Friday, 15 September 2017

Besstories 2017

WEATHER CHAOS!  MISERY FOR REVELLERS, is how the Mail would have reported it.  It was a bit chaotic at times, what with Security marching about, “evacuating” areas.  Rumours included: someone hammered a bamboo spike into the ground, through a mains cable; a third of the security guards walked out on the first day of the festival; this storm presaged The End Times, and we should expect our observant Christian friends (if we have any) to be taken up, leaving us Sinners to deal with Armageddon and all that.
A popular rap crew got pulled off the main stage, mid-song, without warning.  The big screens they have at the sides of big stages were wobbling dangerously…we felt for The Group, it was a terrible way to end the set.

The Friend/Genius appeared in the crowd during the set of The Bus.  The Bus was on fine form, and had everyone in stitches.  Some great banter, which to one MC, known to The Bus, sounded familiar.  The Friend (to Your Humble Narrator) was such a welcome sight.  Your Humble Narrator has not referred to The Friend as a Genius to his face, but has always thought him one.  Isn’t it funny, the things we don’t say to each other?  Particularly those of us who talk a lot of shit, like Your Humble Narrator.  But The Friend is also humble, and Your Humble Narrator doesn’t like to embarrass him. 
Still, they had a great time catching up, and had a right dance at the main stage…
The Famous Hip Hop Crew played their last ever gig.  One of them died shortly after the group re-formed last year, and they repped their brother hard, with the whole set seeming like a moving tribute.  Many adults were moved to tears.  Others, of course, did drugs or talked all over it or looked at their phones or whatever.  But who gives a fuck about them?
Those of us who know, and some who don’t, appreciated it in our own ways.  Your Humble Narrator and The Friend/Genius danced in the mud and went from shaking cold to normal to sweaty as The Famous Rapper danced in front of a screen showing him dancing in front of the screen.  In a neat summation of the Life And Times of The Famous Hip Hop Crew.
It was, as they say, emotional. 
The Rapper, playing with his band, also had an emotional time.  One set that was difficult and far from ideal, followed twenty-four hours later by one which brought The Rapper himself to an emotional state.  The Rapper didn’t cry, but was close. 
The Old Friend watched, and his presence was felt.  (If this were being spoken, Your Humble Narrator might say that, like a blind man at Christmas, his presence was felt.  But that kind of homophone joke doesn’t work in written words, does it?)
The Frontman tells his friend that he is his friend.  The Friend agrees, but doesn’t necessarily agree with all the other things The Frontman says about him.  “Maybe I’m just high”, says The Frontman.  But The Friend appreciates The Frontman’s candour, and agrees heartily that they are, indeed, good friends. 
The Poet performs a short set on a quiet Saturday afternoon and, presumably, enjoys it more than anyone else who is there.  A little over twenty-four hours later, The same Poet will perform to a rapt-looking, attentive audience, while a raging storm keeps them in the place.  The Poet will find it overwhelming, and will not be the only one.  The MC will tell him that, and it will be much appreciated.  The Poet will leave the festival site immediately after the set, full of confusion and wistfulness.  Ambivalence, as well as paradox, is a powerful presence in The Poet’s mind.  Always.  But these were Good Times, The Poet knows enough to know that.  Rare times, in the best sense of the word.  The Poet appreciates all this, appreciates those who have made it possible for him to be here, and feels it strongly enough to make a point of letting everyone know how he feels.
There are MCs in the place.  Hip Hop, with its tradition of friendly competition, will be respected – but these MCS encourage each other.  Each, having their own individual styles, will inspire the others and there will be plenty of support all round. 
PUMP OUT THE JAMS is how one of them old skool rap crews would put it.  There is much jamming, as ever at The PFR, and the post-Last Ever Show of The Seminal Rap Crew will be a good one.  The MC, rushing back from the main stage, bursts into the room and approaches the mic.  He doesn’t really rhyme, this time, the words don’t seem to come to mind, but he doesn’t mind, since a rhyme scheme is only one aspect of being an MC.  The MC takes responsibility to rock the party, and on this occasion, that means getting everyone up – the place is pretty chilled, and that’s cool, if you get down like that, but right now, the place has to close soon, so let’s peak at the right time, get up and smile.
“All praises due to The People’s Front Room”, says The Rapper, before leaving the festival early – the artistic equivalent of the centre forward indulging in some badge-kissing celebration after scoring, before leaving the club for their local rivals a week later.  That’s harsh, though, isn’t it, but it does occur to The Rapper.  The Rapper is his own biggest critic….
And. Yet.  The Rapper never tires of hearing lavish praise of how enjoyable his set was, knowing all the while that there will be a “but”, feels it hanging in the air, like a particularly shrill wind chime about to be animated by a chill wind.  Most people don’t realise The Rapper is psychic (well, more prescient than psychic, to be fair), but Your Humble Narrator can also see it coming a mile off.
The “but” isn’t always literally the word but; sometimes it’s “I just think…”, or something similar.
This month’s Lavish Praise Followed By Fatuous Criticism was a “just don’t do the politics, leave that out – it’s not you.”
The Rapper had never met the critic before, so was a bit surprised that the critic apparently knows The Rapper so well, so deeply.  So completely. 
The Singer will spend 51 hours of his 52 hours on the festival site at The PFR, and will be very happy with this.  The Singer will say honest and fulsome things about The People’s Front Room.
But everyone says those things about The People’s Front Room.  It’s one of those delightfully rare occasions when everyone is right.
Bless everyone who was there, and bless you.

