Friday, 31 August 2012

ADO emerge blinking into delight

In early 2011, this blog posted a flurry of enthusiastic posts about ADO – Alternative Dubstep Orchestra – as they powered though a string of gigs at the Hare and Hounds in King’s Heath in Birmingham. Then... it went quiet. No live action, no posts. But now, with gigs planned, and a box-fresh video that you can see after the jump, there’s an awful lot to talk about. Shelley Atkinson’s doing the talking. 

I’m very fond of ADO. One reason is purely sentiment: the seeds for the band’s genesis were sown at the November 2010 launch event for The Pilot project, which I led, and for which ADO manager Shelley Atkinson had played an invaluable role as lead researcher. At the PP launch, Shelley and DJ Karl Jones had challenged each other to see if live musicians could work coherently with DJs and turntablists; from that challenge came the first version of ADO.  But there's more. 

The second reason there's a lot to love about ADO is simply the pure musical adventurous spirit of the project - a collection of hugely disparate musicians and DJs, working together across genres that have never meshed before. 
The potential was huge, and it still is. Throughout 2011, I'd never before been able to watch a band evolve so fast and so nakedly, in public. It was charming and enthralling at the same time. Musicians spun in and out of the line-up, as the band worked towards a degree of identity and a coherent music vision. Some people struggled to find their feet; others took to it like ducks to water; some found they had other fish to fry, or obligations to meet. And that, of course, is often the way it is. 

Time for that chat with Shelley about how things are now...

It’s 21 months since ADO came into being. Tell me about the first idea that drove ADO 
Shelley Atkinson: Oh, to celebrate Birmingham's music scenes and encourage 
collaboration. To showcase musicians from different genres, to create something along a basic dubstep line, but to enhance that and mix different music together.
But wasn’t there a musical point you wanted to prove?
Yes. Two of us came up with the ideas: Karl Jones and myself. I’ve put live music on for the past five or six years…working on festivals, creating festivals. When we met, we were at loggerheads. Karl was trying to convince me that dubstep is innovative, that turntablism is an instrument in its own right. Lots of things that he’s very passionate about. Coming from where I had been – more ‘traditional’ music making, if you like – I disagreed, largely. I felt DJs had too much stake in popular music.  I wanted to inject more live music into his world, and he wanted to inject into the ‘live’ world, more evidence that dubstep isn’t just one thing, that it can be varied, that it had twists and turns, and that it can be live. So we both had agendas…. But we both wanted to celebrate Birmingham music and music-making, of all kinds. 
So how has that worked out – have you reached a perfect medium between the two approaches?
I think so...nowadays it is less about trying to prove a point and more about seeing what comes out once you get 10 different musicians together coming from different points of view. For me the sounds that come out from that are exciting. Everybody puts their point of view into the pot. Sometimes there can be creative tensions, but that's what makes the music sound so different - nobody is following a formula. You’ve got producers, songwriters, and people who are very passionate about their genre in there…
Surely it’s a case where the musician creates and the DJ curates?
I would have said that initially, Robin…but if you were to speak to Richard Shawcross, for example, who is a DJ in ADO, or Karl Jones – they would say they were musicians; they create bass lines, rhythms, melodies. Which they do! So we’ve had this debate from the word go. The lines are so blurred now! 
Sounds like healthy creative tension to me…
Yes. I think people fighting for different things musically can create a new thing. And you have to compromise, you have to work together. So it’s a great process. To me, the process is just as important as the music itself. 
Let’s talk about the process, because you’ve done quite a lot of that, live, onstage. The band lurched chaotically into life on stage, and it was a pleasure to see that lurching. I’ve never seen that before. Normally, all that stuff takes place in the rehearsal room…
 … and then you go out and gig when you’re ready. You don’t book a gig before you’ve got a band, like we did! But it was scary, and exciting. Some of the musicians hated it at first, to be honest. They hated being put in that position. It’s scary and it’s not fair, to do that to a musician. 
Leaving them naked on stage….
Naked, yeah! Often many of them were doing styles of music they weren’t really knowledgeable about. But that really doesn’t matter anymore, that’s not the point. And it never was, actually.
But that’s what excites me: something unique might emerge from this huge fermenting mess of ideas and abilities.  Let’s get back to the present. I saw almost all your gigs last year, and it was lovely to watch you evolve and nail new approaches. But I think you’ve only done one hometown gig in 2012.
It was important to play live, and to inspire people in a room, and do stuff on stage that hadn’t been done before. We used every gig to grow and learn. All those experiences came to a head after a year, and then it was time to make some music in a recording studio. And I don’t think you can do both at the same time – it’s very difficult. So that’s why it’s been a bit quiet. Lots of writing. And we wanted to approach this work in the same way - not to churn a product out. 
What is the timescale for the rest of 2012?
We’ve got a video out now – see above – filmed at two of our gigs. We’re hoping to do a November tour. Some of the members play in other bands: you’ve got Leighton Hargreaves who plays in the Destroyers. Tom Livemore’s going to be touring with Carina Round again in October. So everybody’s finished what they’re doing by November. Which lets us tour, and also put out a release, with Hero Records.
Conventional wisdom says you should only play with one band if you’re going to give it your best show. You can’t do that with this band. So how do you deal with that? 
These are signs of the times. I don’t know many musicians who just play with one band in Birmingham. Actual working musicians in our city all play with different bands; and they all are going to have one band which they have loyalty to. I’ve never, as manager of ADO said to anybody ‘You must choose’. 

