Sunday, 27 December 2015

Loves, losses, gripes, glories and gratitude in 2015

A rueful, joyful look back 

It's been a full-on year. I wrote, a lot. Did audio production, a lot. Halfway through the year, I pulled out of a draining work situation and cleared my head. Then, naturally, I took a deep breath and promptly hurled myself into new fields of work, scrambling up fresh and steep learning curves. Some of it has been difficult and disappointingly fruitless. Other stuff has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. You think I'd have learned by now. 

Here's some of the things I stumbled across this year, some gripes and some regrets... and a few little treats, after the jump.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

80s band invasion! Some are zombies; others, rosy-cheeked and twinkly of eye.

Everybody's re-formed. Some do it better than others. 

Ocean Colour Scene are back in the Irish Centre in Digbeth for their 20th anniversary tour gig.  I just spotted a flyer for a gig in Manchester next year, with The Wonder Stuff headlining. Also on the bill are Bentley Rythm Ace. Richard March of that band plays with Rhino and The Ranters, who supported the Stuffies' acoustic gig last week in Birmingham. The Ranters' drummer, Pete Hammond used to be in the Au Pairs. And lo, Au Pairs head honcho Lesley Woods is back in Brum next year. 

There's a lot of it about. In August 2014, I met up with Terry and Gerry as they plugged a comeback tour. We were kindly given the back room at the Hare and Hounds, and they ripped though 'Butter's On The Bread' live for me to use on the blog. It's here.

I went to the local gig, full of excited 50-somethings and some of their kids. The full band played: Sue and Mick on washboard/percussion and guitar, with Terry on Bass, and Gerry fronting on guitar.

Mile-wide grins all round. Since then things have moved on apace. 

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Beeb big boys in Brum! For a bit anyway...

It's been a fun week

The BBC came to town; about time too. Well, yes, I know there is a much shrunken BBC here already, but this was important national network activity. So a load of network types swept in to be all networky and relevant at the BBC Music Awards on Thursday afternoon at the NEC, oops, sorry, Genting Arena. 

They made a big of a fuss about this. I'm glad they did, and glad they're coming back in 2016, but, really, this is a wannabe version of the Brits: international acts there to shift product in an identikit concrete hangar. Who gets most out of this? More on this whole process later. 

The upside of the week was a lot of local action. And as well as the music events, some old radio hands got gongs. Nice.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The BRILLIANT Levitate video.

A short blog this week, belated too, for which I must plead events beyond my control. Good events, mind; I'll explain in due course.  

Watch this video. It's a brilliant production, even if I do crop up in it a bit. If you read my blog, you'll know my thinking already. It is, however, so nice to see so many fantastic people saying and doing the right thing.

Congratulations to Tessa Burwood and the Levitate team. This expresses exactly why I love the music scene in my town, and why it deserves both our support and greater media support. 

More music posts on Radio To Go


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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Break on through to the other side: when the stars align and things happen

I'd call this a stonking great home run for BBC Introducing. Result! And not before time.  

Will that damn door ever open? 
Webby thinking is that all you need to succeed is to just do it: put it out there, get the recognition you deserve. Why, look at this vlogger, or that musician, or that podcast. They did it, so can you.

But that's a crock, and even the dreamiest of fantasists know that. For the few who go stratospheric using clickbait, provocation, or every weapon that heavyweight old-school marketing can devise (Hi, Adele!), there are thousands of people with something to say who don't get heard.

There's a doorway to go through, a barrier to recognition. Whether the door swings open is down to luck and circumstance. Of course, talent is still essential - unless you go down the X factor route - but nothing is guaranteed, and it gets harder every day.

The door swung open, just a tiny bit, for a few people this past week.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Love what you do. Stay professional. Watch your back.

Swimming in shark-infested musicbiz waters. Sharpen your teeth and toughen up. 

