Sunday, 17 November 2019

A Physical Presence

For a blog that is meant to be about my iPod I do seem to spend a lot of time talking about physical media. As everything physical ends up on the iPod at one time or another I make no apology for this.

I follow Cloudland Blue Quartet on Twitter, and listen to his podcast, which you should also do. He ran a poll recently and out of 98 votes 58% went to CD 41% to vinyl. The interesting part though was the comments. The main vinyl supporters' arguments were based around sampling rates and kilohertz. That or have a valve preamp etc etc. The CD advocates talked about convenience.

Back in the mists of time, 1983, I worked with my Dad selling 78 records, valve radios and wind up gramophones. Every so often some high quality vintage hi fi kit would come along which would get snapped up by collectors. They would spend a lot of time telling me that it was far batter than anything you could buy new. Then the 78 collectors would come along and tell me that an HMV model 194 was the gramophone to have. In fairness a decent condition disc played on one of these things did sound ok. They weighed about the same as a small car however.

What this all says to me is that the hobbyist will always find a way of adding complication to the simple matter of sitting down and listening to the music. Their choice of music seems to be usually dictated by the "quality" of the recording rather than their connection to the music or words. I love The Nightfly (one of the audiophile gold standard albums) but it doesn't have the incendiary quality of the first Clash album with its cardboard box drums and
patchy (at best) mixing. Oh and my vinyl copy of Donald Fagen's album had pops and clicks and muffled sound. My CD has lasted since about 1990 and still plays perfectly.

I know 'each to their own', and 'live and let live' may be unfashionable views these days but let's embrace them. You play your vinyl, and I will carry on with CDs. Just please don't try and convince me that something that reproduces music by dragging a piece of diamond across a bit of plastic has some mystical "better sound".

The other thing that makes CDs the way to go is that they are cheap. There are some great second hand shops spread around the country, some of which I've mentioned here before, but also charity shops. I love charity shops, the thrill of the chase as you can never tell what you are going to find, and the chance that you will happen upon a collection having been deposited there by someone's ex spouse or whatever. I could tell you about some finds, jazz, prog rock, obscurities of all sorts. The only disappointment is when a shop, usually a books and media outlet has been rooting around on Ebay and massively overpriced something otherwise desirable. Yes I'm talking about you, Oxfam record shop Byres Road Glasgow.

So until the world notices I will carry on picking up CD bargains, and experimenting with new music, including after a bit more study of Mr Quartet's twitter, the undiscovered country... Classical Music.

Monday, 4 November 2019

It wasn't like this in my day...

My daughter came home from working in Scotland last week and we were talking on the way about some of the music she is listening to. She seems to be more aware of music and to have more decided opinions than many of her generation. She consumes it via Apple Music and You Tube and Instagram in about equal measure. For the record she is 20.

Comment 1 - There aren't many distinctive singers.

She isn't a fan of singers powered by AutoTune. Having had singing lessons herself and sung in choirs and all sorts of social settings she seems to have some disdain for those singers whose careers she feels are built on image more than actual vocal talent. Cheryl (Cole or whatever) comes up for question here. Score one for good old fashioned talent.

Comment 2 - Rappers are more important than singers as conveyors of messages

This I suppose is a matter of the particular flavour of "pop" music that you consume. Where to earlier generations, Dylan, Rotten, Weller, Sly Stone, Gil Scott Heron or whoever would have been the social commentators of choice, now it is Drake, Stormzy and Kanye who are the influencing factor, although seldom about politics.

Comment 3 - DJs are the taste makers and main influencing factor

She uses the term "DJ" interchangeably with "record producer", assuming that anyone who makes records will also present them in a "live" environment as a mix set.

So, who does she like? 

Current favourites are singer/songwriters Mabel and Billie Eilish. Both of these come from entertainment industry backgrounds, Mabel is the daughter of Neneh Cherry and producer Cameron McVey for instance.They are both seen as having distinctive voices in a sea of bland. Dua Lipa gets an honourable mention in this category. Another thumbs up here, as I think she is broadly right about the bland thing, and I could listen to any of these three on the radio.

Producer/DJs that are on the radar include David Guetta, Tiesto and Martin Garrix. These do have "signature" sounds making them more producer than DJ in my book. Calvin Harris was OK but a bit mainstream.

Rappers, she has always been a fan of Eminem, despite  some parental disapproval of his language in earlier years (help, I've turned into my Dad!). Current fav is Cardi B. This is where I turn middle aged and say I cannot understand Ms B or her peers. the music which seems to mostly comprise high speed drum machine beats, that I imagine are meant to sound like automatic gunfire, and nursery rhyme tunes in between raps that spend most of their time explaining that she can afford two pairs of expensive trainers at a time. Allegedly "Cardi B identifies as a feminist" in which case my definition of that term needs some updating. Cardi (if I can be that familar) seems to spend her life in a social media driven whirl which seems to drive everything from her clothes to her relationship choices, up to and including her child who may well want to change her name from Kulture Kiari Cephus at the earliest opportunity.