And that is a brave and a good thing... because, when it comes to collaboration, ADO set a new record for cross-town multi-stranded musician membership. Brass section stalwarts Christopher Holmes plays with Sister Henry and The Prescriptions, and Fly Harper with Friendly Fire. Bass player Spike Barker also plays with Toy Hearts, and the brilliant percussionist Joelle Barker also plays with, among others, TG Collective.

Now a tricky question: this is your first major managerial gig. What would you say to yourself of less than two years ago, just starting up the band?
Good question. Let a lot things go by – you can’t take it all on. With ten people, you’ve got ten lots of emotions and inspirations and hopes. We’re all on the same page, but I don’t take on every little thing. The times when I’ve found it difficult is when I’ve forgotten the big picture. The big picture is what you need to keep you eye on!
What happening in 2013, Shelley?
More tours, more recording. We hope to come into our own. We hope people will stop saying things like ‘That’s not dubstep’ or ‘that’s not orchestral’, and just realise it’s a musical force. We want to work with some well-established artists as well
And what’s the ‘brand’ going to be: ADO or Alternative Dubstep Orchestra?

Oh - ADO. 

Just to round things off, it's worth noting that, just as ADO grew out of an unlikely and idealistic collaboration, where different musical worlds collided with very satisfying results, so ADO in turn is now spawning yet more experimental ventures, Past members have gone on to form exciting ventures like Electric Swing Circus, and Jolt Music is a new collaboration between present members Leighton Hargreaves, Tom Livemore and Joelle Barker. That's not all; there are more ventures cooking up even now. I rather hope that, with this level of musical curiosity and willingness to explore, that we will see more ventures in the future. Long may all this continue. 

ADO Facebook page

Friday, 24 August 2012

Pledging my love: Red Shoes and Electric Swing Circus take the crowdfunding route

Crowdfunding to pay for a project is generally agreed to be a good thing.  It worked well for the Destroyers, but could it be too much of a good thing?  Plenty more people are working the system right now. 

Red Shoes' numbers on Sunday 26th
Right now, the pledge movement is the favourite new way for bands and artists to raise funds for big projects. It's simple: meet  the pledge site's (quite stringent) conditions, then use the site's muscle, guidance and savvy to to raise funds. For this, you pay a commission fee. The sites undoubtedly help in many ways, but you've still got a lot of work to do to reach your target. 
The two sites here are Pledge Music, one of the largest, who don't disclose funding targets, have big and small clients worldwide; and Crowdfunder, UK based, much smaller, who charge less, do disclose the funding targets, and also fund non-music projects. 

