IN THIS PHOTO: The Secret Garden Party
THIS might be the one occasion I get to be a bit self-indulgent.
I shall, because it is Easter, keep it short and, hopefully, sweet. Because my blog has now reached its 1,000th post; I wanted to explain why I do it and how I got into music: the reasons why I keep going and where I hope to head. This old Musicmusingsandsuch thing began back in 2011 as, at first, a bit of an experiment. I was never really sure whether I wanted to be a music journalist and created my first real post because a (former) friend had her own blog. I saw how she was able to talk about her own life and reach people in a way I had not seen before. Despite the fact our friendship ended, I still follow her words and that inspiration. WordPress, God-love its flaws and drawbacks, sort of came calling and I decided I would write about music. Once I had the name and website all set up, I needed a subject: that is when it got a bit difficult. With no reputation or name to speak of, getting fish into my net was going to prove tricky. Fortunately, being based near London and having plenty of musicians around, it did not take long for that all-important first review to come. I look back at my earliest pieces and see how far I have come. Not just in terms of detail and length but the style and format. Back then, although the pieces were not bad or amateur, they are a long way from where they are now. Even today, I feel I can improve and have a more professional look – more on that a bit later. Back in 2011, I started to get names on my site. To begin, it was a case of contacting musicians and seeing if I could review their work. Some were quite responsive but it was a struggle getting people invested. With the number of blogs out there, I guess artists wanted their work featured on the very best – you’d think they could not afford to be too picky. Regardless, slowly and surely, I started to get a portfolio together and became more confident with my writing. Into 2012 and my work was gaining speed and acclaim. Small steps to begin but I was getting more into the blog: knowing this is what I wanted to do and something I was quite good at. Fast-forward through the years and I now have quite an impressive body of work at my feet. It was that chance connection with another blog owner that got me into writing. I miss talking with her and chatting but I shall not sadden you with that tale – don’t want to bum people out too prematurely. The reason I am so determined with my work is, rather oddly, because of unhappiness. I would say, right now, I have never been as unhappy and disappointed with myself. Not only in terms of the job (a proper one) I do but the place I live. Hating the area I find myself in – and hating a large number of the people – it has been the very worst days of my life. I remember waking up as a child/young teen and looking forward to the day because of a lot of things: now, the reasons are few but there are a definite drive and goal underneath it all.
Although I detest the town I live in and, like an eager migrant, yearn to reach better lands; I am channelling that unhappiness and anger through music. In a way, my mind has invested itself more into writing as a way of blocking out (some of) the tension and sadness. I shall not use this post as a chance for therapy but I perceive better and brighter days ahead – a way of getting out of the serious low I am in right now. I shall not go into detail why the people cause me such misery – or mention the town I am in – suffice to say there are far, far better places in this country for a person like me. London has always been the goal and, from a work position, would be the most opportunist and open. Perhaps, from a living-working angle, Manchester is the smarter choice. I am applying for jobs in both cities and hoping 2017 is a much happier year than the last couple. In spite of all of this, it has been my family and people close – including those on social media – who have provided strength and words of encouragement. I know immersing oneself in a hobby to avoid unhappiness is not wise but, you see, it is much deeper than that. The psychological side and musical passion are strong enough but will never cancel one another out. The biggest bright spark has been how the blog has grown and all the fantastic people I have encountered. I shall come onto them soon but wanted to take you back – cue harp sounds and a flashback sequence – to 1983. Yes, I am THAT old and was born when Spandau Ballet’s True was top of the single’s charts. I think Thriller was on the summit of album charts and it was a rather strange, if wonderful, time to come into the world. I was created smack-bang in the middle of the New Romantic period. You can only imagine all the hairspray, gold sparkling jackets and crooning one had to experience then – thank God I was too young to remember it all. I feel I came into the world at the exact-right moment, really. If you think about it, I had the remnants and memories of the 1970s – many say the greatest decade for music – and was experiencing the 1980s. Many will slag it off but it was a sensational period for music. Right after you have the 1990s – I shall speak more in depth – which is, to me, the finest period of music, bar none!
