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. 

Good to meet you

Sam Archer, Harriet Harkcom, Brothers Groove and Call Me Unique

Sam Archer plays mesmerising handpan. This is an extraordinarily beautiful percussion instrument that looks like a flying saucer. I’m indebted to Ben Drummond for introducing me by featuring her at one of his free nights at the Jam House. Since then, she has duetted with tabla maestro Mendi Singh. That's what I call a proper collaboration. Here’s a little taste of her work.

Harriet Harkcom has a simply fabulous, rich voice, and a lovely, gracious shining stage
presence. She is now doing low-key solo shows, after summer and autumn gigs singing with Dan Whitehouse.

Dan spotted her though the Songwriters Circle he runs at Birmingham’s Mac. I first caught Harriet with Dan at Moseley Folk - this is a shot from MoFo 2013 - and I’m looking forward immensely to catching her solo stuff in 2014.

Brothers Groove  I wrote about these boys last month. Fabulous, airy, earthy, funky blues from guys who both get it, and can play their butts off.  Makes me proud. Catch them soon.  
And I got to meet and chat with Call Me Unique at MoFo 2013. A confident, savvy, creative and connected woman, who I think and hope is going places. What’s not to like?

Sorry To Lose you

Caroline Corley, Mike Baker, John Tully

The Corley boots
Caroline Corley was, is, a US radio great. She was one of the finest broadcasters I have ever had the privilege to work with. Salty, sensitive, impulsive, intelligent, mad, very funny, and a brilliant story-teller, Caroline lit up the stations she worked at. No-one could inhabit the mindset you need for voicetracking better than Caroline – but she had spontaneity as well. 

Caroline died, suddenly, last month, far too young, shortly after coming off her morning show at 107.1 The Peak, in White PlainsNew York. A masterful broadcaster and a good friend. One of the originals.

Also fondly remembered: Mike Baker, an early Beacon Radio stalwart, and John Tully, a legendary promoter and manager of 70s Brum.

Savvy social media chops and snappy marketing 

Geroge Barnett, Electric Swing Circus, Laura Mvula 
Oh, what a year, George Barnett! Stonking YouTube numbers, and an EP in November with the sublime Animal Keeper, which marched straight on to Radio 1 and Radio 2, through BBC Introducing. 

The sell was simple: A great, great song, cleverlyy backed up by subtle online teases to a committed audience... and a startling video, below. This guy is a star. The BBC know it. Commercial radio, with its reactive and defensive programming, of course missed out again. Get on the case, boys – you’re losing out, as usual. Watch out for a fresh George Barnett post soon.


Let’s hear it too for the diligent and thoroughgoing Electric Swing Circus, who continue to expand their market and their business proposition on the basis of cultivating their audience, showing people a hella good time, and being relentlessly affable. Even if the bass is still cranked up to bowel-liquifying levels. Props too to Laura Mvula for great tweetage.

Most inventive and elegant fundraising

Erica Nockalls - check this post for full details. Erica did a clever and graceful thing to raise money for her next solo band tour (she also plays in the Wonderstuff and with The Proclaimers). Others could take a leaf out of her inventive and stylish book.. I take my hat off to you, Ms N. 

The bad news

Breakups, money woes, property developers and yet more midlands radio jobs lost 

Destroyers and Paul Murphy went their separate ways
This upset me, a lot. I love the Destroyers, I love Paul Murphy. Both band and songwriter are wonderful, brave, unique talents. They complemented each other, making the sum even greater than the two brilliant parts. Sadly, the mixture proved too combustible. I will continue to follow both, and I wish everyone only the best. But I, and others, saw the parting of the ways as a sad, sad loss.

UB40’s continuing troubles  
I hated to see this, too. UB40, for all the many changes over their 35 year run, remain a Birmingham institution. In my view, they may just be the most important band to emerge from Birmingham. Certainly, they are the most important band to make it big from Brum, but who actually opted to stay to keep their business in town. But now it’s all a sorry mess. I’m very grateful to Brian Travers for being so honest with me when discussing the band’s troubles on this blog. 

Property developers lurk
You might think, because it's been nice and quiet, that it's all over for plans to redevelop next to the Hare and Hounds and other music venues in our towns. It's not. It's not over by a long chalk. 

Goodbye Kerrang
The loss of
Kerrang Radio from the West Midlands FM band. Another set of radio jobs disappearing from the Midlands and heading down to London. Another good platform for local rock music gone. More about Midlands media job losses next week. 

And the good news

The Treehouse is re-opening next year! 
I learned this month that plans for Songwriter’s cafĂ© 2014 are well underway, and the remodelling and rebuilding called for after a horribly wet 2012 and the brutal winter of 2012/13 will yield an even lovelier and more magical place to make and listen to music. I am so pleased. 

And there are going to be new albums from Einstellung and Goodnight Lenin. Oh, yes, there are!. Oh, no, there are not! Oh, yes, there are.

Best music days of the year? 

This year’s Moseley Folk was better than ever. So many lovely moments. Worth it for the crack as much as anything else. I've got a post here about the new talent they showcased this year. 

Ruby Turner and band at the Crossing. Ruby just keeps on getting better, and her band are breathtakingly good. It was a privilege to see her. She is approaching national treasure status. 

Goodnight Lenin at the Prince of Wales. The band finally nailed their new, slightly more raucous and tougher, stance. The songs work, and the band has not lost its onstage charm – which a lot of GNL followers were, frankly, a bit worried about. …

Dan Whitehouse at the Crescent. Masterful, elegant, lyrical stuff. And a corking band to wrap around his songs. I hope this will be Dan's year. He richly deserves it.  

Hey, this is a change

Remember the very fine series of Brumcast podcasts put together by Chris Downing: all local, all good, all very professional, with a tendency to extreme noise and thunderous aural terror? That represents a lot of work. I wasn’t entirely surprised when Chris called time on the series due to increased personal commitments. But now, Chris resurfaces, with a new album project, DNP (Dona Nobis Pacem). And it is good, dark, stuff. A chat with Chris is upcoming early in 2014. 

And this coming year?

No predictions; they were wildly wrong last year. Aside from the people I’ve already mentioned, I’d like to see and hear more from ADO, and more local radio airplay for local bands. The talent is there, and it would be great to see it more widely exposed to casual listeners as a strategic programming decision. That would work, and it would be so much better than management's expectation that the audience will listen at ridiculously off peak times on the BBC, or not at all on most commercial radio. And I'd like to see the embryonic Music Industry group that is being (not before time) fostered by Birmingham City Council grow into something valuable, eloquent and effective. And they really, really, ought to join forces with the veteran and worthwhile Birmingham Music Network.

So, thank you. Thanks to all the wonderful musicians and supportive and creative individuals who go to make up our fabulous West Midlands music scene. It’s been a great year, and I'd love to hear about your favourite moments, so please, please, do leave a comment. 

I have some very interesting stuff lined up for the coming months. Starting next week with a bit of a depth-charge. 

Happy New Year. 

See also: Five things I learned in 2013


Subscribe to the mailing list!

* required field

Email Format

No comments: