walk off. 
The last person I talked to about busking before you was Erica Nockalls. Miles Hunt spotted her when she was busking in Stratford; that's how she joined the Wonder Stuff. But it made me think: she's a Birmingham Conservatoire graduate, and technically fabulous. And I was just wondering: are there any Conservatoire kiddies out there doing amazing stuff to eke out their grants?
There's a couple, not so much here. Stratford-Upon-Avon is the place for that. Particularly because in Stratford they really encourage string instruments without vocals. They don't like amplification; they want the violinist and the cellists and the quartets and all that. They don't want people like me who are a bit rough and ready.
I haven't seen any buskers in the arcades in Brum. Shame really, cause they've got great acoustics for that kind of thing. Is that because it's private property?
A lot of the places that might be good busking areas are off limits. Places like Brindley Place, or parts of the market, the Arcadian... places like that. The city is talking about trying to expand that to get people in.
What about your fellow buskers? Have you seen any with particular talent?
Some of the young buskers are really good. There's a guy called David Fisher; he's been doing it a number of years. He must have started when he was 18 or something. He's got an incredible repertoire - about 5 hours - he plays with a proper folk neck brace and belt with harmonicas and all that. There's a girl called Esther Turner who's an amazing vocalist. I'm not going to say what money she makes but she makes a lot. Which is good for her and she's sweet, really nice and she's an incredible vocalist. I think there's a lot of talent out there and I think it's a great way of making money out of music because it's direct.
One of the few ways of making money out of music! 


At least it's in your back pocket and you can go home and you're done. Final question: is it worthwhile?
For me it's worthwhile. People make a living out of it; for me it's a part time thing but this summer it could very well be full time and maybe next summer too. It's definitely worth it for me for building confidence and repertoire; people do approach you for different things - can you play this gig, that gig? It's a way of networking; a good way of broadcasting yourself.
Back on the street, Spence was generating a steady stream – nothing fancy, but not a pittance. People gave in very different ways. A very pretty girl stopped and watched for two songs, dropped some coins in the case and applauded before she went off. An ultracool kiddie floated by filming on his iPhone, didn't stop, didn't tip. Unlikely people fished for coins and dropped them in without breaking stride. Spence switched in and out of personal songs, out to Johnny Cash (tip generator) and One Direction (zip). Spence's thanks were smoothly done – on the beat, no interruption to the songs. Most people, of course, ignored him.  But it looked like a reasonable morning's work. 

Even if I could play guitar, I still couldn't do it. But I'm going to slow down the next time I see someone playing on the street. 

Spence Caters's website. Spence is happy to talk to anyone who is thinking about busking; contact him through his site. 
Birmingham City Council's Info page for Street Entertainment.
See also the Buskers Unregulated Facebook page.

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