Tuesday, June 6, 2017

...And you, and you, and you can Shut Up as well...

As the UK Election looms closer by the hour, the Mad Rhetoric gets louder; the claims and counter claims become more shrill; the trolls grow fat under their bridges as they consume a thousand innocents a minute; the keyboard economists gather together on the top of the most crowded pin-head in the world and in a small unpleasant corner of the social media world, the abuse of those who simply voice their opinion - however well-meant - becomes standard. Apparently, if you work in the entertainment or the arts world, you are right at the top of that list and immediately qualify for a kicking of the highest order.

It is nothing new, but nevertheless it is still bizarre watching the ritual punishment of actors, writers and musicians in particular, who have the nerve to utter a public opinion on anything that does not involve them acting, writing or playing music. It is of course quite absurd that if you build bridges, drive buses, nurse the sick, erect scaffolding or run the local pub, then it is usually ok for you to have a 'political' opinion. However, if you are known for writing the best selling children's books ever, then you become an ignorant rich loony who knows nothing. If you happen to be a famous Hollywood actor well known for playing an opinionated Taxi Driver, then you should shuddup and get whacked for mouthing off. If you drive The Most Famous Spaceship in the Universe for a few years then this immediately disqualifies you from having an Earthly Opinion. If you spend all your life on stage playing music and singing to millions about the tribulations and hard times of American working life and love, then suddenly you become a gobby know-nothing who should Can It and give away all your money.

Yes. It is ridiculous is it not that anyone in the arts in particular suddenly becomes easy-meat for derision and abuse. Shouting at Bono when he comes on your screens talking Politics and Poverty becomes a national sport, in the manner of virtual fox-hunting except in this case the fox has something interesting to say and won't shut up and roll over. Love him or hate him, it is not too well known, that Bono did his homework and usually knew more about global politics, economics and poverty than most of the people who were anxious to meet him. Similarly, take a look at Springsteen's back-drop, listen to 'The Rising' the album about 9/11 and then decide if he has nothing to say worth listening to. Their straight forward articulacy, based on their own knowledge and experience enable people like J K Rowling and Patrick Stewart to mainline straight into the public consciousness in a way less able people cannot. When Robert de Niro stands up to be publicly counted and suffer the tsunami of 'libtard/snowflake' abuse that thunders down on him, I doubt that he cares very much. Agree with him or not, his voice reaches millions who would otherwise be excluded from the discussion, who may not even have had the opportunity to hear such a point of view. It is ironic that the London Taxi Driver is one of the most satirised opinionated and frequently quoted people in the kingdom and yet de Niro can be shut down for simply being 'an actor'.

Let me flip you back a few decades. It is what has become known as The McCarthy Era. Often centred on Hollywood, America's obsession with the fear of communism and 'The Red Scare' was personified in the Committee on Un-American Activities. Echoed years later by the Stasi and various other organisations around the world, people were actively encouraged to inform on their friends and family for often simply just voicing views they didn't agree with. Whilst the FBI agents doubled in number, thousands lost their jobs and their careers, frequently for reasons that were kept secret. What in particular makes this moment in time significant is that its most high profile accusations and inquisitions were saved for Hollywood, for writers and actors, sound men and photographers, for playwrights, producers and musicians. In the meantime, somewhat absurdly, it made for gripping soap-style TV.

Why did they take a run at those professions? Well apart from the obvious paranoia of associating the arts with a 'corrosive' liberalism, it is clear that in its widest sense, the community of the arts world reached places no politician can dream of going. When I recently wrote here about David Bowie's contribution, it became self-evident that whilst there are never-ending government cut-backs and deletion of arts budgets across the country, the chances of there being another Bowie get less and less likely. He was a product of freedom of education, freedom of thought and spirit, freedom of opportunity and most importantly the key-holder of the door that would open to let millions follow him through. Even the most plank-like politician would never have attempted to 'shut-down' Bowie – any more than they would have been unwise to intervene in the extraordinary power and love that emanated from the Ariana Grande concert. Yep, I'm with you if you're not crazy about the selfie posing and ego tripping but, my friends, that does not make their contribution any less valid or significant.

