Music Blog

All the music-related posts gathered together in one place.

Chantel McGregor announces new album Lose Control

Chantel McGregor has announced her long-awaited second album “Lose Control”, released in October

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Chantel McGregor will release her highly anticipated new album, Lose Control, on Friday 9th October 2015 on her independent boutique label Tis Rock Music. The new album is the follow up to her critically acclaimed 2011 debut solo album, Like No Other.After four years of touring and festival appearances, Chantel returns with a vengeance with ten new songs that not only salutes contemporary rock, but shows her gradual transition from conventional Blues to a harder, bigger and bolder rock sound with progressive influences.

From the sound clips it sounds like a far darker and heavier album than her debut. She’s taking pre-orders now from her website.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Music Opinion | 8 Comments

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.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Music News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mantra Vega Live

Mantra Vega & Dave Kerzner Poster

Mantra Vega and The Dave Kerzner band have announced two co-headline live dates at the 350-seat Joseph Rountree Theatre in York on the 3rd and 4th October.

Tickets go on sale on Friday July 17th, full details on the Mantra Vega website.

Update: Unfortunately these dates have been postponed. As stated by the band:

Due to unforeseeable circumstances touring plans have been placed on hold.

We apologise for any incovenience caused. 

Meanwhile we will be keeping you updated on the progress of ‘The Illusion’s Reckoning’ which is scheduled for release 5/10/15.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

When Only 30 People Turn Up

Got to love this story.

I’m not in the habit of seeing has-beens whose fifteen minutes of fame are long past, but I’ve been to a fair few gigs that have been as poorly attended. I’ll spare the names of the bands to save them embarrassment.

What I do know from speaking to bands is, apart from them not wanting it widely known that a particular gig only attracted a handful of people, is that they hate it when everyone hangs at the back rather than coming forward.

If there’s any kind of stage lighting, the band can’t see much beyond the first couple of rows, so if there’s nobody within ten feet of the stage it looks to them as if they’re playing to an empty room. In contrast, if all thirty people present come down the front, it looks as if it’s a full house for the same reason.

It also helps if those thirty make enough noise that it seems like two hundred. I have been to gigs like that too….

Posted in Music Opinion | Leave a comment

Between the Buried and Me, Coma Ecliptic

Beyond the Buried and Me Coma Ecliptic“Coma Ecliptic”, the seventh album by Between the Buried and Me can only be described a progressive metal monster.

It begins with brooding electric piano, the opening number all keys until symphonic guitars burst in right at the end. The comes “The Coma Machine”, an amazing kaleidoscopic piece who’s twists and turns combine melodic atmospherics with full-on death metal. That number flows straight into “Dim Ignition”, which takes off on yet another tack with some Tangerine Dream style electronics. And those three openers set the tone for the rest of the album.

This is a quite remarkable record that sounds like all the best bits of contemporary metal and progressive rock from the last decade put into a blender. It’s hugely varied with musical references all over the place, yet it still hangs together as a coherent whole. There is an awful lot happening on this record, and it does take a few listens to take it all in. Songs take off in unpredictable directions, and there is more than one number that feels as though it contains a whole concept album’s worth of music in seven or eight minutes.

The combination of clean and death vocals combined with a masterful sense of dynamics is always going to invite comparisons with Opeth, although they avoid copying much of Opeth’s actual sound. Quite a few of the melodies in the clean vocal passages are reminiscent of Dream Theater, although there’s none of that band’s self-indulgent showboating; they keep the soloing brief and to the point, using the twin lead guitars more for riffs and intricate harmonies.

Progressive metal sometimes gets a bad name with bands who show off their instrumental chops without having the compositional skills to back them up, or bands that over ambitiously attempt to mix incompatible styles and turn into an incoherent mish-mash. Between the Buried and Me are neither of these things, and have succeeded in delivering one of the best albums of the year so far.

Posted in Record Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment