Twenty Years On

Posted on 3rd January 2008

Ark Appreciation Pages

Ark Appreciation Pages

Sometimes it's easy to think we live in a small world.

Over Christmas I played a few games of Hunters And Gatherers with DanDan. It's a game he really likes and the rest of my games are little too advanced for him at the moment. As a consequence I don't get to play Settlers Of Catan, El Garnde, Rail Baron or Elfenland very much these days. Every now and then I think about going along to a local games club, but never seem to get around to it. On New Year's Day I decided to lookup the Halesowen Boardgamers website again, except it seems I found the old website. I've thought about going along a few times over the last 5 years or so, but with their meetings clashing with Perl or Linux meetings, it's not happened.

As the website I found (the old one as it turned out) hadn't been updated in a while, I felt prompted to check whether the group is still going and sent an email. It seems they do still meet, every Wednesday at the same venue. Then I got a second email from Dave, who helps run the club. He'd had a quick look at my website and was surprised to discover that I had been involved with the band Ark. It turns out he was the original drummer with Damascus, the band that laid the foundations for Ark, and I even had him listed on the website! He tells me he has lots of stories, photos and even some tapes of the early days, so fingers crossed some of them may materialise on the website at some point. If nothing else he says I've definitely got to come along to a club meet :)

Even though Ark ended over 12 years ago, there is still a lot of affection and interest for them. Band members still occasionally drop me a line to let me know what they're doing or help to fill in some of the gaps on the website. Fans often ask if I have various releases available. Every now and then I'll meet someone who has seen them live, usually at Edwards No.8 and will reminisce how much they enjoyed the gig. With Gel still playing locally with Bleeding Hearts and John Jowitt still playing with IQ, there is still plenty to keep the interest going. As such, this year more than ever, I plan to upgrade the Ark site. I have been doing bits in the background for most of last year, but I have so many photos and tapes I really should get a move on and make them available. Who knows may be it'll mean I get to meet a few more band members and fans.

Another music/techie crossover moment happen a few months ago when I was arranging some dates with Leicester LUG to go over as part of the 2008 Birmingham.pm World Tour. Gary who organises the meetings also happened to look at my website and discovered that I was involved with Prolapse. It turns out he knows Turk, and used to work with a few of the guys, and sees them occasionally around Leicester too. It's quite possible we've even met a few times at the gigs. I'll be doing a couple of talks for the LUG this year, so it'll be fun catching up with Gary to see what other stories he has to tell of the band :)

In these instances it isn't really a small world, partly as Haleowen and Leicester aren't that far away, and also that both Ark and Prolapse are fairly recent memories, but it is nice to cross paths with people who remember the gigs and have interesting tales to tell. Plus they were both great bands and are worth remembering. I'm looking forward to meeting up with both Dave and Gary, and hopefully it'll prompt me to sort out the photos and tapes I have of both bands :)

File Under: ark / games / gigs / music / prolapse / roadie
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Kings of Evermore

Posted on 17th October 2007

Bleeding Hearts @ The Boarshead Taphouse, Kidderminster

Bleeding Hearts @ The Boarshead Taphouse, Kidderminster

A couple of weekends ago, I went along to The Boarshead Taphouse in Kidderminster to witness the live recording of the new Bleeding Hearts live album. After playing for around 2 hours, and considering it was free entry, I would call that value for money. I told Nicole's brother that I'd got him in on the guest list, which he thought was great until he saw the poster advertising free entry :) The boys played a great selection of old, new and unreleased songs and ripped up a storm. The live album is only likely to feature around 10 songs from the 20+ set, so hopefully they'll be able to include a few classics in there.

As previously, I took my camera along. The first 30 minutes of the set I tried to record on video. Unfortunately several people kept wandering in front of the camera, so although none of the tracks are suitable for professional airing, Nick was thinking of adding one or two to Bleeding Hearts's own website. I now have a new 5"+ tripod, so hopefully I can get a better viewpoint for recording video in the future. I ended up taking over 1,000 photos, which worked out at roughly 16 shots a minute, and whittled it down to 175 for my selection. I've given the boys over 300 to choose from for their own purposes and have already asked whether they can use them on the inner sleeve of the album, which will be nice.

However, the venue wasn't the best for lighting, so I had some problems with some of the shots. I haven't got a top of the range camera, so lighting is important. Despite trying several settings to get the best out of the camera, the shutter speed still isn't fast enough for my liking. There were some great shots I would have liked to have got of Gel and Nick, but the light from the PAR cans was just too weak to capture them mid-movement. The Roadhouse photos came out much better simply because of the professional lighting rig the venue has, so I hope this set doesn't prove too disappointing for them.

