Saturday, 30 December 2017

It's been a year since...

Time for an end of the year round up, and it's also a year since I started the blog. Thank you for reading, and it seems people are (if I believe Google's figures), so what have I discovered in 2017, in case you care.


Disappointment of the year... 

Elbow - Little Fictions. Has not stood up well to repeated plays, certainly nowhere near the album that "The Take Off and Landing of Everything" was.

Best of the year...

One problem here is that I seem to have bought very little new music in 2017 so this list is almost self selecting.

Sparks - Hippopotamus. There is no such thing as a bad Sparks album, only degrees of wonderfulness. This one is among the best, up there with "Exotic Creatures of the Deep" and "Number One In Heaven" If you don't know Sparks this is the perfect album to try. The combination of good tunes and a sense of humour is irresistable for me.

Black Country Communion - BCCIV The quintessential rock band come back after the quarreling surrounding "Afterglow". This is as good as BCC 2. Glenn Hughes voice is working well, and the simpler arrangements make for an album that wins the best music to sit in a queue on the M6 to award.

Kim Seviour -  Recovery Is Learning Kim's singing was always the best thing about Touchstone. With better material she is now flying. As a fellow ME sufferer I get the title song and the cover. Call To Action is the song to try if you haven't heard the album. John Mitchell provides his signature "modern Prog" production, which means it sounds like the Lonely Robot album, no bad thing. And she is a local.

Bill Nelson - Tripping The Light Fantastic A Bill Nelson live album would be great in itself, but that it documents a show where he played many of my favourites 'I Always Knew You Would Find Me', 'The Raindrop Collector', 'Gloria Mundae' amongst them makes it doubly so.

Nolwenn Leroy - Gemme. A new purchase at the very end of the year. After the diversions in Celtic music this is her best "Pop"album since Histores Naturelles. Nolwenn will be part of a post on French Music that is in development hell at present. Watch this space.

And the rest is old stuff.

I caught up with Lonely Robot's "Please Come Home" through listening to Kim's album. Pop enough to have tunes, Prog enough to challenge the listener.  Seeing Over The Rhine live in April was a highlight and sent me back to the albums yet again. Ozric Tentacles most recent live album appeared on Bandcamp. I love them, but recognise that you might not. More good music for long car journeys though, and I do plenty of them. I found London Grammar's first album "If You Wait" and should really catch up with the next one. 

Oh and 2017 was the year I rediscovered Jazz. You have been warned...

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

eMusic - An Update

I have just published an update on my August rant about eMusic. Find it on Linkedin HERE

Saturday, 16 December 2017

It's just not cricket, no wait it is...

I started listening to radio seriously in about 1978. Lots of things were to blame for moving me on from basic Radio 1. "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" introduced Radio 4, and a bout of Chickenpox, particularly nasty as a teenager, left me twiddling the dial in May. So I discovered cricket, or more exactly cricket commentary.

I don't do sport really, I have no interest in Football or Rugby, but the lyrical description of this game that seems to seep into whoever is on air at Test Match Special is as enticing as any music. Now I'm not the first to mention this, but it has coloured my radio and podcast listening. Over time I have got a bit more interested in the game, learnt the fielding positions and so on. Quick aside; I was finally put off any real interest in sport by a rainy school games lesson when we were all sat on the floor and shown fielding positions rather than playing. You weren't allowed to wear glasses for games so I couldn't see a thing. I asked to go back for them, was told no put up with it, and decided on the spot to give up on anything "taught" like that.

I do a lot of miles in the course of business and Audiobooks help the motorway slide by easier. I listen to music books, as you may have noticed in previous pieces, but I seem to have a fair few cricket books as well. No surprise that cricket commentators are good Audiobook narrators but it seems that the game is just ideally suited to spoken word. All this was prompted by Henry Blofeld's memoirs appearing on Audible recently. It turns out to be a good listen, and Henry to have a clear sense of his role on air. Jonathan Agnew is far and away the best at the Cricket Audiobook. His anthology of cricket writing is a good place to start, but not all at one sitting at 19 hours long. He has also done an excellent tribute to Brian Johnson which mixes anecdote with history, although I could care less if I never heard their "Leg Over" incident again.

In common with most high paid "professional" sportsmen cricketers have a greatly inflated sense of their own importance. As I write this in December 2017, the England team have all had to be grounded because they can't have a drink without headbutting each other. Consequently I have avoided autobiographies of players, partly because they have a tendancy to be written too close to their careers to have any perspective, be a least a little self serving and frankly pretty dull. I would recommend however Jonny Bairstow's memoir "A Clear Blue Sky", the positive tone of a book that could have turned into a rant about his early tragedies makes for an incisive story.

Cricket podcasts? The BBC's "Stumped" is the best, the rest tend to be attempts to replicate the natural tone of Test Match Special and come across as forced. Someone more interested in the game than the narration may tell you different...

Then there is "The Duckworth Lewis Method". As well as the cricket version of the offside rule, it is a project from Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh of the excellent Pugwash. The history is here and I would say that even if you don't like cricket at all, the mix of gentle whimsical lyrics and E.L.O.pastiches is irresistable. Get the albums, both of them, you won't regret it. They have also been taken to heart by the Cricket world, even appearing on TMS..

I didn't know Pugwash before the DLM albums, but don't wait, their new album "Silverlake" is as good as anything they have done. Also get their compilation A Rose In A Garden Of Weeds as a way into their beguiling catchy songs. Try "What Are You Like" from the new album

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Artist Choice: Karen Lawrence

"It was 1994:'s Karen Lawrence who gave the others the choice of being second best or giving up" (Geoff Barton in Sounds)

Every so often a great album or a truly talented artist spends their entire career toiling away just below the awareness of all but a lucky few who find them. One such is Karen Lawrence. She has produced some good music, one genuinely great album, wrote a platinum hit record and seems to have been on the receiving end of more music industry rubbish than most.

