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posted February 14th, 2016

 

Suede are currentlly enjoying a revival; have been for a little while. They have an album coming out real soon. A band that reached the heights in the 90's starting out around 1992 I think; with Bernard Butler guitar...to be replaced by Richard Oakley a while later.

Brett Anderson, a parent now and in his late 40's; singing songs about being wasted, living in council-owned high rises, bad sex and other dubious subject matter. How does that wash as a middle aged guy? Hmm, I'm not sure. I have always thought it is one of the problems of being the artist or the band: having to continue to sing the back catalogue when it is no longer suitable; for whatever reason. I recall Robert Plant of Led Zep having a great reluctance to sing Stairway to Heaven...because he no longer believed in the lyrics; thought they were silly and pretentious. Well, there you go. Or how does Morrissey continue to sing about being a jilted lover and being all alone in a bedsit? Well, by continuing to be that thing; well not the bedsit...well who knows? He's the one that has to live with the persona he's created to deliver the songs. I guess it helps if you don't look like you've gone to seed - some songs are about youth and to look the very opposite might be met with hilarious results. Like a good example of poor casting in a play: right script: wrong actor!

So, what's on Suede's new album? Songs about parenting apparently. Well, that will appeal to some, I suppose. Perhaps their long term fans who are growing old with them. Isn't that the way it normally goes? Every artist has to be allowed to grow, mature...move on. Anything else would be stupid. Ah but it's all a bit problematic really; though some seem to negotiate it well enough.

 

posted February 11th, 2016

 

So...I was reading up on Hugh Cornwell the other day; you know the ex-front man of The Stranglers. What's that...who are/were the Stranglers? Oh go and look them up on Wiki and then come back!

Anyway...it got me thinking about the late 70's, the Punk era and its aftermath. The fact that there were bands perhaps masquerading as 'punks' but weren't really. What Sting of the Police called a 'flag of convenience'. Well, the Stranglers were happy to not be seen as real punks; afterall, they were just making the most of the prevailing conditions. Still, they were aligned to that 70's phenomenon, the Pub Rock movement, of which Dr Feelgood, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and Joe Strummer's 101 er's were all leading exponents. Punk Rock itself had a certain alignment with pub rock; as opposed to the stadium progressive rock that dominated mainstream entertainment. It was back to basics, no pretensions, nothing pompous, not about virtuosity; raw and immediate. A bit like the early rock n roll of the 50's before The Beatles took LSD and then one thing led to another...

Other examples include Elvis Costello, Blondie...

As we all know, Punk didn't last - it imploded. Then again, wasn't it just a little bit manufactured? Perhaps.

Before long, a new wave called the New Wave filled the gap that Punk left and things were never the same again. The Stranglers carried on - always a band difficult to categorise; if categories are needed that is. Through the 80's, a band that did not typify the decade. Watching Golden Brown on TOTP, I thought here is a band with aggressive, spiky, dark overtones  mellowing out ha! And Strange Little Girl too - hmm, they write songs with melodies, pretty good...so what was this about all that other stuff? As said, funny little band...the name wasn't all that pleasant and their early songs were sometimes threatening and contentious. 

Punk had come and gone - the subject matter changed. Everything changed: the set design, the props, the script, the characters in the film...everything. Hugh lasted with the Stranglers until 1990 and then called it a day. Bands can be constricting things can't they?

 

posted January 11th, 2016

There will never ever be a time when the world doesn't need the artist to express that which most cannot express for themselves; that which most cannot articulate. It is the artist that does the talking, the singing, the performing...the expressing. It is the artist that finds the rights words, the right musical notes etc; and in their more inspired moments, they act as a conduit - tapping into the energies that ebb and flow around the world; like a bolt of lightning that energises them. The great artists always manage to tap into these energies whatever the prevailing Zeitgeist. They are plugged in, and they are blessed with the facility to do what the ordinary man or woman cannot do; which is to say how it is, how you think and how you feel, the undercurrents of your life. And when you are presented with their art, you connect with it, because it says something to you; something that is true and real - it is your undercurrents writ large!

Artists come and go just like everyone else; but new ones should always emerge; and no doubt always will. A different name, a different guise, a different stage show etc. But they will always be here. Today, I learned that David Bowie, one of the greatest, has passed away. That's two greats in such a short time span; difficult to take but such is life. I will be thinking about his great art for the rest of the day. Fortunately we have it forever even though he may have left us. If the conditions are favourable again, another David Bowie will emerge to take things forward whilst building on the past; standing on the shoulders of giants. RIP David Bowie.