Artists are no different from you and me, other than that their particular stunning skills sometimes enable them to reach a wider and often adoring audience. Like you and me they have opinions in every shape and colour. Many choose, like you or me, not to air those opinions and keep their own counsel. Some are bolshier and mouthier than others. Some are more articulate than others. But, just because you write, act, play the guitar, the drums or sing, it doesn't mean you left your brain in a cupboard somewhere. Some of them you may not agree with, so feel free to engage them in a discussion and debate. To assume that they are not allowed an opinion simply because of what they do with their talent makes you much dumber than any of them...

Pip Pip!
The Blues Man in The Hat

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Box!

Let me take you on a quick trip down Musicboxes Lane, sometimes known as Intolerance Alley or the Have You Gone Mad Highway and now, much more recently known to many bewildered managers, record company execs and music public relations people as The Commercial Cul-de-sac.

Many decades ago, fortunately before the prickly selfie world of social media, the jazz world went into spluttering paroxysms because one of the titans of the then vibrant 'trad' jazz scene - the hugely popular Humphrey Littleton - fed up and feeling trapped playing the same old, albeit commercially attractive stuff, introduced the talented killer saxophonist Bruce Turner into his band and started to 'swing'. So upset were some of his fans that they took a banner to his gigs reading “Go Home Dirty Bopper”. Yeah. Music Fans. Nice One. Humph carried on regardless.

Unlike the ancient Hat, you may not remember that, but you will certainly have heard all about the famous 'Judas!' cry that went out years later at the 1966 Dylan concert in Manchester when, after a nice familiar opening acoustic set, he played the second half of his concert on an electric guitar. His reply to the now infamous shout was to tell his band to play louder. Often characterised as a pivotal moment in music (actually, he had been booed in Newport a year earlier for the same thing), it tells us as much about fans resistance to change as it does about the artist's development.

That was a long time ago, wasn't it? We don't do that any more do we? Oh Really? Come with me over here and look at that violin-playing bloke. He plays Vivaldi you know. He is called Nigel Kennedy and he plays Vivaldi. He always plays bleedin' Vivaldi, My grandad really likes his Four Seasons. It's written by Vivaldi you know. What do you mean he plays Django Reinhardt and Irish ceilidh music? He wears a football scarf? He has ridiculous hair? Nah, he can't do that – he plays Vivaldi. If that's the case then I'm not buying any more of his stuff. That's outrageous. He's a Judas, he's a Dirty Bopper who should Go Home..... At least there wasn't a riot - which was the case when Stravinsky launched his Rite of Spring in Paris....rien ne change...

Ok, they are a just a few high profile examples of how battalions of music fans like their music boxed up and labelled and you will know many more examples of where an artist has made an unexpected moonwalk right in the middle of their oh-so-familiar foxtrot. It happened and it still happens and wouldn't we be so much the poorer if it didn't? Music fans, like many other type of fans, often consider they are experts in their field – particularly in the modern age of the instant keyboard warrior – and there are millions who still have a need to take a belligerent stand against change of any kind. The examples above are from the jazz, folk and classical worlds but no musical form is exempt. The semi-mythical 'Blues Police' are legendary in their rapid shoot-from-the-hip condemnation and many forests of blues trees have suffered at the hands of those who find it difficult dealing with any artist who steps out of their neat and tidy 'genre box' - (even The Hat has been on the sharp end of their devastating original wit).... and please, let's not go anywhere near the Literary and Literal punch-ups that go on about 'Metal' from Rock to Death and from Doom to Crust and Christian......

And yet...and yet...Some of the world's most successful artists are those who are always pushing boundaries, breaking rules and thinking outside of their classified box. Look no farther than the recent losses of Bowie and Prince, both of whom were far too big and interesting in their musical development for anyone to slam them into a box. The Hat is not suggesting that we should all go off and study Laurie Anderson or Bjork's next move or clap with joy when Brian Eno or Philip Glass show us two conventional fingers. The attractive thing is that they are constantly moving on and exploring. They are not abandoning what they do, or have done. They are investigating and evolving. Listen. The phenomenal talent doesn't disappear simply because Am/Em have got boring.

