Monday, September 14, 2015

Remembrance of things

The past is a mysterious place, famously described (in The Go Between) as a foreign country because ‘they do things differently there’. Though we may choose, or try, to live in the present we are confronted by our past in more ways than ever, it is omnipresent. The past is inescapable.

As with most things you can blame the internet for this. All social media is a constant reminder of a time and a place, perhaps often one that you’d rather have escaped. Facebook is the core culprit, constantly telling you about something you did, or posted, two or three years gone. It is difficult to forget anything, except probably the important stuff.
My Facebook is a link to a community of distant souls, separated by time and occasionally continents. It is a reminder of the person you once were or have tried to be. I am frequently amazed and bemused by things I discover of which I had no recollection. I recently wrote a piece for The Birmingham Music Archive on The COD Club, a venue I ran for a period in the late 80s. A short time later I discovered I had the dates completely wrong – I had relied on an accounts book kept of attendances and artists but it seems that I’d started the accounts book at least three months after starting the club. Now I have no way of knowing when it started and who the first band actually was.
I am now in touch with many former friends and acquaintances from that era and once again Facebook is to blame. Few of them have changed much, retaining the humour and spirit that was essential to being a struggling performer. Indeed many continue to perform and are still struggling - but often with something more to show for it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A bird in the hand

The music industry lacks originality, this much is obvious. Success in one genre begets imitators and a crush to assimilate into the mainstream. Every niche is pummelled into a trend that could extend its shelf-life but is as likely to smother it in its infancy.

The status quo that prevails means slightly less of Status Quo (sorry) and more conventional pop and manufactured dance sounds, traditional four-piece bands playing rock are the novelty, trawling the undergrowth to collect a sufficient number of fans that they may have some kind of longevity. As I’ve often said, it was never easier to make and distribute your music, never harder to actually get it heard by a lot of people.
A few years back I wrote of seemingly deliberate attempts to confuse two pop-soul singers, John Newman and Sam Smith: same haircut, same artwork, similar dress, copycat collaborations and eventually the same kind of success. It didn’t harm Smith that’s for sure but did it damage Newman? At the time he seemed to think so.

Of late I’ve been perplexed by similar sounding band names to those that already exist or once existed, a process that’s beginning to suggest we don’t have enough nouns in the English language. This feeling was confounded by the discovery of a new act called Bird, who happens to be a female singer-songwriter, not to be confused with Birdy of course. As with Sam & John, Bird and Birdy are not dissimilar or certainly not individual enough and operating in significantly different musical spheres to avoid confusion.
Additionally the way we now find our music – often on streaming or search sites – will cause a confusion that must have been contemplated. I’m beginning to long for a system such as that which operates in stage and film, where to belong to the actor’s union Equity you must have a unique professional name. Clearly it’s too much to ask for, not only do the record companies want identikit sounds they also want brand confusion, it’s a clear or confused route to success.