Embracing Disruption: Zooming into the Future

Along with just about everyone else on the planet, I have been immersed in Zoom and WhatsApp meetings during this enforced COVID-19 hibernation. Notice my choice of semantics here; I say “hibernation” and not “lock-down” or “lock-in”. Hibernation is a way for many creatures, from butterflies to bears, to survive cold, dark winters without having to forage for food or migrate to somewhere warmer. Instead, they turn down their metabolisms to save energy. But hibernation carries risks as the dormant animal is vulnerable to predators and the unpredictable climate. My version of business in hibernation, and in particular the creative industries, bears many similarities to the wildlife version. This winter will end and come spring, it will be time to ramp up business, increase our metabolism, procreate and get back to normal.

All of the online meetings that I have been part of over the last two weeks have all focussed on ‘returning to normal’ when we emerge from this hibernation. I have a very big problem with this. One overarching lesson that I have taken away from the last two weeks is that returning to normal might not be the best course of action for Australia’s creative industries. Maybe I’m the only one, but I have found this enforced hibernation, and disruption, to be really invigorating. The disruption suggests, and points to, a new future where we do not return to what we know as ‘normal’. 

Yesterday, I spent a few hours in a Zoom panel meeting discussing the popular music landscape in Australia and how it has negatively impacted artists. The conversation was centred on how to survive this hibernation and how we get back to normal. I raised the point that the last thing we should be trying to do is return to normal; the old normal was pretty crappy and not a healthy ecosystem for artists and workers in Australia’s popular music space. This was met with tumble weeds, total silence broken only with a few crickets chirping in the background before the moderator got everything back on topic. Clearly, I struck a sensitive chord.   

Without question the music industry is one of Australia’s most profitable creative industries. Despite this, artists report they are frequently underpaid or not paid at all, let alone accumulating a healthy superannuation for retirement. While Australian classical orchestral musicians enjoy secure and regulated pay rates, contemporary musicians are not faring so well. Award rates for contemporary music are commonly ignored, leaving artists to make the impossible choice of accepting low pay, requesting better pay with the potential outcome being replaced by a cheaper artist, or saying no and losing the opportunity completely. A seemingly endless supply of artists willing to play for little-to-nothing means the supply/demand economics of performing live is heavily skewed in favour of the venues. 

The live music industry itself operates under a set of unique challenges. Onerous regulation, a lack of best-practice standards, significant operating costs for venues, reliance on alcohol sales to underwrite gigs, and shifting audience behaviours have created a fraught and fragile ecosystem. In short, this pre-COVID-19 ‘normal’ was a space of very low wages, no job security, no superannuation, exploitation, huge HECS debts and a completely ineffective monetarisation of creative music talent. In the Australian Music Industry Network’ (AMIN) 2019 Live Renumeration Survey, the real horror of artists’ meagre financial remuneration was highlighted. According to this survey the average per annum salary for a musician was just $12k, compare this to Australia’s average yearly salary of $82K (Living Australia). That’s a good $70k short. I am quite happy to be the proud pariah here, but this is not the ‘normal’ environment that I wish to return to.

One my most hated phrases is “we’ve always done it this way before” probably the worst seven words ever to be used in business, the creative, arts, music, basically everything including life. In the words of English clergyman Williams Pollard, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” The COVID-19 disruption might just be the opportunity that we have all been waiting for, arriving in stealth mode. I hear a lot of people repeat the rhetoric that Melbourne is the live music capital of the world because we have more live music venues per capita than any other city. This is classic quantity over quality. That’s more live music venues per capita underpaying, exploiting, abusing and not really caring about live music, artist or music workers. Perhaps I am alone, but I am not rushing to get back to the dismal “normal”. Barack Obama hit the nail on the head, when he spruiked, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

So, what are the solutions; after all my Linked In profile lists me as a solution architect. Speaking as an ex-audio engineer, signal flow is all about input and output. Most of the so-called solutions I’ve heard address the output e.g. tax relief, grants, one-off payments etc. How about we make a radical, and by radical, I mean seriously radical change to this model? One solution would be to give everyone in Australia a none means tested Universal Basic Income. Finland’s Social Insurance Institution (FSII) has published the results of an income experiment it carried out for two years to learn more about ways to reduce unemployment. They report that their experiment showed that giving unemployed people a no-strings-attached guaranteed income instead of an unemployment allowance made them happier and less stressed. The universal basic income (UBI) guarantees participants a certain basic standard of living via direct cash transfer. The standard of living guaranteed includes reasonably nice housing, sufficient food, proper health care, and a means for engaging with the surrounding community.

Why don’t we, and the peak bodies in the music and creative arts space, campaign for a UBI of say $3,000.00 per month for everyone? It’s a bold and challenging idea. This UBI would allow musicians, artists and creatives to top up or add on their current $12k per year and take them to an almost average salary. On top of the UBI why not add superannuation and basic health care? This approach might even help employers, and their wages bill, as all employees would have the safety net of the UBI. But what about the feckless, terminally lazy and work shy? The Finish experiment says UBI is much cheaper and more effective than our current social benefits system. If you want to stay at home on a basic income and not work; well good on you, have a great life doing and achieving nothing. Other solutions might be to have a basic standard that live music venues must meet around wages, working conditions, superannuation, etc. If a venue doesn’t meet them then they can’t have live music; lets flip the supply and demand model 180 degrees. Yes, we’ll lose a load of venues, but quite frankly do we really want many of these crap venues anyway.

