Welcome, dear readers, to the September Blog from Hillbilly Boogie.
Menacing surf-noir with skiffling eastern rock’n’roll from a parallel universe’…. These words were penned in respect of a fabulous outfit from Glasgow called The Strange Blue Dreams. As I said during Hillbilly Boogie when playing some of their tracks, I have no idea how reviewers come up with this wonderfully florid prose so I shall paraphrase the KISS acronym and Keep It Simple (Stu)!
Before we go any further, here is ‘Reverberatin’ Love’ from The Strange Blue Dreams.
Again, during a recent program, I was reminiscing about spending time hanging out in record shops – and one in particular.
When I was a lad, I was despatched 300 miles from North Wales to Dover to go to school (sometimes I think my folks were trying to tell me something!). The school ethos was that, if you were not picked to play for one of the school sports teams then you should stand on the sideline with the wind hurtling unimpeded off The Channel (generally in the rain) and cheer on your schoolmates. Fortunately, I had a mate (more, a kindred spirit) who, if we weren’t in the team, was as enthusiastic as me to walk down the hill into Dover and go to John Scrace’s record shop.
Given that we were two (perhaps slightly precocious) teenagers in the 60’s from a military school with regulatory, and fearsome, short back & sides haircuts I continue to marvel at, and be grateful for, the patience shown by the older (very hairy & hippy) customers in John Scrace’s. My friend and I would read the music press and reviews from the broadsheet newspapers that were allowed at school and then we would try and listen to as much music by those featured in the articles. I remember listening to Kevin Ayres’ Joy Of A Toy – for us, the more ‘out there’ the better though I should confess that my young ears were not ready for Rahsaan Roland Kirk! I also recall an excited ball of hair dashing in one Saturday and asking ‘Is it here?’ and, being told that “it” was here, he blurted ‘I can’t wait to get home, put it on!’ and so, I first heard Uilleann pipes and the names of Finbar and Eddie Furey.
After leaving school, and getting more hair of my own, hanging round in the record shops (or the huge record stall in the covered market in Wrexham) remained a genuine pleasure – chatting with fellow music lovers (especially if they had an eclectic taste) and finally deciding on purchases and wandering off home.
The point of this ramble? I am grateful that I was able to read and learn about music and musicians with someone who was as enthusiastic as me and that we were both able (and allowed) to hang out safely with older fellas (who in reality were probably only in their early 20’s) and expand our musical horizons even further and never hear the words ‘push off, kid’.
My wide-ranging musical taste started much earlier than boarding school though. My dad
used to go to auctions and he would come back with boxes of records that were a mixture of 78’s and 33⅓ records. From these I went from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (not keen), Winifred Atwell (which I played on a wind-up gramophone) and recordings of a Gamelan Orchestra that captivated me. Not to mention a Jim Reeves record (Sincerely Yours) where he spoke and played a snippet of Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. Little did that chubby kid know that one day he would get to meet and make acquaintance with A.P. Carter’s grandson and visit Mount Vernon in Maces Spring.
Last week we visited our favourite venue: The South Holland Centre in Spalding. We went to see 3hattrio who had returned to the UK after making a triumphant appearance at Celtic Connections earlier in the year. I am grateful to Hal, Greg and Eli for permitting me to take some photographs during their concert.
So what makes The South Holland Centre so special?
Their program is always varied, the music events are always of a high calibre, the ticket prices are reasonable and the facilities in and around the South Holland Centre are very good. But it’s more than that.
The South Holland Centre seems to have a very loyal audience. Two concerts spring to mind - 3hattio and Hillfolk Noir who, I think it is fair to say, are a little ‘left field’ yet the theatre was filled. Speaking with fellow audience members, some have said that – even if they are not overly familiar with an artist – they will turn up because of the reputation that the venue has built.
Now that’s the key, isn’t it? A venue that has worked hard to build (and then maintain) a reputation that will encourage audiences back – even if some of the audience are ‘taking a punt’.
In the past year we have seen shows/concerts in small venues where the music is good yet there seems to be little attention paid by the promoter to either the music, the musicians or the audience. When the bands have played, they have played their hearts out but it has been hard not to feel that the musicians (and their audience) deserved better. We have also been to concerts by similar artists in small venues where concerts are consistently sold out and audience members recognise the efforts made by the promoters for performers and audiences alike…and they keep coming back.
