Mercury Rising

Feel free to insert your own comedy item here about how the ill fated telecoms company has somehow become immortalised in an annual music award that other sponsors have come and gone from while all keeping the original name. Now owned and promoted by the BBC, it is an odd award, with no category or criteria, just a shortlist of 12 and one "winner" decided on the night.

So, this years list, I already owned half of them, and have listened to all the rest a couple of times to get my opinion. First impression is quite a sad one that four, if not five of the nominees have been previous nominees. To me it just seems hard to fathom that out of the thousands of albums released each year that the best are by the same, if not very similar artists. 

Anyway, in the order that they are listed on the site my short comments are as here:

Aphex Twin - "Syro". An artist that certainly splits opinion, but has a unique sound and style that has lasted many a year. That is my question on this one really, is this even his best album, let alone the best overall album of the year. Very enjoyable as long as you are in the right mood for it, not an album that is background music, it takes over. Good, but not excellent.

Benjamin Clementine - "At Least For Now". New to me, but when listening I recognised a couple of the tracks from radio play. Supreme voice, and lyrics that are challenging and funny. Musically wonderfully built and it really grabs the attention to make you concentrate, which is a good sign. First listen was magical, second listen was hard to get through the whole album, but one more I bought as I know I will listen to it more. Definite contender.

C Duncan - "Architect". Totally inoffensive and pleasant enough, but I finished listening to it about 5 minutes ago and could not describe what it was like. Sadly very much background music IMO. Not in the running.

Eska - "ESKA". Excellent. Grabbed in from the opening, wonderful mix of blues, country, soul and faster dance beats and much more. Entrancing vocals over a wide range of tracks, really really good. Possible favourite to win for me.

Florence + The Machine - "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful". I do like Florence, and her voice and style is distinctive, but this is just not different enough to previous work to warrant being listed in the best of the year. Very listenable to and good but not a winner.

Gaz Coombes - "Matador". Ex Supergrass lead showing a different side to his talents. It is OK and not a bad listen, but would it be anywhere near this list if released under a different name, no would be the answer. It is OK as it is a known entity, it wouldn't raise a ripple let alone a wave if you just heard it blind.

Ghostpoet - "Shedding Skin". Another previous nominee, but this is a far superior album to his earlier one. Superb mix of musical styles and forms with an excellent voice that is a great hook to get you listening to the words and not just doing something else while it is on. Split decision for me between this and Eska.

Jamie XX - "In Colour".  Does nothing for me at all, Really strange and doesn't hang together as an album, more some work playing around over a year and released. Can't see myself wanting to listen to it again.

Roisin Murphy - "Hairless Toys". Another artist from a well known band with a good history. I think the difference here is that this stands out despite her background, not because of it. While her voice is fairly recognisable, the album stands up as a solid piece of work, not just a solo release from the singer from Moloko. Great album, not the best of the year, but deserving of a nod.

Slaves - "Are You Satisfied". If you asked me from this list who is my favourite band currently, it would be Slaves. Live. Not necessarily on record. They are energetic, fun, talented, fit as hell to play the sets they do, but as a lasting artefact, this is not the album of the year. Live band of the year there are few who could challenge them, but fun though the album is it is not a classic.

SOAK - "Before We Forgot How To Dream". Haunting voice over what I guess is a cross between folk and pop. Individually pretty much every track is excellent, just starts to get a bit hard to listen to all the way through. If I had it on vinyl I would happily play one side and then move on to something else and come back a few days later for the rest. While not my favourite, if I was going to bet it would be on this to win.

Wolf Alice - "My Love Is Cool". Probably the album that sits closest to my core listening. Grunge / shoegaze / indie rock music. Nothing wrong with it at all, and one of my favourite albums of the year, but not groundbreaking or anything new, just good music and a good listen.

There you go then, I find it impossible to think of a list of 12 so I have just dismantled theirs for fun instead.



WOMAD - So Much More Than Music & Dance

Not entirely sure WOMAD will welcome me changing their name or what it stands for, but the festival for me and most there is now about so much more. From Frank Water and their fresh chilled water points around the site raising funds and awareness (they are the people so many of you kindly sponsored me last year) and the over-riding WOMAD Foundation and the work they assist with globally.

Also on a smaller level as well, and aside from the bar and the toilets, the only place I am absolutely guaranteed to be found at during the weekend more than once. That place is the Madras Cafe, who also have the best ever tag line of "Food WithinTent". 

Their food, based on Southern Indian cuisine is just outstanding in taste, style and portion size, and they also only exist to raise money for Action Village India. So you can get idli and sambha for breakfast, a cup of chai to set you up and remove the last of the hangover and a few hours later pop back for a Masala Dosa, which is quite simply the best outside India I have had. Possibly because the chef comes over from India just to cook here for the weekend - we saw him demo some recipes a couple of years ago on the Taste The World Stage and the recipe for Onion Bhaji is excellent, none of the stodgy rubbish so many places serve up in the UK.

My dosa being prepared on Sunday afternoon

My dosa being prepared on Sunday afternoon

So there you have it, WOMAD has it all, and rather than eat at a very average and expensive festival food stall, why not check out a bit about who they are and what they do first. Have a great meal and make a positive difference to the world at the same time.

See you there next year?

Carter USM, Lammo, Funerals & Music

Long term readers will remember all the way back in 2010 when people actually used to read my ramblings.. One of my earliest blogs was about music to be played at my funeral (linked here) and one of those choices was a version of The Impossible Dream by Carter USM.

More recent readers and on line friends will no doubt be aware that it was the final ever Carter USM concert on Saturday in Brixton, and I was going. Partly due to being one of the best live bands over the years, partly due to the booze, and partly due to it being a genuine sign I was getting old it was an odd experience walking into the Academy. There was no tension or worry, the crowd on superb form, probably the busiest I have ever seen Brixton for the support bands.

The crowd at the front jumping around and crowd surfing during the DJ set before Carter came on was a sign that this was indeed a "last blow-out" for many. Some of the people struggling to get to the bar before the lights went down, pouring with sweat and limping, but with huge grins said it all.

Anyway, they came on, and the gig was as superb as expected in every way, more than enough reviews on line to read if you need to know how it panned out and the order of the songs. I had already said to Debbie that if they ended with The Impossible Dream I was pretty sure the tears would come. But we didn't have to wait until the end.

It came, was played, and the tears came. One of those times where the occasion and what the song meant all rolled into one. As the track ended the lady who was stood next to me just lightly touched my arm and nodded with an "are you OK?". I said yes, and leaned in and said "It is my funeral song, so just a bit too emotional". 

At that time, Steve Lamacq (who was with the lady) turned round and said "It is mine too! I had to wipe away a tear then as well" he grinned, and then said "and as total one up-manship, I have asked Jim Bob that if I die first he has to sing it live at the funeral!" and then laughed. One of the benefits of being a national DJ for 25 plus years I guess, but then again he had been to see Colchester lose to Coventry earlier that day, so I let him get away with that :-) 

I did say that now should I die first he would have to arrange that for me... The ongoing funeral planning may need a lot more co-ordination in future.

Although it must happen to him all the time, the constant stream of people (yes, including me) approaching him just to say thanks and shake his hand was a sight to behold. He genuinely seemed surprised at every person who recognised him, and never looked annoyed or bothered. 

Overall it was a wonderful night, chatting to Steve Lamacq at such a gig just seemed to make the whole thing complete. 

Thanks again to Steve for introducing me to Carter and all the other bands over the years, and also to Carter USM for some superb memories over the years. Just make sure it is the final, we don't need a Status Quo annual last ever gig as we all get even older!

The good old gig days.

The joys of youth, before mortgages and real jobs, when going to two or three gigs a week was the norm and getting up the next day wasn't so much of an issue, and tinnitus was something old people suffered from.

After reading @bbqbobs blog about Gig Twats  I started looking back through those wonderful rose tinted glasses that we all use and to look at the difference between going to gigs, even major gigs and festivals, from the 80s to todays different landscape. Obviously going to smaller and "indie" gigs hasn't changed that much, but for the mid level and larger venue it is a different world. The likes of Shepherds Bush Empire, Brixton Academy etc.

Back in the glory days of indie, brit-pop, shoe gazing, baggy and so on I would often be on the train to London after work and at weekends to go and see the latest band the NME told me to. It was usually a simple process. For a gig that may sell out, a call to the venue a week or so in advance to either get tickets posted out or reserved on the door was all the planning that was needed, or turning up on the day rarely ended with anything but a face value ticket from the box office. 

A cheap gig was under a fiver, even a major tour (Beastie Boys / Run DMC at Brixton) was only £7.50, to complicated to work out inflation but it was definitely cheaper then!

To go to a gig now involves making far more advance plans and commitment than then, and is what puts me off going to many "big" ones now. The tour is announced up to a year in advance, and the day of ticket sales is hyped like the second coming. If you are lucky enough to be able to get a pre-sale code from somewhere your chances are increased somewhat, otherwise it is the Friday 9AM queue and frustration on Ticketmaster as browsers crash, tickets disappear from your basket as you type in the credit card details and they are all gone in 60 seconds. 

Then the looking at the secondary sites to work out how much you really want to go as prices go from the face value of £50 and up to well over 100% mark ups if not more. All this while trying to think what you may be doing or even where you may be living next August when the gig actually is.

The other option is to wait until the day, try and get a face value or cheaper on line via twickets and twitter, or go to the venue and see what you can get. Sold out means sold out these days, I remember quite a few bands & venues used to hold tickets back to sell on the day to eradicate the touts. It certainly helped on a few occasions of last minute decisions to go to concerts. Even Reading festival always had tickets on the day until the last ten years or so when going to festivals became fashionable.

Last option, get a ticket from a tout or someone else going to the gig with a spare. Far more fraught with issues and risks than it ever used to be. Fakes were very rare years ago, and most gigs the same touts were there day in and week out, so it was in their interests to be "honest" in their business. Now the ticket could be a fake, even with all the holograms and embossing, and even worse now, they could be genuine, but re-sold.

Venues & festivals now just scan the bar code on the ticket to let you in, which means for the more unscrupulous you can collect a number of these, go outside and sell them to unsuspecting people who then won't be able to get in as the bar code will have already been logged as entering the venue. Surely the old method of just tearing the stub off the perforations was better?

Hopefully though you are now in the O2 venue of choice to see the band and you have a great evening. Only the pickpockets and bar prices to worry about now before having to leave before the end to catch the last train home...

Everyone loves music

Having just looked it was over four years ago that a chance conversation on twitter lead to the #A2Z music journey with the two Doms, that in turn lead to Choose My Music, which lead to a record label and fund raising for charity and now into a global mix-tape music swap-a-thon.

In very simple terms, each person receives a mixed music CD (yes, CDs have replaced tapes!) from someone they more than likely don't know, they then make another one to send on to the next person in the chain and so on.

There are a few extra bits - leaving a copy in a random place for a stranger to find, but for all the details check out the site by clicking on the image, and add yourself to the list.

To see what tickled my fancy I was the maker of #3 linked here.

Just looking through the others has made me look through and play some music I had totally forgotten about, and also find some new artists and bands to explore, which takes us full circle over the four years!

Have a nose around the bands on the label as well, there are a couple of crackers on there well worth a listen to.hC

Boogaloo - no bad can come from this word

I have never made any secret of my love of the band Super Furry Animals, and while they have been on an extended sabbatical, the individual members have been up to all sorts. Not only making some wonderful albums and films, but also making a beer.

While I am yet to get hold of any of their beer, one thing I did get my hands on this week was the new album Keltic Voodoo Boogaloo from The Earth, one of the incarnations involving many Welsh musicians from SFA, Catatonia and what seems to be a fairly fluid line up. As with many things involving the Furries, it is never as straightforward as it sounds.

Anyway, having heard a few tracks on an earlier EP I saw that the album was released and jumped on line to buy it, and to be honest I have hardly stopped listening to it for a week. Now like typing LOL it is rare that anyone is actually laughing out loud, when music reviews say that they have listened non-stop to an album it is rarely true. In this case it most certainly is. I am actually having to make firm agreements in my head to listen to something else rather than just playing it again.

With soulful and psychedelic tunes that build and change as the songs progress and the absolutely amazing vocals from Dionne Bennet this is without any doubt my album of the year for 2014. Opening with Liberty Road, this track alone should be enough to make you buy the album, it just grows and encompasses you in a musical dreamscape. Hints of SFA, shades of Massive Attack, noise and sounds that would not be out of place at any rave or festival in the last 40 years, this really does hit the spot.

With some rock 'n' roll thrown in on tracks like Rear View Mirror and the stunning ending of The Earth Beats The Machine it is hard to categorise or explain exactly how good this is.

As such, here is the link to listen to it - I defy you not to love it and then buy it.

While trying to work out how to embed that, I have found this is their second album, so i am off now to get the first one, which will at least mean I have a variety of music to listen to later this week!

WOMAD 2014

The start of the Childrens Parade on Sunday

The start of the Childrens Parade on Sunday

Once again a long weekend in a field at Charlton Park, the campsite in view of the impressive manor house and anticipation of some great music, good food, superb company and maybe a beer or two in the sunshine. And once again WOMAD delivered on all fronts, a festival that just seems to get better and better each year.

It is one of the few festivals that doesn't rely on a line up or major artistes to sell tickets, although the sad death of Bobby Womack who was due to headline on Sunday night was a blow, but the replacement of Sinead O'Connor almost causing a ripple to match the Metallica at Glastonbury controversy among some.

After a terrible diversion ridden drive to the site, we were soon set up and sat down having an opening cider and reviewing who to see on Friday, starting with Debademba from Burkina Faso / Mali on the main stage and then the confidently named The Good Ones from Rwanda on the BBC3 stage. This is what many people think of when you try and describe WOMAD to them, some odd African musicians and sounds and a few hippies in a field. The next band we went to see in the Big Red Tent was Melt Yourself Down from the UK. World music? Surely all music is World Music, and to me that is one of the key factors in the success of WOMAD is that there is no discrimination of any country or any genre.

Anyway, walking in as they started the impression was instant. Two drummers, two saxophonists, a bass player and a singer. The rhythm and sound was incredible, the crowd loving it and reacting like it was the headline act of the weekend. Jazz funk tribal psych rock comes close to describing them, I think, but they were an early highlight and band of the day for me.

The rest of Friday we saw a variety of other bands including Tunng, Richard Thompson, Goran Bregovic and His Wedding and Funeral Orchestra (band name winner), and obviously had some beers and the large samosas that are always among the best value foods on offer there.

