Friday, September 27, 2013

Welcome to the working week

When you write regularly it’s apparent that a fair amount of repetition will creep into your work. This is particularly true if the writing is focussed on specific subjects and those articles/blogs contain your opinions. Even given the flexibility of intellect and the general open-mindedness I try to apply, it is rare that an entrenched opinion will fundamentally alter. Sometimes I avoid repetition by trying to ignore the urge to write and simply bang my head against a brick wall instead.

I’ve long held the opinion that modern musicians do not work as hard as their predecessors. In fairness it’s probably a different kind of work with more worldwide travelling involved. The fact is that if you read any book about successful bands in the sixties you’ll find that they were constantly on a treadmill of recording and playing – and that playing often included multiple gigs on each night.
Things change, of course, and in particular the process of recording, releasing, promotion and touring has tended to fit fairly standardised patterns over the past thirty years or so. I am always disheartened though when I hear of a successful band ‘taking a break’ , it seems to me that this is counter-productive and risks the success that they have worked hard to achieve in the first instance. You wonder was it not what they were expecting or hoping for, is it ever?

When you drop from the limelight you do a disservice to everyone who has invested time and money in you, those who want more – and I’m not just thinking about your fans. The industry needs mega-successful bands, these are the acts that help drag others along and sometimes provide the funds to enable labels/management/promoters to invest in new acts, recordings, festivals, etc. Without this carousel of success the whole industry grinds to a halt, yes I know it’s a clumsy metaphor but it’s also a truth seldom spoken.
I can’t really grasp the motivations of such bands, where is their ambition – what did they want to achieve when they set out on this ‘journey’? I don’t subscribe to this view that a hiatus can help boost your creativity. Did it work for The Strokes, Bloc Party, The Blue Nile, My Bloody Valentine? Are any of those acts bigger or better than they were before they took their ‘hiatus’, are they more creative?

It’s a mistake to compare any act to The Beatles but they are a blueprint of success and productivity – and evolution - that others should aspire to. I wrote this of The Beatles many years ago and though I’m loath to repeat the key facts, they do remain true.
The Beatles released twelve original studio albums, thirteen EPs, and twenty-two singles (mainly featuring original music not found on their albums) in just eight years between 1962 and 1970.

It is true that they took a break – from touring – and that this option may not be available to acts today, given that a high percentage of revenue is generated by live, but it is also true that you can write and record pretty much anywhere these days if you have a will to do so.
Perhaps the members of Mumford & Sons can no longer stand each other and a break is required in order to avoid a permanent split. I can understand this and would not dream of stooping to suggest that they should try getting a day job, like the ones people who buy their records generally have to do in order to earn money to buy such product or tickets.

That is just low as has been the reaction to this hiatus, generally jumped upon by ‘haters’ who amusingly call them ‘Trust-fund Wurzels’ or ‘Waitrose Levellers’ (those were my favourites). It’s not important whether you like the music that M&S produce, I’m sure you can recognise that it is real music played by people with a level of respect for folk/Americana traditions and that the revenue/interest it has generated has helped the music industry in general.

I’m much more concerned about what it means for them in the long-term, the general culling of their massive fan-base that will ensue as music fans move onto other things in their absence or (unfortunately) away from listening to much new music at all with age and other responsibilities.
Perhaps they will return re-invigorated, reaching greater heights in the process. I can’t see it. The evidence seems to suggest that U2 arrived at The Joshua Tree by a process of hard work and an evolution of their sound and writing, just as Led Zeppelin did with IV or Physical Graffiti, Radiohead did with OK Computer, R.E.M. with Life’s Rich Pageant, Green and Out Of Time, Bob Dylan with Highway 61 or Blonde On Blonde and The Beatles (sorry) did with Revolver, Sgt Pepper, The White Album, etc. 

None of these acts paused for breath, they worked hard and with focus – they had a vision of a greater (or more popular) future and a desire to create new music. They didn’t give up the day job and go on hiatus to improve their creativity, they went to work. People respect that.

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