Getting rear-ends on seats is the perennial problem for promoters and there are no easy answers but unless audiences feel that their money was well-spent they will not return – another venue on the tour (even if it is further away) will get the sale. So will we be going back to the South Holland Centre? Going to 3hattrio I had two further concerts booked and by time we left, I had bought tickets for another and another one will be attended in 2018 when tickets are available…..I promised not to say who….you will have to keep an eye on their website !
Let me leave you with ‘Flight’ by 3hattrio…
See you soon….as ever, Be Good!
One of the joys of being a presenter on radio is hearing stories of great listener experience. By and large those who tune in do so because they have a deep interest in music and a desire to share new discoveries with others.
Recently I heard of someone who on hearing a particular artist on the show followed up with the band to find out if they would sell him a CD.
The band sent the CD but insisted no payment should be made. In fact, the postage was not cheap but that too was carried by the band.
Being a keen supporter of our emerging artists he was pleased but a little concerned at this approach.
But, is there method in their madness?
Any independent artist producing CDs to showcase their music will probably understand how the role of that medium has changed in recent years.
Far from being the end product designed to reach a mass consumer market through large industry suppliers, the CD today is used more in the role of marketing or as a take away for appreciative audiences at concerts.
It does indeed showcase an artists music, but also act as a focus for creative skills.
Getting a wide distribution is very much in the artists interest and who better to help than an enthusiastic supporter?
Many copies will have been sent around the radio stations and reviewer addresses but how many of those will end up in the bin? or maybe get one play on a show only then end up at the bottom of a large pile in store.
Sending a CD to someone who will tell friends and other interested parties is very likely to lead to sales and bookings, so not a bad move and in these days of download or streaming probably quite cost effective.
I recently read a detailed article on this approach which came out heavily in favour of musicians openly giving recorded music for free but with the caveat of course that it is part of a broader marketing strategy and supported by a business plan
Brian Player September 2017
The Promotion Game
In my first blog for Blues & Roots, I mentioned that I used to promote gigs – so here’s the story of how it started, where it all went wrong and the decision I made…
If you’ve ever seen the film or read the book Hi Fidelity, you’ll know the sort of record shop I used to work in back in the 90’s. We all made Best Of lists, did tapes for friends, and knew more about music than anyone else (even if we didn’t).
Decoy Records sold jazz, blues, folk, country, Americana (or New Country as is was known then), Cajun, Zydeco, bluegrass, World Music as well as reggae and what we called “crossover”, which was basically music we liked that didn’t really fit into one of the specialist categories. Ozric Tentacles (www.ozrics.com) fell into the latter. They were (and still are) a mixture of prog rock / hippy / space / trance music. Back in 1991, the Ozrics had moved on from being a hard working festival band, selling cassettes and building up a committed core audience, to releasing their first album on their own label. Crucially, they hadn’t toured yet.
Although some of the details are a bit sketchy, I think that as we were selling their cassettes in the shop via their management, they asked if we knew how to get a gig in Manchester. I knew there was a buzz about this band and that they’d do well, so with a devil may care attitude I said, yeah, I’ll do that.
How hard could it be..? We agreed how much the band wanted to be paid, which seemed reasonable, plus they had their own light show guys – The Fruit Salad Light Show. I have no idea how I decided on a venue. Looking back, it seems crazy to me that I’d book the (now defunct) International 1 – capacity of 1,200+. What was I thinking..?
After deciding on the ticket price, then getting posters & tickets printed, I went to work on selling the gig. This is where I was really fortunate – working in a record shop meant I didn’t have to do much in the way of paid advertising. Everybody who came into the shop was a potential ticket buyer.
Although advance ticket sales didn’t actually do particularly well, my first inkling of the potential success of the gig was when I was walking to work one day and I saw bootleg posters for the gig. Seriously, how cool is that..?
There are many stories I could tell of the gig itself – but now isn’t the time or place. Suffice to say that a thousand people went to that gig, and there were even impromptu campfires on the street afterwards. It was a major success, and is still occasionally talked about today.
In fact, it was so much of a success that their management wanted a second gig fairly soon after. But they wanted it on Glastonbury weekend, and I said no, because that’s where their audience were likely to be. But they were adamant – so I passed them on to a guy called Simon Moran, an up and coming promoter who had heard about the success of the Ozrics gig and he snapped at the offer.
