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Tec9-56a7d6793df78cf77299cb0fI’m not really sure that the title works for this article but I just like it as a pun* and that is all that matters in the grand scream…I mean scheme of things. Perhaps it says something about ambition, how success starts off small, maybe it alludes to word of mouth promotion and the like. If so great. If not, so what. As Shakespeare said “the pun’s the thing…” it’s just a shame later editors tinkered about so much its his literary Danish pastry and left out his best jokes. Anyway, to horse…

So today’s subject is written music promotion, something which forms a fair chunk of my work, though not so much at the moment with gigs grounded and all musicians having been sent to their room, but in normal times a large portion of my day is spent making bands sound good, writing about gigs, selling tours, devising press releases, conducting interviews and generally wrapping a few more sets of ears around the music and band at hand.

One of the smaller avenues I use for this is via fiverr, a piece-work platform where people can buy your services a job at a time. It is via such sites as this that bands purchase either promotional reviews (ie writing which reads like a review but is essentially positive) or general press release writing and the like.

Of late there has been a real change in the nature of the work there. A year or so ago most people contacting me would be asking for something that they can link to their website, re-post, gather pull quotes from, a word salad which bigs them up, and so I would  listen, scribble, post, job done. What has been interesting, and perhaps worrying, is that much of these jobs coming in of late are people asking something along the same lines…”can you make my video go viral?”

The simple answer is, No! For a start that is digital marketing, I’m an old-school writer. Secondly, surely the job of the artist is to write the best song that they can and let it sell itself rather than throw together any old dross and let the marketing department hoodwink people into believing that they can’t live without it? Obviously I explain that such jobs are not my area, though what I really want to say is “Viral? You’ll be lucky if the rest of your family even want to listen to that.” But it pays to be professional.

I will add at this point that a large majority of the music taking this line is from the US, is generally rap or trap or R’n’B or something related , auto-tuned to hell, uses the same skittering drum patterns and out of a box electronica and usually starts with either “uhh uhh,” “yeah” or a reminder of the name of the artist as we are now 4 seconds into the song and you might have forgotten already.

So, when and why did we turn that corner? Is fame more important that creativity? Cash more sought after than integrity? Surely if you answered yes to the last two questions you should be working in banking or used car sales rather than music?

I know I’m a dinosaur, I know I am a typist in a video age, a quill flicker in the twittersphere, an alchemist in a quantum world but surely the basic concepts remain true. Write a great song and given the right support, paid PR or otherwise, it will find its audience. Write an off-the-shelf, piece of unoriginality, loaded with cliche and expletives if you like but don’t be surprised if a year later you are still working behind the counter at Whole Foods.

I think it was Confucius who so aptly summed this up when he said “You can’t polish a turd.” Wise words sir, wise words.

*not to mention references to both The Icicle Works and Manic Street Preachers.

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largeHe doesn’t do things by halves does that Mr Lawton. Whilst most other musicians are using the current restrictions to add half-baked covers of songs I never really liked in the first place to the ubiquitous flotsam and jetsam that is modern, on-line music, he has  contributed something truly original, truly necessary and perhaps more importantly, totally beautiful! And perhaps it is the last quality which is the most important of all.

The concept is simple. He has taken powerful and poignant pieces of spoken word prose and poetry and wrapped gorgeous, meditative sounds around them using lilting and eloquent piano, and occasionally the chiming exotic sounds of the hang drum. Though, upon reflection, the concept is cleverer than it at first seems and in many ways it speaks of these difficult times in volumes directly inverse to the gentle understatements of the music itself. It speaks about finding archipelagos of tranquility in these mad moments, it speaks about what we have lost as well as what we have found in our new situations. It talks of the beauty that can be found in isolation and the price of freedom, it underlines our new found appreciation in simple pleasures and asks us to reflect on things that we may have taken for granted. It provides refuges of calm in a mad world, peace in the eye of a storm.

When this is over and we are all taking about how we used our lockdown, many can rightly claim that they used their time wisely, started new creative projects, caught up on reading, perhaps found the time to return to a passion from their formative years. Some may only have binge watched boxed sets and grown a beard. Few will be able to say that they created something of intoxicating beauty, something that hopefully helped those around him find a moment of retreat, to recharge and return to the fight refreshed. I know one man who will be able to say that he did something that worthy.

https://willlawton.hearnow.com

a1075299197_10The man himself describes this little side-project from his usual musical activities, using the wonderfully self-deprecating words, “ mid-life crisis.” If it is, he should have more. Many more. And before you all get up in arms defending his long and admirable back catalogue and dedication to the ska-wars and the ongoing reggae rebellion, I’m taking nothing away from any of that, niche scenes need their heroes and he has always been that to the music he loves and champions. Maybe it is because I am less knowledgable about the genre but that I did grow up with the two-tone movement as part of my formative years. Maybe it is because I don’t really like music which sticks to the rules too much but favour the things which happen where demarcations blur, where sounds meet, where genres gene-splice with each other. Maybe it is just that, for whatever reason there is something in the more drifting and hazy sounds found here, a sort of reggae yet otherworldly vibe, that appeals to my sensibilities. Maybe I should just stop trying to analyse the reasons and just revel in the music.