Friday, 8 September 2017

TV Review: Bake Right Off

A Negative Review:

I hate all TV, but I still bloody watch it sometimes, don’t I?  If only to have something to hate.  It helps, it’s like going to football matches; helps to get all my pointless aggression out.  Maybe if all them neonazi fellas were into football, they wouldn’t have to…no, wait.  Never mind.
Anyway, I will now spend several hundred words telling you how much I hate everyone.  And then, if there’s time, I’ll bring it back and prove the above point by having got it out of my system. 

Noel Fielding looks like a man solemnly contemplating his life at the tail end of a monstrous comedown.
“Stacey lives in Hertfordshire with her husband James….her apple and walnut cake contains Granny Smith apples”, intones the Mighty Boosh co-writer/star, wondering how the fuck he got here.
His bland, scripted words belie his awkward body language, which screams: “Does anyone remember when I was cool?  I used to dress outlandishly and get laid a lot and be all edgy and that, like a comedy Pete Doherty?  That was me, wasn’t it?  WASN’T IT?!  In another life….”

For Fielding’s comedy foil, they’ve gone for Tom Cruise’s older brother, Sandy Toksvig.  She is more at home here, having spent most of her career on annoying mainstream TV programmes.

There’s some impressive cakes, but what is happening here is bigger than baking.  This is So British, people will say with a grin.  Britishey, Britty-Brit British.  They’ll say British, they’ll mean middle class and English, the same as everyone else does.  Little Britain British, rather than Britain First British.  So, derivative and mildly irritating, rather than stupid and malicious.
They’ve got two Scousers on it, though, in an attempt to appeal to a new demographic of people who probably don’t read The Daily Mail.  And they’ve replaced the older posh lady with an older posh lady who isn’t even a baker. 

“Bakers!  Unfortunately, time is not an illusion!”

There’s a challenge where they all have to make a cake that doesn’t look like a cake.  They’re calling it an Illusion Challenge.  Will anyone try to pass off an Emperor’s New Clothes-style non-cake “illusion” as a cake?  Will someone make a dismembered hand cake?  A cake disguised as the Turin Shroud? 

Find out – after the break!

Yes.  There’s adverts now, surely the most revolting of the new developments.

No.  No one did any of those things, but there were some pretty impressive cakey creations, to be fair.  So, you know, it’s still got people on it that are really good at baking. 

Fielding announces the first loser in the same gritted-teeth monotone he’s employed to get through this job.  It probably pays very well.  It might lead him further down a path he never expected to be on.  I don’t care, I don’t know him, do I?  I just talk shit about him on the internet for a laugh.  So, which one of is really the aresehole? 
(It’s him, isn’t it?)

