Ritchie Blackmore – 10 of the best

The Guardian have just published my piece on Ritchie Blackmore for their “10 of the best” series.

Like some of my previous entries in this series, reducing the essence of a major artist’s career down to just ten songs is never easy. As on my earlier Black Sabbath piece I wanted to avoid a list containing ten obvious standards and nothing else, so I missed out very well-known songs such as “Smoke on the Water” to make room for a couple of lesser known and often overlooked gems.

There were a few songs that picked themselves. “Eyes of the World” was one of those songs that changed my life, so it had to be there. Likewise, the towering “Stargazer” could not be omitted. I did consider including representatives from his 1960s session work, and from the more recent Blackmores Night so as to cover his entire career. But in the end I decided to focus entirely on his prime years from 1970 to 1984.

Quite a few of the alternative suggestions in the comments did actually appear in earlier drafts of my list, including “Child in Time” which I eventually left out in place of “Speed King”, and the live version of “Catch the Rainbow” which one commenter described as the nearest thing rock guitar ever came to Coltraine.

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Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

A comment left against this Guardian review suggested that late 1960s was an unrepeatable golden age of music. Some conversations I’ve had with people a few years older or younger than me in the bar before gigs makes me question such thoughts. I came of age at the end of the 1970s, missing the likes of Gabriel-era Genesis, or Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple in their prime. People old enough to see those acts the first time around talk of the bands they themselves missed, like Jimi Hendrix or Cream. And people just a little younger than me regret not having been around for Pink Floyd performing The Wall, the heyday of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Thin Lizzy with Phil Lynott, Rory Gallagher, or Iron Maiden fronted by Paul Di’Anno.

Just like it’s often said that the golden age of science-fiction is 12, the golden age of popular music is the era for which you were born five years too late.

We mythologise the past too much. It’s true that some genres rose and fell, peaking at particular times, and if you’re a big fan of that genre it’s going to colour things. And it’s probably true the early 70s were a good time for coherent albums, while the singles charts were far more interesting in the early 80s than they had been a few years earlier. But the “year when rock died” always seems to whatever time the writer married, had kids and got boring. It’s easy to paint any era of popular music as a golden age by cherry-picking the best stuff, ignoring the fact that much of it was way off the mainstream radar at the time, while ignoring all the popular but ephemeral dross which was so forgettable nobody can actually remember any of it.

There is so much great music around today that’s just a mouse click away, in every genre you can possibly imagine, that you can make a strong argument that we’re living in golden age today. So what if a lot of the mainstream is formulaic sausage-factory stuff that won’t pass the test of time? It was just the same in 1967, 1973, 1977 or 1985.

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It’s a shame almost all news sites need “promoted links” to sleazy cynical bottom-feeding clickbait garbage to remain viable. They lower the tone of every site, and actually clicking on one is like stepping in a dog turd in the street and treading it into the carpet. The economics of the web is broken.

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The Legality of Ripping CDs

So the High Court has jusr overturned the previous government decision that it was legal to copy your own CDs for personal use, such as ripping them onto your iPod or phone. Musician Ben Bell, for one, is not impressed

As a consumer I feel this is far from fair, but as a musician I am absolutely livid.

If, as a consumer, I have bought music I feel I have paid my dues and should be allowed to listen to it how I please. It is clear what my expectation is: I am buying the music in order to listen to it. I am not buying it in order to listen to it on a specific device, I am paying for the right to listen to your music. Any claim that I should be required to pay again if I wish to listen to the same music digitally, or to have the convenience of not carrying it back and forth between my house and car, is purely a cynical attempt to over-complicate things with the sole purpose of wringing extra money out of what is in reality a very simple transaction.

But presumably as a musician, I see the other side of this? Well actually no, not at all. It’s as a musician that this particularly angers me.

This is petty, wrong-headed and self-defeating stuff by the music industry and the Musicians’ Union should be ashamed of themselves for being part of it.

He’s right, of course. The idea that people copying music from legally-purchased CDs on to other devices represents lost sales of paid downloads is coming from the same place as the claims we used to hear that illegal downloading represented lost revenue greater than the entire GDP of the nation. Which is clearly utter nonsense.

The whole thing is a cynical exercise in corporate rent-seeking, seeking levies on hard disks and music players to recover this “lost” 58 million pounds that doesn’t actually exist outside the imaginations of record company bean-counters.

It’s difficult to believe that anyone in their right mind would attempt to enforce this. Not even Lars Ulrich would be stupid enough to piss off their own paying customrs in that way. Any musician with the remotest of clues ought to understand that their ability to earn revenue from music is totally dependent on the continued goodwill of their audience.

Of course, given the way people listen to music nowadays, if everyone was really prevented from copying the contents of CDs to other formats, what would actually happen would be the complete collapse of the CD market as anyone still paying for music would just buy downloads.

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The case against Tim Hunt unravels.

Along with an awful lot of other people, I owe Sir Tim Hunt an apology. I’d previously said he was guilty of misjudged tone-deaf comments that, while not a sacking offense, were deserving of ridicule. Now it’s looking as though the accusations against him were false. He’s been completely exonerated by Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society. As reported in The Times.

Connie St Louis, the journalist who gave her version of Sir Tim’s toast, to a lunch for women in science last month, described the horror with which his demeaning of women in science was received. “There was a deathly silence,” she said. “Nobody was laughing . . . these guys are incredibly upset. And so after he’d finished, there was just this deathly, deathly silence.”

That did sound bad. And Ms St Louis drove home her point on BBC television. “It was a room of about a hundred people.” she said. “Nobody was laughing . . . everybody was stony-faced.”

That would rightly cause a storm if any of it were true. Except it wasn’t. As more evidence has come to light it’s become clear that no only were Sir Tim Hunt’s comments taken so out of context that their meaning was completely reversed, but the “deathly, deathly silence” was completely false.

While we’re seeing a lot of justified criticism of Twitter mobs made up of people who didn’t bother to check facts before piling in on an issue that fits their chosen narrative, I think a lot of Tim Hunt’s early accusers deserve some slack. The initial accusation came from someone holding the post of Professor of Science Journalism at City University in London, who ought to have been a reputable source. The fact that this person behaved in the manner that resembles the amoral hacks from celebrity gossip scandal sheets does leave City University with serious questions to answer.

These sorts of public witch-hunts achieve nothing when it comes to reducing the amount of sexism and racism in the world. If anything they have the opposite effect, by empowering the worst bigots on the opposing side. Look how Requires Hate has boosted the standing of Vox Day. I do sometimes hear the argument that it’s necessary to destroy the careers and reputations of innocent people “‘pour encourager les autres”, but I for one utterly reject that as totalitarian garbage.

It’s not about justice, it’s about power.

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Gawker are the Requires Hate of media. As part of the bottom-feeding gutter press of the internet, they’re abusive sociopaths whose progressive politics they wear on their sleeves is a sham.  Just like Requires Hate, they appropriate social justice rhetoric for entirely cynical self-serving ends.

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Why I voted for Tim Farron

So Tim Farron has been elected as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, and the long and difficult job of rebuilding the party following the catastrophic near wipeout in the last general election begins.

There’s a massive contrast between the Liberal Democrat leadership election and that of the Labour Party. The refrain we kept hearing from both Tim Farron’s and Norman Lamb’s supporters was “Both of them would make excellent leaders but our candidate will be better”. Compare that with Labour’s “The party is doomed if that other candidate wins”. The Liberal Democrats, unlike Labour, do have a clear vision of what sort of party they want to be.

It was a difficult choice between two very good candidates, but in the end I voted for Tim Farron. One deciding issue for me was his faith. There were one or two dark whispers early on in the campaign that his Anglican faith made him unfit for leadership of a party devoted to liberal values. For me the very idea that religion is a relic from a superstitious past that must be purged from public life is a profoundly illiberal concept.

The last Parliament saw the historic equal marriage act, which represented an unprecedented liberal shift in the Overton Window. But since then there have been situations that have bought the gay community into conflict with conservative religious groups. The extent to which different communities should have the right to express their own identity and the extent to which they should be required to respect one another’s spaces isn’t as clear cut as some people would make out. Would not somebody who is both a committed Liberal and a Christian be in a better position to recognise where the boundaries lie?

We live in a time when large parts of the left have fallen into a dangerous authoritarianism for whom a vaguely-defined freedom from offence trumps freedom of speech, and sometimes competing sectarianisms seek to drive each other from the public square. A party committed to liberal values must oppose these sorts of zero-sum identity politics, and prevent the right from positioning themselves as the sole champions of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Sometimes it is the liberal thing to defend an unpopular minority against the tyranny of the majority.

So, congratulations for Tim Farron as the newly-elected leader of the Liberal Democrats. It’s a long and difficult road ahead for the party, but he is the right person to lead the party along it.

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A Model For Streaming?

Fair StreamingAnil Prasad of Innerviews has written a follow-up to his earlier “Self-Destruct Button” piece and concludes that A Fair Music Streaming Model is Possible.

He makes the point that the 10-quid-a-month streaming model is only viable for those who can take advantage of scale. It can work for the Taylor Swifts, Kanye Wests and Muses of the world because of their vast audiences. It can work for the major record labels because of the vast back catalogues of music they’re sitting on, music that has long since earned back its production and promotion costs, much of it from pre-internet years. In both cases, all those tiny fractions of pence per stream add up.

But for new music in niche genres it doesn’t work and cannot replace paid downloads or physical product as a source of revenue. But there is another way, and involves artists and labels outside the major label system opting out of Big Music’s streaming and setting up their own alternative.

Mendelson has come up with the following model for a fair streaming service, involving 90% of all revenue going to either the artist or indie label:

The first listen to all tracks is always free of charge. The second listen, and any listen thereafter, is paid for in one of the following ways, with the listener choosing to:

Rent the track for one play for 10 cents, much like putting a dime in a jukebox.

Buy the track for $1, which then makes it possible to both download it, as well as stream it forever at no additional cost.

Stream the entire service’s catalog for a subscription fee, but at a much higher price point than Big Music — potentially $40–60 a month. Remember, the goal is to ensure the artists and labels get adequately paid. The $10 per-month charged by Apple Music and Spotify will never, ever lead to meaningful compensation for musicians.

I’m sceptical that there are that many hardcore music fans willing to pay fifty quid a month for streaming alone, especially if things become balkanised with multiple competing services each offtering overlapping but incomplete catalogues. But I’m willing to be proved wrong on this. There also might be space for intermediate teirs; how much per month might people be willing to pay to be able to stream the entire catalogue of a specific label, for example?

As for the number of free streams, the price per stream thereafter or the price per download, perhaps that’s something for the artists or labels to decide rather than a one-size-fits-all model defined by the streaming service? Different genres of music appeal to different age groups with different amounts of spare case and different levels of artist loyalty.

Another issue concerns independent artists who were once signed to major labels. There are bands like Marillion who once saw major success (“And now you’re touring stadium, you let it go too far“), then reinvented themselves once they’d fallen off the mainstream radar and been dropped by the major label. Others released one or two major label albums that flopped my major label standards, but still gathered a big enough fanbase to sustain themselves as independent artists.  Fans of those acts would expect to find their entire works in one place rather than have to go back to Spotiplay for their early albums. But would the majors want to play ball, or would they consider a streaming service geared towards the needs of independent artists a threat to their own business models?

But in the end, something along the lines of Anil Prasad’s proposal needs to happen if we want to continue having a vibrant and diverse music scene.

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Zero She Flies – The River

Zero She Flies, the band formerly known as Mermaid Kiss, follow up their earlier single “Small Mercies” with the four-track EP “The River”, available today as a download from Bandcamp.

The EP features a number of guest musicans including Panic Room’s Jon Edwards alongside the core quartet of Maria Milewska, Jamie Field, Wendy Marks and Shane Webb. More detail including full credits and lyrics can be found on the band’s website.

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The Fierce and The Dead announce Magnet

TFATD - Magnet The Fierce and the Dead have just announced on Twitter that they will be taking pre-ordered for a new EP, titled “Magnet” this coming Friday, July 17th.

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