Back to my daughter's music choices. She does also like Queen, Green Day, Abba (the Mamma Mia films helped here), and has also had a moment with of the music from the film Rock of Ages. at that point I had a nano second of coolness, but don't worry it didn't last.

What does this mean in terms of my life on the iPod? To paraphrase Nick Hornby's book 33 Songs, nothing I like is "pop music" anymore. I'm quite comfortable with this and didn't honestly think it was, but the fact is that when said daughter read this blog a few minutes ago her reaction to my comments about Cardi B was to tell me about her wealth and her 5 cars that she can't drive. And that is the real difference between then and now, it's all about the celebrity, not the music.  

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Recent recordings and ramblings

I've suddenly come across a rash of new music that I want to get. Or in a couple of cases I did until I listened to them...

Renaissance - Novella A reissue with 2 added discs of a Royal Albert Hall concert from 1977. Their best album, slowly drifting towards actual songs and away from the excessive noodling and "poetic" lyrics. The live cd sounds like it should be good as well. They are even less improvisational than Yes, if that is possible so live CDs are about song selection. I got the download as it avoided an interminable bass solo version Ashes Are Burning of which I already have about three. No idea why this is missing from the download version.

Miles Davis - Rubberband Stitched together from Miles' pop sessions in 1985 that Warners binned in favour of him working with Marcus Miller on Tutu. There is a rather self serving documentary by the "producers", which just screams "fast buck" at me. There are a couple of moments. Mike Stern's solo on This Is It, but by and large I'm glad he was steered away from this. The vocal songs would have been better with Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau rather than the second string people here. If you think you have heard Give It Up before you have, it was used to complete a track on Doo Bop. Politely this could be called inessential. Watch the documentary here.

Sons Of Apollo - Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony The man in Action Records scoffed at the title, perhaps he should look at some of the rest of his stock.. Anyway a super group that actually lives up to the title. Good heavy/progressive rock with an interesting choice of covers. The showing off solo spots are as duff as everyone else's though.

Bat For Lashes - Lost Girls Heard in Action Records Preston on Saturday and bought shortly afterwards. Very eighties, a trick tried before by others, notably Ladyhawke. This has better songs though and in a world where music still mattered would be a huge hit.

Gene Clark - No Other: Not out until November, so ask Santa for the super extra box set or (my choice) the 2cd version. It's a shame that to get all the cd material you have to shell out for vinyl that I for one don't care about. This is one of the great albums and is where the Byrds could have gone. Psychedelic rock, folk, country and soul. Gene Clark is an interesting character and his biography is well worth a read. With the vogue for rock biopics someone should do a Byrds movie, although to do all the stories justice it would need to be a Netflix series probably.

 One of my favourite record shops, Missing in Glasgow has moved to a bigger shop round the corner from it's previous compact and bijou home. The atmosphere that made the shop something great is not there yet. Some artwork on the walls and a way of stopping the music echoing round the space will help. I doubt some of the more colourful characters who used to find their way in from Argyll Street will appear anymore. But more records to browse!

You will notice that I'm starting to link to places other than Amazon wherever I can. Support your independent retailer/record company.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Taylor Swift and her rights.

Now there's a name you never expected to see here. But the issue of rights has been brought into focus by a name as big as hers having the masters of her first 6 albums sold as part of a deal to acquire her previous label by impresario Scooter Braun (Justin Beiber and a million smaller names). As Swift's albums were reportedly 80% of the revenue of the Big Machine Group labels these were the obvious target of the acquisition. There is more on Swift's personal situation on Pitchfork.

Having just listened to Kenney Jones (Small Faces, Faces, The Who) autobiography on audiobook, the story of his contract issues with Don Arden in the 1960s sounds very similar. Robert Fripp's tales of his battles with E.G. Records and plenty of other artists, all of whom signed contracts they didn't understand early in their careers with stars in their eyes.

In other areas of employment the law protects the employee rigorously, often at the employer's expense. So, why are artistic rights not subject to some sort of protection. If Swift signed her contract in 2005 as reported then she was 16. So presumably her parents were involved in the deal, but from what I can find out are not lawyers or music industry people. Should there not be some sort of oversight when a contract involves someone young, perhaps under 21, making long term deals. Master recordings are of course for ever. I remember Swift's first album showing up on EMusic and thinking it was a perfectly good piece of modern mainstream country, not my thing, but I doubt she has missed my spending. I can sympathise with her as these recordings will now get hawked about for compilation albums and get repackaged as new product. Assuming she still holds the publishing rights (Sony/ATV from a look at one of my daughter's Taylor albums) then she will do alright, but everytime she sings one of the songs on these albums in concert she will be propping up the Scooter Braun empire, which will grate I'm sure.

Only a Northern Song

As an aside The Beatles' early catalogue was published by Northern Songs only to have music publisher Dick James sell the company on Brian Epstein's death. The full story is here, fairly accurately. Suffice to say the catalogue is now on it's sixth owner. Songwriting publishing is more lucrative than selling product so tends to get fought over by bands, rights holders, and business generally more aggressively. The fate of Northern Songs probably explains why the super deluxe editions of Beatles albums started with Sgt Peppers where McCartney, Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison have a stake in the publishing.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

What a pile of old tosh!

