Gig ticker     Electric Swing Circus at Hare & Hounds B'ham August 1st...     Goodnight Lenin at Hare & Hounds B'ham August 6th...     Stone Foundation album launch at Brewdog Bar B'ham August 6th...     Destroyers at Hare & Hounds B'ham August 8th  2015 interview here...     Steve Gibbons Band at Roadhouse B'ham August 28th...     Rich Batsford (only Birmingham gig this year) at Birmingham Buddhist Centre Sep 12th...     A tribute to the late Rich McMahon at The Jamhouse B'ham Sept 22nd...     5th Annual Trevor Burton Charity night, with Steve Gibbons, Ricky Cool and Danny King at Hall Green Banqueting Suite B'ham Sep 24th Trevor Burton interview...     Rhino & The Ranters at Hare & Hounds B'ham Sep 26th  2015 interview here...     

Sunday, 26 July 2015

A Birmingham Broadcast trail


Not quite a trail of tears, but close....

Before even more threats line up for the last remnants of local broadcasting - through a toxic combination of cost-cutting, indifference, incompetence and government hostility - you might like to take this walk. 

You wouldn't think it today, but Birmingham bristles with unlikely old radio and TV studio locations. Some are completely untraceable; some hold strong memories. You can still spot traces of some of them dotted across the city. 

So here's a guide. You really can walk this if you want to, although it's a bit of trek to get out to Edgbaston and back, just to see a building site...

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Pledging My Love with Boat To Row

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A modest crowdfunding appeal to get their album pressed: 88% of target in 16 days. Great going. 

Wayne Fox Photography    
Chatting with Boat To Row is a pleasure. They're great company, and damn fine musicians to boot. The band has quietly built up a very loyal fan base in their six years. Now they're working that fan base to cover production costs for a first album, using that cornerstone of fan-funding, Pledge Music.

We met for coffee in Brum this week: me and three band members. The other two? Tied up with a very new baby and teaching paperwork. But the Colmore district was packed with celebrities: Perry Barr MP Khamid Mahmood was hanging at Yorks, and Julian Lloyd-Webber, the new Principal at the Conservatoire, was in the Wellington. Movers and shakers clearly surround this band.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Rich Bitch garage sale. Rob's slipped out the back...


There must be 50 ways to leave your studio 

Kit, lots of it. No reasonable offer refused
There's been a couple of tear-stained press pieces recently on the death of a local rock institution. Rich Bitch, the oldest rehearsal joint in Brum, is going after 34 years. The Bournbrook home from home for the likes of Sabbath and ELO reduced to rubble. The end of an era. Another slice of rock history obliterated. 

But... it's not quite like that. Owner Rob Bruce is having a clear-out, but he's not quitting the business. And if you move fast, you can pick up some tasty gear for very little money indeed, as ALL the old kit - amps, keyboards, drumkits and lots more - is going, to be sold or donated. I dropped round this week. It's really strange to see the place dissolving before your eyes. 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Women in music; a shifting balance.

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Live? That's one thing. But at Radio, it's already changed. And there's a programming rule for that.

Sometimes it helps to have a dinosaur perspective. I've been looking at music, local and mainstream, over 40 years or more, and I'm seeing changes. I'm only talking about these two areas in this post. But that's already a lot to be going on with. 

       Rebecca Downes     pic Mick Schofield
The week before last, I chased around Birmingham catching bands I hadn't yet seen. I started with Rebecca Downes - a two-person powerhouse blues/jazz set at the Blue Piano. Then headed to the Rainbow's seven-band indie night, to catch Shaake, a new project from Suzi And The Backbeats, and damn good they were too. Then to the Fiddle and Bone for some of Hannah Johnson And The Broken Hearts elegantly spinning tales of country heartache, love and loss. 

I had a great time: on night, three bands, all led by strong women. It's part of a trend. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Auntie, It's Time To Do The Right Thing.

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This time, we didn't say it. Our MPs did.

Lots of discussion, since I last posted on the BBC's continued and very deliberate under-funding of broadcasting in the Midlands; not a lot of action. Well, not if you ignore what Cameron and Milliband both said at election time.

There's few signs that BBC powers that be are thinking of changing. But the issue won't go away. It's another elephant in the BBC room, lurking darkly, ignored in the hope that it might quietly leave. But this week, there's been a major development. MPs have stepped forward. Parliament has debated the issue. 