A while ago I considered buying a small lighting rig, so that when I take photos of Nicole or her band, Slim Pickins, I can focus the lights and use the colour gels, just as I want them. Then I can bring them along to gigs for friends like Bleeding Hearts, and give them a much better stage lighting, and thus take much better photos. Unfortunately these sort of small rigs don't usually turn up on eBay, so I'll have to put the feelers out to my music industry contacts to see if anyone is selling off some old equipment. They'd be great for house parties for the kids in the summer too. DanDan and Ethne can pretend they're doing a real gig :)

For my selection of photos from the Bleeding Hearts gigs, see the links below:

File Under: bleedinghearts / gigs / music / photography / roadie
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New Dawn Fades

Posted on 14th August 2007

The Factory Club with Peter Saville, Tony Wilson & Alan Erasmus (Photo copyright Kevin Cummins)

The Factory Club with Peter Saville, Tony Wilson & Alan Erasmus (Photo copyright Kevin Cummins)

In recent years there have been several people that have passed away, who helped to shape my life. John Peel, Tommy Vance and Alan Freeman all helped to promote different forms of music and introduce me to many styles and genres that perhaps otherwise would never have discovered for myself. They all gave young bands a chance and help to change a generation. My generation. One other man also did that, perhaps more than I realised at the time. Tony Wilson.

Tony Wilson first came to my attention back in around 1975/76 when he used to present Granada Reports. A regional news programme for the North West of England (Lancashire, Manchester and Cheshire), that was partly an alternative to the mediocre Nationwide that BBC put out. Tony along with Bob Greaves presented local news, but also occasionally featured music from the North West too. Tony's passion for promoting music from Manchester enabled him to get So It Goes on the air. Although it wasn't only about Manchester acts, it did help to create the image of Manchester being a vibrant music scene.

The Haienda FAC51 membership card

The Haienda FAC51 membership card

In 1979 Factory Records released their first piece of vinyl, A Factory Sample EP featuring among others Joy Division. On FAC 6 they introduced me to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, who long before they were a pop band, were a UK alternative to Kraftwerk. They helped to bring several Manchester bands to national notoriety. Although with Happy Mondays that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Tony also created the In The City music festival, which was great way to celebrate music across the city. Bars and cafes would become venues and put on all sorts of music throughout the week. When The Haçienda (FAC 51) was opened it was like a breath of fresh air. For many years one of my most prised possessions was an original The Haçienda membership card, until it got stolen.

I moved from the North West in 1982, but regularly made return trips for various gigs. I met Tony once, along with Rob Gretton, all of New Order and several other Manchester musicians over the years, and always found it an inspirational experience being around the Manchester scene. I still see Manchester as a kind of spiritual home and it holds a lot of memories. That's partly thanks to Tony Wilson, for giving the city pride in itself and its music. Thanks Tony.

R.I.P. Anthony Howard Wilson (20 February 1950 - 10 August 2007)

File Under: manchester / music / people / roadie / tv
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Controversy

Posted on 15th July 2007

I bought the Mail on Sunday today, in order to get the latest Prince album, Planet Earth.

Reading the article in the paper, Kim Bayley, director general of Entertainment Retailers Association, is quoted as saying...

'It devalues the music and the losers will be new artists who are trying to come through . . . Consumers only have so much listening time in the week and if they receive the new album from Prince then they don't need to buy new music and will spend their money on something else.'

Is it just me, or can anyone else spot the absurdity and contradiction of that statement? So if Prince gives away an album, then the fans are getting an album they would have bought at full price for just £1.40 (the price of the newspaper), thus they have all the money left over to buy another album, perhaps by a new artist. It's also possible that some, perhaps those who buy the newspaper regularly, will listen to the album and become Prince fans, thus going out and buying more music. The only real losers are the music moguls who have suddenly lost out on significant profits from the sales of this one album.

Prince doesn't need to worry about the loss of royalities as he still makes plenty from his other albums, and he still gets the royalities when the songs are played on TV or radio anyway. Prince is in a priviledged position as he has amassed his wealth and invested it wisely. His investment in other artists, such as Wendy & Lisa, Vanity 6, Sheila E, The Times among others has helped new artists to carve their own careers. While some may not feel the investment worthwhile, it is still considerably more than any major record company has done in over 20 years.