I like Asia, and while fully accepting the corporate rock accusation that gets leveled at them, they do know a good tune when they write one. Their studio albums, all through their career, have been well produced and generally sound great. So why can't they make a decent live album?

And it's not just them. I love a live album although I'm aware not everybody does. They can, however, be an excuse for profiteering and what we might politely term sharp practice (aka stealing). The Asia box set Quadra is a case in point. When I saw it for a fair price at Missing Records I bought it on the theory that not all 4 discs could be terrible. Wrong. Lightly burnished audience tapes, the worst of which was probably recorded some miles from the venue, and the best standing next to one of "those" concert goers. You know the one who recognises every song with a sigh or a whoop.
Overall a 3 out of 10 at best.

The money for old rope trick seems to be getting performed ever more regularly when it comes to live albums. The internet is full of places to download rubbish radio shows, bootlegs in fact, but you can pay for the self same shows on Amazon. Steely Dan, who frankly have only themselves to blame for the market in substandard shows, currently have about 20 albums usually of the same couple of broadcast concerts from 1974 and 1993. The most blatant is an audio rip of their PBS concert from 2000 available officially on DVD.

Of course the artists and their representatives see no benefit from these releases by and large. Although they do on occasion promote them as if they do. There are two well known shows by Renaissance that have been bootlegged for years. They were released by a proper record label (Cleopatra) in 2015, but this one at least has had no work to improve it at all as far as I can tell. The first few minutes have badly phasing which is still present on the paid for version. These were pushed by the official band outlets as new quality product.

As a fan I'm interested in hearing anything worthwhile by the artists I follow, hwoever I can honestly say that I have only ever come across a couple of bootlegs, or ROIO (Records Of Illegitimate/Indeterminate Origins) that I think are worth the attention*. They are:

Steely Dan: Mannassas 1996.
Procol Harum: Aalborg 2003
Yes: Union Tour London 1991
Phish: Chula Vista 1997

Probably a couple more but I can't think of them at present. The above all available on Amazon and
for free in some of the murkier corners of the web. Somehow I have avoided the part of the collecting bug that involves owning every note ever played by a given band or artist, preferring to stick to what they think is worth passing onto the public. Asia seem particularly prone to foisting substandard live product on us. Leaving aside a few of their more recent releases which have had the full DVD/CD treatment they are mostly ROIO in all but name.

*For the record I was indoctrinated by Robert Fripp's maxim about recording of live shows being like taking notes of a private conversation early on - so radio shows tend to be as far into this murky world as I get.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Elbow Bristol Canons Marsh Amphitheatre June 29th 2019

Elbow have been touring festivals around Europe and have been playing mostly fairly short sets of fan favourites. The weather turned out kind for this outdoor show, part of the Bristol Sounds series being held on the waterfront in the city centre, probably to the relief of bands, promoters and audience.

Elbow are one of the best current mainstream live bands, the songs take on new dimensions in performance compared to their sometimes slightly antiseptic studio albums. The three songs from the Little Fictions album are good examples. The title song and ‘Kindling’ particularly have matured nicely over the last couple of years in concert, compared to their (to me) occasionally disappointing original recordings.This was a fan pleasing set with nearly all their best audience participation numbers as well as a new song that appears to be called Empires. Guy Garvey is the supreme frontman of his generation, holding the audience, not all of whom seemed to be regular concertgoers, in the songs and through a tale of a band night out involving bass player Pete Turner and copious amounts of beer. The fact that despite conspicuous success and doubtless its trappings he remains firmly connected to his audience speaks volumes for the man and his band.  

The set list is published here, and built to the three big "joining in" songs, ‘Lippy Kids’ (my personal favourite Elbow song), the inevitable ‘One Day Like This’ and ‘Grounds For Divorce’. And then they were gone, the 11pm curfew meant no encore, but we got what we came for, the songs, which are of such a consistent high quality that they can still step back fifteen years and find songs worthy of an airing.So why did the people to my right have to keep chatting through the quiet bits? My Sad Captains was particuarly affected. Surely they paid the same ticket price we did, so why not LISTEN!

Support was from Another Sky who were not helped by the usual bottom of the bill sound problems. A Google of their appearances at SXSW and on Later suggests this was not their best night. Villagers are never going to be my new favourite band, they just seem to lack bite, and frankly the Flugelhorn moments had me diving for the beer bus. Anyway we were there to see Elbow who delivered as they always do. A new song suggests a new album, and they have recorded shows on the last few tours so hopefully a nice CD/DVD live box set will appear at some point.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

The price for your cheap streaming is...

  On Saturday Anil Prasad of Innerviews, a long standing online music magazine that is always worth reading, posted a series of tweets about streaming. I have banged on about this before here but you can't overstate the problem that moving to streaming is causing for the production of new music. These are the basic figures given by Innerviews, that are easily verifiable elsewhere online.

