I was asked by a listener how I choose the music I play on Blues And Roots Connections. I do a new programme every two weeks and the average number of tracks is about 12 per show, although I’m no stranger to playing tracks much longer than a lot of terrestrial radio shows would consider. The best answer I could think of is that therefore all the records have to fight for their place.
Behind each show are countless hours of listening to records and going to see bands at gigs and I'm fortunate enough to be sent many new releases by record labels and artists, together with hundreds of download links or emails with MP3 files. Some of these are easy to weed out, particularly the hoard of untagged MP3 files that have no artist name, album name, or any info sheet about the artist or their music; never mind the quality of some of the audio. This is basic stuff and if you hope to engage the interest of presenters who are sent the amount of material that I am, you should learn this basic stuff that can all be done for free – and presumably when it was recorded it sounded better than a low bit-rate MP3. Similarly with your CD it's easy to enter the details in iTunes and upload all the album information to the Gracenote database, so that when a presenter loads your file or CD all this information pops up. There are plenty of presenters who will just discard all unlabelled or untagged music as there is not time to do your housekeeping for you - we will never know just how amazing your album was!
I never play a track or artist if I don't really like the music. You'd think that was obvious, but it can be tempting to play a track from a new album, especially if they are being featured by other presenters; but the key to me is that I must love the music and I hope that is something that comes across on air. I also play a wide range of material as the programme is about blues and its connections with other genres and artists. Sometimes a programme will have a thematic link, sometimes linking artists, and others are based on getting in as much great new music as I can. I always enjoy the programmes where I can follow a trail - whether it's about the music of a city such as New Orleans, or the musical family tree of, say, The Allman Brothers Band; or reading a comment on FaceBook that ‘the organ is not a blues instrument’ – tell that to Deacon Jones, who played organ for John Lee Hooker and Freddie King for so many years: this lead to an entire programme showing just how full of blues and soul the Hammond B3 can be.
All too often my plans can be thrown aside by events; sadly the death of an important (to me) artist can derail all the plans made leading up to the show. I have done a few obituary programmes recently; always a little sad, but it's also an opportunity to dig deeper into their history and catalogue. My recent programme featuring the late Walter Becker drew a big response from listeners. Steely Dan are not a core blues act - despite being booked for the London BluesFest this coming November - but I hoped that people would feel the same affinity for their music that I do, and by the number of comments and emails I received that did seem to be the case. A couple of years ago when B.B. King died, it was known that he was not going to be with us for much longer and I had an idea of what music I might play in his memory, but was unable to record the show in advance as I had no idea how I would feel - my show is not scripted and the words just come out, hopefully in a coherent and heartfelt manner.
Unforeseen events, with the planned show being scrapped, inevitably lead to a backlog of new releases to catch up with, so my next programme is now almost building itself - with lots of new records, and artists about to tour the U.K. And I think that's the advantage of radio over a Spotify or Apple Music playlist: no automation, no algorithm, but an hour of music curated with care and heart and hoping to make a connection.
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