Sunday, 28 October 2012

Re-Thinking Regional Media? Judging by the latest radio and circulation figures, that might just be a very good idea.

Old regional media: deckchairs, Titanic. New regional media: Um - we'll get back to you.

Oops. Anyone got any ideas?
Thursday 25th October was interesting. Three things happened, all of which should be - but aren’t - connected.  

The first was the monthly gathering for the Birmingham Music Network, which I couldn’t attend, because I was at the second event. This was Re-thinking Regional Media, a debate on futures for, er, Regional Media

It was a good and informative day: a variety of opinions, but not a lot of cold hard facts, were laid out and chewed over. I was there as a discussion facilitator: to steer discussions with a break-out group, in the hope of pulling out some definitive and positive conclusions. I’m afraid we didn’t get too far; nor did any of the other groups.  

Thursday also saw the release of the latest clutch of audience research figures for radio, which you can dig into at the excellent Media UK site. Taken together, these are shockingly bad for local radio in the region, pretty much across the board. I’ll go into details later.

These three things just don’t connect up. They should. And that’s the tragedy.

The background 
Partly, the terrible fact that local media – newspapers, tv and radio in the West Midlands – is now a burnt-out wasteland. Again and again, talk was of lost impact, falling circulation, and declining revenues. Truth be told, I met more people who used to be in radio, who used to be journalists or in local telly, than people who are still employed in these industries.  

Bright spots? not a whole lot. There is the will to see things improve, which is good, but not surprising, given the make up of the conference. There was the acknowledgement of new tech tools and analytics, especially from the estimable Matt Locke of Storythings; I lapped that up. Several inventive bloggers attended, and lots of independent video types were there, with brave and complex ideas, representing the remnants of the once vibrant television industry in the region.   

How did we get here?  
I'll cite three factors.
First: institutionally, Birmingham and the West Midlands have been outflanked and outmanoeuvred by the competition. To be blunt, Manchester has played a blinder, for well over a decade; Birmingham has done exactly the opposite. So now we have Media City in Manchester, and the BBC preparing to exit the Mailbox. For a number of reasons, the civic and business infrastructure and the decision makers that could and should have kept jobs and work in Brum simply didn't step up to the plate, most noticeably and wastefully at the BBC. Job losses across the sector must be in excess of 1000 since 2000.

Secondly: the web has simply led people away from existing media; no big surprise there. We don't use radio to find hot new music anymore (apart from, maybe, some users of 6music), and that's a tragedy. Radio especially, but Television and Print too have increasingly retreated from any form of real engagement with their markets, obsessing with 'brands' and ‘efficiencies’, with programming avoiding risk and offering an increasingly depressing uniformity

Thirdly, 'local' has simply become a dirty word, especially from a metropolitan perspective. Given the default thinking in London about creativity north of Watford, that's hardly a surprise. Ironically, production technology has helped radio cut costs; but it has  helped bands and video makers much more. It has ushered in a wonderful explosion in local music and video production, which has been almost completely ignored.

Many speakers at the debate reminded me of how much people at contemporary media industries, especially radio, are in denial. It was ironically amusing to hear an ex-employee of Global Radio claim that its local stations (Capital Birmingham and Heart West Midlands) were at an all-time high in the region, when a quick look at Media UK’s figures for those stations (here and here), released that same day, shows that they are both at all-time lows. 

It was galling to hear from Stuart Taylor, the very impressive ex-chairman of Guardian Media Group Radio (owners of Smooth, who have in turn sold out to Global), that he expects even more consolidation at radio to allow it to to survive. And it was very frustrating to note that Orion Media, owners of Free, have again recorded disappointing figures, at a time when I and many others had been hoping for some sign of a local media fightback against national brands. The fact is that no local or quasi-local radio service has shown an increase this quarter. The best that can be said is that some stations are holding their own… and none of these are market leaders.