1 Stream on YouTube = $0.00069 1 Stream on Spotify = $0.00437 1 Stream on Apple Music = $0.00735 1 Stream on Tidal = $0.01250 1 Stream on Amazon Music = $0.00402

And it is all in dollars so for those with currency transactions to worry about the net income is even lower. 

As Prasad points out this explains why the gaps between albums and tours get ever longer. They can't afford it. Elvis may very well be working down the chip shop in fact. An established artist of my acquaintance with 5 gold and platinum discs on his wall spends most of his time working in his wife's craft supplies business as he can make better money packing candles than he can playing music.

Music is more available than at any time due to the internet and mobile phones, but the drive to having a streaming app on every phone and unlimited usage for £10 a month or less will affect the ability to produce new music. You may shrug your shoulders and say so what I only listen to the old stuff, and far too many people do. But to have a sustainable model for creative growth, we need new music coming along, if nothing else to draw new listeners into the back catalogue. People will always want to make music, and the opportunity to do so is greater than ever thanks to the same technology that is restricting the ability to make a career out of it. 

Music as a business is imperiled more than at any other time. Recorded music came along and took over from sheet music as the primary source of income, sheet music replaced performance and patronage and we have now come to the point where the sale of recorded music needs to be replaced as the primary income generator. For a while it looked like patronage was back thanks to crowd funding, but the recent Pledge music debacle (if you don't know about that google Pledge Music Danny Vaughn) has made the customers wary of committing to that. Live music? venues are shutting all over the country, The Borderline in London is only the most high profile, and with ticket prices moving slowly out of reach of regular attendance who knows what will happen to that.

The much reported "end of iTunes" , which is in fact anything but, will drive more people to streaming services which helps the dominant companies of the internet age but at the expense of pretty much everyone else. So if you want to support an artist buy their physical product (CD, LP) or at least their download, but don't think that by streaming their music you are helping.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

More reviews and a radio show

  I was lucky enough to review two really good albums recently over at Americana UK.

W.C.Beck's "First Flight" is fairly standard Alt.Country fare at first listen but reveals it self over time as a properly good album, no filler.

The star turn though is The Alvarez Theory's debut album. If this doesn't crop up on my end of year best of then there will be some truly great albums coming soon. Also the first LP record I have played in about 25 years. The Alvarez Theory, by the way, explains why the Dinosuars died out...

Lastly but by no means leastly Blairs Blues is a roots music show, Americana, Blues and the like, recorded twice a month in Bristol for a Canadian station. You can hear it on Mixcloud here. Blair Chadwick is a good chap to chat to about music as well so please support him.

With all this listening to Americana, I'm confronted by a truth about my music habits. I can't stick to any one thing for long, but the main theme of all this is tunes. I like a decent tune and at the moment roots music seems  to be providing that. The Prog I like is mostly of the shorter more song based variety (can't do ELP), so my new  comment if someone asks what music I like is "anything with a decent tune".

And then a friend persuaded me to try Tom Waits...

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The answer will always be 42...

I'm not sure how I found The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy originally, probably at School, probably someone brought in the novel. I had bought, read, and re-read the novel before I had picked up on the fact that it was a radio show.That meant I was just in time for the repeats of all 12 initial episodes, and I've been listening on and off ever since.

What is the appeal of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, or H2G2 as it will be known from here on in? Douglas Adams had a particular way of writing. If you get it then it is the funniest thing in the world, if you don't you are likely to be shaking your head at the daftness of it all. The sanitised H2G2 film and the Netflix version of Dirk Gently both lose something from trying to be funny for everyone, particularly Americans.

It can be easy to tell an Adams fan, they often, unconsciously I'm sure, end up repeating lines from his work as they are simply great lines to use in many situations. His brief spell working on Dr Who scripts left an indelible impression on his writing, bits of it popped up in H2G2 and Dirk Gently, and on the rebooted Dr Who of recent years. What little humour there is in that is mostly in a style aping Adams. The unfilmed serial "Shada" which he wrote has been completed as an audio drama by Big Finish and was novelised very sympathetically by Gareth Roberts who is clearly a fan. Sadly other Dr Who adaptations are rubbish and should be avoided at all costs.

 According to Adams the answer to everything in the universe is 42, but like most things in the H2G2 no explanation is offered. In the real world Adams when asked why it was 42 just said, "because it is". That sums up most of his work, Why is it funny? Because it is!

25th May is celebrated as Towel Day by Adams fans. Learn more by reading Neil Gaiman's biography and  the great man's work, but stick to the audio versions, the pictures are better.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Americana UK

I've just started writing for the website Americana UK. My first review was a Bluegrass album by Chris Jones and The Night Drivers. Find it HERE


Friday, 19 April 2019

Mark Hollis

When Mark Hollis, passed recently he wasn't someone who moved me to write an obituary. The iPod has "Spirit of Eden" and a Talk Talk best of called "Natural History" which get played occasionally, but it became obvious reading and listening to others talking about him that I had missed the point.