I love the Music Industry in Birmingham. I'm only cheering from the sidelines: I don't have a stake. But it fascinates me, as do those who run venues, promote shows, or invest in costly recording kit. Then there's the snappers, the house concert superfans, bloggers, the radio guys, the video producers and more.

This week I had an engrossing conversation with Roy and Jaki Davis, a couple who built Madhouse Rehearsals and the Asylum venue into a solid proposition though sweat and grit.

I knew Roy from his days playing bass with Shy - a fine 80s Brum band, one of many whose talent and promise just weren't enough. 

We did a radio thing together. I got great stories. I also got some scary stuff. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The BBC's future (well, maybe) and the Beeb right now

Time spent this week with both the high and mighty and the grafters

A weekend back, I was bantering on air with Les Ross on BBC WM, doing the Sunday newspapers. Les had returned to his first station for their 45th anniversary celebrations. 

It ran very smoothly. Les was on top of his game, chatting with the newsreader, trailing down the day. It sounded great. We didn't exactly cover a lot of news; that's how it is with a presenter like Les. The vibe in the studio was terrific. A team of pros delivering effortlessly good local radio to a committed audience. It worked, really worked. 

Two days later I went to a meeting run by powers rather higher up in the BBC. This was much more buttoned up, and, dare I say it, a little tortured and convoluted.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Is Facebook over?

It's a question I'm asking most weeks. Musos might well be asking the same thing.

Over time, things grow, peak and decline. Everything has an allotted timespan, even global IT monsters. Those timespans are getting shorter. 

Facebook is posting fat profits because it's now a mobile platform: the app of choice for idiots texting at the movies. But the number of people actually sharing stuff is going down. And that has big implications.

I think this is about its usefulness to people like me and many others, possibly you too. I'm now wondering if it's still much use at all. My page hits from Facebook have dropped; from elsewhere, they're up.

Since at least 2013, there's been speculation that Facebook deliberately hobbles some types of posts, to get people to pay. I won't do that for my blog, which is a labour of love. It's ironic: Facebook gets free content and a data mountain to mine from us, but we're then supposed to pay to use it. 

I'm not happy, and I'm pretty sure other people feel the same. I wonder.... have we seen peak Facebook? And what might this mean for musicians?

Friday, 30 October 2015

Our local music ecosystem is brutal. That can actually be a good thing.

Studies in PR: deals and favours over there; music supported right here. 

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread. Honest.
This past month, several pretty great music releases came out, all from local acts. Hannah Brown premiered her new single two days ago at Birmingham's Ort cafe. Chris Cleverley plays there there next week to launch his new album. Boat To Row are now dishing vinyl copies of their first album, with a celebratory hometown gig show soon, and Victories at Sea, fresh from an All Year's Leaving dj set, have come up with a gorgeously packaged first album, also marked with a gig. Last week's post covered Kim Lowings and the Greenwood's new album. 

All are local to the West Midlands; all are self-releasing, fiercely proud of their work, and all are engagingly modest. For all them, it's about the work and the creativity. They've all run through brick walls to get to this point. 

I'm sure that an awful lot of established artists feel the same.  But there's a critical difference. Once a national promotion machine kicks in, they're just... product. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Kim Lowings: the tricky path twixt traditional and brand new

Traditional music and powerhouse songwriting. Delivered digitally, of course. 

Photo: Laura Whittington
It turned out to be a busy day. I needed a rare vinyl 7" for a show I'm producing. There's only a few hundred copies. But, lo! a dusty copy is unearthed from a King's Heath attic.

Just as well I was in the neighborhood. Long before questions of exotic vinyl, I'd set up a chat not remotely to do with vinyl nostalgia.This was to be all about right now, with a storming folk talent: Kim Lowings.