It dived. The majority of the audience were at Glastonbury. I got a phone call from Simon after the gig asking me how mine worked and his didn’t. As it was, the band felt bad for Simon and booked another gig with him, which was a success. Simon went on to become SJM a year later – you might have heard of them. Just use your friendly neighbourhood search engine and type in SJM Concerts…
Flushed with the success of the Ozrics gig, I thought I knew how this promotion game worked. Turns out I didn’t, I really didn’t. If I’d have started smaller & built up, it might have been a different story. But selling 1,000 tickets for my first gig, well I was ready to take on the world.
I came up with the idea of the St. Valentine’s Day Blues Night, which I ran for two years, then the Manchester American Blues Night – each one lost money. Large amounts of money. I booked too many bands, didn’t do enough advertising, got the pricing all wrong. Finally, I did what I should have been doing a lot earlier – just one act, a smaller venue, much smaller break-even point of about 100. It was during this time that I put on Chris Smither, Martin Simpson, Terry Allen – all broke even (with a bit of “Rick style accounting” – if I had enough to pay the artist on the night, all was good.)
Then, because I’d put on so many gigs, my name got about a bit and in 1995 I was offered a big gig again: Emmylou Harris. She had just released Wrecking Ball, a huge crossover, cover version album. There was to be a tour, paid-for advertising in the national press and we were selling lots of the album in the shop.
I thought about the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. In the round. It would be perfect. Then I did the maths. And bottled it. I just couldn’t take the risk. The album went on to win a Grammy and the tour was a huge success.
It would be almost 20 years before I put on another gig. And I still didn’t really get it right, even then. I’d forgotten the “keep it simple” motto. I put a series of small gigs on, Roots & Fusion Playing Out’ with two acts each time. And I thought if I kept the ticket price low, more people would come. I had to work hard to get 40 people to them – but then I realized that, although I have a radio show, I have a bigger audience in Canada than in Stockport. So I offered free entry to Canadian passport holders…
The gigs did okay – they mostly sold out (I’d chosen a small intimate venue), and the artists really enjoyed them. The last gig I put on was Luke Jackson – an incredible talent, but again I had to work really hard to get people to turn up. And that was when I finally realized – I am not a promoter.
There are many good promoters out there, and most of them work really hard at what they do. And that’s the key for promoting gigs – never be complacent, never assume people will turn up, no matter who the act is you’re putting on. Get that advertising out there; make sure people know about it. I was at a gig recently where only nine people turned up. Tragic, heart breaking.
So if you like live music, go see it. Whenever you can. While you can. Because one day, it might not be.
It's the height of summer which means several things; rain, quiet roads with no school traffic and music festivals. Cambridge this July had all three. The Cambridge Folk Festival was the first music festival I ever attended and it still holds a special place for me. I love everything about it from the train journey to the first walk through the entrance; it has a buzz. The festival itself is held in the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall, a Grade II listed Victorian country house set in a beautiful park and now owned by Cambridge City Council.
Every festival has its own atmosphere and Cambridge is Middle England personified. One of the great traditions is the broadcast of “The Archers” on Sunday morning before the music starts. Hearing those Mummerset accents and Barwick Green drifting across the site, just a mile from the colleges, is surprisingly comforting; like hearing Lilliburlero in a rainforest.
The music is, of course, excellent both in depth and range. There are four stages running Friday to Sunday, just two on the Thursday evening opener, and they continuous. At some festivals there will be afternoon and evening concert but Cambridge doesn't stop and one of the interesting things to watch is the stage crew preparing and sound checking the next act. It's not too bad when you have somebody and a guitar but for one of the bigger bands its a real piece of art yet done in a totally calm and controlled way, taking less than 15 minutes.
The organization, in general, is superb as it should be after 52 years of practice. This year I was fortunate to get a press pass so was able to get behind the scenes and I was even more impressed. I saw 60 acts over the weekend, and missed plenty more, who all had to be marshalled, fed and watered. With 14,000 visitors over four days the bins needed emptying, the toilets cleaning and everyone kept safe and happy. My admiration for the largely volunteer staff has grown enormously.