 

posted January 5th, 2016

 

To be (big) or not to be (big) — that is the question!

There is no beginning… and there is no end. But still we try to make sense out of things: we ask questions like where, when, how and why things started and where, when, how and why they end. We try to simplify, categorise, label, draw lines through history; when in fact time is a continuum and everything is in a continuous state of flux, always changing and always in a perpetual state of 'evolution'. I use that word advisedly for not all change is necessarily progress; in the sense that not all change represents an improvement… and herein lies a discussion (one part objective to two parts subjective) about what consitutes an improvement. But we will never agree! In the meantime, the world keeps changing!

Bringing this around to musical matters, I wanted to write a few lines on that entity called the 'big band' - a couple of words with connotations for some perhaps. But the way I see it, there are two interpretations: on the one hand, 'big band' just means a band that’s big.

So what? Big deal!

And a band that’s big has more than the standard number of players in its line up — in what might be called the 'combo' or beat group format (ha, I love that term — it sounds like something a middle class, middle aged gent would call those bands the kids were putting together in the early 60's — kind of 'groovy'). Anyway, in numerical terms, perhaps 9 or more players would constitute a 'big band'. Because the typical combo has 4 or 5 players. In this sense, 'big' doesn’t allude to a musical genre or style, it doesn’t provide any historical perspective; it just states an objective fact — it’s BIG!!!

The other sense… well, it does speak of a genre, a style… a history. Most of us are bound to think of the big bands of the 30's and 40's — the swing era. And you’d be forgiven for having that conception; because it is deeply engrained: the sights and sounds of the swing era that existed before rock n roll, the mop tops and everything else: squealing trumpets, shiny brass instruments, sophisticated piano, thumping drums, a walking bass line, tuxedos, suave sophistication, top class hotels and dance halls etc… Of course, whilst the big band era ended around the end of the second world war (I mean, its heady days when it was thee popular music and cultural focus), they (meaning the format) never went away: they continued right through the 50's, 60's, 70's…all the way to the present; not just as a piece of antiquity but as something that has been progressive too. The big band 'movement' has had its practitioners that have tried to push the format forwards; going beyond mere dance band status to something more. Leaders like Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton… they did their bit in pushing things forwards for the big band format.

Back in the late 60's, there were rock bands that wanted to be taken seriously (gulp) and tried (successfully in my view) to treat rock as an art form. So, life is never short of those who wish to push things forward — challenge preconceptions etc.

How relevant is the big band format in today’s world? A world in which technology has almost completely replaced the musician and so called real instruments, in the field of popular music: A world in which one guy (called a DJ) can travel around the planet in a scorched-earth sort of way, spinning his discs, punching the air with his fist, hiding behind a ton of gear… and then walking away with a cheque. Ok, I am biased… you may have noticed: I favour real musicians and 'real instruments. Technology is fine, so long as it isn’t replacing people — because I believe music to be an interactional thing — an opportunity for people to come together to create something together. How sweet!

Well, perhaps it is a challenge. No, it IS a challenge, to make the big band format relevant today. In purely economic terms, the practitioner is up against it — it is usually much cheaper to hire one guy with a lot of buttons to push (or perhaps just an IPAD) than a group with 17 players! Jeez!
But is also about challenging pre conceptions — it can be made relevant in social, cultural and artistic terms too; it just depends on how you go about it. If all you do is play the stuff of the past then that’s how it will be viewed. If you take it to the people, challenge their pre conceptions then you might be on to something.

Perhaps King Canute should have the last word on this…

 

posted December 30th, 2015

 

Lemmy Kilmister, the great rock n roll icon of Motorhead, is no more. A life time of sex, drugs and rock n roll at full tilt had perhaps finally caught up with him. In recent times, he looked gaunt, frail and had experienced a few health issues.But he soldiered on like a trooper, not knowing any other life - a life on the road. Perhaps he surprised both himself and others, the fact that he lived to see his 70th birthday. In past interviews, he had appeared blase about his own demise, accepting the inevitable despite others' claims of 'apparently being indestructible'. But no man is indestructible - it's just media hype that makes it seem otherwise. Still, his genetic constitution allowed him to stay the course longer than most - though in his 6 decades of rocking and rolling, he must have known a full casualties.

