One of the concerns I had when I first started this blog was what I'd find to write about, but this one suggested itself. I was reviewing an Ange Hardy gig recently and wrote “You can't define a perfect gig in advance, but you know when you've been to one.” So there you go, we have a topic. What makes the “perfect” gig?
Well, the music certainly helps. Many of you will know Ange through her music, or her award winning show “Folk Findings” here on Blues & Roots Radio. She's a wonderful singer and multi-instrumentalist so you know in advance the music will be of the very highest quality, but more than that there's the person behind the song. In folk music, in particular, the story is almost as import as the lyrics and Ange is a superb storyteller who isn't afraid to open up about her life and experiences and how this has influenced her work. There were so many beautiful, moving songs and we were regularly in tears but she tells her stories with such spirit and sprinklings of humour that they become warm and uplifting rather than sad.
So, yes, the music and performer are important but that's not all that is needed for the “perfect” gig because I see lots of excellent musicians on a regular basis. They're great nights but don't quite become perfect. For me there needs to be other ingredients as well, and one of them is an element of adventure. Going to see Ange involved driving about 70 miles to get to the venue and the weather forecast said there was a chance of snow, so that added a certain frisson. As it turned out I was home before the snow started, which was a good job because people who stayed over got stranded, but even so I had one eye on the road and the other on the slowly dropping temperature gauge. The other thing special about this particular night was the sense of community that she helped to establish within the audience, which gave the whole thing a feeling of a gathering of friends rather than just a group of individuals. I found myself chatting to people I'd never met before, our shared interest in music creating a bond.
One of my favourite perfect gigs was the time I flew to Germany to see Minnie Birch and Kelly Oliver playing in a café about an hour north of Frankfurt. That had the added bonus of a different language, although I can speak German to a fair level, and having to navigate my way around an airport and city I'd never been to before. I don't think I'll ever forget the looks on their faces when I walked through the door! It becomes an adventure, and a holiday, with lots of memories to come home with. Music has taken me to Holland, Ireland and Canada - even Essex.
Earlier in 2017 I travelled down to Dorset to see Kadia and Emily Mae Winters, two superb acts and it was a beautiful gig. What made that perfect was, again, the extra ingredients including the journey, this time by train through some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Then, the icing on the cake is meeting up with friends; in this case Neil King. The venue also helped make this one a perfect gig. It was held in an old church, in a village, and churches always seem to have great acoustics. We were also fortunate to have real experts on both sound and lighting, too. The whole evening became part of the performance.
Folk songs often have a moral to them and I suppose this blog has a moral, too. If you want to get the most from your music be prepared to push the envelope. Try new things, new venues, new bands, and be willing to make the effort because eventually you'll be rewarded with that perfect gig.
2018 will herald the inaugural UK Blues Awards. These awards are being run by the UK Blues Federation and will climax with an awards presentation ceremony at the Southern Pavilion on Worthing Pier. They pick up the mantel from the British Blues Awards: with fewer categories, but adding regional awards for English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish artists - as well as some special awards. The new awards are not run by the British Blues Awards organisers (which didn’t happen in 2017) and there’s no indication that they will appear again. The UK Blues Federation has the credibility to make these awards a benchmark in the UK Blues world - it is an affiliate of the Blues Foundation and an active member of the European Blues Union, as well as the organiser of the annual UK Blues Challenge. Voting will take place over a four-week period in February, with the awards ceremony being on 19th May - hosted by Ian Siegal.
Ian Siegal: photographer unknown.
The new UK Blues Awards will cover the calendar year of 2017 and a short list of nominations will be voted for by a large panel, before the awards themselves are opened up to a public vote. The UK Blues Awards will be a professionally organised scheme, with robust internet voting security and an awards ceremony that seeks to be a showcase for UK Blues, aiming to garner the respect and coverage awarded to the UK Americana or BBC Folk Awards.