Saturday started with the quite superb Hazmat Modine from USA, a band that has a sousaphone player among almost every other instrument you can imagine. Like the school class had bundled into the music room and grabbed the first thing they saw each. After we went to see Welsh folksters, but not at one of the music tents. Taste The World is one of the more interesting and growing in popularity stages at the festival. Simply bands and artistes are invited to come and cook, chat and play some music for an hour, like Sunday morning TV on C4 without the presenters..... 

9Bach didn't disappoint on any level. Firstly hitting every stereotype by cooking Welsh Cakes and Welsh Rarebit, but also being very funny and interesting with some strong views on the Welsh music scene, and also singing acoustically a few tracks, one here.

The ladies from 9Bach performing (and cooking) at WOMAD Charlton Park 2014. Excellent voices, just a shame I was in the wrong position to be able to get the harp player in shot.

Highlights for the rest of the day for me were Muyayo Rif with some excellent Spanish Ska music again getting the crowd far too active in the heat, Kathryn Williams on one of the smaller stages and Yossou N'Dour on the main stage last. His voice sounds like it did 20 odd years ago (if not more) when 7 Seconds came out. Ending with some wonderfully beautiful Indian music and dancing from Sonia Sabri Company in the Siam Tent, another day drew to a close, although a few more drinks on the way back to the tent at San Fran Disco and Mollys Bar meant the early night was not quite as early as planned....

Food so good we bought the cookbook!

Food so good we bought the cookbook!

Sunday morning and the best Masala Dosa I have had outside India at the Madras Cafe, washed down with a cup of chai and we were set for the day.

Debbie had seen the first "act" on Taste The World was Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat, Iranian singing sisters, and that looked so interesting we made sure to get there early to be close, a decision made by many people! One of the most emotional and fun hours I think I have ever had in nearly 30 years of festival and gig going. Impossible not to have pre-conceptions of austere and subjugated women when thinking of Iran, it is illegal for them to perform there in front of men, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Mahsa and Majan Vahdat in their aprons at Taste The World

Mahsa and Majan Vahdat in their aprons at Taste The World

The two sisters were laughing and joking as they cooked, making fun of each other and clearly loving being there, if a little confused at the size of the crowd. They made no secret of their disdain for the way Iran is currently governed, the elder sister has been arrested twice. They kept focussing on the positives though, despite the fact that their band had not been allowed to enter the UK and the myriad of other issues they encounter on a daily basis living in Iran. The singing was haunting, old folk songs and poems interpreted with modern meanings, you do not need to speak Farsi to understand the pain behind the words. Not a dry eye in the crowd and one of the longest and most enthusiastic rounds of applause ever.

So positive, the wonderful and beautiful Mahsa ad Marjan at the end of their main set.

So positive, the wonderful and beautiful Mahsa ad Marjan at the end of their main set.

So good we went to see them do their full set later in the afternoon, and again, the emotion in the crowd was evident, Truly one of the great WOMAD experiences for those who experienced it.

The rest of the day again superb, the Ukranian band Dakha Brakha providing East European folk noise and amazement, along with some simply outstanding hats, Vinicio Capossela & The Post Office Band, the legendary Les Ambassadeurs, Nitin Sawhney and the main stage closer Sinead O'Connor. She had little to say, she did dedicate a track to Bobby Womack (a cover version would have been far better IMHO) and a lot of songs and anger about god and religion. She has an amazing voice, that can not be denied and went down well. 

Over to the Siam to end the weekend for us with Public Service Broadcasting. Front row leaning on the barrier, and one of the bands I really wanted to see all weekend did not let the festival down. An excellent audio and visual treat, if you get any chance at all to see them live take it without question.

And that was it, some excellent music, met some old and made some new friends there, and once again Prince Harry was around and about but still has never bothered to come and meet me!

One thing to show how good WOMAD is, Gruff Rhys was playing there, and I didn't go to see his set. Earlier in the year we drove for 6 hours to see him play, but there was just too much other stuff to see and do - that is how good a festival WOMAD is. Don't go though, I like it the way it is now :-)

See you next year WOMAD

See you next year WOMAD


It is funny how the little coincidences fall into a bigger picture sometimes, and the last few days have shown that.


With the death of Tommy Ramone, that is it, the band The Ramones no longer exist except in records, digital files and memories. At the Friars Aylesbury exhibition one of the biggest images used, and the one used on the flyer, was the Ramones on stage there. I was far too young to have attended, or even pretend I was there, but it is one of the hundreds of gigs that people still reference as a genuine "you had to be there" type moment.

If you look at the cover of Ramones Mania, just off the centre is a little orange button badge. That badge is a Friars backstage pass - not bad for one of the most renowned bands from the heady days of CBGBs in New York to reference a sleepy little market town gig venue. 

I was lucky enough to see them play live in Brixton Academy in I think 1994 when the support band was the fairly unknown S*M*A*S*H who had a brief moment of fame with their single "Lady love your c*nt" causing a right old stir in the NME. One of the friends we were with said that she thought all of their songs sounded the same, which to say before the Ramones came on stage did raise a smile.

The thing is though, they don't sound the same, they have a "sound", the same as they have a look, an image and a band logo that now adorns many a T Shirt, which is covered perfectly in this article from The Daily Mash. Hopefully some of the people owning the shirts do drift off to youtube and check out the band though... Famously the TV botherer Tim Lovejoy was wearing a Ramones T Shirt on one of his TV shows once when a guest asked him to name his favourite album by them, his answer of "Greatest Hits" tells you all you need to know!

Also as far as I can see the first band to all change their surnames to the band name, it wasn't a job or a pass time, it was a life. So much music and so many books about the band, there is no right or wrong place to start, just listen to some great music.

My over-riding memory is just the sheer noise and energy from the band and the crowd, it has always been a gig that stands out in my memory. 

The first time I would have heard them would have been (I guess) from an old school friend Dean who kick started a lot of my musical journey as a teenager, and I think it was probably this track. 

With the iconic introduction, Sheena is a Punk Rocker

RIP The Ramones.

David Bowie, Friars Aylesbury, Lou Reed (and Toby the Dog)

I have written bits and pieces about Friars in Aylesbury before, I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the glory days, and saw a few great bands there, looking back I wish I had been about five years older, but hey, you can't have everything.

For all the actual facts and details about Friars the website linked here is the resource you need, and you will instantly see the scale and level of bands that used to play regularly in a small town 40 miles outside London. It was quite amazing to grow up in a town where every week posters would be up of bands playing who were on Top of the Pops the following week, and touring America afterwards. 

I started going at about 14, the official age for membership was 16, and clearly the law on drinking was 18. While not wishing to get anyone into trouble.... One of the founders of Friars was actually my chemistry teacher at the Grammar School, Mr Pike. When I and friends from school started going, he would be the man on the membership desk that you had to get the membership from, and like a true gent he never batted an eye at all our fake dates of birth or the beers we were buying. As long as we behaved there would be no questions or issues, it was a code that seemed to be passed down from year to year at school. Nobody mess about or you will screw it up for everybody.

Not too shabby a list of bands to see in a small town

Not too shabby a list of bands to see in a small town

Last Thursday we went to the museum in Aylesbury which currently has a display of hundreds of photos, posters, memorabilia and memories for anyone who remembers or enjoys music from the 60s onwards. It is quite breathtaking, and ultimately so sad that it ended, but that is another story.

