Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Desolation Of Smug: The BBC in the Midlands

I love the BBC. I really do. But it’s hard sometimes. 

Gilded London palace...          Abandoned Midlands halls
I’m a big BBC fan. I see and hear inspiring stuff on the Beeb. More often than not, I give up in boredom, despair or disbelief watching and listening to anyone else. I use the BBC website every day. I respect Reithian principles. 

And I don’t side with those who want rid of the BBC; I disagree with beeb-haters. Last week, the Daily Mail cheerily relayed commercial radio's monotonously regular gripe that, as Radio 1 and 2 beats them hands down for listeners, those stations should be shut down, hobbled, or sold, because... it's just not fair, and, besides, it means they're not making enough money. Hey, I thought it was all about competition, right? So, go compete, commercial radio. Get listeners, don't bitch about moving the goalposts. You could try putting more profit back into output for a start.

So I hope I’ve made this crystal clear. I believe in the Beeb, and I support them. 

But, and it’s a big but, this is an organisation that really does not make itself easy to love.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Boat To Row. They rock.

Boat, schmoat... the new video is going like a train

Boat To Row at All Tomorrow's Leaving, December 2013
Boat To Row's Lydia Glanville and Anna Louise Bennett are cheerily considering how things are over hipster coffee, while Michael King parks up and finds change for the meter. 

The hot topics are a tour, a single on vinyl and download, their own label, and a video shot for very little money. We're weighing up what they should charge for the single launch gig on February 28th, with the vinyl thrown in. It's all very impressive, garlanded with effortless, unflappable charm. 

Maybe they're horrible cynical bastards with a devilishly smooth act aimed at suckers like me.

Nah, they're lovely. They really are. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Joan Armatrading's BIG last tour

Joan Armatrading has announced her last tour, kicking off later this year. She isn't retiring from live shows, but this is the big last tour. Big? It's huge. 

Joan is booked for over 50 UK dates so far with European and North American dates to follow. It's just her on guitar and piano. She's taking on a lot. 

I saw Joan at the old Birmingham Odeon in 1975, after she released 'Back To The Night'. She opened for A&M labelmates Supertramp - so she sang her very personal songs to progrock kiddies in greatcoats. It's all a long time ago, but I'm sure the stage was awash with unwavering, unwatchable red light. Almost certainly she had a crappy sound mix. The lot of the support act. 

I enjoyed her set. Supertramp was another matter, so I left, crossing a post-gig Joan coming out onto the street with her mates. I hollered out 'Good set, Joan!' and got a lovely smile back.

We met later when Joan was ferried around radio stations to plug albums. I don't think she enjoyed this. But I asked for another interview because, dammit, Joan's a really important artist, and this is going to be her last tour. And, hooray, she agreed. 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

How to make a small fortune promoting? Start with a large one.

Promoting small-scale gigs and making money? Defining 'folk' in 2014? Tricky.

Ben Calvert is a songwriter who runs regular Sunday night gigs and a small record label under the handle of Bohemian Jukebox. We had a terrific, lengthy and detailed conversation this past week after an email exchange triggered by a post on promoters who love what they do and the music they work with. Ben pointed out that, contrary to the popular belief that music promoter equals bloodsucker, he and many others work for ridiculously silly money. 

So we met up and he showed me his books. Guess what? He really does work for a pittance. But promoting penury hasn’t slowed him down; he loves his music. Bohemian Jukebox now runs as a venue-supported freebie at the Bulls Head in Moseley, Birmingham. After well over a decade, Ben's not getting rich; he's not alone. A huge tranche of local music businesses work this way. Without this kind of gritty idealism / bloody-mindedness / music obsessions (delete as appropriate), local scenes would be a lot poorer. 

Scary financial stuff and noble principles to follow…