The acts I saw covered a huge range, from established stars such as Martin Simpson, Jake Bugg and Shirley Collins through to those just starting out. Cambridge has established links with both Sligo Live in Ireland and Feis Rois in Scotland, so musical representatives from both were invited along to show their talent, and didn't they just do that! The future of traditional music looks very bright, but that tradition involves plenty of people who are trying to innovate and experiment. Niteworks (http://niteworksband.com/#home), from the Isle of Skye, play traditional Scottish music but they mix it up with club beats and aren't afraid to go experimental electro and why shouldn't they? If synths and drum kits had been around 200 years ago they would have been used. If traditional music doesn't evolve, doesn't experiment, it becomes a dusty museum piece. Of course, not everyone can pull it off. I did see one electro act who hadn't figured out the difference between “can we?” and “should we?”, which was a pity.
The other thing I became aware of over the weekend is that being a musician just starting out these days isn't only the ability to sing or play an instrument; being able to make that connection with a potential follower in a time of multi-media is equally as important. On the Thursday I saw a very good performer, Chloe Leigh
It's one of those surnames that's easy to get wrong so I caught up with her after her set to check the spelling. I was presented with a professionally printed business card listing everything I needed to know; name, weblinks, facebook, twitter, soundcloud all laid out for me.
A couple of days later I saw a good duo and wanted to get some details from them too. They apologetically explained that they were going to get something set up on facebook before they'd arrived but hadn't quite managed to do so. The message here is to make life easy for your audience because you have a lot of competition.
So great music in a lovely location and an atmosphere which encourages you to enjoy yourself and gives you the ability to do so. I think the best way to appreciate Cambridge is to be mobile; don't stick to one stage but move around the site, have a listen and decide if you're going to stay or try somewhere else. That also gives you plenty of opportunities to pass the reasonably priced and very good food stalls, the market stalls and the beer tents. If Cambridge has one failing it's that they don't do as many real ciders as other festivals, but you can't have everything.
What about the other elements of a British summer? Well the lighter traffic made it easy to cross the road to the nearest supermarket for a personal Cambridge tradition of mine, the breakfast bacon croissants! As for the rain, we were particularly blessed this year...every day and there was even some wind thrown in for free. It didn't stop anyone enjoying themselves, of course. The picnickers outside Stage 1 put on their waterproofs and the children had great fun jumping in the puddles. As soon as the rain stopped, it did eventually, the brollies and ponchos were packed away and we carried on regardless.
If you only ever visit one folk festival this is the one I'd pick as it has everything and is very easy to get to using public transport, thanks to the network of courtesy buses for festival visitors. Away from the festival you also have one of the most historic cities in the country that still has a whiff of dreaming spires about it.
Of course, there are plenty of other festivals around as well, every weekend, but my next trip will be to a new one for me at Towersley, which is just a short drive away. I'm looking forward to that with Jon Boden, Eliza Carthy, Show of Hands and Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater amongst many others on the bill. No doubt I'll also find plenty of new acts as well, which is all part of the fun.
As well as editing Fatea Magazine, curating the Fatea Showcase Session Downloads and producing Along The Tracks for Stevie here at Blues & Roots Radio, I occasionally get asked to do workshops at festivals and events, mainly aimed at newer bands and solo artists trying to get themselves established, so I thought it might be a good idea to take you through a few of the ideas from that.
I mentioned in my first blog, “After your music, the website and associated applications will become the most important asset an act owns”, I’ve repeated it here for a reason because it is true. If you only have one piece of internet real estate, make it a website.
It’s not as important to own the underlying infrastructure, servers etc, but own the domain and treat it like gold. Your website is your window onto the world so it needs to be clear and kept clean and, particularly important if you are selling music and merch through it, it needs to be kept safe and yes you should be selling music and merch through it.
The role of your social media is to drive people that you interest in your music to your website, not Apple, not Spotify, your website. These are the people that you need to turn into your fans and followers, not Apple, Amazon, Spotify customer, your fans, followers and customers.
By way of example you send a tweet that you have a new track on Spotify, person clicks on tweet, likes it, stays on Spotify, likes the next track, by someone else and there you have your fraction of a cent.