Thursday was a 71 / 72 special based around David Bowie, and the hall was full for the talks by the founders of Friars, people who had played there, and in the crowd many who had been to many of the gigs. Just the lists of bands who played on a fairly regular basis was outstanding, but as it was about Bowie some of the information that came out was known already, some I never knew.

He played in 71 and it was the first time he played the Hunky Dory material, and returned a year later and it was the first time anyone ever saw the Ziggy Stardust show. This was a man who didn't play live much at all, but a chance conversation once and he debuted material that would change music, not once but twice. Other stories such as Mr Pike having to run around trying to get flowers for the dressing room in-between teaching at school about a mile away, equipment for shows being held up by customs as drugs were searched for, and ultimately Bowies return after 5 years as Lou Reeds piano player.

Even after all this time you could see what it still meant to the people involved then. One of the worlds greatest stars and he was wandering about Aylesbury and playing groundbreaking music there, for 50p (rising to 75p) entry. 

One of my friends (who is a bit older) has a ticket for the first Bowie gig on his wall, as him and a mate where in a pub down the road and decided to go at the last minute. Amazing that these gigs weren't total sell outs, imagine if Bowie announced a tour today how much those tickets would cost and how fast they would sell?

Johnnie, as above, has also told a story about Friars that has people in stitches of laughter, about a Lou Reed gig from the early 70s, and as the talk was coming to an end and the slides were showing some posters a Lou Reed one came up. I nudged Debbie and said "That'll be the Toby gig", she laughed, and then Dave Stopps who was hosting the evening started laughing, the story about Toby was true!

I can't do this tale justice, but in simple steps..... Johnnie and his mates were leaving their homes to walk into town for a drink and to see Lou Reed, and Toby the dog started following them. The owner of Toby was not with them but he followed them out of the estate, down the road and waited outside pubs where they stopped for drinks en route. The dog wouldn't leave them. They went to the gig, and realised the dog had also somehow managed to get into the venue. As Dave Stopps recounted last week, he was on the edge of the stage and saw a dog walking around the edge of the hall, then walk to the side of the stage, on to the stage, and up to the microphone stand. Toby the dog then sits down on stage, looking up at Lou Reed and out to the audience. Lou Reed, who was very likely to have been on some (a lot) of drugs at the time stared down at this dog, and clearly wondered if it was just him seeing it or if the dog was really there.

Many years later when Dave Stopps met Lou Reed again he asked if he remembered the dog incident, his response was he didn't remember the '70s!

Add into this other tales such as Peter Gabriel stage diving and breaking his ankle, The Specials changing their name from The Coventry Automatics just as they walked on stage, the gig where many of the audience stripped naked, an Elton John gig being interrupted by a bomb scare, and happy memories for almost everyone from Aylesbury over 40. My first gig there looking back was Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Like when people say the first record they bought is always a classic, I would love to be able to say it was Squeeze from the week before or The Clash the week after, but sadly it wasn't.

Friars was a magical place.

The Great Escape

After a weekend jaunt to Cardigan the previous weekend, it was bags with buckets & spades packed for Brighton and the Great Escape Festival last weekend. Buckets and spades were left in the garage as it is a pebble beach, but thanks to loyalty point schemes in hotels we were able to stay in far more luxurious accommodation than we normally would do at a music festival.

The quite beautiful pier - hard to stand in the wind as I took this

The quite beautiful pier - hard to stand in the wind as I took this

Once checked in and tickets found it was off to the wristband exchange. The Great Escape is a multi-venue festival with well over 400 performances in a number of venues over three days, and the ticket cost of under £50 covered us for everything we wanted to see. The only exceptions to the charges being a couple of “big” names playing, but they were still only charged at £7 a night, which for the likes of Example and Kelis seems good value.

Anyway, following the map I had printed off the internet, being very organised, we soon walked through the streets of Brighton and found the wristband exchange. Although that is not actually true. We found a building that had housed the wristband exchange previously, not the festival hub with a bar and stage that I had seen pictures of in the morning on line. After a few fractious exchanges with the good wife it became clear that the map I had printed off was from 2012, so some external help was needed!! Thankfully we managed to find the right place, get wristbands, and get to the first venue in time for the opening band that were on my “must see” list.

I will cover some of the musical highlights later down the page, so if that is all you want, scroll down, but you will miss the good jokes.

As above, there are multiple venues and multiple bands for this festival, using no common sense at all I had scheduled at least 2 bands an hour every hour. Most sets are a strict 30 minutes, getting longer as the evening progresses in most venues, so seeing as many bands as possible seemed like a good plan. However...

  • The venues are not all in a row with a 30 second walk between them, they are all over Brighton.

  • If a band finishes on stage at 13.00, you can’t leave a venue, walk to and get in to the next venue at 13.00

  • Eating and drinking was not built into my plan.

  •  Having 6 bands you want to see on a list all playing at the same time is stupid planning.

So, after some early running between venues an executive decision was made to sit down with a pint and review at least some of the schedule I had planned, also using the map to assist in planning. This removed a layer of stress from the rest of the weekend, and although meant cutting some venues off completely, and having to miss a few bands that I would have liked to see, it meant we had a good mix of venues, musical styles, beer and food opportunities, and no more running. One excellent and modern touch was the official app for the festival, although many people were still just using the paper guide to direct themselves around. The app also gave updates on secret gigs and time / venue changes for bands which did save at least one long walk over the weekend for us.

So far so good, bands were excellent, food was variable, beer was a mix of excellent local ales, warm Red Stripe cans and some ropey wine – pretty much the standard festival experience (apart from our luxury hotel room awaiting us).

As The Great Escape is an “industry” event as well as just a hell of a lot of gigs, there are a lot of delegates, press, VIPs, bloggers and blaggers all over the place, which in itself is not an issue, unless you want to see a specific band, or go to one of the smaller venues. Bands on the up, or the “must see” list from the usual suspects are especially hard to see. We learned quickly which venues and bands to avoid, and as many bands were playing multiple sets over the day to try and see the ones we wanted to see as early as possible when the venues weren’t as full. Some gigs, remember these are only 30 minute sets, had queues of 100+ people outside once the band had already started, and the doors were all well managed by security with a one out / one in process, so there was zero chance people would get in.

2014-05-09 22.14.08.jpg

Added to this, the list of people as above all had a different queue to the normal wristbands, so you could be at the front of a queue and still not get into a venue as anyone with a pass would get in before you. Definitely something to build into plans as we learned as time went on.

Only once did I have to turn round and tell two people stood behind to stop yapping all the time (a move that was applauded by everyone else around us after they apologised and left), and while many people had cameras out all the time it wasn’t over intrusive.

Overall though, for a fun weekend on the coast, some excellent (some not so good) music and meeting great people I can’t recommend this highly enough. As long as you accept from the start that you will not see all the bands you want to, and will probably get wet in the rain & from beer spills, and that you will get frustrated in a queue as people who clearly know less about music than you walk to the front and get in before you....

Anyway, some of the musical highlights from the weekend from me, in no particular order:

September Girls - One of the bands many people said was a must see, and they were right. The noise on the album replicated well at the lunchtime show we went to see. Full of "delegates" ignoring them but making sure they were seen to be there. Great to see them in a small venue, may not be possible again.