In the last 20 years the music industry has turned into a industry run by accountants and money makers. The people who were once passionate about good music have been sidelined or pushed out. These days it's exceptionally hard for a new artist to actually make a name for themselves. Hence why many have resorted to selling or giving their music away on the internet. The live music scene for unsigned bands these days is a very pale comparision to the one that existed during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Once upon a time a new artist would be able to work the pubs and club making a name for themselves. A&R men would often scour the same venues looking for potential new talent. If they found someone they thought would be worth investing in, they would often get some time in a recording studio to make a demo, which usually would expand into their first album. Record companies would invest in 4 or 5 album deals with the expectation that the promotion of the artist would build with each album, until they "made it". It wasn't unusual for artists to make 3 or 4 albums before they became a financial success.

As an aside, it might not be so well know now, but Genesis only "made it" in the UK after their 4th album. The record company, Charisma, funded the tours and the records because they believed in the band. However, they were more popular in Italy than they were in the UK. It wasn't until Foxtrot (their 3rd for Chrisma) started to climb the album charts in the rest of Europe, that their popularity started to increase in the UK. They had been growing their fan base by constant touring and word of mouth created a buzz about the band. Chrisma's belief paid off, and the band went on to bigger and better things as did Peter Gabriel, who also stayed with Charisma. In fact technically both acts are still with the label as Virgin bought it ;) In this day and age I don't believe any one of the big four would ever make a similar kind of investment.

When I started as a roadie in the early 80s the only bands I worked with were unsigned. The chance to play pubs and clubs was fantastic and we played most of them. Personally I had a great time, but it was a hard slog as I would be away from home for weeks on end. Unfortunately the network of venues has diminished and the promotion of unsigned bands in the NME and Kerrang! is nothing like what it used to be. The rise in cover bands is heart renching. It seems the fact that people are more willing to listen to something they know, even if it's not done anywhere near as good as the originals, than to take a chance with a new artist. But that's another rant ;)

Getting back to the Prince issue, when record company executives start spouting "It devalues the music and the losers will be new artists", then you know that the truth is more likely to be that the winners are the new artists and the losers are the record company execs themselves. I don't pay alot for my CDs anymore, as there are various sources, including retailers, which enable me to pay less than £10 for a brand new CD. Occasionally I will pay a bit more for limited editions, but a tenner for a regular CD is a reasonable price. I always feel that the price should be affordable for teenagers to buy with their pocket money. It's what I did, and when my pocket money always ran out, I found part time work to help pay for more.

To give Prince his due, this release is a very credible piece of marketing. He's gained many more column inches from this move than he would have got from releasing the album through the usual channels. He also shaken up the dinosaurs, who to be honest need a bit of a reality check.

As for the album itself, personally I don't think Prince has ever done a bad album, although I wasn't particularly enthused about the Batman album, but it was still a great album. Planet Earth isn't as stunning as perhaps Gold or 1999, but it is still a good album. The interesting thing I get from the album is how different each track is from another. Each track is very definitely Prince, but they all hint at the several styles he's used on various albums over the last 15 years or so. My first thought was that this is an album release similar to The Vault, which was a collection of songs that never got on an album, but I think in this case the album is simply a collection of random ideas and experiments that he has been working on. I like the album, especially the "single" Guitar, but I would have to confess it wouldn't have been an album I would normally have rushed out to buy on the day of release, but would probably have shopped around for a few months down the line.

I don't expect other artists to ever follow suit, and if they did I wouldn't expect it to have the same impact. I've a great respect for Prince, particularly during the Symbol years. He stood up to the record companies because he believes that the artists should have control over their own music. At the time he was much derided, but those of us who have worked in the music industry can understand the frustration he felt. This instance is another example of Prince ensuring the record company understands he's calling the shots. It's a shame that other artists don't have that control, but at least when they get to be in a position like Prince, they know they can stand up for themselves.

I have always believed that the artists should have control over their output. Unfortunately record companies get involved and decide that they know better. Some artists however, know their audience far better than that or are willing to take risks. Prince is one such artist who does the latter and understands the former. If only there were more like him.

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of Prince's first album being released. Planet Earth is his 38th album of studio recordings. It kind of puts to shame some of those bands that take 5 years or more to put together sub-standard albums and endless repackaging of tour videos to take more and more money from their fans. And if a certain San Franciscan metal band with a Danish drummer comes to mind, then we're on the same wavelength. Judging from Prince's prolific output he should be releasing his 40th album in time for the 30th anniversary celebrations. I'm looking forward to it. I just wish I was able to go and see one of the dates on the Earth Tour. The ticket price of £31.21 is certainly value for money when you consider he gives away albums to everyone who attends the gig.

