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Art for art’s sake

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 18th May 2017

I hope in the coming months Edinburgh Council looks at its attitude to the arts and who is being reached. Very much as has happened in music where an awful lot of people have been lost somewhere between the banality of Ed Sheeran and the weird cool hipster stuff, the same seems to have happened in the arts in general.

Now with music nobody is quite sure how many people are actually lost to music and how many are simply streaming but given there are figures for these things there is still no doubt that the middle ground does not fare well.

Undoubtedly nostalgia is playing a big part in music these days but recently I’ve been exposed to Capital Radio and Mr Ed Sheeran more than I’m happy with after being in my daughter’s car and I’ve realised that even Ed’s songs are often nostalgic and the man is only 26!

 Now of course there will always be a place for the left field whether that is in the visual arts, writing or music but the argument often used that this leads to more accessible “art” is overplayed and never more so than in the world of fashion.
 
All this brings me yet again to the current generation just discovering all these things for the first time. Maybe there needs to be lessons in the schools!

Cool or interesting places are closing down all over the world and understandably they often hide behind other issues when the number one problem is simply people not supporting in sufficient numbers.

It has always been the way that as folk got older and jobs and families started to become a priority that nights out and even Saturday record shop trips became less frequent.

However, there was always a new crop of keen teenagers and students ready to fill the gap and that is what has not happened now for over a decade.

With the surprising departure of Richard Lewis as the convener for culture and sport we will need to see who takes over the role but while other arts bodies spend tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds on events attended by fewer people than a busy football match the council is in a position, both because of the buildings it owns and the funding it has, to make a real difference.

Who would have thought vinyl and physical books would still be doing so well so maybe it is too soon to give up on younger generations getting back into high street shopping and going out at night. What we do need to do is make those experiences more pleasurable and of course for a place like Edinburgh with so many visitors that can only be something that improves the overall vibe of the city.

My daytime viewing tells me that vintage is very “on trend”, though personally I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t. Edinburgh could do vintage so well and while the council’s last attempt was a bit of a damp squib the potential is huge, especially at Christmas when those stalls could be so much more interesting.

For some “art for art’s sake” is the usual English rendering of a French slogan from the early 19th century –“l’art pour l’art” – and expresses a philosophy that the intrinsic value of art, and the only “true” art, is divorced from any didactic, moral, or utilitarian function. For others it is a 10cc song.

Both answers are equally valid and sometimes the arts community and its funders need to be reminded of that !

 

Poster is a stick-on for exhibition

There has been a great response to Liam Rudden’s recent piece in the paper on the Scottish music exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery in June and while this is just a taster for bigger things to come there will still be a fantastic selection of memorabilia on show some never seen before and others that have been tucked away for thirty years or more.

Some may remember the demise of the Picture House being delayed when councillors heard that David Bowie had played there. While it wasn’t enough to save it in the end only this week a friend and Bowie fan got in touch to offer the original poster.

Still very much looking for more things and while all eras are welcome the sixties and early seventies are proving the hardest to find material from. Any old posters, tickets or photos along with anything else would be great. Items can be donated or loaned.

Vinyl collections are also sought for possible display but also for sale and I’m very happy to buy in collections small and large. I can be contacted on kevinavalanche@hotmail.com or anything of interest can be brought along to the Fruitmarket Gallery when the exhibition is on from June 16-18. Visit http://www.fruitmarket.co.uk/event/exhibition-fun-town/ for more details.

http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/opinion/kevin-buckle-art-for-art-s-sake-1-4447999

Albums stilll a worthy benchmark for bands

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 11th May 2017

After last week’s nod to music nostalgia it seemed only fair to focus on the current crop of bands this week and of course by the end of the month we will know which artists have made the longlist for the Scottish Album of the Year award.

Tactical voting by the smaller genres always sees them well represented while the small indie band vote tends to be split with the result that there are always a few worthy bands that don’t make the cut. However there is a list available on the award’s website of all the eligible bands and it is well worth spending some time familiarising yourself with the albums listed.