The decline of 20th century media
Marc Reeves from RJF public affairs, an ex-editor or the Birmingham Post, gave a sad but  perceptive overview of the decline at traditional media. He was particularly interesting on the abilities of old-school local media to reach out and relate to its audiences. And that, quite possibly, is the key.
Any media organisation lives or dies by its ability to build trust and credibility, and hopefully be liked by its audience. As social media gurus constantly tell us, it’s the way you connect to your audience that matters. It’s particularly interesting to see that the most traditional forms of radio continue to prosper at network level at the BBC. I put this down to exactly those key factors: trust and credibility - the ability to acknowledge, reach out and touch an audience.

That leads me back to Marc’s point. I feel, and I eventually said this towards the end of the debate, that the relentless retreat from localism, driven and justified by business priorities, has left Brand Radio increasingly unable to connect to its audiences. Listeners in turn continue to leave in favour of things they can relate to. If the programming strategy of Brand Radio was to compete effectively with the BBC channels, it has comprehensively failed. As Matt Deegan points out, Xfm is now trounced by 6 music. Elsewhere, Radio 2 continues blithely on its way as the 800lb gorilla in the radio room that nothing will dislodge… until, this being the BBC, it shoots itself in the foot, of its own volition.

A way forward?
So let’s come back to local media. Media needs content. It feeds on it. Local media might do well to stop obsessing about heavily researched and safely acceptable content to the exclusion of all else. Local relevance, played right, gives a competitive usp. If – on whatever platform emerges in the next few years – local media succeeds in reinventing itself with attractive, credible multi-stranded content, it won’t be by relying on playing, or talking about, the exact same stuff everyone else plays and talks about. 

The big 21st century difference, in my view, is that the new platforms might well be local, but now they have a global reach. That’s what could make new and creative services, local, specialised or otherwise, stand out, and more significantly, pay their way. Brilliant thinking comes for free. Brilliant individual content that could be exclusive to a station, that reflects and is of the market the station serves, is out there for the taking. You just need a bit of editorial judgment, which is becoming an elusive commodity in our industries. 

Last week I wrote about Magic Garden studios, where Gavin Monaghan had recorded a session with local band Jaws. It was done for Radio 1 - no local take-up here. Take note, local boys: Radio 1 is out there, looking for exciting stuff in your own back yard. That said, there is absolutely no reason why Radios 1, 1xtra, 2 and 6 could not be beaten to the punch, every single time, by local stations. That would be a start… but only the the start of a five year or longer battle to claw back market share for local media.   

This probably won’t happen. What’s far more likely is that yet more new operations will emerge, probably online, probably very tech-savvy in new and creative ways, to nibble away at the traditional audience, crumb by crumb. I wouldn’t mind seeing that happen one little bit. In fact I’d be happy to help.

I mentioned the Birmingham Music Network at the start of this post. It’s ironic that this gathering of musicians and music business boosters also took place on the same day as the regional media debate. These are two worlds that need each other. They could be very good for each other. But they ignore each other. If they, somehow, found a way to work with each other, we might see some interesting changes. 

Media UK; see also James Cridland's and Matt Deegan's blogs
Re-thinking Regional Media
Campaign for Regional Broadcasting Midlands 
is an online petition to try to save those local jobs that are left at the BBC

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Cultivating precious talent in Gavin's Garden

Gavin Monaghan's Magic Garden recording studio has quietly grown into a powerhouse production centre, simply by concentrating on doing things well. Really well. 

When you visit a recording studio for the first time, more often than not finding the place is a bit of an adventure. Studios are tucked away in basements, shoehorned into warehouses, carved out of unlikely spaces in industrial estates, squeezed into odd bits of residential homes… It’s all very hidden and exceptions are rare. It’s only in colleges and, sadly, now rarely at radio - like the old Pebble Mill BBC studios - that you’ll walk into something open, airy, shinily well maintained, and above all, obvious for all to see.

So it was with Gavin Monaghan’s Magic Garden, arguably the most consistently successful outfit in the West Midlands. It took me half an hour of driving around odd bits of industrial north Wolverhampton, and even then Gavin had to come out and find me – he’s not on anywhere you’ll find on Google maps or your satnav, and that’s the way he likes it. 