She started out in a band called L.A. Jets. Hard to find much about them online (swamped by the football team), but the one video I can find shows a mid 70s pop rock band with no distinguishing features. After round one of music industry hassles most of the L.A. Jets popped up again as 1994: (the colon is meant to be there) and had money and attention lavished on them, including producer Jack Douglas (Aerosmith), by A&M records. The result in my view is the best hard rock album of the 70's, if you don't believe me, then critic Geoff Barton called it "The best female fronted record of all time". Available as a brilliant expanded edition from Rock Candy Records if you have even a passing interest in loud rock music you need to hear this album. Nine perfectly formed songs with Karen's voice competing with Steve Schiff's soloing and Bill Rhodes inventive solid bass playing for top billing. Still one of my most played albums. I found 1994: thanks to an article in Sounds by Mr Barton highlighting then recent, 1979, US import albums*. He was talking about the follow up 'Please Stand By' but was so fulsome in his praise of the debut that I had to have it. £1.99 in the same cut out bin that I found Bruford's One Of A Kind in, quite a day that!

Later work includes Rip and Tear a cracking solo album still available digitally, and blues band Blue By Nature, and since 2000 silence. Seek her out and wonder why, like Kim Edgar in my recent post you haven't heard her before.

The sleeve notes for the Rock Candy reissues give the 1994: story as well as anywhere, and make an extra reason for buying them.

A very informative interview with Karen is here

* If anyone ever comes across this article online let me know, I discovered the band Storm there as well and would love to re read it as I'm sure other gems are waiting to be unearthed.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Steely Dan - Ultimate Music Guide

From previous posts you will have worked out that I'm quite keen on Steely Dan, so I was pleased to see Uncut add them to their Ultimate Music Guide series. These magazines are a great way of getting started with an artist, I have bought several, The Byrds, Van Morrison, & The Beach Boys issues all sent me off to the record shop.

With the Steely Dan one I have better insider knowledge and while it is very good, certainly making anything I could write to advise you where to start redundant, there are gaps...

The first is that as far as I can see nowhere does the song F.M. get a mention. It won awards and was released in various versions which surely gives it trainspotter appeal.

Number two nit-pick is the Hoops McCann Band. Named after a character in "Glamour Profession" (Steely Dan fans love this stuff) their "Plays the Music Of Steely Dan" album is a Jazz-lite set of covers. Not a musical sensation but part of the lore. And lore is one of the important things about Becker and Fagen. Bard College, Jay & The Americans, Chevy Chase, Muswellbrook... If you don't know what I'm talking about then catch up with Brian Sweet's excellent Biography called "Reelin' In the Years" (what else). If you ever see his other book "Complete Guide to the Music of Steely Dan" for less than ridiculous Amazon prices grab it. As a supplement to the interviews in the Ultimate Music Guide get Barney Hoskyns' "Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion". There is a small overlap of interviews, but not enough to matter.

Something else that is of interest to the train spotter in me are Steely Dan covers.

Woody Herman's "Chick, Donald, Walter & Woodrow" marries a suite from Chick Corea with five Steely Dan songs, far more effective big band Dan than Hoops McCann.

Herbie Hancock covered 'Your Gold Teeth II' on "The New Standard", an album by the way that is high up on the list of best Jazz albums of recent years.

"The Nightfly" has attracted its share of easy listening covers. Mel Torme took on 'The Goodbye Look' and 'Walk Between the Raindrops' on his Reunion album with Marty Paich, (whose son David covered Bodhisattva with Toto), and the Four Freshmen had a stab at Maxine and I.G.Y.

Best covers? The Pointer Sisters' take on Dirty Work clearly influenced Steely Dan's own live arrangement of recent years.

 Wilco's version of 'Any Major Dude' is good as is 'King Of The World' from Joe Jackson. Oddly Waylon Jennings managed a not bad rendition of 'Do It Again'..

Buy the Steely Dan Ultimate Music Guide, if you are a fan or not. Becker and Fagen make good copy whatever your opinion of their music. Personally I love it and am patiently waiting for Donald to get his finger out and release some better live albums and proper expanded editions of the albums.


My dwindling opinion of Donald Fagen took another hit this week with the headline "Steely Dan Singer Donald Fagen Sues Bandmate Walter Becker's Estate". While it's hardly the first unseemly scrap for control of a band name, Yes do it every second Thursday after all, the comments in my obituary of Walter Becker stand.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Kim Edgar - A name you should know.

Out there in the world there are hundreds, thousands of people quietly making a living from music sitting off the radar as far as the average music lover is concerned.

Last year Kim Edgar visited us in Crianlarich. here she is in the bar at The Ben More promoting her show. Sadly I didn't get to see her play, (drinks to serve, plates to clear) but I did investigate her albums, and found gold.

You may think you can classify her music by looking at the website and have parceled her off as folky singer/songwriter, true up to a point but each of her albums has a definite character and, most unusual in today's musical climate, show her writing and performing maturing and evolving.

Debut "Butterflies and Broken Glass" appeared in 2008 and drew the inevitable, lazy, comparisons with Sandi Thom and Amy MacDonald. Kim's songwriting was more assured and the arrangements less obvious than either of those relentlessly commercial artists. A review said "very moving, literate, allusive and expressively sung", and they were right, another review clearly written by some who had listened on fast forward described it as slick folk pop, no!

Album two "The Ornate Lie" in 2012 was a step forward particularly musically. Extra bite to the songs, a bigger production, and a more confident performance overall. The Tori Amos influence was more overt this time, but a perceptive review spotted signs of Aimee Mann as well.  

Most recently "Stories Untold" from 2016, is less ornate. Simpler arrangements, more folk, less Tori. Some of the songs, particularly 'Significant Other Deceased' remind me of Cara Dillon. It sounds like Kim has wanted to focus the listener on the lyrics, which have again taken a step forward. Try 'Well Worn' and especially 'Things Crack, Then Shatter' an affecting song simply sung and played.

As well as her solo work Kim plays, mostly in Germany, with the band Cara operating more in the Irish music world, does sessions, workshops, and directs choirs. So overall she is making a living (as far as I can see) playing her music, and finding an audience. In 2017 that is an achievement. The inevitable stripped down, keyboard & guitar live shows are part of life (Over The Rhine make the same compromise). She reminds me of Nerina Pallot in some ways, although she is 6 albums into her career has gone the big label route a couple of times, and had closer brushes with the "big time". But Nerina seems from the outside at least to have made more effort to satisfy commercial demands and her albums are less consistent and only intermittently hit the highs routine in Kim's music.