Avalanche stalwarts King Creosote, Kid Canaveral, Malcom Middleton, Meursault and Mogwai all have albums included as do new kids on the block Modern Studies even if its members aren’t exactly new to Avalanche. Proving that you don’t have to begin with K or M Frightened Rabbit, RM Hubbert, Randolph’s Leap, Rick Redbeard and PAWS are also among this year’s contenders and suffice to say there are many more worth a listen too.

With over 260 albums to choose from you won’t get through them all in one sitting but you are certain to find a few new favourites if you persevere.
 
The longlist of 20 albums is announced on Wednesday, May 24, at the 02ABC Glasgow when both Avalanche favourites Admiral Fallow and Steve Mason will be playing.

Quite whether the amount of money spent on the award is justified given in year’s gone by it has had a fairly limited reach outwith Scotland is another matter but you can only hope that whoever wins this year is an artist that wil have a wider appeal. In many awards these days there does seem to be a certain desire to be a litle leftfield and a little quirky and the good old indie band gets passed over no matter how deserving they might be.

Some might argue that the album as a format is no longer relevant for how an artist should be judged but I think for now it is still the aim of every self-respecting band to release an album even if that is only digitally so the album as a format will be a benchmark for some time to come.

Moving forward what is left of the Scottish music industry needs to look at how it can help bands break out from what is often a very small circle of fans and while the philosophy these days is to make as much money from your superfans as possible not only do most bands have very few superfans indeed beyond their mums and girlfriends/boyfriends but they also cannot make the kind of money from these fans that bigger bands do with their expensive “bundles”. I know of no band who would rather have 50 high-spending superfans than 500 loyal fans spending less. I get in trouble for saying it but most bands these days are simply not good enough at a time when music vies for attention with other things far more than it did in the “good old days”. Songs like Into The Valley, Chelsea Girl, Sorry For Laughing, Candyskin, Safety Net and many others still stand the test of time. Albums like Psychocandy and The Midnight Organ Fight should be how new bands judge themselves.

Being lazily alt-rock, shoegaze or indie folk is just not acceptable for young bands while artists like Filthy Tongues and Emma Pollock are still producing great work well into their careers.

Quite why things are like this nobody seems to be quite sure but one argument that certainly rings true is that “the kids” don’t hang around in cool bars any more forming bands. It was interesting to hear on the Big Gold Dream documentary that they hung around in record shops to meet like-minded people.

It reminded me of the Icelandic artist Benni Hem Hem. Already well known in his own country, he arrived in Scotland wanting to meet other musicians. His plan was simple – he just stood around in Avalanche’s Cockburn Street shop on a busy Saturday afternoon chatting to other musicians and that night went to a “cool” gig. By Monday he had a new circle of friends. In the middle of the week he returned saying he was amazed how easy it was to meet folk here in Edinburgh.

Social media and streaming films and programmes has a lot to answer for !

http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/opinion/kevin-buckle-albums-stilll-a-worthy-benchmark-for-bands-1-4441880

The Skids are alright after 40-year history

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 4th May 2017

As the Skids embark on the first dates of their UK 40th anniversary tour this week, arriving in Edinburgh tomorrow, it is fitting that I have spent the last week speaking to an array of journalists, photographers, promoters and musicians in preparation for the History of Scottish Music Centre’s first exhibition in June at the Fruitmarket Gallery.

Folk could not have been more helpful and every contact recommends more people who may have their own archive or story to tell. Some are still based in Edinburgh or Glasgow but no matter where people are in the world now they are keen to help and get involved.

Anyway more of this another time. Fast forward to today – see what I did there? – and Skids are back to remind everybody that Fife produced its fair share of bands during that time if not a stand out label. Having said that one of the best fanzines of the time Deadbeat was based there.

If you haven’t got a ticket for the Edinburgh gig I’m afraid it is sold out though it never does any harm to check with the venue, the Liquid Room. As I type this there are only a few tickets left for their other imminent Scottish gigs.

Not everybody would agree but by the high standards of the past things are fairly quiet for new Scottish bands at the moment and it is to be hoped that when the time comes, as it inevitably will, we still have the venues and the ability to make the most of it.