Kim Lowings heads up Kim Lowing and the Greenwood: a powerful, articulate, highly intelligent folk-oriented local outfit. The new album swings between Kim's own songs, which are resolutely modern, and traditional material. And Kim just happens to have a fantastic voice. Comfortably settled in over coffee, it looks like things are starting to kick off for her and the band. But we did, actually, touch on vinyl. In the end.. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Vlad the Programmer: radio from the other side of the Iron Curtain, then and now

Ever caught up with people you used to work with? Laughed about the old days? Bet you didn't have days like these. 

Twenty two years ago, I was in SofiaBulgaria training a young radio guy in Selector, then the leading - pretty much the only - music scheduling software for radio. Pertinently, we also spent a lot of time on Western radio programming styles.

Vladimir Daynov is a big wheel in Bulgarian radio these days. Back then, he was the head of music at the fledgling FM Plus; I'd been sent out there by the then GWR group. Typically for the time, GWR had moved into Europe as the UK market matured. 

Eastern European radio was not exactly regulated; after the Iron Curtain fell, expectations were wildly optimisticNow, it's a lot closer to the Western model. That may or not be a good thing, depending on your point of view. We'll come back to that, Vladimir and me. We've been swapping notes for weeks... 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

You're in the studio at last after all these years. What now?

You know the songs, backwards. What happens when you go in the studio to record? Here's two different worlds with quite a lot in common.

    Ruby by Rich Shakespeare;    Chris by Alan Cole Photography         
I've been talking recording a lot recently. Last month, Chris Cleverley, an astonishingly talented and inventive singer-songwriter, wrapped up his first album; we talked about the process. If you've haven't seen seen Chris yet, by the way, go. Soon. 

Last week, I took tea with Ruby Turner, who is fresh from laying down vocals fronting Jools Holland's R and B orchestra. She's done over 15 albums of her own; she's a featured vocalist with Holland; she's guested everywhere. Ruby hasn't so much bought the t-shirt as designed the damn thing. So I asked her about the recording process too.

Two very different perspectives: tyro and veteran. I wondered if they had anything in common. Turns out they do.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Jam Jah Mondays – they're baaaaack!

They thought it was all over. It isn't, now. A Birmingham Reggae institution steps it up

Robin Giorno is persistent. He's been cooking up reggae grooves in Brum for nearly twenty years, with his studio and the Friendly Fire collective. For well over a decade, Monday nights have played host to a freebie event mostly at the Bull's Head in Moseley, Birmingham: Jam Jah Mondays.

The Bulls Head has new owners now. Its days of frenzied music craziness are over. The place has great history – Sam Redmore and the Leftfoot crew ran nights there; Ben Calvert's Bohemian Jukebox, Brum Notes' live nights and many more have all left their mark. It was a small room, with iffy sightlines but great breakout areas.

So where have they all gone? Well, Sam's breaking through nationally, and not before time. And Ben's taken his Jukebox to the Hare and Hounds every other month. Now, JamJah Sound, after a short but worrying pause, are stepping it up fifty yards down the road, with a different landlord – now it's Keith, at the Dark Horse.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Kris's magic Mimu gloves part 2 – In the Studio

It's been seven months since Kris Halpin and I had a chat about his gloves. Boy, have things ever moved on.

There's been a quite a burst of publicity lately about Mimu gloves. They're one of Imogen Heap's latest projects: hugely dramatic sci-fi things. Wave your hand - cymbals crash! Point - a horn section blasts out. Waggle your wrist - strings and keyboards obey, playing the melody you map out live... by waggling your fingers. It's thrilling. 

Heap is front and central in a range of tech-creative initiatives: you can catch videos of her gloved up to the max. She's very open source, collaborating globally. 

In Tamworth, musician and songwriter Kris Halpin is pushing glove tech to new heights, writing new software when needed, forging new configurations. It's quite something for Kris to be one of the first 15 selected to test the gloves, a serious feather in his cap. But the MiMu folk weren't quite expecting that with Kris. He got the gloves for a very specific reason.  

So it's time to see what's what Kris has been up to. This time, I'm recording.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Dub Qalandar - put this in your diary

Two cultures from ten thousand miles apart meet up in Birmingham, which just happens to be EXACTLY midway between. That's grounds for celebration.

