Monday, 28 January 2013

Still got the Blues. In 2013, in Birmingham, England

Anyone who plays Blues readily admits it's not fashionable. But they’ll also talk of their love for the music. Forthright ideas from two seasoned players.

Robert Johnson
When you think about it, it's astonishing that blues is alive and well in the UK. And it's ironic that blues players like Joanne Shaw Taylor and Davy Knowles, from Rugby and the Isle of Man respectively, should now be plying their trade in the USA. 

That said, there’s some seriously enjoyable blues operators in the Midlands – Steve Ajao’s Blues GiantsThe Grey Goose Blues Band from Kidderminster, Babajack from Malvern. Trevor Burton plays some blistering stuff too, and I know I’ve missed out loads of good guys. 

This post talks to two practitioners: a Birmingham 70s original, Steve 'Big Man' Clayton, coming in for a reunion Boogie Woogie gig, and Frankie Williams from the Grey Goose Blues Band. They're not taking any prisoners. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Hare and Hounds - the threat is BACK

UPDATE: This story has not died down. There's been huge response to this post, and a lot of fresh coverage in local media (BBC WM, the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail (with a terrific comment from John Mostyn, which you can also read here), Phil Parkin via Chamberlain Files, along with much Tweeting and Facebookery). There is a huge groundswell of protest against this. And as yet, no statement or explanation has emerged from Birmingham City Council to explain why they suddenly reversed their previous decision.

Birmingham City Council Planning Committee mysteriously and unilaterally reverses its decision to protect the Hare and Hounds. And they say there's no appeal.

Yesterday, I and hundreds of others who had voiced concerns to Birmingham City Council's Planning and Regeneration office, got emails saying the Planning Officer has reversed the council’s decision to oppose a property development right next to the Hare and Hounds venue. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Four places to catch brilliant new talent for free. Right here, right now.

Free gigs are great, right? As long as the performers get something out of it as well.  Chris Tye, Ben Drummond, and Hannah from Urban Fox interviewed.

It’s a huge dilemma; I don’t have the answer. Musicians who attract and entertain audiences deserve their pay. We have a wonderful, vibrant music scene in the West Midlands, a true source of inspiration, and a reputation-builder for the region. But I don’t know of anyone local who comes close to making a living from their music. Far from it - they're giving it away on Facebook and Soundcloud. And a grim report from the MU was posted this week stating that 60% of musicians worked for free in the past year.  

Performers need audiences. Promoters need to pay for PA systems and venues. Venues need to pay the rent. But it’s not right that the creativity that drives this industry winds up subsidising everything else. Like I said, I don’t have the answer. 

I do know that there are some fabulous people who craft free events for the love of it all, and to support, not exploit, the musicians and the music they believe in. Here's four of them.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Angela Bond - an appreciation

An old friend and long-time mentor, Angela Bond, died last week. She changed Radio.

Angela with Kenny Everett back in the day
Angela Bond was one of a kind. An old school radio pro; you couldn’t find better. 

Her worldwide career spanned singing, presenting, producing (Kenny Everett and Ed Stewart, among others, at Radio 1), slugging her way through BBC seventies and eighties bureaucracy, and then ushering in some of the most seismic changes to hit UK music radio, as the first person to rep Selector, the original music scheduling software, for the UK. 

While people outside radio - and many inside - may well not have even heard of Angela, it's almost impossible to calculate, let alone explain, the impact she had.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Never mind Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. Where's the New Rock right now?

It's fine to gaze mistily back to 70s classic rock, but things have moved on in 40 years. There's lots to dig into. New acts demonstrate huge demand... and score lousy exposure. 

Trevor Burton's AC30.  Photo courtesy Roy Williams
Back in the 70s, Rock and Soul ruled in the West Midlands - and everywhere else. Lots of fine bands, pretty much everywhere, seven days a week. Powered by Zeppelin, Sabbath, Traffic, ELO and Priest, that was what the West Midlands was known for.

That was a long time ago. Now, alongside Rock, we produce  Reggae, Ska, Dance Hall, Jazz, Urban, World, Folk, Indie, Fusion, hugely inventive Singer-Songwriters… and every possible crossover and mashup of the above. 

Of course, this reflects a huge demographic shift; a vastly changed make-up of the people who create the music. 

But it’s odd: we’ve got this huge cross-cultural ferment going on. It's nothing new. Rock, in its earliest days was part of that. Now it's really not. Rock’s still there; it never went away; but it's out on its own. That said, Rock has a huge, huge audience; but media recognition is thin on the ground; most rock magazines have folded, and Rock radio can hardly be said to be healthy

So... where is Rock these days? 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

George Barnett. 19 years old. Unsigned. 120,000 YouTube views in 14 days

A strategy to consider: build your online profile first. Do it systematically. Then think about going on the road. It can work splendidly. So... how to approach it?

A giant leap of faith....
A year or so ago, Richard Shakespeare, affable photographer of this parish, and featured here, had a lot on his plate. Stepping stress levels up even further by taking on the management of an unproven but hugely talented 18 year old - George Barnett -  wasn’t on the agenda. So, of course, that's exactly what he did. Team GB was formed.

It seems to have gone well. Actually, that's an understatement. It's gone pretty explosively well, and it's happening right now. This week, YouTube views for George Barnett’s latest video - embedded further down in this post - clicked briskly past 118,000 and change. To do this in about two weeks is quite an achievement. After all, many people produce fabulous videos which then struggle to hit 10,000 views or less. And they take months to get there.

It's another part of the great online marketing myth: that anyone can put their stuff out there, sit back... and watch it explode. Know what? That almost never happens. Content is key, certainly, but selling that content is essential too. So hitting six figures from a standing start is  impressive, the result of a year’s worth of intensive effort, on-line and off. So how did Richard and Team GB do it? Answers after the jump.