At the point of publishing this post, two West Midlands bands: Red Shoes, and Electric Swing Circus, were closing - ultimately successfully - on their funding targets for new albums, with Pledge Music and Crowdfunder respectively. Red Shoes are veterans who have recruited some absolute superstars of the folk world to work on their new album; Electric Swing Circus are a charming, skillful and slightly demented new-ish six piece who blend (their description) 'breakbeat and house with jungle and dubstep, whilst keeping true to their own unique style of swing'

And both bands were kind enough to honestly answer my very picky questions about the whole process.

At the time of writing you are both closing on your targets. How has it gone? 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We’re running at 78% now with a real jump in the last week. We’re not there yet, but we think that we’ll hit that target. 
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: So far so good, we’re on track to hit target on time so we are all happy with that. 
I’m a fan. I follow your progress on Facebook, and it seems like you’re there every day with bits and pieces about how you’re doing. It’s great to see the numbers edging forward, but do you ever wonder that you might be nagging your fans…? 
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: Yes recently there has been a lot of that – but because our Facebook page has grown so fast this past month on the back of the festival tour, we are trying to get the message out to our new  friends, so we have perhaps pushed it a bit harder than we would normally. We are usually quite good at mixing posts about ourselves with other things in and around the electro swing scene. And very soon we’ll resume normal service, with maybe a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of Crowdfunder to other stuff. 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We've had that feeling. It’s hard to strike a balance between getting it out there and just informing people. But if we don’t do it for a day or two, the pledges slow down. None of us are used to the hard sell and it’s difficult putting it up constantly on your own personal page. But remember not everyone keeps up with everything ever day. We’ve had a couple of negative comments on Facebook, but they’re people that haven’t pledged. Our pledgers have come out in support and have “shared” and “liked” the comments and posts.
People can pledge for all sorts of goodies, not just the cd. What has worked best to sustain interest? Nine months ago, the Destroyers auctioned off Louis Robinson’s beard…. What is your most outrageous/attention-seeking offer? 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We’ve tried to keep to the music side. Gimmicks wouldn’t really work for us, and none us has a beard to shave off in the first place!  Our album guests (Dave Pegg, Dave Swarbrick and Bev Bevan) have brought us increased and sustained interest. You know you’re doing something right when these people play on your album. The signed CD is working the best for us, but over the last few days our new T-shirts have gone great guns. People who’d already pledged have added them to their order. We had to get the right design and we think that ours  really works: Lyrics to a song, incorporating the album title, along with the group name. The addition has given us a new burst of activity.
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: We haven’t got anything particularly wacky on our list; we really wanted to focus on stuff that we thought was genuinely worth something so the rewards are a little straight. Our headline reward is two guestlist tickets to a festival with us next year and that has had quite a bit of interest – if people ever wondered what artist camping is like at a festival, now is the time to find out (FYI it’s better, but not that much better). We did really try and keep the prices down, on all the rewards so for example with the festival tickets, they work out as £125 each which we think is quite a bargain!
As you’ve both said, success really depends on you getting out to market your work. But by setting yourselves a very public target, are you not also running the risk of failing in public? It does happen…
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: I agree, doing this does make you feel exposed. I've spent plenty of time refreshing the screen, hoping for the slightest increase, wondering who amongst friends and family might donate, and then wondering if I've asked them once twice or three times already...
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: Aaaagh, don’t say that! No, we know we could fall flat on our faces. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know, and it’s better to have tried and failed. The one thing we are all confident in, is the songs and the sound of the new tracks, and we’ll get there.

