Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Without the writing how would you know?



 I have been trying to teach the inner workings of the uk music press to a group of 16 year old students. Students who have been living through exponential growth in digital interactions – who don’t write things down but communicate through speed and shape – texts and expressions – image and colour – url and sound bite. They have never read an in depth interview with Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine trying to break America with pithy commentary by Steven Wells. They have never seen a photograph of Elastica in a public house in Camden. Their lives are neither better nor worse for it.

I can’t imagine growing up without a world of type and bombast. I still like to read the music press – well Mojo – it’s gotten to that stage – I’m not slick or hip enough to find the new sounds – I don’t want nostalgia but seem to be content to read about Black Sabbath’s 1978 appearance at Hammersmith Apollo or the transition of Floyd from acid fuelled psychosis to hip atom muthas. The press shaped conversation and tastes and allegiances, fashions and faux pas (should you admit to liking U2), opinions and confidence. It filled hours – it hinted at tantalising finds – obscure gems – and future sounds. I’d sit in bedrooms, common rooms, classrooms, front rooms and back ones discussing the writing about sound – thinking what purchases to invest in that weekend – oh whether my teenage hate would boil over at another feature about St Etienne. Paul would be reading Melody Maker, I was on Sounds, the NME waiting to be opened as we read about The Beasties tour of Japan, or the Scream in America.

It pulled the money from our pockets. Which we spent on records recommended in reviews in the views of the privileged and hip. Money heading straight to the labels and stables of future dreams. So they could put out more vinyl and more words would be written and more money spent – does your money go round, does your money go round?

The young ones don’t get it really.

This class of difference.  This idea of interviews as text – as features and follow ups – they don’t get it. They can tell I was passionate about it all – but they can’t see the reason that it felt exciting to walk into town and roll into WH Smith. You see, if Lady Gaga wants to speak to them – she can – it’s 140 characters and instant connection. It doesn’t require a plane trip – the journalist swagger or a photographer in tow. It’s Instagram representation and a chance to unite the masses. In some ways every artist I ever read about would have benefitted from this social media madness. The press was just a way to connect with the band – maaaan – you know find out what they were about – it could be politics – it could George Michael’s favourite pizza topping – it was snippets and insights – stories and highlights – rocksteady and uptight. That has been swept aside in the relentless speed and efficiency of bringing you 24 hour solid music news – its one thing after another.

You know they found a story last month in Robbie Williams mouthing off about the late shoegaze and emerging Britpop scene – as if he was still stuck in a spat with Adorable and he couldn’t let it go. You know he’d been rounded on by Echobelly in 1993 and he still felt bitter – like George Costanza – all rage and fury and ready to get his line in despite the time between the slight and his retort (hey  - the ocean called and they’re all out of you). They ran with this – because it fills a page – this generated content – this updateable site – it needed a story. It needed a celebrity and a spat – the tabloids communicate like that – so we better had too.

Sounds came out once a week. Sounds had an irreverent quality – it didn’t take itself quite as serious as the NME – it felt like a daft teenager itself. It was hip enough. It had news stories – it filled pages – but its stories had words and words and words. We like it in short bursts now. They like being taught that way too. I don’t know how they’d be able to sustain that level of reading these days – it might be just the ‘kids’ in front of me – they’re skewing my view – but have you read an NME these days? You’re lucky to get two pages of writing about anything. You don’t need that many words now – you get it from the horses mouth – from the artist – unmediated (well less mediated) – so why wait for the week to be over and the next column written. If I want to talk to Stuart Kidd and Marco Rea – I can – then I can click on over to Soundcloud and get the demos – they’re The Wellgreen by the way.

They are brilliant. But without the writing – the recommendations – where do you go – how do you know?

I’m set in my ways in a digital age.

You see I got The Barne Society CD through the post. Five pounds for twelve songs. A cottage house industry producing beautiful sounds for a few pounds. My words won’t give it the column inches it deserves – it’s got a new Wellgreen track on it – and that was the prompt to purchase I guess. That and a message to check out the site – so you visit – you have a listen and point and click – and then it’s there on the mat – dropped through the letterbox by your postman. He hadn’t heard of the Barne Society. Well he might have done – but for the sake of this writing I need him not to have – so he hasn’t.

He might have heard of this lovely, honest and fragile label – if it was getting the inches across the weekly ‘rock’ rags that it actually deserves.

But the press don’t work that way – it’s quite a simple relationship – sell more newspapers on the back of building up a scene that may or may not exist. It becomes a self-fulfilling madness – invent a scene – big it up and knock it down. The Barne Society don’t deserve any of that  - they don’t need writers decamping to Scotland with A&R in tow – calling the shots – renaming it all. The press would call this the Sound of Scotland (revisited) make references to the second, third or fourth coming. They would hang it on a notion that Postcard records was the template for all the ‘scottish’ things – you know – they might have had that idea anyway. Talk to Stephen McRobbie – he’s quietly got on with just releasing wonderful music. And so have these guys.  

There’s a sense of that eclectic Scottish culture – borrowed and proud – there’s spoken word and melancholic tones seeping through the expertly designed sleeve and CD – this is the whole package my friend. This is a fragile Scotland – with confident undertones. Songs with spaces and silences – muted moments in late nights and early mornings (hear Linden ‘My Beating Heart’ for a little of that).

Sometimes you just want the music out. And it should be – everyone should hear The Springtime Anchorage – it’s not a name that trips of the tongue – but it relocates that west coast jangle to the west coast of this isle. It’s The Byrds without the sun – psychedelic (haggis) suppers – The Junipers ‘They lived up in the valley’ is a beauty – understated and simple – okay so it has a little of the ‘glen’ in it – but why wouldn’t it. It represents – do ya get me? Kontiki Suite – will be one of my summer tunes – sunlight fading – driving through the countryside  – because I’m the music man – maaaaaan. There’s a power in that there tune.

But it’s always The Wellgreen – I come back to. My first love – I guess – partly because I wasn’t expecting it. I said in a previous piece way back then when I went to watch Euros Childs that The Wellgreen kind of blew my mind – there was this sense of accomplished musicianship combined with a playful energy and a smile on the faces of those making the music. I like authenticity – not earnestness – and they made you feel ‘up’. They properly entertained with their two man pop voyage. I had them down as The Everley Brothers for a modern day man. But I’m hearing so much more Bacharach in there – jumps in time signature and wonderful scales – they really are pleasure to listen to. Either in a room with them living or in a room with them singing from speakers.

You will listen to them as well.

I spent many a summer in Scotland – so there’s an inherent fondness for it all - except I was East coast (not exactly leather trousers and VU shades – but close). You need a wee bit of Scotland in your soul too? (Okay I know the Barne Society has other bands on it – from other places  - but I wanted to write that line – so I have)

So let’s support The Barne Society. Let’s all go buy their records. 

This isn't on the compilation - you can find that via the links embedded in the post. This is from The Wellgreen album. You can buy that at their site too.