Gavin presides over an operation which has turned out some magnificent work in his 21 years as studio manager and producer: The Twang, Scott Matthews, Editors, Robert Plant, Ocean Colour Scene, Carina Round, Nizlopi, and a host of local names including Khaliq, The Destroyers, Guile, Paul Murphy, and Ben Drummond – who was recording when I dropped by, and who will be the subject of a later post on this blog when everything is mixed.  

Vintage tech lust object
There’s not a whole lot of of room in Gavin’s place, and that’s partly because he collects kit - rather a lot of it - and lovingly refurbishes it. His pride and joy is a 1938 Neumann microphone, which he dug up on eBay; but there are classic pieces of kit everywhere you look. 

Vintage kit fetishists can get their kicks reading the kit list on his Myspace blog. 

Notwithstanding all the appeal of gorgeous old equipment, the heart of Gavin's system is a Protools rig. Above and beyond the love of kit, there’s a love of the creative process. And in the teeth of a howling recession, things are looking good

First question, Gavin: How’s business?
Booming. It’s very busy. There’s always been a steady flow of really talented people coming thought here, I’m pleased to say.
And this comes to you how? Word of mouth?
Yes. I don’t advertise. I’m also quite selective of who I work with. It’s hard to put your finger on what makes that happen, but I’m glad it has. It’s nice that current artists come in as well – we’ve still got stuff on and off the radio all the time - I see that as a continuation, and I try to embrace change as it comes along. But… a good song’s a good song. 
I talked with Jon Cotton at Artisan about six months ago, and he pointed out that the tiny studios have now simply disappeared, because people can work with multi-track software on their laptops, and the big studios are scrapping for movie business. So that kind of means that reputation counts for an awful lot.
Yes. You’re only as good as the people you work with. If I get a great band to work with, I’m at my best. If I get somebody… not so great … they there’s not a lot you can do with that. I do a lot of research. I listen to a lot of brand new music. I try to uncover gems. I’m always all over the internet. I approach bands that I hear and like. If I hear something than inspires me, I get in touch. And I try and put as much effort into a job like that as I would with a major album.
That can’t be cost-effective, Gavin…
I don’t care. I’m not doing this for the money. Never have been. 
On the other hand, we’re sitting here, surrounded by squaziliions' worth of vintage kit, which doesn’t come cheap… 
Gavin (chortles)
… but you’ve got Protools up there as your main system.
I like classic sounds, but you’ve got to embrace what’s going on now. So we’ve got all the modern stuff that you’d want. But it’s a good combination. In an ideal world, everybody would still be recording to tape, and perfecting their craft to the point where you wouldn’t need to endlessly edit your stuff to get it on the radio. Having said that, I’m more than happy.
But I think new cheap kit has made a big difference for a lot of bands. They can get their ideas sorted at home, working on their laptops, and recording acoustically where possible…
Sometimes we’ll work with what they’ve already started in their home studio. We end up keeping some of it – I love that. It brings interesting textures into the recordings.
Capacity is a problem here, isn’t it?
Well, we’ve had all 18 of the Destroyers in…
The chat moved on through technology, music quality and sound quality.
I work with music fidelity for a living. My job is to capture the best possible signal. But if it’s going to be reduced to mp3, and that’s how people are going to hear it, then I’ve got to make the best possible mp3 I can possibly make. 
I had a very interesting conversation a while back about distortion in mastering. Most people want to capture the maximum possible volume, with the minimum possibly dynamic range. So part of that process is to distort it, to clip it, so it’s as loud as it can be on radio.
But radio compresses everything anyway…
They use Optimod, yes. A lot of bands and record companies, if you give them something with dynamic range, will say ‘It’s not as loud as the Arctic Monkeys’ – it’s part of the culture. It’s part of the trend, Music is a fashion-based industry. So if that’s the trend, I’ve got to make my masters the best distorted masters I can!
So once Ben Drummond’s mixed and finished up, who’s next?
We’ve got a band called Arrows – a brilliant band. We’ve just done a Radio 1 exclusive with a Birmingham band called Jaws. I’m doing an album with Johnathan Day, a brilliant singer-songwriter. Paul Murphy’s coming in to do his next album. We’re slated to be working with – don’t want to jinx it, but I’m hopeful – with Dry The River. Hope so. My management’s talking to them and various other people.
Management? How does that work?
I have a manager for my production work. I’m a studio owner, but my job is music producer. There are agencies similar to artist management, who manage producers, My manager’s Sandy Robertson from World’s End in Los Angeles. He’s got about 40 producers and engineers on his books. 
How did that relationship come about?
He liked some of the albums that I’ve worked on. The first Twang album – he loved it. He wanted the Twang for another one of his producers, but they wanted to work with me. And after he heard it, it went from there – he’d been listening to my stuff for a while.
But does he understand you and your range of production chops and styles?
I think he works with such a variety of producers… so, yes. I just want to be working all the time. For me it’s important to work with new bands, just as important as working with major label acts who can line your pockets. If I was in it for the money, I’d be a hell of a lot better off!
Gavin's Magic Garden Myspace page

Sunday, 14 October 2012

We do it because we love it. All you have to do is find it

Great, unusual music, there to be explored and enjoyed. Free. Bring your curiosity and a sense of adventure.
Zirak Hamad plays the Daff hand-drum. Amazingly.
I first met Zirak Hamad at one of Paul Murphy’s Songwriters Café sessions. Zirak is a lovely guy, irrepressibly enthusiastic, and a terrific musician. He has a hair-raising background, which makes his current situation all the more remarkable. Zirak is largely responsible for a fascinating new musical development in Balsall Heath, an inner city part of Birmingham: Musikstan, which, every other Thursday, gathers musicians to play together from, literally, around the world. It runs on love and goodwill. 

Entry is free, but you really should make a contribution when they pass the hat around; there are musicians' expenses to pay and the event has running costs to cover. Zirak’s music is great – there’s a Musikstan clip or two to enjoy after the jump. And while it’s a worldwide music thing, chances are you’ll catch some delicious local musical collaborations, as some of Birmingham's finest have started to drop by.

Zirak’s Musikstan gigs are by no means the only music gatherings in town that run on similar lines. Once a month on Sunday afternoons on Moseley, you can catch stunning musicianship, organised by the magnificent percussionist Joelle Barker at the Dance Workshop. On top of that, the City centre Island Bar hosts the Free Love Club, an all-dayer of a folk-ish bent, for free, on Sundays; Sue Fear’s Moseley’s Muso Monday, also (logically) on Monday nights, works on the same principle, there are regular gatherings of different music stripes at the Tower Of Song; and of course there are many more such events.  If I've missed yours out, I apologise - but please do let me know for future reference. 

Here's Zirak, at Musikstan, tearing it up on the Daff hand-drum. I recorded this in September.

Zirak kicked off Musikstan in March of this year. It’s got a clear and simple goal.
Zirak Hamad: Musikstan is about sharing and bringing people together. The business side of music is important, but having music just for music’s sake is important too.  A friend of mine, Andrew Bland, invited us to play at the Old Print Works, and accompanied us on piano.  And it gave me an idea to do something regular. So that’s how it started. Musikstan is based on bringing different musicians together, from different backgrounds and different styles. People are able to ask questions about the music, about the backgrounds and the styles of each type of music. 
In the six months since you started, how has the network of musicians developed, with different people coming in to play?
To start, because I’m a musician, I can bring in many musicians that I know. But then word got out – word of mouth – about Musikstan. Session by session, it developed; musicians contacted me to come and play. We keep it very informal. Musicians are invited to join us, and we leave time for the audience to ask them questions at the end of their set.  We aim to have one musician from Birmingham, and one from outside of the area, because we want musicians to meet and exchange ideas and music, and play together. 
What about your own music?
I have a Kurdish band, and I also have a band called Village Well, which has an Indian tabla player, and a Caribbean steel pan player. I also play in a gypsy band with an Albanian and a Romanian musician…. 
Tell me about your band Village Well….? 
We got the idea in 2010, with a Khora player, me on violin, and Indian Tabla from Pritham Singh. Unfortunately, the Khora player, who lives in London, could not stay with the band, so we added Norman Stewart on Steel Pan instead. This brings all kinds of people together.  Some Kurdish people might come to see me, and Indian people because of Pritham… and Caribbean people because of Norman. So we really are bringing people together through music. 
If you went back to the old country now, after your years in the UK, what would happen? How would people react to you?
Kurdistan has changed a lot since Saddam Hussein’s regime. Kurdish people are more open-minded now. When I went back, I was made very welcome. When I left Kurdistan, I had 24 hours. I found out that a friend of mine – who was working with the Intelligence services under cover – that the next day, they were coming to arrest me, and god knows what would have happened to me afterwards.
So it was: don’t go to work tomorrow, and sort yourself out to get away, because everything was going to end for me. I left Kurdistan straight away. After ten o’clock, they went to my house, and my family said they didn’t know where I was. And that was the truth – they didn’t know where I was, or how I had left. I went to Iran, and then to Turkey, and then  in the end I came to England.
Are your family …OK?
They weren’t. They arrested them and tried to force them to tell where I was. But they didn’t know, because I didn’t tell them what I was doing. So the secret police accepted this - in the end. Now, after Saddam ‘s regime, they’re all right. We have our own government; people are more liberal, and more free…
Did you come to the UK and claim asylum? 
Yes, they gave me asylum. I had to pay a smuggler to get me to the UK. My family supported me, though friends, not directly. We couldn’t use the phone or anything like that….  
So this must have cost your family a fortune in the end.
About 8000 dollars. That’s a lot of money in Kurdistan. 
It’s an extraordinary story, but Zirak might well say that everyone is extraordinary. Now settled in Birmingham, Zirak runs school workshops in middle eastern dance and  music. In 2003, he organised a Kurdish band: Daholl Kurdish Ensemble, as Birmingham didn't have any Kurdish musicians at the time. And his dream is to see Muzikstan become a world music festival in the UK. 

So now he’s  back doing what he loves, which is making music, and working with other musicians. And, as always, this being a Birmingham thing, there’s a lot of collaboration. Paul Murphy has played at Musikstan, as has Joelle Barker, and there’s some mighty collaborations planned for the future. Live, experimental cross-cultural collaborations in an intimate acoustic environment: it’s not something you can bottle. You have to experience it. . Long may it continue


Muso Mondays at the Station, King's Heath, Birmingham

Tower Of Song -

Songwriters Café 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Cover me: Tribute Bands - they get paid HOW MUCH?

Judas Beast... Non Jovi... Nearlyvana... all cover bands. Good harmless fun? Shamelessly and cynically uninventive? Or an institution that keeps venues open and musicians working? 
Take a look at the listings of pretty much any music venue, and chances are you’ll see cover bands - tribute acts – on the bill. The Bootleg Beatles and the Australian Pink Floyd Show are set (again) for the Birmingham National Indoor Arena. At Symphony Hall, Dweezil Zappa performs his dad’s repertoire in November. Tons of places have acts doing other acts, getting paid – quite well paid, in some cases - for their troubles. 

Sometimes the original bands are happy to have tribute bands covering their material. UB40, who tour with a lead singer who looks and sounds like their original lead singer – he’s a cousin - seem happy with Johnny2Bad. Years ago, I worked with a member of Fred Zeppelin, and they appear to have had a genial nod of approval from the great ones. On the other side of the coin, Meatloaf famously confronted one Dean Torkington, who was doing a tribute act to the great Loaf. Part of the problem was  Torkington's use of a domain name url – – which, quite frankly, the Loaf himself should have registered in the first place.

For a long time, TalkSport broadcaster and classic rock fan Ian Danter drummed for veteran Kiss tribute Dressed To Kill. If you check the live video further down this post, you can see the trouble they go to; it's perversely impressive. He’s only recently had to give the gig up because his Saturday radio duties on Talksport. He’s given the area a lot of thought.
This is Ian Danter in civvy street...
Ian Danter: There‘s two separate things here. There are bands who cover an act, but don’t offer a show, because there’s only one or two musicians present, and everything else is on tape.
Then you have the bands who do offer a full accurate band line-up, with little if any ‘cheating’. But it’s the covers bands who are out there five nights a week. The full bands are rarer, and there’s certainly not that many pro outfits. When you think of Limehouse Lizzy, who’ve been around for over twenty years, Jean Genie, T.Rexstasy…. these are full bands who’ve cemented their reputation. These are the heritage brands, Robin. They fought their way up.

So in your book, the guys with the backing tapes are, essentially, cheating, especially in comparison with bands like yourselves? 
And this is Ian Danter tooled up with slap, lycra and drumkit  
That’s exactly what I’m saying. I know of a band that pays ‘tribute’ to the Seventies, that actually has two line-ups. They’ve got a full band, and they’ve got a singer/guitarist combo with everything else on tape. It depends on the gig that they’re doing.
Often the cut-down line-up works well for corporate gigs, while the heritage venues that have been going a long time ask for the full band. 
Another important thing to say is – I seem to remember, about ten years ago, people were launching tribute bands for pretty much anything.  I remember rehearsing at Robanna’s rehearsal rooms one night, and I heard a lot of Travis coming from the next room... it was a Travis tribute act, based on one hit album, and some moderate success with the previous album. Other than that, they had no back catalogue with which to toy! So the band had one set to play, and nothing to fall back on. 
You’re saying that a tribute band needs a LOT of material?
Yes. You’re paying tribute to the show, the whole idea of the band. The quid-pro-quo with tribute bands, and Gene Simmons understands this, is that somebody will go and watch Dressed To Kill, who maybe had not seen Kiss at all, and really get into the original band. I’ve had Facebook messages telling me that people who saw us then went out and bought 'Kiss Alive' the next day.
Why did you join Dressed To Kill? Was this a money-making exercise, or because you simply adored Kiss?
I always adored Kiss. When I was growing up in the mid 70s, I listened to my older brothers‘ stuff: Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, Deep Purple. But I wanted something of my own, so when Kiss came along, I was absolutely hooked. And when Dressed to Kill asked me to join, in 2005, it was wonderful. I jumped at it. 
What were in you before then?
I’d been in several tributes. I’d given up on trying to be original, trying to be a rock and roll star…
Why? Tell me why you gave up?
A moment of clarity, I suppose – age! Right or wrong, you get to a certain age in your life, in your late 20s. And you think to yourself, ‘well, if it’s not going to happen now…’  The disappointment of not making it made me think, that I’d had my shot, and maybe I should think about doing this for fun. So I joined New Jersey, a Bon Jovi tribute band. The two guys who played Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Zambora guys in the band looked the part. 
Surely it was really only Jon and Richie the audience cared about?
Correct. The remainder of the band were utterly irrelevant visually, but of course you had to be up to the mark musically. 
Kiss are all about fireworks, ridiculous costumes, big dumb rock riffs, OTT make-up, and, frankly, not taking themselves exactly seriously. And the fireworks play a big part. That's one thing in an arena, another thing in a small club. How do DTK handle onstage pyrotechnics?
They have a very good relationship with Lemaitre, who are the pyro company in this country. It has be on a smaller scale. You have to buy the right ones for the venue. On the occasions when we’ve played to six thousand people at the NEC,  we’ve scaled it up a bit. We knew we had the ceiling capacity and the risk assessment cleared us to load up on bigger effects. It’s all fairly easily done – the band’s been doing it for twenty years. 
And are there new bands who will provide the inspiration and the back catalogue for the tribute bands of the future?
Of the current crop, I imagine there will be Foo Fighters tributes. Same goes for Muse once they’ve released two or three more albums. Beyond that, the Killers, maybe? Then you’re struggling a little. It’s a question of what kind of show the present-day bands put on.   
Tribute bands seem to get good money and regular work - you can see why that might piss off bands who are trying to break through. Any comment?
Well… you have to reckon that once a tribute band is established, they have something to offer venue owners who know that a given number of fans will show up every single time. Lots of bands work very hard to carve out their place in the market.
Ian’s a fascinating person to talk to. He paints a very precise picture of the various levels and pecking orders on the tribute and cover band world. While he’s now out of the permanent Dressed to Kill line-up, he’s stepped in to help out with Dizzy Lizzy, Whitesnake UK, and even an Aerosmith tribute. And, let’s note, he is still pursuing his own dreams, working on a solo album of his own stuff. 