In essence, Motorhead's music was simple rock n roll with teeth. Played very loud! Lemmy never liked his band being labelled 'Metal'. He preferred to call it rock n roll. Every show began with the statement, 'We are Motorhead and we play rock n roll'. Simple as that! This is the guy who was first inspired by hearing the 50's rock n rollers in his youth - Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis etc. So, he saw his music as just an extension of that. But with a grittier edge to it. Motorhead was spawned around the time of Punk circa mid to late 70's - so a combination of Punk's influence and the sorts of drugs that Lemmy consumed (including Speed) must have had a direct bearing on the band's sound. They helped to spearhead a new sound in British music - often called the New Wave of British Heavy Metal which was faster and thrashier than the heavy, plodding blues based sound of its earlier form.

His most famous song, 'The Ace of Spades' perhaps sums up Lemmy's Philosphy: that life is a gamble so play it - you win some, you lose some. The song is an anthem for sticking it up to the man or whatever; or at least choosing to live how one wants to live and if it turns out to be a gamble and you lose then fair enough. It invites wrecklessnes, fast living and a whole lot more; if that's what you choose. In the song he says he knows he's going to lose but that he doesn't want to live forever anyway; and that one day he will get the Ace of Spades, the death card in gambling. Mind you, arguably he backtracked on the meaning of that last statement when he gave an interview and was quizzed about its actual meaning. He just meant he didn't want to live forever; because forever is a long time ha! Geddit?

Still, it is fair to say that Lemmy walked it like he talked it. No question about that! He is indeed a rock n roll icon and must surely be celebrated. In a world of faceless clones and bread heads whose only raison d'etre is to make a load of money then surely people like Lemmy are a beacon of hope; if only in the sense of choosing to live the way one wants to and being true to yourself. Raise a glass to Lemmy!!!

 

posted July 27th, 2015

In 1978, around the time of The Who’s latest album release, 'Who Are You?', Pete Townshend and Keith Moon gave an interview to Good Morning America; during which they discussed various odds and sods against the backdrop of a TV set design that to my eye, seems incongrous with the world they inhabited; that of hard hitting rock n roll: the perfect blend of art school intellect and working class rough n tumble.

note: This was Keith Moon’s last interview; before he died in his sleep from an overdose of the medication he was taking to… combat his alcoholism.

But that’s another story. In this rather brief post, I want to pick up on something that Pete mentions regarding his view on the role of rock n roll. To quote:

" We really are idealists in what we do… we think that rock n roll is more than just music for kids. We believe it is something greater… not so much an art form but a street release; rock music is important to people because it allows them to not run away from the problems that are there, but instead to dance all over them. That’s what rock n roll is all about."

Just as with a lot of things, there are some — perhaps many — who are engaged in trying to define something in terms of what it is and what it is not. 'Rock n Roll' has been no exception. I would imagine there have been numerous interpretations of what is meant by 'Rock n Roll' ever since its inception. What we can agree on is that, in the beginning the words were a reference to some kind of carnal activity; and were coined by an American D. J. called Alan Freed. And that this was music aimed at youth: presented by youth for youth — not something for the older generations.

From a cynical point of view, I would say that the rise of rock n roll was driven by its market potential just as much as anything that has come along since. The teenage market — baby boomers one and all — was a significant market and 'business' sat up and took notice of the fact that kids started having money in their back pockets. But the kids would never have got it together for themselves: it took the business world. It took shady characters like Colonel Tom Parker, it took middle aged men who controlled the levers and pulled the strings to make all of this happen. And it wouldn’t have happened at all… if there hadn’t been any money in it for them!

So, that explains the rise of rock n roll since the 50's in a very truncated way. But it will do for now.

I would rather talk about how its interpretation has changed over the decades; from starting out as something for kids that might get on the radio to… something else.

You might say that it has grown up! And why shouldn’t it have — after all, its key players and their audience all grew up with it. They were faced with a choice: either leave it behind like a caterpillar leaves an old skin behind; or try to mould it to fit one’s current preoccupations and position.

I think Pete Townshend in particular — being the thinking one in the band- certainly went through a 'crises' in regard to his and the band’s position within the realms of rock n roll. Certainly by the time the 70's rolled in, as evident from interviews he gave in the 70's, he was giving a lot of thinking time to where it was all heading.