The Skids play in Scotland at PJ Molloys, Dunfermline, tonight; the Liquid Room in Edinburgh tomorrow; ABC, Glasgow, 6 May; Montrose Town Hall, 29 June; Glen Pavilion, Dunfermline, 30 June; Inverness Ironworks, 4 October and Beat Generator, Dundee, 5 October as part of a 30 date UK tour.

 

Where is our city’s Hydro?

According to Wikipedia the SSE Hydro handled 751,487 ticket sales in 2016, making it the eighth-busiest music arena in the world in terms of ticket sales. While I personally would not enjoy seeing any artist in an arena of that size – the Hydro holds 13,000 – there is no doubt that the citizens of Edinburgh would very much like to see an arena with that capacity be built.

I’m not sure exactly where would be the best place for such a building and while nobody would suggest Edinburgh Council should be too involved in such a venture I do think it would be wise for the council to actively encourage it and, assuming it can be agreed on what it looks like, give the good folk of Edinburgh something they actually want.

We must try to make gigs a real goer in Capital

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 27th April 2017

I attended the meeting last Thursday morning at the Usher Hall to discuss whether Edinburgh needed a music champion. The general opinion was that while it was probably a good idea it would be too much for one person to take on and certainly it would need financial support from several sectors.

The other phrase used was “night mayor” but in my mind those two titles are a little different. A music champion would encompass more than just being involved in the night life of the city and promote Edinburgh as a destination for those interested in music.

Now of course, given all the recent closures of music venues, this might be a hard one to pull off. T in the Park organisers only this week pointed out how younger folk’s attitude to attending festivals has changed. As I said only recently “the kids” don’t find the back rooms of pubs cool any more and neither it seems do they wish to stand in a field with a warm pint.

The thing here is whether if venues did appear that should appeal to younger gig goers whether they would actually vote with their feet and turn up or simply just like the gig on Facebook and then stay at home. I honestly don’t know whether it would make a difference or not but it is something that I feel should be given a chance.

Edinburgh has never been short of arty little hipster gatherings but to continue with the hipster theme you can appeal to “the mainstream” without that meaning Ed Sheeran and that is what is currently lacking. I’m well aware it won’t be easy. This is not just about the venues but attracting the artists to play them, which I’m told is not easy these days either. However, I think for a city of Edinburgh’s size and reputation we have to try.

xxx

Citadel gives us food for thought

Thursday was a long day for me as after being at the Usher Hall in the morning I stayed in Edinburgh and went to the Boots For Dancing/ Buckley’s Chance gig that night at the Voodoo Rooms with all profits going to the Citadel Youth Centre in Leith.

A lot of familiar faces from the Scottish post-punk scene we hear so much about these days were in attendance and indeed Malcolm Ross is a member of Buckley’s Chance with his wife Syuzen Buckley providing the vocals.

Their country leanings aren’t normally my thing but they were very good indeed. I was particularly taken with the drummer who with his red shirt could happily have graced a Kraftwerk tribute band and managed to adopt a series of poses that only added to the entertainment.

Boots For Dancing were of course their usual excellent selves and a good night was certainly had by all. Earlier, while consuming a tasty gourmet beef burger at the Voodoo Rooms bar I’d met Willy Barr (pictured), the manager of the Citadel Youth Centre and he was understandably very grateful for all the support that had been shown. You can find out more about the centre and how to support them on their website http://www.citadelyouthcentre.org.uk/

http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/opinion/kevin-buckle-how-do-we-get-the-tourists-we-actually-want-1-4430107

When music was the only fun in town

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 20th April 2017

It was great to finally get to see the much anticipated Big Gold Dream on Saturday when it received its first national showing on the BBC. Even at 90 minutes it was never going to be able to fit everything in from what is now known as post-punk but it did a good job telling the story of Edinburgh’s Fast Product and Glasgow’s Postcard Records.

As somebody old enough to have been there at the time I never remember the phrase post-punk being one we used but it certainly defines a period now that was after punk but before indie labels really came to the fore.

