Saturday 31 May 2014

Reality Bubble

I was googling for info online and found Bo Bruce, a finalist on The Voice UK
She said the BBC spent no money on promo by The Voice, by comparison to the money spent by ITV on its shows – such as X factor. That acts appearing on The Voice UK are likely to fail once the show comes to an end.

The finalist stated that the BBC has too many restrictions when it comes to promoting acts in comparison to other channels. Leanne Mitchell’s debut album only reached no 134 UK album chart, and her single 'Run To You' peaked at 45.
"They just put out a single and didn't really advertise the fact that it was out there and available to buy..Normally you would have a huge marketing campaign before a big release. But you can't do that when you have won The Voice."
"Being part of the BBC, they can't be seen to do that. They have far more restrictions. If you look at The X Factor, they are allowed to heavily promote an artist or a singer. Because of that, they almost always have at least one number one single."

"BBC producers are not able to take control of the winner's career in the same way Simon Cowell does for his shows. I'm really glad I didn't win because it meant I could take my time.  Personally, it is better to be runner-up as there's less pressure to have an instant hit." Danny O'Donoghue said: "That's not the fault of the BBC. you can take an artist like that and question their work ethic." 

The reality of course is that the BBC can't be seen to spend money on things like the media hype for a contestant ( the BBC has no revenues from advertising).

Entrants to these Tv show should view them as a platform or showcase. for some exposure. Reality shows are intense short-term spotlights and anyone searching for a longer term career in music should look for other opportunities to showcase – such as the slow burner approach online and those at the small venues.

These shows create a false bubble for young people's expectations and therefore it can often be hard to deal with let downs, and with some entrants being as young as sixteen. It is necessary to be aware of these limitations and have your eyes open to the artificial nature of these reality tv spotlights.

The slow down in sales of CDs has affected these shows with money now in the live shows and song royalties

Thursday 29 May 2014

Maya Angelou: Birds that fly from poverty

Maya was best known for her book ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, 1969, which brought her international acclaim. She died yesterday May 28 2014 and I was sad to hear of her loss. 
Her books centre on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel. Angelou is best known for her autobiographies, but she was also an established poet.  She inspired many. 

She was a journalist, activist, novelist and poet as well as many other things. I was reading her Wiki page, goodness!  She was also a dancer, actress, singer, composer, screen writer, professor, lecturer, traveller and more. Angelou (not her real name) was also a mentor to Oprah Winfrey. In 2011 she received the Presidential medal of honour.

She used elements of the Blues, including the act of testimony when speaking of one's life and struggles, ironic understatement, and the use of natural metaphors, rhythms, and intonations. Angelou, instead of depending upon plot, used personal and historical events to shape her books. She considered herself a teacher who writes and she found relief in "telling the truth." Gillespie spoke of the breadth and depth of Maya Angelou's spirit and creative genius" 

Maya wrote one of my favourite poems. She lived through hard times and her spirit won through. Who's to say that those same struggles too are what defines us?

Love builds up the broken wall
and straightens the crooked path,
love keeps the stars in the firmament
and imposes rhythm on the ocean tides
each of us is created of it
and I suspect
each of us was created for it.'  

'I believe the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.' Maya Angelou

‘The most noble cause known to man is the liberation of the mind and spirit. ‘
‘All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.’  Maya Angelou

Monday 26 May 2014

Rab Noakes and Barbara Dickson Milngavie Folk club May 2014

Songs by Rab, songs by Barbara. Songs together.
Rab and Barbara gave us a real treat with a showcase gig of their favourite songs. They both looked well and clearly enjoyed sharing the stage together.
Rab looked smart in a dark checked suit while Barbara was glamorous. They spoke of how they met in the 60s at Sandy Bells bar Edinburgh. 

First they performed duet songs - Rab's Don’t Say Money Doesn’t Matter; James Taylor’s ‘Something’s Wrong; an Archie Fisher song Years of Rage and as they are both Everly Brothers fans they performed their song Sleepless Nights. 

We were then given alternate solos by Barbara and Rab.
We heard some of Rab’s excellent and well crafted songs, such as his song for Gerry Rafferty No More Time. Rab said he first met Gerald at Billy Connolly’s house, when they were in the band Stealers Wheel together. Rab also performed I’m Walking Here from his new album and the murder ballad, The Two Sisters. Noakes sang a Dylan cover and as he is a big Dylan fan he is rather excellent at doing Dylan.

To my delight Rab performed his well remembered ‘Branch’ which received good radio airplay and that he performed a few years back now on the Old Grey Whistle Test. I’ve seen Rab live a few times and this was the first time have heard the song live! 

