Friday, 28 November 2014

A new independent audio play. That's right: new, independent and done in the Midlands. Online now.

Radio's easy, right? The hell it is. Here's how it is for indie producers

I write a lot about the creative and financial struggles of musicians; there are amazing stories of invention and diligence, triumph and adversity. It's stuff to be proud of. 

Musicians may be working under adverse conditions (see this illuminating link), but equipment and production costs are now relatively affordable. The music sector at least has a broad-ish market to pitch in – from playing on the street to self-marketed CDs to sell at gigs, to crowdfunding, to 'regular' gigs, to synchronisation, record deals and more. 

Now consider the equivalent landscape for radio. It's not pretty. There's massive contraction in the commercial sector. The BBC is continually on the defensive, its funding under increasing pressure from a hostile government. Community stations are falling by the wayside. Online radio mainly earns tiny audiences, frequently because the online stations are more interested in themselves than their audiences. Podcasts work best when they are fronted by existing star names. And the new young broadcast stars are on YouTube - they're not coming back to radio. 

So... what if you are an independent producer, working outside these sectors? How do you make it pay? There is one market, and one only: the 25% of output that the BBC devotes to indies. It is fiercely competitive. To work in this field calls for regular pitching visits to London. It has to be London: there's nobody left in the Midlands with any responsibility for commissioning programmes. There are no decisions made up here, no plan to review local talent - and that's yet another way the BBC is losing out.

Now let's ramp up the producer pressure still further, and look at radio drama. There are just two small areas within that single BBC market: Radios 3 and 4. 

Radio drama is an acquired taste. The more complex the work, the more interesting the message, the more you have to really listen. But the priceless advantage of radio drama is it lets you tell stories. Outlandish or intimate, radio lends itself perfectly. And you don't need cgi to do something imaginative and weird. Try this...

So hats off to a former colleague of mine, Rosie Boulton, who has simply gone ahead and produced a deluxe, positive hour of beautifully crafted audio drama, The Kindness Of Time, without waiting for the nod from the high and mighty at Broadcasting House. For full disclosure, I should add that I play a small part in her work. Doing it was a lot of fun. 

Rosie thinks she is right in saying that she is the only speech radio producer working in the Midlands for Radio 4. And when we say Midlands, that's Shropshire to Nottinghamshire, Derby to Gloucester. That simply doesn't stack up in terms of representing the country or trying to grow talent. It's another example of how the BBC washes its hands of Midlands talent, while helping itself to Midlands license fees. I've touched on this before. It's dishonourable and disrespectful, and the corporation should hang its head in shame. 

Today, Sunday 30th, is the online launch day. I asked Rosie how the project evolved.
“I went to hear a wonderful choir - Stream Of Sound. I'm quite an old cynical music producer, and I found myself with tears running down my face. And I thought that was a bit odd. I went to hear them again and the same thing happened. So I got in touch and asked them 'can we do something together?' They said yes, but that was as far as we got - for a while."

What's different about Stream Of Sound?
“They're a Midlands-based youth folk chorus. They find and arrange, mostly, English Folk music. Mostly in 4-part harmony. The. combination of Folk, in harmony, sung by young people, does something. For me, anyway...
“The thought sat with me for a while. Then I went to see two writer friends. Deirdre Burton and Tom Davis. They live in Moseley, they write all the time, and they put plays on for the pleasure of it. Their plays are exquisite. So we teamed up, planned, talked, and they wrote. Then I cast it.” 
“It's a radio - sorry, audio - drama. About waiting for love to appear in midwinter. It's available online to listen to, for free. And you can download it. We're launching it today, in time for advent. It's a play for the run up to Christmas.”

You say waiting for love in midwinter, but you're also tying it in with Advent. So has it got a specific religious message?
“I would say it has a spiritual message. It is not specifically tied to the Christian story; it is tied to values which are universal”

This is a complex hour-long affair. How did you fund it? You used professional actors, a decent studio, proper recording engineers...
“I won an award, last year, and that gave me a pot of money to get the play made. It was the Sanford St Martin award, for religious broadcasting. It was for a radio documentary about someone in a coma, and what he remembered when he came out of the coma. It went out on Radio 4. That gave us a pot of money to get started. The writers and some of the cast didn't want to be paid, but it mean I could cover travel costs and a lot of other things.
“I chose an amateur choir, who have an ethos for singing for the joy of it. They would never dream of entering competitions. The writers write for the joy of it. I wanted to produce it, because I wanted to do it. I needed to do it, in a way. Making things is what keeps me going, what fuels me. And so many of us are like that. 
“I don't want to spend five years waiting for permission from somebody sitting in London with a pot of money in order to do what I really want to do.” 
“I wanted to see what you can do with limited or no resources. What is possible, and what is not? I produced it to BBC tech standards, so it could easily go out on the BBC, if that was its purpose. But that's not its purpose, at the moment.”

