Monday, September 23, 2013

“He asked to see my door, but I wouldn't show it to him…”

I am pleased to announce that after a long period of simply going up to people and asking if I can play at their pub, showcase, campfire, party and/or Christening, I now have representation.  Henceforth my musical affairs will be handled by James at Blue House Music, who has offered very reasonable terms under which, basing a projection of next year’s earnings on my turnover for the fiscal year to date, he already owes me thirty five quid.
Obviously we haven’t actually signed anything legally binding as we’re not the sort of people who rely on such things, preferring as we do a manly handshake, an almost imperceptible inclination of the head and a knowing tap of the nose. We had a pretty similar arrangement with High Barn Records around the time of the release of Songs from The Blue House’s album Tree, when we were advised that they would rather not be involved with the sort of people who insisted on ephemera like contracts. Nevertheless they got us on to Amazon, iTunes, the HMV website and into a movie soundtrack and so in the long term I’m not complaining that I haven’t been able to research my royalty rate at Companies House, and the £4.86 I got from the PRS came in pretty handy that time I was on my way to Subway and was out of loose change.
I’m no stranger to contractual wrangles, of course. My nascent career with Heavy Big Popsters As Is didn’t necessarily founder on our insistence on haggling with a big-shot American agent over a clause regarding image rights, but it didn’t seem to help seal the deal at all. I guess when your day job had been producing Winkler-centric sitcom Happy Days, dealing with the contractual minutæ raised by a bunch of mulletheads over in Blighty must have seemed like pretty small potatoes by comparison. Our heroic manager, who’d secured the offer in the first place, was informed in fairly short order that we’d better sign up as it stood or forget it, and consign our chances of getting our leather jackets placed in The Smithsonian* to the trash. And he'd had to pay a lawyer to explain what image rights were in the first place.
In the end, aside from the legalities which bound us to our manager (and he to us) one contract I did manage to sign during my time in the self-professed purveyors of Loud Love Songs was for the publishing rights for a single song in the territories of French-speaking Benelux and Switzerland, which sounds like a pretty market-specific sort of deal until you realise that these were the only parts of Europe a friend of his who'd agreed to drop off some copies of our single at whatever radio stations he passed during the course of the trip was going to be visiting. I’m not sure we had that much of an impact on the Swiss charts at the time, and I’m certainly not aware of any residual royalties having built up over the intervening years but of course if you’d like me to come to your pub/showcase night/campfire/party/Christening  and play “(I Want to) Move (In With You)” – double parentheses please – then I’d be only too pleased to.
Speak to my agent.
*The original jacket worn by The Fonz in the TV series is now in a museum.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

“My hand to God, she's gonna be at Carnegie Hall. But you - I'll let you have her now at the old price, OK?

Word reaches me (over a nice Marlborough Sauvignon blanc in my back garden actually) that Our Glorious Leader has expanded his portfolio of obligation into the Agency business. In short, as well as booking turns into his own evenings, arranging intimate soirees live in The Oak Room at The Sun in Dedham, doing sound at Little Rabbit Barn and popping the odd passing singer-songwriter into a bistro in Coggeshall on the off-chance of a hat tip and a plate of free hors d’oeuvres, he is adopting a stable of thoroughbred performers of Top Quality Americana and Modern Folk and trying to persuade other people to book them too. I think I’ve got that right. It sounds like an awful lot of hard work to me - sort of like an A&R role, but without the mounds of cocaine and lavish after-BRITs parties.
When bands get bored with each other, the set list, the venues they’re playing on a Sisyphean loop or even the charm of the miss-teatime-get-back-late-eat-a-Ginsters-on-the-way-home lifestyle, or they simply outgrow the childish things that first led them into being in a band in the first place (like the chance to miss tea, stay up late and eat Ginsters on the way home, ironically) it’s often the singer who diversifies into alternate arenas of expression first. Since drummers spend a lot of awful time hitting things and adjusting cymbal stands prior to gigs, guitarists like to warm up by playing all the licks they’re not allowed to include in the set proper and bass players can’t usually be trusted with electricity, singers also tend to know which end to plug in the microphones, which gives them an extra edge in the utility stakes après group hiatus. A friend of mine ended up doing the sound for a Saturday morning kids TV pop show from just such a career start point (learning in the process just how high the number of incidences of sore throats occurring between Friday’s rehearsal and Saturday’s broadcast can be, which is why for all his faults I retain a soft spot for Housewives Mum’s favourite Ronan Keating, who makes a point of delivering the goods live every time).

