Category Archives: Music/The Local

DIY

I started this post in Dec 2014. Just getting round to publishing it now for some reason…

I bought and have been enjoying the Don’t Make a Scene fanzine brought to us by Adventures Close to Home a few weeks ago, and have used this as a learning resource once already… will do that again, for sure. It has had me thinking even more than usual about the brilliant and the paradoxically less brilliant DIY scene. I want to share some of my own thoughts about it.

In 1999 or 2000 my band Billy Mahonie embarked upon our first UK tour which had been booked by an agent. We acquired these “necessary” accoutrements of a “successful” band each time very much by accident. (except the labels – these we knew we needed and wanted, and we sought those out very much on purpose. Then fell out with them. More on that later). When asked by Simon Williams when we were about to release our first single, “Who does your press” I simply replied “what?”. I knew not what “doing your press” meant. And same with getting an agent. We met with an infamous bloke who passed us onto his new junior, who went ahead and booked us a bunch of shows both here in UK and abroad. I’m still friends with him now. Got very much out of that game and now enjoys a different role in music. Still playing in bands a lot. Lovely bloke. (connected maybe?).

Anyhow. That first tour we hired a van and set off, and had a nice folder with a sheet for all the shows booked, with info and details about how and when to arrive, where, and at what time we would have soundchecks, dinner and so on. This was all very well organised and I loved it.

The thing was, for the show at the Packhorse in Leeds, there was no info. Just an address. No mention of fee. I was worried. It felt a little like we were going into the unknown. We WERE going into the unknown!

We got to the show and found the promoters – a lovely bunch going by the name Cops and Robbers, and quickly realised that there had been no cause for concern AT ALL. We were fed (a lovely home made curry at the promoter’s house, where we stayed) and paid more than all the other shows paid. The show was rammed. And we got to play with Polaris who were fucking awesome. And I still maintain some kinds of contact with various members. Notably Neil Turpin who is the one of the finest of drummers.

This may well be just an anecdote. I refer to the fact the my band Billy Mahonie were very much learning (or not) on the fly. I refer to the fact that Cops n Robbers, despite being awesome promoters and lovely people, hadn’t sent the information to the agent, meaning we didn’t have it, and there was some resultant anxiety – which may well have turned into some kind of sourness had things gone awry in some way.

But it was great, and they were great, and they still are I notice. Brilliant.

 

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Can’t be arsed

I’ve had two quite connected emails today one from an artist another from an industry person.

Artist says please don’t remove me from the bill, because in spite of not mentioning the 6-weeks confirmed show on my website I have bought a train ticket and I can start to promote now less than a week before the show. And in any case, I promote events myself and would never expect the artist to do the promoting for me.

Industry person says the argument that PAY TO PLAY PROMOTERS ARE COMPLETE CUNTS doesn’t totally stack up and that given they’re the bank, holding the risk, what’s so bad about promoters trying to protect themselves in the face of a tide of lazy bands who promise 30 mates and bring nobody.

There’s a lot of grey between the two arguments. And to start from either position is wrong.

One thing is certain: when you’re doing a show and you check the acts websites and the show isn’t mentioned, it’s just completely soul destroying. This process could be got through far quicker by just handing out some money to some acts, and not actually doing the “event” part.

Christ, my band used to make our own flyers and posters on top of what the promoters did, and hit the promo *hard*.


Troubled Water: Dementia, unhappy endings – comparing Simon and Garfunkel to ACDC

I can be a terrible music bore. I AM a terrible music bore. I had a lovely moment this very afternoon when two friends came by and said “what’s this?” to my playing Bill Callahan stuff… So I then proceeded to put on a bit too much and then try to talk them through the lovely lyrics in Rococo Zephyr.

I say “talk them through”: all I wanted to point out was how lovely was the line “I used to be sorta blind. Now I can, sorta, see”. Many times I stop and marvel at Bill Callahan lyrics and think the man can do what he wants… Here’s the song for you to listen to.

“I used to be sorta blind. Now I can, sorta, see” allows him to be almost confident about what he’s saying… maintaining a vague insecurity. It feels better than boasting I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT. It’s more modest. There’s still room for error or improvement. But he means it. He can see now, where once he couldn’t. (I think).