After decades at the BBC, gathering award after award, largely for work for Radios 3 and 4, Rosie Boulton has joined the exodus of talented staffers – whether willingly or not, I can't say; I didn't ask. Bolstered by a very solid reputation, she has managed to land some work as an indie, and there is the promise of more to come. But it's not easy.
“I've been very fortunate in that I picked up some bread and butter work when I left the BBC, and that's kept me going. (Something Understood from Whistledown Productions for Radio 40. I've just sold a series to go out next summer. But ans an independent producer, it's incredibly difficult.”

Do you as a producer, retain the rights to your work, like musicians theoretically do? If it is syndicated, do you get a slice? 
“No. But a more fundamental problem which affects all independent producers is tat the BBC commissions 75 percent of its output internally and 25 percent externally. It means my ideas have to be three times as good as any idea that is pitched inside. The number of programmes that are being commissioned outside is absolutely tiny. That is the problem, and I hope that this is starting to shift. But as I said, it is incredibly difficult, and I wouldn't advise anybody to do it at the moment."

Are you working harder as an indie?
"I'm much hungrier, much more fired up. I'm always excited about programmes. It;'s sometimes more difficult to stay fired up about programmes within a big organisation running on long lead times. But I'm enjoying that a lot more.” 

The Kindness Of Time has been in production for a year and more. It grew from the desire, to just go ahead and do something. But this something cost money as well as time. Studios, recording engineers, principal actors, catering and travel, all had to be paid for. But the play itself is coming to you, online, for free. And if a community station wants to relay it, Rose is open to the idea.
“I've drawn up the contracts with the actors in such a way that this can happen. It's perfectly possible. It was part of my thoughts. We do want to get heard. We wanted to make something that makes you feel fantastic. That was the motivating force behind this." 

Musicians don't play music to make squillions. They play because they love it, and often they pay for the privilege. Similarly, you don't go into radio to get rich. You do it because you love it. Radio is a medium that has been ill-served in recent years. It has been battered by the web, and it has seemingly lost the ability to attract new, young, listeners. There are people, like Rosie, in all branches of the arts who do great work for the love of it. I think that;s why I like and admire musicians so much – there's that need for craft, performance and magic. 

And radio, still, has the priceless ability to spin images out of thin air, to celebrate wordsmithery, to captivate and enchant with story telling and to blend all this with wondrous music. That's exactly what's going on here. Rosie Boulton's production is now streaming live.

The Kindness of Time trailer
Listen or download the full The Kindness of Time audioplay from the website
Find out more about Stourbridge's amazing Stream Of Sound at their website

See more posts on broadcasting on Radio To Go


Sign up to the mailing list for weekly updates

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Birmingham Pub bombs. A terrible night on air at BRMB

I was on air the night of the Birmingham bombs. Inside my radio station, here's what happened

Forty years ago this week, I was working through an uneventful evening shift at the old BRMB. It was coming to the end of the year; all the big records were already out. That meant I was playing Lamb Lies Down on Broadway with Peter Gabriel's Genesis; Sheer Heart Attack with Queen, Diamond Dogs from Bowie; Pretzel Logic from Steely Dan; Country Life by Roxy Music. And Bad Company, Sparks, Lynryd Skynyrd, Jackson Browne, ELO and more. You get the picture.  

Classic Rock was over; Punk was coming, but it wasn't here yet.  And the party season was starting to get into full swing. 

Birmingham was crowded, but the station was quiet: just me, the late show guy prepping his show for an 11pm start, and one man on the late shift in the newsroom. I had a guest: a minor Beach Boy. I don't mean that in any kind of dismissive way – it's just he wasn't Brian Wilson, or Dennis, or Carl, Al Jardine or Mike Love. Bruce Johnston had joined the band to cover for Brian when they were on the road, and 40 years ago he was working on solo projects in between Beach Boys work. He was good interview material; very widely experienced and connected; this was the man who went on to pen Barry Manilow's mega hit 'I Write The Songs'. 