Barbara sang a haunting song by Charlie Dewar, The Same Sky and a very charming rendition of one of those beautiful story folk ballads, the classic Scottish love song Rigs O Rye (which are like little treasures). She spoke of her first working with the folk legend Archie Fisher and of her shirt boxes of songs. 
Rab always includes an older song and they finished the set with the poignant Doris Day song Que Sera Sera with us all singing along.  
For their Encore Barbara sang her hit song Caravan ( I still have it in my head too!) and a Doug and Phil song, Long Time Gone.

Barbara has a poignant, beautiful timbre in her voice. The combination of Rab and Barbara's different styles and voices worked well and it was obvious they have a mutual respect for each other. The two performers know their roots and are comfortable in their own skins. They gave us textures and shadows, subtle tender and truthful messages and tones, that both helped to sooth and uplift.
Their 'Reunited' Ep April 2014 has a raw acoustic live feel, and such good songs. Reminds me a bit of 'Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris' dueting together -

They were very well supported by Edwina Hayes form Yorkshire, who gave us funny stories and had a clear lovely vocal. She sang a Richard Thompson song and a song she had co-written with Boo Heredine, as well as her own songs.    

Big thanks to Jason, who because he cares passionately about music and particularly about folk music, runs a successful folk club. And congratulations for this his tenth year! 

Set LIst
Do Right Woman
Dont' Say Money Doesn't Matter
Two Sisters
No More Time
As Wise as a Serpent
The Same Sky
I'm Walkin Here
Rigs O Rye
Tears of Rage
Sleepless nights
Que sera sera
 Barbara Dickson is a Scottish singer whose hits include “Caravan”, "I Know Him So Well" (a duet with Elaine Page) and "January February". Dickson has had 15 albums in the UK Albums Chart from 1977 to date, and had a number of hit singles. She has been described her as Scotland's best-selling female singer in terms of the numbers of hit chart singles and albums.  She has also performed in  many West end musicals on and tv and is a two-time Olivier Award-winning actress, Dickson's singing career started in folk clubs around her native Fife in 1964. Her first commercial recording was in 1968. Her early work included albums with Archie Fisher, the first of which, The Fate O' Charlie, a collection of songs from the Jacobite rebellions, was released in 1969. Her first solo album was Do Right Woman in 1970

This beautiful Scottish love song has long been popular with thirty-five versions in the Greig-Duncan collection. The earliest record of the song may be a chapbook with the title Ridges of Rye printed in Glasgow by J. & M. Robertson in 1799.

Piped Music

These days we listen to a great deal of piped music - or rather piped sound and extremely random playlists some random person (or machine?) came up with.

The worst I have heard is in Asda, and it is so bad it puts me off shopping there except with my music player in my ears. The piped artificial sound is irritating and mind numbingly bad.

M & S play 60s or 70s nostalgia for its aging clientele - which irritates also. I am older but I enjoy new music too, I don't like to be reminded of my age! 

People used to hear their music live - played by real instruments at their local or orchestra's in the park or singers at the theatre.

'Music' has become a a cheap commodity and when broken down into bite sized chunks it becomes like cheap sliced white bread or cheap chocolate - it may pretend to nourish our souls but really is instantly forgettable.

The sensible shops offer no annoying backdrop play lists. Some restaurants offer 70s or 80s songs, probably cheaper than new ones!  .

The best playlists I've heard is up at a lovely independently owned bar /restaurant in Callander who play lesser known folk artists and ceilidh bands.

Thursday 15 May 2014

**The Scottish Enlightenment

**The Scottish Enlightenment ** I have been busy researching the 'Scottish Enlightenment' – and there is so much to be proud of with figures such as David Hume and Buchanan.  I studied Higher History at school in Edinburgh, where we studied the Tudor and Stuart kings and 17th century European history - and yet I NEVER heard anything of the 'Scottish Enlightenment' until my son studied philosophy here!  I was astonished to hear of the connections between the Scottish Enlightenment, the Declaration of Arbroath and the American Declaration of Independence. Which seriously makes me question why we only learn of the dull and duller kings and not the great thinkers, creators or inventors?
It is a journey of the roots of liberty and of radical political thought, the Arbroath Declaration of Independence (1370); Scotland's Education Act (1496 and also 1616) which meant everyone should be taught to read the Bible and was revolutionary thinking - all helped to pave the way for future democracies. In France Voltaire said "we look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilization," 

'The Scottish Invention of America, Democracy and Human Rights': The History of Liberty and Freedom from the Ancient Celts to the New Millennium (2004). By Dr. Alexander Leslie Klieforth and Dr. Robert John Munro. 1300 BC to 2004 AD.  The book is the first historical analysis of the doctrine of the 'consent of the governed'  by the medieval scholar John Duns Scotus (c1265-1308), the Scholastic Theologian and Philosopher of the Friars Minor, the Franciscans, and derived from 'Celtic' traditions of rule amongst the Scots. The authors write that the roots of liberty originated in the radical political thought of the ancient Celts, the Scots’ struggles for freedom, John Duns Scotus and the Arbroath Declaration (1320), a tradition traceable through the writings of Buchanan, Knox and Frances Hutcheson and a tradition that influenced Locke and the English Whigs theorists and our Founding Fathers - Jefferson, Madison, Wilson and Witherspoon.  