Birmingham sits halfway between the centres of two of its most compelling and now deeply engrained cultures. Go five thousand miles one way, and you fetch up in the Caribbean. Go the same distance the other way? You're in Pakistan. 

Since the Second World War, cultures from both regions and elsewhere have been bumping up against each other, in inner city Birmingham suburbs... for seventy years. And now, beats and grooves are coming together, in a very deliberate, conscious way. 

This weekend Birmingham sees a Rugby World Cup games, thousands exploring a revamped New Street station and its shopping mall, and Birmingham Weekender, this year's Artsfest replacement. Add in relentless roadworks, and the city will be... challenging. But find your way to Symphony Hall on Sunday 27th, and you're in for a free but very valuable treat: Dub Qalandar. It's the headline show for all of the weekend. Conscious Dub grooves, and sacred Sufi songs coming together in Birmingham. Well, it's what we do.

Or, rather, it's what Mukhtar Dar and Simon Duggal do.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Sunday, 6 September 2015

In The Studio: Catherine Howe and Vo Fletcher

Music and conversation in the shadow of the Malvern Hills – a taste of a forthcoming audio project

Last week, on a bright late summer morning, the Malvern Hills shone invitingly in the sun. I'd headed out to meet up and record with Catherine Howe and Vo Fletcher

Vo is a stupendously fabulous guitarist; I've known him for at least forty years. Catherine Howe is someone I've known of for the same period of time, but we'd never met until now. Older hands may remember Catherine for a one-off hit in the 70s, 'Harry'. The two are now a performing duo, and have been for some ten years or so. Occasionally they are joined by Fairport stalwart Rick Sanders on fiddle, and Michael Gregory on drums. Sometimes Vo heads out with just Rick and Greg; it's that sort of flexible thing.

The plan was to do some recording: live, straight to stereo. With that we had a conversation for the blog. In due course, a lot more more material will emerge as a full-on radio show, part of a new series I'm working on. But readers of this blog are getting an early taste. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Draw it, print it, put it up... See it get nicked. Lewes Herriot and the art of poster design

Depraved 19th century libertines, poster design, music promotion and Johnny Foreigner - the world of Lewes Herriot 

If you have muso facebook friends and you live in Brum, you've probably seen Lewes Herriot's work. Lewes is a man of multiple talents, which he cheerfully and resolutely refuses to shout about. As well as playing in a pretty damn successful band and having an exhibition throughout August at Birmingham's Digbeth Warehouse Cafe, Lewes has been delivering catchy and stylish posters for Brum promoters This Is TMRW for some time now. 

They're lovely. They get nicked. That's the trouble with great poster designs. 

It's always happened. I noticed this at first hand when I asked the amazing Hunt Emerson to do a brilliant, gently mocking design for Project X Presents. Hunt's poster placed West Midlands hipster heartland Moseley at the centre of the world, riffing on the classic Saul Steinberg New Yorker magazine cover. Instead of the Big Apple, Moseley was at the core of things; even King's Heath barely got a mention. It was fantastic. Hunt did us proud. 

And all the posters were stolen within days.  

The same has been happening with Lewes' work. It's led to some interesting discussions about creativity and context.  

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

We've still got that Fuzzbox somewhere...

Back in the day, big hair and big fun. Fuzzbox soundtracked the second half of the 80s. And now? 

30 years ago, We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Going To Use It were big. They got profile quickly, shooting fast from a bright idea to pop reality. At the height of their punk notoriety, Vix and crew used to sashay round radio and TV stations with ridiculously huge hair – pink, orange, red - bags of attitude, and an Elvis sneer. They kicked off with a silly name and punched out a few punk songs. Then, after three years of punk thrash, bingo! Fuzzbox hit the jackpot with pure late 80s pop.