The categories are:
Male Blues Vocalist of the Year
Female Blues Vocalist of the Year
Blues Band of the Year
Acoustic Blues Act of the Year
Young Blues Artist of the Year
Blues-based Festival of the Year
UK-based Blues Broadcaster of the Year
Blues Album of the Year
Blues Songwriter of the Year
Blues Club/Venue of the Year
Blues Personality of the Year
Lifetime Contribution to the Blues in the UK
Innovation in the blues in the UK
Regional Blues Act of the Year: England
Regional Blues Act of the Year: Northern Ireland
Regional Blues Act of the Year: Scotland
Regional Blues Act of the Year: Wales
Southern Pavilion, Worthing Pier.
It’s worth noting that the categories all have the suffix ‘of the Year’, so it’s about who the voters consider has made an impact in 2017, rather than being ‘the best’. Music is not a competition, especially when one is comparing an apple with an orange, but such a prestigious awards system and ceremony run by a respected organisation deserves support. When the list of finalist nominees is published I’ll be featuring them on my show - with no recommendations - and I wish UK Blues Federation success in their bid to raise the profile of blues-based music in Britain.
More info at www.ukbluesawards.com
December Blog from Hillbilly Boogie
Welcome, dear readers, to the December Blog from Hillbilly Boogie.
It is probably a curious approach to admit that the article that you are just about to write is (possibly) utterly pointless but please read on!
Quite often, during Hillbilly Boogie, I will poke a little gentle fun at The Bluegrass Police – what do I mean by this? In my experience, The Bluegrass Police are those who will become rather excited at anything that fails to follow the formula presented by Bill Monroe and often heard proclaiming ‘That ain’t no part of nothin’’ – we’ll look at some of these points later. It seems that the music forum and Facebook pages are the happy hunting ground for the Bluegrass Police. Woe betide anyone who should post a link to a tour by musicians who do not wear Stetson hats, starched shirts and pointy-toed boots or worse, have some form of percussion for they are surely the agents of dark forces.
Side note: For anyone interested in Bluegrass history, I recommend Neil V. Rosenberg’s book.
One of my fondest memories, having read about Union Grove and some of the (almost) Woodstock-like stories, was to be driven around Union Grove by my sadly-missed friend Bobby Martin who lived there. Bobby drove me around in a golf-cart for about an hour giving me a first-hand account of Union Grove and showing me how far the campground extended – safe to say, that must have been quite a party and one which probably ruffled a few Bluegrass Police feathers.
Anyway, I digress.
Going back to Bill Monroe and how the Bluegrass Police can often become excited if anything fails to adhere to Monroe’s quintet of mandolin, guitar, banjo, fiddle and bass…. The phrase ‘That ain’t no part of nothin’’ was apparently uttered by Monroe in respect of resophonic guitar (Dobro to you and me) – I don’t think that many would argue that the resophonic guitar has a rightful place in Bluegrass music. I know that I wouldn’t. It also seems that ‘ain’t no part of nothin’’ became a general, dismissive response to anything that failed to meet a particular standard or expectation. The history books tell us that Monroe formed his Blue Grass Boys in 1938 but the ‘classic’ combination of Flatt, Scruggs, Wise, Rainwater & Monroe did not materialise until 1946 – I am sure that that intervening eight years saw a few innovations.
Now, perhaps I take a broader approach because I did not grow up steeped in Bluegrass. Having listened in my youth to folk, some Country, Rock (lots of Rock!) World Music and Jazz I eventually became aware of Bluegrass – though I had no idea what it was called. Remembering the days of the Country & Western jamboree held in Wembley each year which never appealed to me (though an old girlfriend came close to getting me there), this unknown genre was like Country music only better! Fewer rhinestones and more fiddle & mandolin. Gradually I learned more about this musical form and consequently lost possession of many, many £ notes (though the CD shelves began to fill rapidly). Maybe this different route to enjoying Bluegrass is why I am less upset by what I see as the development, or blurring at the edges, of a genre and the Bluegrass Police see as an attack on a tradition.
There is a great line in ‘I, Sideman’ by Jackie McAuley – he writes: ‘…a musician shouldn’t be judged on his style of music, his appearance or how much money he makes, but simply by the sincerity of his playing’. I read this line last night after I had decided on the broad topic for this article but reading Jackie’s words seemed particularly relevant.