In fact the claim that indie labels first started in Scotland, influencing those that followed such as Factory, was made well and while Bob Last and Hilary Morrison were both there to tell the story of starting Fast, even without the enigmatic Alan Horne – the label supremo at Postcard and founder along with Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins and David McClymont – there was enough, including stories from David himself, to give a real feel for how things started.

While other bands like The Associates were mentioned there should at least maybe have been a nod to bands like Simple Minds and Skids, though as I say in the time they had there was never going to be a definitive version covering all bases.

The follow up Teenage Superstars, covering the mid to late-80s, is again looking promising featuring as it will the Shop Assistants, The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and labels like 53rd & 3rd and Creation.

The recent Lost in France film covered the early days of Chemikal Underground in the mid- to late-90s and again featured some great names in The Delgados, Arab Strap, Franz Ferdinand and Mogwai among others. Possibly there is one more to be made, Fence Records – The Movie, for the late-90s and noughties. However, I doubt there will be another documentary or film made about more recent times.

Obviously there have been several great bands since then and a few good labels but there has never been quite the same scene again. The Scottish music industry should consider just leaving young folk these days to get on with things and maybe what would come out might be more interesting than the rather regimented scenes we have now.

Then again maybe now that there are so many music schools and courses that just didn’t exist all those years ago we will never see a “scene” anywhere again. I’m sure there will be many who will point to all sorts of things as disproving this but really it is because they do not understand how things were in those earlier times. I say all this as an outsider who simply went to gigs and was no part of that inner sanctum in the late-70s but there was undeniably a feeling that things were exciting though, as I’ve said many times since, we never realised that some of the gigs would with hindsight be seen as very special indeed.

Of course what the documentary did bring home to me was the scale of what I’m trying to achieve with the History of Scottish Music Centre. Covering over 50 years and many genres, I was always aware of the enormity of the task but the one consolation I have is that I will be able to constantly add and adjust as time goes on.

Lots of news to come soon on the centre’s first exhibition but for now I can highly recommend watching Big Gold Dream on the BBC’s iPlayer and buying the Lost in France DVD.

As for all that “things were better in the old days” stuff. Maybe that’s just the ramblings of an older middle-aged man. On the other hand it is very noticeable that so many of the band members from all those eras if not the labels are still around making music. Maybe that is the problem. Scotland is now full of good music and there isn’t space for any more as those of us old enough to still buy music stick with what we know.

http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/entertainment/kevin-buckle-when-music-was-the-only-fun-in-town-1-4423121

Record Store Day – clue is in the name

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 13th April 2017

As a founder member of Record Store Day I remember well the initial hopes we all had for what it might achieve. It is important to remember exactly what the circumstances were ten years ago. Internet sales were really starting to kick in and it wasn’t just a case of dealing with the likes of Amazon who weren’t paying VAT but others had set up, some shops that had closed, and were selling from their living rooms, garages and for the bigger enterprises industrial units.

At that time artists and labels selling directly was not much of an issue and vinyl for many independent shops was still selling if not in the numbers it had done previously. Indie shops down south were not so keen on vinyl albums but there was still a market for limited edition 7”s.

In the US shops had come together in 2007 to try to highlight the great work independent record shops did on the high street, especially when it came to new artists. In the UK’s first year in 2008 there was no product but a few indie’s pulled together to put on in-stores and promotions. In the US there were 10 special releases!

By 2009 the UK finally had physical releases and a nice touch for Avalanche was a Tom Waits 7” whih included a performance  of “Bottom of the World” recorded at his Edinburgh Playhouse gig the previous year.

HMV and Amazon were all powerful and would tolerate indie shops being given limited vinyl, a format they no longer cared for or supported, but at the same time many indie shops wanted limited CDs and the more specialist dance and folk shops wanted releases more in keeping with their regular stock. With every shop entitled to at least one of every release it quickly ended up with specialist dance shops having a very limited Blur 7”. Not ideal!

At this point the emphasis was still on promoting indie shops on the high street selling mostly “indie” music. There was a criteria for shops being involved and they had to sell music as the majority of their business. Online businesses were not allowed and indeed it was an unhappy compromise that Record Store Day stock was sold at all online but very early on shops had complained that post Record Store Day stock they were left with was slow to sell in their shops.

Second hand shops which had often sold some new CDs, especially as reissues, showed no interest in participating as they rarely dealt with most of the record companies. To this day, while you will see many shops involved who are essentially second hand shops who sell some reissued vinyl and the odd “indies only” new release, Edinburgh’s long established shops Vinyl Villains, Record Shak, Hog’s Head, Backbeat, Elvis Shakespeare and Unknown Pleasures all leave the day to the shops it was intended for which is to their credit.

From now on though sadly the message would start to be lost. With more and more releases and a gullible public prepared to pay the prices involved, dictated I should say by labels and record companies not the shops, others started to jump on the bandwagon. Possibly even worse the core message that this was a day to celebrate independent high street record shops was lost to the “vinyl revival” and suporting vinyl.

At the same time the big independent labels became less and less supportive and in fact this year with a couple of exceptions twenty of the biggest indie labels contribute only a dozen releases between them.

So now Record Store Day is what it is. Around 500 releases of mostly old reissues, many at eye watering prices, and sold in industrial estates, coffee shops and in one case somebody’s garden shed! A week later online mayhem ensues as people who have not bothered to visit a nearby shop buy online when these days virtually everybody has a store not too far away.

Two things that really sum up where Record Store Day is pitched now are the announcement that Elton John is the first Record Store Day legend and the Star Wars Crosley record player. Elton may be a legend but that didn’t stop his reissued vinyl being sold on PledgeMusic which doesn’t do shops any favours. That the albums in question can be bought in any used store at a fraction of the new reissued vinyl price also raises the old argument about albums being needlessly reissued and clogging up the manfacturing cycle.

As for the Crosley record player I’ve never seen a good review from any serious publication and if it was just poor sound that would be one thing but it seems to be generally agreed that the player actually damages your records because of the weighting. Like so much vinyl these days the new  Star Wars version may never be used and simply kept on display but it really feels out of place when looking back at what Record Store Day was meant to be about.

Clearly it would be unrealistic to not have expected things to have gradually changed over the last ten years but truth is what was a very well intentioned idea has become commercialised and distorted to a point where it is unrecognisable fron those early years.

It is not about the major record companies taking over as some say. Universal Music, the biggest of them all, were suportive from the start and have always done their best to provide a selection of releases. Meanwhile some of the small indie labels just see it now as a chance to sell stuff they could not shift any other time. The shops too are a mixed bunch of the truly heroic battling against overwhelming odds and those who are just chancers happy to ride the bandwagon.

Support high street record shops, support new music and if possible support new music in high street record shops. So many of Avalanche’s old customers recall great memories of having been in the shop, sometimes decades later. I seriously doubt anybody will have fond memories of their internet buys.

 

 

Scotland’s thriving pop-punk scene

After previous pop-punk recommendations I again stumbled across another band simply because I saw they liked a tweet about Avalanche favourites Withered Hand. Paper Rifles “It Always Rains in Scotland” is a great song and by no means their only one.

You can listen to more on their bandcamp page https://paper-rifles.bandcamp.com/  and all proceeds go to the Scottish Association for Mental Health. A much wiser investment than a dodgy Record Store Day single !

Throughout the arts the obsession is with funding

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 6th April 2017

Much as I have recently banged the drum for popular music being taken seriously as part of the arts and receiving funding that acknowledges that I’ve had a couple of conversations of late with folk older and far wise than myself who made a very good case as to why allocating funds in all walks of life has to be completely revamped.

These were people old enough to remember when there was no lottery funding and yet the arts still flourished and in fact some would say things were a lot healthier.

Even I’m old enough to remember when it cost £6,000 to make an album. A band had to go into a recording studio and that wasn’t cheap. There was no viable home recording equipment then. If lucky a friend might be a graphic designer but I can remember from the Avalanche label in the 80s and 90s the perils of not getting the artwork quite right.

Then with CDs you had to make a thousand and at very best would break even on your overall outlay. Four guys in a band would do part time bar jobs and work in restaurants on top of their day jobs just to raise that £1,500 each to go into the recording studio. Now of course things are so much easier and though it is no doubt harder to get people interested in new music despite the wonders of the internet there is still a real lack of urgency these days in most bands promotion of their music.