The phones were reasonably quiet: it wasn't a football night. Thursday games hadn't yet found their way onto the football calendar. When we did have night games, people - no smartphones then - would call the station to get the footy scores. Especially Villa fans. That drove me crazy, as I had to keep the lines clear at all costs to take a live report on those same phone lines. 

I'm telling you all this, because that was what was on my mind on a routine night at the old BRMB. Those were my concerns.  

So Bruce is chatting away about the Beach Boys, and his solo work. It's interesting stuff.

The first inklings

And then the phones started up. 

Flashing, flashing.

All four lines, flashing, flashing.  

That wasn't right. Really not right. 

It was people in the city centre. 

There's been a bomb. 

They were calling to tell us, or to try to find out what was happening. 

They were calling to leave personal messages. They were scared. What could we tell them? 

I looked across at the newsroom. The on-duty reporter was suddenly very busy. And the first inklings of an awful feeling of dread, something we've all felt several times since, started to well up. 

We wrapped the interview. Bruce Johnston was understandably keen to get back to London as soon as possible. I called New Street station to find out if the trains were running. An equally scared man on the end of the line at the station told me, after I explained at length why I was calling, that, yes, they were. A hasty taxi for Mr Johnston arrived. 

And the phones were flashing, flashing flashing...

Emergency radio

I probably only played one or two records after that. The duty journalist came in to brief me; but I already knew. Moments after, Peter Windows, BRMB's ops manager, appeared in the studio, and we shifted to rolling news mode. I wound up driving the desk for a very different kind of programme. 

I've described maybe a ten minute sequence of events from those first ominous feelings of dread to the station going into full action. 

Suddenly, the newsroom was full. Then it emptied at speed, as reporters headed out to find out what was going on. We had to answer a lot of questions. Could you drive through the city? What exactly had happened? Where? Who had done this? 

To file an audio report in those days, you had to hot-wire a telephone and squirt your audio down the line using banana clips. It was primitive technology, but it worked. 

The calls didn't stop. The switchboard was full. Flashing, flashing. I had to keep clearing the lines down to keep things open for our reporters. People were calling in from all over the region, from abroad, deeply upset, desperate for news. I had to try to answer, and to be as diplomatic as I could... and I absolutely had to get them off the lines. More than ever, I had to keep those flashing, flashing lines open for the reporters. 

I really don't recall much more than that from the evening. I was too busy to file things away in my memory. I called home, briefly, halfway through the night, to say I was OK. And it was back to the flashing lines, the live reports, the telephone interviews. Eventually, I came off shift, stiff, tense, tired and upset. Went home feeling awful.

The aftermath

The next morning was so much worse. 

I'm told the station's coverage was exceptional, and I'm quite sure it was. I simply didn't have time to take it in. Everyone turned out to play a necessary part. From conversations with friends and colleagues, I know that BRMB's counterparts across the city at the BBC did exactly the same. As so often happens in Birmingham, there was an instant, warm, powerful response: no fuss, no shouting. Just people on hand to do what was needed, unprompted; generous, selfless. I didn't see that. All I saw was the inside of a studio; all I did was field streams of information and questions, questions, questions from desperately upset people...

Picking up the threads for the next few days was difficult. I had a show to do the following night, and shows to plan for the coming weeks. Interviews were scrapped or rearranged. The station was subdued. I looked at my music lists with horror, realising for the first time how much you have to change when disaster strikes.  I've had to do that too many times; each time, it's horrible. 

DJs have never, ever, been essential parts of our lives; they are ephemera, like newspapers or vinyl. And when something terrible happens, they are less than relevant.  

We look to our media for information when overwhelmingly awful things happen; we always have. Now, we use social media, and twitter can often be a news channel in its own right. Then, there were very few voices to carry the information people needed. And, truth be told, we were simply seconds away from those developments. But those seconds were essential. Check and check again... or you might risk ruining someone's life. That's old-school journalistic rigour, and I am very glad of it. 

One terrible night in Birmingham, forty years ago. 

See more posts on broadcasting on Radio To Go


Sign up to the mailing list for weekly updates

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Hold on to those band snaps! In 50 years you could be sitting on a gold mine.