All joking aside, I DO love ‘traditional’ Bluegrass but fail to understand some of the rigid thinking that surrounds Bluegrass in some quarters. I saw some, frankly, disappointing comments in relation to IBMA’s ‘Shout & Shine: A Celebration of Diversity in Bluegrass’. To those internet warriors who stamped their feet (and other petulant metaphors)… the clue’s in the name, folks! It was a celebration of diversity and – by the way, Bluegrass evolved – it didn’t fall out of the sky!
One of those bands taking part in the ‘Shout & Shine’ – The Ebony Hillbillies
I know that some of The Bluegrass Police will talk about preservation of tradition; in a previous blog article I applauded the work of the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) organization that involves young people in traditional music and dance but that doesn’t mean that if the music strays from that which was played in the late 40’s that it is no longer Bluegrass.
Sierra Hull was awarded the IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year Award in 2017 and I am reminded of watching Sierra Hull and Ethan Jodziewicz at the side of the stage at HoustonFest in Galax. During their set some people in the front row stood up and noisily (and rudely) proclaimed of Ethan’s bass playing – ‘he ain’t playing that bass’, ‘he’s just picking on it’, ‘that’s not music’ then stomped off. What they did not see (or appreciate) was that we were standing with five bass players from various headlining ‘traditional’ Bluegrass bands who showed great appreciation during the set and afterwards to Ethan personally when backstage… remember Jackie’s words?... they appreciated the sincerity of his playing..
Note: this video was not taken at HoustonFest
Going back to the Shout & Shine: A Celebration of Diversity in Bluegrass: clearly, I am not saying that everyone should like everything – that would be ridiculous – but some of the vitriolic comments that I read made me wonder whether they were being made from a musical standpoint or there was something else was behind them.
So why did I say that this article would be pointless? Well, I will never convince The Bluegrass Police that evolution, diversity and development should be embraced while simultaneously recognising (and thoroughly enjoying) ‘traditional’ Bluegrass such as David Peterson & 1946, Doug Flowers and Bobby Osborne. Neither will The Bluegrass Police convince me that this potentially exciting genre has to be inflexible and engage in interminable (and inconclusive) arguments over Ralph & Carter Stanley versus Bill & Charlie Monroe.
I shall now leave you with one of my favourite Bluegrass bands (Volume Five) at my favourite Bluegrass festival (HoustonFest)
See you soon….as ever, Be Good!
* Jackie McAuley’s career has spanned Them (Van Morrison), Trader Horne (with Judy Dyble) and working with such diverse talents as Viv Stanshall and Clodagh Rodgers.
Support your local promoters and venues, support visiting musicians by going to their shows and buy a CD too (if you can) but definitely say Hello!
There is a debate going on in the UK that has been going on for decades , it is called “What is Folk”?
So don’t expect an easy answer here but what is quite interesting is why this debate is taking place at all.
Someone has caused a stir by declaring that folk needs to be revived by artists like The Spinners or The Dubliners who achieved international recognition for the genre in the 1960’s. Others suggest that would be a disaster as these bands whilst popular would do no favours to the image our current artists are looking to achieve. Looking at history, Folk has always been termed music of the people, developed from the ancient traditions of home and local entertainment and although classed as a genre in its own right covers a whole range of styles and moods.
So, having established “Anything goes” lets have a look at whether folk needs reviving at all?
I would suggest not. I don’t think I have ever seen such a prolific, diverse and talented output of music from artists of all ages as there is today. To add to that we have the big success stories like Ed Sheeran, Passenger, Turin Brakes and the many other artists who find themselves reaching the dizzy heights of international recognition.
Although not many in the “Folk” world mentioned it I believe that when Ed Sheeran brought on a Ceile band during his headline act at Glastonbury that was very significant endorsement for modern Folk. If there is anything wrong in the Folk world it is the lack of opportunity for artists to play live in front of an appreciative audience.
There are simply not enough people willing to leave their armchairs and go out to the many venues and clubs that put on live music. Those that do are treated to great performances by very talented people but there is simply not big enough audiences for promoters to guarantee an event will be well attended. That in turn has led to a proliferation of “Low risk” ventures such as pub and open mic nights where artists, if paid at all gain very little reward.
This is the issue I believe we should be looking at very carefully with a view to identifying what would capture peoples imagination enough to get them out to venues.
Musicians Have Feelings Too…
About 9 years ago, when I was getting ready to do this Roots & Fusion thing for the first time, I made a decision. I would make sure I listened to everything that was sent to me. Sounds basic doesn’t it..? Obvious, even.
When I first started receiving CDs to play on the show, I was very happy. Not only did I listen to them all, I started cataloguing them and keeping all the PR info – listing who had sent them and their contact details, so I could let them know if / when I was going to play their music.
I think I managed to keep this up for the first year. Maybe… Far too much admin. But still I was making sure I listened to everything. This was, and still is, important. A real person has spent time, effort, love & sometimes tears, creating this thing, sending it off into the world in the hope that someone like me will like it enough to play it on their show. But (confession time) more & more I started flicking through the album rather than listening to the whole thing.
One of the other decisions that I made right from the off was that I would only play something on the show if I liked it. I wasn’t going to allow a radio station, a PR company or even a friend, tell me what to play. The show is the equivalent of inviting you round to my house so I can play you music – so I have to believe in it.
Sometimes an artist will get in touch and send me one to two tracks from their release – the radio friendly ones or the single that they’re pushing. I’m not interested in whether it’s radio friendly or not. I much prefer to listen to (and play on the show, if I like it) the full version as opposed to the “radio edit”. But more importantly, please, send me the album or EP, not just one or two tracks. I might not like the whole album. I don’t have to like the whole album. With more choice, there’s more chance I’ll find the one track that makes me go “wow”. And I’ll play it.
Then there’s the other side to this. I’m not just passively waiting for music to be sent to me. I read reviews, listen to recommendations - searching for new music.
Back in 2010, I read a review of an album in the online Fatea Magazine which sounded interesting. I got in touch, saying where I heard about her, explaining about the show and asking if it would be possible to send me a copy of her album. This is always difficult for me for two reasons. First, I’m asking for a freebie. I would love to buy every album I play on the show, but I don’t get paid to do the show and I can’t afford it. Close to 450 shows so far, average of 20 tracks per show. You do the math… (That’s not to say I don’t buy anything, I do when I can...)
The second reason is this. What happens if I don’t like it..? This is why I only ask for albums if I believe there is a good chance I’ll find something to play.
Back to 2010. The album arrives and I put it on. It’s nice – vocal & guitar, the songs are fine, but it doesn’t jump out at me. The production is a bit different than I’m used to for this type of music; the vocal is a little low in the mix. Then there are a couple of A Cappella songs. They are gorgeous. I decide on one of these for the show.
After the show I get an email from the artist, asking why I chose to play one of the A Cappella songs. I explain about the production and that because of this the A Cappella songs stood out, especially with her lovely voice. It turns out the production side was her choice and she sounded a little upset at my opinion. I went back to album with fresh ears, decided to listen to the whole thing all the way through. That’s when I discovered the last track. I must have missed it first time around; I’d probably made my mind up after hearing the A Cappella and not played it all.
The last track on the album is a thing of beauty. The production works perfectly, it was made for this song. Simple & lovely guitar, the same verse of just four lines repeated a couple of times, then after a minute and a half the piano kicks in, and I’m lost… The song builds slowly, surely and it is just incredible.
I send her an email, letting her know I’ll be playing this song. No response. I play the song a few more times over the following months, letting her know each time, again with no response. Close to a year later she updated her website – she started a family and took a break from music.
In almost 9 years of Roots & Fusion, this song is still one of my all time favourites.
From the album Something Fierce, the song So… by Erin K Hill
I can wait
You have my heart
Erin updated her website earlier this year to say she was thinking of starting to gig again, but I just checked now before adding the link here and it doesn’t exist anymore.
If anyone knows Erin, please say hello from me…
A return to one of my pet subjects for this blog; the relationship between musicians, platforms and audiences. I don't do big gigs; I prefer small events with musicians doing what they love. The downside being, of course, they don't make much out of it. I've previously mentioned, probably a few times, Iona Lane and she's written a song that sums it up perfectly. It's called “Living Life Out Of Pockets”, from her latest EP Pockets, and I'm sure it's a CV for itinerant musicians everywhere.
'Pack up your guitar the gig's over now, roll out the venue and walk to the car.
Key in the ignition the petrol gauge is low, but you can't afford to fill up any time soon.'
But how do I get to find these musicians, particularly somewhere like London where there are dozens of venues putting on music every night of the week? That's where the platforms come in and the spark for writing this blog. A few weeks ago I was listening to Ian Freedman's “Readifolk Radio Show” right here on Blues & Roots Radio on a Friday night. It's a great show and forms the first of three from the UK that make a perfect start to the weekend, with four hours of music. There's quite a community that listens in, and joins in on the accompanying chat threads, and it's one of my fixtures of the week. On this particular evening he played a track by Heg & The Wolf Chorus
(http://www.hegandthewolfchorus.com/), a band I'd heard of but not experienced before. They sounded different and exciting and certainly whetted my appetite, so I headed over to their facebook page to see what I could find out about them and discovered, to my utter delight, that they were playing in one of my favourite venues in London the very next night.
The Harrison is one of those places you should visit if you ever get the chance and only a few minutes walk from King's Cross and St Pancras Railway Stations, so is very easy to get to. Upstairs is a proper pub with good beer and food whilst the music is in the basement, in a cosy room that sits maybe forty. It isn't big enough to have a “Green Room” so both the band and their support act, Julu Irvine, were in the auditorium and they made full use of it. They were moving around talking to people they knew, and people they didn't, really getting involved with the audience, making us feel welcome. This isn't a review of the night so suffice to say the music was fantastic and I came away with two CDs then booked a ticket to see them play again as soon as got home. That's how musicians have to build a following; sometime one person at a time. Of course, I'm also writing about them and hopefully that will encourage somebody else to explore their work.
There are some key messages for people here. We really do want to listen to your music, and show hosts want to play your music so you have to give us a chance. Ange Hardy has built a great resource on her website (https://www.angehardy.com/folk-radio-diary) listing shows from around the world, including contact details for artist submissions. That gives the introduction but also make it easy for the presenters to play your music. I've heard several say that either they can't get music out of somebody, or it comes with no information at all. At the very least send a bio and web link and try to build a relationship with them. Listen to the show, join in on the chat threads if they have one.
The same goes for your audience, live or through the merch link. We're all busy and an artist probably doesn't have time to talk to everybody on the night, what with setting up, sound checking, warming up and so on. I try to remember that I'm relaxing with a pint in my hand whilst they’re at work, but a smile and wave just makes that connection. When sending out a CD a business card with a hand written “Thank you” slipped into the case can make all the difference.
I saw one person who got it wrong. To be fair they probably weren't at their best, feeling a bit ill, but they didn't try to break through. At the end of the set we got “I've been and you've been and all that stuff. Yeah” and they walked off. It's not that I won't name them, I just never bothered remembering it in the first place. On the other hand the support act I got chatting to in the bar I now follow on facebook and his album will be ordered when it comes out.
That's my side of the deal. If I want to listen to your music in the future then I can't just sit here passively. Not only do I want to buy your albums and see you play live, I have to do it because everyone needs to make a living and we all need to help each other achieve that. Let's keep on supporting each other and enjoying the music.
Time seems to have flown around and it’s my turn to write the blog and time seems to be a good theme to pick up on, as the old phrase goes, timing is everything and like all of those adages there is more than an element of truth of truth in it and it works both ways, let me give you a couple of examples. I’ve kept names out of this to protect both the innocent and guilty.
One of the many singer-songwriters I know had an opportunity to appear in a Sunday supplement. Their feature was part of a wider feature on empowerment. A short interview had been carried out and all they needed to do was ensure that they got a picture of their new cd to the journalist by close of play Thursday, to complete the article so it could be ready for the Sunday. Unfortunately they didn’t get it there until late Thursday evening. They didn’t get included in the feature, the person that setup the feature struggled to get other artists featured in the particular Sunday supplement for a couple of months and opportunities went begging.
Two people were talking in the reception area of a theatre when the manager of one of the bands that was playing the venue arrived with marketing material. He heard the two people talking passionately about a singer they had seen at their local folk club the night before, the manager asked if they had something he could listen to and a week later the singer was performing three songs in front of eighteen hundred people and completely sold out of cds.
Timing is a strange thing, in that second example it would have been a different story if the manager hadn’t been able to hear the music or simply was impressed. The moral of the first is that other people’s deadlines are important, people rarely set them just for the sake of it and sometimes there is no way back, the moment has passed and is gone for ever.
It’s unfortunate, but often creativity is a bed fellow of chaos, the same freedom that gives light and experience, is the same one that abhors routine. It’s not a hard and fast rule, there are lots of good creative types, musicians included, that keep up with the paperwork, knows what the deadlines are and aren’t constantly rushing around at the last minute desperately trying to get their passport renewed because it had slipped their mind. Naturally there’s a majority that straddle both camps are generally switched on, but occasionally the grey matter lets them down. If you are in the first camp though, you may seriously want to find someone to take care of the admin for you.
But there is more about time than just keeping it organised, there is looking at it and think about when it might be right and here there is no hard and fast rules, circumstances can conspire, both for and against you, but there are things that you can do to mitigate the situation.
Debut releases are a good example, when is the best time to put one out? After a few gigs when people are asking if you have anything available? After you’ve finished your degree? Once you’re semi-retired and you have some time to get back to doing what you love? I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I hear a multitude of debut releases from all the above circumstances and many more. I’m going to make an assumption here, that you are good enough to warrant a debut release, that you have quality filters on, you may enjoy singing, for example, but are you actually any good at it, in which case, simply enjoy.
The circumstances of a debut release may vary, everyone is different, but there is something that you can apply consistently to try and skew the timing in your favour and that, quite simply is planning. Yes that applies to all of your releases, your tours, your submitting songs for use in tv programs I would argue that it matters a whole lot more for your debut release.
That doesn’t mean you should wait until you have a real opus, not all debut albums are going to set the world on fire, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make an impact. Have a clear goal for the release, is the objective of the album to get you better known, to make more sales, to have a take away from gigs? Are looking for it to unlock bookings or get more airplay? Or all of those things? This is going to sound awfully corporate, but think about your objective(s) and plan for them and the right time really will start to come into focus. There is music and there is the music industry, to get your good music into the later will take planning, hopefully it will be time well spent and try not to let it take away your love of the creative whilst you work towards your time.
Talking of time, there’s also time for a blatant and shameless plug. The new Fatea Showcase Session Winter 17:Freezing is now available, help yourself to a copy from www.fatea-showcase-sessions.co.uk
Birthdays, they come around every year. Last month it was, I suppose, a big one in that I turned 60. I never worry about growing old; after all there are plenty of people who don’t have that good fortune. I have been a music recording engineer and producer with the BBC for 35 years, and until recent changes in legislation 60 was the BBC retirement age and I would now have my feet up, wondering what to do - would I suddenly develop an interest in gardening? What I have done though is to go part-time at work. It’s too soon to know how this is going to pan out as it’s still week one and I’ve been in every day! We now have somebody on attachment to the team to be my other half - the sorcerer’s apprentice - and I’ll have to learn to let go.
Hopefully that won’t be too difficult due to the changes in my life in recent times. In 2014, after an (unwelcome) reshuffle in BBC Radio 2 Production I had stopped producing the weekly Paul Jones Rhythm & Blues show. Until that point, to avoid any suggestion of conflict of interests whilst in charge of the programme, I had not been able actively to promote my own band or produce records for people. Now this landscape opened up, and also I started doing the Blues And Roots Connections show in September 2014. I had always fancied being on ‘the other side of the glass’; the new frontier of Internet radio was new and exciting, and the programme was quickly picked up by Stevie Connor at Blues And Roots Radio. It’s great to be a part of this adventure. I was extremely surprised and pleased to be voted Independent Blues Broadcaster Of The Year in the 2016 British Blues Awards. I am touched that listeners have gone with me in my broad approach to blues and roots music. My passion for the show is undimmed and I shall be continuing, always finding time somehow to do the programme.