The fundamental problem was that the members of the band were maturing, reaching their 30's and yet, expected to fulfill some kind of rock n roll purpose in life. I guess the problems bore down on Townshend’s shoulders more than the rest; because he wrote the songs: it was his message being broadcast.

All forms of cognitive dissonance have to be resolved in order to bring action and belief into line. Instead of giving it all up, Townshend began to reconceptualise what rock n roll was/is all about. This allowed the Who to continue the dayjob, of delivering some kind of message; to an audience that was equally reaching a state of maturity.

This crises endured by Townshend must have been shared by many rock n rollers in the 70's…the feeling that they were getting older and that it was not reconcilable with the original conception of rock n roll. So bit by bit, things changed — the goal posts were shifted.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is why today, we think nothing of a 70+ year old man prancing about a stage singing songs in his inimitable way with the help of his aged mates. Although personally, I think there is something undignified in being geriatric and still trying to act like you were at least half the age. It is also questionable whether the older acts can still deliver the goods when energy is a requirement. A lot of music doesn’t hold up without a certain energy level; the cracks begin to appear! Should rock n roll have remained the preserve of youth? Should Townshend simply have called the Who something else; not rock n roll? And do we really care?

 

posted March 14th, 2015

cool band from Ireland.

  

posted February 25th, 2015

Young beginner bands — without much experience — are perhaps inclined to make a mistake when first putting a set list of songs (or covers) together to work on. Basically, they sometimes have their priorities wrong in that they don’t always prioritise the singer’s ability and willingness to sing the material being considered. It could be an afterthought by which time they come to realise that a given song is just not workable… or a change of key is going to spoil the sound of the song. Admittedly, this often happens when a singer is still the missing key componenent: either because no one in the existing band has yet volunteered to take care of vocal duties or because it is not yet known who has what vocal talents in the band; or because it hasn’t been talked about; or because the band has decided that they need a singer to join them but don’t yet have one in place.

But even if a singer is secured, it’s not always they that gets to say what material is looked at. Put it down to band dynamics! But it’s a big mistake — not to consider the singer! At some point, the band may come to realise their mistake; or in a worst case scenario, they shoulder on anyway thinking that the singer will manage anyway.

The point is that the singer or vocalist should be the main consideration when choosing any song to practice and perform; assuming the band already has a vocalist. If an external singer is needed then it becomes pure guess work as to whether the chosen songs are going to work or not. Time and effort might be wasted in the interim.

The reason: the vocalist is the interpreter of any song; they sing the words and they directly communicate to the listener. Therefore they are the focus; with the other musicians creating sympathetic support. They are not the focus… not matter what they might think about their importance. And the most important thing to consider is credibility. When the singer sings the song, it must be credible; it must be convincing and it must effectively put across the intent of the song. If that does not come across then any amount of musical support will do the song no favours. I think the tendency might be for young musicians to forget that they are serving the song; rather than the song being a platform for their instrumental skills. It’s the wrong perspective! So the most important thing of all is… effective communication with the audience or listener. And if the song is 'wrong' for the singer then it won’t work!!!

So credibility has to do with putting a song across convincingly; the singer principally must be able to deliver the song’s message in a way that the audience or listener understands; gets the message; feels the emotions implict in the song. How is it that the singer cannot sing a song credibly? Well, perhaps they cannot relate to what the song is about; the experiences and observations that the song speaks of. Or perhaps they don’t sympathize with the perspective of the song writer. Perhaps they don’t have a face that fits. You may laugh but sometimes the face matter; and it doesn’t have to be a pretty face in order to fit; sometimes a real ugly face is a better fit. So… how the singer looks matters. It’s all part of the credibility. Or perhaps the singer does relate to the song and would love to sing it, but their voice doesn’t sound right. Imagine, if you will, a weak nasal vocal performing any of ACDC’S songs? No, it isn’t going to work: what is needed is a bit of macho posturing, a voice that sounds like it’s been dipped in drain cleaner or garggled with razor blades; the voice of Brian Johnson or his predecessor, Bon Scott. A pretty Folk voice is not going to cut it.