This was prompted by the Birmingham Post campaign, led by the extraordinary Graeme Brown, who picked up on the work done by the Campaign For Regional Broadcasting.

I went to the debate. It was fascinating.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Mahalia. Four years of development, and she's still only seventeen. Crikey.

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Ridiculously young and talented, with a major label deal... that might suggest you got it made. Great expectations then.

Four years ago, Mahalia played a Tea Room Tent debut slot at Moseley Folk. It was a gentle but excellent start, in front of some major Brum music faces. 

Four weeks ago, Mahalia made her BBC2 Later debut, fronting the irrepressible Rudimental. No build-up: the camera panned directly to her from Joan Armatrading. No pressure, then. To see how it went, scroll down for the video. Mahalia is still only 17. She is being guided by her parents, who were both active in the music business in the 80s, and have the scars to prove it. She already has a deal with a major: Asylum/Atlantic. This is not usually how things get done these days. Not anymore. But then again, Mahalia is unusual.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Today's musicians, a vital part of Birmingham's Music History... and you

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The Highbury Studio pledge campaign. It's different.

If there's one brutal fact to take from musicbiz posts on this blog and elsewhere, it's that the old model is broken. Now? There's no mid-ground, no comfortable living to shoot for, no clear path to take you from promising, brilliant and unknown to big and successful.

This gulf is everywhere. Record companies seek surefire hits and quick returns; careers can go hang. Huge numbers of name acts have been turfed off their rosters. Online? Apple's bombastic launch of their new music service had fine words, but the small print shows they will pay artists nothing for the three months of free trial each subscriber signs up for - this could not be a clearer example of the mighty exploiting the vulnerable.

And that brings me to crowd-sourcing - a natural development for working music businesses and beyond to tap into support, now that the previous providers have lost interest. Now, there's a very inventive campaign, freshly launched, that you really ought to know about. It ticks boxes - a lot of boxes. 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

You think you've got choices? The Musicbiz would rather you didn't


FIFA may be dodgy, but try looking at the hype industry

There's a fantastic, possibly apocryphal, story of how one record company rep made quite sure that only his company's stuff was played at US R'n'B radio in the 50s. This was in the days of 78s. The rep simply, accidentally on purpose, cracked all the other records in the library, leaving them unplayable. Oops, sorry 'bout that. 

The Music business has a long and unsavoury history of dodgy deals. Back in the 30s, song pluggers would pitch songs for their publishing company bosses, first when selling sheet music in music shops, and later pitching material to record companies and band leaders. Even Gerschwin, when he wasn't banging out hits, worked as a song plugger. Such territory is ripe for manipulation. And before radio killed jukeboxes, there was intense competition to place songs on the right machines.    

You may ask what that ancient history have to do either with today's relentlessly, um, transparent music industry, or even music on our patch? Well... quite a lot. 

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Analogue Tales: James Summerfield and Darren Cannan

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Last year, just as summer shaded into autumn, I spoke with James Summerfield, whose latest project is surfacing right now; then it was in the throes of assembly, recording and aligning. Analogue Tales: Sounds From Arden is an extraordinary work, taking the words and ideas of local poet Darren Cannan, and setting it to a lush musical background, supplied by James. It's released on the estimable local label Commercially Inviable. James sings on most of the tracks, but others are voiced by the likes of Paul Murphy, Ranking Roger, Catherine O'Flynn, Mike Gayle, James' nan Marjorie, and myself. 

When you listen to it, the obvious, screaming question is – why don't people do this more often? It's amazing.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

I used to go to Barbarellas


People and bands and music and sticky carpet make places 

I've been working up a few posts for Time Out Brum of late. Some of them are on local music history, including this one on lost venues. It's had a big reaction, and I'm now looking at more stories that have come my way. Thank you! And keep them coming. 

We've lost a lot of venues over the years. It's sad to seem them go, of course; hardest on the people who made a particular place what it was. There was a great book published last year about JBs in Dudley. There's memories aplenty scattered around on websites. But there really isn't enough about one place I spent lots of time either DJing or sticking to the carpet: the primo 70s and 80s Rock venue in Birmingham... Barbarellas.