And now it's 2015. I'm sitting in Yorks coffee bar with survivors Vix and Maggie. Vix is an old pal by now – I've seen most of her post-Fuzzbox incarnations. Then? A snotty kid with a great line in throwing shapes. Now? An accomplished trooper, comfortable on stage, with one very distinct new thing going for her and the band: Radio 2, the biggest station in Europe is paying attention.

Fuzzbox are having another go. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

A West Midlands YouTube Top 50: August 2015

Here's the sixth bi-yearly local acts video views chart: who's making YouTube waves?

I do this ranking every six months. The exercise is starting to build up some long-term analysis potential. There's some interesting straws in the wind. I think YouTube viewing numbers are increasing overall, based on a rough analysis of upwards trends for many on the chart. But there are some caveats...

The headline? Laura Mvula still rules – just. But I think that she's going to be overtaken on the next chart by another spectacularly talented Birmingham woman who plays by her own rules. You may not have heard of her yet. But you certainly will.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

So what does YOUR station think you should be hearing?

Music tastes change. So should station libraries. 

More friendly advice for the Beeb from the Times    Flickr - Shawn Kincade
I'm getting tired of the endless government and rival media onslaught on the BBC. Pretty much every day, the Times or the Mail run smugly venomous pieces on the Corporation's failings. I hate this. The Beeb is not perfect. I'm one of many who want to see serious BBC production at all levels back in the Midlands. But as I've said before, the Beeb is unique; it delivers brilliant programmes; we need it.   

BBC Local Radio is in the frame now. An announcement that BBCLR might be a bit more personality driven met yet more carping: the BBC is reneging on its journalistic brief; more jobs to go; the beginning of the end. All that. Hard on the carping came strenuous denials that the Beeb was doing anything of the kind. And so on.

But much of this was about music on the radio. That's a wholly different debate.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The problem with promoting: you almost certainly won't get rich. But you may have big fun.

DieDasDer talk of many things: of promoters, cabbages and kings...

We take local gigs for granted. There's tons of them; I think we're spoiled. Given the growth of the past few years, the West Midlands (and pretty much everywhere else) is rich in quality bands doing vibrant gigs. This, at a time when everyone's skint, and we're not out of the recession that's hammered businesses and crushed earnings.

So you wouldn't think it's the best time to lay on gigs, especially risky ones. All that planning dates and venues well in advance, sorting PA, insurance, contract and liability issues, covering travel, fees and exes for everyone, usually on a budget you could put under a cup. Crucially, it means being quite ready to put your hands into your pocket if you need to. 

Welcome to the world of promoters. 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

A Birmingham Broadcast trail

Not quite a trail of tears, but close....

Before even more threats line up for the last remnants of local broadcasting - through a toxic combination of cost-cutting, indifference, incompetence and government hostility - you might like to take this walk. 

You wouldn't think it today, but Birmingham bristles with unlikely old radio and TV studio locations. Some are completely untraceable; some hold strong memories. You can still spot traces of some of them dotted across the city. 

So here's a guide. You really can walk this if you want to, although it's a bit of trek to get out to Edgbaston and back, just to see a building site...

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Pledging My Love with Boat To Row

A modest crowdfunding appeal to get their album pressed: 88% of target in 16 days. Great going. 

Wayne Fox Photography    
Chatting with Boat To Row is a pleasure. They're great company, and damn fine musicians to boot. The band has quietly built up a very loyal fan base in their six years. Now they're working that fan base to cover production costs for a first album, using that cornerstone of fan-funding, Pledge Music.

We met for coffee in Brum this week: me and three band members. The other two? Tied up with a very new baby and teaching paperwork. But the Colmore district was packed with celebrities: Perry Barr MP Khamid Mahmood was hanging at Yorks, and Julian Lloyd-Webber, the new Principal at the Conservatoire, was in the Wellington. Movers and shakers clearly surround this band.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Rich Bitch garage sale. Rob's slipped out the back...