File Under: music / prince / rant / roadie
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Hungarian Suicide Song

Posted on 25th April 2007

The other night Nicole and I were watching QI, the excellent BBC quiz show with Stephen Fry, Alan Davies and a selection of great standup comedians. Stephen asked the question 'What is the most depressing song?'. The answer was 'Gloomy Sunday'. It didn't register anything with me, until he mentioned that it was also refered to as "The Hungarian Suicide Song". At this point I got interested. One of the bands I used to work for, Prolapse, had an instrumental track called 'Hungarian Suicide Song' on their first album, Pointless Walks To Dismal Places. It started me off on a trail to see what the guys were up to these days.

Along the way I discovered an old site about the band. The page that amused me was this one, that lists ten official bootlegs released by the band through the fan club. It amused me as I was the one that recorded and created them. I still have all the master tapes in the loft from the original gigs. In fact there are some good ones I still have from the later tours too. I love live recordings, especially ones I've been to, so was rather enthusiatic to get the band releasing some of the great live gigs. They agreed and gave me pretty much free rein to come up with the titles and artwork. The titles were outtakes of some suggestions I had for song titles. Most Prolapse songs rarely feature the title in the song, and they were trying to think up some unusual titles to use. I can't remember if they used any of my suggestions, but I did come up with a list that filled 2 sheets of A4.

I had a great time working with Prolapse, although I only helped out on a few tours between 1995 and 1997. I was primarily hired as their driver for their European tours, but also ended up being Tim's drum technician and their lighting engineer whenever they did a gig big enough. They played some interesting gigs over the years, and I had a great time working with them all. It was a really shame when Tim told me they were planning to split. Although I could hear the influences, they were quite a unique band and I don't think I've heard anyone quite like them before or since.

I haven't spoken to the band for quite some time, so I was interested to see if individually they were still playing gigs. I knew Tim loved playing, so it was rather unsurprising to find him still playing drums with MJ Hibbett & The Invaders. I was delighted to discover that he has also married Emma, and even recruited her into the band. I'll have to try and keep an eye on their gigs, as it would be great to see them again. It seems I missed them playing The Jug Of Ale in Birmingham last year, so fingers crossed I can get to a local gig this year. I've just looked at the website again today and it looks like it's had a facelift in the last few days. Personally I think the old version looks better.

Of the other guys it looks like they've all got proper jobs and are pretty all following the careers they studied for at Leicester. Maybe one day, when they are revered as much as Joy Division they'll be persuaded to reform. It'll be a great day if they do ;)

File Under: music / prolapse / roadie
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Lights Out (Read My Lips)

Posted on 7th April 2007

A number of years ago (during the late 80s/early 90s), I followed a band called Katydids. The first night I ever saw them was at a small club in Coventry on the night England played Germany. As a consequence although they had a crowd, it wasn't as big as it might have been. However, it did mean I got to chat to the band and over the course of a few years I got to see them quite often. Alas as is the way of many great indie pop bands of that time, they broke up after a couple of great albums. Guitarist and songwriter, Adam Seymour, is now perhaps better known as the guitarist in The Pretenders.

During my time travelling around with the band, I got invited on guest lists and backstage, etc so it was only fair I help them out too. At one gig at The Marquee in London, Susie asked if I could do some filming. Seeing as it meant I got to hang out on stage, I jumped at the chance. Susie loved the art of film and had studied cinematography at one point, and had in her pocession a lovely 16mm cine camera. My Dad had one like it years ago. She wanted to capture short bursts of footage of the band playing live on stage, so it meant I got to stand on stage in interesting locations pointing the camera at each member of the band for about 20 seconds. The aim was to include some of it in a video.

Not sure why this crossed my mind the other day, but I wondered whether the film I shot ever got used? Although I've seen the videos to the early singles I'm not sure I ever got to see the later ones, as by that point I was touring with Ark a lot more and was rarely at home. It would be great to think some of it did get used.

After the band split up, I caught up with Adam and Susie a couple of times, but have long since lost touch. It's always great to see Adam on TV with The Pretenders and I'm sure Nicole must be sick of me saying, "I know Adam". The last time I saw Susie she was doing a solo acoustic tour and she gave me a tape she had produced as demo for a forthcoming album. As far as I know the album never got recorded, which is a shame as the demoes were really good.

Having looked at the Wikipedia entry to write this piece, I have now discovered that Katydids have a new website and that Susie Hug got to record her album and is still writing and recording :) This hopefully means she's also touring. I hope she still does some of the Katydids songs :) It's also lovely to read that Susie and Adam got married too, as last time I spoke to them they had just got engaged.

There were some great pop songs from that early 90s era of British indie pop, it was real shame that the music business were too interested in making instant millions.

File Under: music / roadie
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