Johann Sebastian Bach statue in Leipzig – not the in-side-out pockets

We now have the perfect opportunity to embrace change from this enforced disruption. This could be the golden gift of an opportunity to make the popular music space much better for everyone; musicians, artists, workers and audience. A chance to radically change the system, as this system has been broken for over 350 years. If you have ever been to Leipzig in Germany, you have probably seen the statue of Johann Sebastian Bach in the city square. Did you ever wonder why this statue has Johann’s pockets turned inside-out? It’s because he had no money and would walk the streets to Leipzig with his pocket’s turned inside-out to prove to everyone he was broke and was looking for work/commissions. So, let’s not rush back to this broken model of the 1750s, I think there is substantial proof that it hasn’t worked and will not work in the future. Disruption and the change that it brings is probably the best thing to happen to popular music in the last 400 years. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

Small Is Beautiful (Again)

When Ernst Friedrich Schumacher published his influential work Small Is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered, the world was embarking on super-sizing everything. Small Is Beautiful brought Schumacher’s critique of Western economics to a wider audience during the 1973 oil crisis and the late modernist phenomenon of emerging globalization. I have no idea what music Schumacher, the world-renowned economic genius, listened to while writing this seminal work but in my vivid imagination he might have been exposed to some 70’s German progressive rock such as Das Kollektiv, Musikalische Gruppenimprovisation, Supersession or The Karpenkiels.

Prof. Ernst Friedrich Schumacher 

I have written on a number of occasions about how I regard progressive rock as displaying many modernist tendencies and that I regard it as the Sci-Fi of contemporary music. It’s all grand-narratives, big is beautiful, an anti-thesis of what Schumacher’s mentor, Leopold Kohr, termed “the cult of bigness”. In 1955, Schumacher was based in Burma as an economic consultant and it was here that he developed the set of principles he called “Buddhist economics“. This was based on the belief that individuals need good work for proper human development. He also proclaimed, “production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life.”  Schumacher’s experience led him to become a pioneer of what is now termed “appropriate technology”; user-friendly and ecologically suitable technology applicable to the scale of the community.

Popular, contemporary or commercial music, call it what you will, is not known for its pioneering, cutting edge or its innovations; it’s known for following trends and doing the same thing over and over again, albeit just slightly different in each iteration. From rock ‘n’ roll’s (that’s what I am going to call it) bastard birth in 1956, its central motif has always been ‘Big Is Beautiful’. While working on my PhD thesis, Even better than the real thing: the hyperreality and simulacrum of popular music live performance, I argued that this trend started approximately 15 minutes after the Beatles stepped off the stage at Shea Stadium on 15th August 1965. That was the precise epistemic moment that the collective epiphany of a fledgling industry was born. The only problem was that technology would take another 30 years to catch up to deliver on the promise. That’s how ahead of their time the Beatles were.

I have worked in the international smoke and mirrors live music industry since I left school in the summer of 1979 and all I’ve ever heard is, “how many units did you sell?” or “how many production trucks do you have on tour?”– more lights, lasers, complex hydraulic sets, larger PA systems, bigger theatres/arenas/stadium. The classic zero-sum game of production one-upmanship equated to an industry based on technological determinism. Recently, I was speaking to a colleague working on the Taylor Swift ‘Reputation’ Tour and her comments reaffirmed this. Boasting 82 semi-trucks of staging, 52 high-cube 40-foot shipping containers, 6 Boeing 747 cargo planes and 300 tons of steel, the production required 4 construction tower cranes to put everything together with a 120-local crew. However you look at this it’s a monumental show, a classic ‘Big Is Beautiful’ example. Big it might be but is it contemporary? The evidence would suggest a resounding “No”. While Tata goes super-sized all the other stadium filling acts are going in the opposite direction, after all small is beautiful, is it not?

Having witnessed some of the most over-the-top and jaw dropping spectacular stadium rock shows over the last few years I have often asked myself where is this going? The financial funding of rock tours has significantly shifted over the last two decades. The original model of recoupable tour costs; referred to as ‘tour support’, was the economic funding mechanism that put these gargantuan shows on the road. Most signed bands took advantage and some even exploited this system. Many artists didn’t realise that the money used to finance their tours would be taken out of future royalty payments. The tour support system was used to cover equipment hire, crew salaries, freight cost, travel, accommodation, staff per diems, vehicle rental and whatever other expenses come up during a tour, basically it put bands and their shows out on tour.

Touring a ‘full production’ show is an extremely expensive business. As tactile format sales (records, tapes, compact discs) have dried up so has record company tour support. It’s no surprise that tour support has become impossibly hard to come by, especially for indie music. As album sales have shrunk, often replaced by digital streaming of singles, record labels just do not have enough money to foot the bill anymore. The returns spent on tour support are not guaranteed, especially on tours that are essentially promotional tours designed to help a band build a fan base.

Touring may help a band locate an audience, but it probably will not directly translate into enough product sales to offset the investment. The writing was well and truly on the wall way before the digital revolution kicked in. Smaller, often independent, record labels support for touring their acts suffered from this and other significant financial problems. Often a band’s tour would succeed in expanding their fan base and selling records, but this simply enabled the artist to move from the small independent label to a major one. In the 21st century, however, tour support has now morphed into tour sponsorship and has gravitated away from record labels to international business conglomerates that often have no direct involvement in music. Often the largest, established acts attract this style of financial support with small emerging bands left with no financial guarantee.

One would have thought this radical change would see the end of large-scale rock tours, but this is definitely not the case. The business has become more agile, lean and some would say more engaging without record company involvement via tour support. Many bands now tour at a level that their predecessors would not have envisaged. Where once it with would have been two semi-trailer trucks full of equipment, a crew bus and a band bus on tour its now one bus or van with a trailer and locally sourced production. This is due to a few factors. First, it is partly facilitated by the technological trickle-down effect that sees most clubs and theatres equipped with adequate audio and lighting. Second, large hire companies offloading their un-hired inventory once the touring boom was over. Third, modern stage performance technology has become much smaller, cheaper and more intelligent than anything that came before. The days of schlepping enormous amounts of performance technology around the world are over except for the handful of top tier acts. But has the move away from technological deterministic rock performance negatively impacted upon the performance? I would argue in most cases it is a resounding “No”.

