The majority of those operating in the live music touring industry have always been in “the shadows”. Not just because they avoid being in the literal spotlight on stage and off, but also because of decades of a culture that has avoided being censused or registered in official categories of employment titles or roles. More or less from the origin of its independent contractor type work, nomadic global nature and inconsistent types of compensation. That culture no longer fits by definition of employment classifications and yet still remains largely the norm. It’s continued to operate “under the radar” from conventional employment over site despite record profits with were predicted to rival the sporting industry. All without ever having an HR department as a part of tour or available organization representatives like i.e Associations or Unions. There is little to no official classification of touring workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data. A large amount of those who tour without a being sent out from a company directly for Artist are …employees. Most of those who are in this industry fall largely out of collected labor statistics. Many touring personnel have even seemed to embrace these facts as a result of a job shrouded in mysterious circumstances, a fringe “cool” occupation and little public understanding.
Unfortunately as the current situation continues to shut down any moderate and all larger gatherings the industry has never needed more mainstream attention, public understanding, statistical information, data and support. Have we remained too long in “the shadows”? Have we made a mistake by not having our voice be heard and counted? Have we inadvertently made it difficult to be “seen” in this shutdown along with other industries in need? We will likely be amongst the last to get the all clear. Realistically, not until there is a vaccine, it seems will the touring industry return to “normal”.
But for now…
We need to walk amongst the rest of the world and be counted as an industry that needs to be quantified in order to be seen. In order to receive the help and support those who are in it need. We need to be recognized, counted, represented and supported as other major industry employees are. It’s difficult to get help when your type of employment or job title isn’t even selectable in scrolling forms or official categories for Unemployment, bank loans, tax filing etc. When there is no box to check off officially or even close then you likely just get lumped into a classification that is not doing the circumstances of touring employment justice or creating the understanding that it currently so desperately needs. It’s time to fix that before ‘putting the cart before the horse’ of doing unrealistic shows ASAP. How do we start…by building the foundation it has needed and deserves.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 Do, I Wanna Be Your Man, Back in the U.S.S.R, Birthday, I’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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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 guest lectures, seminars, workshops, master class, conferences and broadcasts, just drop me an email to Touringtim@aol.com
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.
I am available for lectures, seminars, workshops, master classes and broadcasts simply drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you.
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.
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.“
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.
I love the work I do so much that it doesn’t actually feel like work at all. My Linkedin page describes me as a “solution architect” and “knowledge broker” but that’s only a small part of what I do. As someone who has worked in the international music industry for the last 38 years, and the higher education creative arts sector for the last 24 years, I am required to solve problems on a regular basis. A few weeks ago I was involved in a meeting with a couple of high-ranking academic mangers from an international creative higher education institution. They had correctly identified that the traditional siloed approach to “teaching” the creative arts was not particularly productive, nor was it creative and that collaborative working between different creative disciplines was the way forward. Bravo, problem correctly identified but that is the easy part. Now comes the really hard part; how to make creative students from different siloed disciplines work in collaboration? A classic Vladimir Propp ‘dispatcher’ scenario instilled in me, now go forth and solve that problem.
I am a big believer that the most dangerous eight words in any institution, enterprise or organisation are, “we have always done it this way before”. So I find myself in a meeting of educators from various different creative disciplines, e.g. film, design, audio, games programming, etc. to solve the problem of how to initiate and foster greater collaboration between these creative silos. It immediately becomes apparent that it’s not only the students that are not working collaboratively but neither are the staff. Indeed each ‘department’ was more that happy to be working within their own discipline with hardly any positive noises been made by anyone in the room towards full and meaningful collaborative work. Creativity by its very nature is a deviance from those unquestioned norms. Having a position outside the mainstream can facilitate one’s questioning of accepted practices and everyday modes of thought. I was shocked that a room full of creative minds was so closed to change. Maybe it’s an age problem; I am a 54 year old who grew out of the post punk art school movement in the UK. Deviance comes as second nature to me. This is not the first time in my professional career that I had stumbled into what Irving Goffman (1957) termed the “total institution”.