I've talked before about the difficulties of making a living in music, Kim has a good website, has the Social Media firing and gets good reviews for albums and live work. But you haven't heard of her and you should. Kim Edgar is a major talent, the equal and better of anyone in her field. As a fan I would like her to be heard widely and receive the rewards her music deserves (try Bandcamp Kim). This may of course not be what Kim wants.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Artist Choice; Bill Nelson

I'm gutted, Bill Nelson played an album launch show for his "Songs for Ghosts" album at the end of October and I couldn't go. There is the risk that every show might be his last, and having made it to the last two I was keen to get there.

The history from Be Bop Deluxe, through Red Noise and the solo decades is accurate enough on Wikipedia to get the picture, although for recent years it breaks down rather. As I write this Bill has a brilliant new website just launched. You should go there to understand the breadth and depth of his music and also to have a tour round the forum. This is far and away the best on the interwebs with a genuine community feel, and regular contributions from the object of our affection himself.

My Nelsonic journey started with the Be Bop De Luxe single "Japan" I doubt Bill would choose this as a point of entry to his work, but there you are...

When "Drastic Plastic" came along in 1978 I was undecided, the easier stuff was fine, but it took until the release of the Futurist Manifesto box set to really give this the attention it deserves. I'm not particularly a fan of Be Bop De Luxe, but as a stepping stone to the good stuff "Drastic Plastic" does it for me.

The good stuff being "Sound On Sound" by a group he called Red Noise. If you have any leanings towards the best 'Post Punk' or end of the 70s music you need to hear this. It's one of those albums that should be heard as an album. No substandard songs at all. Also responsible for a causing a lifetime of pain for others, as it is the album where I first took notice of fretless bass, still a work in progress.

In a story you may have heard before on the blog, I drifted with Bill in the mid 80s, vaguely aware of his new stuff and playing his old regularly. I reconnected in 2012 with "Joy Through Amplification" when it was reviewed in Classic Rock. Vortexion Dream is now one of my favourite Nelson songs. Sadly you will have to wait for it to appear as a download as the CD is sold out. (Update 19th June 2018, it's out - get it now - probably Bill's best "rock album")

Bill presses typically 500 cds which by and large sell out quickly, sadly often appearing on EBay at inflated prices fairly soon after. There are some great albums still available in his back catalogue at ridiculous prices, my choices would be "Fantasmatron" & "Signals From Realms Of Light". One of the joys of Bill Nelson's music is its diversity and if you are new I would have a happy hour browsing through the soundclips and reading the wonderful notes that accompany each entry. Some of his best work is being slowly re-released through Bandcamp. The three volume Dreamers Companion series is a good introduction to Bill's recent work, but you will be buying the complete albums as well.

A recent innovation was a live album of last year's show. "Tripping The Light Fantastic" currently on heavy rotation on the iPod, I hope there is one of this year's performance. This is Bill at the launch of the Blip! album in 2013.

Compare "I Always Knew You Would Find Me" here, on Tripping... & on "Plectrajet" for Bill's seemingly endless inventiveness over the same theme. He seems to be on a sort of stream of consciousness never ending recording session, with one album merging into the next, but with each still retaining a sense of completeness and individuality. And that is for me a lot of the appeal of Bill's music, while it is all undeniably him, with a clear definable style, you never know quite what you are going to get. Recent albums have shifted from Special Metal, one of his most 'rock' albums for a long time, to "All That I Remember" an instrumental reflection on his early life. The homespun quality of his work, warm & giving while remaining the work of a consumate professional, is another appeal in the age of the airbrushed, protooled to death recording.

Recommendations? I have 32 solo albums plus Red Noise & Be Bop De Luxe on the iPod so how to narrow it down. The albums mentioned above are all good starting points. Bill himself often mentions "The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill" as a favourite. I'll admit I took a while with this one but persevering paid dividends and I agree it is one of his best and that I think is one of the big rewards of listening to Bill Nelson, for every "Special Metal" that is an instant win, there are two "Sailor Bills" that demands something in return for giving up their charms. By the time they have worked their way in to your soul you will have made friends for life. So, my advice, read the store page, visit the forum, and immerse yourself in some of the most thoughtful, considered music you can buy.

My next purchases will be the Trilogy of "Silvertone Fountains", "Illuminated at Dusk", and "Mazda Kaleidoscope" before one of them sells out. I'm feeling brave so will post this blog to the Dreamsville Forum and invite other people's reflections on the appeal of Bill. I'm sure there will be far more eloquent explanations than mine. Find it here.

Bill Nelson is one of those artists who people have "heard of" but who remains just off the radar for many. This is going to become a theme for the next few blog posts. Next time, Kim Edgar. Who?

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Labelled with Prog

My audiobook recently has been "The Show That Never Ends - The Rise and Fall Of Prog Rock" by David Weigel. While it focuses on the stories of the 70's heavyweights there are also diversions into other parts of Progworld which have pointed me towards yet more overlooked music.

Looking through the genre tab of the iPod it turns out I have quite a bit of stuff labelled "Progressive Rock". Seems strange for someone whose music tastes formed at the end of the 70's and the early 80's. Then there's the Prog Magazine Readers group on Facebook which spends most of its time arguing about what is or isn't "Prog". So what's it all about (Alfie)?

To set my stall out I don't like ELP, not too fussed about Pink Floyd (for me the Collection of Great Dance Songs compilation is all the Floyd you need) and I can take or leave most Genesis. I've nothing against the early/mid 70s, I just wasn't there...

King Crimson: My interest in Crimson starts in 1981, in fact I saw the band while it was still called Discipline at Moles Club in Bath on their first gig. The inventiveness of the trio of 80s albums still amazes me. Live they were constantly challenging, listen to any of the downloads at DGM Live, better, listen to them all. From there right up to the current 8 man band revisiting and rewriting earlier incarnations it's the sound of boundaries and envelopes being pushed. Nothing has ever got close to King Crimson. They are the musical equivalent of flicking away a lit cigarette without looking to see where it lands.


Camel: Much gentler stuff, and a different kind of inventive. If you like Gilmour's guitar but not Waters' polemics then try Camel. A much sparkier prospect live where the Jazz & Blues inflections that can sound twee on record catch fire and Andy Latimer's guitar work has space to stretch out.

Renaissance: I know, not very radical whats with the orchestras and all. Forget Northern Lights, it's Betty Thatcher-Newsinger's lyrics sung by Annie Haslam and earlier by Jane Relf that make Renaissance's best albums worth your attention.