There are problems of course with all this 'musical freedom' stuff. Firstly, many fans, understandably, like to know what they are getting and the label on the box gives them a clue. Not all fans will appreciate the nuances, the twists and the breadth of vision that an artist brings with them unless they have been forewarned. Secondly, for artists who can't be boxed, don't wish to be boxed or move across many 'genres', this is a problem that can bring with it, some hard-nosed financial questions....and this is where the record promoters, radio show producers, sharp-end sales outlets and marketing people enter the equation. Simple questions like 'what heading does the record review appear under in the paper or magazine'; 'what rack does the album sit in on the shop display' and 'when does a DJ give it a play in his 'boxed genre' show' are somewhat minor issues compared to the conversation on the record company sixth floor when the execs have to decide how to promote their potential commercial prodigy. 'Brilliant, but it won't sell' is often the mantra for such meetings.

Yeah, I know that it's bollox that this is even a consideration - and an inevitable by-product is the Xfactor world - but, however regrettable, that part of the industry is never going to disappear. Meanwhile, The Hat loves to take succour from the fact that the head of Island Records wanted the Tom Jones gospel and blues album 'Praise and Blame' pulled – because he 'didn't want hymns' It went on to become Tom's biggest seller....so you can put your box where the sun etc...

Today, Independence can be the watchword for many artists.... independent production, independent or self promotion and the maintenance of control over what you do and how you do it. It is difficult to escape the need for funds, even if crowd-funding and kick-starter are throwing a life line to some free spirits. Nevertheless, as with Art, struggling to maintain what you regard as your integrity and principles may mean getting used to living on chips in a garret....and that doesn't appeal to everyone.

In the final reckoning though, nothing can overshadow the force of nature that is Pure Rare Talent. Every successful artist has that magical ability to take their feelings and emotions out there through their music and transmit them to the listener, totally regardless of genre, box, or neat and tidy classification. I am sure you will know many examples of such artists but I will give you just three recent illustrations of how this unique artistry works:

Jo Harman, a stunning vocalist now on the brink of international acclaim, refused to be known as a 'blues' singer from the start of her career, politely declined the box label, and is now at the point where her adoring audience and collaborators come from every corner of the music world. As she put it succinctly about her latest album “this is just about me being me”. Then there is the totally unclassifiable duo the RedDirt Skinners, a truly wizard and original combination of guitar, sax and beautiful harmonies now selling out virtually every venue on a nation-wide Canada tour. But wait...they just happened to pick up nominations in both the Blues and Country awards worlds – er, that can't be right...how the hell did that happen? - and yes, you got it - 'they just do what they do – brilliantly'.

Finally, let me leave you with this third example of Anti-Boxness. I recently saw the band Northsyde at a festival. They are known throughout the UK and the continent as one of the finest 'blues-rock' bands on the planet and I admit to having seen them on more than one occasion. The point here is that they are actually NOT a blues-rock band. They are four hugely talented artists who don't give a bugger about the box but do care about giving everything to their audience. On this occasion, right in the middle of their set, they played Stevie Wonder's 'I Wish'. The singer emotionally tore down the walls and ceiling, the guitarist went off to that place where only special guitarists have special notes on their fretboard and the drummer and bassist laid down a groove so deep, tight and heavy that there isn't any box anywhere in the world it would fit. But wait a minute – where's da blues? Where's da rock?....surely, this is soul, this is hip cool, this is funking funkmaster jazz-funking like you never heard it...what's it doing in the middle of a blues-rock gig....why is the audience going bonkers? Yep. Box Off Brother. Blues-rock it ain't.

So there you have three exciting and successful Antidotes to the Genre-Box-Pox. Of course it's not going to go away, but as Jaws hero Roy Scheider might say if he went to a gig of any of those three artists...”Guys, we're gonna need a Bigger Box”...

Pip Pip!

The Blues Man in The Hat

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Monday, May 23, 2016

British Blues Awards: Time To Call Off The Dogs.

Most of you will know that about this time of year, the Hat finds a new quill and writes a piece about the up-coming British Blues Awards voting. The final lists are now in and the public voting starts on June 1st. Get ready.

That brave little band of organisers have once again donned their hard hats and body army (sadly there is no Award for Being Mad Enough to Organise An Awards programme) and without doubt, the fans are already marshalling their voting troops - and the critics and the nay-sayers are already sharpening their witty green felt pens.

