Sunday, 21 August 2016

A West Midlands YouTube Top 50 - August 2016.

The 8th bi-annual Radio To Go video survey

Late August. Time to check who is doing well on YouTube. There are interesting conclusions to be drawn:
  • The enduring appeal of some music genres
  • huge generational distance between different sets of fans
  • Maybe suspicious increases in numbers - you'll have to work that one out for yourself, but the numbers are there
  • changing of the guard near the top. 
We still have the same leader as in February, but the appeal of her format may be on the wane. Details after the jump...

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The four quid studio. There's a price to pay.

1996 - £4,000 (if you're lucky)
2006 - £400
2016 - £4

I'm a geek. I love kit and new tech. I love how cheap it's all become, how easy it is to get hold of, and what it lets you do, especially in radio production. 

I also love talent. I adore the work being done by local musicians. I idealistically try to spread the word about fabulous new talent by blogging right here. Of course my blog software, like any online tool, is hosted on massive server farms which are ecological nightmares. Ir's not a win-win. 

My radio stuff goes up to Mixcloud – another free to use (at least to start with) service. By the time you get to the thousand hours and more of current (Brum Radio) output, it costs a bit, but not much. So we're back to server farms. And that keeps the wheels of the monstrous engine turning over. 

We all keep the wheels turning. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, email. Even Pokemon Go loonies who seriously need to get a life. I worry about the downsides; we all should. But the upsides are breathtaking. 

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Brexit, the Brum Music Biz and three wise men called John.

I can't believe it's only been three weeks.

I voted Remain, for what it's worth. I'm still gobsmacked I had to vote at all. Still stunned at David Cameron's catastrophic unleashing of a political and economic sh*t-storm.

It's been three convulsive, compulsive weeks. The Tories have slaughtered one another spectacularly and dishonourably. Labour is doing much the same thing, just more slowly and messily. Labour doesn't do clean-cut, but they match the Tories for dirt. Tragically, no matter who comes out on top in the Labour leadership race, the party will probably now never be a real-world, viable, opposition again. I really, really hope I'm wrong, but I won't hold my breath. Just do the math. 

Sorry, I realise I'm venting, and this is a music and radio blog. I don't usually touch on politics, but this is massive. It impacts on all of us.

Brexit and Brum music? 
It's not good news. John #1 says so. John #2 is cautious at best; John #3 has already taken the hit.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The connections game. Spot that muso!

Who's that guy on guitar? Didn't he use to be in...?

Seen those fingers on that fretboard, yep. But where? Duane Storey, Flickr
Like most people who care about creativity, inclusivity, positivity and the arts – especially, for me, music – Friday 24th was a bad, bad day. I spent most of it in a sleep-deprived haze, with too much time on social media, either commiserating with friends or raging at the toxic mix of stupidity, vanity and plain racism which has led my country to its present pass. 

Solitary rage and despair isn't healthy. So I headed to the Blue Piano to catch Fred Skidmore's trio doing 60s jazz from the Jimmy Smith/McGriff canon. A summer evening, beer in hand; a lovely garden with good friends and great, comforting, grooves. Just what the doctor ordered. 

The Blue Piano is always full of musos. Lots of veterans; some hot young guns. I reckon there's maybe a thousand years of live experience in the place on a good night. I started to play the connections game. It's fatal: once you start, you can't stop. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Payola? Still here. Methodology? Totally different

Some traditions never go away. They just morph 

I have a problem with hype. It's not new and it's not just with music. You see it with movies, gaming and more. The film industry does it best. They're brilliant - they sucker me every time. I wind up really wanting to catch a movie, and then, when I do, I often leave vaguely dissatisfied. Indie film makers with zero budgets must hate this. 

Hey, this is entertainment, where there's a need to recoup investments made sometimes on the back of risky emotive judgements. It gets vile and slimy when vast sums are laid out to manipulate public taste. In general, shamefully, the media know this. But they play along.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The album, the artist, the audience. Are we going full circle?

Grudgingly, I find myself starting to agree with vinyl freaks. Weird. 

I posted a while back about the interesting origins of what we now call an album.  This was in the context of our new, brave MP3 world of digital downloads. After all, when you can cram an entire library onto a tiny piece of plastic, who needs those ancient concepts of singles, albums, EPs and CDs? Tech developments have moved so very fast. I'm not entirely sure that's all good.  