Don't you point that thing at me, pal... Number 6: Jim Simpson

You can cover an awful lot of ground in the music biz if you stick at it. Now probably best known for running Birmingham International Jazz Festival, as a young sixties groover Jim Simpson was eking out a living as a semi-pro trumpet player, a band manager (Locomotive, Black Sabbath, and others)... and, significantly, as a part time snapper, selling photos wherever he could.
All this was long before the advent of digital. Jim worked with a lovely professional twin-lens reflex camera, very similar to the one here. I had a very cheap version of Jim's pro kit back in the day, and I absolutely loved it. Twin lens machines used conventional film, in the now very rare format: 120. This usually means square negatives, 56 millimetres along each edge: vastly larger that the smaller and faster 35 millimetre format. 

The downside? A larger, heavier, much more unwieldy camera, into which you normally squinted downwards, rather than at the subject, to compose and focus. More often that not, you had to work with a degree of formality. These weren't machines that let you grab images on the fly. And as we've already seen with Pogus Caesar, you could only fire off 12 shots before you had to change the film.So you took more care over your precious limited set of images. The upside was super image quality, which then meant terrific enlargements.

Jim shot a lot of stuff, half a century back. Some of his best images are now on show at Havill and Travis, a new gallery in Harborne, South Birmingham. The gallery is a joint venture between Gerv Havill of Moseley Folk fame, and Dave Travis, also a photographer and onetime promoter. 

At the preview, Jim was happily running though old memories.

I had no idea until I knew of the exhibition that you ware also a pro photographer. 
Yes it kept me alive. I went seriously into it at a rather stupid point when I should have been paying more attention to Black Sabbath, who I was managing then. 
You mean you didn't take any shots of the band in their extreme youth? 
Only about six shots in all the years I was with them. A bit of an omission. 
Here's the Move in 1965... fresh-faced boys.
Trevor Burton, Roy Wood, Bev Bevan, Carl Wayne and Ace Kefford. In a field. In the cold. 
I thought Roy Wood's fringe was a hat, actually. A hat made of hair. That was the first publicity session they had. It was very early in the morning, and it was very cold. They're all wearing college scarves. I don't think they went anywhere near a college. Bev (Bevan)used to drive past a college on his way to work. 
Let's move on to the Moodies...
Ah. That was at the Carlton Club in Erdington. It eventually became Mother's, of course. 
Named after the brewery, weren't they? The Mitchells and Butler 5, or the M&B 5, I understand.
This really was the band that became the Moody Blues. This really was the club that became Mothers

I was in London then, and the first thing I heard from them was their cover single of Bessie Banks' Go Now...
Well, they were an R&B outfit. This line-up, they all came from major bands in Brum at the time, except for the drummer, who managed them. The guys who owned the Carlton Club got behind them, so they could be put before the Friday night crowds there. They were a major local draw, very early on. The sad thing is that the bass player in the picture, Clint Warwick – that was a stage name – after a couple of years, he thought 'I don't Like This', and he left the band, went back home to Aston and became a carpenter.
So here's a piece of history... the young Spencer Davis Group looking very chipper and cheerful, on the central divider of Smallbrook Queensway.
And the magazine they're holding, Midlands Beat. I used to take photographs for it. And write a news column, for twelve pounds a month. Look at the cars – very vintage. And look how few of them there are in the picture. 
Steve and Muff Winwood, Pete York and Spencer Davis. Just down the road from their Golden Eagle residency
You sat them in the middle of Smallbrook Queensway for a photoshoot?
We weren't exactly taking a risk, were we? Look at the traffic - it was a bit different. Steve (Winwood) was sixteen, I think.
So that's the local boys. Of the rest – shots of Mick Jagger, Nina Simone, Little Richard – what are you proudest of?
Howling Wolf. 
He was a very interesting man. On stage, he could rock a room into bad health without any effort, At the same time, he scared audiences. He was a terrifying presence. Six foot four, 350 pounds. But talk to him, and he was so gentle and mild. He told me a lot about himself and his life. He told me he couldn't read and write until his forties. The he went back to school and college. He was also very proud to tell me that when he first went to Chicago, he was recording – I think – for Sam Phillips in Memphis. Chess called him and he went up, but as he said, all the old blues guys went up to Chicago with the insides of their pockets hanging out. He went up in his own car, with 4000 bucks. In those days, a massive sum. 
Jim, these shots from your twin lens reflex have come up beautifully. Have you had to do any kind of retouching work?
Very little. We tried in most cases to print from the negative. There's a couple we've had to adjust slightly. No much burning in or dodging. I'm digitised now, and I don't really like it. I love the flexibility - 20 or 25 shots without even thinking about it. In those days, with 12 shots a roll, and the fuss of changing the rolls over, you made sure each negative counted. 