I recently watched Netflix’s Springsteen on Broadway and wished I could have seen the show live. My last encounter with ‘The Boss’ was in 2009 at Glastonbury Festival. I was there with some now forgotten band who had played earlier that evening. The enforced no vehicle movement until 1 hour after the main act finishes was placed our travel movements. There was not much else to do except walk over to the main stage and catch Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band put on a show so good it was quasi-religious. For three magical hours, Pilton became the Promised Land.

Was this proof of Emile Durkheim’s religious theory, “a religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacredthings, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden, beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them”? Springsteen is perhaps the world’s finest practitioner of gig-as-religious-event, a huge communion between performer and audience. His ability to render such vast open spaces intimate is unrivalled, effortlessly bridging the gap between band and audience. It’s a finely tuned, rehearsed and orchestrated routine, certainly, but it’s very hard to deny the Boss’s sheer passion and conviction.

With this level of stage-craft, Springsteen could carry on playing stadiums and festival shows until the very end but he decided to drastically alter course. When the Boss hit the boards at the 975 seat Walter Kerr Theatre in New York’s Broadway in October 2017, no one really knew what to expect. While Springsteen has undertaken solo acoustic tours before, such as The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995) or Devils and Dust (2005) these were concerts, within the established traditional framework. Even though Springsteen has a reputation for storytelling both solo and within the E Street Band shows, the concept of what he intended was a departure from the standardised format of rock shows:

My show is just me, the guitar, the piano, and the words and music. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung. It loosely follows the arc of my life and my work” – Bruce Springsteen 2018

 Voluntarily stripped of the classic rock show technological paraphernalia, it’s enthralling how Springsteen interacts with the physical intimate space of the theatre. He moves between centre stage and a standing microphone, or the piano, with a similarly stationary microphone. But the compactness of the theatre and its acoustics are such that, combined with the physics of vocal projection, he’s allowed to step away from the microphone and still be completely audible. This un-amplified version of the Boss is at first disconcerting but once the viewer/listener is fully sutured into the performance it becomes as mesmerising as any shaman.

Sir Paul McCartney plays the Philharmonic Pub in Liverpool

Springsteen is not the only ‘A’ leaguer to adopt the ‘Small is Beautiful’ principle to their performance. Most of the internet connected global congregation witnessed a 76-year old man play a few songs in a Liverpool pub at the end of last year. But this was no ordinary senior playing a few cover songs, this was ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney in his home town. Playing in front a crowd of just 50 people, McCartney played a set list which included the mega-hits Love Me DoI Wanna Be Your ManBack in the U.S.S.RBirthdayI’ve Got A Feeling and concluded with a tear educing Hey Jude. Sir Paul said the journey back to his childhood home had made him reflect on the trajectory of his life. “The distance from here to where we went, and where we are now is phenomenal.” Of course, the genius part of this performance was the casual but very carefully curated ‘You Tube’ selfie styled video, which according to CBS attracted over 130 million views across social media platforms. It’s an interesting trend and one taken up by a variety of well-established artists such as Prince with his ‘Piano and Microphone’ show, U2 at the 1,700 seat Roundhouse in London or Simple Minds and their ‘Acoustic’ album and subsequent tour.   

The modern generation of musical content creators, e.g. Millennials and Gen-Z, who are often unfairly ridiculed, are actually right on trend. Though often prone to technological determinism in the form of excessive ‘plugs-in’ and knackered old analogue audio equipment but adopting the small is beautiful mentality. Gone are the days of huge record company advances spent in lavish record studio studios with ‘fruit and flowers’ budgets to match. These modern-day content generators are now all sat in bedrooms, behind their laptops. I return to my original premise here, or rather Prof. Schumacher’s, “production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life“. This is after all what Schumacher advocated, user-friendly and ecologically suitable technology applicable to the scale of the community.

Prog Rock: the science fiction of music?

It’s been an interesting start to 2019 and even though we are only a few days into the new-year, I have already committed to speaking at two exciting conferences. The first is in May for the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) biennial conference to be held in Canberra. Last September I spoke at the joint IASPM and Art of Record Production (ARP) conference at the University of Huddersfield, UK. I delivered my presentation titled, ‘I’ll mix this my own way: why millennial musicians still need a producer’, to an enthusiastic audience of academics and practitioners. Due to this positive reception, I intend developing this theme further for IASPM in Canberra. I will propose that musicians still need producers but the role of producer is redefining itself to jive with the modern context of music production. Through technological socialism, the traditional gatekeeper role of the record producer is now redundant but their advanced skills in critical listening, mentorship, advice giving, arrangement, facilities management and keeping egos in check is still vital. So, it seems, the record producer is not out of a job just yet and is unlikely to be so, even if there is less money to spend on record production. Bands of musicians are an on-going argument and a producer is perfectly positioned to make sure that the band is arguing about their music. Ultimately a producer is the person that gets the recording made.