Kuenta i Tambu - Like a magic moment from WOMAD festival, you walk into a fairly empty hall expecting some African drumming and a chilled beer, and 30 minutes later you are shaking like Pete Doherty on a plane while the beats and everyone around you is banging. Then you walkk outside and it is about 2 in the afternoon and you are dripping with sweat. Quite a magic example of how to win a crowd.

TarO & JirO - Where to start... Two young Japanese musicians making noise and fun (with free sushi) for a stunned crowd. Making fun of themselves and the audience while making noise that was among the loudest of the weekend, this was one of the sets for me. Asking an caucasian crowd to sing a long and then telling them to go home for being rubbish was topped by a version of Smells Like Teen Spirit that somehow made Nirvana seem a bit lame.

The Subways - One of the few "famous" bands we went to see, very good live, far better than last time I saw them. They owned the Concorde 2 (although possibly one of the most horrible venues I have been to, just a long tunnel). Crowd going mad for it, they seemed to be really enjoying it.

I know I said in no particular order, I lied.

Slaves - Not many moons ago I remember voting for Slaves as part of the Tom Robinson Fresh On The Net show as part of 6Music. I had listened to them a few times and a few tracks and when I saw they were playing they were on the "at all costs" list for me. Which turned out fine as I joined the queue about half an hour before the venue opened and we were in nice and easy, with a central viewing spot. Bear in mind I had only heard this band, and assumed it was a band. Two guys walk out and that was it. 

The best 30 minutes of live music I have seen in years.

The drummer / vocalist standing while smashing seven bells out of the drums and the guitarist causing havoc on the other side of the stage. Almost impossible to put into words, but if they are playing near you, go. The energy required for this ensures there will be no "Twentieth Anniversary Tour".  My perfect gig at the moment would be Slaves supported by Sleaford Mods.

Honorary mentions and worth looking up go to:

The Darlingtons, Sea Change, Hawk House, Bridie Jackson and The Arbour, Powder Blue. French for Rabbits.

But, Slaves win.

I am enthused by music again.

Gruff Rhys and a tiny pub and Welsh speaking

I have written (and had some very long conversations) about Gruff Rhys and his new album / project before, and I still think £50 to get all the songs on one album is excessive, but that is not for today.

One of the trickier par 3's from the view the tee outside the hotel.

One of the trickier par 3's from the view the tee outside the hotel.

After buying tickets to see Gruff in Cardigan and then checking where Cardigan actually was, we set out last Saturday for the nearly 5 hour drive to Cardigan. A wonderful little town on the coast, and our hotel was up on the cliff overlooking the golf course and the bay. Quite a stunning location especially in the good weather, and there are few things as welcome in the morning after the night before as a walk along the cliffs edge.

After arriving, with only minimal map arguments, we went into the town to have a quick pint and see what the options for grabbing a bite to eat before the gig would be, and while the food options didn't look great, I spotted a pub sign hanging outside what appeared to be an old house. It only caught my eye as it was from an old Welsh brewery that my mother used to work at many decades ago, so I thought I would just take a pic of the sign for her.

Needs a paint job.

Needs a paint job.

As I took it, someone walked in through what was obviously still a pub, so we walked up and pushed the door open wondering what local beer I could try.

To say the inside was small is to do an injustice to the word small. Two tables, two benches and one stool was the furniture, and the room in whole would fit in our lounge twice over, with space left over.

A tiny bar at the end, a couple of guys having a beer and a landlord who (with all respect) has probably passed 80, and I guess almost all of that in this pub. I could have spent all day in there chatting with the locals, and really wanted to take some pictures, but really didn't want to look like a tourist idiot. The "till" was a shoe box, they only had 2 beers and a few bottles on the back bar, and at least one of those bottles was Taboo and was well out of reach of the landlord. Babycham mirrors and old tankards and jugs all over the place, and the space behind the bar was open into their front room.

Like everyone we met and spoke with in the town, the first language in the pub was Welsh, although the odd thing was that over all the generations they seemed to drift in and out of Welsh and English in one conversation. Anyway, they made us very welcome, and we subsequently went back just before the gig with a Welsh couple (also Welsh speakers) who we met in the hotel. The landlady behind the bar this time, who was watching TV in the front room and serving as and when necessary. While clearly not financially viable in these modern times, this pub was an absolute gem.

Off to the gig with our new companions, having conversations about who was the bigger Gruff fans - they were gutted to have missed the Praxis gig last year as their baby arrived! 

The venue itself hard to explain, but the stage had a projector and screen, one chair and a table of some of the tools Gruff often uses on stage to make musical magic. We went in and took a couple of seats as the room started to fill, and there were quite quickly more people in the room than could possibly see the screen or stage and even hear what was happening.

Gruff came on played a short film and introduced the evening, in a mix of Welsh and English - to cut a long story short, it is his adventure in America to see if there is evidence of a Welsh speaking tribe of white native Americans. With a puppet. If you know anything about Gruff, this makes a lot of sense, and the details of the event / gig had made it clear it was a presentation as much as music, so while we were eagerly awaiting what was coming so many people in the hall either couldn't hear or just weren't interested.

Out of a crowd of about 200, at least 50 chatted through the entire show, and many more at different stages. This wasn't a gig in a big venue with three bands on, this was far more a theatre style event, where sitting in your seat and not talking would be the norm. Sadly it wasn't to be, and I really had to exercise some self control to not shout "shut up" at the top of my voice. A great shame as towards the end where the minority were paying attention while the majority had given up it seemed clear that Gruff was getting affected by this. The last twenty minutes seemed more just going through the motions to finish the show off than him enjoying it.


Yes it was an odd concept, but it was well put together and incredibly funny. As he often does the lines between real life and fiction are very blurred, but the music was as always excellent. Based on the project American Interior, described as The quixotic journey of John Evans, his search for a lost tribe and how, fuelled by fantasy and (possibly) booze, he accidentally annexed a third of North America. Presented by Gruff wearing a coyote hat and with assistance from a puppet of John Evans the most idiotic comment I heard was about the way he had formulated the pictures in powerpoint!

Not as much from the new album as I expected, but a few classics from earlier albums as well. The usual signs being held up, "Applause" "Thank you" "Against pointless encores" among others. Was it just a badly laid out venue, were too many people let in, were people expecting a gig more than the event? Probably a bit of all three I guess, but the absolute rudeness of people (and it is getting worse) who just talk all the way through concerts is really starting to grate.

The album, book, app and film are all out this week, and while I will not buy the whole box set, I have already bought the main album and the app.... No doubt I will get the book at some stage as well, and the DVD when the film is released....

The endless streaming debate

I have bought quite a few new albums this week, and as usual seen a lot of bands & artists that are streaming their albums in full on-line, with no adverts, so even better than using the free Spotify site.

Does streaming an entire album make more people buy it? I personally really doubt it, one or two tracks is enough to make your choice of if to buy it, and if you can listen to an album in full two or three times before it is released, where is the desire to go and buy it (unless you are buying a special edition or vinyl etc)? And is the band or artist making any money by streaming their music? I would assume not, and it certainly wouldn't be a great deal unless you are U2 or Beyonce where they could and would get paid to "exclusively" stream on a specific platform.