1983 was a good year for music but it would lead to better things. Even from a very young age, my love for music was being fostered and built. My first musical memory was hearing Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World. I must have been, maybe four of five, and know that was the first time a song stuck in my head. I recall other musical moments from the decade but that is the very first. Although I was too tender in years to take in all the cool fashion and wonderful hairstyles (this thing doesn’t do irony!); the music was the one thing that stood out. Growing up, the childhood household was filled with fantastic vinyl and the best artists from all time. I was spoon-fed on a steady diet of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and T-Rex; Steely Dan, Kate Bush and everybody who was worth a damn. It is hard not to think of the old houses I lived in without the sound of music coming to mind. In fact, when I was very small, my grandfather (no longer with us) made me a go kart for my birthday I would pedal around the neighbourhood with a couple of friends on the back – one of them my first ‘love’ (in the way there was no actual physicality but that childish affection for one another). The fact my love life peaked then is another, albeit tragic tale…but I digress. The experience of having the tape player (a red and cool-looking thing with a double tape deck) being carried at the back and blaring out music is one of the happiest. I would say the majority of my happy memories were during childhood and I dearly miss those times – things were simpler and the drudgeries and responsibilities of adult life not even a spot on the horizon. What made those years so special was the variety of sounds I was witnessing. I had a mix of classic artists and more left-field musicians like Glen Miller. T-Rex were my first ‘big’ band and The Beatles an obsession. I have argued the 1990s is the best decade for music and I am afraid I will hear nothing to contradict that. It was my school years (high school) between 1994-1999 that cemented that music love and helped guide me to where I am now.
IN THIS PHOTO: Nirvana
Back then, I had just gone through middle school and got an experience of what the 1990s was all about. By high school, I was drinking in all 1994 had to offer: the transformation of Grunge and Britpop birth; the fantastic Dance music and fascination of the Now That’s What I Call Music! series. I feel your interest and origins of musical passion begins at school-age and specifically when you get to high school. Surrounded by friends and old enough to fully appreciate the depth and complexities of music, it was a brilliant time to fall in love. I had spent the previous eleven years hearing all the treasures from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Now, I had got a taste of the phenomenal ‘90s and was drooling over the peerless music that arrived towards the middle of the decade. I was truly invested in Britpop (always a Blur man, me) and chasing after those legendary bands like Nirvana, Pavement and Soundgarden. The ‘outsiders’ of Britpop like Radiohead were starting to come to mind and, whether I knew it or not, Jeff Buckley (my music idol) was infiltrating my mind. School, for me, was a lot happier than for many. Sure, I got bullied to crap and was not big enough to kick the crap out of my tormentors. Being a brainy and socially-awkward lad, I had my circle of friends but could never hang with the cooler kids: not get close to the high school crush or steam into a school disco and get the dancefloor moving. The walls and corners were my companions: the bike sheds and ends of the playground my turf for five years. In spite of that, I have a lot of great memories and, like a wistful and soppy bastard, drive past my old school and see if memories come flooding back. They do and the building itself has barely changed: it all looks like it did when I last walked out in 1999. Every time I go back, the music flows straight into the brain. If anything, it was the Dance music of the 1990s that made the biggest impression. It may seem cheesy but those bangers like Rhythm Is a Dancer, Ride on Time and What Is Love? Throw in a mix-tape of It’s My Life, Mr. Vain and Ebenezer Goode and that is pretty much my childhood. I love listening to the songs now and casting my mind back to the sports halls and blissful moments – when music overtook and eradicated the loneliness and bullying. In a small way, music was a protector and comfort through some uncertain years. I guess it still is but I will come back to that. I would kick anyone in the crotch who suggested the 1990s was a weak decade. I appreciate the 1970s and its wonders but feel nothing comes close to the innovation and world-class albums that arrived in the wonderful ‘90s. After the high school prom and one of the most bittersweet musical memories – Basement Jaxx’s Red Alert, a banger and favourite, soundtracking a rather unhappy romantic moment from that dance – I was released into the world of college and the new decade.