The vinyl revival was a surprise to me. It's really not a huge slice of the market. Vinyl gets more attention than it deserves because it's a retro vintage fashion thing. Personally, I find the obsession with vinyl as a style statement slightly ridiculous. 

But there's another reason for the continued survival of the album, over and above vinyl fetishes. And it's a lot more valid than a business proposition or a badge of identity.  

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Young Man Gone West

So what happened after City Boy, Steve? If you didn't know already, you'd never guess in a million years...

1978. I was conducting an interview on BRMB. It might well have been Bill Nelson from Bebop Deluxe, but I can't be sure. It was someone on the arty side of pop-rock, in any event. 

A call from security. Someone to see me: Steve Broughton, real name Steve Lunt. We were pals; I'd been championing his band, City Boy, for a couple of years. And they'd finally had a hit, '5705'. 

I hadn't seen him for some time. So, up he came... to hand me a silver disc for sales of their hit. I was chuffed, of course. It led to slightly awkward chat in the studio, in between records, with the three of us: me, my interview guest, who might have been excused for looking slightly askance at my visitor with his very pop hit. 

The following year, City Boy were in the States, a million-dollar contract with Atlantic records under their belts. That was the year they sacked Steve. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

It was 48 years ago today...

I did my first radio gig. In the USA. On a Rock station.

On 27 May 1971, jetlagged after flying in two days before, I went on the air on WPHD-FM in Buffalo, in upstate New York

I was a Brit import; they named me Robin Thomas. There were a handful of Brits in US radio; work permits and visas made it tricky.  

This was the early 70s, the time of the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Free, SabbathDerek and the Dominos. What we now call Classic Rock. A big big slice of that came from the UK. British rock really mattered in the US then - it certainly doesn't now.

And for US Rock stations, a Brit DJ was an asset.  That's why WPHD took a risk on an unproven kid with only UK college radio experience. Bless.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The fiddler in the shed and his army of bright-eyed Folk monsters

It's that time of year. The Folk Ensemble will run riot. All 50 of them.

I'm sitting with a university lecturer in deepest Smethwick. If truth be be told, I'm not here for his academic chops. He's a muso, and a bloody brilliant one at that. We're at the bottom of his garden, drinking coffee. In a shed; brick-built, but still a shed. But instead of bamboo canes, rakes, spaces and shears cluttering the floor, you step around guitars and fiddles. There's posters and a couple of really tasty speakers hanging off the walls, hooked up to quite a large Mac.

You've guessed by now. This is actually a studio. It belongs to the Urban Folk Quartet's Joe Broughton. This is his workplace.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Rhino and The Ranters. A dirty taste. Music gourmets come running.

Rhino and The Ranters as a rice dish? Forget Risotto Milanese. Gotta be Louisiana Dirty Rice. 

Photo: Gavin Wray
14 months ago, I was at the Spotted Dog in Digbeth for Rhino And The Ranters, pretty new and already highly recommended, at Dylan Gibbons' Thursday Blues club night. They played to the regular Spotted Dog crowd: musos and interested types. They shook it up nicely. We talked, and I recorded a couple of songs for a 2015 blog post; there's one of them below, along with a brand new mix Ryan Webb kindly let me have.  

They were all over town, busy establishing themselves at any venue that would have them. We talked at length about that whole process. It wasn't long before they were pulling serious numbers. 

This summer, the gigs are fewer – it's all part of the process - but they're a lot bigger, and these days they're getting paid. Good going. Time for a catch-up?

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Whittingdale's little list: The White Paper and the BBC

Clowns to the left of them. Jokers to the right...

At the BBC: Ariel between Wisdom and Gaiety. Mike Knell, Flickr
I've got two pages open on my screen as I write this. Both make my blood boil. The first is yet another anti-BBC piece from Rupert Murdoch's Times, where Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is reported to have joked to a bunch of Tory Students that the end of the BBC might be 'a tempting prospect'. The article goes on to list Gary Lineker as the first to spring to the Beeb's defence. Go Gary, I say; power to you in your underpants.  

Item number two is just as jarring: a strident attack on the BBC from new boys Evolve Politics, who emerged after the Labour Leadership election, along with The Canary and Momentum. They're all over my Facebook feed. Depending on your politics and/or your Facebook 'friends', they may well be all over your Facebook too. That's the creepy way the thing works. Ironically, it's great for marketing...

Evolve Politics and pals are solidly, uncritically, behind Jeremy Corbyn; Jezza can do no wrong, ever ever ever. Evolve are never less than outraged. Here, they slam the BBC for being disgusting Tory stooges.  

Poor old Beeb, eh? Attacked on all sides, while the troops on the ground have to soldier on. It's reminding me of Tennyson's poem...

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The oldest studio in Brum - reborn?

Pretty sure Frank didn't record here. I'll ask...
These are tough times for recording studios and their owners. The loss of Highbury Studio, announced last week, was a body blow. This is terrible news, especially hard on the visionary John Mostyn, who has poured his heart and soul into Birmingham's music scene for decades now, sometimes at great personal cost.  I salute John for his work, and I sincerely hope that, should he so choose, he returns to a field where he has done so much good. 

But other studios are in trouble too. The middle ground is being squeezed almost to death. Is not the right time to be starting up with a brand new facility? Some people think so. Rob Bruce, another Brum musicbiz veteran, certainly does. 

Friday, 22 April 2016

What can DJs learn from Poets? Two separate worlds, right?

If you're going to talk, talk to me, not at me. And make it good. 

Guests David Calcutt with Helen Leavesley
Every month, a bunch of poets gather at Brum Radio and make a programme, obviously on poetry. The show, Brum Radio Poets, went out on Sunday 25th April, and will is also now up on MixCloud. I normally oversee the recording. I wouldn't go so far as to call it producing; others might. 'Studio Engineer' might cover it. Except that Brum radio only actually has one proper studio; we use a spare room. It's all very lo-fi and improvised. 

I really like working this way, miles away from the grandiose fuss of a full-on facility. You have to concentrate on the core: ideas, passion, communication. A stripped-down approach can go a long way with the right content. And if you think all this has nothing to do with DJs and music radio, you couldn't be more wrong. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Festivals 2016! Mud! Rip-off prices! Well, hopefully not.

Which local festivals do best by local acts? Two are absolute stand outs. 

Nile tearing it up at MoJazz 
Here comes summer (although not as I write), and the promise of shimmering music in the sunshine, in good company. And new discoveries: acts you might have heard of but hadn't caught up with yet, playing to you live. Doesn't that sound nice? 

Festivals can mean different things: the term has stretched from the idea of a day or three of music in a field somewhere. Now it's one-dayers, sometimes inside, sometimes all night. Or it's mega operations - holiday camps with drugs - where tens of thousands of punters shell out fortunes to trudge through mud and pay over the odds for designer food. I'm not exactly broken up that Wireless have swerved Perry Park again. But I am dead chuffed that Moseley Folk has headed back closer to its folk roots. 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Weird on Purpose: This is Tmrw come over all Record Store Day

Another Brum compilation! Hooray!

On Saturday April 16thRecord Store Day - you are invited to a party at Stryx Gallery in Digbeth, celebrating the launch of the latest This is Tmrw project: Weird On Purpose, a 2016 compilation of Birmingham bands, centered on Indie and its variations.

This is something to be celebrated. This is Tmrw are Brum promoters who love their music. But any promoter will tell you it's one thing to run gigs because you love the music; there's a lot of sweat and financial risk in that alone. But it's quite another to try to put on record what's actually going on in our city. 

I've tried this a few times, and it's a LOT of work. I've got a bit about that after the jump too.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

From Rave promoting to e-marketing 101. An object lesson from TicketSellers

Rave promoters then; impressively legit now. Who knew?

Slick and online. Times have changed....
You've almost certainly bought gigs tickets online. Leaving aside scam sites who will relieve you of £2.5k for an Adele ticket, there are dozens of straightforward operations, whose business is simply to ease the transaction process for operations both small and large. Links for gigs pop up on band sites, face book and twitter. Click and you land on the site. Pay and you get a code number which you present at the gig, on paper or on your phone. You're name's on the list, you go in. Voila. Life was never simpler for small acts and promoters.  Um. Maybe. 

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The same, not the same. Horace Panter, the Specials after John Bradbury, and more

The many bands of Sir Horace Gentleman

Next month, the man who plays bass with the Specials, founder member Horace Panter, brings his latest project to Birmingham. This is his fourth band. Not sequentially mind – they all run pretty much at the same time. 

The trick is: Horace is now... going Country. That's in addition to a Blues outfit and a very purist Ska operation. Oh, and the Specials. Not bad going for a kid who bumped into Jerry Dammers at Art School in Kettering.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Pete Williams. What people remember. What fans want. What a performer is. Different.

Didn't you use to be...?

Pete Williams. On stage. In his element
Decades ago, I went to watch my beloved but useless football team (I could tell you but you'd die laughing) fold at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers. I was heading home on the train, when a friend, a Wolves fan, called to wind me up. The train was full of Wolves fans, who rapidly clocked that I was being razzed. They sat back to enjoy the spectacle.

I handed my phone to a pal. He loudly name-checked me. Big mistake. 

Amused consternation in the Wolves camp. Coo – they had a DJ in their midst to tease! To be fair, they were actually very nice... for the next interminable hour of ribbing.

But one phrase in particular stuck in my mind: “Didn't you use to be Robin Valk?

Still am, pal, still am. And when I told this tale to Pete Williams, he fell off his chair laughing.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Call Me Unique: Better make time... to grab that chance.

The big break? How and why? Let me count the ways...

At MoFo a few years back; she's on the big stage at MoJazz this year
Let's say you're a struggling artist. You cover a lot of music areas. You have a following of sorts. Being good and distinctive (they don't always go hand in hand), putting yourself out there, gives you a chance of building a small local following. But just to get to there means effort, sweat and often a bit of heartbreak.

But how do you push on from there? How do you get to that point where the buzz is big enough to bring the big media operators sniffing around?

Mostly, the web muddies the waters while appearing to offer clarity. But sometimes you catch a break.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Miles Hunt. Straight outta Stourbridge to a world tour.

Friendly Company! The Stuffies are coming to yours

 Miles and Erica Nockalls - from The Wonder Stuff pledge page  
Like a thousand other towns across the country, developers and lousy town planning have ripped the guts out of Stourbridge. The town is a tangle of road improvements and pompous corporate new-build. It's totally out of step with the charming, human scale of the unprofitable parts left behind.

I head along old streets of small terraced houses, down a clearly ancient pathway behind a church. I fetch up in a quiet neighbourhood boozer, one of several I'd passed. No piped music, no fruit machines, no Sky Sports; instead, a large affable dog and some excellent ale. 

And Miles Hunt of The Wonder Stuff. 

Sunday, 28 February 2016

The BBC's shiny digital future. Still waiting.

Elephants? Pah. There's a digital dinosaur in the room. 

I was at the BBC Mailbox offices in Birmingham last week. They've redone the entrance. You can now check out hot BBC WM studio action as you walk up to the reception desk. This is a good thing. I always like to see real live radio, made in Birmingham.

The sad coffee outlet and gift shop have gone. Ironically, there's now a life-size Peaky Blinders backdrop. You can take selfies! With Cillian Murphy and his gang! Well, it's nice to see Peaky Blinders stuff in Brum - that's a first too. 

Next to it is an area showcasing new digital developments. It's manned by pleasant guides who walk you though the new toys. I had a play while I waited. And then I asked questions. Well, I do that.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Welcome to the future. Here's some 60s soul.

You're making music now. It'll be around when you're not. 

                     Flickr - Rosemary Voegtll
How do you think today's music will feel in forty years time? Will it still be relevant? Will it be stupidly old? A curio? A discovery to glorify the newgen person who ostentatiously 'curated' it?

Everything's online. That's wonderful for the curious listener, but not for today's creators, who are bullied into putting up their music for free for 'exposure'. Once online, that music makes money... just not for the people who created it. Cute.

The upside is you can find things. You want classics from way back when? There you go. It's a win-win for the record companies, who once could only recoup four and five-fold from issues and reissues in different formats, the poor things. Now, the web is a permanent way to extend sales potential.

And they just love it when the old boys keel over. Just look at the sales on Bowie and the Eagles.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Hitting New Heights: A West Midlands YouTube Top 50: February 2016

BIG changes at both top and bottom of the 7th YouTube chart

Lady Leshurr on top; Laura Mvula and the Editors on the foothills.
Every six months I tot up YouTube numbers for local acts: the two most-viewed videos in the past three years, strictly defined. The totals let me do a bit of basic analysis - who is piling on the views? Who's made the biggest percentage improvement? 

A statistical health warning applies: I do this chart on my own, out of curiosity. It's perfectly possible I have missed your act. If so, please tell me and I will instantly rectify matters. 

There's some spectacular results to be picked out of this. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The wood from the trees

Taking a mile-high view of your local music scene is tricky, but it's worth a go

It helps to have a sense of perspective.  Photo Elliot Brown
Posts here are mostly on artists and their stories. Everyone has a story; some are amazing. But this week, and probably next, it's about lots of artists. Next week, I'll publish my six monthly survey of local artists who smash it on YouTube. It's interesting, but not definitive: YouTube numbers can be, and are, fiddled for marketing advantage.

No, it's good for spotting early trends. It's fascinating to see who's coming on fast, what genres do well, and to try to work out why.

And recently, with some colleagues, I've picked up a new way of looking at what's happening. Imperfect it certainly is; rankings are subjective and based on reputation, not numbers. The sample is tiny, and taken at a specific point in time. So I won't get carried away. But I'm astonished and pleased at what we found.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Thank you, Paul Murphy

We've lost one of the greats. We've lost a friend.

Photo Richard Shakespeare     
Paul Murphy passed away last week. His family announced his passing on Friday. It was a difficult day. The news was met with an explosion, a passionate outpouring of grief which rippled out across the world. Rightly.  

Paul was a wonderful, open, extravagantly talented man with a razor-sharp mind,   boundless optimism, and lively curiosity about anything and everything. There didn't seem to be anything he could not do.

And he told stories. Oh, how he told his stories...

Sunday, 24 January 2016

A cuppa coffee with Tom Walker

A preposterously talented young guitarist, a power-packed rhythm section, and a studio with history 

It's still cloudy, grey and wet as I climb up out of Five Ways station, drop round the corner and zig zag up to Arc Studios. Arc was set up by Bob Wilson; it's a place that's ridden a lot of changes. 

Now, Arc is pretty much run by son Toby, who drums with a range of local bands. Having effectively grown up in the studio, Toby's a dab hand at production.

They're halfway through a session. Clutching mugs of coffee are Tom Walker, Deano Bass and Jim Simpson (the musician one, that is). 

I give you the Tom Walker Trio, sounding excellent, as you can hear further down this post.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

There's a new online kid on the radio block.

Our city. Our music. Our stories.

Radio tells stories better than almost any other medium. Take it with you. You don't need to look, just listen. 

It's been that way for close on a century. But now, the rules and the tools have changed. 

It doesn't break the bank to get started. Anyone can get on air. So there's tons of internet stations. Some want to turn the clock back - big mistake. Some are vanity vehicles. Others have specialised agendas; I approve. And all the time, mainstream media shrinks its offer, cuts costs and shuns local. The gap between large and small is now a chasm, a yawning gulf, financially and creatively.  

Can this gap be bridged? I'd like to think it can. And here's one way we might find out. Welcome to Birmingham and the world, Brum Radio

Sunday, 10 January 2016

When did you last sit down and listen all the way through an album?

Grazing is the new norm. And that's not good.

Thanks to Acid Pix at Flickr
I was asked this week what album I had listened to most recently, just for pleasure. 

I couldn't name one. I was astonished. 

Back in the day, I always, always, always had an album to champion and play till I wore the grooves out. Now? Not so much. It's far more about the artist. Or the song. Or the video. Or the Facebook like. 

That's a clue right there. Like most of us, I'm not dealing with grooves any more. Now, it's streams. But I think there's a lot more to it than that. And I'm certain I'm not alone. 

So I sat down and thought a bit. Here's what I came up with, after the jump. It's not pretty.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Richard March, he say.... THANK YOU!

It's all about the Bass. And good people doing good things

****  Stop Press **** 

Amazingly, Richard has been re-united with his bass. 
See his message at the bottom of this post. 

Richard March is a happy bunny right now. He plays double bass: you stand up and wrap your self around the instrument. He's in one of the fastest rising bands in town, Rhino and The Ranters, among others. 

Double basses are physical. They're actually bigger than the people who play them. It means intimacy and engagement. Players are on their feet, dancing. All musos have physical bonds with their instruments. But basses are already deep and primal. String basses take it deeper. 

So when Richard posted on Facebook, just before Christmas, that his bass, his amp and bits and pieces had been stolen, it came across like a howl of pain.