Talk Talk were bracketed early on with the Synth Pop crowd of the early 80s, but there was an organic quality to the sounds even then. The repeating piano motif on Life's What You Make It" pointed the way to the more acoustic feel to follow, all well and good but too much music, too little time...

When I read Nick Zanca's post over at the Listen to This blog I found someone who could articulate what Hollis had meant to him. You can read the whole piece HERE but I will take the liberty of quoting part of it.

'A little over twenty years later, [after the release of the album "Mark Hollis"] the music industry has eaten itself. As a discovery platform, streaming services reduce even the most unorthodox music down to exclusive, rudimentary listening contexts– dinner parties, “mood boosters,” “lo-fi beats to study to”–as if it wasn’t bad enough that they barely compensate. Young artists online hardly thrive, if ever, on transparency and instant validation–to keep your work close to the chest is somehow to become estranged; we assume the role of “wearing” our music beyond simply letting it sing for itself... I’m forever indebted to the standard Mark Hollis set and am inspired to stay true to all of the grey areas. I only hope the people introduced to his work for the first time this week will stumble upon a similar solace.

Zanca also talks about Hollis in relation to Susan Sontag's essay "The Aesthetics Of Silence" which Robert Fripp has also discussed with regard to his approach to Soundscapes. So, needless to say the very next thing I did was buy the "Mark Hollis" album. I would endorse Nick Zanca's final comment in his piece.

'If this is your first listen, wait for a quiet moment to press play. In his [Hollis's] words, “You should never listen to music as background music.'

I suspect I will be playing this many times in future, it's one of those records that makes you feel that listening to the ephemeral fluff that comprises most of popular music is a waste of time. If you don't know this record listen to it soon.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Record Store Day - It's a Niche

In January BBC News added to the hours spent predicting the death of physical sales and bemoaning the rise of streaming. We have also had the collapse and revival of HMV, and seen that also blamed on streaming. As it's Record Store Day again, and once again it's all vinyl, vinyl, vinyl. Time to look at some stats showing the current state of music sales and see how they measure up to the hype.

The headlines always focus on the decline in physical numbers of CD sales and the percentage growth of vinyl sales. In 2018 there were 4.2 million vinyl records sold new, about £60 million worth ^. CD sales were 32 million, while this was a decline in quantity, value held fairly steady at £450 million*.  Downloading took the biggest hit declining to £35 million worth, bearing mind that a lot of these"unit sales" are single songs rather than albums. Streaming music sales pulled in £829 million '. So overall music sales are worth around £1.5 billion. This is a decline of about 41% by value since the peak in 2000.

Some facts:
  • The overall music business is worth about 4.5 billion, with live music, merchandising, exports, and publishing included. Allowing for inflation this is about the same as in 2000. So live music and the rest has grown significantly since then
  • The death of HMV blamed on streaming was in fact about DVD sales collapse, which fell by 45% in 2018~. 
  • The real vinyl revival is in second hand discs, which don't show up in sales figures. Talking to several record shop owners recently suggests that their sales are booming. But then so are their cd sales.
  • Ebay, Discogs & Amazon Marketplace UK used cd sales amounted to nearly £500 million in 2018 ".
The biggest selling albums in the UK in 2018 accordnig to the Official Charts Company by physical & digital sales were:

What does all this tell us?
  • Old folks buy cds, (vinyl in this context is next to non existent), young people buy digital, and Christmas (Now 101) makes a big difference. 
  • Physical sales are more healthy than it seems on first inspection
  • Physical media of all sorts are becoming a niche or hobbyist market. Knitting is worth about £400 million interestingly...
  • HMV with £250 million of sales is critical to the survival of the market, Independent shops prop up the hobby end of the market but don't compete on volume sales
  • The supermarkets (particularly Tesco & Sainsburys) largely exiting the cheap cd market has hit sales but not damaged value much. 
  • The markets for streaming and physical media are almost totally mutually exclusive.
  • Those in their 20s or younger consume music as they do video or games, it isn't "special" to them in the way it is to older demographics
So don't believe the vinyl hype CDs, downloads, and streaming all have their place. The big problem comes in a decade or so when us old people have all stopped buying physical media and the age of music as a mass market medium ends. 

^ Source  - The Vinyl Factory 4.1.19
* Source  - UK Investor magazine 3.1.19
' Source  - Music Business worldwide 3.1.19
~ Source - Variety 9.2.19
" Source - Den Of Geek 12.3.19

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Bristol and Bath boys (and girls) make more noise...

Bristol's music scene, if you think of it at all, probably conjures up Trip Hop, Drum & Bass or if you are a bit older Reggae. Back in my day it was a diverse mix of all sorts of pop, rock, funk and noise.