If you spend any time at all around the blues world, you discover very quickly that, for the most part, fans and gig-goers are kind, pleasant, cheerful, knowledgable, supportive people who are prepared to listen, to learn, to experiment with new music, go crazy about up-and-coming young talent and spend a lot of money on a regular basis punching the air and following their favourites.
There is a camaraderie that embraces the first-gig novice, to the gnarled veteran, from the club regular to the wide-eyed new visitor that is a wonderful part of the enjoyment of watching and listening in the blues world.

Every year, once all the final lists are out there and the voting begins, there is an outbreak of comment on the social media about who's hot and who's not. This can be hilarious reading, thought provoking and informative. This is the way with any short list. My dad played the concertina at funeral wakes and I always thought he should get an award for that...sorry I digress...

However last year, the genial banter brought with it some ugly commentary, some of it the worst I can remember – often from people who should know better. Inevitably there will be people, who for whatever reason are opposed to the BBAs....it's divisive, could be more inclusive, awards are not necessary and so on... I have no problem with that. Also, inevitably there will be people who failed to read the criteria and are outraged that their favourite musician isn't on the list – even though they didn't produce an album and barely appeared for a live performance last year. Go back and do your homework before tearing into your keyboard.

Last year, for a while, we were knee deep in experts who knew better. They hated the Awards, the voting process, the Panel – which was variously Useless, Ill-informed, Stupid and A Fix. The worst aspect for me was the fact that some of these critics chose to attack individual finalists who they felt had somehow got there by 'knowing people', 'having friends' - which in itself said more about the critic than the artist. Even the kind, gentle, sweet and Harmless Hat was abused by an expert for....er...'just blogging about his mates'...I fear his critical scatter-gun came from Toys R Us...

The debate about the BBAs is a good one, some would say it is a vital and necessary debate. Speaking personally, I am anxious that the debate continues and the process evolves. The BBAs are far from perfect and need improving in a number of ways. But, here's the thing, to my knowledge, none of last year's keyboard experts have come up with something better, some of them have declined to join the panel, none have come forward to help out - and most of them fail to realise that sitting behind your Facebook/Twitter page, criticising individual musicians who have worked their socks off, offering no actual constructive criticism – is not smart. It is not clever. It is shabby. It is the kind of side-line bullying that crops up all over the social media when someone you don't like does something good. Out come the Capital Letters and the Green Felt Pen. I think the blues community is Better Than That. Yes, please fill a page with some constructive, interesting stuff; start up some banter; flip us some wit and some wisdom.....otherwise go away and take your keyboard with you...

As you know, The Hat likes nothing better than quoting himself so here's something wat I rote last year at the time – let's hope it doesn't get repeated this year:

I don't care too much about those who hang around and throw mud. What I do care about is that the (current) Tower of Babel back-chat runs the risk of drowning out both the importance of the need for a Blues Awards of some kind and how important it is to salute those on the final lists who have plied their trade with such huge talent and huge pride. So let us stop, take a breath and at least acknowledge that."

I am still of that view. If you have something constructive, interesting - even witty to say, then join in now.  The finalists this year are all pretty amazing.

It's Time To Call Off The Dogs...  

Pip Pip!
The Blues Man in The Hat

(Thanks to Roy L for the image)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

