Gig ticker     Reggae City 2015 at Alfie Bird's & the Oobleck, in the Custard Factory B'ham Oct 10th...     Ham Jah Mondays re-launch at Dark Horse B'ham Oct 12th...     All Years Leaving festival at Hare & Hounds B'ham Oct 23-25th...     Big Wolf Band at Roadhouse B'ham Oct 27th...     Chris Cleverley album launch at Ort Cafe B'ham Nov 7th...     Boat To Row album launch at Hare and Hounds B'ham Nov 20th...     

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Jam Jah Mondays – they're baaaaack!

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They thought it was all over. It isn't, now. A Birmingham Reggae institution steps it up

Robin Giorno is persistent. He's been cooking up reggae grooves in Brum for nearly twenty years, with his studio and the Friendly Fire collective. For well over a decade, Monday nights have played host to a freebie event mostly at the Bull's Head in Moseley, Birmingham: Jam Jah Mondays.

The Bulls Head has new owners now. Its days of frenzied music craziness are over. The place has great history – Sam Redmore and the Leftfoot crew ran nights there; Ben Calvert's Bohemian Jukebox, Brum Notes' live nights and many more have all left their mark. It was a small room, with iffy sightlines but great breakout areas.

So where have they all gone? Well, Sam's breaking through nationally, and not before time. And Ben's taken his Jukebox to the Hare and Hounds every other month. Now, JamJah Sound, after a short but worrying pause, are stepping it up fifty yards down the road, with a different landlord – now it's Keith, at the Dark Horse.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Kris's magic Mimu gloves part 2 – In the Studio

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It's been seven months since Kris Halpin and I had a chat about his gloves. Boy, have things ever moved on.

There's been a quite a burst of publicity lately about Mimu gloves. They're one of Imogen Heap's latest projects: hugely dramatic sci-fi things. Wave your hand - cymbals crash! Point - a horn section blasts out. Waggle your wrist - strings and keyboards obey, playing the melody you map out live... by waggling your fingers. It's thrilling. 

Heap is front and central in a range of tech-creative initiatives: you can catch videos of her gloved up to the max. She's very open source, collaborating globally. 

In Tamworth, musician and songwriter Kris Halpin is pushing glove tech to new heights, writing new software when needed, forging new configurations. It's quite something for Kris to be one of the first 15 selected to test the gloves, a serious feather in his cap. But the MiMu folk weren't quite expecting that with Kris. He got the gloves for a very specific reason.  

So it's time to see what's what Kris has been up to. This time, I'm recording.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Dub Qalandar - put this in your diary

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Two cultures from ten thousand miles apart meet up in Birmingham, which just happens to be EXACTLY midway between. That's grounds for celebration.

Birmingham sits halfway between the centres of two of its most compelling and now deeply engrained cultures. Go five thousand miles one way, and you fetch up in the Caribbean. Go the same distance the other way? You're in Pakistan. 

Since the Second World War, cultures from both regions and elsewhere have been bumping up against each other, in inner city Birmingham suburbs... for seventy years. And now, beats and grooves are coming together, in a very deliberate, conscious way. 

This weekend Birmingham sees a Rugby World Cup games, thousands exploring a revamped New Street station and its shopping mall, and Birmingham Weekender, this year's Artsfest replacement. Add in relentless roadworks, and the city will be... challenging. But find your way to Symphony Hall on Sunday 27th, and you're in for a free but very valuable treat: Dub Qalandar. It's the headline show for all of the weekend. Conscious Dub grooves, and sacred Sufi songs coming together in Birmingham. Well, it's what we do.

Or, rather, it's what Mukhtar Dar and Simon Duggal do.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Sunday, 6 September 2015

In The Studio: Catherine Howe and Vo Fletcher

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Music and conversation in the shadow of the Malvern Hills – a taste of a forthcoming audio project

Last week, on a bright late summer morning, the Malvern Hills shone invitingly in the sun. I'd headed out to meet up and record with Catherine Howe and Vo Fletcher

Vo is a stupendously fabulous guitarist; I've known him for at least forty years. Catherine Howe is someone I've known of for the same period of time, but we'd never met until now. Older hands may remember Catherine for a one-off hit in the 70s, 'Harry'. The two are now a performing duo, and have been for some ten years or so. Occasionally they are joined by Fairport stalwart Rick Sanders on fiddle, and Michael Gregory on drums. Sometimes Vo heads out with just Rick and Greg; it's that sort of flexible thing.

