Sunday, 28 December 2014

Gigs, bands, venues, surprises, changes and some disappointments. 2014 has been eventful.

This is the last Radio To Go post of 2014, tucked into that awkward half-holiday, half-not space between the Christmas blowout and New Year's Eve. 

Some performers are hardily prepping for their NYE shows; many more are slumbering through this interim week before things start to rev up again in 2015. 

So this, as in previous years,  is a good time to look back. All of this is highly subjective. It's stuff that struck me as notable. You will have had different ideas, different joys and pleasures. I'd be delighted if you felt like joining in the debate. 

Gigs of the year contenders

By Richard Shakespeare - crowds at Mostly Jazz     

There were LOTS. We've had so many excellent bands, new venues (see below), and most nights, especially most weekends, we've had a ridiculous choice. I particularly enjoyed:

- Boat To Row's single launch gig at the Old Joint Stock Theatre, 28 Feb
- Miles and Erica at the Hare and Hounds, 22 May
- Brothers Groove at the Jam House, 22 July
- Pretty much everything at Moseley Folk, but that's much more of a social gathering in the sun anyway.
- Everything and everyone at this year's Songwriters Cafe: 9 fantastic house concerts which ran on Thursdays from September to November

Earbleed of the Year

Prince at the LG Arena, 19 May 2014. Atrocious sound and dangerous volume levels. I can take one or the other, but not the two in combination. It actually hurt to listen. This was a shame, because Prince delivered, in parts, a killer show. This audio shambles was thrown into sharp relief by the very good sound the same PA delivered for Laura Mvula, who gave an excellent, excellent opening set.

Venue thoughts

I am so pleased to see developments underway at the Dark Horse, now part of the same company that runs the lovely Prince of Wales, both in Moseley in Birmingham. I'm hoping for big things. 

Props too, to the lovely people at Ort Cafe, who have crafted a super intimate acoustic venue in Balsall Heath. 

The guvnor Birmingham place is still, of course, the Hare and Hounds. Two years on from the last development scare, things seem to have gone quiet on that front. However, the threat has not, to my knowledge, receded. Things will not be rosy until venues know where they stand. For that to happen, our beleaguered and broke council must, once and for all, establish and then respect the principle that if an established and effective venue exists, new owners who wind up adjoining that development must recognise and respect that. 

So, property developers: do the right thing and build in effective soundproofing. And on that note, a big welcome back to the Fiddle and Bone, which reopens in 2015. Let's also celebrate the continuing success of the Asylum venues.

Unexpected pleasures

A few nice things/events which caught me unawares and delighted me:
The Stacks at The Wagon and Horses, August. 

The Stacks are from Nuneaton/Leicester way, so I hadn't seen them before they supported the very likeable Broken Witt Rebels. Stacks were sharp, tight and inventive. They attracted a posse of admiring girls as well as the usual coterie of hard-rock boys – an audience combo that's always a good sign for guitar-slinging wannabe rock gods.

'5-Star Review' on Erica Nockalls' EN2 album. In the middle of a set of artfully crafted hyper-musical noise terror you'll find the sweetest love song ever. Fabulous. More on this album here

Dan Whitehouse and Chris Tye's Christmas song. Just great. Two huge talents, and a good cause. It's available here and there's a blog post here on these guys.

Record Store Day - silly activities in a good cause. 
Probably because I grew up in the vinyl era, I still really can't get excited about music distributed on vinyl – especially the fetishising of the medium. But if it helps preserve independent retailers who are passionate about music, I'm all for it. Here's what Goodnight Lenin did

'Mighty Hard Timeon Ruby Turner's 'All That I Am' album: 
Ruby just gets better and better. Quality, seriously deep old-school soul, a fine perspective, no compromise whatsoever, and focus like you've never seen. Proud to know her and proud that she's from Brum. There's an interview here.

The Spoken Word

This happened by accident. I'm so happy it did.

Once in a while I get asked to voice something for, say, an album project. I'm normally happy to do this – it's just nice that my voice is remembered from my prehistoric radio days. But this year's outings were quite different. 

Firstly, a radio producer I greatly respect and admire, and who moves in very different circles from me most of the time, asked me to voice a bit part in a radio drama. Rosie Boulton, who now works independently after a long and storied career at the BBC, has produced a sweet and elegant one-hour play, 'The Kindness Of Time' which is online for anyone to listen to, for free. So this was work with a script, bouncing off a different voice actor, cooking up the relationship, working in a very different studio to the ones I'm used to (C-Mat in Handsworth), and it was both a challenge and a lot of fun. More on this here.