There must be 50 ways to leave your studio 

Kit, lots of it. No reasonable offer refused
There's been a couple of tear-stained press pieces recently on the death of a local rock institution. Rich Bitch, the oldest rehearsal joint in Brum, is going after 34 years. The Bournbrook home from home for the likes of Sabbath and ELO reduced to rubble. The end of an era. Another slice of rock history obliterated. 

But... it's not quite like that. Owner Rob Bruce is having a clear-out, but he's not quitting the business. And if you move fast, you can pick up some tasty gear for very little money indeed, as ALL the old kit - amps, keyboards, drumkits and lots more - is going, to be sold or donated. I dropped round this week. It's really strange to see the place dissolving before your eyes. 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Women in music; a shifting balance.

Live? That's one thing. But at Radio, it's already changed. And there's a programming rule for that.

Sometimes it helps to have a dinosaur perspective. I've been looking at music, local and mainstream, over 40 years or more, and I'm seeing changes. I'm only talking about these two areas in this post. But that's already a lot to be going on with. 

       Rebecca Downes     pic Mick Schofield
The week before last, I chased around Birmingham catching bands I hadn't yet seen. I started with Rebecca Downes - a two-person powerhouse blues/jazz set at the Blue Piano. Then headed to the Rainbow's seven-band indie night, to catch Shaake, a new project from Suzi And The Backbeats, and damn good they were too. Then to the Fiddle and Bone for some of Hannah Johnson And The Broken Hearts elegantly spinning tales of country heartache, love, and loss. 

I had a great time: one night, three bands, all led by strong women. It's part of a trend. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Auntie, It's Time To Do The Right Thing.

This time, we didn't say it. Our MPs did.

Lots of discussion, since I last posted on the BBC's continued and very deliberate under-funding of broadcasting in the Midlands; not a lot of action. Well, not if you ignore what Cameron and Milliband both said at election time.

There's few signs that BBC powers that be are thinking of changing. But the issue won't go away. It's another elephant in the BBC room, lurking darkly, ignored in the hope that it might quietly leave. But this week, there's been a major development. MPs have stepped forward. Parliament has debated the issue. 

This was prompted by the Birmingham Post campaign, led by the extraordinary Graeme Brown, who picked up on the work done by the Campaign For Regional Broadcasting.

I went to the debate. It was fascinating.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Mahalia. Four years of development, and she's still only seventeen. Crikey.

Ridiculously young and talented, with a major label deal... that might suggest you got it made. Great expectations then.

Four years ago, Mahalia played a Tea Room Tent debut slot at Moseley Folk. It was a gentle but excellent start, in front of some major Brum music faces. 

Four weeks ago, Mahalia made her BBC2 Later debut, fronting the irrepressible Rudimental. No build-up: the camera panned directly to her from Joan Armatrading. No pressure, then. To see how it went, scroll down for the video. Mahalia is still only 17. She is being guided by her parents, who were both active in the music business in the 80s, and have the scars to prove it. She already has a deal with a major: Asylum/Atlantic. This is not usually how things get done these days. Not anymore. But then again, Mahalia is unusual.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Today's musicians, a vital part of Birmingham's Music History... and you

The Highbury Studio pledge campaign. It's different.

If there's one brutal fact to take from musicbiz posts on this blog and elsewhere, it's that the old model is broken. Now? There's no mid-ground, no comfortable living to shoot for, no clear path to take you from promising, brilliant and unknown to big and successful.

This gulf is everywhere. Record companies seek surefire hits and quick returns; careers can go hang. Huge numbers of name acts have been turfed off their rosters. Online? Apple's bombastic launch of their new music service had fine words, but the small print shows they will pay artists nothing for the three months of free trial each subscriber signs up for - this could not be a clearer example of the mighty exploiting the vulnerable.