After IASPM in Canberra I will be heading north to Griffiths University on the Sunshine Coast to talk about progressive rock and aging musicians. I hold the view that progressive rock is the science fiction of music. The central theme of science fiction is that it speculates on what the future might be, what it will look like and how we might get there; but there is always an underlying theme of humanity embedded within it. As a producer that came to my fore during the post-punk era in the UK, it would appear to be a disconnected subject for me to pontificate on. Let me elucidate. The organisers of the conference had heard me speak in Huddersfield and had also read the obituary piece that I wrote about Keith Emerson of ELP and The Nice; ‘The Dr Who Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Keith Emerson the Dr Who of Rock ‘n’ Roll

I’d worked with Keith Emerson in 2002 as his tour manager and his de-facto go-to guy; that’s how I earned my living back then. However, my connection to Keith goes way back to a childhood in Hull, East Yorkshire. My hippie parents, Karl and Jenny, always had a very eclectic taste in music. I remember in 1972 my parents playing the Emerson Lake and Palmer album Pictures At An Exhibition in heavy rotation with other wired and wonderful tunes. As a ten year old I found this a very difficult piece of music to comprehend. Indeed any ten year old that could fully fathom the testosterone fuelled butchery of this classic Mussorsky piece would probably be painfully precocious and end up pursuing a career as a popular music academic later on in life. But lets give credit where its due because ELP’s iteration has become one of the seminal documents of the progressive rock era, a record that made its way into the collections of millions of high-school kids who had never heard of Modest Mussorgsky and knew nothing of Russia’s Nationalist ‘Five’. At the time, it introduced the new genre of classical rock to millions of listeners, including the classical community, most of whose members regarded this record as something akin to an armed violent assault. What really stuck in my mind from this record was track four, a short original Moog synthesiser interlude, which was never part of the original Mussorsky template. Little did my parents know they were hegmonically pre-programming me to love synth-based music that would stay with me for life. Philip Larkin was right about parents.

Barclay James Harvest

My second direct encounter was working with Saddlewoth Moor’s finest purveyors of progressive rock; Barclay James Harvest. BJH was, for many years, one of the most hard luck outfits in progressive rock. A quartet of solid rock musicians consisting of John Lees (guitar & vocals), Les Holroyd, (bass & vocals), Stuart ‘Wooly’ Wolstenholme (keyboards & vocals) fondly remembered Mel Pritchard (RIP) on drums. With a knack for writing hook-laden songs built on pretty melodies, they harmonized like the Beatles and wrote extended songs with more of a beat than the Moody Blues. They were signed to EMI at the same time as Pink Floyd, and both bands moved over to the company’s progressive rock-oriented Harvest Records imprint, yet somehow, they never managed to connect with the public for a major hit in England, much less America. In 2002, with the release of Revolution Days, I found myself touring Europe’s arenas with BJH promoting this record to a very enthusiastic audience of middle-aged parents, and rather, confusingly their offspring. This was an interesting four-year period of my life mixing 30-year-old BJH songs for their original and new audiences.

As an engineer/producer, with what is fast approaching 40 years of professional experience, I’ve always been fascinated by the theories of simulacrum and hyperreality and the diaspora between the studio recording and their recreation live on stage. When Jean Baudrillard (1981) defined the term ‘Simulacrum’, he was seeking to examine the relationship among reality, symbols and society. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins. Both of these theories appear to be pertinent tools of analysis that can be critically applied to both Keith Emerson and BJH. Putting theory into practice if-you-like. As an art form born in the mid-twentieth century, progressive rock music has an integral relationship with both the hyper-real and simulacrum. Live instrumental techniques combined with sample libraries and synthesizers, in addition to recording techniques and sound processors, creates music that transcends traditional Western music frameworks. The synthesizer as an audio tool affords the power to generate science fiction music that utilizes the whole sound spectrum. Synthesizers become a powerful tool for the transmission of meaning through sonic channels, widening the gap between music reality and hyperreality. With both BJH and Keith Emerson I’ve relished the challenge of recreating previously curated material and bring it into a sharp, high definition focus for modern day audiences.

With both of these forthcoming conferences I can’t wait to share my thoughts and experiences on the subject progressive rock. I believe that my hands-on practical experience coupled with academic/scholarly contextualization and analysis is unique and will provide a stimulating presentation for the audience. Science fiction is a great opportunity to speculate and imagine what could happen. I love the idea that prog. rock is the sci-fi of the music world.

This is me

I am available for guest lectures, seminars, workshops, master class, conferences and broadcasts, just drop me an email to Touringtim@aol.com

Prog. Rock: the science fiction of music?

It’s been an interesting start to 2019 and even though we are only a few days into the new-year, I have already committed to speaking at two exciting conferences. The first is in May for the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) biennial conference to be held in Canberra. Last September I spoke at the joint IASPM and Art of Record Production (ARP) conference at the University of Huddersfield, UK. I delivered my presentation titled, ‘I’ll mix this my own way: why millennial musicians still need a producer’, to an enthusiastic audience of academics and practitioners. Due to this positive reception, I intend developing this theme further for IASPM in Canberra. I will propose that musicians still need producers but the role of producer is redefining itself to jive with the modern context of music production. Through technological socialism, the traditional gatekeeper role of the record producer is now redundant but their advanced skills in critical listening, mentorship, advice giving, arrangement, facilities management and keeping egos in check is still vital. So, it seems, the record producer is not out of a job just yet and is unlikely to be so, even if there is less money to spend on record production. Bands of musicians are an on-going argument and a producer is perfectly positioned to make sure that the band is arguing about their music. Ultimately a producer is the person that gets the recording made.

After IASPM in Canberra I will be heading north to Griffiths University on the Sunshine Coast to talk about progressive rock and aging musicians. I hold the view that progressive rock is the science fiction of music. The central theme of science fiction is that it speculates on what the future might be, what it will look like and how we might get there; but there is always an underlying theme of humanity embedded within it. As a producer that came to my fore during the post-punk era in the UK, it would appear to be a disconnected subject for me to pontificate on. Let me elucidate. The organisers of the conference had heard me speak in Huddersfield and had also read the obituary piece that I wrote about Keith Emerson of ELP and The Nice; ‘The Dr Who Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

I’d worked with Keith Emerson in 2002 as his tour manager and his de-facto go-to guy; that’s how I earned my living back then. However, my connection to Keith goes way back to a childhood in Hull, East Yorkshire. My hippie parents, Karl and Jenny, always had a very eclectic taste in music. I remember in 1972 my parents playing the Emerson Lake and Palmer album Pictures At An Exhibition in heavy rotation with other wired and wonderful tunes. As a ten year old I found this a very difficult piece of music to comprehend. Indeed any ten year old that could fully fathom the testosterone fuelled butchery of this classic Mussorsky piece would probably be painfully precocious and end up pursuing a career as a popular music academic later on in life. But lets give credit where its due because ELP’s iteration has become one of the seminal documents of the progressive rock era, a record that made its way into the collections of millions of high-school kids who had never heard of Modest Mussorgsky and knew nothing of Russia’s Nationalist ‘Five’. At the time, it introduced the new genre of classical rock to millions of listeners, including the classical community, most of whose members regarded this record as something akin to an armed violent assault. What really stuck in my mind from this record was track four, a short original Moog synthesiser interlude, which was never part of the original Mussorsky template. Little did my parents know they were hegmonically pre-programming me to love synth-based music that would stay with me for life. Philip Larkin was right about parents.