Frequently it’s their PA anyway, since they’ve grown tired of flirting with acute pharyngitis by trying to make themselves heard over the throaty roar of the guitarist’s backline and they’ve bought some decent gear to replace the cobbled-together collection of stands and wedges that have accumulated over time. They also tend to build up an informal network of people who similarly need such a capability but who gig so infrequently that it’s not worth them buying their own. They sometimes flirt with them, too. After that it's all “Are there any other good places to play around here?” or simply “Are there any places to play around here?” and the mid set “You should learn…” turns into the after show “You should book…” and before you know it you’re paying the hire fee on a church hall out of your own pocket, panicking about the late walk-up, trying to find the one duff channel on the multicore which has wiped out the stereo monitor feed, isolating the earth buzz that’s threatening to derail the whole sound check and wondering where on earth you’re going to get quail’s eggs for Boo Hewerdine’s backstage rider.
There’s also a down side.

By the way, you can see what he’s up to at

Monday, September 02, 2013

I Don't Get Around Much Any More

I received a telephone call from Our Glorious Leader on Saturday, welcome not least because any call from him usually presages larks and adventures to some degree, but especially on this occasion because it turned out that he had about a hundred CDs for me to sign as part of the successful Kickstarter-led release of the fifth Songs from The Blue House album, ‘Live’. We had always intended the fifth of our releases to be recorded in front of an audience as this would mean that we could give it a suitably packaged title to follow our sophomore* effort Too, which was in turn followed by Tree and then IV. At one point we discussed presenting the CD in a small fruit container to emphasise that the title was a small play on words, or ‘punnet’. Why my career in marketing hasn’t blazed like a comet across the firmament is a mystery to me, it really is.  
I listened to it in the car this morning, and it really is a thing of wonder. I’m as much a fan of the band as I am a member and although I’m not suggesting this is our Rock of Ages (the last time we made a reference to The Band a kindly reviewer helpfully pointed out that we were ‘deluded’) there are real moments of clarity when the realisation that we didn’t just write these songs, but that we lived them cuts like a knife. Breaking These Rocks is a genuine commentary on (then) current affairs which goes where hard science can’t, Song V is a true story set in root-fifth Cinemascope, counterpart Song III is a three act Linklater screenplay performed in four and a half minutes. Of course there is shade at the heart of the performance in that although we’re not quite at the stage of being "Hilton Valentine’s Animals", over the course of a decade there will inevitably be some comings and goings – of the original line up Jimmy quit for one, and then Jody got married – and that the performance we recorded was actually the launch gig for our previous album gives some clue as to the recent slackening off in our work rate.
As fascinating to me as its parent album is the associated outtakes and rarities collection** put together as one of the packages we hoped to entice our online benefactors with. There is our very first demo version of Bike – sounding pretty much the same as the version that kicks off the live album. There’s the version of Fairport Convention’s Rosie which we put together for Ces, that brace of psych-folk Beatles reworkings, Gibbon’s close harmony-led gospel version of When God Created Angels, the instrumental from our Steely Dan period that we never got round to finding lyrics for, the one that, conversely, we had two fully formed sets of words to decide between, the Judas Priest cover.
As I say, we didn’t just record this music, we lived it, and there’s a side to me which is gets more melancholy by each day that it looks increasingly like we won’t be living it again any time soon. Mind you, one guy did pick up the House Concert option on Kickstarter. He’s asked if we can do it at his place in the South of France…                      
You can find our music at  
*Annoying, isn’t it?
**I’m fully aware that in terms of our commercial profile, pretty much everything we’ve ever released is a rarity.