See more posts on photography on Radio To Go


Sign up to the mailing list for weekly updates

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Froggy went a-songwriting

Froggy and H - fifty years in the biz. And the rest...

I'm sitting with Raymond Froggatt and long-term collaborator Hartley Cain - or H, as he is universally known - in H's Shropshire studio. The place is packed with H's guitars... and dulcimers, banjos, mandolins, even an 18-string monster hybrid. And we're talking about change. 

Froggy and H go back half a century. This studio is where they record Raymond's new albums, although the next album will be live and on video – they're filming Raymond's December 4th gig at Birmingham Town Hall. H will mix and produce, and they will sync it to video shot on the night. All of that, under their control, using their own kit, and released on their own label.

And here's a demo preview of a new Froggy song - Kentucky Sue - that they graciously let me have for this blog post:

For all that Froggy is a child of the fifties and sixties with long associations with some of the biggest rock and roll monsters in the business, for all that he has generated umpteen millions in royalties and record sales, from which he may well not have had his fair share down the years, he's absolutely not one to complain about bad deals, dodgy managers and stingy publishers 
Froggy: "Roy Wood recommended me to Don Arden, and a lot of what we did was because of Don's company. Money was no no object... We went all over the world. Supporting tours with Wizzard and ELO when they first started. Lots of things that we did in those days wouldn't have happened without that. And I got on well with Don.
But he had a fearsome reputation
"I think a lot of people like to play on that. But Don, really, was a proper mogul. He didn't want a friend – he wasn't interested in friendships, or going down the pub and having a drink. If you could make money out of it, he was interested. He wouldn't know what a great song was. He wanted second opinions. But because of him, a lot of doors opened for people, not only me.
"Everybody went to see him skint, and they went back after five years, in a Rolls Royce, to sue him. And he probably wasn't that honest with all of them, but he opened some doors. He made money, but he made you a star."
The contacts Froggy made over fifty years are astonishing. As a sixties kid, he bumped up against some of the names who created Rock and Roll. A publisher contact in the US was EH Morris, who eventually sold out to Warner Chappell. I, like hundreds of radio types who worked in the days before computerised libraries, only know that name from the days of endlessly hand-writing music returns, and, later, building those digital libraries. Names like EH Morris, Screen Gems, Jobete, Carlin and dozens more are landmarks in the history of rock music, if you care to look and explore. The people behind these names were every bit as powerful as Sam Philips, Brian Epstein or Berry Gordy: all links to times now long gone.  

But Froggy actually met EH himself, and most of Nashville's music royalty from those days. People like the Jordanaires, who recorded harmonies round one mic, bluegrass style. Drinking buddies like Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. And most of the big beasts from the UK music biz.
"Another publisher was Micky Most. He wanted to sign me up for songwriting with RAK records. I didn't want to sign with him. So he asked me for one song. I gave him one – Running Water – and I haven't seen one penny from that song from that day to now!"
"But we're thinking of re-recording that song now for ourselves. But, as I say, there's value in people like Don Arden and Micky Most for people like us."
"I did a thing for Richard Branson because of Don Arden, When he opened the Manor studios - big studio complex in Oxfordshire - he was struggling. He only had the one shop in London. He was struggling, mortgaged up to the hilt. Don hired the Manor for a month, for us. And the deal was that our downtime could be used for Mike Oldfield, because he hadn't got the money to pay for it to be made."
Let me get this right. You finish for the day, and Mike Oldfield comes in, and does Tubular Bells?
"Yeah. Mike was always there. We'd finish pretty late, and he would go straight in. He worked on his own."
So what you are saying is: the Virgin Empire was built off the back of your downtime, which allowed Branson's record label to have that huge global hit, which then started it all for Virgin?
"Absolutely! I remember one day, we were recording down there. Remember Viv Stanshall, lovely Viv? Of the Bonzo Dog Doodah band, for younger readers? Hew came and spent a couple of days with us. He was a bit of a drinker, and so was I, mind. We popped down the pub for a few drinks, while the lads were recording. We were walking up the towpath. I had to go back and do some vocals, and he said he'd be up in about an hour. With his dog, Bootleg, a big Irish Wolfhound."
After an hour, Viv came in, soaking wet. He's fallen in the canalL he had to jump in to save Bootleg. So then the dog comes in, dry as a bone. And then Viv stood by the open fire – and fell into it. No damage done, sparks everywhere. But he dried off... and that was the last time I saw him. But that was the sort of place the Manor was. And that's the way I got there."
Were you a bit of a hellraiser?
"We all were, in those days. But I'd rather sit down and watch telly than throw it out the hotel window."
Sit with Froggy for a spell, and the stories come rolling out. When you've worked for such a long time, and sold songs all around the world, you get to meet interesting people. 80s kids might remember, with a shudder, a slew of Hooked on Classics recordings, which jammed much loved classical tunes together over a robot drum track. It was remarkably, if tastelessly, successful. One of the people responsible for all that was Louis Clark, who worked with Froggy for a long time
"Louis was our bass player for eleven years. He did the orchestral arrangements for us too. We were the first band to use an orchestra live, at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield. Roy Wood came to see it, and all of a sudden we had ELO. Not that I'm complaining. Lovely man, Roy; a good friend."
It's a long long way from the sixties. There's a story on this blog about a contemporary  of  of Froggy's, Don Fardon, who finally got his just deserts after decades when an old song of his was picked up for TV adverts. Don signed a contract on the back of an envelope, with the Krays... and I'm pretty sure similar things happened to most musicians of that vintage. I'm also pretty sure it still goes on now. And...Froggy? He's diplomatic to a fault. He's not complaining.