7 Reasons Why The Hat Will Soon Own All Your Music....

I was thinking that I might get my solicitors, Sue, Grabbit and Run to sue the Whole Music World for ripping off my music and lyrics. They are gonna do it on a No Win No Fee basis, but I am pretty confident that very soon the Rights to All Music Ever will be mine and I will own Everything, including Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, The Zep and a lot of other Dead People. There are a number of reasons as to why I may resort to this.
First: As some of you may know, when I was a Small Hat and needed to sit on three cushions to play the piano, my favourite Aunty Winnie used to shut me in her parlour while I practiced my composition 'Thunder and Lightning' using my open palms and fists in a highly creative and original way. At the same time, I would sing loudly, mainly on one note, about Maureen with The Pony Tail, how my evil parents were trying to end my world, Misery and building exploding boats made out of Meccano. Only yesterday, I heard the Crush Metal band, Bruised Eyeballs using those very same random fist actions in their so-called original composition 'Maureen's Plaits'. I was angry, I can tell you.
Second: Whilst busy composing in Winnie's parlour, I stumbled across the idea that if I played 'Thunder and Lightning' in sections of twelve repeated Bashbits and then repeated the bit about Maureen and the Meccano in the middle, it would last exactly long enough to end just as Aunty Win came in with the Tizer and some bars of Kit Kat. She and I decided, over a drink, that my original work should be called The Twelve Kit Kat Bar Basheroo. You must agree that it has quite obviously been copied, sampled, nicked and ripped off ever since. I haven't seen a penny.
Third: At that time my little hands could not span an octave so I used two hands and in doing so I invented the trick Arpeggio and by playing on the black notes and white notes in turn I clearly invented Minor and Major stuff too. Next time you go to a gig, suss out the keyboard player. I guarantee he will be using both arpeggios and black and white notes.
Fourth: After a few divorces and a reckless plunge into the art market, I need to get my hands on some money to support all my expensive habits. I have been looking around for a dodgy grey area of the market that might be fertile ground for some gratuitous funding. I was thinking about a Wind Farm or some forest in Scotland but my friends at SG & R said they had spotted Old Music as a prime growth area.
Fifth: SGR's beautifully-suited 'Music is Fair Game' specialist attorney, tells me that cover versions of 'I Will Always Love You' and 'Hallelujah' are now the high spots of X factor and in addition the BBC is rushing out whole weekends of Fifties and Sixties music - where much ownership and royalties were agreed in a dark club between 'Jack The Weasel's Record Company' and the 'What Planet Are We On I Just Wanna Play Music' musician. He keeps sending me bottles of Stoly and telling me The Time is Right. He has a great line in cliches, like most lawyers, but he knows an opening when he sees one and reckons that Leonard Cohen's 'secret chord' is probably one of my Thunder and Lightning chords.
Six: Should anyone foolishly try to suggest that other people did this before the 'Thunder and Lightning Break-Through', we will take them on an expensive six month tour through my family genealogy and point out my connections to madrigal players, Shakespearean Hautbois and my earlier musical predecessors. Stick that bill in your expensive Attorney's pipe.
Seven: He has also pointed out that a lot of the people involved in this 'It's mine and I'll sue you' mallarkey are either dead, ill or in Fairy Land and consequently all those supposed 'spit on the hand' deals are hard to substantiate. If I were to put all my Aunt Winnie's relatives on the stand (she alas is Upstairs now, singing along to one of my compositions) and I offered half my proceeds to music charities, any court in the land (by which I mean America) would agree with me and not only would we clean up, but I would become a modern day folk hero.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ok. You're Right. This is not a joke. No musician (or indeed, any creative artist) likes his or her work being hi-jacked, stolen or generally ripped off without any attribution, financial or otherwise. Hours, weeks, months and years may have gone into creating a piece. Although it is nothing new, over the last decade or so 'sampling' has become a quite common aspect of modern music and nowadays there are usually some solid arrangements in place and it gets done with agreement. Whether you have any time for those who do this to earn a living, is quite another matter. However when it is done blatantly without agreement it is Theft. Ask 'The Verve' how expensive that can be – and there are plenty of other examples. Also, every day, a thousand bands do a thousand cover versions of famous pieces of music. Again, that may not be your bag, but (to be very kind) they are probably not intending to overtly steal creativity and disguise it as their own. They put their hands up, publicly attribute - and we all understand what is going on.
Nowadays, musicians are much more savvy about protecting their material in both music and lyric form. They have better knowledge, better legal support, unions and hopefully, better informed managers and agents. It has long been the case that the lyric writer will be the recipient of richer rewards and the history of lyric ownership in particular is littered with the battered bodies of those who have fought and failed to clarify ownership. Again, that situation has changed radically for the better but occasionally when the sale of a song collection comes on the market the swords and writs get flourished once more. There are handsome prizes to be won.

However, what has emerged of late, is not the justifiable prosecution of Intellectual and Copyright Theft but what is becoming to look like a growth business in Music Legal Opportunism. It would seem that out there in the world of litigation, there are people employed to look for musical similarities, resonances, note groupings – even an 'atmospheric' likeness to previous work. This in turn has produced an industry of university 'professors', 'musicologists' and sundry 'experts' who somehow are looked to as the people who may 'know' whether a piece has been 'stolen' or not. Nobody, it seems is bothering to consult any musicians.