Anyhow. I had cause to remember recently, perhaps where I got my music bore qualities from. When I was a little tubby cherub boy my mum had Bridge Over Troubled Water on tape. I would go upstairs and play this over and over on the shoe-box tape player. Celia, and El Condor Pasa were my favourites as a kid. And finding out who Frank Lloyd Wright was later on was cool.

Mum one day talked me through the title track. It was particularly special when Art Garfunkel joined in with his special harmony. She quite specifically wanted me to hear that part. She loved it. I still do. Here’s my music bore bit: It’s like a whole crescendo that song… building right to the end… almost… not quite as marked as Hells Bells, but almost…

So I went to see mum last week and played her the song. A few in fact, from the album. Given I’m a buzzfeed dick, I have seen that video of the nice old American man who is just seemingly actually SWITCHED BACK ON AGAIN from his almost comatose state upon being played his favourite songs from his youth. (it’s here if you haven’t seen it).

me and mum

Me and mum

I can confirm that the reality (for me at least) was not quite so dramatic. Mum DID know what she was hearing and perked up a bit. Hummed/murmured along. Tapped her feet ever so lightly. It was so nice to see. She didn’t miraculously come back to life though. I think that’s what I was sorta hoping for.


Arty Business Futures, Volunteers, and Perceptions of Success…

I have recently been taking my own advice and seeking to make money less from the business I run, in order to help it grow. It’s something I advise new acts I work with to do – get jobs, look for other revenue streams, pay bills, make money. Music is a very romantic game, and it’s tempting to throw everything behind your dream. I do understand this attitude and love the success stories but these are few and far between and I prefer a more pragmatic approach. There’s one “success” story here which is my point.

I love Sir Ken Robinson and his messages (one being that we can and should find what we love doing and do that), but I also love how this piece from The Onion is not so much funny, as pretty sound advice (OK it’s very funny but there’s decent enough advice in there too!).

I went to What Next‘s biggest event in London so far this Monday and came away pretty fired up and excited about a movement which could yet be a model for the way an arts council looks in this country in the future. It seemed less like something being led by a shadowy elite, and more like something which was growing organically. It was nice to feel like I had an open line with some of the finest arts organisations and leaders in the UK.

One of the most striking presentations was from a chap from Voluntary Arts. He made the point about how there are thousands of people who make art and form part of groups on a purely amateur basis and we had a chance briefly to discuss this afterwards. It reminded me of a book I own but have only half read – The Hidden Musicians, a study of folks who just make music for fun, and fulfil all their ambitions in so doing (ie not looking to “make it” – whatever that means). We are preoccupied by employment status in music and the arts (society as a whole?), and somewhat obsessed by notions of full and proper recompense for our/an artists work. What IS success?

I am very positive after listening to and taking part in the discussions of Monday last. I do feel however, that funding from government can dominate these discussions and as a result there is a danger that things become party political. I was heartened to hear more than once, a commitment to not leading this in the directions of party divisions. That said, I think there was still very much an expectation that MORE funding is necessary.

I want to suggest that arts leaders go to Maria Miller with a radical suggestion in response to her request that the Arts and Culture prove their economic value to her: Ask for LESS, and make up the difference by being smart, being entrepreneurial. Ask for a stronger bargaining position at the table next time round. I get the feeling that so many more successful business models were not at the event on Monday. From all sectors, tech as well as the arts, business, banking, insurance, property, whatever. Learning from other sectors is crucial. An awareness of how businesses can collaborate, and co-operate, using technology intelligently will serve the arts sector well. This was something of an exciting beginning I think, with the suggestion of an organic online “grid” particularly exciting, yet a good deal more needs to be done. I’ll be glad to help!


Festival Ghettos

I’m mindful of something Tanni Grey Thompson said on Newsnight a few weeks ago, in a discussion with Will Self, that athletes care little about the legacy of the games. It reminds me of a time when I became interested in the power of music (and the arts) to change lives, and to be able to see what it was I did as part of the wider arts community, rather than isolated little events for me and my peers.

Maybe this co-incided with a realisation that the music I made, and the music I loved, was hardly going to be filling any great stadium or festival any time soon. (for proof my finger’s not ENTIRELY off the pulse see Bloc Party, The National, Animal Collective, more). Perhaps it’s just a survival instinct kicking in, or more likely, the beauty of seeing something in the round.

