Sunday, 28 April 2013

Wha'ppen next, Dave? a conversation with Dave Wakeling, who wrote 'Stand Down Margaret'

"I often think this band reunion thing is like inviting the first five or six people you had sex with... and expecting everyone to get on great." 

Hunt Emerson's brilliant logo
It's complicated. Dave Wakeling was a founder member of The Beat, one of Birmingham's finest original pop/ska bands. Now he's in California, leading the English Beat, and fellow founder Ranking Roger leads a 21st century Beat at home. Roger was profiled here last year ahead of Birmingham's Reggae City May festival; The Selecter are starring this year. 

The original Beat line-up is long gone, but a classic song has echoed down the years of late. Stand Down Margaret got renewed airplay in the weeks leading up to Thatcher's funeral. I wondered if Dave would want to revisit all that old territory. But, courtesy personified; revisit it he did, especially as it ties in nicely with Specialized 2 Beat Teenage Cancer, a soon come album of covers of original Beat Songs to help Teenage Cancer Trust

Friday, 19 April 2013

So where are we? A conversation with Jazz enablers and new generation players.

OK, go ahead - you define Jazz for me, because I don't know where to begin. 

Defined or not, it’s one of those areas marked by love for musicianship, experimentation, willfulness, and avoidance of genre definition. Fashionable? Hell, no, but that’s never a bad thing. And, from it, a steady flow of new genres seems to emerge – also never a bad thing.

It's not surprising that 50s Jazz was so tightly bound up with 50s existentialism: both are centred on the individual and the moment. And like too many other music areas, Jazz is a place where pigeonholing, snobbery and tribalism can seriously taint the music-making process.

And it seems to be heavily freighted with assumptions and contradictions. At one end of the spectrum, it's seen as safe, just arty and just nicely experimental enough for countless cosy festivals each year. It's also a cute label for record companies to bolt on to their offerings to give them more credibility.. At the other end, it's full of explosive, passionate and uncompromising music that simply isn't going to wait for you to catch up. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Wonder Stuff's Erica Nockalls: attitude with violins

A solo album at last, playing in three separate outfits, Nockalls talks rock violin at music school, session work, doing it right, persistence and perseverance...

Birmingham has a School of Music. I've had dealings with them down the years, from when the old BRMB ran classical shows - really, they did - and I presented. That was all some thirty years ago, when the place was resolutely classical. I always felt like a hooligan scruff around them, probably because I was a vulgar commercial radio person trespassing in the groves of academe. 

Things change. I don't know who leaves the Birmingham Conservatoire to build a classical career these days - and by the way, I'd love to know who does -  but I'm constantly delighted and impressed by the range of musicianship the place has spun out into the local scene. I love the folk stuff encouraged by Joe Broughton; a mighty eight Conservatoire graduates have graced the Destroyers. There are many others, of course; I haven't even touched on the jazz guys. A common factor is a sense of adventure, a willingness to up-end apple carts, and blazing musicianship. 

Erica Nockalls is part of this: a terrific fiddle player with a brand new solo album. She tells a story of musicianship, multiple bands, attitude and application. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Regional bias? Perish forbid! How could anyone even think it?

There are many reasons to bemoan the huge loss of broadcasting jobs in the Midlands. The best is simple economics, but a bit of fair play wouldn't hurt. The Midlands region pays more license fees, but sees less BBC spending, than any other region.  

2011/12 BBC regional spend by license fee payer
As far as the Midlands media industry is concerned, it’s not even a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. You can’t shut a door that’s been smashed to pieces and left hanging off its hinges. 

It's taken years, decades. Thousands of jobs have gone. So it was interesting to attend the freshly-formed Campaign For Regional Broadcasting Midlands' first meeting. New to me and probably you, but with a formidable array of mainly BBC Drama and TV contacts, this took place on Thursday 21st February. During the meeting, some breathtaking statistics were reeled out, which you really should know about. 

The fact is, things are bad - really bad. If we ever want to see a proper grown-up media sector in the Midlands region again, there’s a lot of ground to cover, a lot of assumptions to challenge, and a lot of attitudes to confront. Locally, a toxic combination of laziness, arrogance, bad thinking and poor decisions has sped the process along. More after the jump.  

Saturday, 6 April 2013

16 tracks and that's your lot: the joys of analogue at one of the oldest studios in Birmingham

Recording studios #3: It takes a special kind of enthusiasm to run - and to record at - a seriously retro recording studio. But it seems to be working at Highbury.

Where does an analogue recording studio, stocked with vintage 80s kit, like a reel-to reel multitrack tape recorder, fit in our relentlessly digital age ? 

Like so many 20th century technologies, the accepted norm has been savagely upended by digital technology. The bottom end of the market has been eaten by laptops running free software, while the top end is left to at Air or Abbey Road - see here for more on this. Studios left in the middle have had to become nimble and, sometimes, specialised. 

There are, of course, different ways to specialise. John Mostyn runs Highbury Studio, one of the oldest studios in Birmingham; one that is cheerfully old-school in its approach. Built by Bob Lamb on producer royalties from UB40’s 'Signing Off' album, it sits happily in a onetime cricket bat factory, in a quiet side street in King’s Heath, Birmingham. John lives, literally, over the shop. It’s a unique place.