I do not think that my learned colleagues had correctly diagnosed the problem. It’s virtually impossible to make students work on collaborative projects if the teaching staff can’t or won’t work collaboratively. In the same way that you can’t force people to love one another, you can’t force them to work collaboratively. The way to solve this problem is to get the teaching staff working collaboratively first; a classic case of some silo busting needs to be done. Traditional thinking here would suggest that a large open plan office housing the chalk face academic staff would result in collaborative approach. Not in this case. Each creative silo occupies one row each in a large open space. Just because a colleague sits within a PC’s throw away from the next, doesn’t mean they are going to talk to each other. Close proximity doesn’t generate productivity or collaboration nor is it conducive to creativity.
As a devout modernist you would think that I adore the concept of the open plan office. Ironically, it was a team of 1950s German modernists from Hamburg that conceived the open plan office to better facilitate communication and ideas flow. This new movement was termed Burolandschaft (office landscaping). But a growing body of evidence suggests that the standardisation of the open office undermines the purpose that it was designed to achieve. It’s my view that modern open plan office is a hegemonic device used to supress deviance and foster worker compliance. The problem here is that by its definition, great creative, collaborative work is by its very nature deviant in both form and content. It does not conform to established traditions in the field. Recent evidence published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology (Jungsoo. K, 2013) from a study of more than 40,000 workers in 300 U.S. office buildings, by far the most comprehensive research on this issue, came to the following conclusion, “Enclosed private offices clearly outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality), particularly in acoustics, privacy and the proxemics issues. Benefits of enhanced ‘ease of interaction’ were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration.” Research journals love to use jargon but don’t let the jargon confuse you. The term “proxemics issues” refers to how people feel uncomfortable when they’re forced into close proximity with other people. In this case all the creative academics are stabled in a huge open plan office that resembles a call centre sweatshop rather than a highly creative space of voluntary collaboration.
The big issue here is one of physical creative space. One of the most important ingredients for an effective collaborative circle is a magnet place such as a pub (I spent an awful lot of time in pubs in the 1980s and 90s “working”) these days its more likely to be a café/coffee shop, corner shop, or even a lawn or garden; so long as it’s a place where group members can freely come together with each other to discuss new ideas and to talk and argue (constructively) about their work. A second key ingredient is for group members to have time away from the mainstream, time to look at issues and ideas from new perspectives without mental or social pressure to conform to accepted norms and attitudes. In the words of the inventor of lateral thinking, Edward de Bono, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way”. The blunt tool of management dictates, “you will work in collaboration”, will never be effective here in a similar fashion to the fabulous dialogue from Dr Strangelove (1964), “Gentlemen you can’t fight in here, this is the War Room”. In 2011, organisational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. Davis found that although open-plan offices often fostered a positive symbolic sense of organisational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were extremely damaging to the inhabitant’s attention spans, productivity, satisfaction but most importantly their creative thinking. A more intelligent, less obvious, critical and creative approach needs to be taken here.
Last month saw Apple Inc. unveil two new sleek and very expensive iPhones in their brand new Steve Jobs Theatre, housed in the $6.2 AUS billon dollar campus Apple Park. According to the theatre’s architect, Stefan Behling of Foster and Partners, it is “a building which is pushing social behaviour in the way people work to new limits”. Behling identified that creative people work best in a space which is not a beige, standardised open plan office space. As discussed at the start of this article, Behling’s approach to design has its roots in Modernism. In 1896 the essay, The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered by the founding father of skyscrapers Louis Sullivan stated that the loftiness of skyscrapers is to be “on a high road to natural and satisfying art”. Just like other Modernist ideas such as Socialism, the building of utopia is great but it’s intrinsically difficult. People in general, and creative types specifically, do not enjoy collisions, or having their social behaviour pushed. You can lead a creative to another but you can’t force them to work together.