IN THIS PHOTO: Marc Bolan
Back then (my early life) C.D.s were starting to come in but we were still relying on cassettes at that point – one of the most shoddy and fragile pieces of ‘technology’ the world has ever seen. Vinyl was, of course, still popular (in a non-ironic way) and there was greater physicality and human connection. We had no Internet (until the mid-‘90s anyway) and mobile phones were hardly sleek or modern. Because of that, children like me actually talked to one another about music and discussed it. I am going to sound like an old man but I feel we have lost a bit of ourselves as music has become digitised and less tangible. Social media has replaced a lot of conversation and everything is too organised and business-like. Back then, artists got into the studio because a record label deemed they were good enough to do so. There were no talent shows and music-streaming services. If you released a song, you did so because you had that talent. Sure, there was some utter crap made in the 1990s but the reason there was so much genius was because of that: bands and acts concerned with quality and much more connected and interwoven than music now. I guess things are more crowded and busy and, in a way, music is a lot better than it was then. I will come onto that but leave this section alone. Childhood played a big part in me setting up a blog and paying tribute to the people and musicians that scored some of my best days. From listening to Steely Dan in my auntie’s (sadly, again, no longer with us) Honda in Chesham to watching The Bangles’ video for Eternal Flame through a gap in the stairs; obsessing over The Beatles’ Rubber Soul to drooling over Kate Bush and this strange, mystical being when I was still in short trousers: so many candid, sentient and timeless memories.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles; PHOTO CREDIT: © Apple Corps Ltd
I am glad Musicmusingsandsuch has grown and given me a chance to ramble on for all these years. That musical education that was instilled in my from a young age provided the inspiration to write about new artist and assess the modern generation. I will name no names but have discovered acts I feel will go all the way in this industry. Music is tough and cut-throat and really tough. I feel huge empathy and sadness when I see an artist struggle or quit music. There are no hand-outs and the industry today is as completive and full as it has ever been. I could write an entire piece on the contrasts between today’s scene and a couple of decades back (I won’t, though) but know how tough it is now. It is all about releasing songs at the right time and getting streams; creating success on Spotify and getting music into the hands of radio stations and journalists. I get inundated with emails for interviews and reviews. It is flattering being popular but I know, some who contact me, are pretty much throwing an artist at everyone they can think of – making sure, statically, they have at least some coverage guaranteed. Music has become more a business than passion and, because of that; there is a loss of human connection and physicality. Vinyl is used somewhat ironically: people have them as pieces of art and see it as quite retro. It is where music began and, to me, music at its purest and best-sounding. C.D.s are being scoffed at and, now, digital means control the industry. You get people discussing music but I wonder what goes on in the school yards. Do kids hang upside down on monkey bars debating new releases and artists? One suspects the iPhones (other forms of soulless communication are available) are out and they are texting one another from a few feet. As much as I dislike children, they are the arbiters of the future and will be the ones charged with bringing music into the future. I wonder, when they get to my age, there will be physical forms or whether all music will be digital. It is a scary thought but I guess that is where things are heading. One of the big reasons I continue to write – and do so passionately – is to support those coming through right now.
Things are less tough for me as this blog does not pay money – I do not have to rely on musicians to survive – but I know I want to be professional one day. With the sheer numbers of others out there it is going to be so tough for any of us to survive and succeed. I am determined to unearth and promulgate some great talent. THAT is the reason for continuing. This, tied to my life-long love of music has been the reason I have reached 1,000 posts. The fact my hands are as sore as a ninja with a masturbation addiction (sorry!) is a testament to the desire and endless passion I have. My diary runneth over with names and future bookings. The blog is the solitary reason living where I am (for now) is even vaguely tolerable. Like the musicians I feature, I too aim to be somewhere bigger and better. I want that modern office surrounded by like-minded, young colleagues; the strains of BBC Radio 6 Music playing and ideas brewing. It would be nice having that company vehicle: almost a Batmobile of music. A call comes in to interview Skepta across town and we all pile into the vehicle; running red lights to get that scoop. I jest but it is sort of life I want and another reason why I keep going – evolving from a perfunctory, survival state to something prosperous and inspiring. Whilst I feel music peaked in the 1990s, I still think today’s scene has some huge potential and relevance. If one scrapped the modern charts and brought about configuration, I believe we would be in a much stronger position. I am not suggesting modern charts and mainstream are to blame for the quality (lack) and issues but it plays a big part. I hear, as part of my role, so many cracking artists who struggle to succeed because they do not fit into the defined moulds and needs of the mainstream. They are not commercial enough and do not have that disposable, short-attention-span-favouring sound. Because of technology and the ease of which one can share music, things are more accessible. One can record a track and have it out in the world within minutes. That was never the case so it is great things have improved in that sense. I like the fact it is simpler for artists to share their music and that is the benefit of social media: you can experience some fantastic sounds from all around the world at a click of a button. This is great for me but I sympathise with musicians. They are going into battle with thousands of other artists.
