Sunday, 28 December 2014

Gigs, bands, venues, surprises, changes and some disappointments. 2014 has been eventful.


This is the last Radio To Go post of 2014, tucked into that awkward half-holiday, half-not space between the Christmas blowout and New Year's Eve. 

Some performers are hardily prepping for their NYE shows; many more are slumbering through this interim week before things start to rev up again in 2015. 

So this, as in previous years,  is a good time to look back. All of this is highly subjective. It's stuff that struck me as notable. You will have had different ideas, different joys and pleasures. I'd be delighted if you felt like joining in the debate. 

Gigs of the year contenders

By Richard Shakespeare - crowds at Mostly Jazz     

There were LOTS. We've had so many excellent bands, new venues (see below), and most nights, especially most weekends, we've had a ridiculous choice. I particularly enjoyed:

- Boat To Row's single launch gig at the Old Joint Stock Theatre, 28 Feb
- Miles and Erica at the Hare and Hounds, 22 May
- Brothers Groove at the Jam House, 22 July
- Pretty much everything at Moseley Folk, but that's much more of a social gathering in the sun anyway.
- Everything and everyone at this year's Songwriters Cafe: 9 fantastic house concerts which ran on Thursdays from September to November

Earbleed of the Year

Prince at the LG Arena, 19 May 2014. Atrocious sound and dangerous volume levels. I can take one or the other, but not the two in combination. It actually hurt to listen. This was a shame, because Prince delivered, in parts, a killer show. This audio shambles was thrown into sharp relief by the very good sound the same PA delivered for Laura Mvula, who gave an excellent, excellent opening set.

Venue thoughts

I am so pleased to see developments underway at the Dark Horse, now part of the same company that runs the lovely Prince of Wales, both in Moseley in Birmingham. I'm hoping for big things. 

Props too, to the lovely people at Ort Cafe, who have crafted a super intimate acoustic venue in Balsall Heath. 

The guvnor Birmingham place is still, of course, the Hare and Hounds. Two years on from the last development scare, things seem to have gone quiet on that front. However, the threat has not, to my knowledge, receded. Things will not be rosy until venues know where they stand. For that to happen, our beleaguered and broke council must, once and for all, establish and then respect the principle that if an established and effective venue exists, new owners who wind up adjoining that development must recognise and respect that. 

So, property developers: do the right thing and build in effective soundproofing. And on that note, a big welcome back to the Fiddle and Bone, which reopens in 2015. Let's also celebrate the continuing success of the Asylum venues.

Unexpected pleasures

A few nice things/events which caught me unawares and delighted me:
The Stacks at The Wagon and Horses, August. 

The Stacks are from Nuneaton/Leicester way, so I hadn't seen them before they supported the very likeable Broken Witt Rebels. Stacks were sharp, tight and inventive. They attracted a posse of admiring girls as well as the usual coterie of hard-rock boys – an audience combo that's always a good sign for guitar-slinging wannabe rock gods.

'5-Star Review' on Erica Nockalls' EN2 album. In the middle of a set of artfully crafted hyper-musical noise terror you'll find the sweetest love song ever. Fabulous. More on this album here

Dan Whitehouse and Chris Tye's Christmas song. Just great. Two huge talents, and a good cause. It's available here and there's a blog post here on these guys.

Record Store Day - silly activities in a good cause. 
Probably because I grew up in the vinyl era, I still really can't get excited about music distributed on vinyl – especially the fetishising of the medium. But if it helps preserve independent retailers who are passionate about music, I'm all for it. Here's what Goodnight Lenin did

'Mighty Hard Timeon Ruby Turner's 'All That I Am' album: 
Ruby just gets better and better. Quality, seriously deep old-school soul, a fine perspective, no compromise whatsoever, and focus like you've never seen. Proud to know her and proud that she's from Brum. There's an interview here.


The Spoken Word


This happened by accident. I'm so happy it did.