In the Summer of 2014 my son Matthew Long left the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, and was wondering how best to pursue his career as a guitarist with a love of blues, rock and metal. We had been to jam sessions on the south coast a few times and got friendly with drummer Kevin Yates and bassist and jam organizer Dusty Bones and his wife Suzie. My wife Fiona suggested that the four of us knock up a few Blues covers band and do some pub gigs over the summer to get a bit of pocket money for Matt and have a bit of fun. After one rehearsal Catfish did our first gig at the King’s Arms in Billingshurst West Sussex, in front a posse of friends and family and some bemused locals who had been hoping to watch football on TV.
September saw us record 8 tracks for a demo, in a studio in Portsmouth with an engineer more interested in playing Angry Birds on his phone. This was done in one day, all live vocals and live guitar solos. A demo to get gigs soon turned out to be of interest to people and I would print 20 at a time at home to give away or sell at gigs. It was picked up by the Internet Blues DJs and got a lot of airplay, and I could no longer cope with making copies at home. Realising this was starting to get serious the songs were remixed, a proper cover done and the album So Many Roads was released - with the title track being played by Paul Jones on his BBC show. The gig diary was filling up and we were starting to get noticed. We were a tight band, doing our own interpretations of blues covers and blessed with a guitar-playing prodigy in Matt. Our next release was mostly covers, but this tribute EP to the recently departed B.B. King included our first original, the title track When B.B. Sings The Blues. With these two CDs under our belt we went to the Skegness Rock & Blues Festival in January 2016, a five hour drive each way for a £150 fee to play a half hour set on the Introducing Stage. Blues Matters magazine liked what they saw and booked us for their Stage for the 2017 event.
2016 was a year performing at larger gigs and festivals up and down the UK, and also of writing and recording original songs for a new album, together with our cover of Foy Vance’s Make It Rain, which has become a signature song. The week before its release at the end of January 2017 we returned to Skegness and sound checked in the empty Jaks Club. When we returned to the stage to start our set something had happened, as the place was packed with many hundreds in the audience and more still outside. You could feel the electricity and we played the gig of our lives, which people still come and talk to us about now. The next week the new Catfish album, Broken Man (complete with harmonica contribution from the great Paul Jones), was released and its success and the hard touring all added up to us building a growing reputation, built on the extraordinary talent of the young 22 year old singer and guitarist, strong original songs and the albums I had produced, together with a tight rhythm section.
The constant touring over longer distances was becoming too much for Dusty - after all, none of had expected Catfish to take off in such a way - and he reluctantly decided he’d have to step down, and bassist and good friend of Matthew’s Adam Pyke has now joined the band as we embark on a new album and European as well as UK tours in 2018. Catfish is both a cottage industry and a family business, with father and son writing and performing, and my wife and Matt’s mother Fiona managing and booking for the band. Drummer Kevin’s wife, Kim, also does our CD stall when she can, so we are all involved.
In amongst all this activity I was holding down a full time busy job, doing the radio show and studying for a history degree with the Open University. Now I’m going part time to allow more time for the band, to produce more albums for people and to do an MA in Music; so instead of taking it easy and retiring at 60 new adventures beckon - it feels a bit like running away to join the circus!
Paul Long – 9 November 2017
So this month I have to question the value of professional PR companies.
What do they do that the artists cannot do themselves? I recently had cause to communicate with one over a form they wanted me to fill out!!
Yes, as a radio presenter I get bombarded with MP3’s and links to tracks by all sorts of artists as part of a scattergun distribution by certain companies in an effort to market their clients music.
They are paid by the artists to market a CD or album or tour because they have such a wide network off organisations and DJs wanting to play the music they are promoting.
So why the form? well of course that is to give them feedback on who is actually playing the music so they can prove to client they are doing a good job.
I objected to that approach and made it clear that if they want to find out which tracks I am playing they should follow my playlists, web page and social media. That way they would be providing a service to their clients without burdening the recipient broadcasters.