How many new artists are likely to grow and reach the festival stages? Everyone wants to succeed and be popular but how realistic is it? I genuinely believe most of the artists I review and interview will go on to success and find acclaim. What form that takes and how long it lasts comes down the public. The fickle and capricious body holds the future of music in their hand. If Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl is an example – a song that has proved popular despite eleven writers and a hideous sound – then we are as stuffed as a badger at a banquet on his way to the taxidermist. I shall leave the ginger-haired ear-bleeder alone but use him as a tool (ironically). I feel festivals are more concerned with Pop stars and those chart-topper and less worried about actual quality and potential. Perhaps music has always been this way but, at a time when there are more musicians and ways to discover songs, it is much more visible and prescient. I shall keep the blog going and do my best to help new artists out. I know music will transform and change but my biggest dream for the next few years is seeing an actual progression. Get more women behind mixing desks and headlining festivals; minority artists given a bigger say and not being side-lined; older music and physical forms being preserved and promoted.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
So what of the future of Musicmusingsandsuch and me? For a start, it will be finding a new home. Working a website designer, Alex, it is getting its own webpage and no longer but at the hands of WordPress. It will, hopefully, be a smoother ride and a much more professional look. The homepage will be better and easier to navigate: broken into sections and not one continuous timeline. That will give me a better look for companies and professional bodies. For me, I want to get myself hired and write full-time. It is great writing and having the opportunity to feature some great artists but you get a taste and you become addicted. In a dream-world, I would love to find some way of working for BBC Radio 6 Music and, maybe, doing their music news – does anyone know if Matt Everitt is allergic to anything? That is the Mecca of music to be and somewhere I’d love to be. In a more realistic world, it would be great to work for a big newspaper or magazine that means I could do what I do not but get paid for it. I love writing and concentrating on new artists but yearn to tackle the big boys and girls. Grappling with those new albums and interviewing huge names: that is where my mind is and hope all my dedication and hard work leads to. In terms of interviews, naturally, titans like Paul McCartney and Kate Bush would be right at the top – in fact, Bush is the one person I want to interview more than ever. I would love to chat with Billie Marten and do a proper long chat with her. Maybe a Desert Island Discs-style conversation and dissection – a definite aim for this/next year. Talking with Queens of the Stone Age and Royal Blood would be great but feel I’d need to be somewhere more high-profile to achieve these aims. We can all be ambitious and I am not different. If I can get my work looking better and improve my game – always can do a little better! – then, hopefully, some real big names will come calling.
When/if that happens, I still want to put into place all the ambitions I have laid out in these pages. I want to set up a music café in London: a multi-level café that has electronic jukeboxes, a studio and stage; everything the music-lover wants and demands. I’d like to see a website, Psychoacoustics, in place that brings all other music websites into one. It would make networking, recording and promoting easier; provide links to every song that has been recorded and make it easier to get those hot new acts to your door. I’d like to set up a charity and raise awareness for mental health: many musicians are blighted by mental health issues so addressing it via music would be a great way of getting exposure. These are not pipe dreams, but do rely on a certain degree of money, luck and professional support. In the same way artists I review are planning on good things; I am setting my sights on the future. Getting out the four walls I am in and somewhere better is a realistic (and much-needed) first step. It has been great promoting, working with and supporting so many great acts over the years. It is hard to believe I have put 1,000th posts out and hope, at least some of them, were bearable. I have loved it and look forward to tackling loads more great musicians in the coming. Musicmusingsandsuch will keep its name but move home: things will change and a bigger, slicker site awaits. Bear with me for prattling on and talking about the reasons why I got into journalism. I shall leave you all with a collection of songs that have inspired me and some of those newer tracks that have filled my mind. To all the artists out there trying to make their way and looking for success: keep going as it will happen one day. I shall be in my trusty place and typing away. I shall keep this thing going for as long as I can…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
IF my hands will survive!