Once in a while I get asked to voice something for, say, an album project. I'm normally happy to do this – it's just nice that my voice is remembered from my prehistoric radio days. But this year's outings were quite different. 

Firstly, a radio producer I greatly respect and admire, and who moves in very different circles from me most of the time, asked me to voice a bit part in a radio drama. Rosie Boulton, who now works independently after a long and storied career at the BBC, has produced a sweet and elegant one-hour play, 'The Kindness Of Time' which is online for anyone to listen to, for free. So this was work with a script, bouncing off a different voice actor, cooking up the relationship, working in a very different studio to the ones I'm used to (C-Mat in Handsworth), and it was both a challenge and a lot of fun. More on this here.

Then the wonderful and very different Layla Tutt developed her multi-media Song Of the Woods project and invited me to voice. I got to play a great romantic lover and a very satisfying baddie. It was lovely.

Finally, I voiced for James Summerfield's latest project: a set of poems written by local author Darren Cannan. Some are set to music, some are fully arranged. The book and ep are out imminently. Everything I've heard sounds fabulous. Then again, I'm a fan of James' work, and I thought Darren's writing was terrific. So I am privileged and excited to be a part of this.

And as you can see from this trailer, I'm in good company.

The JB's book!


Another book worthy of your attention, partly crafted by another person I greatly admire: Roy Williams, who helped run the legendary JB's in Dudley from the very early days. A near-forty year span of time in rock history, seen through the eyes of the team who ran one of the best-loved clubs in the Midlands. Stories, memories, extraordinary facts and figures. 

You won't believe who played there. Nor will you believe what they got paid. There's a detailed post in the works. In the meantime, you can find out more, here.


Bad news

Dying Orchestras 
This was announced last week in Denmark: a kickstarter campaign... to try to keep an decent orchestra in existence. I hate this. Orchestras should be part of our cultural mix. We need that reservoir of talent; we need that pathway to a music career for our promising musos. We need to keep celebrating demanding and experimental work. But all over the country and all over Europe, funding taps are being turned off. The Ulster Orchestra is under severe threat too.


Steady progress department

- The wonderful Cadbury Sisters, scoring loads of love from Radio 2 and a vinyl release on RAK records; 
- Brothers Groove, also scoring R2 love - and a gong at the British Blues Awards 2014;
- Another milestone for the excellent Katherine Priddy, who sold out at Kitchen Garden Cafe. Her first headliner and her first sell-out. Well done the Prldster.
- Electric Swing Circus went fully pro and toured the world. Bravo!

Albums


Laura Mvula's Orchestral CD was startlingly good and confident. Not that I was in any way surprised.

Goodnight Lenin - In The Fullness Of Time
Out now. It's lovely. At last! 


Ruby Turner - All That I Am
So good, so clear, so focussed. 


Erica Nockalls - EN2 As above, but in a wholly different music realm. But I think Ruby and Erica would get on like a house on fire. 


Dan Whitehouse - Raw State
Dan revisits some of his older songs with a fresh perspective, and by golly, it works. This kind of approach doesn't always work, but in Dan's case – oh boy, does it ever. Moving, warm and powerful. 


Chris Tye - The Paper Grenade
Go Chris! Tye simply gets better and better. Super stuff from one of our best.

Hopes for 2015: Music

I'm eagerly anticipating the next set of songs from Goodnight Lenin.

I would so love to see the rancorous dispute between UB40 and their former lead singer resolved. Ali left, noisily, some years ago. Now, equally noisily, he is fronting a rival operation and aggressively laying claim to the name of the band that he, let us remember, actually left. This does nobody any good, least of all the remaining members of UB40, who picked themselves up and set about damage limitation on several fronts with courage and dignity, not to mention solid musicianship. All this demeans and cheapens a noble name.

I hope for good things from among others, Chris Cleverley and Harriet Harkcom.

Otherwise? I hope to be enchanted and surprised by more fresh and wondrous talent. That's certain to happen - just don't know when.