Revolutionary painter Henri Mattise once said “Creativity takes courage”. To go back to the original problem highlighted earlier in this article, rather than forcing creative people to work collaboratively why not manufacture the physical and social conditions conducive to creative collaborations? This requires a fundamental change to the working conditions at this institution. The big problem here is that they have just undertaken a very costly multi million-dollar campus renovation and my solution to this systemic issue is somewhat challenging (they often are). Despite all the investment, open plan offices invariably fall short of the mark because they negatively affect workers’ satisfaction with their physical environment and perceived productivity. The main complaints often include: noise and lack of privacy. Cramming people one on top of the other is probably the human equivalent of battery hens, the egg gets laid but the chickens are far from being happy. By my direct observations the desks in this institution’s open plan office are only occupied for a fraction of time each day. People turn up in the morning and use their desk to check email or more likely their social media and dump their personal artefacts. I would argue that a specific dedicated desk is not conducive to creative or collaborative working. Indeed, in this institution most collaboration takes place around the lunch table or in the tiny, uninspiring and unventilated kitchen.
Here’s my solution. Close the car park and give everyone an interest free 12-month loan to buy a bicycle. My premise here is the more you drive the less intelligent and more isolated you become. Allocate everyone a specific locker and make all desks, including managements’, ‘hot desks’. When staff arrive to work they can source a desk, if needed, but make sure all workspaces are connected either with a computer or capable of accommodating your own (BYO) devices. The apotheosis is “activity based working”, an approach pioneered in the mid 1990s by Dutch consulting firm Veldhoen. Rather than sitting in one space staff should move around different zones during the working day working normally, focusing quietly, or collaborating or even indulging in total isolation.
We also need to accept and understand that creative types don’t all exhibit the same behaviours or work in similar patters. Lets create better physical space to exploit this? Most creative collaboration requires constant moving from communal discussions to individual focus and back again. Kill the open place office and provide a variety of stimulating spaces that people will naturally gravitate to depending on their activity as opposed to their specific creative discipline. I call this activity based working. Rather than forcing creatives to work collaboratively let’s try to re-engineer human behaviours through inspiring work spaces. Forced marriages have been known to work occasionally but the best ones are where people meet and fall in love.
Now would be a fantastic time for institutions to stop using collaboration as the main driver for open-plan offices. Let’s be honest and realistic, although open-plan offices may have started out as well-intentioned Modernist collaborative experiment, these days they exist purely for economic reasons. It is far easier to cram twenty desks into a single space than construct some highly creative and stimulating creative paces. My main point here is that you cannot force collaboration onto anyone who doesn’t want to collaborate. Simply put, some individuals have their own style of “collaborating” and should be left to their own devices. My intuitive guess is if the teaching staff initiate collaborative projects of their own accord then student collaborative projects will follow. Unfortunately creativity and commerciality make for unhappy bedfellows and are always mutually exclusive. My ultimate solution for effective collaboration at higher education institutions is to devise a creative space that encourages and facilitates student and staff from all previously siloed disciplines to share, discuss, debate and collaborate on meaningful creative projects together.
I am available for guest lectures, workshops, master classes, conferences and panels; simply drop me a line with your request and I will get back to you.
DKHQ partner Tim Dalton has been working with the City of Melbourne to promote the city as a global destination for music education. One outcome of this collaboration was a promotion video featuring Tim Dalton.
Melbourne is a globally recognised music city and music education is a key element of the industry eco-system here. Melbourne has a range of education and training facilities to choose from. If you are keen to study music in Melbourne, but not sure which course is right for you, have a look at our latest video to see all that our city has to offer or drop me a line.
This video was produced by BENCU for City of Melbourne in partnership with The Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music – University of Melbourne, RMIT University, Collarts, Australian Institute of Music, SAE Creative Media Institute and Box Hill Institute.
Last Saturday, 16th April, was Record Store Day (RSD) and what a super successful event it was too. Over the last three years that I’ve been a RSD ambassador I’ve seen it go from strength to strength. The success of RSD has made me think about how we can move forward to develop a more sustainable local music ecosystem. In particular, I am keen to see small local music venues survive in what is increasingly becoming a hostile environment. Local music venues are under attack from all angles including, gentrification, urban planning, outdated laws and the general ongoing financial climate. Bodies such as Music Victoria have done amazing work in helping to keep grass roots music venues operational but as with all ecosystems some of the responsibility lies with us: the general public.