The Robin 2 in Brierly Hill in the Black Country features tribute bands regularly. Mike Hamblett has lovingly run it for years, developing it into a very widely used and much appreciated  venue. 
Mike Hamblett: I was in a band thirty odd years ago. I ended up with a concert venue, and I started putting on R and B. But I realised that a club doing blues isn’t going to survive. I’ve always tried to broaden the boundaries.
I know that it’s a cliché to say I don’t do it for the money, but it’s true! I wanted the Robin to be a broad thing, offering loads of different sorts of music, and bringing loads of different people through the door. 
I opened the original Robin in 1992. Somebody came along and offered me a tribute. And I hadn’t head that word before. It was to David Bowie, Jean Genie. It was John Mannering, from Birmingham, and he still comes here today. I put them on and it blew me away. He’s got a really good band, and he sent shivers down my spine. John does the whole gamut, from Ziggy Stardust onwards. 
That was the start, and I think I was one of the first ones to put tributes on. Now, everybody and his dog puts tribute acts on. But I only put the good ones on. If you think of Led Zeppelin 3, or Dark Side of the Moon – they’re classic albums, with classic songs that will go on forever. But you can’t go and see those bands anymore. So if you have a quality act putting those songs on live, there’s a lot of people who will go and see it. 
What about more recent tribute acts?
They don’t tend to work here. It’s the classic rock acts. The Counterfeit Stones – they’re A1 musicians. Nick Dagger is a great front man – very funny as well. You can’t go and see the Beatles any more, can you? 
Could you survive without tribute bands?
Definitely not. I’ve seen venues open up saying they weren’t going to put tribute bands on, and twelve months later they’ve shut down again.  There’s a market, and you can’t not feed that market. 
Will you take a risk on a new band anymore?
I still do! I keep doing it. It is difficult to take too many risks. I the past I took some huge risks. I couldn’t do that today, in the recession, but I do take risks… not such big risks.
In case your hackles are still well and truly up at the very thought of rip-off cabaret rock acts recycling other people’s hits, I can suggest some common ground. In the end, it comes down to having a product to sell: Yours, or one which you’ve made yours. 

Plenty of artists still tour behind hits with which they have very little connection – there were dozens of Drifters at one time or another, and blow me, here’s another set of Drifters, scheduled to play the Alexandra Theatre this month. They look suspiciously young for a group... that was formed over 60 years ago.  

You also could assert that this is all fraudulent low-budget stuff, but I'm not entirely sure. You could certainly argue that cover bands are creatively bankrupt and derivative. What you certainly can’t argue with is the fact that these acts meet a continuing demand for the known and the familiar. Technically they have to be up the the mark  - or they'll get slaughtered by a knowing audience. And you can’t argue with the fact that they are responsible for a huge chunk of revenue in the region, which in many cases sustains venues that otherwise would have to close their doors, along with rehearsal rooms and music and pa equipment shops. 

Personally, there’s only one cover band concept that I truly find despicable, and that's the rash of Blues Brothers knock-offs, featuring fat blokes in shades and pork-pie hats shouting soul hits. For all the goofy fun of the first Blues Brothers movie, it still cynically pimped its original vintage soul material. The follow-up movies were dire, but the damage was done, producing a package, ready on a plate, served up to people who never knew how sublime the original soul material was – and is. A knock-off of a knock-off. And, as usual, the originators who charmed us back in the day probably won’t see a penny of the money made off their talent. But even then, even though that's not to my purist tastes, those bands are meeting a demand.  

Robin 2listings of live shows - not just tributes 
Robin2 blog
Dressed To Kill: their very own website, with more videos, tour dates, and more 
Tribute Bandan exhaustively detailed site covering the world of tributes