The year is about 1981 to 83, and my friend Neil and I are as usual in either The Bridge Inn or The Green Rooms at the end of King Street to see one of the local bands. Top of our list were Streets Ahead and Misdemeanor. Streets Ahead a five piece band with quite a varied set of songs. Bluesy poppy, all sorts. They did two EPs, but from memory had better songs in their set, always good value to see but seem to have vanished from the local memory. Unlike Misdemeanor, a genuinely great rock band who should have been contenders. Their leader Kevin McFadden has recently passed away, but leaves two albums that show what could have been without the useless manager and a bit better luck. So, most Saturdays you could see three or four great and a lot more less great bands. Umo Vogue a synth-pop band who attracted a fair bit of interest. Automatic Dlamini who were a truly amazing live act who never got properly recorded.  Polly Harvey joined them later on and the band sort of morphed into P.J. Harvey in the end.

Over in Bath you had Moles where all the cool bands played, including ones that would become Tears For Fears, and a great band now largely forgotten called Interview. There were name bands as well, including one called Discipline who would stop denying they were the 80s incarnation of King Crimson a few gigs later. On the cover of the KC collectors club cd of this date you can even see a picture of a slightly scared looking 17 year old me in the background...  Down at The Bell in Walcot Street there were less well known bands, most of whose names have been lost in the mists of time. One remains however, a synth duo called "Micro" that, rumour had it, included the brother of someone who had been in Tangerine Dream for a bit. Memory has them as sounding great, but as the internet is silent about even their existence I can't tell you much more.

Why the nostalgia? A while ago an acquaintance pointed me towards a book called "The Granary Club: The Rock Years 1969-1988" by one time local rock DJ Al Read. Wallowing in the past sent me to look for more and I found Richard Wyatt's list of gigs he attended, many of which I was also at I'm sure. Another friend who played in a leading local band at the time has talked fondly about many similar memories to mine, he gets numerous mentions in the gig list in the Granary book, to my three.

The best book on being in a band is Giles Smith's "Lost In Music". Giles was in Bristol at some point in the 80s and we must have met, as he mentions people who are clearly mutual acquaintances. If you were ever in a band, wanted to be in a band or went to see bands, read it.

I will get back to the subject of local bands, and my part in some of the most appalling noise ever inflicted on unsuspecting ears. I may even tell you about how I got my Wikipedia entry on a famous band's page...

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Over The Rhine - Love and Revelation, album review

Over the Rhine are one of the people who have made a success out of crowd funding. Using their own web portal and a fiercely loyal fanbase they have used it to make independent musical choices that have resulted in some of the best music of their career.

Their last two albums were produced by Joe Henry, but this time they have kept it to themselves, and produced an album that reflects on their 30 years as a band. Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler have been a couple for most of that time and songs like "Betting On The Muse", inspired by Charles Bukowski which examines the search for life's second act are also meditations on where they find themselves at this time. The first song, “Los Lunas” sets the tone of the album. “The very first words you hear on the project are ‘I cried,'” said Detweiler to Rolling Stone, citing the opening lyric. “When I told my 87-year-old mother about it, she said that sounds like the Psalms.” Seemingly surprised to find themselves still in business after 30 years he also said “We wanted to keep growing as writers and, at the end of the day, that’s the most important business plan for any artist: keep going.”

The highlight of any Over The Rhine album is Karin's singing, there are fewer duets than on the last album "Meet Me At The Edge Of The World" but she sounds better than ever. Linford's presence is felt more in the songwriting this time. It seems that the more personal the lyric the more intense the mood of songs that can feel at first listen sombre but reveal themselves as celebrations of life, longevity and a musical bond that they reinforce with each release. My favourites, "An American in Belfast",ironically wordless, "Let You Down", and "Given Road", but ask me again tomorrow...

Working with a small band on the road in the US, they usually tour as a duo, and have visited the UK twice in the last 18 months. Hopefully the reception for this album in Europe might prompt a wider U.K. tour to match the 7 or 8 dates they generally do in Holland and Germany. As the crowdfunder also included a Linford solo piano album and a set of devotional songs there will be plenty new to hear. A new live album would be good as well.

Available to buy HERE

Sunday, 24 March 2019

In a holding pattern

Once again life has taken over and time to write here is at a premium. (Ab)normal service will resume in April, if the world keeps gets any madder I may have nothing else left to do by then. In the meantime here is the news.

Blog favourite Bill Nelson has been interviewed to destruction in the wake of Be-Bop Deluxe reissues. Vintage talked to him HERE and Record Collector HERE. You can safely ignore Classic Rock, Prog etc as they think he stopped recording in 1977.

Another favourite Over The Rhine have issued a new album Love And Revelation , and it's their best since Ohio. I'll be back with a review of this soon. In the meantime buy it HERE.

A gig I went to in February was reviewed at Americana UK. Laura Gibson has been bubbling around on my radar for a while without ever getting the attention she deserved. I was initially drawn by the Jolie Holland comparison that comes up regularly. However there are elements of Mazzy Star and similar that are closer reference points. Her album "Goners" is fighting with the OTR disc for space on the iPod at the moment.