Hopes for 2015: Broadcasting

Auntie
It's no secret: I would love to see more national BBC output generated from the Midlands, to reflect the talent we have in abundance. Who knows? Only the BBC, and they ain't telling. Again.

The rise of the hybrids. 
New media, new platforms. It's coming, and when it gets into gear, this could be a game-changer. The keys? Cheap tools for one, but what is essential, mission-critical in fact, is clear and precise strategic thinking. Put that together, and things will change, and faster than anyone expects.

Local Television
After an embarrassing set of stumbles, we are, finally, due to get a local TV station in February next year. It will, now, largely be run by local professionals who understand television, which is a good thing. I wish them all the luck in the world - because they will need it, and a lot more besides - and humbly suggest that they take a good hard look at the wealth of videos on offer from local talent. 

Have a wonderful end of year. 

See more posts on venues, posts on broadcasting and posts on music business on Radio To Go

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Sunday, 21 December 2014

Four lessons learned in 2014


Part 1 of the Radio to Go 2014 retrospective: more next week



We're heading out of 2014 at speed. As usual, it's been an eventful year. Lots of changes, and tons of great stuff to celebrate. I'm saving most of that for next week's review - some of the high and low points of the year and a look forward to 2015.  

Before that, a word of thanks to you for reading the blog in increasing numbers. As of publishing date, total page views were well over 237,000 - nearly double last year's total. Three years ago, when I shifted the focus more onto music, I'd hit 10,000 over four years. Writing the blog has led me to an awful lot of interesting topics, and hooked me up with some fantastic people. 

This week's post, also a yearly blog feature, is a lot more personal. Here are a few lessons that I learned - or, relearned - this year. They may be a bit counter-cultural, but, hey, that's how it looks from here. It's all about:
  1. Webanomics, winners and losers, 
  2. Things changing at media - slowly, slowly...
  3. Yet another way the beeb is losing out
  4. And...Albums. 

1: e-slavery...? 

The internet may be good for big business, and those who catch a wave, but for the rest of us? I'm not so sure. I feel like I'm there so someone else can make money, off me or from me, no matter what I do, or where I go. That's webanomics. 

Take voiceover work. I've been voicing (commercial and training videos, museum guides, that kind of thing) all my working life. It's a useful way to make a bit on the side. Here's my demo page if you're interested. Five years ago, I went online to reach new markets. I didn't really have a choice: most of the small indie producers I'd worked for had been squeezed out by web operations. And for a while things were OK. I paid a yearly fee to get job leads; I pitched a demo each time; I got some work; I came out ahead. 

The job lead agencies I used aren't fussy - they'll take anyone's money, and they'll post anyone's job spec. Now, anyone can set up as a voice guy. Kit is cheap; you don't really need a studio. So as the recession bit, more and more people came on board. Fees got smaller and jobs got harder to land. Clients failed to pay up. When you're stiffed by someone three thousand miles away, you're just not going to get paid. The job lead agencies wash their hands of the problem - all they do is introduce, you see. 

It's that famous web-powered level playing field again: a field so big you can't see the end of it. Great for producers; crap for talent. Now, people watch the job sites like hawks, and bash out a demo the moment a gig comes up. That works for some, but not me, not at least if I want to have a life. Spending my days welded to a computer screen for a chance to get work is not my idea of scraping a living. I met an ex-radio guy last year who told me he spent an hour cutting a demo for a ten quid gig. He didn't get it. Someone undercut him, by five quid. 

This doesn't just apply to my little market. There are sites like fiverr: places where you pitch for five buck jobs - or four bucks after commission. This is, effectively, e-slavery. A studio owner friend told me his market now splits between bedroom laptop warriors, a shrinking middle ground, and a top end in London where the big money goes. It's the same with voicing. Fine for the girl who voices for all the supermarket check-out machines - and good luck to her - not so fine if you're not in that market.