Clearly there have been many injustices which date from an earlier period, a lot from the fifties and sixties, when for many it seemed at the time, legal rights ownership was not a priority. Absolutely, some of these were wholesale fraud, some a clever adoptive sleight of hand; others were just crap lax management and quite rightly, justice must be seen to be done and compensation is due. Even today there are villains out there looking to take advantage of the unsuspecting and innocent. But musicians are, for the most part, getting smarter.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the hind-sighted public forensic analysis of the structure, notation and style of the composition of an established piece of work - that may have first been dreamed up by an artist on the back of an envelope - then we are now entering the world of Litigation LaLa Land. Listening to a lawyer struggling to claim that the whole of a piece of music has been stolen because the opening arpeggio was 'similar' to one used elsewhere would be funny if it were not so sad and damaging. 
The idea that serious musicians cast around looking for stuff to nick, when their whole raison d'etre is to produce something original is laughable. The scoundrels will sink. The originals will fly. We know that. However, when it comes to Music and Finance, all the lawyers in this area of litigation are Tone Deaf.

Anyway, soon I will own everything...or so Sue, Grabbit and Run keep telling me. Trust me. Your music will be safe with me.

Pip Pip!
The Blues Man in The Hat

(Reading this blog aloud to an audience does not constitute an infringement of my hereditaments or some such bollox etc etc etc.....)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Quick! Find Me A Keyboard......Old People Are Dying!

....apparently he was quite famous....

Sometimes I feel I should leave my laptop drying out in a bowl of rice overnight, such is the lachrimosity that floods the social media these days. We are awash in tears for people who have got old and gone and died. That is sooooo unfair...

To me this seems now to have reached epidemic and embarrassing proportions in the music world. Suddenly it seems as though - for some quick-fingered posters - The End must be Nigh. A lot of old people are dying and every time one of them, keels over, pops their clogs, goes off to meet their maker and shakes hands in a sun-drenched far distant place full of Marshall amps and free beer, it seems as though it has become incumbent on everyone with access to a keyboard to offer up condolences, a YouTube clip, a reminiscence or just a straightforward RIP Full Stop.

Don't misunderstand me. I don't have a problem with displays of genuine grief. I have been there. Whatever the circumstances, the personal loss is shattering. The family, friends and acquaintances left behind can be devastated. Indeed, whether or not you knew them, the loss of someone who affected your life, was a personal inspiration or even simply brought about a sea-change in your attitudes can be easily understood.

However, it now seems to have become mandatory, obligatory, essential to pass comment - even if you only hear about the death through a fourth generation Shared Post and a quick check on Wikipedia. Er, who was he/she? Ah, yes, got it - now where's my keyboard...

The Public Automatic Response Condolence Note has become the Printed Selfie. Look at me. I am a sensitive and clued up music person. Check me out. I am a Leading Edge In Touch music buff – and here is my certificate of authenticity....RIP  - or Whatever....

I am not a hard-hearted misery but quite frankly, I am not interested in reading about Geoff Blog's life-changing moment when he once saw a recently dead bandsman at a concert at The Rainbow before they turned it into a church in Nineteen Hundred and Freezing. Any more than I am interested in hearing about how a radio 'personality' once rubbed shoulders with the deceased at a concert freebee...oooh listen to me, I am famous by association... Stop. Don't bring your memes into my house.

Look a bit closer. The deceased was 76. He/she hadn't played or sung publicly for decades. They may have been seriously unwell for many years. In addition, many of them might well have imbibed, sniffed and injected every substance known to man on their way to a cheerful 76. You didn't know them. You never met them and the fact that their stonking early music was good and, in its day influential, does not give you automatic ownership of the grief being suffered by those close to them. How would you feel if you were in mourning and an illiterate body snatcher came to the wake?

Guess what? This year a lot of old people have died. Certainly some of them did indeed bring about huge changes in our musical landscape and the sense of loss is mighty and deserving of remembrance. You will all know who they are.
I am affected, just like everyone else. However, most of them seemed to have had long and interesting lives. Most of the recent losses were of people aged 67, 71, 75, 80 and even 94. Because, for the most part, the age of 24hour rocknroll degeneracy has now virtually disappeared, few of them die young and join the tragic 27 club. It should come as no surprise that many musicians born in the Forties who produced world changing music in the Sixties are now getting old and vulnerable. Listen. That whole generation of musicians, the one that seems to have influenced so many who came after them are now reaching their old age and you need to get your head round the fact that the music Statistics Are Not On Their Side. It's time everybody got used to the idea that quite a lot of old people die when they get old. Yes, of course it is sad but I can get my own sackcloth and ashes. I don't need yours all over my inbox.
A while back, a blog I wrote about big Barry Middleton - the popular club manager and British Blues Awards Organiser - and his contribution to the blues world, went viral and was posted thousands of times around the globe. It was shared by people, not because of their personal loss, but because of what Barry represented and because people realised how the Barrys of this world really did make a difference. There were no claims of ownership, there was no hi-jacking of grief. There was, however a joyful acknowledgement of the contribution of all the Barrys world wide. That is how it should be. So keep your Instant Crocodiles out of my in-box...