I’m old enough to remember the slogan ‘Home Taping is Killing Music’ with the logo of a cassette and cross-bones on record sleeves during the 1980s. The major record labels in the United States and the United Kingdom instigated this slogan to publicly confront and shame domestic consumers over the private copying of music onto blank cassette tapes. Industry trade groups, such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), mounted publicity campaigns aimed at combatting the practice of ‘home taping’. In addition to this sloganeering, they threatened to take legal action against home tapers, lobbied governments for new copyright legislation and tried to have a tax levied upon blank cassette tapes. The home taping of CD and vinyl recording onto blank tapes was publically condemned. Lots of people did it. I remember friends giving me their home-recorded tapes of popular music albums. This practice was labeled as piracy, even though private, non-commercial copying was predominantly legal in both the UK and USA.
In a significant precursor to the digital file-sharing battles of the 1990s and 2000s, fans and musicians widely objected to these attempts by trans national corporations at media control, often through highly creative responses. I would argue that downloading has pretty much killed tactile music sales, well almost. Thanks largely to the Internet, the music industry has been thrown into a state of flux and re-organisation. This new paradigm has resulted in artists at all stages of their careers becoming reliant on money from live shows to pay the bills and survive. Even international rock stars have mundane bills to pay too, from the mortgage to their beans on toast!
There’s only one problem and its a pretty big problem. Unless the artist is lucky enough to be ‘loved’ by a huge audience, playing the local enormo-dome with tickets selling at $200 plus, they will probably be found playing smaller grass roots music clubs across the country. It’s a fantastic circuit which both musicians and fans love. So how about we introduce a new slogan of ‘Not Buying Tickets In Advance Is Killing Live Music’? Through the creative deployment of this new slogan we could help keep music venues open. Walking up and paying on the door is par for the course for many fans of live music. Many local and regional acts can attract good numbers, even though they probably won’t sell out the venue. The problem here is that come the night of the show, if it’s raining or the punter just can’t get off the sofa, it’s easy not to bother showing up. If punters don’t walk though the doors then small promoters get nervous, chew their nails, panic and often they will cancel the gig if they don’t sell enough advanced tickets. It’s understandable for small venues which operate on very tight margins. If a small 200 capacity venue only sells 50 advanced tickets, you can fully understand why they get twitchy when they are committed to paying bar-staff, door personnel, technicians, turning the lights, AC/heating on and providing power for backline PA and lights. The break-even point in a 200 capacity venue is probably around 180 tickets; those last 20 ticket sales are the ones that make the show worthwhile.
I’m very lucky because I live in Melbourne one of world’s great music cities. According to the Live Music Census (2012) there are 62,000 gigs annually taking place in over 470 venues in the Greater Melbourne area with 14.4 million patron visits resulting in an industry worth $1.04 billion per year. Those figures are staggering, even more so when you consider that live music in Melbourne employs the equivalent of 116,000 full time jobs. To put then into some type of perspective the combined automotive engineering industry in Victoria only employs approx. 25,000 people. Without good governance, stringent financial management and our own active involvement, this fragile musical ecosystem could be eroded and eventually lost forever. One big irony is that prime TV talent shows have commoditised popular music to such an extent that many people will no longer venture outside of their front door to enjoy live music at a venue. The economic environment and the general tightening of the purse strings have all taken their toll on live music ticket sales. The big hangover from the above is that gig fans are being a bit choosier and many are not buying advance tickets for shows with a detrimental effect on live music venues.
The other casualties are full band shows. It’s no surprise that more artists are performing solo or with slimed down backing bands/tracks rather than with a full band. Fees have gone down in the last few years so it is much easier to take less risk with booking a solo performer. Fine for someone who plays and sings, but not so good for some artists with one string to their bow. Ultimately its the audience that suffers. While I love the intimacy of the solo gigs, you can’t beat rocking out to a complete band with a ‘full production’ show in an intimate venue.