And that brings me to crowd-sourcing - a natural development for working music businesses and beyond to tap into support, now that the previous providers have lost interest. Now, there's a very inventive campaign, freshly launched, that you really ought to know about. It ticks boxes - a lot of boxes. 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

You think you've got choices? The Musicbiz would rather you didn't

FIFA may be dodgy, but try looking at the hype industry

There's a fantastic, possibly apocryphal, story of how one record company rep made quite sure that only his company's stuff was played at US R'n'B radio in the 50s. This was in the days of 78s. The rep simply, accidentally on purpose, cracked all the other records in the library, leaving them unplayable. Oops, sorry 'bout that. 

The Music business has a long and unsavoury history of dodgy deals. Back in the 30s, song pluggers would pitch songs for their publishing company bosses, first when selling sheet music in music shops, and later pitching material to record companies and band leaders. Even Gerschwin, when he wasn't banging out hits, worked as a song plugger. Such territory is ripe for manipulation. And before radio killed jukeboxes, there was intense competition to place songs on the right machines.    

You may ask what that ancient history have to do either with today's relentlessly, um, transparent music industry, or even music on our patch? Well... quite a lot. 

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Analogue Tales: James Summerfield and Darren Cannan

Last year, just as summer shaded into autumn, I spoke with James Summerfield, whose latest project is surfacing right now; then it was in the throes of assembly, recording and aligning. Analogue Tales: Sounds From Arden is an extraordinary work, taking the words and ideas of local poet Darren Cannan, and setting it to a lush musical background, supplied by James. It's released on the estimable local label Commercially Inviable. James sings on most of the tracks, but others are voiced by the likes of Paul Murphy, Ranking Roger, Catherine O'Flynn, Mike Gayle, James' nan Marjorie, and myself. 

When you listen to it, the obvious, screaming question is – why don't people do this more often? It's amazing.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

I used to go to Barbarellas

People and bands and music and sticky carpet make places 

I've been working up a few posts for Time Out Brum of late. Some of them are on local music history, including this one on lost venues. It's had a big reaction, and I'm now looking at more stories that have come my way. Thank you! And keep them coming. 

We've lost a lot of venues over the years. It's sad to seem them go, of course; hardest on the people who made a particular place what it was. There was a great book published last year about JBs in Dudley. There's memories aplenty scattered around on websites. But there really isn't enough about one place I spent lots of time either DJing or sticking to the carpet: the primo 70s and 80s Rock venue in Birmingham... Barbarellas.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Don't you point that thing at me #7 : Sam Frank Wood

Catch that moment... sometimes under exacting circumstances

St Vincent at Birmingham Institute  
There's a pic on facebook about how crazy musicians are to put their five grand instruments into a car worth maybe five hundred, and drive a hundred miles for a fifty quid gig. They're not alone - decent cameras don't come cheap, and yet we often see two or three snappers at gigs, all with seriously costly kit, looking to capture something worthwhile - which they might not even get paid for. At least I can bash this stuff out on a three hundred quid laptop, or do my radio stuff on kit which hardly cost me anything. But musos and snappers? Mostly, they fork out a lot. But they clearly love it all, the same way all the people in a local scene do.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Open Mic nights - a most variable feast. You should go.

The historic Fiddle and Bone and the very new Dark Horse: two ways to do Open Mic. Why not try both?

It's around eight o'clock on a sunny Tuesday evening on Sheepcote Street in Birmingham centre. Things are warming up as Richard Heath sets up the PA for his new Open Mic night at the Fiddle and Bone

This is a Very Good Thing. Music is back at the Fiddle and Bone. The place was set up first and foremost as a music venue. Now it's back after over a decade, hosting live music the way it used to. We've regained a city centre music venue. 

Its closure followed an unpleasant episode of noise complaints from newly arrived flat-dwellers. Noise complaints still dog local venues; efforts to get the city to grasp this nettle have met with silence and evasion. The Fiddle and Bone's case caused particular rancour, and dark rumours still circulate.But that was then...