Keith Emerson

My second direct encounter was working with Saddlewoth Moor’s finest purveyors of progressive rock; Barclay James Harvest. BJH was, for many years, one of the most hard luck outfits in progressive rock. A quartet of solid rock musicians consisting of John Lees (guitar & vocals), Les Holroyd, (bass & vocals), Stuart ‘Wooly’ Wolstenholme (keyboards & vocals) fondly remembered Mel Pritchard (RIP) on drums. With a knack for writing hook-laden songs built on pretty melodies, they harmonized like the Beatles and wrote extended songs with more of a beat than the Moody Blues. They were signed to EMI at the same time as Pink Floyd, and both bands moved over to the company’s progressive rock-oriented Harvest Records imprint, yet somehow, they never managed to connect with the public for a major hit in England, much less America. In 2002, with the release of Revolution Days, I found myself touring Europe’s arenas with BJH promoting this record to a very enthusiastic audience of middle-aged parents, and rather, confusingly their offspring. This was an interesting four-year period of my life mixing 30-year-old BJH songs for their original and new audiences.

Barclay James Harvest

As an engineer/producer, with what is fast approaching 40 years of professional experience, I’ve always been fascinated by the theories of simulacrum and hyperreality and the diaspora between the studio recording and their recreation live on stage. When Jean Baudrillard (1981) defined the term ‘Simulacrum’, he was seeking to examine the relationship among reality, symbols and society. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins. Both of these theories appear to be pertinent tools of analysis that can be critically applied to both Keith Emerson and BJH. Putting theory into practice if-you-like. As an art form born in the mid-twentieth century, progressive rock music has an integral relationship with both the hyper-real and simulacrum. Live instrumental techniques combined with sample libraries and synthesizers, in addition to recording techniques and sound processors, creates music that transcends traditional Western music frameworks. The synthesizer as an audio tool affords the power to generate science fiction music that utilizes the whole sound spectrum. Synthesizers become a powerful tool for the transmission of meaning through sonic channels, widening the gap between music reality and hyperreality. With both BJH and Keith Emerson I’ve relished the challenge of recreating previously curated material and bring it into a sharp, high definition focus for modern day audiences.

With both of these forthcoming conferences I can’t wait to share my thoughts and experiences on the subject progressive rock. I believe that my hands-on practical experience coupled with academic/scholarly contextualization and analysis is unique and will provide a stimulating presentation for the audience. Science fiction is a great opportunity to speculate and imagine what could happen. I love the idea that prog. rock is the sci-fi of the music world.

I am available for lectures, workshops, tutorials master class , conferences and broadcasts just drop me an email to Touringtim@aol.com

This is me

Every Person Should Pull A Lifeboat Over A Mountain

Idolised French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat”. After 24 years as an academic and senior lecturer in Higher Education, I am leaving the profession. What amounts to almost a quarter of a century is quite a long consecutive run. Maybe leaving higher education will re-invigorate me or it might highlight the complete folly of the last 24 years; I guess I will find out soon enough. The good news is that I am returning to the international entertainment industry, an industry that I’ve worked in for the last 38 years and it feels great.  

Entering the teaching profession was not a conscious professional decision back in 1994; it was something I stumbled into. I completed an undergraduate degree in documentary filmmaking at the University of Humberside in my home city of Hull as a mature student. Joining a media degree at the age of 30, as one of only two mature students on the program, and after 16 years of working in the music industry was fun. Here I was hanging out with a load of hip young gunslingers for the next three years living and breathing documentary filmmaking. Upon completion of my degree, I worked very hard to obtain a first class with honours, the faculty Dean offered me some much needed, and well paid, part-time teaching work. That was the start, three hours teaching per week, which exponentially grew. 

I studied very hard for various postgraduate degrees, including a teaching degree where I specialised in adult learners, an area I was sort of already an expert in. Once I had some formal qualifications I was taken on at the University of Humberside as an ‘Associate Lecturer’, a post I held for two years before I started chasing better and better jobs at different institutions around the UK. Eventually I became a Higher Education Funding Council (HEFC) external examiner, a post I loved, which took me to different universities to advise on quality control, curriculum and resources. This was the golden period, in the words of England’s finest Baird, these where the “salad days“. My work was never boring, employers fantastic, salary and benefits above average and working conditions great. From my punk rock origins, I had now achieved respectability, my parents could discuss my career at their bourgeoisie dinner parties and be proud of their Timothy.  

After 19 incredible years working in the UK’s public university sector I quit my job and followed the girl of my dreams across the globe to Melbourne, Australia. Before I had even left the UK I secured a full time teaching job via Skype at a private college in South Melbourne. Maybe I was incredibly naïve, or just plain stupid, but I was expecting this role would closely resemble my previous academic world; it did not. Not only where the salaries much lower, by lower I actually mean half what I had earned in the UK, but the whole culture was different. Having been an educator for so many years I knew that a good teacher sets context, raises questions and the really good ones enter into a dialogical relationship with their students. I worked as hard and as diligently as I ever had during the previous 20 years in the UK but there was no reciprocation from my employer. On numerous occasions the young, some would say inexperienced, academic management team made some horrendous decisions regarding teaching, learning, curriculum, staffing, resource management and even car parking. In an act of collegiality I often made offers to help and made suggestions on how to improve. In very clear terms I was told to keep out of it and that a lecturer on my grade had no interest in such lofty and important matters.  