As I’ve discovered throughout the arts the obsession is with funding and the one thing funding is not based on is whether something is a good idea or whether “the art” is any good. Obviously there will always be a problem with subjectivity but now so many other factors come into play from what region you are in to whether you are considered to be from a minority group that should be supported.

What is not allowed for now is how rapidly information and education has become available to just about everybody via the internet. If some clever sod quotes from John Fowles and I don’t know who he is it takes me seconds to look him up on Wikipedia and find out he was “an English novelist of international stature, critically positioned between modernism and postmodernism.” You will need that later!

Now when I was a kid in the sixties I would have looked that up in the twelve volume Encyclopaedia Britannica we had and if not there it would be a trip to the library. We didn’t even have a phone so there was no “phone a friend option” either.

There are many quotes about how important culture is to society and they are not wrong. The thing is that knowledge to a large extent is now available to anybody who searches it out for free while for instance our National Health Service can only need more money as we all live longer and the costs associated with that escalate.    

What these wise older folk were saying is that society needs to completely overhaul the way it looks at allocating  funding of all types and from all sources be that to health, education, housing, the arts or all the other areas that receive monies in one way or another. The reasoning behind this reallocation would be based on the very sensible premise that the internet and technology in general have made our lives a lot easier in some areas and has put a strain on other areas. Reallocating funds to match this can only make sense.

In conversation with a staunch supporter of the old Royal High School and all the associated buildings and views I put it to him that never mind a hotel being built either side if for some reason the demolition of the school facilitated  a state of the art cancer ward the bulldozers would be on Calton Hill tomorrow and nobody would object. He agreed.

So maybe the argument is not popular music versus the visual arts but whether all that arts funding is really the best use of the limited resources we have. That is not to diminish the importance of the arts but to accept they have benefited in a way other areas haven’t from these technological times we live in.

So much money is ring fenced as having to be spent in one way or another and maybe it is time to question that. Places like libraries can reinvent themselves and that is to be commended but there are too many areas still where people are simply protecting their own interests, and to be fair their jobs, when all common sense says the money they are receiving would be used better elsewhere.

 

 

 

No matter how hard I try to make serious points on twitter I have to face the fact that what people want are funny cartoons preferably about vinyl with the odd video thrown in for good measure.

This week’s cartoons based on a collector’s obsession with a slightly darker orange on the label of his record and a young boy in hospital being given vinyl by his nurse were popular but nothing matched a wonderful video created by Gabriel Magallon two years ago that resurfaced after Dave’s Records in Chicago posted it one morning in my timeline.

“The Addams Family dancing Blitzgrieg Bop by the Ramones” is all you need to know and it is well worth a couple of minutes of your time. https://vimeo.com/131936997

 

 

Great to see Saint Jude’s Infirmary are back with a new song “Towards The Great Tomorrow”. Introduced on social media with the John Fowles line “Sometimes to return is a vulgarity” the band’s return after a long hiatus is welcome indeed.

With an album finished and currently being mastered hopefully it won’t be too long before it sees the light of day. I might be wrong but being true to their old indie roots I’m guessing they won’t be selling signed test pressings at ridiculous prices or offering a bundle of a t-shirt, vinyl and cassette.

I know they’ve been away a while but Grant was even talking of releasing a single from the album. It doesn’t get any more old skool than that!

History of Scottish Music Centre @ Fruitmarket Gallery

 

Very pleased to announce the History of Scottish Music Centre will have its own room at the Fruitmarket Gallery 16th -18th June as part of an exciting week they have planned. Very grateful to the gallery for the chance to show what can be done and there will be lots of events all during the week to coincide.

Lots more news soon both about the HoSMC exhibition and all the other events planned for the week.

Damage and joy divide shops, artists and labels

When downloads first became a factor the worry was not that album sales would be reduced just that physical sales would drop dramatically. Downloads were a great boon for record companies as they had no physical cost, there was no need to guess manufacturing numbers and there were no delivery costs. Soon the worry became illegal downloads and for a while they were considered a serious issue but now it has to be faced that youngsters simply don’t listen to albums like folk used to but even that doesn’t explain just how far album sales have fallen.