Until recently the one activity handled by a PR company on behalf of the client that required an expense was posting out CDs. Today, distribution is usually done by email, links to MP3s an dropbox transfer. These are of course free and open up the opportunity for wider distribution though I question the effectiveness??
I don’t actually know how much a PR companies charge for their services or how much they are really valued by the artists that use them?
My guess is that they may take some of the effort out of reaching a network of radio presenters and reviewers but whether they really add value? well, I suggest that is open to question.
Like many of my colleagues I prefer the personal touch.
The artist who sends their latest piece of work and follow through with social media connection and help promote the show that features them.
So often these connections lead to long term relationships and benefit everyone involved and a much reduced role for the PR company.
The Show Must Go On…
As my last blog was about how I got into, and out of, the promotion game, I thought this time I’d give you a glimpse of what can go on behind the scenes in order to make sure a show goes ahead…
Back in 1991 I had the idea of putting on a Didgeridoo Spectacular. To be honest, there was a band called Outback who I’d been following for a bit – we’d sold their cassettes in the shop, they’d been signed to Hannibal and were about to release their second album – and I thought they’d go down really well in Manchester. So rather than just promoting Outback, I sort of upgraded it a bit.
I got in touch with Outback and the gig was agreed. Having promoted Ozric Tentacles earlier in the year, I had fallen in love with their light show, so I gave The Fruit Salad Light Show a call. They too were up for it. I arranged a support act (I won’t tell you who, for reasons that will become clear soon) and a venue, The Boardwalk.
This was the year that Oasis made their live debut at the same venue, something that actually passed me by at the time.
Fast forward a little – two weeks before the gig, posters made & up, advertising done, tickets are selling well, and I get a phone call from the support act. Sorry, not doing it. Suddenly the gig didn’t look quite as spectacular…
One of the friends of Decoy Records was a guy by the name of Ben Walker. Stopfordian, multi-instrumentalist and all round nice guy. He could play almost anything – guitar, piano, flute, uilleann pipes, clarinet, saxophone (sometimes two at a time). I asked him if he could play didgeridoo. I think his reply was “probably”. All I needed now was an actual didgeridoo.
I gave Outback a call to let them know the situation and ask if they knew where I could borrow a didg for a couple of weeks. Graham Wiggins very kindly offered to send one of his to me. So two days later, wrapped in more bubble-wrap than I think I’d ever seen, a didgeridoo arrived, which I duly gave to Ben.
Cometh the hour – Ben Walker stepped onto the Boardwalk stage, surrounded by an ad-hoc band thanks to guys from the Decoy Records scene. And he played. In fact he played so well that Graham was mightily impressed. The set was only marred by the electricity going off at one point, as the light show had overloaded and tripped a circuit.
Outback themselves were excellent, and with Rick style accounting (see previous blog) the gig broke even. It was a shame that some months later, Graham Wiggins and the other founder member, guitarist Martin Cradick went their separate ways, though I did manage to put them on again before the split, this time at the Band on the Wall, with no light show and no support…
Graham left to form Dr Didg and fused the didgeridoo with rock & dance music, as well as playing with the Grateful Dead and recording with Mickey Hart, while Martin Cradick and his wife Su travelled to Southern Cameroon to live with the Baka tribe of hunter / gatherer pygmies – recording their music, forming the band Baka Beyond, helping raise awareness of their situation and eventually, though their work with the charity Global Music Exchange, helping them with healthcare, education and even obtaining national ID cards giving the Baka basic rights as citizens, previously denied to them.
Ben Walker went on to record numerous CDs, solo as well as with bouzouki and Celtic harpist Chris Knowles. He teaches all the instruments named above (except didgeridoo), and has featured a few times in the Roots & Fusion sessions.
While I’m sure the majority of gigs you’ve seen have not had similar challenges, it just goes to show that while the swan looks lovely while it’s swimming, underwater those legs are peddling like hell….
Outback wiki page - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outback_(group)
Dr Didg page - www.drdidg.com
Baka Beyond page - www.bakabeyond.net
Ben Walker page - www.benwalker.org