It’s still got Hollywood on it, as well – the only personnel hangover from when it was on the BBC, and our taxes paid for it, so everyone could join in, love it or loathe it – or be bothered by it because everyone at work talked about it all the fucking time.  You know, it was proper communal. 
Now, though, it’s funded by advertising, so is paid for out of our collective sense of inadequacy and the misanthropy of the kind of cocaine-addled “creatives” who make perfume adverts (surely the lowest, most disgusting form of communication ever hatched from a demonic egg of doom; an affront to our very souls.  A linguistic, sonic, visual crime against humanity for which there can surely be no atonement).  And the waning power of TV as a uniting force.  That’s why Channel 4 have paid loads of money to do it: it works.  It works on me, in the way that advertising does; I talk about how much I hate it while watching it – and then I’m in, aren’t I?  What hurts most is not that some very cynical, exploitative things are happening – it’s how readily they work, even on those of us predisposed toward resisting them.  They know what they’re doing, this lot.  It makes me hate them even more. 
Almost as much as I hate myself.

The second week is the same, only more so.

It’s pretty horrible, all this, isn’t it?  As if you couldn’t tell, I was in a bad mood when I watched it/wrote this.  I expected this to be cathartic – or at least, somehow useful to get it out of my mind and into the world.  Out of my mind and into yours, perhaps.  It doesn’t seem to have worked.  It’s presumably just irked others who have read it….

So, to cheer myself up, I’m going to watch an arty documentary about atrocities and the traumatic legacy of mass political violence, fifty years ago, in a part of the world to which I will probably never go.
In conclusion: It’s in the same big tent.  It’s still a (relatively quiet) soap opera.
And I’m as awful as I sound.

A positive review:

It’s the same as before, which is nice.  But it’s got different presenters and adverts.  It’s only a bloody baking competition, though, isn’t it?  Really not worth getting all worked up about, now, is it?  Good.  Calm down then, and stop being so unkind about people, there’s a good lad.  You’re going to a festival this weekend, aren’t you?  With your friends?  To play some music?  Well, that’ll be nice, won’t it?

Maybe you’ll be in a better mood then.  I’ll just be here, watching Bake Off. 
I like that new presenter, he’s fun, isn’t he? 
What did I see him on before…?



Friday, 1 September 2017

Shamblestories 2017


“Who wants to be in my band?”  Asks the Singer/Guitarist.  “There’s only one rule: you have to be naked.”
“Do you not have to be able to play?”
“Well, that’s a bonus, but you definitely have to be naked, that’s the main thing.”
“Well, it’s a flip from the normal thing, isn’t it?  Well done you...”
An enthusiastic drummer is on board from the start.  During the first song, a bassist, unknown to the other players, surprises everyone by running from the crowd to disrobe and join in. 
A keyboard player runs in from behind the venue, also meeting the first requirement of the band.
“If anyone has a problem with my nudity, they can leave”, says the Singer, his penis poking out from beneath the guitar.  Most blokes would probably loosen the guitar strap to cover their genitalia while playing naked, but this isn’t seaside-postcard nudge-nudge-wink-wink titillation.  (Despite the big pink wig.  Well, maybe it is a little bit pantomime…)
Still, The Rapper, last night, said “We’re so ashamed of what we look like in public, it’s a crime to be naked in public – don’t you think that’s fucked up?”  Maybe the Singer and his bandmates are trying to normalise nudity and be unashamed/less ashamed of their bodies, perhaps even all bodies.  There is a lot of partial nudity at the event…. 

There is also a lot of acid.  Everyone’s talking about it.

The Big Crew Of Mates get to see The Moulettes, Ed Keene, Pete The Temp and their very own Bombs, Little 
Thief, Jimi Needles and The Ephemerals.  All are very talented and great fun is had.  Some of the mates get right off their faces, others chill.  Many do a bit of both.

On Sunday night there is a Clayton Blizzard & The Girls From Marketing set which starts out in a most Shambolic fashion (the bad kind), but turns, over the course of 45 minutes or so, into a real Shambles (the good, Shambala kind).  

On Saturday night there is (possibly) the best ever Clayton Blizzard & The Boys From Marketing set.  The Rapper feels that sometimes, things just fall into place.  Sometimes, everything is perfect.  Sometimes nothing more need be said.