So I've bailed out of that way of working. Spending hundreds of hours a year chasing dwindling job prospects, while laying out over £200 per site for the privilege, just doesn't add up any more. I have some regular trusted clients who call on me to do work, and that's fine. I'm better off, I've got more time, less stress and I'm not funding companies - there's lots of them, and I've tried most - who make empty promises and then throw you sales pitches promising to help you get more business for yet another fee.   

Still, it could be worse. I could be a small business pitching through Amazon.


2: At LAST! signs of evolution at radio/broadcast media/video

But if webanomics are screwing you, there are upsides. Tech is allowing more flexible creativity. I've done a lot of really interesting and enjoyable radio and audio work this year. It's all been for the love of it, working with some astonishing people. And it's absolutely not conventional music radio. There are people who think differently, and some of them are starting to get traction. 

Change is coming, well away from 'conventional' radio. It's not just pert vloggers like Zoella rewriting the media landscape – there are now addictively good podcasts out there, and they're starting to find the means to pay their way.

I think the key is focus and direction. The big BBC and commercial radio platforms know exactly what they are doing. Whether you like them or not, they have a clear and solid idea of where they are going, and how they want to work with their audiences. The most successful of the new players do that too. That's something that small-scale radio often lacks.

It's also obvious that radio, the web and tv are converging. Formats and concepts dating back fifty years are being outpaced. Consider: dirt-cheap production software allows streaming of radio and video on the same channel. That opens up a ton of possibilities.

This converging broadcast/streaming world is going to continue to change. I can't wait to see what comes up - as long as it has focus, it stands a chance. Most of the time the web throws mind-rotting trivia at us: cute kittens, baby pandas and buzzfeed. That tide of trivia has a purpose: it's click-bait, it makes money. But a lot of radio has simply followed along, lapping it all up. Mistake. 


There's much more than that in play. If long-form television series, with demanding, intelligent plot lines and terrific characterisation, manage to punch through, breaking existing moulds, why not take that idea on to radio, and do it really well? That what Serial has done, with huge success.  



3: The BBC continues to cut its nose off to spite its face in the Midlands. 

Auntie, Auntie, Auntie! There's a screamingly obvious step you could take, right now, that would cost peanuts and boost your reputation no end. 

I've had long chats with the affable Tommy Nagra this year. He's Head of Business Development for BBC Birmingham. Part of his pitch is to sell Birmingham. No argument from me – I've been here since the early 70s. Tommy also praises the city's diversity. That's familiar ground as well. I was the first radio guy anywhere to put UB40 on air. Oh, and Ruby Turner, The Specials, Steel Pulse and The Selecter, too - all of whom wrote the book on Midlands multi-cultural creativity in the late 70s.

But here's the point I made to Tommy: it's even better now, and you're not doing anything about it. We're living though a new golden age of musical and literary creativity of all types. And where do we see this represented on our national broadcaster? Um...

If Auntie really gave a damn about the Midlands, rather than trousering the license fees we send down to London, while continuing to cut jobs up here, they would be all over this talent like a rash. It wouldn't cost much: this is a radio thing and radio is cheap. The BBC just needs an effort of will to lose its bunker mentality and actually connect with this market. Done right, this would be hugely powerful. All Auntie has to do is reach out for the low-hanging fruit, and find ways to celebrate it. 

It's deeply ironic: in 1927 the BBC had the biggest music studio in the whole country, right here in Birmingham. Even fifteen years ago they still had a gorgeous 16-track facility you could put a seventy piece band into. Now, that's a distant memory. There has never been any explanation for how and why the BBC came to so disrespect its largest region - the one which contributes a quarter of total license fee revenue. 

That hot talent isn't just in the Midlands, in fairness; it's all over the country... but this is my patch, and I am massively frustrated for all the local talent we have in our region, constantly passed over because the networks don't even bother to look. I'll come back to this, and what the beeb has done - or not - in 2014, in a few weeks. But remember: I still love and admire you, Auntie, and I always will. Right now, you're our best hope.