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Rumbles in the radio jungle

Tricky times for pop radio

If you look at what's playing at radio, you'll mostly find bleakly repetitive fare. 

Further down this post, I've got an analysis of five stations (three West Midlands analogue, two national digital), with their current most-played artists, taken from the Compare My Radio site. Everyone is playing youth diva Taylor Swift. Four of the five are playing Sam Smith. 

It's a typical pattern; has been for years. Most commercial stations go for safe, reliable and familiar. It's the McDonalds way: familiarity and repetition. Punters know what to expect; the brand is crystal-clear. 

But the web came along and overturned the applecart. And now, news that came out last week could have huge implications for the industry. 

Sunday, 26 April 2015

A conversation with Swami: Simon & Diamond and S-Endz

A brand new band that's been going since 1999

Two months back, I compiled a local YouTube chart. It's a labour of love, and I can miss things. Happily, I'm usually swiftly corrected. S-Endz duly pointed out that his band, Swami, had scored very decent views for their new video. So I fixed things, bouncing the bottom entry (sorry, lads) to present a revised 50. And started thinking about Swami. 

There's lots of Asian bands in the West Midlands. But normally they aim squarely at Asian markets; Swami are different. Malkit Singh may sell millions worldwide to Bhangra fans, but Swami aren't cut from that cloth, not remotely. For a start, they're cross-cultural, in the grand Birmingham tradition. The website is slick and impressive. 

A swift introduction by Sharnita Athwal at Shaanti, and I'm sitting with Simon and Diamond Duggal, joined later by S-Endz. Swami has been Simon and Diamond's project, since 1999.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The game is changing: Goodnight Lenin

Goodnight Lenin want feedback on their new songs. See them in the bar afterwards. Oh, and there's three, count 'em, three festivals to talk about. With the Monkees?

The challenge for all performers is to know when it's going well, and why. That's why I so admire people who make great music. It's not just the uncanny talent. It's the pressure to perform, to deliver. Not only that: you have to work out how it's going: you have to manage it all. 

This blog doesn't just celebrate moments of inspiration and warmth, but also the stagecraft that goes with it. To have the balls to take your visions and dreams out to an audience, to lay it out in public, is one thing. That's where it really starts. That's when the game changes.

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Destroyers and their fresh foundations

Eight years of constant change, and the band's hungrier than ever.

I'm sitting in the snug in legendary Moseley music boozer The Prince of Wales, with Leighton HargreavesMax Gittings and Aaron Diaz, three long-term members of the Destroyers. It's appropriate: if anything is, it's the band's home base. It's where members come to play at the open sessions; it's where they put on their legendary Christmas/New Year shows.

Now, after what seems like an uncomfortably long time, there's good news to report: the band are issuing an EP, on local label Stoney Lane. There may be more to follow, possibly building up to an album. And there's a tour planned out.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Horace Panter. Special.

He still loves it, all of it. 

Horace Panter is great company: courteous and affable. He is hugely knowledgeable about music and musicians, both local and further afield. He plays in three and a bit bands: blues band Blues 2 Go, and straight-up ska outfit Uptown Ska Collective. And he's also working with Champion Doug Veitch, collaborating with Martin Bell, once of The Wonder Stuff. 

But the big band is, of course, The Specials, who started in 1977, reformed in 2008, and are now bigger than ever. 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Beyond the band #3: Pete Williams

Nicely connected after a lifetime of rock and roll ups, downs and setbacks, Pete Williams is punching out fabulous songs.

It didn't start with his bass work with Dexy's Midnight Runners in the 80s, or even through the revived Dexy's in the Noughties and again in 2012. But often that's all that you read about him. Pete played in both bands, and people always want to talk about the juicy stuff.

There's a lot more. Williams has just come out with his second, very successfully crowd-funded, album, Roughnecks and Roustabouts, and he's doing shows, on the road in his own name. The past may be lurid and colourful, although much of it is not of his own making. But it's what's come out of that past now that matters.