It’s not just the small venues that tread a fine line, look at some of the medium and larger sized venues and to some extent the touring festivals in Melbourne. It’s very frustrating that increasingly, with each passing year, more and more people prefer to pay at the door rather than buy tickets in advance. The numbers end up the same in the end, but it puts the promoters under a great deal of financial pressure in the run up as they work out how many paying customers they need to break even or occasionally turn a profit. Buying a ticket in advance diminishes these financial worries and keeps venues open. If people bought tickets in advance there would be no need to run campaigns along the lines of ‘lets keep venue X open’.
My message is very simple. If you want to keep live music alive and kicking in small and medium sized venues, then you need to cough up for the ticket early and persuade a bunch of mates to go with you. You’ll have an amazing time, inject some much need cash into the local community, provide employment for all types of trades and help support the local music ecosystem. My very simple equation is thus Beer + Live Music + Friends = Good Times and if you don’t believe me then go out and test my theory. So if you see a gig you like, buy the ticket as far in advance as possible, otherwise it might not be on when you get there!
David Hepworth’s new book Never A Dull Moment claims that 1971 was the greatest year for popular music as it saw the release of more “monumental” albums than any year before or since. It’s an interesting claim and one that I will contest here. I also think it’s a really odd book title considering it’s the same as Rod Stewart’s superb 1972 album; why not give the book a namesake title from a “monumental” 1971 album? Granted 1971 saw an unprecedented number of album releases, but does that single metric make it the greatest album release year? Anyone who knows me will confirm that I love a good argument and so here it goes. Dave Hepworth is a fantastic music journalist but he got it completely wrong. His book should have been about the era from 1969 to 1981; the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll.
Taste is a very slippery concept as Immanuel Kant proposed in his 1790 Critique Of Judgement. Kant calls aesthetic judgments “judgments of taste” and remarks that, though they are based in an individual’s subjective feelings, they also claim universal validity. It could be claimed that Hepworth’s book is an attempt to canvass some form of universal acceptance; or he might just be trying to sell more books. The viewing of an art form is anything but a passive activity. Art should rouse us to an intellectual involvement with the world in which it was created. Good art results in a discourse and the better the art the more tumultuous that discourse should be.
Only last year (2015) I published my own book, Album Rescue Series, in which I tried to show some love to mistreated, misunderstood and underrated albums. On page 129 of this book, I rescue Jim Ford’s excellent 1969 Southern funky rumpus album Harlan County. During this album rescue, I argue that this album was largely overlooked because of the year of its release: 1969. Harlan County was probably the strangest but most compelling release of 1969, but what a year for popular music. 1969 was the launching pad for an era of unparalleled creativity in popular music the likes of which we’ll never see again. Hepworth’s identification of 1971 should not be viewed as an isolated year but as part of the twelve-year continuum of popular music’s most prolific era, which ran from 1969 to its sad demise in 1981.
During the 12 months of 1969 we see releases from Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline), The Beatles (Abbey Road), Tim Buckley (Blue Afternoon), Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin II), King Crimson (In The Court of King Crimson), The Who (Tommy), Captain Beefheart (Trout Mask Replica), Nick Drake (Pink Moon), Sly and the Family Stone (Stand), The Rolling Stones (Let It Bleed), The Band (The Band), The Stooges (The Stooges) and a host of other amazing albums. How on earth could Jim Ford, an unheard of artist from the back hills of Kentucky, with his unique blend of country, funk, soul and rock ‘n’ roll ever get noticed in the company of these esteemed artists? If you’ve never heard Harlan County then go out and buy this album and give it a spin; if you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back. I was seven years old for the majority of 1969, and didn’t turn eight until mid December, but all of these albums I distinctly remember. What I do remember is zeitgeist of 1969, the break up of The Beatles, the violent end of the peace and love generation presided over by Rolling Stones at Altamount and the white heat of new technology manifested by Neil Armstong standing on the moon. No wonder 1969 was such an epistemic year for popular music.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Hepworth when he cites some exquisite, delightful and ground-breaking albums of 1971. You cannot dispute Carole King (Tapestry), Badfinger (Straight Up), Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells A Story), Emerson Lake & Palmer (Pictures At An Exhibition), Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers), John Lennon (Imagine), Paul McCartney (Ram) and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass); all of which I play on a regular basis. Back in 1971 record sales were growing too fast for the record companies to exert any kind of meaningful creative control. They threw an awful lot of shit at the wall and hoped some of it would stick; not the type of approach prescribed in the business manuals that would follow in the 1980s. Amongst all this shit though were the shining diamonds of perfection as listed above. Back in 1971 the record business was in an unprecedented boom period, profits were good and re-investment in product development (A&R) at an all time high.