4: Albums matter. Oh no, they don't. Oh yes, they do.

Next week I'll list some of the corking albums that we've seen in 2014. This week I just want to flag up a question: why do we stick to the album format? I wrote about this a while back, and all the arguments are still valid. And here's a pertinent music industry blog piece from July this year.

Songs travel singly, especially when the web and mainstream broadcasters carry them, one at a time, on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube. So why do we stay loyal to a dated concept of a parcel of songs, originally physically gathered together around one concept, or one period of time? Well, we're not, really. Just ask Bono. As a mainstream business proposition, it's odd. Musicians lose out by handing their album over to streaming services. You have to pay, remember, to get your stuff up on Spotify. They make money, you don't - more e-slavery. 

Ah, but as an artistic proposition, it makes sense. Dated concept or not, an album is something that artists still buy into as part of their creative process. In some cases, it's pure vanity. In other cases, it represents a body of work, a milestone, a statement of intent. Musicians still plan out sets of songs for live work. So its logical that they would embody those sets on CD or Bandcamp downloads. 

The distinction is that the musician trades on a relationship with his or her audience, while the music industry trades on saleability of product. And at cottage industry level, the album stacks up. You go to a live gig and the artist blows you away; you take away a memory; the artist gets his or her due. In fact, it seems to me that, at local level, where so many excellent artists ply their trade, the ability to sell your own work directly has given local music-making a massive shot in the arm.

The paths that music and musicians take to reach listeners are many and varied. The only time that fashion comes into the equation is when you're being sold something. 


Bottom line? Creativity is in rude health. But many creators are not - yet - getting their rewards. Again. Still.

Have a peaceful Christmas. 

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Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Hound, the passing of time, and the cruelty of change.


Talking bout my radio generations. 

When I was 23, the radio station I worked for went to number one in its market for the first and only time. It was my first radio gig. The PD was ecstatic, and we were pretty damn pleased with ourselves. 

I was an English import on a US rock station, WPHD-FM in Buffalo, in upstate New York. My presence, or rather my accent, was a gimmick, but it was a realistic ploy for a station which played tons of British Rock. WPHD really was the call sign; we targeted the, er, college market. Our sudden and surprising ratings success was due to boomers adopting the newer, cleaner stereo FM frequency; that, and the station's decision to, finally, lean heavily on rock hits in its programming. But, looking back, the listener switch to FM – a tech issue, and I'll come back to that - was the major factor. That same switch took place a decade later in the UK.


The Hound

From Kevin Golsby's Flickr stream          

Across town, leading his own soul station, WBLK, was the veteran broadcaster George 'Hound Dog' Lorenz. George Lorenz had been a 50s north-eastern US radio superstar at the leading local Top 40 operation, WKBW. He got to be syndicated worldwide for a spell. He was the real deal. There's photos of him onstage with Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee... He discovered Wilson Pickett, for chrissakes - or so the legend goes. 

I loved George's vintage schtick. Lots of reverb, slick patter, cool name-checks, killer sense of rhythm and delivery, pacing, vocal range: he had the lot. It was super-classy stuff. Yes, it was dated, but it was still brilliant. George was there when rock and roll started. If you dig around on the web, you can find a bunch of clips to listen to. There's links to sites at the bottom of this post to get you started.



The radio-friendly news stand

I used to go downtown to the one news stand which stocked out of town papers. The vendor had a unique market: all the out of town radio guys who revolved in and out of gigs, from town to town. The life of a dj was - is - precarious: I would regularly meet guys at our sister Top 40 station who lived in caravan parks, trailing around the country from station to station. Mostly, they were divorced; you can understand why. Harry Chapin wrote about those guys. 

My downtown news stand man loved radio. I'd go down on a Wednesday to pick up an expensive UK Sunday Times and catch up on the football. And we'd talk radio. He used to listen to Twenty Questions, relayed on the local CBC station, booming into Buffalo from across the border in Toronto.