He's not too worried about weird covers of his songs either. Dave Clark's signature tub-thumping version of Red Balloon may not have been to everyone's taste, but it did him no end of good.

Red Balloon: Dave Clark's version and Froggy's version (complete with, er, Dave Lee Travis speaking bad German)
"When I played Red Balloon to Polydor – we didn't like signing to them, by the way, we wanted Decca. We had no idea how big they really were. The other band they had was the Bee Gees – they said 'That is a world hit'. I had no idea. It was just a song I'd written – put a shilling the meter, sit down and hope you get it finished before the electric went. I wrote it in twenty minutes and it went to to sell 20 million. There's at least sixteen versions, not counting Dave Clark."
Do you mind that someone can take your song and turn it inside out?
"Never bothered me. There was a lot of criticism of Dave Clark at the time. I thought it was a really good thing. I had to write to the newspapers. But if it hadn't been for Dave, nobody would have heard the song. We were number one everywhere in Europe with it. But Dave – everything he did was was successful. All of a sudden you're a hit songwriter, everyone wants to know you, everyone wants to record your songs."
Best gig?
"Let's say memorable. We worked at the Icedrome in Tulsa. Huge place. Pretty memorable, but scary. I hired the London Palladium. We filled that – fantastic, a gig to remember. And also the Albert Hall, filled that too. The best? Probably the Belfry, when we did the orchestra gig. The love and affection I got for my band... we were only kids, we hadn't got any money. Our bass player conducting the orchestra. But we were good at it. We were only babbies, but we did that. We weren't the Beatles, we didn't have George Martin. We did it all on our own."
Raymond Froggatt website

See more posts on music and musicians on Radio To Go


Sign up to the mailing list for weekly updates

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Dan Whitehouse and Chris Tye: they've got shows for you. And a Christmas song. No, really.

Dan Whitehouse and Chris Tye talk of cabbages and kings, new albums, big shows, collaboration, creativity and Christmas songs.

Dan Whitehouse and Chris Tye are comfortably ensconced upstairs at the Wellington in Birmingham City Centre. Two extraordinary singer-songwriters, each with a new album, each with full band showcase gigs in the next few weeks at the same venue – the Glee Club; both albums share some personnel : Michael Clarke has several cowriting credits with both Dan and Chris; Simon Smith crops up on bass on both albums. In some quarters, that might lead to flouncing, flared nostrils and rivalry. Not with these boys. Why, they've even written a Christmas song together. Read on for an exclusive listen.

Dan's new album, his third long player, 'Raw Stateis largely a revisiting of some of his long-standing songs, sometimes after years of live performances; the core of the material was recorded live with a full band at Reservoir Studios in North London production chores were handled by Danny George Wilson and Chris Clarke from 'Danny and The Champions Of The World'. Chris' album 'Paper Grenadewas recorded this year, and produced by Michael Clarke in Kings Heath in Birmingham.

With the launch of albums and headline tours, talk turns to progression and development. 
Dan: Artistically, it's happening. 