The failure and resurrection of HMV, closure of more independent shops and the general expectation that the vinyl revival will save the world were news for a moment recently. Vinyl won't save the world, CD still outsells it. What will save the world is a well run large chain pushing music in all formats that gives the record companies confidence to produce music in all genres, because there is someone who will take in enough stock to let them make money. The closure of Fopp in Bristol is a loss to me, but if it wasn't making money then it had to go.

And finally

I went back for some more of the lucky dips at Missing Records I talked about previously. My daughter was delighted with her Abba & Taylor Swift discs, and I got Dylan at Budokan and Sylvian/Fripp's "The First Day" along with a pile of stuff I have yet to listen to. Why am I telling you about this you will only go and buy discs I could have had...

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

A bit of interaction goes a long way

This started life as an appreciation of a musician I like and follow, but turned into a business blog, so while it is posted here, it's true home is my Linkedin platform.

Back in 2001 I read and occasionally contributed to an email newsletter called The Armada, basically about the band Asia but drifting into other related artists. I commented on a then new album called Ceremony of Innocence by Radioactive. A few days later I got an email from the album's creator Tommy Denander thanking me for my comments and after a brief exchange of emails that was it. Or so I thought...

Having seen his name appear on albums regularly I did make an effort to look out for him, as he seemed to be a stamp of quality on a rock album. The recently re-released Rainmaker album is a good place to start. In a slightly surreal moment he also popped up on an album by Big Time Rush, a TV show boy band loved by my then 12 year old daughter and her friends.

Tommy is typical of the way the music industry works in the 21st Century. His Wikipedia entry, which I assume to be largely accurate, gives hundreds of albums he has played on, written, or produced. It's an impressive list, and crosses all sorts of genres, which is what you need to do to make a living in music these days. However it's clear his heart is in rock, projects with his own name on them, Radioactive and as an integral part of work by House Of Lords, Robin Beck, Houston and many others in the Hard Rock/AOR world. These names may not mean much to you but in the rest of Europe, particularly Scandanavia, this genre is huge, and Tommy is one of the leading lights.

The interesting part of looking at Tommy's website and social media are the parallels between the way he manages his business, and it is a business with all the requirements to feed and house his family that the rest of us have, and the way pretty much any other business owner will operate. OK so we aren't working with Deep Purple and Alice Cooper, but the networking required to secure that work, presumably through producer Bob Ezrin is the same process that I go through at an FSB or 4Networking meeting. Interestingly we are second connections on Linkedin as well, (happy to help you make a bit more of your Linkedin Tommy!). The basic rules of networking work in pretty much any arena, and as I am looking at new avenues for my own efforts it is a timely lesson. We all get a bit jaded by the formulaic approach of many business networks, but it works, at least it does for me and Tommy. So, get out there and talk to people, on Linkedin, in the queue at the bank, any venue that business people gather, you never know where the next opportunity is going to come from.

Recently he started a new line called Platinum Demo's Worldwide, offering professional quality demo's for €250. As, from reading his social media, he has a young daughter he clearly wants to work from home more, this is a cracking way of doing that, with potential to root out new talent that can be presented to his contacts in the biz, as well as making money on the actual demos themselves. Oddly as my venture in Marketing 4 Music gathers pace I could see myself using his service, in fact I have a client just now...

To learn more about Tommy Denander's music start here

Radioactive - Ceremony Of Innocence and F4UR
Sayit - Again
Alice Cooper - Paranormal
Deep Purple - Infinite
Frederiksen/Denander - Baptism By Fire

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Jeremy Hardy

Last week I was listening to The News Quiz and wondering why I hadn't heard Jeremy Hardy for a while and wondering if he had been politically corrected out. Yesterday came the news of his passing.

I try to only write obituaries for people who are especially important to me and occupy a fair bit of space on my iPod. Jeremy Hardy qualifies on both counts. I started listening to I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue in the early 80s, but it gained a fresh lease of life when a new generation of panelists joined following Willie Rushton's death. Jeremy was the one who established himself as the nearest thing to a regular, the dreadful singing was what he came to be known for, but his contribution was much wider than that and he very rarely brought his politics to the show, making the occasion of his appearance on Just a Minute using the Royal Family for the subject "parasites" clearly a deliberate grenade, as he always respected the format of ISIHAC and didn't use it as a platform. Unlike the News Quiz where his "rants" were often aimed at topics inspired by his views. They were however always funny whether you shared his views or not. The "Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation" series on Radio 4 could be variable in quality but the best are magical. I saw him perform stand up at Edinburgh some years ago and as part of the ISIHAC live show in Bristol more recently.

To focus on his politics is to miss the point of his humour, the dry self deprecating wit which acknowledged his background, and looked to highlight the absurdities of our lives. He was of his generation, only 2 years older than me, and the shared "growing up" space is what speaks to me at least. The fact that his passing has drawn such genuine mourning from his own profession, visit Mark Steel's Twitter for a flavour, says all there is to be said about his qualities as a man. Even the Daily Mail has reported his loss as straight news, which I'm sure would have amused him.