A preacher comes into the Front Room, during packdown, on the Monday, as the festival closes and everyone is going home.  The Preacher begins a Homily.  It’s not the fire and brimstone kind, but is equally passionate.  Eyes are now tight shut, now burning.  The Preacher is extolling the virtues of The People’s Front Room, and finds a willing audience.  This is what we do.
One crew member is detaching a parachute from the walls, another is carrying a sperm-shaped bar out of the place, a third is packing away microphones.
And YOU!  The Preacher calls, honing in on The Rapper.  The Preacher reminds The Rapper that She has his CD, that it was indeed She who leapt forth to grab the proffered prize on which she alone had her eyes.  Firmly fixed.  The Preacher grabs The Rapper, point well made, and continues the sermon in a stirring manner.  We, the crew, are transfixed, now simultaneously humbled and proud.  We have done our job well this day, my friends.
Go forth and spread The Word!

The Bus is about to play a gig he will not remember – to the extent that, tomorrow, he will ask others who accompanied him during the set if they saw him play.  He will be told it went pretty well, considering.

The Barman took ill, so other crew members stepped in to keep things going.  TCB, y’all.  One good thing about working behind a wee bar is that you get to talk to everyone, they come to you.  Another good thing is that some of them buy drinks for the barstaff.
Na na na na nan a
Na na na na na na
How’s your Father?
Pissed up!

The Rapper landed back in The Real World™ to see an advert about the hotly-anticipated upcoming fight between Perry and Swift.  He assumed the loud-mouthed gobshite one that was way out of their depth got a hiding, but wasn’t sure which is which.  The Real World™ is awful at times, isn’t it?
Still, none of that occurred to anyone in The PFR on Sunday night. 

The Sunday night closing jam was astonishing!  A sonic, visual, spiritual explosion!  Every time I thought we couldn’t last at this high level, it went UP a level!  The beatboxing fella, he was amazing.  Did some stuff that must be a cheat, no one can make those sounds with their body, some thought. But it was him, it really was – I could see him.
And then, near the end, OB joined him and got right involved, and it was a two-hander with double beat-boxing and beatbox-MC combo.  Which was exciting.
And then other crew members jumped up right at the end, first The Drummer, stealing in at an absolutely blistering pace, then The Guitarist, The Bassist, The Pianist all got involved – and “exciting” became utterly inadequate.  Perhaps nothing could describe it.  It’s an experience.  Sometimes, nothing more need be said.
Now: Go forth and spread the word!


The Band are back.  And they’re introduced by The Rapper, who is also, obviously, back.  The Rapper,  in his introduction, makes reference to a Spinal Tap line, saying: “I remember being blown away by their energy, their haircuts – and their punctuality.”  The Band are on form, and have brought a horn section.  Oh Yes.  It’s a great night.  And The Rapper guests on a song as well, getting to show off the knitted bling.


Phots by www.phoebemontaguewarr.com
Bling by Jez

Baby E is in the place, for his introduction to The Family.  He is entertained by music, food and a sock puppet with a squeaky tongue that sings a selection of songs from In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.  He also has a rave up at the Junior Jungle, and tries once or twice to unplug the stage monitors.  #babypunk #minirocknroll

The Spoken Word Artist tells his audience he doesn’t need to be funny, since it’s not stand-up comedy, and assures them he has noticed – “observed”, if you like – nothing about their lives.  The set, however, contains a piece called Jokes That Require Prior Knowledge Of Other Jokes For Context.  An audience member describes herself “vaguely worried” about The Spoken Word Artist, and offers a hug. 
The Spoken Word Artist reads aloud form his A Thousand Brilliant Band Names list – although, in truth, this list overgrown from the original thousand.  Surplus.  The best of this new list include Mutton Dressed As Spam, Pete Loaf and The Eric B Attitudes.
(Although Gary Krishna, which is possibly the bestest yet, is given to The Spoken Word Artist two days late – and will need to make do with honourable mention here and now.)

The Spoken Word Artist will later take part in the legendary Shambala Poetry Slam.  The right person will win, in The Spoken Word Artist’s humble opinion.  (No, not Himself.)

The jams will be off the chain, and The Rapper will be happy to be invited into the fray – as well as the sets of Bombs, TDF, Mr F, The Flatpack Horns and The Ephemerals.

Back in Real Life (patent pending), someone asked me how the festival was.
“Cathartic”, I replied “and yet, paradoxically, inconclusive.”
“Like your blogs…?”
“Fuck off.  But….yes, like that.”
All will (presumably) be grateful for The Experience.