So once again, the conundrum where most people agree that music should be paid for, illegal downloads are, well, illegal, and nobody can come up with a system that seems to balance the needs of the artists to earn a living and the requirements of the majors to make money and the desires of the music fan to own the music.

For as long as the internet has existed there have been issues with file sharing sites and processes, it is illegal in many countries and copyright laws are used to fine and even imprison people in some countries for sharing music, and films etc. One of the new favourites among music fans, Dropbox, recently had to clarify how it blocked certain files from being shared, and in doing so also explained in easy steps how to bypass that. So still not sure on their stance on sharing - they comply with the laws, but have made it easy for users to ignore.

One area that as far as I know there has never been an outcry about is ebay, and now amazon and all the other auction and sale sites. Is selling or sharing the physical copy somehow different to a digital copy?

Here is an example that I thought of, and have just checked and it is happening now.


Damon Albarns new (and excellent) album Every Day Robots is for sale on amazon at £9, with free P&P if you are buying another CD as well to get the best savings. This also comes with a free and instant download from amazon. The CD will be sent, in a wrapper, so can then be sold on ebay for example, as brand new. Which it is, linked here to show one sold for £9.51 including P&P.

There are other places that you could maybe get the album cheaper, and if you do on the day it goes on sale or pre-order, you could sell, as here, for pretty much what you paid for it, thereby having the official and legal version of the download on your PC, and having sold the physical album, you would own it legally, for free.

That just seems a bit of a loophole that has been missed, or more likely that amazon and ebay couldn't care less about and the music industry again seems powerless to manage. You could, with about an hours worth of effort a week build quite an amazing music collection, all legally, and all for almost nothing, and actually at a profit.

While the scenario above only works as you are selling a brand new product in the wrapper to get the money back, there are many ways of making money while doing almost the same thing, but with older albums.

Amazon, and ebay, sell tens of thousands of albums for 1p a day. Yes, one penny for an album, with P&P of about £1.25. And yet if you time it right and your wording is good on ebay, you can sell the album for at least £2 plus postage. So you can again buy and own the music legally, and then sell the physical product for more than you paid for it. I did this myself this week with the first two albums from Oasis. Bought from amazon for a penny each, I sold them on ebay for a combined £4.21 plus P&P. I already own them both on vinyl from release, and just wanted them on my iPod and just couldn't be bothered to transfer from vinyl to MP3 as I have much other vinyl I own. So I "earned" £4.19 and two albums in a week, hardly big time, but if you look you can see people doing this as a living.

As often, I have no idea how this can be stopped, or if it should be stopped. But while the record labels and artists are constantly trying to come up with new ways to make money, there are a number of parasite businesses making fortunes out of the music business with no effort or risk at all.

Never Pop, Never.

In a week where the Manic Street Preachers have been classed as part of BritPop and the Class of '94 it is worth remembering that in 94 James Dean Bradfield was on Top of the Pops in a balaclava causing the most number of complaints ever and their album The Holy Bible was about as far from pop as you can get.

So it was a pleasure to be going to see them, a recent album of mixed quality and a rumoured new and harder album on the way should make for a great gig, and Brixton Academy my favourite venue in London. Quite why the support was Scritti Politti I will never understand, bland and background at best when they were around, they hadn't changed, and I also discovered that what I thought was their biggest hit was by Prefab Sprout, so no winners from the support sadly.

Motorcycle Emptiness - pic from @mediocretouring

Motorcycle Emptiness - pic from @mediocretouring

A video of a walk around a coal mine sets the scene and the Manics take to the stage. I had purposefully avoided any in depth reviews of the set at their other dates on the tour so as to not set expectations either way, and the opening of Motorcycle Emptiness seemed odd to me, but popular with the crowd. Far from the best track from their first full album, but a well known one.

The set then moved through all "eras" of the band. Moving between new material, some from The Holy Bible, 3 tracks from the new, and far heavier, album and a few from the most recent. One of the most annoying parts of the entire night was the video playing with James singing to Rewind The Film. It seemed half the audience took the "quiet" period as a cue to have a bit of a chat, go to the bar and generally do anything but pay attention to what was going on at the gig they had paid £30+ to be at.

James still persisting with the solo acoustic bit in the middle, something I have never really liked, and now just an opportunity for people to chat and check facebook sadly.

The latter half of the set includes the classics The Masses Against The Classes and the wonderful You Love Us. One of the tours where the presence of Richey Edwards was keenly felt - oddly these are the sets that Nicky Wire especially seems to enjoy, as he noticeably did on the new material as well. He quoted Richey saying "Put some fucking lipstick on so at least your lies will be pretty", it sometimes seems like Richey is actually there - and they are always the best gigs.

As time was getting on, and one of the best things about the Manics live is no encore, I was thinking to myself that all that was missing was Motown Junk, but after the third (and first ever airing) track from the forthcoming album it came, and as it ended and went to Design For Life I was happy, and almost perfect gig and set list.

If you only ever saw one Manics gig, that would have been close to as good as it gets - the younger anger and fire still visible, the more thoughtful and emotional present and the radio friendly singalong for those only there for that. 

On a linked note, my obsession with Johnny Cash continues, and the release of a "new" album was worrying me a bit - would it just be out-takes and different versions of tracks already released? 

However, as with the "..if you only ever saw one Manics gig.." above, if you own no Johnny Cash this is the perfect place to start your obsession. Gospel, comedy, duets, country - Out Among The Stars is sublime, I have to force myself daily to not listen to in continuously.

Geno, Geno, Geno

Like many of my age I am sure the first I knew of Geno Washington was via one of the early incarnations of Dexys Midnight Runners with the track, Geno. An excellent, excitement filled piece of music, a proper homage to clearly a great influence on them, and many others.

So when I saw a little advert in the local paper that Geno Washington was playing in Aylesbury, at a small venue, my first thought was that it must be a tribute act or something else that was not what it seemed. On checking though, it was him, so the tickets were sorted and plans made. Being local, and at a venue with a guaranteed early night, the plan seemed faultless, and it was.

The opening act, a guitarist, was a little odd and to be honest not great, but was well received and applauded by all in the tiered seating, of which we somehow had front row seats, our feet basically on the stage.

A lone guitarist came out and got the audience ready for Geno, trying to get a chant going but not quite succeeding, and then on he strolled. A showman in every sense of the word, and the next hour was entertainment on a scale that many new bands and artists could learn from. Many in the crowd, including the friends we were with, were expecting a more upbeat set, but it was mainly a heavier and dirtier blues set, just the guitarist and Geno on stage. 


Telling jokes and stories between each track, he held the audience in his hand completely, ignoring some comments, interacting with others, a man at the top of his game. Explaining the songs and the roots and stories about his life and bands, it was an amazing time that flew past. To be brutally honest, it seemed he didn't know all the words to all the songs, but kept the tempo and atmosphere up like a true showman. Dropping in some Northern Soul and ending with the classic Everybody Needs Somebody, the noise from the sole musician and his rich and powerful voice was a pleasure.

The gig was not part of a tour, and he said it was the first time he had performed like this, the guitarist is part of the Ram Jam Band so they knew each other and played off each other well. Above all this really makes me want to go and see him with the full band and brass section, as that will be special I am totally sure.

If you get the chance, this is a great night out.


How Much Will You Pay For An Album??

