Sunday, 18 March 2018

Paul Murphy with Ragman Jones - a last recording

It's been two years now, two years and some weeks,  since we lost Paul Murphy. 

Nick James - you may know him as Ragman Jones - has been putting out songs since I don't know when; I've been listening for maybe ten years. Just recently, he did something very special, putting up a MixCloud file of a session recorded with Paul Murphy, shortly before he died. These songs - and the chat, never forget the Murphy chat - must be one of the last things Paul committed to tape: rare, and very precious. 

The songs are typical Murphy: clear, direct melodies to carry complex subject matter, with beautiful lyrical invention. Just Paul's voice, his guitar and some judicious augmentation with banjo and xylophone. Then there's the stories and chit chat to enrich the experience. It sounds like it was done in Paul's kitchen, with a bit of reverb off the flagstones, and the hiss of the kettle. 

I got that prickle in my eyes...

All credit to Nick: it's magnificent listening. Sure and the levels from song to chat are a bit uneven, but it captures Paul in a way that I tried many a time to do, and never quite succeeded. Nick caught the stories on his phone:
"My involvement was firstly being around and allowing Paul to feel comfortable. I did take a lot of time thinking about how to turn the recordings into something that began to capture the essence of Paul's intent. And the stories - well, for that, I left my phone recording. We were recording conventionally anyway. The phone remained in record mode for almost the whole time. It was initially to create a reverb/echo room mic sound, but when I realised it had been on while we were chatting between songs, I left it running. I thought it would be good to capture 'story telling Paul' and it worked well because he didn't know... So that was part luck and part knowing it would be forgotten about."
Well, what a great thing to do. It also eclipses my botched attempts to do the same sort of thing. Paul and I spent hours and hours plotting and exploring, sometimes with the recorders running, more often not. But I never got anything like Nick's recording. I am so impressed, and so pleased that it's seen the light of day.

Paul Murphy's magic was his positivity and endless enthusiasm, and that combination of evocative songs and fountains of fantastical story-telling. This is how he worked best: relaxed, happy, expansive and hugely, poetically, articulate. He always had the ability to expand and improvise, to work the most unlikely material into something special. That, too, was what made his Songwriters Cafe sessions of a warm summer's evening so magical. Almost up to his death he was exploring, questing, encouraging, writing and planning.

There was always so much to talk about. Paul and I asked 'what if...?', over and over again, across a vast range of possibilities. Possibilities is the key word here. Nothing was impossible round Paul.

Thank you, Nick! The plan is to get this material out as widely as possible, to those who would appreciate listening to Paul one more time. I'm pleased and honoured to lend a hand. So check these links...

Links and Credits

Listen in full to Ragman Jones' recording

There's lots more Ragman Jones on his website, including a download of the above.
In 2016, I did a Paul Murphy audio tribute when I heard the news. It's Brum Radio's most-listened to item.

Photos: Richard Shakespeare (top, bottom); Ragman Jones (middle).
And check out this Songwriters Cafe blog post from 2012. Behind the scenes with Paul and the Aubergines....


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Sunday, 4 February 2018

Dempsey / Broughton

Two generations of UK Folk. Oh, the stories...

Joe Broughton
likes to play varied crowds. Here's a clip of his Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, shot on Monday 25th. Joe took his 68-strong troupe to blast bleary-eyed morning and evening commuters at New Street station; it was part of Birmingham City University's open day. 


Audience numbers? Who knows, but maybe ten thousand people passing through the station caught the blast.

Dig around on YouTube and the like. You'll see Joe with his Urban Folk Quartet,
one of the finest Folk outfits the UK has right now. There are festival gigs filmed in Europe in front of audiences in their thousands. That's before you pick up on the specialist fiddle masterclasses, or his own one-day festival, Power Folk, at The Spotted Dog in Digbeth.

And in a couple of weeks he's playing the 60-seater Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath with long time friend and collaborator Kevin Dempsey. So is the Dempsey / Broughton gig likely to sell out? I would expect so.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Chris Bowden: The story of the story

A casual conversation; an unexpected connection. Treasure trove.

Chris at 'A Jazz Thing' at the Cuban Embassy, 2017      
Photo by Elliott Taylor       
I've been a DJ and Music Radio man for ages. Now it's documentaries - a stretch, but worth it when there are stories to tell. I've just wrapped up a demanding and lengthy project. I hope it makes compelling listening. 

