1,2,3,4

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

10 Years On

It was ten years ago today, 12th September, that Johnny Cash died.

Anyone who has got to know me in the last few years would have thought this must have been one of the worst days ever for me, but it wasn't. Weirdly it was news that made me wonder why there was so much fuss being made over a musician that I assumed had not recorded anything for years, and was of all things something to do with Country and Western. Like Neil Young who I wrote about last month, not at all sure why or how I decided to just not pay any attention to Johnny Cash, but there was one thing that changed my mind, and pretty much also my musical life.

This.

One of the most powerful videos and songs I think I have ever seen, and often winning Best Ever awards still. 

I can remember sitting in my lounge when I saw this on the TV, I had heard it on the radio, but it just seemed not to hit me. Seeing a very old man playing a piano, and the images of him as a younger man, suddenly my brain was pulling information from the depths of memory. The Man In Black, played gigs in prisons, Ring of Fire, drug addiction, all sorts of half remembered articles flooding back.

So I bought American IV, the "new" album including this track, and put it in the car at the start of a drive to Devon with the long suffering wife. As my collection started to grow one album at a time she referred to them as "the dead cowboy songs" and I think was assuming this was one of my passing fads.

The collection grew and grew. For a single artist I think he crossed into the person I had more music by than anyone else came last year, and is now well and truly the case as I have recently bought a box set of 63 albums!

The very odd thing is that I still don't get or enjoy a lot of other C&W music, and the other strange part is he is not actually a Country singer - he is a Gospel singer. The vast majority of his music and lyrics are hymns, gospel and prayers. The more I read about him, the constant seems to be his faith. All the bad and usually self inflicted issues in his life he always seemed to be completely at peace with regardless of when the interview was, 'Gods Will' a constant theme.

As I type this I am listening to an album called The Holy Land - Johnny and June in Israel, talking about where they are visiting in key moments of the gospels and songs linked to it. Had anyone told me 20 years ago I would be singing along to a song about Moses climbing a mountain I would have laughed for weeks I think.

There is nothing in anything he sings that makes me believe in any god, but there is something completely addictive about him, his voice, his story, his songs. I find it hard to explain to people how I can sit at home and listen to ten albums back to back and actually still want to listen to more - much as I guess anyone would have struggled with explaining that to me for most of my life.

Back to the Hurt video, his wife died after making it, he carried on recording for a short time and then joined her in death, and to close off their house where it was filmed burned down some years after. Something about that makes me smile for reasons I don't understand.

If you think Country and Gospel music is dull, get some Johnny Cash in your life, and tell me he wasn't the first punk underneath it all.

Brave New World

Every now and then a track just makes you stop and listen, and then listen again, and then try and find out some more about it, and the artist and any other material they may have.

It was on one of Tom Robinsons weekly listening posts that I first heard Randolph Swain, now I am not 100% sure which track it was, but it was enough for me to start looking more. What I found transported me from the mundane afternoon I was having to an exploration of space and a trip to a new planet Eris with an amazing soundtrack. This may already be putting you off in some kind of concept album fear factor, but please don't let that be the case. 

The music on here is stand out excellent, for all those people saying that there is nothing new in music and nobody doing anything different, widen your listening just a bit because there is a load out there. This is also DIY music in its purest form. Not in a bad way at all, but the production of this, the album came in a hand stamped metal tin, is just an extension of someone who knows how to do things properly, that you would never be able to do if you stopped and thought about it.

Mine, as you can see is number 10 :-)

Experimental, folk, electronica, rock, prog, I find it hard to put the album into a genre which is always a positive as it means that there is no formula being followed, this is a journey, not just to the New Planet but through music as well.

Opening with In Our Dreams with an almost operatic start, the album moves along in the way Frank Zappa would be happy with, and the space exploration begins. The soulful and sad This Old World describes a break up of relationship and a few tracks later the more up tempo We Just Fell In Love is almost reminiscent of Nick Cave, almost a threatening love song.

Many of the tracks have an element of spoken word in there as well, this is not background music, you really do need to put this on and sit back with a beer. After half way is the masterful Little House, and the video for that, shot very early in the morning in Manchester centre is here.

All the music can be found on his web site, and streamed etc, but for a fiver (including postage) this will be one of the best albums you buy this year, I have been playing this for a week, and am still finding new bits in there. This is great music, and deserves to be heard.

Follow him on twitter here.

Find out more and buy the album here.

WOMAD 2013 - Charlton Park

The quote of the weekend came from an early morning cooking demonstration at the Taste The World stage when the chef added turmeric to potatoes and the lady behind me said to her husband "See, now it looks like foreign food". Thankfully that was not the tone of the rest of the weekend, although what she thought of all the foreign music over the weekend will never be known.

Prediction of heat, sun, showers and fun is standard for any festival, so we arrived with more packing for 3 days than we had taken on holiday for 3 weeks - just because there is a big boot on the car it doesn't need to be filled! 

Straight to the bar for a cider, and a look at the programme, as despite the full listing being available for weeks there is nothing like having no idea what we were going to see. Lee 'Scratch' Perry on the main stage mid evening was the banker, so before and after was the need. Opening with some rapping from Africa was Spoek (Free mixtape here) which got the energy levels up and clearly the best thing after that is to sit down and watch some sitar playing as the sun sets, so Debapriya & Samanwaya fitted the bill perfectly. Lee 'Scratch' Perry was on form, condemning almost everyone to hell and cursing the rest over some excellent music, as he finished a short walk to the Siam Tent and one of the best bands of the weekend Parov Stelar Band, one of the highlights for many people, swing mixed with beats, brass mixed with energy. The footage here from another festival gives a tiny idea of what it was like.

A quick visit to see Craig Charles doing a DJ set in a rammed tent and off to see Zykopops, that traditional blend of Croatian and Scottish musicians and folk / punk music, going out live on Radio 3. More energy and dancing, and laughs to close the day out.

Waking early in the tent and making endless coffees for the four of us in the tent started the day, along with a buzz about the Malawi Mouse Boys who had closed the night on one of the other stages, and were opening on an outdoor stage today. The crowd there by the time I arrived showed the internet was right, and the fact that a few bands do play multiple sets is great if you miss a set and have a second chance. I then went to see possibly my favourite of the weekend, the Scandinavians Adjagas. I had never heard of them, but the size of the crowd there showed many had, and if you like haunting melodies and songs that almost have no beginning and end you will love these. No recent releases, and they sold out of all the CDs that they had brought with them by the time I got anywhere near the front of the queue.

Many more fine performances as the day went on, a special mention must go to Nano Stern from Chile (also on his second set of the weekend, who was such a great performer. Throwing his CDs and even his hat into the crowd, and appearing to accept a marriage proposal while playing songs of love and politics, in such an emotional way, that even not understanding the language the messages were clear.

Rain was predicted and arrived, so much of the evening was damp, but the spirits were up. Excellent US Blues Riot from Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, some steel drums along the way, a bit of French Ska and seeing Arrested Development play Tennessee (yes, they are probably worth a lot more than that, but there was more to discover), some appalling German Techno that made no sense to me at all apart from the brothers asking if "everyone was ready" every 30 seconds and that seemed about it.

Back to the Radio 3 stage towards the end of the night, and a band from Barcelona called La Pegatina was the aim, and we were so glad to have made it. All of the umbrellas quickly went down as the band started to choreograph the dancing and singing along. No idea what hardly any of it meant, but every single person there was dancing, clapping, singing along and smiling, despite the torrential rain. Maybe the quick service in the Radio 3 bar helped with some warming brandy?

The write up in the programme was that they left all their audiences in a big sweaty heap, I can confirm that this was the case, and they were all in the crowd chatting and dancing long after their set had ended.

Sunday is always a funny old day at WOMAD, as the volume of day tickets suddenly doubles the size of the crowd, and suddenly even getting into some of the tents where the smaller artists are becomes a mission. The openers for me, after the Indian cookery demonstration, was some French reggae from Dub Inc was a great start to the day in the sun, with the crowd spilling out of the tent already.

The day carried on much as the last couple, sun shining, checking the wind direction for the inevitable arrival of the rain again, but sitting in the sun with a cider and food from the Madras Cafe is no bad way to spend a few hours. The music and dancing in the early afternoon provided by The Bombay Royale from Australia, but via Bollywood and some funky dress shops. This video from Glastonbury, there were a lot more people dancing at WOMAD!

Japanese drummers and didgeridoo playing mixed with some brass bands and a sprinkling of blues completed our time this year, and as always it was sad to leave. Discovering new bands and even musical styles and meeting friends old and new is always an excellent experience at WOMAD, usually made better by not seeing bands you have seen before. 

Soaked, sunburnt, tired and full of food and a list of albums to buy. Weekend completed.

Young Man

It was a couple of years ago that I found myself watching a Neil Young concert on some late night TV and was surprised at how much I was enjoying it. Surprised being an odd word, but he was one of those artists that had just passed me by over the years. I guess the "hippy" and "long songs" images and ideas I had formed as a much younger man had just stuck, and while I am not conscious of ever actually avoiding listening to him, it was clear I has nothing at all by him in my music.

Asking around friends and on line, the same few albums were mentioned by many as a starting point, so I started to pick a few up from ebay at a couple of quid each, and very quickly found myself searching for more. As my last "old school" discovery was Johnny Cash and I am currently trying to justify buying a 63 CD set of his, it became clear that Neil Young (and Crazy Horse) were almost as prolific, and infact even trying to get a definitive discography was a challenge.

As time went on I continued to get an album here and there, and then saw the announcement that he was going to tour in the UK, so despite all my hatred of such things I bought tickets via ticketmaster after the usual queue and chaos on a Friday morning to see him in London in June.

That was Monday, and the wife and I set off, not really knowing what to expect as there had been mixed reviews of the earlier dates, but people whose musical judgement I trust were impressed and pleased, so I was in high hopes of a good gig.

The arena filled up, I think we were in the minority of people who had never seen him before, and certainly more than a few people appeared to have spent the last 30 or 40 years following around the world. 

The stage set up being completed to the sounds of A Day In The Life, and then the National Anthem in front of a giant Union Flag, everyone in white except Neil who was in black.

I was initially worried at how much of the set I would know, as two and half hours if you don't know the music can be tough, but I was instantly pleased that the first few I knew, and also instantly saw why this was such an event for so many. Without a song by song setlist (you can see that here) the time seemed to fly by. The length of some of the tracks didn't seem to be an issue, and a man who has been gigging for 8 years longer than I have been alive showed no signs at all of slowing down.

Bands and artists who enjoy themselves on stage are always the best, and that was the case here. The music went seamlessly from rock, to industrial levels of noise and feedback, to one man at a piano playing and singing a simply beautiful song. The sound was far better than I expected at the O2, and the simple bur effective lights and effects made for a wonderful night.

To be honest, I think the ideal way to see this would be outside on a perfectly still and calm evening, with the sound cranked up and a few bottles of wine with friends, but as that is just not possible to guarantee here, this was about as good as it could get to see them play.

------------------------------------------

I will give special mention to the other side of this gig, which was on a Monday at the O2 in London. We had to drive as Chiltern Rail who run the line back to Aylesbury are incapable of running a service at times that people need, ie after midnight. They did during the Olympics and the trains were packed because there is a desire for them... Car parking at the O2 - £21 if you book in advance, £28 if you just turn up, at least we saved the £7 by checking in advance. 

The O2 itself is not for me, standing near the front was good, but looking around at the people sat along the edges, the atmosphere is just not as good, and over zealous stewards "keep inside the white lines" is annoying when constantly hearing it before the start! £5 a pint, same as almost everywhere these days sadly, but at least driving meant I didn't spend a fortune. Although as usual a special mention for our friends the ticket agencies, £55 a ticket, £7.35 booking fee and a postage charge as well. The cost almost as much as a festival ticket!

Overall though, very glad I went, this doesn't do full justice to the gig but is one of the better videos.

Can't even give music away

I have always preferred to have physical copies of my music, the thought of losing an iPod or a couple of computer fails and having no music left scares me more than North Korea. I am also not a big truster of "the cloud" as a place to keep everything, who really knows how that will all be working in ten or twenty years?

However, more for reasons of space and clutter, I found myself trying to rationalise at least some of my CDs, not the vinyl, that isn't going anywhere until I am not making the decision. One area that jumped out at me was the free compilations and some paid for ones, no actual attachment to the physical disc, and as a compilation they are all on the PC and back up, and there is little there that is not duplicated in all honesty, so I thought I could make some space and also help someone else out.

There is a lot of carpet in this picture for some reason..Over 150 CDs, covering everything from classical and opera to indie and jazz, reggae and house music all in a box, freeing up some shelf space for me and also a pretty damn good music collection, or so I thought. I also included a lot of the Greatest Hits collections that you can pick up for a couple of quid, so there was a lot there.

Offering them for free on twitter met with blank responses, the only answers were either Music Magpie, where the entire box would be lucky to raise a pound, or just to give to a charity shop. No one wanted a music collection numbering tracks in the thousands it seemed.

Was it because people already have all of it, well, without knowing what was in the box who could know? It seemed far more to be that no one wanted 150 odd CDs as it would mean that they then had to do something with them once they were loaded on iTunes... I went to a charity shop to drop off a load of books yesterday (yes, I am a hoarder with a tendency to blitz clean!) and asked if they wanted CDs. The look on the ladies face said it all, it almost seemed too much hassle to take them, as clearly people won't even pay a few pennies for them now.

Compared to the new growth in vinyl sales that shows people do want to have and own something specific with a memory or meaning attached to it, and the other extreme of pure download or on line streaming only without ever owning anything, CDs seem to sit in the middle. A medium that no one ever really wanted, and that seems to be dying out far quicker than it arrived. Like mini-discs will anyone actually still have a CD player in 10 years time?

Anyway, I did find another charity shop that were very pleased to take them off my hands, so hopefully someone will take some pleasure in finding something new in their browsing over the next few weeks. As for the rest of my CDs, for most of them it is unlikely I will ever take them from their cover and play them again, but the thought of not having them means it is unlikely they will go anywhere. Also, waiting for the postman to arrive and deliver a new album, even if it is on CD, is far more exciting than just clicking on "download now".

Now for something completely different

From the previous post I needed an instant turnaround in gig enjoyment, and as we already had tickets to see NeonNeon on Saturday I knew it was going to be instant. The only downside was a drive to Cardiff for the night, but as we have seen Gruff in many performances there was no doubt it would be a great night. The tickets did not have the venue listed, but the instructions and location were sent on by email as details about the event started to appear in the media.

The first album from this collaboration was about John DeLorean, and this new album is about Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli which may not sound like a concept album and show that grabs the attention of your average music fan. Which is a good thing as it means the audience is made up of people who are prepared to buy tickets for an event with no venue and to follow instructions to wear red, bring cash and to bring along your favourite book to give away.

Musically alone the description of the evening is tricky. Electronic beats, but mixed with some of the rockier side of Super Furry Animals music with a band, and as usual a megaphone, and also an Anglepoise Lamp being used. The fact that 2 pages of the programme are about Anglepoise Lamps should come as no surprise...

So, how to describe the evening in simple terms that will make you want to go?

Meeting in a carpark, voting on the Monarchy, making paper airplanes, naked body painting, Castro playing basketball, Guevara, people climbing out of filing cabinets, a play, a gig, book swapping, creativity beyond all thought, leopard masks, humour, shopping, horror, politics, music, money being flung around, Red Stripe and most of all the look of sheer enjoyment and bewilderment on the faces of the audience. Moving stages, actors in the audience, the audience being involved - I have decided it is impossible to describe. Based around the publication of Doctor Zhivago, smuggling manuscripts and the CIA, this is learning and fun, and music. Looking at other reviews and tweets etc about the night, I was not alone in thinking this was one of the best nights out possible.

In a warehouse in the backstreets of Cardiff, slogans and news events and plot lines appearing on the shutters, pictures and images from all directions along with piles of books, everything I write seems so odd as a concept.

Here are some photos of the event, which is possibly the best gig I have ever been to. But it isn't a gig. Go along with an open mind, wear red and take a book. You will be glad you did. Being given a book to read with a message written in it by a total stranger is an oddly emotional event. I won't tell you what book I took or received, but I was very pleased with both.

When the show ended, no one left for ages, not expecting more as there is no encore to a play, but just not sure what to do after the experience. There are very few dates for this show - if you can go, you should.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not such a Special night

Regular viewers will recall how a few months ago me and many others were up long before dawn cracked to queue up at the new theatre in Aylesbury in order to secure tickets for The Specials, opening date of their latest UK tour and part of the revival of Friars in the town.

The night arrived, and like many it started in a pub meeting friends, and bumping into many old faces not seen for years. As there was no support band, most headed to the venue at about 8.30 for the start time of 8.45 that had been published, and the queue to get in almost matched the queue on the day the tickets went on sale. Considering everyone had a ticket, to check and admit people should not have been an overly complex task, but it seemed to be made so.

No one asked for or saw my, or any of the people I was with, ticket or membership card. Just a lady giving out wrist-bands for either the downstairs standing or upstairs seating, but as no one was checking everyone was just taking the downstairs one, making it very busy indeed. Not really an issue, and unlike the previous music venue in Aylesbury at least it was possible to get a drink in the new theatre.

The band came on, and despite me saying I was not going up the front, my enjoyment got the better of me and I was soon in the mosh pit up the front seeing the band again in all their glory. The sound and lighting could have been better, but the band were on top form as usual. It was only after a couple of songs that the first people could be seen looking on the floor for a phone or a wallet, and I realised that there was a hand in my pocket - the modern curse of organised pick pockets at big gigs had come to Aylesbury. I grabbed the hand, and made it very clear to the guy that it better not happen again, but within a minute I felt a hand again trying to take my phone.

Acting on adrenaline and lager I punched the bloke, the same one I had caught before, and he didn't seem to care at all, clearly part of the job. I went and gave the wife my phone and wallet and went back to the front, after telling the staff and security what was happening and where, they seemed totally disinterested. Another hour or so of seeing wallets and phones going missing everywhere, I would guess the haul was in the hundreds of items in total.

From a business perspective, as that is how they would see it, to target a concert where many will be rammed in and dancing, and fairly full of beer, would be easy pickings, and collecting a few punches along the way didn't seem to deter them. At one stage I caught the same guy again with a phone out of someones pocket, but as I grabbed him I was muscled out of the way by his accomplices, and decided that the risk for me wasn't worth it. 

The mobile phone shops and insurance claims would have been busy up town this morning I am sure. While in no way the fault of the band or the venue, there was clearly no desire to try and stop it from any of the staff or security there - it was the worst and most blatant evening of theft I have seen in 30 years of going to gigs. Sad but true, leave your smart phone at home and keep your cash safe at gigs nowadays.

The band were great though, a long version of Maggies Farm at the end, and my funniest moment of the evening was the local "leader" of the EDL singing along to It Doesn't Make It Alright, nearly 35 years on and people still don't actually get it at all.