Early one morning, the emails being sorted and one jumps out straight away, the pre-order email for one of my favourite artists, Gruff Rhys. Lead singer of the Super Furry Animals, part of NeonNeon, a collaborator and musical genius in my eyes. Also amazing live, so many of my most memorable ever concerts are his.

Gruff at Neon Neon event of Praxis Makes Perfect

Gruff at Neon Neon event of Praxis Makes Perfect

So I assume I will click on the link, order the album and be happy for the rest of the day - sadly that is not what happened.

The album on CD is £14, which is at the top end of pricing for any album, most now retail for well under the £10 mark. So although annoyed with that, I know I will buy it. What caught my eye next was the special packs and editions available, the dearest being the vinyl collection which is £50. All well and good, I can't afford that sort of money for an album, but no issue as I can still get the album. 

And that is where the anger came in. On the £50 version there are tracks that are not available anywhere else. It comes with a lot of other stuff, but I have signed set lists from Gruff (for free...) already so I am not over interested in the rest of the box, but I will miss out on 8 tracks. So one of my favourite artists has decided that only the people with £50 to spend can hear those tracks, which I have to say is just absolute bullshit. Did I mention it is £18.95 postage and packing as well... Seventy quid give or take for an album.

That is beyond belief to me, I know there are box sets of Blur, The Clash and many others at £100 and over, but that is everything they have ever released, this is just one album. Remember that 63 album set of Johnny Cash I bought, that was £125, so about 2 quid an album. Someone on twitter also mentioned that the Oasis deluxe re-release of Definitely Maybe was over £100 as well. It seems a growth market to rip off your fans.

The on-line conversation on twitter veered into the world of pledge and kickstarter funding for albums as well, and I remembered one I had donated to, to again get a new album by The Men They Couldn't Hang. I committed £25 to that, I assume while drunk, as when I checked there was also a second album, which was another £30 if you wanted it. So a band, heavily based around left wing politics wanted a minimum of £45 for two albums. 

Again, the packs included lots of other bits and bobs that no one really needs and some deluxe pledges could be made to buy guitars and record specific tracks with the band. All well and good, but at a time when many are thinking sports fans are exploited, this type of behaviour from the music industry has for the first time made me think about not buying some stuff at all, and just downloading it. 

I see so many pledges and crowd funding for albums now that it does seem to be the "new" way for them to release music without a major label being involved, but as so many of them also seem to say that they will release the albums anyway, they just want payment up front it doesn't really seem like crowdfunding to me, more a better income stream. Also there is no comeback when material or releases are delayed, or indeed that you may not like it when it is released!

Being treated well by a band is a wonderful experience, as for example I have had with Gruff for years, but being treated like a cash machine is a very different scenario.

Another year, another award..

Only by reading the internet this morning have I discovered that it is the Brit Awards tonight on TV, again hosted by James Corden, and again with a list of people that I seem to know less and less about both performing and up for awards.

Is this a bad thing though? I guess I am out of the age range that this is now aimed at, and looking at the lists of potential winners there is nothing over surprising in there. A mix between the obvious hit winners of One Direction and the stadium pleasing rock of the Arctic Monkeys and a blend of what is safe enough "alternative" acts for TV is what it has almost always been, and will remain so. It is, like almost all award ceremonies, a back slapping corporate event, as evidenced here with details on how they want journalists to cover the evening.

In a week where it was also announced that the NME now sells less than 20,000 copies a week music as always seems to be in a state of flux. The internet has meant more and more music is available to listen to, and the rise of blogs and review sites just regurgitating the same press releases to get advertising hits just means the NME is just not needed anymore.

People complaining about the Brits (which to be clear I am not) fit into either the "hipster" camp where they have to sneer about any music or band that anyone else apart from them has ever heard of, or the side where I guess I fit where it just doesn't seem relevant. This is a good thing though, as like people in their 30s who complain about Radio 1 - it is not being made for me or them, and nor should it be.

As we get older we move down the radio dial, from 1 to 6, then to 2 and 4 on the BBC channels, and whatever the independent equivalent of those are. I only don't listen to commercial radio as I can't stand the adverts - similar to why I won't listen to certain shows who play decent music, I want to hear the music not about the life of the presenter. 

While I still search out new and exciting music, I am conscious that I do tend to stick a lot more to what I know, and will only buy stuff I really like now. The days of spending a tenner on albums unheard are long gone for me, like the days of having the current albums of all the nominees at the Brits and the Mercury prizes.

There are still new bands and albums that really jump out as being excellent, and I do like to share them with others, and take their recommendations of other bands to look up and try. Current favourites of mine include Sleaford Mods, The September Girls and Chvrches - all of which I found by people on twitter espousing about them. It is unlikely that everyone will like all three of them, or maybe even any of them, and that is probably why I am not in charge of the Brit Awards.

If I was in charge of the awards, I would insist on The KLF and Extreme Noise Terror opening the event every year though - truly one of the greatest musical introductions ever. (Really sorry if an advert comes up first, the original version seems to have been purged from Youtube.

Out The Tout

An ongoing theme for me, and one that just seems to continue to annoy and frustrate those who go to sports, gigs and theatre - in fact anything that involves a ticket.

All too often events are "sold out" in seconds and tickets available only on the secondary market at inflated prices, a practice actively encouraged by some organisations such as THFC. The supply and demand argument just doesn't wash in real terms, a fake market is created where people only buy with the intention of selling on, this is not people with changing plans or travel issues etc, this is people who buy your tickets so you have to pay more for them.

The BBC station 6 Music recently announced a festival in Manchester and duly put the tickets on sale. As they paid no thought at all to this, they were instantly on sale on StubHub etc, where they are currently priced at up to £115 each for Friday and £126.50 for the the Saturday. The response from the BBC was to "ask people not to sell them", which is the equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Like so many organisers, they put the blame on the people selling them, without putting any steps in place to stop this happening.

So, same old same old, nothing changes and it affects all venues and events because it is impossible to stop apparently. Although as I have written before, Glastonbury now manage it well, and the technology of having the tickets on a phone that cannot be transferred exists now, so it can be done.

Or, like The Damned had done for Captain Sensibles birthday gig, make it so tickets can not be transferred or sold on. The tickets were on sale for £1.70, which is what they cost when The Damned played in 1977 - a fantastic gesture for fans. To make the tickets only useable for the people buying them you need to take the card you bought them on, and photo id in the same name. So unless you sell them to someone who really looks like you and you give them your credit card and driving license, they are not for sale - and there are none on any of the resale sites as I type this.

It may take a little longer to get in, and people will no doubt moan about "state control" and photo ID - but if it means tickets go to the right people at the right price surely this is a step in the right direction? 

Shhh - I am at work

The old phrase always goes "there is nothing worse than....." and we all know that there are too many things worse than however the sentence will end up, but it is a good way of getting a moan off your chest. This is being changed on-line and in real life to "......... said nobody, ever" which puts a modern day advertising spin on whatever it is that has just annoyed you.

You are probably already thinking "Excellent, a new blog moaning and rambling..... Said nobody, ever" but hang in there, the actual moan is coming now.

Who in whatever state of madness decided that it would be a good thing to have auto-play audio and video when you load a web page? What were they thinking, and what are the seemingly endless number of sites and blogs thinking that this is a good idea. Music sites and blogs, and many band sites are the worst, closely followed by sports ones. Obviously a "How to drive traffic to your site" manual somewhere includes a section on making it as multimedia as possible.