The idea of festival ghettoisation first hit me a couple of years back when I had been invited to an (excellent) festival in France with a somewhat protectionist programming policy. All acts had to be French. This was in fact the first year that they’d allowed singing in English. This is typically French and quite funny if it’s possible to turn a blind eye to the connotations of having a policy like that. I had enjoyed the festival very much. Watching Malicorne a life highlight, plus Dominique A, countless others I forget their names. Phoenix were the headliners, and I saw Charlotte Gainsbourg too. I blogged about it here

Leafing through a magazine in the hotel foyer I saw countless ads for festivals in the different parts of France, some in Germany. Pavement was the main US headliner that summer. They were everywhere. And then there were the usual suspects all over everywhere. You can kinda guess who I mean. It wasn’t very exciting.

Last summer I went to Reading (and Leeds) for the first time in maybe ten years. Some folks were like “eeeewwww” and maintain that attitude. I thought it possible to see a bunch of bands I actually wouldn’t normally see, and maybe I didn’t like them all, but it was an excellent chance to see a bunch of stuff I knew by name but not in person. I remember seeing a gazillion people singing along to Pulp and thinking how this was a special and important event, especially for so many people who maybe go to one festival per year.

At one festival I worked at this summer, I got into a conversation with a couple of academics from a redbrick uni. I got asked what the target demographic was, and what importance it had. It’s just wealthy people isn’t it who can afford £150 or so to spend a weekend in a field watching other wealthy people and eat nice posh food right? There’s no great social experiment going on.

This summer, I worked at a couple of different festivals in London. Community, and Olympic in size and stature.

I had acts play at some of them, and they were very much for the people. Free, or dead cheap. It felt good to be doing something which wasn’t just self- ghetoisation and peer group ego boosting. Bands are in some ways responsible for the problem making the Beeline that they do to the honeypot. We all like to spend entire weekends, and more (they start Wed and finish Monday these days) in the company of our aspirational peer groups. It would do us all good to venture out of our comfort zones from time to time.


Cancer

Cancer’s all around me just now. Not just in my folks and my mates folks. It’s actually in my friends these days. It’s not just something I hear about happening to other people anymore. It’s probably because I’m now OLD. And so therefore are my mates and their wives and husbands and sisters OLD. The real OLD boy living downstairs, my nosey neighbour. He’s got it. A couple of years ago my dad had it. He had this blokey cancer: Prostate Cancer.

Prostate Man

Like a bloke he dealt with it by not really talking about it much and cracking on. This website here: http://prostatecanceruk.org/information can help blokes just keep quiet and crack on and give loads of info so they don’t need to talk about it much. The people do good work and we can support them by sponsoring MY sorry fat ass to do the Berlin Marathon on Sunday 30 Sept.

Please sponsor me here: https://www.justgiving.com/Howard-Monk

If you’re in Crouch End, the worlds actual EPICENTRE, tonight, Friday 21 Sept, you can come and listen to folks SING THREE SONGS about CANCER, and then give money to ME! Info here: http://www.facebook.com/events/468508836505031/

OK, it’ll not be all about the cancer, but it will be fun, and worthy, and good. So come down. PLEASE.

If not, then SPONSOR MY ASS!


Posh Folks

I could and maybe will write an entire VOLUME about money and music. It’ll go right back to when I was in a band and folks with money were clearly losing an awful lot of it, just to be releasing band x or band y who they genuinely loved. I remember thinking back then that it was actually down to the philanthropy of some folks, that much of the indie (ie not really making money) music got to be heard.

You could argue that it’s a mirror of labels and promoters and festivals: the bigger acts pay for the smaller ones in many ways. (fuck knows there’s a lot of value put on playing a festival that acts will do anything to get their name on the poster).

Independently wealthy people have been involved making music and in the industry since it began, and that’s not a beef of mine* as I’m sure a lot of my favourite stuff is posh/rich and I daresay some of the folks I work with are too.

What does get on my nerves is that a posh SOUND seems to have developed. It’s all over the place. It’s jaunty, like a Jack Wills advert, and it sings like a pixie. It thinks all it needs to do is sing a bit weird by squashing its tongue to the top of its mouth and pronounce words a bit wrong, and hey presto, a career.

And there are some people buying it, mores the pity.

* even if it is *really* tough right now for anyone without some kind of support to do anything in music – but that’s another discussion