Lengthy? Yes: there's a full concert (of charm and substance), key to the whole story, in this documentary. The gig has legendary status among a select circle of music fans. But it has lain unheard for years. Now, it gets a chance of a wider hearing.   

'Chris Bowden - The Lost Concert' got its first play at the end of January on Brum Radio. I've put the show up, both as a downloadable podcast, and on Mixcloud so it can be listened to at leisure - scroll down to the bottom of this post for the links.  

The programme is also available to stations in the UK and Europe - just ask; it is up on programme sharing networks. The goal is to get the word out. It's a bloody great story about a huge talent with stupendous music skills, who deserves a wider audience. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Ed Doolan - an appreciation

Thoughts on the passing of an old colleague 

News broke on Tuesday that Ed Doolan had passed away. Immediately, the web bristled with stories. BBC WM devoted, rightly, their afternoon schedule to his work. Ed's passing made PM on Radio 4 with the great Eddie Mair - there is no higher broadcast accolade in my view - and the evening news on BBC1.

Ed started to develop the style that worked so brilliantly for him at BBC WM while still at BRMB. He had a clear idea of what to do, but he had to do it without any staff or support system at BRMB. If I remember rightly, his major tool was a Psion - remember those? - stocked with numbers of Councillors, MPs, traders and influencers. That, and his wits.

Ed used his airtime brilliantly. Time, space and presence were part of his armoury. That approach doesn't always sit well in commercial radio, where we were told to keep it moving, moving, moving, avoid dead air at all costs. But traditional 'speech' radio and tv greats - Cooke, Mair, Garrison Keillor, Martha Kearney, Kuenssberg, James O'Brien, Victoria Derbyshire and dozens of others - know to take time to let ideas sink in, to let the audience breathe after something intense, to regroup, to shift gears.

So Ed's decision to jump ship to WM was logical. His move propelled that station back up in the local ratings war, and WM's then news-oriented agenda sat well with Ed's style.  

Ed was a colleague way back in the day, joining me and a handful of other recruits at BRMB in late 1973, before the station launched in 1974. He'd made a risky career jump, joining from Deutsche Welle, and settled into mid-mornings while I held down the mid-evening rock shift. We all keep in touch, the early BRMB crew. Sadly, our numbers are slightly fewer these days. We knew Ed was unwell. And at a reunion prompted by a return visit to the UK of colleague Terry Griffiths, Ed shared his condition with all of us. It was courageous and honest. 

I last worked with Ed quite recently, when he still hosted his live Sunday show. He would have me come in once a month to do the newspapers slot. Now, I tend to the left, and I suspected that Ed held rather more conservative political views than mine. I didn't really know, of course, and I never will now. So I would occasionally adopt a peppery leftist position on air. Ed responded gleefully, sparking into action with an equally peppery but contrary view, and we would have at it, live.

The particular discussion over, Ed went to music, took his cans off, looked over and grinned. 'That was good, wasn't it?' There's nothing like a bit of on-air jousting on a Sunday morning; Ed was a past master at that sort of thing. Good times.

Thanks, Ed for amply demonstrating, once again, that all you really need for compelling radio, no matter what the format, is clear thinking, good ideas, an awareness of your audience... and a sense of time and space. 


Old BRMB hands might also like to see these thoughts on launch PD John Russell.



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Sunday, 31 December 2017

Shame and scandal - a game of reputations

2017: the year of risk-averse defenestration

A while back, I was at a local station, in the meeting room. There were Gold and Silver discs, snaps of celebs with DJs, major station events, directors
           Who, me? I deny everything
and dignitaries; the usual. And 
a large framed photo of Rolf Harris, with local schoolkids and a couple of jocks, all grinning for the camera, behind a panel with the station logo. This was well after Harris' public fall from grace: awkward. I gently pointed this out; they didn't thank me.

This year, mainstream media have been lightning-fast in dropping disgraced notables with less than perfect personal lives. Radio has long had a ripe history of bad behaviour and downright nasty control freakery. There's a well-established routine to make it all go away: 

1: Drop the accused, instantly.
2: Never mention him (it's always a him) again; he never existed.
3: Watch the waters close over his head. 
And breathe.