Friday, 25 August 2017

NYMFC: Part 3: Tourism, Part 1: The Bronx

We rock up to Arthur Avenue, which looks like 80% of Italian-American gangster films.  

We go into a restaurant, and it’s packed – even at this time (5.45 pm, I think).   It’s Graduation Day for NYU.  And we haven’t booked.  The Owner (for it is She, as we learn later) approaches, and adopts a conspiratorial tone to tell us that it’s Graduation Day, they’re all booked up, but she’ll see what she can do.
After a few minutes, she calls us over to a table and welcomes us.  Her accent is absolutely classic Bronx (which she pronounces Browawnx).  She sounds like the most Italian-American Italian-American in Italian-America.
The waitress argues with The Owner/Matriarch (in Italian, of course, which some here pronounce “eye-tah-yin”.  But not them, presumably), and the waitress seems to be saying that we shouldn’t get a table, it’s too busy, families have booked for graduation, it’s not even fair to give these limey walk-ups a table that’s been reserved for a special family occasion.  (I’m adding local colour, in a prejudicial fashion; I’ve no reason to suspect they are so impolite about it.)
Anyway, the food is superb: absolutely the best of Italian cooking – simple, very good quality, all home-made and delicious.  The pasta is perfect.
We are offered dessert menus, but everyone is relieved when we decline to order any: they need the table, as The Matriarch was too nice to tell us explicitly (until we mention it).  She does give us the dessert specials – a lovely tiramisu, made by her husband – the others are all imported from Italy, which she pronounces “impwawded frum Iddly.”  (This part of The Bronx is known as Little Italy – not the “fake”, faded one in Manhattan, a more accurately-named Little Italy where lots of Italian-American people live and work and where every building houses either an Italian restaurant, an Italian deli, an Italian bar or all of the above.  (Both are pronounced “Liddliddly”, which is fun, isn’t it?  (But we don’t want to be horrible tourists, the kind everyone hates, the kind that act like every aspect of a foreign culture is a show put on solely for their amusement, so we don’t talk about the accent or anything.)))
The helpful Matriarch also recommends a place, just a few doors down, for dessert and “cwawfee” (that’s what they call coffee here).  We thank everyone, leave a good tip and head out. 
The dessert place (a sort of bakery-café) is also busy.  We sit and wait, but are unsure if it’s table service, as there’s a line (that’s what they call a queue here) at the register (that’s what they call a till here).  The counter is vast, and full of cakes, but obscured by the queue.  It all seems a bit fraught, so I’m for waiting to find out.
One person who is evidently confused is a customer who mistakes J for a member of staff, (passive-aggressively) asking her to clear a table for him.  She tells him she doesn’t work here, and he chuckles, as if he was joking, but it’s clear he wasn’t joking, and still seems unsure who works here, even though the staff are all wearing black polo shirts and caps with the name of the place embroidered on them. 
At this point, I go to the toilet and walk in on a woman who is sat on the throne; the door wasn’t locked, and it’s the Mens’.  I make a shocked noise, apologise profusely and go back to the table.  I wish I could describe the look on her face, but that would be rude….but it was a really funny expression.
When I get back, the Confused Customer is fussing about, trying to clear a table himself, spilling things and dumping the dirty dishes at the nearest counter.  A man who, judging by his bearing (and the lack of back polo/cap uniform), is the manager, emerges from the kitchen and tells the man tersely: “Those don’t go here.” 
The Confused Customer gets another armful of dishes from the table.  The Manager goes to intercept.  The Confused Customer spills something on The Manager, and the floor.  The Manager puts down the dishes he is carrying and says loudly: 
“Now you get to leave.  I’m serious.  You need to go.”  (He says this in what sounds to me like a gentler version of all the stereotypical arguing you hear from people in films set in New York)
The Confused Customer seems as perplexed as ever, but eventually appears to accept this is not his day, and leaves.
I get up to go to the toilet, and again walk in on someone.  This time it’s a man washing his hands.  I wait and go in after him, whereupon I see that the door lock is busted (that’s what they would say for broken here).
When I get back, The Confused Customer is back.  Another customer is berating him, relatively gently, telling him he should leave.  I’m really not sure if The Confused Customer is stupid or just obtuse.  If I was a schoolboy, I would start a chant of “Fight!  Fight!  Fight!”.  But I’m not, so I don’t.  (I wouldn’t have done that when I actually was a schoolboy, to be honest.  I had neither the bloodlust nor the confidence for that kind of thing.)
Opinion at our table coalesces around a belief that The Manager may have overreacted, but The Confused Customer is either very strange, or just an annoying dick (or both).  Given the reputation for this part of this city, perhaps The Confused Customer is lucky to depart without violence.
By now, at least, we have “quah-fee” (that’s what they call coffee here).  E asks a waitress to bring the three most delicious desserts from the impressive array at the counter, asking if that’s too much pressure.
“Of course not.” 
She soon brings her selection: one is a delicious éclair, which is superb.  Another is a pastry cream thing, the kind you can get in an old-school British bakery, but I don’t know what it’s called.  The last, I’m fairly sure, is cannoli.  I’ve tried this once or twice before, in England – but it was nothing like this.  This is amaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing.  The shell is crisp and savoury; the cream filling beautifully sweet, yet balanced.  It’s one of the nicest things I’ve ever eaten.  It is worthy of the Godfather scene, which J reminds us of, you know the one: “Leave the gun.  Take the cannolis.”
As we leave, I’m wondering why I haven’t bought a hundred of these things to take away with me.  In the end, I conclude that it’s because a) I’m pretty full, as good as it was; b) I can’t be doing with hauling a box of pastries around all the bars, streets and trains we’ll be in/on tonight, and most importantly, c) nothing can ever taste that good again – probably even the same thing another time…
So, I leave it as a beautiful memory, tinged with a melancholic longing.  (I am a complex and idiosyncratic diner/tourist.)
And that’s all the touristy stuff there is in NYMFC.  No, wait, there was the Statue Of Liberty, Ellis Island, The Botanical Gardens, MoMA, the Guggenheim, Central Park and other stuff.  But you don’t really want to hear about that, do you?  (It doesn’t matter either way, to be frank.  I’ve run out of time.)