But there is also a question of the right key. Sometimes the original key is not right for the singer. Rather than doing themselves an injury, they need to change the key. But then, sometimes option is not going to work — some songs were built for specific keys; especially if they were written on guitars. A case in point is Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. Any key other then A minor is not going to work too well for the guitarist; let along anything else.

My advice would be to get to know the vocalist’s capabilities and preferences really well. The band has to be built around them. Better still if there is more than one vocalist in a band; it presents choices! But beware of instrumentalists that decide they are going to give the vocals a shot. Heroic as that might seem, they are not always suitable. First, it is a question of where your head is at when performing. I would contend that instrumentalists often have their main focus on their instrument with vocals taking a paltry second place. If a singer cannot give focals their main attention then forget it. If you cannot play an instrument without having to think about it, then forget it! Singing or vocalising takes as much study as an instrument; something which instrumentalists are often oblivious to. It is not just a matter of opening your mouth and letting something come out! It deserves respect.

Ok, I hope I have given any young musicians reading this, something to think about. Happy hunting for your perfect vocalist. Don't ignore them!!!

 

posted February 25th, 2015

For your information, Helsby is a small town (or village) on Cheshire’s west side, quite near Ellesmere Port; so I presume they suffer the odd wiff of chemical outpouring when the wind’s direction favours it. But that’s another story.

mapserv

What I am here to write about is the rather good bluegrass evening I went to in Helsby yesterday. I am writing from a position of relative ignorance in so far as I don’t yet know enough about the local scene, how often the nights are run or the names of those worth knowing. But based on last night’s visit, I am sure to go back again.

I had heard previously that Helsby is a focal point for Bluegrass, for reasons I cannot offer at the moment (I will try to find out, though I suspect it has to do with a local instrument teacher who has been working in the area for some years). Anyway, it was upon that basis that I travelled down.

I must confess that for all my musical experience, I had never actually attended a bluegrass evening prior to this; so I wasn’t sure what to expect. For a variety of reasons, I decided not to take my banjo or indeed guitar. I was there to spectate and nothing more. What I got was a lot of friendly people and a really good atmosphere allround. A small stage was populated by a revolving door of players playing the standard Bluegrass instruments but backed up by players scattered throughout the ample-sized room; who were at liberty to play along. A single condensor microphone was placed in the middle of the stage so that singers and soloists could get a little closer when necessary. The sound quality and the balance was great and the standard of musicianship on the small stage was pretty good; with one or two notables. Given that the sound was coming from all directions (stage and room), it felt a bit like surround sound; so that was unusual too.

But you know, it worked and it was good! Sure the lighting was a bit ropy and some jokes were made about that; but what the hell. The fact that this is not the Grand Ole Opry meant it had its own appeal in a sort of hick and down home sort of way. Perhaps the addage, what is not broken doesn’t need fixed is apt here. It was certainly a very unintimidating environment in which amateurs could tag along with bluegrass standards, most of which were played over the three main chords in the Key of G. No surprises there… although one singer/guitar player at a certain point, strayed off into an obscure key change mid song and it was met with silence as the other playeres contemplated life beyond G, C and D (or D7). Frankly it was unfathomable!

And the bottom line — the night was well attended; the room was healthily filled with players and spectators. There was a bar to keep you refreshed too. So all was good in the world: for one evening, a wonderful distraction from the realities of modern life, with a trip back to another world and another time perhaps… All that was needed were a couple of bales of hay on the stage!

Rest assured, next time I visit, I will take my instruments of pleasure.

stay tuned!

ps: in case you’re interested or thinking of attending a Helsby session, here is the set list that was covered:

* Buffalo Gals
* Banjo In the Hollow
* Boil The Cabbages
* Cripple Creek
* In the Mood
* Turkey in the Straw
* Blackberry Blossom
* Black Eyed Susie
* Dixie Hoedown
* Virginia Hornpipe
* Old Jo Clark
* Ground Hog
* Old Grey Goose
* Helsby Hoedown
* Cumberland Gap

 

posted February 25th, 2015

Last Saturday evening, Tommy Smith, one of Scotland’s leading Tenor Saxophonists and Jazzmen, as well as being the founder/director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, paid homage to the music of Billy Strayhorn at the Buccleuch Centre in Langholm; a mere stone’s throw from the Scottish-English border.

With the SNJO in tow, Tommy and his ensemble performed two sets of material from the Billy Strayhorn catalogue. The overall impression, in terms of sound and presentation, is that the SNJO are one slick, well-oiled machine comprising some great players; most of whom got a chance to solo and show off their prowess.