The salad had gone off; indeed it was wilted, limp and was starting to get kind of funky. Very quickly I became aware that lecturing staff were seen as a commodity. The pay was lousy, conditions terrible, no more conferences or research as “it’s of no benefit”. The academic staff where treated as a thankless workhorse. The majority of my academic colleagues were brand new to teaching, a lot of them ex-students. Professional development was virtually zero with only a token online program to keep the institution only just compliant with the external quality control organisations. Staff struggled; retention was terrible with some staff only completing one trimester. This was an extremely totally toxic environment and everyone knew it. This institution could only be described as a lifeboat. As with all lifeboats no one wants to be in it, exposed on open seas, in rough weather, it is uncomfortable and unpleasant but it just about keeps everyone’s heads above the waterline. I kept going, applied for many other jobs, obtained external position on boards, kept researching and publishing at my own financial cost but there had been a sea change.  

Gone were the days of using my in-depth 30 plus years of subject specialism to develop and deliver cerebrally stimulating lessons and learning environments. This was all about delivering standardised curriculum to a large student cohort as quickly and efficiently as possible; this was a factory, a degree factory. In addition to the crushing force of the omnipresent workload calculator, I saw fellow academics being targeted by administrations. I witnessed the administration protect at all costs the lecturers who everyone knew were ineffective and lacked integrity, but were the most vocal about their own ‘success.’ It’s often stated that Millennials prize ethics in their work, and I was learning that higher education institutions are very unethical places. The idea that a student could actually fail a unit or even an assignment was heretical. Student retention was the only relevant metric in this drive for profitability; lets keep the pipeline open at all costs.  

For the past five years I have had an extremely difficult time reconciling the educational environment that I was inhabiting. I had no secure datum line or that datum line had significantly shifted that I was not certain if higher education had changed or that I was becoming old and cantankerous. I felt undervalued, depressed, humiliated on a daily basis, that my talent, experience and formal qualifications were all wasted. The students had bought the second most expensive commodity of their lives, the first being property, on a loan from the government. The only entry qualification needed to obtain a place on one of these degrees was the ability to pay. Previously, I had worked in higher educations institutions with very high entry qualifications and expectations. As such, students were already high achievers. Many of the students I taught recently struggled with basic reading and writing. Making the assessed assignments project based compensated for this lack of basic cognitive skills. I am all for widening participation in higher education what I refuse to do is lower standards.  

You don’t need to be an academic within the higher echelons to see the writing on the wall. One doesn’t get into teaching for money, but for the ability to make an observable difference every single day. I came to the conclusion that I probably was not making a positive contribution and that I was financially penalised for what I thought was my commitment to a noble and worthwhile career. Time to pack my bags and move on. Luckily the moment I stepped away for academia and teaching, I was offered, and accepted, a senior management role back in the entertainment industry. Sometimes it all happens for a reason and it doesn’t help to overthink situations despite all of my years as an academic.  

TimDalton2014

I am available for lectures, seminars, workshops, master classes and broadcasts simply drop me a line to touringtim@aol.com and I will get back to you. 

We Care A Lot

Nothing brings Nietzsche’s theory of death consciousness into sharp focus like an un-expected death of a close friend or relative. On Saturday morning I awoke to the tragic news that original Faith No More front man Chuck Mosley had died at the age of 57. I first met Chuck and the rest of Faith No More when I was employed as their tour manger, sound engineer, driver and companion on their first European tour back in 1988. At the time I was a 25-year-old hot shot, up and coming tour manger/sound engineer with lots of connections. Two days before meeting the band for the first time, I received a panicked early morning phone call from Faith No More’s booking agent, Derek, in London. There was a massive cock-up. The band were in mid-flight on the ‘red-eye’ from California to London Heathrow (LHR) airport with no one there to meet them on their first tour of the UK and Europe. Luckily I cleared my schedule, jumped in a van for a five-hour drive to LHR to meet a band I’ve never even heard of, never mind seen, before. Obviously the agency was not making Faith No More a very high priority at this point in their career.

Initially there was some slapstick hilarity at the airport when I mistook a vicar with a school choir for Faith No More. The ‘Faith’ bit confused me as I thought they might be religious, thank God they weren’t. Confusion rectified and I am en-route to the infamous Columbia rock ‘n’ roll Hotel on London’s Bayswater road with the band. The following day, January 22nd 1988, Faith No More (FNM) hit the United Kingdom live scene for the first time. The tiny venue was Dingwalls in Camden, London. It was in fact the first time FNM had played outside of the United States. This show was the first date of a European tour that ended seven months later in July that year. I did not know it at the time but it was to be Chuck Mosley’s last tour with the FNM as he and the band would part ways shorty after the tour ended.

Those seven months on the first FNM tour was hard work, but fun. I watched the band develop musically and creatively while devouring the sights and sounds of Europe. As with any bunch of mid-twenty year olds cooped up for long periods of time in a van and cramped cheap hotels there were disagreements, jokes, name-calling, practical jokes, happiness, homesickness and not much sleep. We played every small live music toilet venue going and built a loyal fan base. The process of commodification had begun Faith No More were going through the process of turning an un-known band into a global brand. In business speak the band’s early fans were their investors. Even at this preliminary stage I could see the small cracks appearing between this diaspora of individual band co-creators. Each member of the band had a different version of the ‘finished’ FNM product. Chuck took the most hedonistic and reckless view; to him this was all very punk rock. It might not last long, so lets have some fun and lots of it.