It's not just radio, of course. 

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Royalties! What's mine is mine, what's yours is yours - most of the time

The joys of music publishing

                                  Pennies and pounds?
If you can, and you're West Midlands based, catch a John Mostyn music biz session. Last week's, in south Brum, was a belter. There's another in January, this time in north(ish) Birmingham; details are below. John told amazing music publishing tales. Some were jaw-dropping; some hilarious. And some were very sad.

I'm not retelling the stories. If you want to hear them, go to the next session; check his Facebook page. I'll be there for more info, anecdotes, and tales of scurrilousness and nobility.

I left thinking about one little corner of the royalty distribution world: how local musos can get local airplay, but miss out on payments. It's absolutely not right. But no matter how fair distributors PRS (the Performing Rights Society) sets out to be, the system fails these musicians. It's not perfect, not by a long chalk. 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

It's only taken me 50 years to work this one out

Onstage chemistry. Powerful stuff.

This time last week, I made very heavy weather of the day. Physically, I was completely shattered; my head, on the other hand, was spinning furiously. I really wasn't up to much.

And what was this about? Simple. I'd sung in a bloody brilliant choral concert at Birmingham Town Hall, the previous day. Now, singing in a choir is really no big deal; people do this all the time. I've been singing for maybe five years with the same group of very nice people; it's thoroughly enjoyable. 

But because I participated in last week's shindig – a proper, pomp and circumstance, full-on, full scale Classical affair, with loads of voices and an orchestra - I now have a much better idea of the things that make live musicians, or for that matter any live performer, tick. It's taken me this long to work it out; odd, considering I've been going to gigs for over fifty years.  

Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Fairport alumnus in trouble; time to rally round...

A life of great guitar: Jerry Donahue

The peerless Tony Kelsey messaged me the other day. Tony's been in more bands that you can shake a stick at in his forty or so years on stage. He messaged to tell me of a sweet local initiative to benefit fellow guitar player Jerry Donahue

You may know the story; you may not. The bad news came in 2016. Jerry suffered a catastrophic stroke. He will almost certainly never play again. Strokes can do that: bang! and there's a whole new and horrible raw deal.

Jerry is from the States, based on the West Coast. He worked over here with great distinction in the 80s and 90s. He hasn't had much of a UK profile for, ooh, maybe twenty years. So, unsurprisingly and sadly, his news didn't make too much of a ripple: I missed it last year. And I was thunder struck when Tony got in touch with the news. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

BBC DG Tony Hall detonates a small but positive earthquake at Local Radio. Good man!

At last, a solid and sensible move at Local Radio level!

                         Are the clouds about to lift? Very possibly...                Photo Ariane Hackbert

Last Wednesday, I was with some terrifyingly excellent Institute of Professional Sound peeps. They handle all forms of audio: film, TV, recording, live, and radio. A pet peeve was sloppy audio standards at TV (David Attenborough's Blue Planet 2 voice track got a mention...). 

Falling standards was a big topic. The web came in for a pasting. Realistically, clickbait-driven web practice is bad news for old-school craft skills, in radio as elsewhere. Ten years of web audio shout-outs have drowned out a century of good practice, and twenty years of broadcast networking has shrunk learning opportunities.

So it was an absolute joy to learn, that same night, that the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, has announced he is putting a stop to the ghastly decades-long policy of cuts at BBC Local RadioIt is hugely promising on many levels. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

It was twenty years ago today; Notorious are coming out to play

Hooked on Classics, look what you started... 

Eh? What? Read on...
I don't write an awful lot about Classical music here. Recently, I haven't written an awful lot at all; that's about to change.

I've just finished up a show for Brum Radio, one of those shows where we talk and my guest picks the music. This time, I sneaked a few other clips in; couldn't resist it. I've posted a link at the bottom of this post. Do listen: I'm proud of this one, noisy though it is at times - we recorded in my car.

There's a solid but unexpected Birmingham connection. Who would have thought that Brummie Louis Clark, who handled most of the early arrangements for the Electric Light Orchestra, would have inadvertently inspired a girl who went on to be one of the most influential women in Birmingham music? This happened though his successful (but excruciating) Hooked On Classics series. Go figure.