Friday, 18 August 2017

Sorry, G

Dear G,

Thank you for your e-mail.
This isn’t the first time my big letter-writing pen has got me in trouble.  However, this is the first contrite e-mail I’ve sent in a while, so forgive me if I go off-topic.
When I was a cheeky wee boy, people often laughed at things I said, and I often didn’t know why.  When I tried to make jokes, I sometimes offended people by saying things I didn’t quite understand, in my childish innocence….my embarrassed parents would tell me to apologise, and I would.  I knew I had to tread carefully in future, but couldn’t be sure I would avoid repeating my mistakes, since I wasn’t sure what they were.
Now, of course, I don’t even have the excuse of being young and trying to grow up in public.  But like my opinions on most matters I know little or nothing about, a bit of knowledge on the situation soon calms the self-righteous anger…part of the tone of the blog was to be deliberately a bit belligerent, to remember myself as a twenty-something folk rapper, angry at everything in general and nothing in particular…hopefully I’m over that…
Anyway, I went ahead and posted the blog because I am on a deadline, and as the blog post suggests, not really sure what I’m doing any of this for (the blog, the music, anything creative).  I only realised recently that the single was available on Spotify (I had forgotten all about it for a long time before that), and intended to get in touch with them first of all, and your company as well.  The idea of the blog was to follow-up the official, professional way of dealing with the issue, with a more personal take on the whole thing.
I wasn’t trying to have a go at you, G, but we all sound off sometimes, without any expectation that the issues can be resolved – sometimes without even wanting resolution, just sounding off for the sake of it.  To get it out of one’s own head, to lessen its ill effects.  (And then when it is out, there’s the hurt/embarrassment of having misdirected anger.  (Which is the reason to repress that anger in the first place, isn’t it?))
As Aristotle put it:
“Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.”
Clearly, I should have contacted you/Spotify – the fact that I didn’t is the reason the above jocular/serious approach didn’t work. 
I can assure you that even fewer people read my blog than have listened to my single online, so the damage to your company’s reputation will hopefully be very limited indeed.  (Hence, I never thought anyone involved would see it.)  I have updated the original blog post to obscure the full name of the company, but have otherwise left the post intact (or this one wouldn’t make any sense).
I’m not apologising for my feelings on the situation, but I’m sorry my response was immature and ill-considered.  I still have concerns, of course, but should have contacted you and not been a petulant child about it.  Shutting down the myspace page was not cool, (was/is that standard practice?  Did you know UMG were doing that to individual accounts?), and I would have appreciated a heads-up that the single was going on Spotify, so that I could make my own decision about whether it should or not, as I'm not sure it was covered under the original agreement. 
At that point, I wasn’t even sure who to contact, not being in the know about your arrangement with UMG. But this is less relevant than the more obvious (to everyone else) and troubling (to me) point:
I made the angry letter public before sending the polite one in private, which was a dick move.  I apologise for that. I will donate my comically small royalty payment to a charitable cause. 
As a self-appointed expert, I read your email as a masterpiece of restrained exasperation.  More than fair.  Thanks for removing the single from the online platforms and waiving the initial charge. 
In future, I will contact people I have a problem with/questions for, instead of slagging them on the internet.  (It’s the first time I’ve done that – in the professional sense, at least – and it will be the last.)
This episode seems another obvious reason why I didn’t “make it” in the Business of Music.
Life is for learning, as Joni Mitchell once sang.