It’s really interesting to look at your pledge site, and see who else is out there pitching. Are you in good company, do you think?
ESC closing on their target too...
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: It’s bizarre to see yourself next to great artists like BB King (and we’ve been side by side with him since day 1!). To be on the same page as Shelby Lynne, Ben Folds and Then Jericho is a little unreal, but it also shows what kind of status Pledge is at. If these people are on there and it’s working for them, then because it’s a level playing field, it also might work for us! No one, artist is singled out on that Home page, we all get the same publicity and push.
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: Looking through there are a couple of interesting musical projects that I've been meaning to get round to supporting for a while. That said there’s not as much there as I thought there would be. More interesting projects on the site would definitely be welcome, though, if anyone is thinking about it...
And are people able to see exactly how much money you are asking for? Some sites let you see this sort of thing, others don’t. 
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: I think by showing the amount of money you are asking for, it makes it much easier to justify things to fans. I don’t see a real advantage in hiding the total, unless you are trying to do something a bit sneaky. It’s very difficult to pick the asking amount, and there was much debate within the group as to how much to aim for. In the end we went with £2500 because it did feel much more attainable than figures like £8k that we are expecting to spend in total on the album.
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: No, that’s not revealed. It’s just the target percentage against the Pledges and days left. It really wouldn’t sit well with us as people if that amount was up there is £ and pence, we’re not good at “asking for money”. 
Right now, I’ve got pledges on both your sites, and I could have a whole lot more… do you think there will come a point when this sort of fund-raising won’t work any more?
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: I think the more it is used, the more it will favour established projects rather than new projects. If everyone is shouting, some of the smaller players may struggle to be heard. It is interesting how this model gives total power to the fans. If people want it, it will happen, if they don’t it won’t. I think there will be people who get disillusioned after failed projects, but this model is very honest – a project will fail because either the concept is flawed, or there wasn’t enough exposure. There are no other excuses. If we were to fall short though, it would act as a wake up call: either we’d need to sort our marketing out, or come up with a better offer! 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We think it really is the way forward. It’s not a new concept: Marillion and The Strawbs have funded their releases for years through pre-orders on their sites. But Pledge is a complete platform. There’s a support network if you have any questions on sales, fulfilling the pledges, business advice... you don’t get that on your own site. Updates are put out regularly and you’re encouraged to do this constantly yourselves as well.
This form of artist funding is starting to worry the big boys, because they won’t have control over releases in the future. But they’ve only themselves to blame. Great artists like Dylan, Van Morrison, The Band, The Stones or The Beatles just wouldn’t get a look-in these days if they were starting out. If they were starting out again, then they’d be using Pledge Music.
How helpful has your site been in guiding you through the process?
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: Fantastic. I've had a fair few queries through the process, and replies have come with within a few hours at the latest. It was also helpful having someone at the end of a phone if needed. 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: Brilliant from the start. Carolyn spoke to them on the phone initially and we got a full rundown on what could be done. They asked lots of questions about the project. We were encouraged to be realistic about our target figure and to base it on our mailing list to start with. The mailing list is most important: that's those fans who really want to know what happening with Red Shoes. They are the people who bought the first album, and are going to more than likely want the new one . . . and they have!
They run through a very easy business plan with you and assess all the figures, then encourage you to think of the extras that will act as the incentives that only Pledgers will be able to get. This goes backwards and forwards until all the boxes are ticked and all the extras are in place. When we’ve had a question, we can get hold of our personal mentor almost immediately either by phone or through a mailing system. We get our Pledges delivered through as emails and the database is updated immediately to show the new orders.They encourage you to give things away to the Pledgers/Fans. It makes it a very personal connection. We’ll let you know that it’s worked perfectly when we start sending those orders out!
Finally – any tips for those who are considering going down this route?
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We spoke to Paul Murphy from The Destroyers before we took the plunge. His advice was worth it’s weight in gold. He made us reassess a few things before we launched; we’re glad we had someone who had succeeded on Pledge to talk to apart from the mentors in the office.
You need a loyal and supportive fan base, with a mailing list of people that you talk to. You don’t  have to have lots of members on it, but you need people who follow you or come to see you live regularly and have signed up for information. Next, be realistic about your target, because overreaching for a figure just might make it difficult to get to your target. Then, be prepared to push, push and push all the way, blog it out to everyone who’ll listen, that you have a fantastic album coming out and they’d be mad not to pledge on it.
Pledge also let you arrange to make donations to a charity of your choice. You can have allocate some of the funds to go to that charity. Because we all knew people affected by strokes, we are giving 10% of funds raised over the 100% to Stroke Association. As a last statement, we’d say “Go for it, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!”
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: Well we are not through the process yet –and until we hit target I wouldn’t want to give too much advice in case I got it totally wrong... but based on what I have learned so far... It’s best to do the campaign while something else is happening, so we have alternated our dialogue with the fans between this campaign, and the festival tour. It is also good to do this during a time when your fanbase is growing, as it means that there is something there for recent followers to engage with behind. All in all I think crowdfunding is fantastic, not only for raising money, but for giving fans the chance to get a bit closer and get involved. Just make sure you're ready before you jump in with two feet.
On balance, it seems all good for Mark and Tom, and I really think that both bands will hit their targets. But I see problems in the long run. As Mark says, the old-school 20th century record industry has driven itself into the sand with its conservatism, market manipulation and get-rich-quick repertoire selection. It's no surprise to me that musicians are choosing to bypass the old ways. If I I was a record industry executive, I'd be looking hard at the new talent emerging on the pledge sites, and snapping up whatever I could. And I would ask myself why the big names like BB King are abandoning my business proposition. But I would also ask where the next big names are going to come from.