With Chuck, drugs and alcohol fuelled a big part in his reckless enjoyment on this first tour. He enjoyed the different cultures of each country we visited and survived those long endless drives in the cramped old van with raucous good humour. As with any bunch of strong willed individuals brought together in very confined spaces in unusual circumstances there was going to be friction. One of the reasons for this tour was to “stress test the product” and check its integrity before a full commitment of investment was made by the international record company. Ultimately this ‘beta test’ product failed the stress test because by the end of the tour in July the tiny fractures were now full-blown canyons. Tension between all band members was high but especially so between guitarist Jim Martin and Chuck Mosley. I remember a huge fistfight between these two at Zurich airport, which finished with them on the baggage carousel, resulting in Jim breaking a couple of fingers. From this point onwards Chuck’s day with Faith No More were numbered. Upon their return to the USA, and the start of their third studio album ‘The Real Thing’, Chuck was unceremoniously fired. 

Paul Simon famously sang, rather insipidly, that there are fifty ways to leave a lover but this is pure song writing shtick, there are actually only two. The first is to realise that there is a problem and that the relationship is troublesome, dysfunctional, has probably run its course and is over. Time for both parities to be honest with each other, explicate the issues in a mature, rational and kindly fashion and then depart with everyone’s dignity intact. Or you could do it the Chuck Mosley way by behaving with increasing self-indulgent discourtesy, twattery and bellendry until everyone around looses their patience and ditches you. This method, normally perused semi-wittingly by people not entirely certain with what they want from life, has the bonus of subsequently allowing the person to feel self–righteously aggrieved by the sacking, almost as if it wasn’t their fault. Mosley sued Faith No More after his firing, claiming a partnership stake in the band, and they settled out of court.

After that, Mosley spent a couple of years singing for a later version of the legendary hard-core band Bad Brains (1990 to 1992). He also formed the funk-metal band Cement and released a couple of albums in the mid-’90s. From time to time I’d run into Chuck, who was always polite, courteous and he appeared genuinely pleased to see me. We’d often chat backstage or in a hotel bar over a few beers. After Chuck’s departure, Faith No More would continue morphing into a global commodity with further sacking and replacements until they achieved global recognition with the 1992 album Angel Dust, which sold by the truckload. I survived until the Phoenix Festival on 20th July 1997 when I was asked/told to move on. Almost a decade with a band is a long time, probably too long. Over the years, Chuck released a few solo albums, and he even reunited with Faith No More for two shows in 2015.

Chuck2
Chuck recently played some solo shows around the USA

It’s difficult not to sound like a know-it-all smart ass, but the music industry is a very difficult and emotional place to work. Duty of care is an alien concept. In the pursuit of sales the body count is high. In 2015, Help Musicians commissioned the first global academic research into musicians and mental health, which was done in conjunction with the University of Westminster and MusicTank. This academic report looked at the whole gamut of health issues within the music industry. Through this report it became very obvious that mental health issues was a continuing growing issue in the music industry. Many organisations are now discussing ways of trying to end the stigma by encouraging musicians, and those in the industry, to come forward and talk about their challenges. This report highlighted that musicians are three times more likely to suffer from mental health issues, depression or anxiety than other professions. This is coupled with lack of sleep, poor and sporadic salaries, failed relationships, disrupted lifestyles, imposter syndrome and a whole gambit of other related issues. If you consider Paul Manning’s normalisation theory, as defined in his 2007 book ‘Drugs and Popular Culture’ to hold true (I do), then we also have to contend with the fact that the music industry is a place where drugs and alcohol are totally acceptable/encouraged. If we also factor in the psychoanalytical theory of Imago, we are in very dangerous territory. Chuck fought his demons courageously to the end with a great support network of family and friends around him. Addiction is a complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. He’d spent the last decade fighting very hard to maintain his sobriety. With such a strong personality, I am sure that Chuck’s cognitive dissonance kicked in hard one last time late last week.

As I read in the Brooklyn Vegan on Saturday, “We’re sharing the manner in which he passed, in the hopes that it might serve as a warning or wake up call or beacon to anyone else struggling to fight for sobriety. He is survived by long-term partner Pip Logan, two daughters, Erica and Sophie and his grandson Wolfgang Logan Mosley. The family will be accepting donations for funeral expenses.

Chuck1
Charles Henry Mosley III 1960 – 2017

I’ve read lots of press recently about the dangers of suicide in young male adults but I believe that there is another serious problem looming with the 50 to 60 years olds. Especially those from high profile careers in music, entertainment and sport; but that’s another blog post.

It was an absolute pleasuring knowing and working with you Charles Henry Mosley III, may you rest in peace. 

 

We Car A Lot

Nothing brings Nietzsche’s theory of death consciousness into sharp focus like an un-expected death of a close friend or relative. On Saturday morning I awoke to the tragic news that original Faith No More front man Chuck Mosley had died at the age of 57. I first met Chuck and the rest of Faith No More when I was employed as their tour manger, sound engineer, driver and companion on their first European tour back in 1988. At the time I was a 25-year-old hot shot, up and coming tour manger/sound engineer with lots of connections. Two days before meeting the band for the first time, I received a panicked early morning phone call from Faith No More’s booking agent, Derek, in London. There was a massive cock-up. The band were in mid-flight on the ‘red-eye’ from California to London Heathrow (LHR) airport with no one there to meet them on their first tour of the UK and Europe. Luckily I cleared my schedule, jumped in a van for a five-hour drive to LHR to meet a band I’ve never even heard of, never mind seen, before. Obviously the agency was not making Faith No More a very high priority at this point in their career.

Initially there was some slapstick hilarity at the airport when I mistook a vicar with a school choir for Faith No More. The ‘Faith’ bit confused me as I thought they might be religious, thank God they weren’t. Confusion rectified and I am en-route to the infamous Columbia rock ‘n’ roll Hotel on London’s Bayswater road with the band. The following day, January 22nd 1988, Faith No More (FNM) hit the United Kingdom live scene for the first time. The tiny venue was Dingwalls in Camden, London. It was in fact the first time FNM had played outside of the United States. This show was the first date of a European tour that ended seven months later in July that year. I did not know it at the time but it was to be Chuck Mosley’s last tour with the FNM as he and the band would part ways shorty after the tour ended.

Those seven months on the first FNM tour was hard work, but fun. I watched the band develop musically and creatively while devouring the sights and sounds of Europe. As with any bunch of mid-twenty year olds cooped up for long periods of time in a van and cramped cheap hotels there were disagreements, jokes, name-calling, practical jokes, happiness, homesickness and not much sleep. We played every small live music toilet venue going and built a loyal fan base. The process of commodification had begun Faith No More were going through the process of turning an un-known band into a global brand. In business speak the band’s early fans were their investors. Even at this preliminary stage I could see the small cracks appearing between this diaspora of individual band co-creators. Each member of the band had a different version of the ‘finished’ FNM product. Chuck took the most hedonistic and reckless view; to him this was all very punk rock. It might not last long, so lets have some fun and lots of it.

With Chuck, drugs and alcohol fuelled a big part in his reckless enjoyment on this first tour. He enjoyed the different cultures of each country we visited and survived those long endless drives in the cramped old van with raucous good humour. As with any bunch of strong willed individuals brought together in very confined spaces in unusual circumstances there was going to be friction. One of the reasons for this tour was to “stress test the product” and check its integrity before a full commitment of investment was made by the international record company. Ultimately this ‘beta test’ product failed the stress test because by the end of the tour in July the tiny fractures were now full-blown canyons. Tension between all band members was high but especially so between guitarist Jim Martin and Chuck Mosley. I remember a huge fistfight between these two at Zurich airport, which finished with them on the baggage carousel, resulting in Jim breaking a couple of fingers. From this point onwards Chuck’s day with Faith No More were numbered. Upon their return to the USA, and the start of their third studio album ‘The Real Thing’, Chuck was unceremoniously fired. 

Paul Simon famously sang, rather insipidly, that there are fifty ways to leave a lover but this is pure song writing shtick, there are actually only two. The first is to realise that there is a problem and that the relationship is troublesome, dysfunctional, has probably run its course and is over. Time for both parities to be honest with each other, explicate the issues in a mature, rational and kindly fashion and then depart with everyone’s dignity intact. Or you could do it the Chuck Mosley way by behaving with increasing self-indulgent discourtesy, twattery and bellendry until everyone around looses their patience and ditches you. This method, normally perused semi-wittingly by people not entirely certain with what they want from life, has the bonus of subsequently allowing the person to feel self–righteously aggrieved by the sacking, almost as if it wasn’t their fault. Mosley sued Faith No More after his firing, claiming a partnership stake in the band, and they settled out of court.

After that, Mosley spent a couple of years singing for a later version of the legendary hard-core band Bad Brains (1990 to 1992). He also formed the funk-metal band Cement and released a couple of albums in the mid-’90s. From time to time I’d run into Chuck, who was always polite, courteous and he appeared genuinely pleased to see me. We’d often chat backstage or in a hotel bar over a few beers. After Chuck’s departure, Faith No More would continue morphing into a global commodity with further sacking and replacements until they achieved global recognition with the 1992 album Angel Dust, which sold by the truckload. I survived until the Phoenix Festival on 20th July 1997 when I was asked/told to move on. Almost a decade with a band is a long time, probably too long. Over the years, Chuck released a few solo albums, and he even reunited with Faith No More for two shows in 2015.

Chuck2
Chuck recently played so solo shows around the USA

It’s difficult not to sound like a know-it-all smart ass, but the music industry is a very difficult and emotional place to work. Duty of care is an alien concept. In the pursuit of sales the body count is high. In 2015, Help Musicians commissioned the first global academic research into musicians and mental health, which was done in conjunction with the University of Westminster and MusicTank. This academic report looked at the whole gamut of health issues within the music industry. Through this report it became very obvious that mental health issues was a continuing growing issue in the music industry. Many organisations are now discussing ways of trying to end the stigma by encouraging musicians, and those in the industry, to come forward and talk about their challenges. This report highlighted that musicians are three times more likely to suffer from mental health issues, depression or anxiety than other professions. This is coupled with lack of sleep, poor and sporadic salaries, failed relationships, disrupted lifestyles, imposter syndrome and a whole gambit of other related issues. If you consider Paul Manning’s normalisation theory, as defined in his 2007 book ‘Drugs and Popular Culture’ to hold true (I do), then we also have to contend with the fact that the music industry is a place where drugs and alcohol are totally acceptable/encouraged. If we also factor in the psychoanalytical theory of Imago, we are in very dangerous territory. Chuck fought his demons courageously to the end with a great support network of family and friends around him. Addiction is a complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. He’d spent the last decade fighting very hard to maintain his sobriety. With such a strong personality, I am sure that Chuck’s cognitive dissonance kicked in hard one last time late last week.

As I read in the Brooklyn Vegan on Saturday, “We’re sharing the manner in which he passed, in the hopes that it might serve as a warning or wake up call or beacon to anyone else struggling to fight for sobriety. He is survived by long-term partner Pip Logan, two daughters, Erica and Sophie and his grandson Wolfgang Logan Mosley. The family will be accepting donations for funeral expenses.

Chuck1
Charley Henry Mosley III

I’ve read lots of press recently about the dangers of suicide in young male adults but I believe that there is another serious problem looming with the 50 to 60 years olds. Especially those from high profile careers in music, entertainment and sport; but that’s another blog post.

It was an absolute pleasuring knowing and working with you Charles Henry Mosley III, may you rest in peace.