No doubt there are older customers who would buy an album but allow them to stream for free and they no longer feel the need to physically own an album enough to fork out hard cash. So where are we now ? At the very top the figures are still massive. Ed Sheeran’s new album is already well over the million and showing no sign of stopping. This week it sold another 100K. To put that in perspective new releases this week from Jamiroquai sold 22K and Goldfrapp sold just under 12K. An even closer comparison is the figures for the new James Blunt album which sold 24K on release two weeks ago and then another 7K this week, the sort of figures Ed manages on a busy day in the supermarkets.

And there is part of the answer to how these huge figures are achieved. Obviously James Blunt is available in supermarkets too but artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele rack up massive sales in supermarkets and continue to do so week after week another factor as even artists who achieve decent sales in the first week to their dedicated fans often see sales drop off dramatically.

So how are things lower down the food chain ? Well in the 80s and 90s when a big indie band signed to a major the expectation was that their album would sell at least 20K to 30K, might easily reach 50K and on occasion would become a big hit and do far better. Now of course older “big” bands don’t need a major label and will on most occasions have a two pronged plan. First of all they will target their hardcore fan base or the superfans as PledeMusic call them and then they will hope that casual fans will buy from HMV and Amazon. They may indeed use Pledge or do it themselves via a platform that specialises in pre-sells.

A decade or so it became a commercial fact that it was easier to help a successful band on the wane target their fans than to break a new band. Email lists and the internet were a godsend to these bands. From then on the writing was on the wall for new artists trying to break through to an audience beyond their hometown.

Given all that it is stil hard to explain why bands who can easily sell out big venues on an extensive UK tour wil regularly only sell around 5K of a new album and sometimes leas than a thousand. Yes people are going to the gigs for all the old hits but even so ….

A typical example is the new Jesus and Mary Chain album. They sold their album directly to fans including the usual bundles. These bundles matter because it means that the registered sales are inflated as one custoner buying a t-shirt/vinyl/cassette package will count twice and maybe they’ll splash out and buy a signed white label and count three times. There were 286 Mary Chain cassettes sold but you can guarantee most were sold as part of a bundle. Similarly those very limited signed white labels at £60 each were not that limited with 85 sold just in the UK never mind worldwide.

The majority of the limited “indies only” orange vinyl were unsurprisingly also sold by the band with shops running out almost immediately. The total sales were just over 6K with a further 1.2K sold the next week. It is impossible to say how well it sold in indie shops because the band’s figures are included but these days it is standard for bands and their labels to sell more than all the 300+ indie shops together. For a label like Domino this applies from the Arctic Monkeys down to an artist like Julia Holter. While her recent album sold 554 on release the indies only coloured vinyl from Domino came with 2 x Polaroid studio session photographs and an exclusive facsimile of Julia’s handwritten liner notes and sold 89 copies in the UK. Indie shops sold 81 of their colured vinyl version.

These are of course UK sales and again labels and bands often sell more abroad of limited editions than they do in the UK depending on the artist’s internatinal profile. This regularly leaves indie shops with a limited edition that yes you can’t get in HMV or from Amazon but one that they have to hope fans don’t realise comes with further extras from the artist or label. Sometimes the indies don’t even get a chance as happened with the recent British Sea Rower 4xCD box set which was only available from the band.

Lesser known bands on big indie labels are selling 200 to 300 so you can imagine where that leaves small bands. There are other factors that also distort sales figures the most obvious being that artists may well achieve reasonable sales in London by doing an in-store but that makes regional sales even lower. All the figures given out are massively distorted by a few artists selling vast quantities and mostly in supermarkets. Most established artists be it James Blunt or the Mary Chain can rely on touring and associated merchandise but how new bands can be promoted to a largely indiferent public is something the music industry doesn’t seem to want to address. 

Don’t let Glasgow get a piece of Cake Shop

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 30th March 2017

Edinburgh venues were certainly in the news last week as it was announced that cult New York venue Cake Shop was actively looking to open in Edinburgh in the same week Electric Circus was to close.