Thanks & Peace

Clayton Blizzard

 

 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Dear G

Dear G******* Distribution,
I hope this finds you well.
First of all, I want to acknowledge that it’s not your fault: it’s not your fault that the arse fell out of the record industry, it’s not your fault that the biggest record companies continued to consolidate by buying up smaller labels, whilst pretending that they could just carry on as normal and everyone would pay £10/$15 for a CD that costs 20p/c to make, for which the creating artist was paid 15% at most.  Or that their outdated and exploitative business model could survive the internet age.
Anyway, here’s my story; take it however you like. 
In 2006, in an ill-fated and questionable attempt to launch myself as a “career” musician, a deal was struck with your distribution company to get my debut single out to the world through the internet.  Those were heady days, indeed, do you remember?  Ah, the noughties…
Anyway, my friend and manager found your company and it seemed like a good fit – the most important thing for me/us was that I/we would own the music, so it would never be sold without my express permission/used in an advert for an evil soft drinks company, or similar.  It would still be mine, and you would earn your cut by simply getting on all the platforms where people buy music. 
The idea of selling music (almost) direct, with the help of a distributor, seemed the perfect remedy to the agent system of record contracts, where gatekeepers make investment decisions based on their reading of the market.  A tentative, faltering step toward an economic arrangement allowing artists and audiences access to each other.  Utopian.  Naïve, perhaps?  Universal Music Group would presumably think so.  It appealed to me, though.
I thought we made a good deal, even though I was still wary.  I was/am so wary of big companies, and the music industry in general – to the point where someone famous once told a friend of mine that he wanted to help me/my “career”, but thought I didn’t want any help.  (He never said it to me, so I had no chance to refute or claim that perceived aloofness.  I reckon I would’ve accepted any help that person was able to give.  (I like/d him, apart from anything else, so I would have listened to any suggestions, at the very least.))
But I’ve made some art about all these things, and I enjoy ambiguity.  And, as KRS ONE (among many others) has said:  “Watch what you say, cos you’ll attract it.”
Like KRS ONE has also said:  “Don’t waste your time fighting legal battles – unless you’re a lawyer.”  That’s been my attitude, by and large, on these kind of matters. 
But this is my legacy, this is my life.  It’s got my name on it and everything.  And lately, at a festival, someone who enjoyed my set spoke to me about my music, and they specifically asked about Spotify.  I mumbled that there’s only one single on there, and I don’t really like it.  Because it’s very old, and not as good as all the stuff I’ve done since, and contains views from which I have moved on – I wouldn’t mind it being there if all the later stuff was there as well.  So maybe we can talk about that.
At some point after 2006, my myspace (yes, myspace) account was blocked for using copyrighted content.  Imagine my surprise: only my music was on there, for which I owned – and reserved – all rights.  It was all blocked, not just the songs from the single I had put out via your distribution.  When I checked, it appeared that Universal Music Group had claimed ownership of this music, and impelled myspace to block this “content”.  With the customary regard for due process/diligence, the social media giant acceded to this demand, without wasting time on legal battles, or asking me.  Or even telling me.
Luckily, by that time, myspace had outlived its relevance as a marketing tool, and had been replaced by a social media giant that had dispensed with all creative content to concentrate solely on banality and virtual stalking.  And articles about how stupid everyone is, except the writer of the article.
But really, G (can I call you G?  I do hope so), I’m at a crossroads here: I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve withdrawn a lot from most of the music-making/performing etc I used to do, and I’m wondering what to do about it all.  I never set out to make money, but I really wanted people to have access to what I made; that the only thing so many people will find is a single I wrote in my late teens/early twenties, finally released in my mid-twenties, and for which I don’t even get paid, is disappointing.