And if I was in a band, I might also want to ask how long this method of funding will work for - unlike Tom, I certainly don't think it will last 50 years. I might also ask myself how long a music packaging format  that was invented by an obsolete record industry - the album - is going to last. But for now, hey guys - it's looking good! 

Red Shoes website           
          Red Shoes gig list 
Red Shoes on Pledge Music 

Electric Swing Circus 
         Electric Swing Circus gigs list
Electric Swing Circus on Crowdfunder 
Pledge Music

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Traps: T-Shirts! Music! Er... Interesting Slogans! A band-operated Record Label!

You're a band, and you run your own label. Sounds great, doesn't it? Puts you ahead of the pack, right? Well... maybe. It can make for even more work than simply keeping the act afloat, and normally that's quite enough for most people. But there are compensations, and it can develop from a simple idea into something bigger.

Nick Berry is one of The Traps, a fine and inventive band of this parish, and one of the many very pleasant high points of the Songwriters Cafe 2012 season. They kicked off a label, Speech Fewapy, to go with their own recordings, and then those of some pals. The label has become a brand, extending to clothing and, for a brief period, a rather inventive radio show that aired weekly(ish) on Rhubarb Radio. As far as small-scale local labels go, SF are in good company, with Friendly FireStately Homes of England’s Spritely Records, Misty’s Big Adventure‘s Grumpy Fun Records, Silvery Records in Coventry, and Friends of The StarsCommercially Inviable all raising their heads fitfully above the parapet when there’s a release to big up.

So tell me about your label...
It came about two years ago. We were getting very tired of the ‘write three songs, record three songs and send them off to A&R people to chase a deal’ routine. We found we were recording single-type songs, not songs that were suited to albums or EPs. So we set up Speech Fewapy records… 
When you say; ’set up a label’, what are you talking about, exactly?
Funnily enough, I’m reading a book about that at the moment – what makes you an official ‘label’ – like a company, or a business? Actually it wasn’t like that. We set up a website online, and released everything, digitally, through that. We didn’t have a plan. We did think of eventually stepping that up as it grew, including having physical product.  
 We had some t shirts made, hand-drawn, with ‘You Need Speech Fewapy’ as a slogan, very much influenced by the old Stiff Records t-shirts. 

You mean the old ‘If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth A Fuck’ t-shirts? I had one of those…. 
Yes. I had a repro version! Anyway, we had about 150 of those made, and they really worked as our marketing tool. Interesting, but accidental, although very successful! It gave our label a personality, which was really important.
Then we started to look at releasing other artists. We got Greg Bird and Flamingo Flame on board. We’d really liked the work he’d done with Sunset Cinema Club.
At the start of our chat, you described the 20th century record company model label and the problems in the way they worked with artists. We’re well into the 21st century, and things have changed - for the better in some ways, and in other ways decidedly not. But that 20th century model was very damaging for bands. Bands wound up jumping to the tune of the A&R men…
Exactly. When you start a band, you do it for the love of it, the fun and the music. The deeper you go into any kind of involvement with the music industry, the more you run the risk of starting to dislike something you absolutely love. I found that whenever we had interest in London - the longer it went on, with the expectancy that something was going to happen, the empty promises and all that - frustration sets in. It stops you listening to music! The roles in the band change too: certain people have to take a more business-like lead, but still focus on the music. With the setting up of the label, it was very much about bringing the fun back. 
A lot of bands have this problem, getting bogged down with administration. 
I think that’s what kills bands in the end. 
So tell me how Speech Fewapy has worked as a sidebar to your musical activities?
At the moment it’s at the trickiest stage, because we’ve just finished recording an album (Calypso)...
When we set the label up it was just us and our music, so the label ran when we were ready to push our own music. But then we released Greg Bird, we did an EP with Tom Peel, and started working with Black Heart Generator. After that, we decided as a band that we wanted to go away and write and record an album. We wanted to write for a whole year, basically. So now we have a problem, now the album’s done – but it’s a nice problem.
What sort of agreement do you have with your other artists – is this a handshake relationship, or something more formal? Is there a sense of responsibility to your artists?
It is a handshake thing. Where it goes in the next year, we don’t know yet. But we, as a label, take the responsibility for all the manufacturing, all the press and PR. That’s not to say we don’t involve the artists in that. We very much like to involve them, and make it a collaboration – how we can think of different ways in which to approach that. But ultimately it's down to us. Surely a label shouldn’t release an artist unless they’re very excited about that artist? 
Well, yes, I agree. But I can think of dozens of examples to the contrary in the mainstream industry…
So to go that extra step and help them with the whole release – it’s a no-brainer for me. 
Moving Pictures - The Traps    The second single from the new album

So, whether it’s a semi-dormant label, as it has been for a spell, or a side project of yours, as opposed to the formal business relationship it may well become, you still have an imprint, a concept. I’m aware of the artists you’ve released; I also listened to your rather good Speech Fewapy radio show; so I feel that you have a brand. 
Because the T-shirts were so successful as well, we saw a lot in the ‘You Need Speech Fewapy’ slogan. It was slightly controversial, but we weren’t too concerned. We very much wanted to make it a brand, and if you go on the website, you’ll see that we separate the music and the clothing. We value the clothing thing as a complete, very important feature to our label – our brand, if you like. I’m not ashamed to say that at all.  We’re now looking at working with retailers - if you look at how stores like Urban Outfitters, for example, they sell music, and they sell clothes. But they don’t have any brands that work together. So maybe they’re missing a trick. Ultimately, the people who buy clothes there also buy music.
Who else might you be thinking about associating yourselves with, on the label?
This week, we released a new single by Tom Peel... 
... and last month we did a release with a band called the Bombergs – a really good at three-piece with bits of Talking Heads and Television  - they’re great…and we’re talking to a couple of other guys. 
And clothing lines?
Last year we did a different t-shirt every month for a year, the idea being that a different designer would design a t-shirt based around the slogan. That worked really well. The idea is to get that going again, but to have more of a name, to evolve the brand and the clothing range. 
And are you following the Factory records model of giving everything a sequential catalogue number?
Yes! Your Headland, the new new Traps single.

The Traps
Speech Fewapy Records

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The impossible is possible. Soweto Kinch talks about The Flyover Show

Why does a double MOBO winner, known and respected the world over, come back to work on a day of music activities in a grotty underpass in an unpreposessing part of town, hauling some extremely major names in to play… five years in a row?

The Flyover Show is the most unlikely success story. Birmingham offers several festivals where the music and culture centres around reggae and the music that has grown from reggae – Reggae City, Simmer Down… and The Flyover Show. All of them are open, welcoming and friendly; none of them get the press coverage they deserve; all of them pull typically mixed Birmingham reggae crowds. But The Flyover Show has been going the longest. It’s even travelled abroad to South Africa, with a Flyover Show held this year in Soweto itself.

Soweto Kinch lives in Hockley, Birmingham. Feet squarely on the ground, informed, self-aware, articulate, open and positive, he sees The Flyover Show’s location in Hockley as an essential part of the whole exercise. And to achieve that end, he gives of himself to an extraordinary degree. 
“We get so much bad press.  The only time these areas get spoken about is as ‘high centres of unemployment, race riots, knife crime, gun crime… I really want to do a re-branding exercise, not just for the outside world, but for ourselves.”
Last year, at The 2011  Flyover Show, I watched him work HARD, in the middle of the afternoon, operating without a PA, while the generator was repaired. He was compere,  cheerleader and animateur, bigging up, encouraging, cajoling and celebrating, right in the thick of it down among the crowd. Then when the stage PA crackled into life, just in time for some of the name acts, he was up, jamming, supporting, gliding though music styles with grace and ease. It was deeply impressive stuff.  