The book is an alternative to the traditional Anglocentric view that freedom, democracy and human rights descended only from John Locke and England of the 1600s.  John Duns Scotus, studied at Oxford, Paris, and Cologne, major centres for scholars of Western Christendom.  In the Scots adoption of his ideas, they were not alone and they shared a larger heritage. They also state that there was a rich exchange of ideas in the 17th century between the traders of Norfolk, Flanders, the Duchy of Burgundy, North Italian Cities, Cologne, Hamburg and parts of the Hanseatic League.

Key Figures - John Duns Scotus (1290s), Frances Hutcheson (1694 – 1746), David Hume (1711 – 1776), Adam Smith (1723 – 1790), John Locke (1632 – 1704)

Scotland showed that through education for all we developed an enriched and enlightened country where reasoned thought held sway rather than brute force. Scotland was a world leader in medicine, the sciences, law, education, philosophy, economics, engineering and more. The culture was based around knowledge, books, discussions and rational thought.     

I attended an informed talk on the Scottish Enlightenment by top Scottish historian Tom Devine - The Road Ahead. He talked of - 'The Land Divided The Sea United'  - My Blog here -

We stand on the brink of a momentous decision to restore our voice again.

Monday 12 May 2014

Music 2014

I forgot to write about new music. I'm enjoying 'The Head and Heart' from Seattle, whose Oran Mor gig was very good. (new album Let’s Be Still)
Very good gig though and the audience were really up for it. Also some excellent gigs at the Milngavie folk club - although in folk I am worried that all the Scottish folk legends are over sixty now and I'm not sure who there is from the younger generation to replace the likes of Dick Gaughan or Rab Noakes.

I admire Karine Polwart and Inge Thomson though and RM Hubbert was certainly excellent supporting Mogwai. Justin Currie (with Del Amitri ) was wonderful at the Hydro in January at Celtic (he's not so young either). But otherwise? Many of the younger singer songwriters lack substance, character or depth.

Poalo Nutini? I watched him on Jools Holland last night and he has come on since the early contrived pop of his first album, and much respect to him. 

I've been listening to Canadian Sarah McLachlan, who has written some top quality songs and is great live. She has a new 2014 album out Shine On. I'm a fan.

With the age of the internet I prefer to find my own music. I don’t wish to follow what is promoted at me.
Otherwise I go back for my Dylan or folk fix - with a bit of the Stones or Stevie Nicks thrown in. Karine's new album ‘Traces’ is very good, with lovely textures (recorded by her husband drummer Mattie Foulds).   

Highland Cathedral

Pipers at Edinburgh Castle
For a new anthem for Scotland my votes on the tune Highland Cathedral with new words - 'The Highlands Call on eagles wings...' This tune is stirring and uplifting ....and nothing much beats the pipes, but adding the strings of the orchestra makes it easier to sing to.

I went in search of a good version on YouTube. Loved this version with the orchestra adding that extra depth -  oh wish they might play this at the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014 ( and not Flower of Scotland!)  Check it here -

I agree with many that Flower of Scotland now sounds out-dated and even slightly bitter. We need a forward looking more positive and inspired song. This is not about sending the English homeward - its about an inclusive and confident way forward for all who wish to live in Scotland. When I lived abroad I did used to think of the pipes and the Highlands and those damp misty mornings. 

Where the highlands call home on eagles’ wings,
And where heathers always bloom,
I will always be true
 To the highlands that are calling home for me.   

By many bonny lochs and rugged wild shorelines, 
Misty mornings and wide open spaces, 
My heart will always be  
Where the highlands are calling home for me.  

Sunday 11 May 2014

STRANGE pop business: Gary Barlow

Gary Barlow is now considered as pop music or rather pop song royalty in England (he received an OBE and organised the Queen’s Jubilee concert and even more).  He is following in the footsteps of top no 1 world selling pop singer songwriter Elton John

When Take That broke up Barlow had initial success with his 1997 album, Open Road, which made No 1 in the UK charts. However his 1999 album, Twelve Months, Eleven Days, only made No 34. It appeared that the pop business didn’t know what to do with Barlow as the piano playing and songwriting member of the band. Pop music has become, especially over in LA, more about the glitz and showmanship.

Oddly, back in the 70s, the pop business didn’t know what to make of Elton either – who after working in Publishing became a solo artist in America when he donned extrovert glasses and glittering shoes and jackets, to be seen and heard!