So, it's springtime, and my station of misfits, longhairs and hippies was number one in town. The news stand man asked me how my station was doing. Of course I went off on one about how we'd killed the opposition, quadrupled our numbers, all that. I gave it large, as we now say. I'd expected an interested reaction, but all I got was a non-committal 'is that so?' as he handed me my paper and sent me on my way.

I didn't get back downtown for a few weeks. But, soon after, George Lorenz passed away. The industry marked the passing of a legend; thirty years and more at the coalface.. 

When next I went to get my paper, the conversation went like this:
'I see your friend died.'
'Who? What friend?'
'The hound! George Lorenz.'
'I know! But I never met him. Wish I had, I loved his show.'
'Ah. Cos he was standing right behind you when you were saying how great your station was.' 

Oh, crap


I felt about two inches tall.


The cruelty of change

Tech changes everything in media. It always has. That brutal change was over 40 years ago. It did for a lot of old school US stations. Lots of stations folded, sold up, or flipped to cheaper formats like talk, once FM got to be the big deal. Later, much later, came networking and station clusters.  

I'm lucky – I'm not not a George: I don't own a station where time has moved on; I'm not suffering because massive changes have overwhelmed my industry and my business. The pace of change has accelerated since those days; it's given me new tools which I rather enjoy. But now, it's even more brutal, and it still doesn't take any prisoners. And, always, the changes come garlanded with brash new generation spokesmen who are happy to lay down the law to you and me about the new rules - rules which sad old fossils like us can hardly be expected to understand. 

I can guess how George Lorenz must have felt, listening to some Brit hippy kid, still wet behind the ears. A kid, moreover, who was banging on about his industry: Rock and Roll radio, the one he'd spent his whole life in, the one he had helped create

It really wasn't WPHD's brilliance that hit George's operation hard. Truth be told, we were barely competent; we had some classic stoner jocks who would put on the longest tracks they could find, because they were lazy bastards. We just got lucky when we got our five minutes in the sun; it could have been anybody. And the station lost its market-busting share as soon as savvier operators cottoned on to what we had been doing. No, the damage was inflicted by two big changes: demographics and technology. New audiences, new generations, and new methods of delivery. 


Hey, where did my audience go?

That change is still going on now. FM is old hat. New music doesn't reach us on the radio so much, if at all, and each new generation grabs the new tech and sweeps effortlessly forward with it. When radio was able to embrace the new tech, that tech served it well. But now? 

Tech has evolved to fit what management wants – radio now has tools like like hyper-speedy research systems to let them get closer to their audiences. I'm not sure they're being used right, but I'm not pushing those buttons. 

And, just as it did over 40 years ago, tech has also taken an entire generation of listeners and shifted its perspective. That is a big, big problem for radio. If people grow up without getting into the habit of listening to the radio, what can radio to to stem this flow? I'd love to hear some ideas.


Young listeners....?

Here's an example. I'm working with some very smart young people on a string of radio projects: scripting, editing, voicing, music selection to meet editorial priorities, debates, interview techniques, talking to time, reaching new audiences. These are all skills that could be useful in a number of fields besides radio. We're having fun, and there is some talent to work on. 

But none of those smart young people listen to the radio – unless they're in a car with their parents. Then, it's Radio 2 or Radio 4. 

Why? Because they have their own things; they don't need old stuff. My generation had FM stereo; these kids have smartphones, gaming and torrent sites. It's the same process that ultimately took audiences away from George; just different gewgaws and baubles to entice fickle customers. Easier access, right for the new breed, a universe away from the old. 

Things get old fast at Radio, especially when owners panic over shifting markets. Consider the speed with which formats change. This week, Bauer effectively buried Kerrang! Radio. Once upon a time, that was going to be the format which was going to break down UK pop radio. Ha. And consider, too, how Radio 1 switches and ditches, faster and faster, in an attempt to hold on to its increasingly vaporous audience. 