As for me? Well my intelligent, streetwise children and friends have clear instructions to 'roll me up and smoke me when I die' and of course, I have already written a very long flattering obituary of Me Me Me which will be shared with anybody who has a keyboard.....

Pip Pip!
The Blues Man in The Hat

(Names of famous dead old people have been deliberately omitted from this blog)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sometimes You Should Shoot The Music Messenger....

I was watching a YouTube video the other day. I can't tell you much about it. I didn't make it through to the end. It did involve music but I can't remember the names of the musicians, what they looked like, where they were playing or what they played.

I'll give you some clues though....and I bet you can guess...
It opens with a shaky image of a bald bloke wearing an Eagles 2000 Tour T-shirt carrying two pints of beer from left screen to right screen. He then shouts to some invisible people off the bottom of the screen that it was their round next. The camera then moves sideways past the beer-carrier's paunch and hovers over the head of a peroxide blonde who is waving her hands in the air shouting 'I Love You. I Love This Number. I Love This Number' to anyone who will listen and rather too close to the cameraman's microphone. We stick with this for a bit longer as we have noticed that there is a band on a stage making a noise in the background that might or might not be worth listening to. However, give credit to the tenacity of our film-maker though, as they push past the waving hands and bring one half of the head of the bass player into vague focus. Unfortunately, he is not actually playing and seems to be talking to the keyboard man whilst off-screen the guitarist rips into a virtuoso solo involving shred and distort that neither your computer or the cameraman's microphone are built to handle.
Ok, it's time we went and clicked on something else...

Recognise that movie? Well you should, as there are thousands like it, seemingly posted every day by gig-goers, fans and groupies of bands all over the world.....and, I fear, by some bands and artists. They are for the most part awful, shake like an exploding kitchen boiler, have sound that could be made by Stockhausen on one of his off days and usually make the mistake of being twice as long as a visit to the dentist. When you have finished tearing out handfuls of what's left of your hair, you can only ask the same question, over and over again...Why?

These videos are clearly posted in good faith to demonstrate support for the band or artist they went to see. My question is 'why bother?'  Many of them are almost unwatchable in that they are so badly executed that the subject matter is drowned in a sea of amateur iphone artistry. The sound – and after all, surely the premier issue is to hear what the artist sounds like – is invariably tinny and distorted, and worse, the tiny mic picks up all the ambient surround sound, often of people talking above the band in a bar. We can also do without the photo-bombing of bit-part-walk-on drinkers that feature prominently in these clips and why, oh why, do you think that shooting the backs of heads from the back of a crowd is, in any way, remotely interesting?

I can understand that this can be a dilemma for an artist or a band. You want your stuff out there, being shared far and wide and getting talked about and clearly YouTube can do that job pretty well. It is also incredibly rewarding knowing that you have fans who want to spread the word for you. However, you and I know, that it also spreads the word about dancing dogs, car crashes, cute cats, fat blokes in old T-shirts and all the dross in the world. If you are hoping that your live, trembling and raucous movie clip is a way of reaching out to more fans, a potential producer, a radio show host, a record company, a reviewer or a magazine – forget it. You are dreaming. If anything, they may well head in the opposite direction at a great rate of knots.
So. Think Carefully. Even the attractive magic world of instant viral fame comes with some shortcomings. Do you really want a boring, impossible to watch, painful to hear clip of your work out there in the ether? It really does you no favours and may well be unhelpful in its effort to help. This is your public video face we are talking about and believe me, noisy acne is not attractive.

Maybe you should intervene. Take some control where you can. Talk sweetly to the poster and point out the pitfalls. Get the Disaster Movie removed. If that doesn't work, then maybe you should shoot the messenger...