And it is an album full of revelatory music indeed. And it is perhaps the least typical track that I am drawn to most, (Like a Reflection on) The Liffey is both an unusual title, more in keeping with a Dublin pub lock-in, folk-jam band, traditional classic than an upbeat, yet hazy slice of dream-ska (more of which later.) I think I used a similar term when talking about Subject A  which perhaps shows where my tastes lie. Imagine A. R. Kane or The Veldt getting their reggae groove on and you’ll get an idea of the sort of thing that I am talking about. If not, just play the album.

Name on a Page is a gorgeous piece of nostalgic reflection where again the styles spill-over to embrace each other, reggae and indie, pop and dance all swirling around into the most wonderful of sound clashes, a place where genres collide and new sounds are born.

But the album also wanders some more familiar territory too and Windrush is both a powerful piece of reggae, one armed with easy pop sensibilities and a glorious swagger, and a poignant piece of lyrical documentary, not least through its beguiling spoken word play-out. There is also some wonderful reappropriating going on too, Bridge of Tears and That London Winter being originally songs penned by Eddie McLachlan for a folk album but proving that not only that a good song is a good song no matter which genre or style it takes as its musical vehicle but also reminding us how much music has its roots in the movement of people in search of a new life.

Interval is a great album, one which knows very much where it comes from but which seems even more interested in where it is going. It’s all very well giving people what they want, but that will only get you so far and only keep the listener’s interest for so long. Here Erin does that most clever of things and gives the listener what they didn’t realise they wanted and does so in such a unique way that they it is difficult to think that anyone will ever tire of this wonderful hybrid of sounds.

imageWriting for a living throws up an odd dichotomy. On the one hand writing is at its best when it is left to go where it will, when you can let the pen guide you and take you places you might not have thought about visiting, like an endless train journey with each daily destination chosen at random. On the other, you need to earn money and so have to be discipline enough to follow a, sometimes very precise, brief.

The middle ground, however, is an interesting place. It is the middle ground where I do most of my writing, which these days generally falls into one of three areas. Music, travel and games, all of which, to some degree or another, allow you to build worlds in which your writing can flourish.

Music is easy, you are guided by the sonics but the interpretation of the music is the key and it is when you look for context in which to set the music that you find yourself building small scenes and scenarios to explain it, real or imagined. You can find new angles of attack and new arguments to make. After all, no one wants to just read a lame journalistic description of the music…and anyway, no-one has been dull enough to do that outside local journalism since 1987. A music review should be used to call the tribes together, to share the passion, to connect with like minded souls, a literary stone dropped into the still waters to ripple outwards, it should also tell the reader just why they need this record, how it will change their life, what the artist was trying to do, even if said artist didn’t realise that was what they were trying to do. Why you can not live without this album in your life! That’s the bottom line.

Also, any review containing the word Beatle-esque should be burned immediately…even if you are reading it on your lap top.
Travel writing might take place in the real world but it can heighten the focus of your attention to otherworldly altitudes. I was recently commissioned to write a series of articles designed to promote various locations in Montenegro to the western tourist. The resulting pieces were a cross between a TV travel show and a field guide to the less mystical parts of Middle Earth. Why describe and dictate when you can amuse and amaze?

Games writing is the best. When someone says to me, I have built these games mechanics for my RPG (sadly most are just re-inventions of the D&D wheel) but need someone to flesh out the world it is set in, my eyes…and occasionally my bank balance…light up. It’s like writing the background to your own novel without having to worry about a convincing plot line. I get to literally build worlds –  describe cities, explain the history of the place, set up backstories and complex political relationships, invent religions, evolve new races and fallen gods, narrate past wars and conflicts set to happen, travel the oceans and climb mountains. And with the next job I get to clean the slate and build a different one.

I think what I am saying is that even piece-work such as mine can revel in the extraordinary…if I get it right at least, words can build worlds. That’s a t-shirt slogan right there.

vinyls1My first reaction to people nominating each other to post their top ten influential albums  lists was to run a mile. It is just my default setting. If something is popular I will run away, watch it from a distance, prod it, examine it, gradually testing the water until I decide if it is really for me or not. Generally the answer is not. It is a safety measure, probably an elitist one, but I can live with that. It is why I have plenty of Lilac Time records in my collection and no Foo Fighters, it is also why I can’t name you a single Kardashian…Kod, Klap….Klimt? It is also probably why I am single! Ahh well.

Then I thought, but if I were at the pub I would be leaning on the bar talking to someone in a band T-shirt about why The Smiths wouldn’t have existed without The Church or just how underrated Mazzy Star are…or some such precocious twaddle, so why not this, why not encourage virtual debate about our mutual record collections. If I crack open a beer and put some music which sounds like it was made by someone in a plaid shirt or, depending on who is working, a Finnish indie-electro-pop outfit,  I could almost be in The Tuppenny.