This isn’t your regular music get together. It belongs to, and is explicitly part of, Hockley. So it’s a bit more of a community fete, only with added megastars. This year, Maxi Priest, Janet Kay, Julian Joseph, joining with Basil Gabbidon, Soweto himself, Lady Leshurr, Dec14Life, RTKal and more.

There’s, of course, a clear Jamaican flavour to The Flyover Show this year. Monday 6th August marked the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence, and celebrations are taking place across the country. Given that the West Midlands has the second highest concentration of UK Jamaicans, and that Hockley sits squarely between Aston, Lozells and Handsworth, that’s a further reason to continue to develop and promote the show in its very specific location. 
And given the passing of time, it’s now a generational thing. A couple of years ago, I put together an affectionate if slightly rose-tinted radio documentary, Handsworth Evolution, in which I talked with at the generations of Jamaican and Jamaican-inspired musicians who have lived and worked in Birmingham since the end of the war. Taking the late Andy Hamilton as the first generation, Steel Pulse, Ruby Turner and UB40 as the second generation, that places Soweto as part of the 3rd generation. And it’s clear he wants to encourage that same pride and creativity shown by the first three generations in the fourth generation. But of course it’s a long way from Calypso, Rock Steady, Blue Beat and Ska, to the present day, and as always happens, a whole host of other music influences and directions have added to the mix. 

A People With No Past From Soweto Kinch's 2011 New Emancipation album

So of course things have changed and developed. But do you feel that over the past nearly seventy years, that there has been a dilution in Jamaican music and culture?
“No, I wouldn’t describe it as dilution at all. It’s an evolution. Identity and culture are not static concepts. We’re all dealing with what globalisation means to us; all reassessing what ideas like ‘Britishness’ are like – are they redundant as terms when we’ve got such a heterogeneous population? For me, consistently, Jamaica has provided more than just a place to associate with… but a kind of attitude that’s embodied in the people.  As Usain Bolt says (as he beats his chest crossing the finishing line), we’re a small island with a big heart.”
“There are so many islands across the West Indies, but for some reason, Jamaica seems to shout loudest above the rest. That may be criticised by the other islands, but it’s something to be commended in this country, when we’ve had to deal with so much virulent racism. That fighting spirit has left an indelible mark on this country, and certainly on me.”
OK, evolution it is. But where does, say Wordsworth MC – he’s from Brooklyn – place himself? 
“It would be impossible for Wordsworth to do what he does with the influence of Jamaica and Jamaican culture. As a Brooklyner, as that kind of MC – it’s completely flavoured with West Indian inflections and Sound system culture. As an MC, growing up in New York, you have to be aware of that tradition. That morphs, wherever you go in the world.” 
Pogus Caesar's shot of Soweto Kinch, 2010
 “That’s a great thing – it gets you thinking about the tendrils of Jamaican culture. Not just some jerk chicken on the beach. Escaping some of those stereotypes, you realise it’s had a far more profound influence on the way we all think, the way we all approach music now. So it’s a great time for us to consider how that culture has changed, how is it different from, you know, after the Empire Windrush to now.”

Given that huge span of culture and interactions, how easy is it to put a bill together?
“It’s great having these themes to tie things down to. To be able to have jazz alongside hip-hop, alongside spoken word, alongside dance (there’s a specially commissioned dance from Birmingham Royal Ballet), alongside an out and out reggae artist… there is a common thread tying them all together.”
You’re growing all the time. Will you come back to Hockley Flyover next year? There’s only so much space there…
“Yeah. Absolutely. I would love to. I think what’s really symbolic and important about this show is that it has a grass-roots identity. The work and the stories from that community that never get celebrated, that never really earn the same respect – it’s always ‘community arts’, the poor cousin of high art – that work still needs to go on. And if it just gets too big, we’ll build a bigger flyover!”
The Flyover Show site
The Flyover Show South Africa site

Soweto Kinch's site
Hockley Circus Birmingham on Google maps