Send out a tweet that you have a new track and tour with the link to your website and the person can now hear the track, checkout dates you may be in their area, see you’ve got t-shirts for sale, an album and a video and you are on the road to turning them into your fans and your customers. I’ll hold my hand up here and say, there is a possibility that less people will click on the link to your website than might have clicked on the link to Amazon, Apple etc, but here’s the key…Those that do will already be more committed to your music because they have already made a commitment directly to you.
The quality of the people that engage with you through your website will be higher than those that you only interact with through social media because they have already reached out to you and you need to make sure they enjoy the experience by keeping your website, clean and fresh, focused and relevant, you owe it to them. Get interactive with them, regularly update your news, let them know what you’re doing, ideally get them to sign up to a mailing list, turn them from being followers into fans, reward them for being so. Incentives are nothing new The Beatles used to give their fan club a free Christmas single, but remember to be genuine.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with building followers across your social media , in fact I would absolutely encourage it. By its very nature, it’s social you, have aways of interaction with a genuinely global audience on a personal level that could only be dreamed of ten years ago. Make it a proper two way process, engage with your followers, have conversations, ask opinions, let them know when one of your tracks is getting played on Blues & Roots or the album that you’ve released has been reviewed in Fatea and link to them, but remember the role of social media is to drive people to your website, to become your audience.
Quality of audience is more important than quantity, get both and the world really is your oyster. I hope this has been useful to you, happy to respond to your thoughts and comments.
Talking of thoughts and comments since we last talked there’s been a new Fatea Showcase Session. The new 18 track download, “Changing” is available from www.fatea-showcase-sessions.co.uk and from there you can link to the artists’ websites.
I love festivals. I’m either playing at one, working on broadcast sound, or attending one pretty much every weekend from early May to mid September. Indoors and outdoors, big or small - and Glastonbury is about as big as they get, at least in Britain.
As a musician you might think what’s in it for me? No sound check, sometimes a shared drum kit, will anybody come and see us, what will the sound be like? Long drives and traffic jams for a short set, chemical toilets, rain or sunstroke, good onstage crew, bad onstage crew…
And yet, I just love festivals. It’s not always your core audience which is good for a band - it makes you think about your stagecraft and gives you a whole new set of people to win over, so try to encapsulate all that’s good about your usual gig in an hour. Quick line check in the changeover and you’re on. Often you are urged on by an audience determined to have a good time, so keep in the crowd pleasers and maybe save some of the torch-song ballads for another night. Be good, give it everything you have and an hour of magic can happen; and quite frankly it’s a chance to sell CDs and T-Shirts to people who haven’t got them already - gotta make a living!
This works as an audience member too - you are trying to fit a lot in for a day or a weekend, so an hour of any band is plenty. Hopefully there are many other attractions such as good food and drink, and good company. This is also true for the musicians, who are notoriously bad about seeing anybody else play - after all if they have a gig that night, you hope you may have too! So it’s often a chance to hang out backstage and catch up with other ships that pass in the night on the motorways of the UK.
But it’s possible now in Britain that there are too many festivals and in recent weekends we have had two of them cancel the last day, whilst the festival was underway. Some others have been pulled ahead of time, which has happened to us, leaving a hole in your diary when you might have already turned down other offers for that weekend. A lot of these are boutique festivals, trying to offer something a little different. The successful festivals in this vein are Latitude and Wilderness ; both offering a lot more than a couple of stages of music - with wider cultural, food and drink offerings. In the blues area in the UK, festivals like Upton and The Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival at Colne draw huge crowds every year. Many other blues festivals here run on the model of multiple small venues across a town, or in hotel ballrooms and holiday centres - often out of holiday season - and this seems to be a successful way of bringing people to a location when otherwise it may be dead, and also making a bigger gig circuit through the winter months.
Of course, ending your set, as we do, with a song called Make It Rain can be a hostage to fortune outdoors in the British summer - but it makes it memorable either way.
August Blog from Hillbilly Boogie
Welcome, dear readers, to the August Blog from Hillbilly Boogie.
As Autumn (or Fall, you choose) approaches we are normally thinking of returning to
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion on the Virginia/Tennessee state line and Carolina in the Fall in Wilkesboro, North Carolina; sadly, there will be no transatlantic trip this September but we plan to return in 2018.
Autumn/Fall is also the time that Raleigh, North Carolina is besieged by the Bluegrass faithful (and hopeful) attending the annual IBMA World of Bluegrass event. For some, it will be a networking opportunity, for others it will be just be attending one of the many concerts and showcases that take place but for others the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards will be the highlight. Personally, I look forward to reading the transcript of this year’s keynote speaker, Rhiannon Giddens.
With the hullabaloo caused by the announcement of the IBMA Awards nominees, my mind (once again) started to churn over just how I feel about the awards bestowed by IBMA and SPBGMA (Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America) (pronounced: spig’ma). While there are many awards such as the Grammy and Mercury Awards it is the music represented by IBMA and SPBGMA that I am most familiar with). Before I go any further, let me state that I am NOT criticising either the IBMA or SPBGMA it is just that I feel ambivalent about the awards. I was thrilled to see that Molly Tuttle has received three nominations – Guitarist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year. Front Country and Volume Five are also nominees and, if you have listened to Hillbilly Boogie you will appreciate how glad I was to see their names listed.
So why do I feel ambivalent?....
I really hope that Molly walks away with all three awards, I also hope that Volume Five’s ‘I Am A Drifter’ wins Song of the Year and with Volume Five and Front Country being nominated in Emerging Artist of the Year I am glad that I don’t have to cast the deciding vote on that decision! I am genuinely excited at the prospect of seeing recognition for musicians that I admire yet there is part of me that wishes that IBMA and SPBGMA would do more to recognise some of the exceptional ‘grassroots’ initiatives and organisations.
Before I go any further, can I applaud the IBMA’s Bluegrass Trust Fund which is largely funded by the Wide Open Bluegrass event held as part of the IBMA World of Bluegrass celebration. I would recommend the article on the Trust written by John Lawless on Bluegrass Today featuring Phil Leadbetter.
So what would I like to see? I will give one example..
JAM – or Junior Appalachian Musicians – is an organisation that is active in over 40 localities and gives young people the opportunity to play music together. Their website says it better than I ever could:
In my mind, any organisation that seeks to help young people become involved in music at any level is to be applauded; that JAM do so to maintain traditional music deserves public support from organisations that proclaim ‘tradition’, ‘heritage’ and (of course) ‘preservation’.
Let me say again, JAM are active in over 40 localities – 40!
Anyone who has worked with young people at a music club will know how much organisation (and how many adults) it takes to provide a safe environment for the club to take place. Now multiply this by 40! Some of the people giving their time to teach and guide at JAM are musicians of the highest calibre. So while I would like to see recognition of JAM as an entity at IBMA and SPBGMA, I am sure that any of the 40 localities were visited we would see a massive commitment to Bluegrass & Old-Time music at the grassroots level.
Let’s not forget organisations such as Music For Veterans who also bring people together through music.
To use an expression from my childhood, wishing that large music organisations would give more recognition to organisations like JAM or Music for Veterans may be ‘pie in the sky’ but when I see the same names year after year (even though I own many CDs by them, even though I delight in seeing them play live, even though I admire and respect their musicianship) I would love to see the awards committees step out from under the bright lights a little.
Before I shuffle off over the horizon for another month I would like to mention a fantastic community event that we attended recently in Northampton. Various community organisations came together to host a Mela in Becket’s Park. This multi-cultural event was an absolute delight (accompanied by typical British weather or sunshine and showers). There was a performance by the Northampton General Hospital Choir and displays by a local gymnastics group (Gymnastricks), Bhangra Blaze (a Bhangra dance/fitness group) and Tamil dancers but my absolute favourite were the Bollywood Bros.
Initially, I wasn’t sure if they were going to be my ‘cup of tea’ – I was wrong! They came off the stage, and before too long had the crowd dancing. Other highlights, picking up a flyer for a Punjabi Hawaiian Luau (I have a great selection on ‘mad’ shirts) and the best vegetable samosas and chick-pea daal I have ever had. Will I be swapping banjos for Bhangra on Hillbilly Boogie? No…. but if see the Bollywood Bros again I’ll be down the front!
See you soon….as ever, Be Good!
You Tube - Friend or Foe?
We have all seen the slick professional video accompaniment to our popular songs. In fact with the advent of You Tube it has almost become obligatory for artists to produce a visual product to help promote their audio offerings.
But, do they always help? I have no doubt that pop or hip hop artists may find their tunes enhanced by the ability of their audience to see as well as hear them. The showcase video has almost become a statement of success when incorporating high tech imagery and effects and helps them relate to their by and large young audience.
However, in the world of folk, blues and roots where the image lies in the song and the music speaks for itself, what part should video play there?
The short answer I guess is simply in promotion and marketing of the band and song.
But extreme care needs to be taken.
As a radio presenter I often receive links to You Tube video sent to me by well meaning artists out to promote their latest song. A friend who is a concert promoter is almost swamped with links to You Tube showing artists and in particular bands performing at gigs. The hope being that he will be impressed enough by their video performance to book them for a gig himself.
Does it work?
I must confess to rarely looking closely at a video in preference to listening to a song on any other media. It does no harm to send a link but audio on You Tube cannot be used on radio so if impressed some follow up work on my part is required to access a CD or audio file. I am afraid that does not always happen.
My promoter friend? well, he cites what is often the case where the You Tube video is poor in quality or filmed with lots of background noise and banter, typically on a phone in a pub or club!! and there it actually does more harm than good.
He says he can easily be turned off from making a booking simply because the artist comes across badly.
So is there any place for video in our world of folk, blues and roots?,
Should artists avoid it like the plague??
Well no it does have a part to play but it must be good!!
Like many others I thoroughly enjoy flicking through high quality concert films of favourite artists, The ones that put you in the audience, but they do need to be of a truly professional standard and capture the magic of artist and performance.
Introductions too! You tube provides a great way for fellow music fans to pass on recommendations of artists and songs, but once again, the quality needs to be top rate.
My message to artists therefore, is please take care, make sure your presentation is enhanced and not hindered by the visual. and if in doubt there is no harm in leaving that particular media format out!!!
There have been times over the course of the past eight years of Roots & Fusion when I’ve been fortunate to be part of something wonderful. Let me tell you a story…
Back in 2011, I was listening to the late lamented Bob’s Folk Show when he played a song by Marina Florance. It seems that Neil King from Fatea (and Along The Tracks, another excellent show on Blues & Roots Radio) first heard Marina in the Club Tent at Cambridge Folk Festival and included her on one of his Showcase Session downloads.
I was so impressed that I got in touch and asked her if next time she was near Stockport she would like to record a session for Roots & Fusion. As she lives in Norwich, this took some time to arrange.
It was May 2012 when it finally came together. Back then my sound engineer of the time (Jason Powell) & I were recording artists in places of interest in the borough of Stockport – a crazy idea that grew into something remarkable. When Jason first suggested we take the sessions outside the studio into interesting places I was unconvinced. It’s radio – why would it matter where a session was recorded, no-one can see. Jason impressed on me the importance of ambient sound and he also thought that artists might be a little bored always recording in a studio. He was right. Over the course of a few years we recorded sessions in churches, museums, Stockport air raid shelter, Vernon Park, cafés, even the boardroom of Robinsons Brewery – but I digress…
We arranged to record Marina in Stockport’s Staircase House, a beautifully restored 15th century townhouse museum, home to one of only three surviving Jacobean cage–newel staircases in the country, installed in 1618.
Marina was wonderful. She just kept on playing. I think we recorded ten songs in total, all of them in one take. There was a wonderful moment when right at the end of recording The Dress, a grandfather clock we had been recording near chimed in perfect time.
We had a conversation about future plans and Marina mentioned she wanted to record an EP at the Puppet Theatre in Norwich as part of a collaboration with book artist Jules Allen, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. At this point I suggested she talk with Jason, or Mr Ears as I fondly called him.
And so it came about that Jason travelled down to Norwich to record Marina’s voice & guitar, together with Paul Bullen on keyboards and Cara Winter on backing vocals. They recorded five tracks in the space of five hours in the Puppet Theatre, with a result that is incredible.
The EP, My Own Little Piece Of The Sky, is a masterpiece. Neil King described it like this in his review for Fatea Magazine, “the five tracks on the EP share a remarkable atmosphere in which the interplay of melody and narrative is simply stunning”. It is this atmosphere that Jason captured so brilliantly with his recording – so much so that when a track was played on BBC6 Music, Tom Robinson remarked specifically about how impressed he was with the recording.