Mark Steel's obituary in The Independent is HERE

His interview with another friend Jack Dee on Radio 4's Chain Reaction is HERE.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

What makes you think you would like classical music?

This Sunday morning I was half awake and listening to the radio at something called 6.47am and the presenter of Radio 5 breakfast, Chris Warburton, was talking about his cultural new years resolutions. One of these was to learn more about classical music. He had a chat to some violinists at the BBC symphony orchestra, not sure why violinists, probably because they could play clips on the radio easily. They started off suggesting Ravel, on the grounds that everyone knows the Bolero.

The question that didn't get asked was what had made him think he should investigate classical music? The clues were there in the interview. Another of Chris' resolutions was to listen to Jazz pianist Bill Evans. Now Evans, who many non Jazz listeners will still have heard on Miles Davis' "Kind Of Blue", was influenced by some aspects of classical music, principally Bach, as well as by Jazz players like Bud Powell. Having said that this article suggests as do other sources that Evans had a lot in common with impressionist composers like Debussy, and Ravel, and also Chopin from a bit earlier. So it looks like the violinists Chris was talking to got it right for the wrong reasons. I admit to knowing nothing about classical music, but I do understand that the description classical music is a bit like bracketing, Kylie, Napalm Death and Aphex Twin all under 'Pop'. This means that you won't like all of "Classical" any more than you will necessarily like all "Rock" or "Jazz" or "Hip-Hop", so a starting point that relates to what you like already will help your explorations. Chris mentioned recommendations for Brahms and Schubert which even with my limited knowledge seem unlikely  jumping off points for someone who said he likes Jazz, Soul & Funk.

Every form of music has it's snobbery and maybe I detected a hint of this in the suggestion of Ravel to Chris, as it seemed to be based on the assumption that most of us only connect with a violin through ice skating and adverts. I have always thought that I may like modern classical music and my few explorations seem to suggest I would. What I need is a place to start; anyone like to help?

By the way Chris, if you ever read this, Bill Evans, start with the classics, Everybody Digs Bill Evans
Sunday at the Village Vanguard and pretty much anything featuring his trio with Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro. I have a very good compilation of his final years, "We Will Meet Again - The Bill Evans Anthology 1977-1980" and after that you're off on your own.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Will the last reader please turn off the lights

The December 2018 issue of Jazz Journal was the last print edition after 70 years. We are constantly hearing about the hardships of print in the face of the online world, but your local WH Smiths has hundreds of magazines on the shelves, presumably selling in quantities good enough to keep going. So why did Jazz Journal fail and what lessons can we draw from it for the wider print world.
To jump off the shelves a magazine needs a certain amount of kerb appeal, something to engage the casual reader and prompt an impulse purchase. Compare Jazz Journal’s gloomy often black & white images and subdued colours to the big bright glossy images of its nearest competitor, Jazzwise, and other niche music titles all shouting their wares and it seems almost designed to sit on the racks. I recognise this was a cost issue as was the cheaper paper stock, and the frankly skimpy page count, but no attempt seemed to be made to make the magazine attractive to anyone other than the committed reader seeking it out. 

It’s worth comparing Jazz Journal to another niche music magazine, albeit one catering to a different audience that has adapted and certainly appears to be thriving, Fireworks - Rock and Metal. This started in 2000, and having bounced between monthly and bi monthly the publishers settled on a quarterly magazine sometime ago. Since then the magazine has grown to 150 pages, and a cd with mp3 and PDF files on it. Plenty enough to read for three months. As many of these types of magazines are part time ventures this takes away the pressure of deadlines or providing a news service, leaving space for articles, interviews and reviews to stretch out. The magazine title has shifted, the original Fireworks is a very obscure album title reference, and the original strap line “The Melodic Rock Magazine” (a niche within a niche) has been replaced with the current on "Rock and Metal" being larger than the title, beating its potential audience over the head with the message. Better covers, better design, better writing as well, make the magazine an attractive proposition both on the rack and leafing through it.  

Jazz Journal stayed rooted in 1966, appealing to a long-term core readership that dwindled with each passing year. Recent attempts to update were too little too late and met with vitriol from the readers. The casual Jazz listener, me, found nothing in it except complaints about change, and nostalgia for the way things were. In the end unwillingness to compromise with the audience killed it. Oddly with the resurgence in Jazz over the last year or so the market for a Mojo style legacy magazine covering Jazz is probably larger than ever, and Jazz Journal could easily have become that, republishing material from its past in much the same way as Uncut exploits the Melody Maker archive. 

The importance of an online presence to back up the print edition can’t be overstated. Fireworks works with the Rocktopia website, adding unique content to the site, which also acts as a news resource for the magazine. That coupled with an active, colourful social media presence, and being active in the online community means the print magazine is always reaching out to its audience. Jazz Journal’s sporadic mostly text only tweets and Facebook posts are another light under bushel moment. 

It sounds like I’m being harsh on a magazine with a long and distinguished run, but it’s the market that decides who survives, and it has delivered a judgement on Jazz Journal. The message is clearly; adapt and survive, stagnate and fail.