Then the wonderful and very different Layla Tutt developed her multi-media Song Of the Woods project and invited me to voice. I got to play a great romantic lover and a very satisfying baddie. It was lovely.

Finally, I voiced for James Summerfield's latest project: a set of poems written by local author Darren Cannan. Some are set to music, some are fully arranged. The book and ep are out imminently. Everything I've heard sounds fabulous. Then again, I'm a fan of James' work, and I thought Darren's writing was terrific. So I am privileged and excited to be a part of this.

And as you can see from this trailer, I'm in good company.

The JB's book!

Another book worthy of your attention, partly crafted by another person I greatly admire: Roy Williams, who helped run the legendary JB's in Dudley from the very early days. A near-forty year span of time in rock history, seen through the eyes of the team who ran one of the best-loved clubs in the Midlands. Stories, memories, extraordinary facts and figures. 

You won't believe who played there. Nor will you believe what they got paid. There's a detailed post in the works. In the meantime, you can find out more, here.

Bad news

Dying Orchestras 
This was announced last week in Denmark: a kickstarter campaign... to try to keep an decent orchestra in existence. I hate this. Orchestras should be part of our cultural mix. We need that reservoir of talent; we need that pathway to a music career for our promising musos. We need to keep celebrating demanding and experimental work. But all over the country and all over Europe, funding taps are being turned off. The Ulster Orchestra is under severe threat too.

Steady progress department

- The wonderful Cadbury Sisters, scoring loads of love from Radio 2 and a vinyl release on RAK records; 
- Brothers Groove, also scoring R2 love - and a gong at the British Blues Awards 2014;
- Another milestone for the excellent Katherine Priddy, who sold out at Kitchen Garden Cafe. Her first headliner and her first sell-out. Well done the Prldster.
- Electric Swing Circus went fully pro and toured the world. Bravo!


Laura Mvula's Orchestral CD was startlingly good and confident. Not that I was in any way surprised.

Goodnight Lenin - In The Fullness Of Time
Out now. It's lovely. At last! 

Ruby Turner - All That I Am
So good, so clear, so focussed. 

Erica Nockalls - EN2 As above, but in a wholly different music realm. But I think Ruby and Erica would get on like a house on fire. 

Dan Whitehouse - Raw State
Dan revisits some of his older songs with a fresh perspective, and by golly, it works. This kind of approach doesn't always work, but in Dan's case – oh boy, does it ever. Moving, warm and powerful. 

Chris Tye - The Paper Grenade
Go Chris! Tye simply gets better and better. Super stuff from one of our best.

Hopes for 2015: Music

I'm eagerly anticipating the next set of songs from Goodnight Lenin.

I would so love to see the rancorous dispute between UB40 and their former lead singer resolved. Ali left, noisily, some years ago. Now, equally noisily, he is fronting a rival operation and aggressively laying claim to the name of the band that he, let us remember, actually left. This does nobody any good, least of all the remaining members of UB40, who picked themselves up and set about damage limitation on several fronts with courage and dignity, not to mention solid musicianship. All this demeans and cheapens a noble name.

I hope for good things from among others, Chris Cleverley and Harriet Harkcom.

Otherwise? I hope to be enchanted and surprised by more fresh and wondrous talent. That's certain to happen - just don't know when.

Hopes for 2015: Broadcasting

It's no secret: I would love to see more national BBC output generated from the Midlands, to reflect the talent we have in abundance. Who knows? Only the BBC, and they ain't telling. Again.

The rise of the hybrids. 
New media, new platforms. It's coming, and when it gets into gear, this could be a game-changer. The keys? Cheap tools for one, but what is essential, mission-critical in fact, is clear and precise strategic thinking. Put that together, and things will change, and faster than anyone expects.

Local Television
After an embarrassing set of stumbles, we are, finally, due to get a local TV station in February next year. It will, now, largely be run by local professionals who understand television, which is a good thing. I wish them all the luck in the world - because they will need it, and a lot more besides - and humbly suggest that they take a good hard look at the wealth of videos on offer from local talent. 

Have a wonderful end of year. 

See more posts on venues, posts on broadcasting and posts on music business on Radio To Go


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