Reasons to be cheerful

The cruelty of change won't stop hitting, of course. It's already changed today's radio far more than ever it did George's. I'd love to think Radio could survive and prosper, and I actually think it will. After all, one of the strongest human instincts is to communicate, person to person. Radio can meet that need better than almost any other medium. 

Well, it can, when it is allowed to. I look forward to changes in technology which will enhance communication, not drown it in a welter of chatter. That may well happen, surprisingly, with podcasts and mould-breaking new independent works which are at last getting some traction. 

In the meantime, here's an affectionate and rueful tip of the hat to George Lorenz. I loved the pictures he painted, and it was a privilege to have been able to listen to him. 

I just wish that damn news stand man had introduced me... 


Links:
George Hound Dog Lorenz tribute site. Packed with audio clips.
Forgotten Buffalo's George Lorenz section: more clips and YouTube videos

See further in memoriam posts on Radio To Go


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Sunday, 7 December 2014

A new, local, ultra-specialised record label, Sam? Quite sure about that?



Record labels are risky ventures... but this one has an impressive ace up its sleeve


So here we are, well into the internet age, with all the upheavals that the web has meant for recorded music. This has been picked over and dissected on this blog several times. 

The general consensus? The web has returned music makers to a state of penury and servitude not known for over a century. Music flows everywhere, regardless of who has the rights to it. This is nothing new: when Mozart staged his own concerts – he was a star pianist, the best in Vienna at the time – people in the audience transcribed every note. His work was available on the street the next day. And Mozart, in turn, was not above lifting other people's ideas without credit. 

So my general reaction, when I hear of a new record label, especially a label that deals with specialist, adventurous and demanding music, at a time when returns from recordings have hit an all time low, is to wish the people behind it well... and then ask if they are quite in their right minds. 


Sam Slater, on tour with TG Collective

Sam Slater, of TG collective and Stoney Lane, was remarkably cheerful when I threw this question at him.
"I think it's a natural progression for the scene here, almost what the area needs, in the genres that we're working in: Jazz, Classical and various 'World'-related music.  If you look at several major cities around the country: Manchester have one or two artist-led jazz-based labels that have done really well, and really pushed some of their artists internationally; Edition Records grew out of Cardiff and has a great vibe and quality of output; in London there's two or three...... "
...which doesn't surprise me. I'm not disputing the range of talent that you can draw on. We know that there's brilliant talent in the Midlands. The question I really need to ask you is – can this enterprise wash its face? It has to be daunting.
"Absolutely! But not so much daunting as exciting - we've been successful in releasing TG Collective recordings in the past, so I think when the music and personalities are interesting enough, the live side of things is original, dynamic and varied, and the promotion intelligent, people will still listen and buy an awful lot of music. Just that now it is consumed and sold over many more types of media and formats, and you have to be on top of them all, consistently.  Everything has to be of a very high quality, so the music, production, artwork and physical product of everything we release will be just that!  Silly as it sounds, 'success' will not necessarily be solely about financial gain, as a label or as an artist - if it helps to push careers, new artistic directions, opportunities and projects, great happenings, more national and international prominence for the musicians and scene here, and not losing much money in the process, then we're on the right track."
So Sam's not daunted. The label has sprung from the fact that there are maybe half a dozen people thinking of releasing, or ready to release, albums in the region. Kindred souls, ready to go. So why not create a focal point for all this?. 
"There's us – TG CollectivePercy Pursglove who has a fantastic project, there's Lluis Mather with an album done and ready; there's the Mike Fletcher Trio who are putting an album out in January. Chris Mapp's Gambol has recorded too."

"What happens in the Jazz world is – you release an album, you don't really tell anybody, you're a little bit embarrassed. You've made some wonderful music, and you occasionally sell a copy or two for whatever somebody will give you at a gig, in a pub, twice a year.... "
Sam's got a point. Musicians are not necessarily the best at self-promotion. The more involved, the more demanding the music, the more business issues can retreat to the background – often with disastrous long-term financial consequences. 