There is also the “Whatever gets you through the night” approach. I’m lucky, I’m a hermit most of the time, sitting at my keyboard writing, content in my own company and happy to be left alone, I have books, wine, cheese, music and sci-fi movies, why would I need people. But most are more social than me and it must be hard going from a 9 to 5 environment into weeks of lockdown, so if such interactions help take the edge off, who am I to judge?

So I did it, I posted, I debated, I engaged, I made puns, I had fun…I hung out with my mates.

Then I realised that I had totally switched camps…perhaps if more people’s opinions were less entrenched and fluid enough to move with their experiences in a fast changing world, it might be a less hostile place, but that is a bigger debate for another time. Yes, I switched camps…totally, now I get more annoyed by people who actively post to the detriment of such activities, belittling those who take part as being “self-important” or congratulating themselves for being humble enough to not to engage, in that way that only passive-aggressive, self-aggrandising, narcissists can. Look at me…don’t look at me!

It then made me consider the modern notion that we like to define ourselves  more by what we don’t like …Coldplay, sun-dried tomatoes, Dan Brown scribblings (guilty but….no, actually, just guilty) TV soaps, rather than the things we are truly passionate about…The Waterboys, Eggs Benedict, China Mieville novels, Black Books. Maybe it isn’t a modern concept, I’m picturing two Roman legionaries slagging off their commanding officers Galea for the amount of product he uses in the horse-hair plume.

So, what am I saying…nothing really. Perhaps, be more positive, let people get through this any way that they can, support your friends, support total strangers, give each other space, celebrate the good, don’t fret the small stuff…and to quote a wiser and more successful man than me…be more kind.

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95370883_1067013857032287_3974979364725981184_o1. Never follow an artist who describes his or her work as ‘dark’.
2. The second-last song on every album is the weakest.
3. Great bands tend to look alike.
4. Being a rock star is a 24-hour-a-day job.
5. The band with the most tattoos has the worst songs.
6. No band does anything new on stage after the first 20 minutes.
7. The guitarist who changes guitars on stage after every third number is showing you his guitar collection.
8. Every great artist hides behind their manager.
9. Great bands don’t have members making solo albums.
10. The three-piece band is the purest form of rock and roll expression.

a4252499987_10(When you get to know about a dream-pop band in Tel Aviv because you chatted to the singer in a Philly based garage band, you know the world is a wonderfully small place, at least culturally and creatively speaking.)

I guess the art of making music which falls into the loose and broad realms of dream-pop is getting the balance between blissful transience and an engaging structure just right. Wander too far one way and you are into formless ambience, head towards the other extreme and you end up making washy dance music. It’s about tethering the music just enough so that you have a structure which serves as a place to hang all of your other sonic ideas from. And that is exactly what Screens 4 Eyes manage to do on this latest single.

For the majority of the song a confident yet spacious beat and a grumbling bass line act as the musical spine grounding it and providing a central flame for all of the other sonic moths to flit and flap around. Around this central pulse they weave hazy, half-heard vocals, shimmering synth washes and chiming musical motifs. The result is a song which drives hard when it needs to and floats and fades when the mood takes it.

Screens 4 Eyes has a wonderful track record of walking this middle ground, this place where indie cool and cinematic ambience, free floating musical forms and almost dance inspired background grooves all collide. The band may occasionally wander around the sonic playgrounds once inhabited by the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Dead Can Dance and The Cocteau Twins but rather than revel in past glories it prefers to paint a picture of the musical future. Or one particular possible version of it at least. And that future looks…well, hazy! Wonderfully so.

2478105220_91eb47aeb1_zI had to make a supply run today, something that used to seem like an everyday chore but which has now take on the frisson of a covert black ops mission. Never has buying wholemeal bread and toilet roll felt so exhilarating.

On the way home I cut across a small area of grass, too small to be a park really, just a green space designed to allow a bit of breathing room amongst the rows of terraced streets and railway era semi-‘s. When I first moved to the area, on sunny days such as today, the place would have been full of the local Asian kids, I live in an area with a modest proportion of Goan families, playing cricket and volleyball which was kind of cool to see.

Over the years the nature of the space changed and the place seem to become the bastion of grey looking people in JD sportswear, swigging out of cans of cheap, strong lager and spitting and cackling like well-cooked pork crackling. Then I started noticing needles lying around the place, smashed bottles, crumpled cans and all the other detritus of lost days. Then I stopped cutting through the area altogether and instead walked the longer way around to get back home.

I walked through today though, assuming that it would be empty, and it was. But the space had changed again. With its upkeep now being of low priority for the council teams, presumably, it had gone a bit wild. The normally clipped grass was a lush ankle high sea, dotted with yellow dandelions and white daisies. Cow parsley clumps and clusters of nettle had taken root and various other species which would normally be classed as “weed” where reshaping, recolouring, reclaiming the area. It was glorious.

There is a lot of debate about wild spaces in urban environments these days, I have to admit I don’t know enough about the subject to have an opinion one way of the other (stop press: man on internet saying that he doesn’t have an opinion about something stuns nation!) but I do know that it was nice to spend even those few, fleeting minutes there.