Pip Pip!
The Blues Man In The Hat

(Thanks to our friends at Pulp Fiction for offering their services,,)

Friday, February 5, 2016


Are you one of those people who would really like to find out Eleven Secrets of the Palm Pilot? No? Well maybe you just checked out the Six Favourite effects pedals used by Blues Gods and armed with that knowledge, you will soon amass data about their favourite jeans, ice cream and hair products....

Go on. Own Up. Stand up in a circle of close friends and say the following...”My name is (today I am going to be Dopey) and I am a Click Bait Victim. I have tried but have been unable to break my addiction. This very morning I looked at six pictures of American preachers who wear bad hair pieces and then I found myself scrolling through the ten top Stevie Ray Vaughan chord progressions that are most copied by pub blues bands. It was terrible. I couldn't seem to control my mouse. It had a life of its own. Therefore, I have come here to stand up bravely amongst my peers and give you Twelve Reasons why I need help....and when I have done that I would like you to give me Five Examples of how I can get away from here on a free holiday...”

If there were ever a colourful demonstration of how you can fool all of the people some of the time, it is the resident internet malarkey of what has become known as 'click bait'. Yep. We all know about it. We all love to hate it. We all protest that we are far too smart to go anywhere near it. This is the technique of headlining an article or advertisement with an eye-catching link that invites you to click and view to find out more. When you do so, along with countless others, the clicked content moves up the article popularity list making it even easier to access by a search programme and a lot of happy advertisers. It takes many guises from grainy images of the hot and trendy C-list celebrity to mad distorted science claims about aliens and unknown plagues. Sometimes it asks you a question..”How Many” and sometimes it tells you what to think “You'll never believe” and occasionally it orders you to view...”Click here to find”...and from time to time it just beckons you in with some near naked flesh, an insider trick to win stuff or save money and there is always an offer you feel unable to refuse.

But, like so much that is promised, you know that like listening to the man in the top hat on the door of the bearded lady and live mermaid tents, it will probably end in disappointment, disillusion and the regret that that You, the Incredibly Smart and Alert You, have just wasted another five minutes of your life.

The problem is that you cannot blame anyone else. It's not those smooth talking beautiful people reading stuff written for them by machiavellian marketeers. They are paid to do it. Every day we encounter hundreds of marketing devices that pander to your desires and emotions. We casually deal with them, shrug our shoulders, smile knowingly and move on.... and yet click bait continually seems to be the one that really sucks our brains out of our heads and slaps us later for Being So Stupid. Because it works, it will not be going away anytime soon - indeed it will get more subtle and sophisticated. Those people Vance Packard referred to in his book, 'The Hidden Persuaders' will continue to be one step ahead of us....subliminal images, the manipulation of our thought direction and the psychology of our need for possessions are all things that have become a permanent part of our existence in a commercial world.

Indeed, not only is it not going away, every branch of commerce, culture, music, arts and science is on constant look-out for better techniques to get us to look at, enjoy and maybe buy their stuff. Inevitably, some corners of the 'arts' are inclined to look at this with a peg on their nose to keep them at a distance from the wicked world of naked commerce. Sadly the short end of that view is often that the distant and aloof high ground will not be enough to get you heard amongst the crowd of similar projects baying for your attention. At one extreme, we all know that if the posters for the band gig stay behind the bar, then nobody will know and nobody will turn up....word of mouth is wonderful, but someone has to start with the first word. At the other end, even if the established artist is internationally known, they still inhabit a competitive world that is battling for access to your disposable income. The power of the social media and the internet search are now firmly established as part of the tapestry of that fight for attention. Click Bait might be pretty crude and disappointing right now but it will continue; it may get more subtle and less shouty and we will all continue to click away, hate ourselves for being suckers – and do it again tomorrow.

My advice is simple and two-fold.
First - you listen to Tom Waits sing 'Step Right Up' where you will learn, amongst other wise things, that 'the large print giveth and the small print taketh away'.
Second – You really must try harder. The Hat doesn't of course have any money to give away even if he wanted to. Bet you didn't see that one coming. Disappointed eh? However, as you're here now, I've found a nice picture of Helen Bonham Carter as bait...

Pip Pip!
The Blues Man In The Hat