After Take That broke up inn 1996, Robbie Williams (Angels, Let Me Entertain You) became the Big Star, although he has never broken in America.

Meanwhile Barlow was out in the cold and consigned to several years in the wilderness (1999 to Take That reunion 2006 and later his solo release 2012). Even as he retreated into his songwriting he found that the music business wouldn’t touch him and in order to have people even look at his songs he had to put them out under another name.

This continued over years, while he put on weight and became reclusive. Then in there was talk of a Take That reunion in 2006 after a Tv documentary – and the rest is recent history.......
His 2012 album Sing made No 1 UK charts.  
There are a few others such as Kylie who also resurrected her career. In the shallow world of fame this shows the real secret of success is hard work. At 43 Gary is looking better than ever. No matter what people view as cool or not cool – nothing much beats a great pop song!

Gary Barlow OBE (born 20 January 1971) is an English singer-songwriter, pianist and record producer. He is frontman and lead vocalist of British pop-group Take That and served as head judge on series 8, 9, and 10 of The X Factor UK. Barlow is one of Britain's most successful songwriters, having written thirteen Number 1 singles and twenty three top 10 hits. He has had three Number 1 singles, six top 10 singles and two Number 1 albums as a solo artist, and has had sixteen top 5 hits, eleven Number 1 singles and seven Number 1 albums with Take That. He is also a six-time recipient of the Ivor Novello Award and has sold over 50 million records worldwide. He was appointed an OBE in 2012 for services to music and charity.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Richard Thompson's colourful songs


His song lyrics paint the most colourful characters. I first came across Richard Thompson when I was a student and when I heard some of his Bright Lights album songs on a visit to Stirling uni – and I was hooked from the start with the energy and dynamics of his guitar, his colourful songs and the sultry expression and tones of his then wife Linda, and I learned to sing Richard’s insightful songs.
As well as being a brilliant song writer Thompson, with his own very individual guitar style, is one of our top guitarists and he is listed in Rolling Stones top one hundred guitarists. 
My favourite Richard Thompson songs are – Bright Lights, Heart Needs a Home, Down Where the Drunkards Roll, Dimming of the Day, This Cruel Country,  .

With an artist’s paintbrush Richard draws real life stories and unforgettable characters. They grab emotionally with pain and joys.
Richard likes to improvise and play from instinct with his unexpected, soulful guitar that leaps and springs at you, wrapped around with challenging intelligent lyrics that speak in clear unforgiving voices. His songs tell of troubled, characters, about flying free and escaping life’s pressures. His songs are edgy, brooding at times, mournful and thoughtful with lines such as -
 ‘There goes a troubled women she dreams a troubled dream, She lives out on the highway, She keeps her money clean.’
‘I was a butterfly lived for a day, I could be free just floating away.
This cruel country has teased me and lied.’

Richard grew up in London, in a musical family. His Scottish father exposed him to a record collection of both jazz and traditional folk, which provide a unique and wide music background. This interesting mix of styles led to Richard rich and original song writing style.  He has collaborated with many, including Crowded house, John Martyn, Al Stewart, Matthews Southern Comfort, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake and more. Richard continues to tour.

He also writes great quotes on his website! "I prefer to concentrate on songs that are deserving, but slightly too arcane to be in every household -- the also-rans, the misfits, the hidden jewels."
"It's an honour to have this job and, to me, the greatest thing is to be up on stage and to feel that connection with an audience... It actually doesn't matter how big that audience is, as long as you get the feeling that there's that musical communication there... that mystical thing that happens in a room full of people. Music is played, things change subtly. It's a beautiful thing. "

 Richard Live. I have seen Richard Thompson three times live in Glasgow – the first time a quality gig at the concert hall along with bassist Danny Thompson.
The next was at an excellent set at the Old Fruitmarket, where he rocked with his band and he played songs from his 2009 album, as well as his top quality back catalogue of songs.
I also saw Thompson perform an accomplished set at the Glasgow Concert hall as part of Celtic in 2010, where I also took photos.  

He now lives with his new wife in LA and a few years back there was an interesting tv program about his songwriting. There is something insightfully real, truthful and optimistic about the human condition in Richards songs. 

Richard and Linda Thompson had their first major album with I want to See the Bright Lights in 1974. Thompson continues to record and tour to this day.  
Richard Thompson, British songwriter, guitarist and recording and performing musician. Richard Thompson made his début as a recording artist as a member of Fairport Convention in September 1967. He continues to write and record new material regularly and frequently performs live throughout the world. Thompson was appointed an OBE in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to music.[5] On 5 July 2011, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Aberdeen. His songwriting has earned him an Ivor Novello Award and a lifetime achievement award from BBC Radio (2006).