The plan was to do some recording: live, straight to stereo. With that we had a conversation for the blog. In due course, a lot more more material will emerge as a full-on radio show, part of a new series I'm working on. But readers of this blog are getting an early taste. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Draw it, print it, put it up... See it get nicked. Lewes Herriot and the art of poster design

Depraved 19th century libertines, poster design, music promotion and Johnny Foreigner - the world of Lewes Herriot 

If you have muso facebook friends and you live in Brum, you've probably seen Lewes Herriot's work. Lewes is a man of multiple talents, which he cheerfully and resolutely refuses to shout about. As well as playing in a pretty damn successful band and having an exhibition throughout August at Birmingham's Digbeth Warehouse Cafe, Lewes has been delivering catchy and stylish posters for Brum promoters This Is TMRW for some time now. 

They're lovely. They get nicked. That's the trouble with great poster designs. 

It's always happened. I noticed this at first hand when I asked the amazing Hunt Emerson to do a brilliant, gently mocking design for Project X Presents. Hunt's poster placed West Midlands hipster heartland Moseley at the centre of the world, riffing on the classic Saul Steinberg New Yorker magazine cover. Instead of the Big Apple, Moseley was at the core of things; even King's Heath barely got a mention. It was fantastic. Hunt did us proud. 

And all the posters were stolen within days.  

The same has been happening with Lewes' work. It's led to some interesting discussions about creativity and context.  

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

We've still got that Fuzzbox somewhere...


Back in the day, big hair and big fun. Fuzzbox soundtracked the second half of the 80s. And now? 

30 years ago, We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Going To Use It were big. They got profile quickly, shooting fast from a bright idea to pop reality. At the height of their punk notoriety, Vix and crew used to sashay round radio and TV stations with ridiculously huge hair – pink, orange, red - bags of attitude, and an Elvis sneer. They kicked off with a silly name and punched out a few punk songs. Then, after three years of punk thrash, bingo! Fuzzbox hit the jackpot with pure late 80s pop.

And now it's 2015. I'm sitting in Yorks coffee bar with survivors Vix and Maggie. Vix is an old pal by now – I've seen most of her post-Fuzzbox incarnations. Then? A snotty kid with a great line in throwing shapes. Now? An accomplished trooper, comfortable on stage, with one very distinct new thing going for her and the band: Radio 2, the biggest station in Europe is paying attention.

Fuzzbox are having another go. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

A West Midlands YouTube Top 50: August 2015

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Here's the sixth bi-yearly local acts video views chart: who's making YouTube waves?

I do this ranking every six months. The exercise is starting to build up some long-term analysis potential. There's some interesting straws in the wind. I think YouTube viewing numbers are increasing overall, based on a rough analysis of upwards trends for many on the chart. But there are some caveats...

The headline? Laura Mvula still rules – just. But I think that she's going to be overtaken on the next chart by another spectacularly talented Birmingham woman who plays by her own rules. You may not have heard of her yet. But you certainly will.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

So what does YOUR station think you should be hearing?

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Music tastes change. So should station libraries. 

More friendly advice for the Beeb from the Times    Flickr - Shawn Kincade
I'm getting tired of the endless government and rival media onslaught on the BBC. Pretty much every day, the Times or the Mail run smugly venomous pieces on the Corporation's failings. I hate this. The Beeb is not perfect. I'm one of many who want to see serious BBC production at all levels back in the Midlands. But as I've said before, the Beeb is unique; it delivers brilliant programmes; we need it.   

BBC Local Radio is in the frame now. An announcement that BBCLR might be a bit more personality driven met yet more carping: the BBC is reneging on its journalistic brief; more jobs to go; the beginning of the end. All that. Hard on the carping came strenuous denials that the Beeb was doing anything of the kind. And so on.

But much of this was about music on the radio. That's a wholly different debate.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The problem with promoting: you almost certainly won't get rich. But you may have big fun.

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DieDasDer talk of many things: of promoters, cabbages and kings...

We take local gigs for granted. There's tons of them; I think we're spoiled. Given the growth of the past few years, the West Midlands (and pretty much everywhere else) is rich in quality bands doing vibrant gigs. This, at a time when everyone's skint, and we're not out of the recession that's hammered businesses and crushed earnings.

So you wouldn't think it's the best time to lay on gigs, especially risky ones. All that planning dates and venues well in advance, sorting PA, insurance, contract and liability issues, covering travel, fees and exes for everyone, usually on a budget you could put under a cup. Crucially, it means being quite ready to put your hands into your pocket if you need to. 

Welcome to the world of promoters.