Jazz record labels have never existed as serious money-making enterprises – but they can be very effective career platforms and reputation-builders. Blue Note, which is celebrating 75 years of often precarious, hand to mouth existence, helped dozens of great musos get stated: Jimmy Smith, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Miles Davis... the list goes on for pages. But it's worth noting, too, that in their early days, before they were absorbed into a conglomerate, that their sessions were recorded live, improvised, and straight to stereo: one take stuff, with no corrections. And that's about as cheap as you can make it when recording Jazz. 

That sort of approach isn't how Stoney Lane will do things in the 21st century. 
"It's more of a collective support thing for everyone on the label. We're all doing this, so let's use this to point to the collective talent here."
You guys can take months, years to get the result you want. Are we talking about Stoney Lane picking up on finished works, acting as a distributor rather than a commissioning label?
"Initially, mostly yes, although the time it takes to record will really vary depending on the band, orchestration, complexity and their ideas for the vibe of the recording. We've got no serious money, as is always the way.  Most of the projects are recorded. Mike's had already been recorded. Lluis – I think he did a couple of days live studio recording, and a live performance recording with that band, and Chris did something similar.  So in some shape or form, all of the albums have been funded – self-funded in many cases; a bit of sponsorship and artist grant support here and there.." 
So far so good. But that doesn't allow for really big, ambitious projects. Listen to this early sketch of an extraordinary work from Percy Pursglove. I think it is amazing, fresh and ambitious. You can find it on the Stoney Lane Soundcloud page:



"When I first heard this, I found it really, really exciting. But that's a big, big project of you want to do it right. The album we will hopefully do, if ECM doesn't pick it up first, which would be wonderful, by the way... will be one from Percy Pursglove. He came to the end of a fellowship project which produced a piece, about a month ago, called 'Far Reaching Dreams Of Mortal Souls'... which was pretty heavy." 
I think it's breathtaking; absolutely wonderful. I wouldn't call it Jazz, though.
"No! This the exciting thing that I like about the label. I'm not shy to have it as a Jazz-based label, because that's what's here. But in time it would be great to branch out. Percy's is a mix of jazz and classical contemporary composition. It's composed for a choir and a seven or eight piece jazz band with space for improvisation within the work. It's all written around famous speeches and quotations from historical figures. We've got a nice live recording, but that's the first outing of the work. They had one day to rehearse it. The reviews are wonderful."
If that's a first recording, then the piece is very likely going to evolve and shake down.
"Probably, But now we've got the small tasks of raising funds to record it properly. With that many people and that level of musician involved, we're talking a fair amount to record it." 
Ouch, You'll have to bring in a lot of kit – a decent digital desk, a lot of mics, and a seriously good engineer. And you'll need a place with great acoustics, to house maybe forty or fifty musicians and singers. I can see why money is an issue. 
"We may have the venue, and we have the engineer. The guy who recorded the last TG Collective CD – Alejandro Merola – he's done a lot of work with us already. He recorded Percy live, and his attention to detail is way above and beyond." 
So it's really down to finance
"Yes. We're looking at a mixture of crowdfunding, and maybe grant bodies. Three or four different pots of funds."
The label has grown from the existing Stoney Lane operation. TG Collective's last album, 'Release The Penguins' came out on a Stoney Lane 'label' because it made sense. But now it's rather more ambitious. Distribution is sorted; promotion, where funds allow, is in place. But the big ambitious project is Percy Pursglove's. That's at least a year away, but what a goal to shoot for! I wish them all the success in the world. 

And if it does pay off, they there's a new Birmingham focal point for some very adventurous music-making.

Links
Stoney Lane Records website

The roster
TG Collective
Lluis Mather  
Chris Mapp  Mike Fletcher

Percy Pursglove

See more posts on music business and infrastructure on Radio To Go

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