I, like many people, have multiple web pages open at once all the time and often multiple browsers as well. So when all of a sudden there is a blast of music or a football press conference blaring out of the speakers it can take a while to find which page it is coming from. Often the quickest option is just to close all the browser tabs and start opening them again one at a time until the offender can be found.

I won't ever knowingly return to a site that does this, and after a few conversations on line and with friends in the last few days, everyone feels the same. So for a new band who has had their site tweeted and I click the link - if it starts playing instantly that will be all I ever hear of your music as I won't go back. I will decide when I want to watch a video or listen to a track via my PC, not you.

Put the links up, embed the videos and soundcloud players, make it easy for me and everyone else to find and listen to, but don't just suddenly blast it out just because I have opened a web page, I may want to listen later - but probably not while I am at my desk in a busy office!

In Defence Of Spotify...

Spotify - the demon of the on line music industry that is killing music and is hated by many, but a few conversations and news items recently have set my mind thinking. I have slagged Spotify off in the past for the miniscule payments they pay per stream of a track, and possibly because of the perception that is created by some of what the impact of the company is.

They have been making headlines for the last few weeks, with record payments to labels, global growth in free users and those with subscriptions, new services and apps, and now with Led Zeppelin included. Although I am mystified that there could be anyone who has been holding out to listen to them until they were available on a free music streaming site?

So why are they hated? Many artists refuse to have their music on the site, and others do but moan about the payment that they receive. Which seems fair, why should an artist have their music streamed and played for nothing while others make money off the back of it?

Genuinely no issue with that, I think artists should get paid, after all if they don't there will be no new music and so on and the industry will get eaten by Simon Cowell and One Direction. 

Apart from the fact that I think this argument is flawed completely from a number of different angles. Admittedly my in depth market research is based on talking to people I know and reading the news and blogs etc, but I have to say that Spotify does have a use, and possibly is actually the "new model" that the music industry keeps telling us is needed.

Commercial and BBC Radio is in the main (with notable exceptions) dull and formulaic, and it is very rare to hear new artists and bands now unless you are prepared to put in a bit of legwork yourself. This is actually no different to the way it has ever been, from Peel and The NME when I was younger, and looking at bands supporting the bands you really liked there has always been an element of work and trial and error in finding new music. This is really no different to music blogs, recommendations and going to see bands.

So why in defence of Spotify?

Well, almost everyone I know who uses it either paid or free buys loads of music as well. They use it as a source of checking something out before spending a £10 on an album. If you read a magazine there could well be 20 new albums you are interested in, so what is wrong with listening to a few tracks from each and deciding which 3 or 4 to buy? Seems logical to me really, same as me lending you a CD to listen to in order to see if you like it? I only know two people who have stopped buying music and now use Spotify for all their listening, and they both state they can't afford to buy music at the moment, but they both pay Spotify a subscription.

Spotify is not what original Napster was, it does not give you the music, it loans it to you. You never own it, unless you choose to buy it (or download illegally obviously). This is personally why I think it is flawed, as I want to own music, like books and Kindles, it doesn't really work for me. A book only available electronically I will read on my tablet, but if there is a physical version I would rather pay for that, same as I have always been with music. 99.9% of what I have I own a physical copy of.

Spotify are also paying what is growing into multi-million pounds to record labels, so they are feeding the industry, again, this is not Napster. The fact that the labels are not paying the artists is nothing to do with Spotify, and if the independent artist does not want their music on the site they can remove it. When you start to look a bit deeper it doesn't look as bad does it?

But there are alternatives cry many, and I know there are, Bandcamp & Soundcloud being two, but there is still MySpace and youtube - there is music everywhere to listen to, and loads of internet and independent radio stations and podcasts that stream and play music litter the internet. There is a flaw with many of these on line and digital stations though - they don't pay the artist for playing their music. Yes they may hand over a lot more in royalties if the music is purchased via their site or app, but just for a play, zero pence. Now there is not a lot of difference between 0.004 pence and 0.0 pence, but there is a difference.

The indie alternatives don't pay their artists, and don't charge users to listen - they are actually doing a worse job than the "monstrosity" that is Spotify. Are people who listen to bands on Bandcamp more likely to buy anything than people who use Spotify? In my experience I don't actually think that is the case, but more people use Spotify so there would actually need to be some clear stats on use / plays / listeners / purchasers to see what the real picture is.

I could sit here all day and listen to music for free with no restrictions or adverts on Bandcamp or Soundcloud, never pay a penny for music again as long as I have the internet. And these are sites where artists willingly and freely add their music to get it heard. How is this any different to Spotify?

Is the music snobbery of some fans and those in the industry in danger of missing the understanding and benefit of on line streaming services, subscription based or free?

Is Spotify actually the saviour of new music awareness?

For reference I have a free version of Spotify on my laptop here, I can't remember the last time I used it, mainly as I hate listening to music on my computer. Also, I am not digging out any individual or specific stations here, I know almost all of the people involved do it to get new music heard, but as I have tried to briefly explain, just saying Spotify is "bad" is no longer any argument to me - please let me know if and why you think differently.

Bragging Rights?

Lovely few days spent in Devon last week, planned around meeting friends, some work, eating a lot of cheese and seeing Billy Bragg play. 

Having seen Billy far too many times to count over the last 30 odd years I am always a little nervous when walking into a venue, will it be just him and guitar, will it be a full band, will it be a greatest hits sing-a-long or new material. Never really knowing what the night will be like is I guess part of the fun of live music.

The venue at Exeter University was odd to say the least, a very big hall, with a very small bar, and it was a seated gig, which always puts a different spin on what will happen. Some gigs work very well seated, others not so much.

One thing with his latest album, and a point he referred to a couple of times was that he was seen to be "turning country" which is not really true, but he has developed a very odd voice inflection that on many tracks sounds like he is trying to do an impression of an American singer doing a Billy Bragg cover act. And it really doesn't work at all.

He, as often, also changed the speed and rythym of a number of songs, which lead to a very odd experience, the only song he sang in anything like his traditional style was Levi Stubbs Tears, which the opening chords instantly take me back to all those years ago first hearing him on John Peel on the radio.

He played a long set, with a mix of old and new tracks, but what was different this time was he was the most talkative and political than I have seen him for a while. He seemed to have some of the old anger back, mixed with humour and stories as always, and admitting some of what he has done and said may not have always been the best ideas. Like backing the Lib Dems to keep Tories out las time round.

The encore, which sadly wasn't the whole of Life's A Riot With Spy vs Spy was introduced with the news that Nelson Mandela had finally succumbed to his long illness and passed away. It was clear he could have railed against the hypocrisy among many politicians in this country for a very long time on this subject, but brought the evening to a close with Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards. This song has different lyrics every time he plays it, making it topical as possible, but this time he also changed the tempo, so when asking everyone to join in with the chorus, we all wanted to, but didn't know how to!

Overall an odd gig, definitely not one if you like the older material, and I have a feeling that the next album will be a more stripped back affair as the Americana is not an area he looks comfortable in, aside from a very smart "C&W" style shirt!

Ably supported by Australian Kim Churchill I must add, who played a cracking set and was most friendly and chatty after his set, and was his last night after months on tour with Billy, and had a plane to catch to play a gig back in Perth the next day. Well worth looking up some of his music.