I might as well have gone and begged UMG for a traditional album deal – at least I might have got an advance to buy some new instruments and been put on the cover of some now-defunct/embarrassing-shell-of-its-former-self music magazine.
Anyway, clearly there’s no need for you to care about any of that.
Obviously, I never really saw much money from that deal – or, in fact, any that I’m aware of – at least not since the very early days.  Apart from one windfall from PRS*, I’ve never received any real money from digital sales or anything online, other than my own direct sales through bandcamp (a business formed, much like your own, on the basis of taking a fair/small cut for distribution and reversing the 85-15 split favoured by older deals based on physical sales.  I assume the irony is not lost on you.  Is that ironic?  No, it’s not, not really).
I’ve been described as “hard to get hold of” by more than one person, even though any search engine will find my website as a top answer, and that has my contact details on it, and I’ve got social media accounts in my own name with no odd spellings or weird handles, also easily found by any search engine.  And I don’t hide my contact details from anyone.  And I’m on them social media giants, under the same name that’s on all the music and writing I do.  Anyway, maybe I am, in some mysterious way, “hard to get hold of”.  Perhaps that’s why you didn’t get in touch.
Or perhaps it’s because it was much easier to let Universal Music Group shut down social media accounts and distribute all the music on your roster however they saw fit.  In violation of existing agreements.  DIY, indeed.
As a naturally cynical person, I assume what happened is that UMG threw a huge net over everything you distributed, tied up the net and dumped it in the Spotify well.
Do I need to ask you/UMG to cease & desist, since I a) never gave consent for the release to be made available on Spotify (which, I think, didn’t exist at the time of the deal) and b) have not received any revenue from this?  (The single hasn’t had that many listens, but someone is getting paid what, to them, is probably a meagre sum, but which would be significant – and, more importantly, owed – to me as artist and copyright holder.)
What’s most galling about the above is that you/Spotify have used the single artwork which clearly states my copyright.  The single is called Ya Basta Hermanos.  It was from my debut album, A Criminal Record (an album which I sold independently, which in retrospect seems a sensible decision).  It has two b-sides: one is a remix, the other an acoustic version of a song that appeared (updated and improved) on a later album. 
G, as a former business partner, tell me straight: How does all this UMG fuckery fit in with your stated aim of “releasing indie records” and being all DIY and cool – is it just a re-working of the established relationship between majors and indies that was supposed to have gone out of fashion along with nu metal and baggy jeans?  (Your deal with Universal apparently meant you “could give other labels and acts the chance to do the same, and benefit from the Universal Machine by being part of the G******* family of distributed labels” (from your website)). 
Whatever integrity there has ever been, or may be left in the (big, Official, capitalised) Music Industry is being ebbed away by infinite versions of the above bullshit. 
Is there anything you would like to do about that?
So, I suppose all this leads to my central questions, which are two-fold:
1. Where’s the money?  And:
2. Give me the money.
Love or Something,
Clayton Blizzard
*To be really honest, G, I never even found out where that came from.  I thought it best not to ask too many questions at the time.  I had rent to pay.  Like I’m always telling the “I don’t care about money” promoters, I don’t care about money either.  But my landlord seems obsessed with it.  As do the council, HMRC, utility companies, drug dealers, shopkeepers and publicans.  It’s usually the first thing they talk about whenever I’m in contact with them.  So, I sort of have to care about it a little bit.
But clearly, if I cared about it all that much, I would have written this letter sooner.  And maybe for something other than a blog – an actual, proper, legal correspondence with you, or something.