For the next decade the music would be good until it died at the end of 1981. Even as a musically precious nine/ten year old I remember 1971 very distinctly mainly because of the music which I was already showing signs of being obsessed with. During this era it was de-rigour for acts to be signed to two albums a year recording contracts, which meant they were all extra productive at their most creative age. Everybody played live all the time. Neil Young wrote and recorded Harvest while on the road during 1971 in locations as far apart as Barking, East London and Nashville. The classic T. Rex singles were recorded at stops on their 1971 American tour. Pink Floyd spent weekdays recording Meddle and weekends playing colleges. Nobody took months off. Nobody dared. During this era, popular music was getting serious and corporate. The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, was their first album under the distinctive tongue ‘corporate’ logo and released on their own ‘independent’ label. I would argue (I like arguing) that this Stones album was almost as notable for its cover as its content. 1971 was the year Brown Sugar, the last truly great Rolling Stones single (but that’s another article for another day), went to number one.
While discussing this article at work last week with my boss (Gareth) he made the point, and a good point it is too, that 1981 was probably the last truly great year for popular music. In terms of this article/blog I am prepared to state that 1981 is the end of rock ‘n’ rolls’ most creative and productive era. 1981 is an interesting time as Modernism is all but dead and post modernism has well and truly taken hold. Consider the albums that were released during 1981: The Rolling Stones (Tattoo You), Stevie Nicks (Bella Donna), Motorhead (No Sleep Till Hammersmith), U2 (October), Human League (Dare), Miles Davis (Directions), New Order (Movement), The Cure (Faith), Simple Minds (Fascination/Sister Feeling Call), The Psychedelic Furs (Talk Talk Talk) and The Police (Ghost In The Machine). In many ways these albums signal then end of rock ’n’ rolls creative and profitable golden years and signal the start of a new era; a new way of conducting business.
Behind the scenes the creative, maverick, iconoclastic and entrepreneurial music managers were been driven out by the faceless beige suited office drones, obsessed by spread sheets and quadrant charts. By 1981, Thatcherism was starting to make its presence felt in the UK; the good times for a whole host of traditional industries was well and truly over. In the same year, Ronald Regan came to power in the USA. Between Regan and Thatcher, the traditional Anglo American power base of popular music was well and truly under attack from monetarism. How can any creative endeavour survive when it’s exposed to monetarism’s money growth rule? 1981 was the end of making lots of great records and the start of making a small number of profitable records. In a head on fight between creativity and commerciality, the one with the muscles is always going to win.
I hate to end this piece with such a downbeat message so here is some good news. Head down to your independent local record store as every album listed above will be for sale. Have a listen to these albums and test my argument. Record Store Day happens on Saturday 16th April this year, so why not head out on this special day and treat yourself to a classic piece of music. Not only will your purchase make you smile for many years to come but you will also have supported a local independent business and that’s a good thing. In the words of Mott The Hoople’s 1974 hit The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll
The golden age of rock ‘n’ roll will never die
As long as children feel the need to laugh and cry
Dont wanna smash, want a smash sensation
Dont wanna wreck, just recreation
Dont wanna fight, but if you turn us down
Were gonna turn you around, gonna mess with the sound
Ohh, ohh, ohh
Its good for body, its good for your soul
Ohh, ohh, ohh
Its the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll