Catch that moment... sometimes under exacting circumstances
St Vincent at Birmingham Institute
There's a pic on facebook about how crazy musicians are to put their five grand instruments into a car worth maybe five hundred, and drive a hundred miles for a fifty quid gig. They're not alone - decent cameras don't come cheap, and yet we often see two or three snappers at gigs, all with seriously costly kit, looking to capture something worthwhile - which they might not even get paid for. At least I can bash this stuff out on a three hundred quid laptop, or do my radio stuff on kit which hardly cost me anything. But musos and snappers? Mostly, they fork out a lot. But they clearly love it all, the same way all the people in a local scene do.
The historic Fiddle and Bone and the very new Dark Horse: two ways to do Open Mic. Why not try both?
It's around eight o'clock on a sunny Tuesday evening on Sheepcote Street in Birmingham centre. Things are warming up as Richard Heath sets up the PA for his new Open Mic night at the Fiddle and Bone. This is a Very Good Thing. Music is back at the Fiddle and Bone. The place was set up first and foremost as a music venue. Now it's back after over a decade, hosting live music the way it used to. We've regained a city centre music venue. Its closure followed an unpleasant episode of noise complaints from newly arrived flat-dwellers. Noise complaints still dog local venues; efforts to get the city to grasp this nettle have met with silence and evasion. The Fiddle and Bone's case caused particular rancour, and dark rumours still circulate.But that was then...
If you look at what's playing at radio, you'll mostly find bleakly repetitive fare. Further down this post, I've got an analysis of five stations (three West Midlands analogue, two national digital), with their current most-played artists, taken from the Compare My Radio site. Everyone is playing youth diva Taylor Swift. Four of the five are playing Sam Smith. It's a typical pattern; has been for years. Most commercial stations go for safe, reliable and familiar. It's the McDonalds way: familiarity and repetition. Punters know what to expect; the brand is crystal-clear. But the web came along and overturned the applecart. And now, news that came out last week could have huge implications for the industry.
Two months back, I compiled a local YouTube chart. It's a labour of love, and I can miss things. Happily, I'm usually swiftly corrected. S-Endz duly pointed out that his band, Swami, had scored very decent views for their new video. So I fixed things, bouncing the bottom entry (sorry, lads) to present a revised 50. And started thinking about Swami. There's lots of Asian bands in the West Midlands. But normally they aim squarely at Asian markets; Swami are different. Malkit Singh may sell millions worldwide to Bhangra fans, but Swami aren't cut from that cloth, not remotely. For a start, they're cross-cultural, in the grand Birmingham tradition. The website is slick and impressive. A swift introduction by Sharnita Athwal at Shaanti, and I'm sitting with Simon and Diamond Duggal, joined later by S-Endz. Swami has been Simon and Diamond's project, since 1999.
Goodnight Lenin want feedback on their new songs. See them in the bar afterwards. Oh, and there's three, count 'em, three festivals to talk about. With the Monkees?
The challenge for all performers is to know when it's going well, and why. That's why I so admire people who make great music. It's not just the uncanny talent. It's the pressure to perform, to deliver. Not only that: you have to work out how it's going: you have to manage it all. This blog doesn't just celebrate moments of inspiration and warmth, but also the stagecradt that goes with it. To have the balls to take your visions and dreams out to an audience, to lay it out in public, is one thing. That's where it really starts. That's when the game changes.
Eight years of constant
change, and the band's hungrier than ever.
I'm sitting in the snug
in legendary Moseley music boozer The Prince of Wales, with
Leighton Hargreaves, Max Gittings and Aaron Diaz, three long-term
members of the Destroyers. It's appropriate: if anything is, it's the band's home base. It's where
members come to play at the open sessions; it's where
they put on their legendary Christmas/New Year shows.
Now, after what seems like an uncomfortably long time, there's good news to
report: the band
are issuing an EP, on local label Stoney Lane. There may be more to
follow, possibly building up to an album. And there's a tour planned out.
Horace Panter is great company: courteous and affable. He is hugely knowledgeable about music and musicians, both local and further afield. He plays in three and a bit bands: blues band Blues 2 Go, and straight-up ska outfit Uptown Ska Collective. And he's also working with Champion Doug Veitch, collaborating with Martin Bell, once of The Wonder Stuff. But the big band is, of course, The Specials, who started in 1977, reformed in 2008, and are now bigger than ever.
Nicely connected after a lifetime of rock and roll ups, downs and setbacks, Pete Williams is punching out fabulous songs.
It didn't start with his bass work with Dexy's Midnight Runners in the 80s, or even through the revived Dexy's in the Noughties and again in 2012. But often that's all that you read about him. Pete played in both bands, and people always want to talk about the juicy stuff. There's a lot more. Williams has just come out with his second, very successfully crowd-funded, album, Roughnecks and Roustabouts, and he's doing shows, on the road in his own name. The past may be lurid and colourful, although much of it is not of his own making. But it's what's come out of that past now that matters.
That critical moment when it all starts to work...
Assuming there's merit and talent in a band, and that the band then backs it up with graft and a bit of a marketing push, there's usually a point when word gets out. Suddenly, big numbers show up for gigs. Suddenly, the name gets bandied around. Suddenly, there are faces turning up to check out the new boys on the block. Suddenly, people you tend to listen to are mentioning them. Last week, at Dylan Gibbons' Blues Night at the Spotted Dog, you could see the signs. There were faces aplenty, come to take a look at Rhino and The Ranters. And it was a cracking gig.
It was to send the great Curtis Little on his way, and to celebrate his life. When I landed in Birmingham, two generations ago, I was taken, very early, by Slender Loris, a band that mixed complex intelligent songs with delivery, from Curtis, that was punchy as hell.
As a DJ, I couldn't believe my luck: a voice like that? On my patch? Whip-thin, all sinew and muscle, not a spare ounce on his frame, Curtis was the epitome of a front man. He had a voice to die for, rich, soulful, deep, and he really knew how to use it. Where it came from, God only knows. But he was a joy to watch.