So… you might be asking: Who is Billy Strayhorn?

220px-BillyStrayhorn1958

Well, in Duke Ellington’s words, he was, 'my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head and his in mine.'

In other words, he was a collaborator on many of Duke’s works; over an extended period of time, lasting nearly three decades; thus carving out a significant chapter in the history of Jazz. However, whilst it is true that he worked in the shadow of Duke — a name much more familiar to the public — it is equally true that he was the mastermind behind works such as, 'Take The A Train', 'Chelsea Bridge' and the film score, 'Anatomy of A Murder'.

Go look him up!

The SNJO are a 21st century ensemble, capable of transending the different decades from the early days of Jazz to the present. Their sound is modern with signposts to the past. In my view, last Saturday evening at the Buccleuch, they paid a very enjoyable tribute to the man that lived in the shadow of the Duke.

The set list included:

* Anatomy of a Murder
* Chelsea Bridge
* Take The A Train
* Blood Count
* Cashmere Cutie
* The Eighth Veil
* Hipper Bug
* Jo
* Morning Mood
* Orson
* Potrait of a Silk Thread
* Raincheck

 

posted October 7th, 2014

The ethos that underscores bandskool is that people should be coming together to make music; whether it is a small group or a large ensemble; whether amateur or professional. Whatever. The point is that it's about creating something that is the end result of interaction; whether improvised or carefully arranged. Now, I am not a technophobe; far from it: I embrace technology as much as the next person and celebrate the technological revolution that has impacted on music making; over countless decades. Arguably, any artefect used in music making is 'technology'. An instrument is a form of technology is it not? However, I would say that some musical genres are more 'technology' reliant than others; going beyond mere instruments. And that's fine too.But it's a pity that technology is often used to replace musicians; such that there's a lot of music that doesn't imply lots of musicians playing instruments; whether improvised or carefully arranged. Taken to the extreme, technology allows one person to do it all; and for some genres, that's all that is needed. Arguably DJ'ing is an approach that doesn't require more than one individual; with technology taking the place of musicians on a stage near you.

On the one hand, I don't think that one person interacting with technology is ever going to be much of a spectacle. Sure, they can put on a show with lights etc but there is a vital ingredient missing which I feel makes music more enjoyable; more of a spectacle. Now before I raise the hackles of DJ's everywhere, let me say that I completely accept the role of the modern DJ. Of course there's a place for you in the world of music...but it is not as a visual spectacle. It is only for music that is for dancing to; when the DJ performs a background role...of providing the musical backdrop. They cannot surely be the main attraction. Well, my head is awash with imaginary comments from people the world over (steady on!) reading this and rising to the defence of DJ's and those who are completely reliant on technology to the exclusion of other musicians. I am only expressing an opinion; whether you think it is qualified or not. Well, actually, it doesn't need to be qualified if it is an expression of a personal preference. And to put it bluntly, bandskool flies the flag for musicians coming together to create/perform music. It's an old tradition... you know? And that's not to say that technology cannot be an integral part; of course it can. But it should not exclude or replace musicians. That's the real point!

Going back to the 80's (hmm), there was a perceived fear at the time that drummers would soon be replaced by the rise of the drum machine. Drummers everywhere got a little bit worried. And frankly, in some musical genres, the drum machine was all that was needed; not the human element of a drummer speeding up, slowing down or...just being human! Thankfully we still have styles that rely upon a human drummer. If all we require is clinical perfection then we can all be done away with. Perhaps the next step is to have holograms performing on stage; with not a real human being in sight. I'm sure it's all got a lot to do with the powers of commerce. Resist resist!!