When Marina sent me a copy of the CD to see if I wanted to play any on Roots & Fusion, I decided that I would play the whole thing. So on the 6th February 2013, that’s what I did – all five tracks, back to back. Because I can…
Marina’s most recent venture has been a commission to write & sing a few songs for the Warm & Toasty Club in Colchester, as part of the Coast To Coast project. These songs are based on the memories and experiences of some of the retired people she met there. It sounds like she had a marvellous time there, listening to “memory afternoons” and sampling the Biscuit of the Week. The EP with her three songs is available now, called Coast To Coast.
If you ever get the chance to see Marina Florance live, do it. Don’t think twice, just do it. And say hello. She’ll like that…
Unlike many of the other bloggers I can't sing or play an instrument and I don't present or promote shows. I'm that third part of an interdependent triangle; my contribution is to sit in the audience and clap. I remember seeing the great Scottish duo Mairearad Green and Annie Massie at a festival a few years back and they thanked the audience for being there. After all, if we weren't “it would have been an awfully long way to drive for a rehearsal”.
I love live music so I need musicians to listen to. The musicians need venues to play in and platforms to get their music heard. Somehow it all sort of works but at the level I like it I can't just be a passive receiver of other people's effort. We, as the audience, have our role if there is to be a future for independent artists and that is through supporting the performers we like by buying the CDs and tickets, pledging on the album campaigns and visiting the venues.
Living where I do, about 25 miles north of central London, the only problem I have with venues is that I'm spoiled for choice. On one spectacularly well organized occasion I ended up with four tickets for three gigs – on the same night. Within an easy hour's journey from home there are seven excellent folk clubs and any number of small venues to visit for a good evening out. It isn't just the music either as I have to eat as well, so many wonderful little restaurants and bars have been found over the years, which also manages to avoid visits to the burger chains. Uxbridge Folk Club has a lovely Chinese buffet just across the road, whilst Epping normally means Thai. Not far from The Islington, a decent pub venue, I discovered a Georgian restaurant selling very simple, home cooked food at wooden tables; it you like pickled vegetables it's the place for you.
Then there's the beer. Real beer and proper food are essential to the evening and, in London, we've more micro- and craft breweries than you can shake a stick at. When it all comes together then happiness is not far away and one place where this happens more often than not is The Green Note in Camden Town. This is probably my favourite place of all. There's great music every night of the week and it's certainly cosy. The main room takes sixty-five and the basement gets busy with twenty. If you want a seat you need to be queuing outside before the doors open. Despite its size everyone who is everyone has played there and if they haven't it's probably still on their bucket list. They do great vegan food, the spinach and chickpea filo wrap is a personal favourite, and there's a very good organic lager. What more could you want?
So, what's to look forward to in July? One that has really caught my eye is at The Green Note on the 18th, an exciting bill of Emily Mae Winters, Kitty Macfarlane and Kirsty Merryn.
Of course July is also the month the festivals really start to kick in and there are two fairly local to me. Folk by the Oak is a one-day festival held in the historic grounds of Hatfield House, where you might find yourself lucky enough to be sitting under same oak Elizabeth was when she was told she was now Queen Elizabeth 1st in 1558. There's a great line-up this year with Show of Hands, Kate Rusby and The Levellers on the main stage and plenty of good acts including Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys on the acorn stage.
Unfortunately, I'm going to miss both of those events as I'll be in Outer Mongolia, but I will manage to get one festival in whilst I'm there. Naadam is more about horse riding, archery and wrestling than music but hopefully there will be some throat singing on show as well.
I'm back in time for probably the biggest folk festival of all. Cambridge runs from Thursday to Sunday and is always worth a visit. Friday to Sunday there are five stages ranging from the huge main marquee to The Living Room holding maybe 20 people. With up to 12,000 visitors a day it can get a bit overwhelming but the festival site is in the beautiful grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall so it's always possible to find a bit of peace and quite if you need a break and, with continuous music for twelve hours a day, that's sometime the case. The Thursday evening opener is a lovely warm up. With just two stages and maybe a couple of thousand people it has a really laid back feel. I'll tell you about Cambridge in the next blog if Neil King doesn't get there first.
I'll be back from Cambridge just in time to drop off the rucksack and have a shower before ending the month with a real bang. I'll be heading to The Green Note again for an excellent double bill of Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby with Oka Vanga.
That will be a night for the guitar lovers.