I had, of course, mentioned in a previous column that with ties to Scotland I had heard of interest from the bar/café/venue Cake Shop now they had finally been priced out of their home of 11 years in the Lower East Side, but it was still a surprise when Nick Bodor, who ran Cake Shop with his wife Judy and brother Andy, got in touch to ask if I could help them look for somewhere in Edinburgh.

One thing that is obvious, but I had never really given great consideration to, was that for a venue to simply put on gigs and do nothing else it needs not just people willing to come out on a rainy Tuesday night but a supply of bands to play that simply isn’t there anymore.

Clubs are at least regular but then they often eat into the time available for gigs, with many gigs particularly at weekends having a 10pm finish.

Places like Cab Vol and La Belle Angele have filled up their day time with everything from dance classes to life drawing but venues are sometimes a victim of their own fame and people tend to think of them only as a place to go to at night.

Even a well known venue just being open as a bar serving food during the day can not necessarily transfer the busy nights into equally busy days. Even on my rare trips to London I’m always amazed at how quiet cool pubs that are also well known venues can be during the day.

In this regard Cake Shop would come to Edinburgh with a distinct advantage. Those who know its reputation would consider it a place they would be as likely to visit during the day as at night and those that are unaware of its worldwide reputation will not have that expectation that it is just a place to go to at night and also give it a chance.

That isn’t to say it wouldn’t face all the problems others face these days of getting people out at night and away from their TV screens and once out actually spending enough money to pay the many overheads. Folk are so obsessed with their phones and being online now that whether they are making a coffee last for hours during the day or nursing a drink at night it seems to be forgotten that providing people with a place to eat, drink, meet friends and maybe see a band does not come cheap.

With an international reputation it would certainly be a destination for tourists though they have always prided themselves on being a neighbourhood bar for locals so hopefully they would get a good mix of folk. Luckily they have even more strings to their bow. Comedy nights also became very popular at Cake Shop NYC and artists were encouraged to get involved too.

Most of all what I think gives them such a good chance of making things work over here is that they are very hands-on and incredibly enthusiastic. They have no expectation that things will be easy but they are confident that with all they have to offer they will compliment what Edinburgh has already and let’s face it that is getting less and less on almost a monthly basis.

They always said they would never get rich doing Cake Shop but it was something Nick, Judy and Andy all loved as did so many of those who visited the place. Such is their reputation that they have not been short of offers from those wanting them to get involved in other projects and it really would certainly help if they received some encouragement to come to Edinburgh.

What worries me most is summed up in an enquiry I had yesterday. “Would they consider coming to Glasgow”. Don’t let that happen Edinburgh!

 

Money’s too tight to mention for music backer

I hear Edinburgh may be getting its own Music Champion, which, approached correctly, could be a very good idea indeed. My biggest concern is that even when Edinburgh council do embrace an issue they move at a pace that is so slow that events are almost guaranteed to overtake it.

A couple of times recently when dealing with the council they have genuinely considered two years to be nothing in “council time”, which is odd given a council’s own lifespan. Edinburgh needs to meet all the issues being faced by venues and the wider music industry head on and we can only hope that after the May elections these issues are given some priority given that there are of course more serious matters to be dealt with too.

Speaking of music champions, it is obvious that both classical music and the visual arts have their sponsors and benefactors and by coincidence, recently a couple of people have asked the question “where are the financial champions” for popular music, given how much money big pop stars make. Now I’m not exactly sure who they were thinking of and really should have thought to ask, but though I can see their point, while there is a history of wealthy families supporting the arts, there is little evidence of those artists that have made their fortunes directly putting their money back into helping others get started.

Don’t get me wrong, many do a lot of charitable work and of course there is a mountain of lottery funding aimed at young people already, but the simple stuff like a big band keeping their local record shop or venue going is not something I can ever remember coming across.

Maybe this is something that could be a UK thing. Bands could apply to the Radiohead Foundation for help or God help us, maybe one day there will be an Ed Sheeran school for buskers. Still not sure who they were thinking of for Scotland. Maybe they were counting Rod Stewart!