 

posted 16.7.14

 

In further Metallica news, I may be behind the pace a little but I've just noticed that said band and internationally-recognised Chinese classical pianist, Lang Lang, have been in cahoots for a performance at the Grammys a few months back.Well, I have just been watching the prep work with renowned producer, Bob Ezrin and I guess it's quite interesting to watch two different (musical) worlds collide.Mind, this is not the first time that Metallica have flirted with the classical world; you may recall that some years back they worked with orchestrator, Michael Kamen, to put something together with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. To what extent these collaborations work, is something that might take an extended debate. Suffice to say that it's certainly worth trying. There's nothing I hate more than musical fascists who reject everything but their own brand of musical entertainment. Personally, I think the lines of demarcation are becoming blurred and it would be nice to think that musical stereotypes that lurked large in the past are beginning to fade. Anyway, it's still fascinating to watch collaborations like this; seeing them overcome not just musical differences (perhaps) but also cultural ones; although perhaps I am making too much of it.

posted 1.7.14

 

The Glastonbury festival may have begun in 1970, at the height of the hippy era, but last weekend, things took on a darker edge; or should I say, a metallic edge. Finally Metal had made it to the headlining centre stage position after years of contentious headliners representing other genres hogging the limelight. Perhaps there are no better ambassadors for Heavy than the thrash masters themselves; step forward Metallica; a band that have been everywhere, done everything and sold a few albums along the way...in the space of some 33 years. 

The choice of having Metallica headline on the main stage on a Saturday night certainly polarised opinion; and as if to buoy themselves up, they invited a backdrop of die hards to stand behind them on the stage as they thrashed out their tunes. But based upon the size of the crowd and its reaction, it seems fair to say that they went down a storm. Ok, some would argue that Metallica were not a suitable band for Glasto, it being a hippy freak and family show and they being advocates of guns and bear hunting (well certainly Hetfield's stance)and singing about war and stuff. Interesting to note that Hetfield addressed the audience early on by paying homage to all British metal bands who have dreamed of, or are still dreaming of, playing at Glastonbury. Well, I suppose the reality is that relatively few have made the same impression that Metallica have; or least, they haven't sold as many records. Although I don't have my finger on the pulse of the British metal scene, I think it's fair to say that it is not mainstream and only occasionally throws up a breakthrough band; such as it is. Well, we can argue about it if you like - I may be wrong, I may need to press on with my PHD in Metal! 

In a sense I think they were the wrong band to round off a Saturday night and that is no slight on their achievements or abilities. It's just that metal isn't everyone's favourite genre and purely from a utilitarian point of view, it would have made sense to put something on that more people would be into. Besides, a Saturday night and you are subjected to songs about anger, destruction, war and other negative things. Yeah, great! Dolly Parton would have been more appropriate! I'm only half joking because I actually think she is pretty darned good at what she does.

So...if metal is to enhance its presence at Glasto then I feel the best thing would be to have a Metal tent (well not really, it will be made of canvass or some other suitable materia). And that will surely please the metal heads amongst us. 

On a different but unrelated note, I remember waiting in anticipation for Floyd to play Live8; and wondering what they would play (as headliners) that would resonate with the nature of the occasion. Unfortunately there is not much in the Floyd catalogue that isn't laced with Water's rancour. Imagine an occasion which is trying to help Africa get on its feet and there you are singing along to, 'We don't need no education'. Yes, I know it doesn't mean what you think it means but it's a bit of a bore anyway. Hey, I love Floyd and a bit of Water's rancour didn't do anyone any harm. I'm just talking about suitability for an occasion.

And so...back to Metallica. Their doom-laden tones are not for every occasion and I think headlining Glasto (which is essentially a family weekend) is not the time or place.

Objections on a SAE...

 

posted 11.4.14

 A new study appears to reveal Manchester as the piracy capital of the UK; in other words, the place where most illegal downloading of music (and more) is conducted.The research goes on to say that there are more illegal downloads per individual in this city than any other city in the UK; or indeed anywhere else in the UK, for that matter.

More than London? Wow!

And ironic too perhaps, given Manchester's status as a musical city. This is the city that likes to celebrate its musical heritage (well, certainly since Joy Division and the Buzzcocks) and is host to tons of bands. Apparently it also plays host to a nest of thieves.

I'm assuming that most partakers of theftdom are young (under the age of...29 say); which arguably mostly affects the artists/bands aimed at that market. So perhaps we are talking about people in their teens and 20's. Well, it's another fact that Manchester has the biggest concentration of students anywhere in Europe. So, let's blame the students! Right?

Related issues have already been laboured before on this blogsite regarding the difficulty of enforcing copyright on so-called intellectual material. Copyright? It doesn't mean a thing! My cynical view on all of this is to give the following advice:

if you want to be creative...put something out there...then make sure it cannot be turned into binary code. Instead focus on producing masterful paintings or sculptures or perhaps make furniture or something else that is solid and can be nailed to the floor. To all you thieves: try sending a lump of scuptured rock down a wire? It isn't going to happen!