Procol Harum: Again ignore the hit and go for the live stuff. I got properly interested when BBC4 showed their Live at Union Chapel, and it's a good place to start.

David Weigel's definition of Prog drifts towards Jazz Rock, Electronic and AOR. Consequently people like Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield and John Wetton get a fair covering. His look at 80s "Neo Prog" doesn't go much further than Marillion, and the more recent revival, or perhaps that should be reappraisal, concentrates on Porcupine Tree, which is fair enough given Steven Wilson's ubiquity. It stops short of his recent chart shaking "To the Bone" album, which itself has generated some "is it Prog?" debate. Personally I think the place to start with Wilson's work is "Hand Cannot Erase".

John Mitchell, the other name to conjure with in modern Prog circles, has a very definite sound that he brings to his albums with Frost*, Lonely Robot and his production work, particularly Kim Seviour's excellent "Recovery Is Learning" album. Kim was previously singer with Touchstone, who highlight much of the problem with current Prog leaning music. Talented musicians, decent production, but hit and miss material, making most albums a struggle. Mitchell and Wilson have the songwriting skills to move beyond the banal to something with some lyrical bite and most importantly a tune. You see why I'm not keen on ELP now.

A few recommendations some from slightly outside the Prog box, that I think are "progressive" within a fairly traditional rock music format.

Elbow. As I suggested in my live review in March, Elbow have many of the qualifications for Progressive-ness, better live than on record, songs that can be the stuff of epics, and a comfort with the fact that they are good at what they do.
Try: "Live at Jodrell Bank", "Build a Rocket Boys" and "Little Fictions"

Steeleye Span "Wintersmith" with Terry Pratchett. I'm not a massive Pratchett fan (although try The Long Earth written with Stephen Baxter), but this rendering of his stories hits the spot. Chris Tsangrides production toughens up the sound without losing the organic, folk based feel. Get the deluxe edition with extra tracks and live material.
"The Dark Morris Song" "Crown of Ice" and "The Good Witch" for a flavour of the album

Robert Fripp / Andrew Keeling / David Singleton: The Wine of Silence. Fripp's soundscapes orchestrated by Andrew Keeling and produced by David Singleton are a thing of beauty. Probably more accurately seen as modern classical music, nevertheless meets the definition of progressive as something challenging and involving. Don't try it, just buy it.

Yes: The best of the "proper" Prog bands for me. Rick Wakeman describes their studio albums as "sterile" and by and large he's right. Despite a tendency (mostly Steve Howe I gather) to repeat the recorded works the same every night, right down to the solos, Yes can be a great live band, or at least before they turned into their own tribute band.
Try Keys To Ascension, very close to the best of live from a time when they were playing at their best. The only song missing is Southside of The Sky. Also try Live from the House of Blues, and the best studio album Going For The One.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

In praise of Bruce Brodeen

Unless you inhabit the corner of the musical jungle that calls itself Power Pop, you may be unfamiliar with Bruce Brodeen. In 1994 he started a record company called Not Lame. If ever there was a well named label that was it. I came across one of his compilations in Revolver Records a few years later and got on the mailing list. I'm still there, despite Not Lame shutting up in 2010 and Bruce moving onto a portal site called Pop Geek Heaven.

Now however Bruce has hung up his jangly guitar and joined the grown up world. His big contribution for me was promoting the notion of music curation. I have talked about this before on the blog and given the speed with which the digital world is overwhelming what has gone before there will inevitably be a lot of music left behind that one day is lost forever. Thanks to Bruce the world will still have The Shazam, The Mockingbirds and many other proud purveyors of guitar pop. 150 compilation cds later he has just released his last.

If you haven't caught up with the world of Power Pop then the starting point is "Shake Some Action:  The Ultimate Power Pop Guide" by John M Borack. The best music lists book bar none. Best of luck finding one, they do come up on E-Bay occasionally, the good news however is that a new edition is due out in 2018. However a google will give you an idea of some of the music recommended.

For music the DIY series are a good starting point and come up second hand regularly
DIY: Teenage Kicks - UK Pop 1 (1976-1979)
DIY: Starry Eyes - UK Pop 2 (1978-79)
DIY: Come Out and Play - American Power Pop (1975-78)
DIY: Shake It Up - American Power Pop 2 (1978-80)

If you find any of the the Rhino Poptopia series on sale grab them

The best intro to Not Lame's catalogue is "Six Years of Power Pop!" available digitally.

Not only was Bruce a great promoter of the music but also of writers. Another book recommendation is "A Brief History of Jazz Rock" by  Pop Geek Heaven contributor Mike Baron which takes an oblique and unique view of another niche.

So thank you Bruce Brodeen for 20 years of great music, and for introducing me to musical archaeology, I will keep digging but it won't be the same without you.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Podcasts. The Which, How & Why.

I'm a big fan of Podcasts, they make great in car listening and having always been a lover of speech radio they are a good way of getting a comedy fix without waiting for 6.30, or for catching up on my pet interests. My suggestions are further down the page but with over 250,000 podcasts to choose from how do you sift the wood from the trees? while this started as a guide to listening to Podcasts, if you are thinking of doing one yourself then some of the following may be useful to you.

What do you want?

If there's an area of human activity there will be a podcast about it. A search on iTunes, Stitcher or your preferred pod provider will bring up a list. Even if you don't use it to subscribe iTunes is the most user friendly and has the largest content count. For your own podcast ask yourself: Do I have anything new to say on my subject? Is there a gap that I could create a podcast to fill?


Quality Counts-subject matter

Frankly there are some pretty shoddy podcasts out there.Science Fiction, Sport and Business all have their great and their ghastly. The problem is often an inability to press the self edit button by the podcaster. Listen with a critical ear to your efforts. Edit ruthlessly, less really is more.

Quality Counts-listening experience

Audio quality is a huge problem with many "fan" produced podcasts. A decent microphone will cost about £50.00, Audacity is ideal software to use for an amateur. Hindenburg is good for a more professional job. Think about where you will record the Podcast, sounding like you are in the bath is not a good plan. Record somewhere that gives a flat response when you listen back. The software can add the tiny touch of echo needed to give the sound space. Voice is important. Experiment and find the best tone of voice and speed of presentation for you. Practice really does make perfect, if you cringe at the sound of your voice why should the listeners be any different.
Personally I have a voice made for silent movies so a Selling Service podcast is not a priority. Having said that Jeremy Hardy has made a career out of a nasal grating voice so there may be hope. A friend of mine is blessed with the ideal radio voice. She has been a podcast guest several times and comes across well. She can also speak off the cuff with little rehearsal, a rare skill, and should certainly do a podcast. Oh and music behind the speech? NO!


Script it

Many podcasts suffer from lack of preparation. Even that bastion of free
form radio "I'm Sorry I A Haven't a Clue" is actually tightly formatted and has many of the jokes and lines pre-prepared. Trying to record something that sounds like a chat down the pub will sound exactly like that. If there are more than one of you recording a podcast then script it so that everyone gets a turn. If you think of something good to say that isn't in the script, don't adlib, stop, add it to the script and record again. Talking over each other seems to be a particular problem on books and sports podcasts where the sound of 3 "experts" all talking at once means any good content is lost in a mush of background noise.



The best podcasts, particularly those on history culture, books or similar need lots of time to get right. Robin Pierson of the History of Byzantium says the research has largely taken over his life. If you can't commit, don't start. My daughter has listened to a Harry Potter podcast that is so full of errors that even a casual reader and viewer can spot the holes. If you want to give opinion and supposition make it clear, there is a place for it and it can make for an entertaining podcast, giving fans something to respond to. Just don't present your guesswork as facts.
 Research presentation, listen to good radio and podcasts and analyse why it is good. Radio 4 is top of the list, followed by some of the NPR podcasts. Many of the podcasts I suggest below reach very high standards and are worth examining if you plan to podcast yourself, or as a listener just because they are so good to listen to, if you are interested in the subject or not. Then there is...

Bad radio:

Radio 5 Live can be very good at "event" radio. It's coverage of the Grenfell Tower Fire was excellent. However when it just has 24 hours of live radio to fill and nothing much to report it can be dreadful. Dotun Adebayo is appalling, gabbling his way through the script too fast to understand him. He clearly loves the sound of his own voice and opinions at the expense of anyone unlucky enough to be sharing the airwaves with him. Steven Nolan's evening show is a prime example of "zoo radio" lots of opinionated guests all talking over each other with the host unable to control them and allowing content free radio to ramble on until it peters out into silence (dead air in radio parlance). Dreadful and mostly unlistenable. Hear the good the bad and the ugly and make up your own mind about what to listen to, or as a guide to creatig your own Podcast.

My current choices.

History: The History of Byzantium Robin Pierson has a good style and presents a subject that is complex to say the least in a fashion accessible to the average listener. The History of Egypt Podcast by Dominic Perry, a proper expert in his subject which can at times make this a little detailed for easy consumption, but that's why I and may others love it. Our Fake History. Sebastian Major's style is a bit histrionic and the music gets in the way, but on the right subject he can be fascinating, just be prepared to pick and choose. The History of Rome is the standard by which other history podcasts are measured.

Comedy: The BBC Friday Night Comedy Podcast is a mix of shows, and usually good listening. By and large the BBC don't use their huge comedy archive as they could. Answer Me This by a group of seasoned podcasters is only as good as the questions asked in a given show, but demonstrates how good the results can be from recording in your front room.

Business: I have listened to more business advice podcasts than I can count, but have struggled to find anything that doesn't feel like the product of someone else's reading. I have the same problem with business coaches. Different is Dickie Armour - Monday Motivation. Full disclosure, I know Dickie and am a fan of the way he thinks and speaks. This is off the cuff stream of consciousness podcasting, and it is hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm for life and business. From the early episodes I have listened to the technical side needs a little work, but as a pick me up on the way to a meeting you can't beat it. Try it if you are in business or not just for the joy of hearing someone on top of his subject speak.

Music: The Word Podcast - A Word In Your Ear, what was left after the magazine collapsed. David Hepworth and Mark Ellen bring on a series of guests to talk about their books on music. Insightful and always good value. Costs me far too much in new books.
A podcast I wish was better is A History of Jazz. In what is being touted as the music's centenary (at least that of the first recorded "Jazz"), a podcast that matched the detailed research and professional presentation of the history podcasts mentioned above was needed. Arik Devens' show isn't it. After 5 shows we are still only just into 1919. This could have been covered in two shows. the over use of music clips, making up nearly 50% of most shows suggests he is struggling to keep up with the research, as does the long summer hiatus. Presentation is ok and improving with each show. The problem is that its existence will likely put off a more professional show being started. If you want to sample it listen to his most recent on James Reece Europe. I suspect this show will fade away fairly quickly.

Guilty Pleasure: I like Star Trek, there I said it, the Trek.FM network has podcasts on every aspect of the shows and films. I listen to Literary Treks which focuses on the books set in the Star Trek universe. The presenters are resolutely amateur but are well drilled enough to give good audio. Dan Gunther particularly is a good interviewer of the authors. The weakness of his co host is highlighted by the regular inclusion of guest presenters to hold up the conversation. Compare this with some of the other Star Trek or Science Fiction podcasts out there to see what I mean about quality counts.

There are others I listen to, The Infinite Monkey Cage and The New Yorker Radio Hour, among them. But search for yourself in your areas of interest and let me know any good ones you come across.

If you would like help getting a Podcast on the air talk to me

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Walter Becker

There have been lots of eloquent tributes to Walter Becker, but these are a few random personal thoughts.

I've mentioned before how I came by some of my early music choices, none have stayed with me as consistently as Steely Dan. I joined the party with 'Aja' which arrived for Christmas 1977. It opened up new possibilities in music for me. From there I explored backwards and found riches that have lasted me a lifetime.

The guitar solo on "Home At Last" grabbed me early on, but because of the obtuse way credits were handed out didn't know had played it for some time. Of course at age 14 I didn't appreciate the finer points of Becker and Fagen's humour, so the liner notes were lost on me.

I came to recognise and appreciate Walter's guitar work, he had a clear bluesy tone as biting as his sarcasm. He is as has been observed many times in the last few days a greatly undervalued player, the equal of the high calibre names that pepper Steely Dan albums. I saw them live at Wembley in 1996 and his relaxed demeanour on stage remains the epitome of cool, leaning back into a solo on one of his understated Sadowsky guitars.

Oddly one of the best showcases for his guitar playing is on Donald Fagen's 'Kamakiriad' where he played pretty much all the guitar & bass (apparently because it was easier to do it himself as he was on board anyway as producer). Listen to "Countermoon", "Springtime" and "Tomorrows Girls" for Becker at his best.  His own solo albums showed that it was Becker who put the nip in Steely Dan's lyrics, try "Cringemaker" and "Lucky Henry" on '11 Tracks of Whack'.

Donald Fagen's promise to continue as Steely Dan is a bit questionable for me. Walter Becker was every bit as much Steely Dan as he is, without him it is just the Donald Fagen band. You Tube video's from earlier this year show an ill looking man so he may have dropped out of touring anyway. Fagen's voice is not what it was so perhaps time to retire the band with dignity.

My top Becker tunes.
Hey Nineteen from Gaucho. One of the best Becker bass lines, meshing with the drums (Wendell or Steve Gadd? Who knows)
Book Of Liars from Alive in America, his best solo tune and proof he should have sung more
Jack Of Speed, heard on tour in 1996, better than the version on Two Against Nature
Glamour Profession from Gaucho, the essence of Steely Dan distilled into 7 minutes.
Home At Last from Aja, one of their best and they knew it from the comments on the Aja sleevenotes
Shame About Me and Cousin Dupree from Two Against Nature, great lyrics

and too many more to mention...

The best tributes to Walter Becker

From his daughter Sayan
From Rickie Lee Jones
From John Beasley

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Covers In Company

This months RnR Magazine features Lulu on the cover. She's an artist I haven't given much Pod space to until now, which is strange as I'm definitely a fan of her French equivalent France Gall. I did however get her latest 'Making Life Rhyme' on the strength of the videos at her website. Prompted by the article I invested in The Atco Sessions, her go at a Dusty in Memphis, which brought forth two albums at the time and a whole raft of out takes available now. It's good, her voice suits the Muscle Shoals backing and Duane Allman pops up on guitar.

Then I spotted her duets album from 2002 predictably called "Together". There seems to have been a vogue for this sort of thing in recent years but for every Linda Ronstadt "Duets" there are a dozen by artists, whose star is not what it once was, dragging in friends, acquaintances or names from the phone book to perform a list of random covers to stick on the racks in Tesco. Lulu's is hardly the worst of the genre but as she started me thinking about it...

In the credits list Elton John & his partner get fulsome thanks, his duet on Womack & Womack's "Teardrops" leads off the album and is far and away the best production job. The fact that he and Lulu share a label may explain the leg up given to this song. Most of the tracks appear to have been recorded by the team of whoever is buddying up to Lulu on that song with Lulu's vocal sellotaped on top later on. This may explain the mess on tracks two & three. "Shame, Shame, Shame" should be an ideal disco stomper for her to rival Relight My Fire (which closes the album, despite being 10 years old then) but in the hands of Atomic Kitten's producers turns into a twee, affected piece of pop drivel. As for "Inside Thing (Let 'Em In)", I hope this was just a sample of McCartney's original (certainly sounds like it) as it may be the worst thing to bear the name of any Beatle, and no I haven't forgotten "The Frog Chorus".

There are some good song choices "Sail On Sailor" with Sting is creditable, "Now That The Magic Has Gone" with Joe Cocker, but by and large there is little of Lulu on what is after all her album. The whole thing has a hollow feel to it. Elton John is executive producer and it does have the feel of him ringing around a few people to see what spare songs they had which Lulu could be added to.

This album will find its way straight back to the charity shop. If you want to catch up with Lulu I suggest the albums recommended above and her 2003 Greatest Hits which has the three best songs from "Together" along with the hits and a DVD which includes performances of some of the "Together" songs from the ITV "An Audience with..." TV show that tied in with the album.

Next time, or soonish at any rate, I will talk Podcasts, any suggestions of good podcasts on any subject would be great.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Dark Side

This started out as an Artist Choice about Steely Dan. I will get to that soon but for now I've been diverted by the vexed subject of Bootlegs.

A year or so ago I wrote to Shindig Magazine about the fact that they reviewed so many live albums that were defacto Bootlegs. I was letter of the month and there were some furious replies from fans who had to possess every note ever uttered by their heroes, seemingly regardless of whether their heroes got paid or not.

Robert Fripp has some decided views on Bootlegging which I read around 1979. The thought that "it's rather like taking notes of a personal conversation to circulate or publish later" stuck. This remember was written many years before the mobile phone became a fixture at shows; "This is a peculiar custom that one should listen to music through the lens of a camera and I don't like being put in a situation where the sound, the atmosphere is being punctured by theft". The above comes from an article that appeared in Musician magazine, Bootlegging, Royalties and the Moment, find it online.

So the connection to Steely Dan? They have despite much touring in the last 20 years or so released only one highly unsatisfactory live album "Alive in America" in 1995. At least a dozen high quality recordings that sound as professionally produced as the official disc circulate online, and some, notably a recording from Missouri in 1993 get pressed up and sold as legitimate product. Often claimed as a radio show, online samples reveal a soundboard feed with prominent vocals & next to no keyboards or bass. There is also a set of pre Steely Dan demos that are currently available on Amazon as 25 different releases.

Why is this a problem? Donald Fagen has been vocal recently about the fact that there is no income from his old albums any more. While I suspect he protests too much (at least slightly) with a new vinyl edition of The Nightfly coming out and Steely Dan albums doing as well as or better than many other artists of a similar vintage; the fact that there are legitimate outlets, like Amazon, iTunes and eMusic selling fraudulent material in his name without the courtesy of paying him, or indeed the currently ill & unable to tour Walter Becker is doubtless galling.

One possible answer of course would be to release some of the hoard of live tapes and unreleased material himself. In the day of the super deluxe edition he is clearly missing out on a revenue stream. So Bootlegs are bad but Donald think before you whinge.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Why I'm giving up on eMusic

I joined eMusic in 2005. If you don't know eMusic it is a subscription based music download service. The content is sourced mainly from independent labels,with a lot of catalogue secured, until recently, through The Orchard & CD Baby.

In my Linkedin articles recently I have been looking at the way companies disregard their customer base leading to loss of said customer & ultimately the business. eMusic make a great object lesson in what not to do, so here are some of the ways that a once great service has been brought down, and left me and many others throwing up our hands and saying "ENOUGH".

Play Pass The Parcel With Your Business.

 eMusic was launched in 1995, that's four years before iTunes. Since then it has been variously owned by its founders, Vivendi (French media company), JDS Capital Management (venture capital), and was most recently acquired in 2015 by TriPlay an Israeli cloud computing company. Each time senior management was changed and from the number of people listing eMusic as a past company on Linkedin, staff left in droves after each takeover. The upshot of this of course was a lack of expertise, continuity or direction in the business leading to...

Frequent Changes in Business Model and Direction

Or, how to confuse your customers. With content rooted solidly in independent music and strong catalogues in Classical, New Age and other niche areas eMusic had a great USP, something that allowed it to stand apart from the fights between iTunes and the big labels. Then in 2009 the majors, Sony, then Warners and Universal crept onto the site, in the USA at least. The then CEO however stated in The New York Times "the future of eMusic, like its past, is in pursuing not the fickle mainstream but the passionate fringe". The U.K. store stayed with the independents, presumably due to rights issues.Then in 2014 the major labels disappeared again. There was a renewed commitment to the independent arena. With new owners came another shift to sourcing catalogue from 7Digital, meaning that on the site's relaunch in May 2017 much of the content disappeared, again presumably due to rights issues. Each relaunch was of course accompanied by new branding. An image search on Google brings up 9 different logos.

Something to Tempt The Buyer...

7Digital don't appear to distribute a number of the best known independent labels, Warp & Eagle Rock have gone completely and Rough Trade have only 27 albums on the site for instance. There are no meaningful new releases, oh there is new music every week, mostly obscure compilations, bootleg live albums and out of copyright jazz and classical. The customers want the new releases they hear on the radio and read about online or in the magazines, and which were always on the old version of eMusic. For me notable absences are the latest Public Service Braodcasting album (they have everything else from them so why not this?) and the new Peter Perrett album which they are advertising but, at least in the U.K. is not available to buy. I could go on, other customers are on the Emusers forum. One of my main labels of interest Frontiers (Italian based so no U.S.rights clashes I guess) is still adding new content so it can be done.

Ignore The Customers And Hope They Go Away 

The @emusichelps Twitter has been silent since 9th May. the main @emusic one posts a couple of hopeful items per month and the old noticeboard died with its website. The main means of communication is through a Reddit page meaning that the posts about poor customer service, disappearing content and departing customers are hidden away, out of sight, out of mind. The new website looks ok and does fix a few problems from the old one, but is very hard to navigate, and searching for anything specific is now a lot harder, assuming you can find anything in the first place. Oh and integration to iTunes has gone as well.

There may be legitimate reasons for the problems, new websites have issues I recognise that, but if eMusic are working away in the background to solve the problems, they aren't telling the customers. And they need to; soon, while they still have a business. If they aren't doing anything because the switch to 7Digital's platform has fundamentally broken the business, then own up to it, and start fixing it.

The obvious take away from all this is that this weeks owners neither understand or care about their customer base. The community aspect of eMusic expressed through various forums was one of its strengths. The fact that it appealed to the music obsessive (me!) who wanted to dig into the site and find long forgotten albums and new obscurities was another. The decision to move to 7Digital was clearly made on a cost basis and seems to sum up the whole "relaunch". It won't do eMusic, It won't do.


I have just been sent a user satisfaction survey by email. You can guess how it went, but the concerning thing is that the headline "we are thinking about doing this" items were Hi Res audio (good), major label content (see above), and connectivity to smart watches, TVs and car radios. There's something about fiddling while Rome burns here I feel...

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Aliens ate my blog post

It's taken me ages to get this post written as new information came up and new cds arrived. So this may get amended in time...

Back in 1979 I was dozing in front of The Old Grey Whistle Test when up popped a new band, Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club. This is best version I can find on You Tube at the moment...

The thing that attracted me was the keyboards, a young kid hiding behind a stack of synths, producing piercing solos and textures different to anything else about at the time. They appeared on Radio 1 In Concert a few weeks later (I wish I still had that tape) and I was a fan. I bought the album "English Garden", was initially mildly disappointed by the "pop" production, and that following another single "Trouble Is" was that.

I heard "Europa & the Pirate Twins" by Thomas Dolby and joined the dots. Windpower followed and the album 'Golden Age of Wireless'. As usual I followed him off and on for the next few years up to his single with Sakamoto, "FieldWork", still one of my favourites by either artist. 

I have just been listening to the Audiobook of Thomas Dolby's Speed Of Sound and now know the goings on behind that music. I'll explore the business aspects of Dolby's relationship with the music and I.T. industries elsewhere, but the book paints a picture of an artist whose life influences his art perhaps more overtly than others. The 'Aliens Ate My Buick' album was a sharp change of direction, a move to the USA, marriage and work with George Clinton brought out a more upbeat funky feel, although the lasting song from the album for me is the more atmospheric 'Budapest By Blimp'. Listen to Jazz singer Claire Martin's version of "Key To Your Ferrari", proof that Dolby's main skill is as a songwriter.

I missed 'Astronauts & Heretics' but will explore it now having read about it in his book and listened to "The Beauty of a Dream". Read his tale of dragging a contribution out of Jerry Garcia before you hear the song.

Included at the end of the Audiobook of Speed Of Sound is Oceanea from his most recent album 'Map Of The Floating City. I knew of the album/game concept but the music was a surprise. Burning Shed have the 2CD version in stock. Mine arrived as I was writing this, and on first listen* the rest of the album is up to the standard of Oceanea. The package is nice as well, the map has all sorts of nuggets for the Dolby fan to spot, in fact it now seems that he has been building a whole world all these years, even down to the landlocked boat for a recording studio. I wonder if he has read J.G.Ballard?

 I would recommend the Audiobook version of The Speed of Sound as Dolby's narration gives it a personal feel that enhances the story. Any or all of his albums are worth exploring, if you get his "comeback" live album 'The Sole Inhabitant' get the DVD for the between song chat and anecdotes. His instrument set up including bits of 1920's radios is also interesting, at least it was to me...

I wasn't aware of how personal many of his lyrics were, the "fun" nature of his early music masked that aspect of his work, but I am listening with new understanding to all his albums and enjoying the more introspective work on Astronauts & Heretics and Map.... Take some time to read or listen to his book and find new depths in his music as I have.

 * after a couple more listens Oceanea, & Spice Train are favourites but To The Lifeboats is creeping up fast. You need to see the video of "The Toad Lickers" too, bizarre to almost Douglas Adams standards.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

One Of A Kind

Sid Smith has been talking about Bill Bruford's solo band from 1979 -80 on Twitter which got me thinking about them as well...

I came across Bill Bruford as part of U.K., although I didn't listen to them then. I may have mentioned before that I am very much of the curating style of music fan and I like to keep track of people so when two of U.K. turned up on Rock Goes To College sometime later I paid attention. Bill's clanging Roto Tom based drum sound was new to me, and they all seemed to be doing something slightly different with the sound of their instruments. Then I found the album 'One of a Kind' in a cut out bin for £1.99.

First track "Hell's Bells" still sounds like it's from another place, Holdsworth's opening solo with it's yawing vibrato and and the simple 11 note keyboard riff that repeats through the song set the tone for the rest of the album. One of my favourites has always been "The Abingdon Chasp", an Allan Holdsworth piece that was probably the first time I had heard bass guitar taking the lead in stating the theme of the piece, and to my mind is far more impressive than the slap bass solo at the start of 5G. For me the simplicity of the tunes allow the soloing space to expand to fill the gaps. Holdsworth complained in a magazine article that he hadn't been allowed to do much more than solo with U.K. and while Bruford were better he was still wheeled onto the mix to add flash rather than be integrated into the piece.

There had been an earlier album, with the same band 'Feels Good To Me', but the writing on 'One of A Kind had matured so far from this that it is odd that the Rock Goes to College show concentrates on it so much. There is a bootleg of the whole show that also features "Hell's Bells" and the two parts of "One Of A Kind", if anything Holdsworth's solo on the former is even more impressive than on record. Apparently it was the band's first gig.

In his autobiography Bill describes the trials of running the band, bringing bassist Jeff Berlin over from the US and carting Hammond Organs around, which explains Neil Murray's appearance on this OGWT segment promoting Feels Good To Me

I saw them play in Bath (The Pavilion?) in early 1980 supporting Brand X, who I hadn't learned to love yet. I was there for Bruford who were promoting their new album "Gradually Going Tornado". John Clark (the unknown John Clark) was doing a passable impression of AH and it turns out was his student. The band was good but to my recollection sounded like it was running out of steam. Not the band I had heard on TV the year before. Listening later to "The Bruford Tapes" a release of a radio show in New York reinforced this view of the Bath show. 

That third album with John Clark replacing Holdsworth and more vocals isn't one I listen to often, for me the high point of this band was 'One Of A Kind'. The writing, playing and arranging all aligned in perfect combination and is one of the highlights of improvised rock or jazz rock fusion. I still listen to it regularly and find it as fresh as in 1979.

I saw John Clark again about 5 years later when I was dragged to a Cliff Richard concert by my partner, and there he was adding Holdsworth style solos to "Wired For Sound" and "Bachelor Boy". Dave Stewart cropped up on Top Of The Pops with Barbara Gaskin, Jeff Berlin wandered off into the darker reaches of Fusion, and I next saw Bill Bruford at Moles Club, Bath in 1981 with a band called Discipline who shortly after became the next iteration of King Crimson. My remembrances of Allan Holdsworth are here.

For a view from the trenches of life in music from the 70s to the new century I unreservedly recommend Bill Bruford's autobiography. The fact that he has played on so much of my favourite music and played with people who I like may influence that view. He has some interesting opinions on the business of music as well.

There is a great acoustic version of One Of a Kind rounding off the Earthworks album 'Random Acts of Happiness' which I almost love more than the original.

Buy Bill Bruford's music at Burning Shed 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Reading Matter

I have always been a big fan of music magazines. Back in the beginning there was Sounds which always had a wider range of music than NME. NME was always a bit intimidating, out in Keynsham we never felt quite cool enough for it. Sounds spoke to the kids in out of the way places, like Keynsham!

About 1978 there was a short lived glossy magazine called, Rock On. This was what would today be called a legacy magazine (Mojo, Classic Rock) and had articles on the history of bands like Pink Floyd, Status Quo and Fleetwood Mac, with reviews and posters. Terrible writing and worse editing (I know now) but for the information starved teenage budding rock fan, absolute gold.

Later on there were sneaky reads of my sister's Smash Hits and buying Sounds International and Musician, but until Q, started up in the mid eighties there was a drought so far as informative magazines were concerned.

Recently I read Mark Ellen's memoir of his magazine days "Rock Stars Stole My Life!" A great read (or listen; I did the Audiobook), which tells you a lot about the business of music writing as well as the gossip. He tells of leaving Mojo when the corporate world became too much and the life and death of The Word, a magazine I read from first to last issues and loved for the quality of it's writing and depth of knowledge. In fact my reading journey seems to have followed Ellen, Smash Hits, Q, Select, Mojo, The Word...

So today following the collapse of Team Rock at the end of 2016, the general decline in readership and the advertising revenue that supports it, we have the general reads like Q, the legacy mags, Mojo, Classic Rock etc forever looking over their shoulders, and increasingly niche publications aimed at ever tighter segments of the market. Country, Prog, Blues all have their own, and now Planet Rock Radio have started a new competitor to Classic Rock. The downside is that the really good niche rock papers, Fireworks and Powerplay will likely lose sales to it as well. As both these but particularly  Firworks are written with care, knowledge and an understanding of the reader's expectations they need to survive, if nothing else to ensure we aren't just fed magazines that are aimed more
at the needs of advertising than written for the music fan.

What do I read currently?

Fireworks, AOR, Hard Rock, increasingly drifting into other related areas. If this is your thing buy it.
Mojo If it has something on the cover that interests me (about twice a year)
Uncut Ditto
Shindig Back when it was quarterly it was a brilliant on 60s, 70s and obscurities that you had to rush out and listen to, now Monthly there has been a slip in quality. The recent article on Be Bop Deluxe was such a car crash that I haven't been back, although when something interesting appears on the cover I will doubtless buy it. Reviews section always has something good in it.
JazzWise best Jazz magazine by far.

Online magazines are getting better all the time, I like Louder Than War and Paste

And then there are Blogs, but that's another kettle of worms altogether...