Chris: Yeah, but it can be difficult to fish out the gigs where it doesn't cost you money. Saying that, to fund 'Paper Grenade', I did a Pledge campaign; which I was really sceptical about doing. It worked really well, and in the end it gave me the opportunity to work with Michael (Clarke), and to get it mastered properly..
So what that really means is a vote of confidence, surely – you've got enough people to put the money up for you to deliver a work the way you wanted to? 
Chris: Definitely a confidence boost.
I wonder whether Pledge and all the others have still got the same impact. There's been a lot of appeals, not all of them successful.
Chris: Seems like an honest way of doing it. 
Full bands? That's another big commitment
Dan: It's a big band. I've got BJ Cole on Pedal Steel, Paul (?) on lead guitar; the drummer from Danny and the Champions of the world.... I've thrown everything I have at it. Rehearsing tomorrow.
Chris: So are we. Same bass player, Simon Smith.
Dan: Simon is the glue that holds everything together.
So – shared bass player, shared producer. Tell me about your shared song?
Dan: Ah! A Christmas song, called....'This Christmas'. We wrote it in April.

Chris: We nearly did it a couple of years ago. A little trust exercise. One mix session away from finishing it - there's another mix session next Sunday. We sent each other four really primitive ideas. I didn't really know Dan at the time. He didn't send me any abuse.
Will you wind up on each other's stages, performing the song? 
Chris: Is the 23rd of November too early? 
No... by the time of your shows, you'll be wall to wall with Christmas. 
Dan: I'll play it in my show on the 7th. 
Well, how about collaboration and ideas? You exchanged...
Dan: … bits of songs. Sketchy ideas. You know what it's like, trying to get together. We've made it work with this song. And one other one that's quite close. 
Chris: I enjoy co-writing with the right people. It either works or it doesn't. You know within twenty minutes. 
When ideas come up – Dan, you run Songwriters Circles, so you get ideas coming at you all the time – how do you step away from that and move into a collaborative framework? Can you move from teacher and enabler to collaborator? 
Dan: I don't see myself as teacher in that environment, I've co-written a number of songs with members of the circle. I do my best... to apply the oil to the creative wheel, keep things spinning around all the time. 
OK – here's a question for you both. Which was the most difficult song to do?
Dan: 'Somebody Loves You' is a big song in my set. And it's a song that I've struggled to get a recording that I'm happy with. Because it's so much about the performance, rather than the components of it. You couldn't do Somebody Loves You to a click track.

Your first recording of that song placed your voice in the world, with the noise of the world all around you. And you slowly trace how the song's character recovers from a point of complete desolation. I loved that – you in a soundscape, climbing up and out.. 
Dan: We recorded that in a school playground. And when I did that recording, Robin, it was before I had four years of playing that song live, every night, in a number of different environments. I had some really emotional experiences playing this song. But I struggled for ages to be able to get into to the right environment to make a good studio recording of it. That was my mission – to get a complete recording of that song – that was partly the reason to make this record. It reflects my knowledge of the song. I learned about the song through playing it. It's a two-way song – I'm not sure the song works on record. It's a conversation.
And Chris – what's your hardest song?
Chris: I suppose 'Vicious Words'. I played it live for about a year. It became one of those songs – unexpectedly. It's a song about divorce, a little bit downbeat. Bit I can really get into it live. I feel like it connects. It's a good song, I'm able to communicate it to people. 
I played it to Ben Niblett, a producer who worked on about three songs on this album. He set up a mic – 'Gotta get a recording of this' – about three feet away. No spot mic on my voice and the guitar. I played it and we got it, one take. I know everybody says 'One Take', and it's usually comp'd. 
Note: For a definition of comping, see hereIn effect, it's anything but one take.
Chris: I loved this take. The first reverb we put on sounded ace. Do we change anything? We then did about six versions to try to recreate the magic. It didn't work, it almost never does when you do that. But I just thought the song could take a different treatment – electric guitar, double bass - so that's why there are the two versions.
Vicious Words: acoustic version
Vicious Words: full version
I think the acoustic cut hits harder. It's a tough listen.
Chris: A lot of people said that! 
Note: Chris and Dan are very interested in hearing from video producers with a view to getting something up for a December release - please get in touch with Dan at All proceeds go to charity, here.

Chris Tye
Dan Whitehouse

Buy Dan's album here; buy Chris' album here.

See more posts on music and musicians on Radio To Go


Sign up to the mailing list for weekly updates