Further reading of the study shows that the most pirated artists are indeed aimed at the young: Ed Sheeran is the most pirated of all. Poor old ginger! Followed by hip hop duo, Rizzle Kicks (I'm sure Huey Morgan of Fun Lovin' Criminals is sad to hear this)...and thirdly, Rihanna. Yup, it's youth...no doubt about it. So...here's the deal: if you want to be in a band...make sure your market is over the age of 70; preferably domiciled in an old folks home where they perhaps don't have access to the internet. They love their vinyl do those old dears!

 

 

posted 20.2.14

 

So...The Artic Monkeys won three awards last night..at the Brit Awards. It's becoming a habit and fair play to them; as they stand tall in a sea of 'sludge'... in their words; though I can hardly blame them for making that observation. But it's the same old same old...and rock n roll cliches lapse into parody and repetition and...wasn't Liam Gallagher trying to carry the torch for a while back there (perhaps he still is)...by acting in a 'rock n roll' way at the very same ceremony; the one that comedian, Peter Kay attended...if you understand me. Perhaps rock n roll itself often appears to be a rather worn out format...when it becomes a tradition (nay an expectation) that presupposes certain sorts of behaviour and acoutrements. Sorry kids, look the meaning of tha t word up! 

He said (Alex) that rock n roll never really goes away...but sometimes it hibernates. Well, perhaps that is true...but for me, perhaps the game is up when it all becomes over-intellectualised; with too many nodding references to the past. Anyone can do their homework these days.You can never go back...which is not to say that the future has to be a wet blanket. But things should always happen naturally; don't you think?

And the wheel keeps spinning and we shall never surrender; we shall fight them on the beaches and in the streets and wherever they choose to fight. It's the Battle of Britain reimagined: the musical wars. All I ask of anyone in the creative world...is sincerity and honesty. As soon as you stop thinking you can make a career out of it or achieve your financial goals or whatever else you think you have to play a game for...then that's when we get the good stuff: something REAL perhaps. I could never diss something that is sincere and honest. The rest is tinsel.

 

posted 31.10.13

Is it possible to be objective when evaluating music in any way? The obvious answer is: yes! If we want to reduce music to theoretical and technical considerations then almost certainly we are appealing to an objective criteria.

But that's not what it's like in the 'real' world where our discussions about music and its worth have less to do with objectivity and more about our personal and subjective responses. And quite rightly so - music is supposed to hit us at an emotional level (and possibly an intellectual level too); and our emotional response to music is...well, subjective!

Pleased to have cleared that little confusion up!

So where am I going with this blog? Well, I wanted to address the age-old issue of whether there have been historical periods when music making was 'better' than in others; that's if you think there is some kinda connection between the two. And how silly not to believe this: music like everything else is a reflection of the times it was created in; something which some creators are aware of and others just let the wind strike their facea and then put it down! Know what I mean? There's a German word...'zeitgeist'. Go look it up if you have no idea what I'm talking about. 

I'd go further: I would say that creativity (including music) is a reflection of time and place; that its creation is massively influenced by the environment and what is going on (environmentally speaking). I could provide examples to illustrate this point but I don't wish to bore you!

For decades, older generations have slammed contemporary music (that being a relative thing, of course); most likely made by younger folk than they.

Now, why is that? Is there any substance to the argument? Are they being objective? But what does objectivity have to do with it? Ah, but that's the point is it not? These discussions have perhaps got little to do with objective remarks and more about defending the music one has grown up with; heavily imbued as it is with meaning as you'd expect.

Well, what do you think? Answers on an envelope. Not.

 

posted 16.10.13

I've got to write this whilst it's fresh; so this comes straight after watching a doc (called, 'The Great Hip Hop Hoax) about a fake Californian Hip Hop duo...who were actually from Bonnie Dundee!

I give you...Sibil (sorry, Silibil) 'n Brains:


Watching the doc was quite stirring...on different levels. Let me offer you a synopsis:

Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd had met as teenagers and hit it off, so to speak. They also shared a passion for music. You've heard this before, right? Anyway, fast forward a wee while and the dream to get their music out there had sprung up. They were into Rap and Hip Hop, these lads from Dundee. And so...they decided they were going to try and get a deal; they went to aud