What do Neo Soul, Psychedelic Folk, Dubstep, Blues, Jazz, Psychedelic Rock and Reggae have in common? Not much but we have recorded all that and more at Highbury Studio in January. Goodness knows what February has in store. If you know singers or musicians around the West Midlands who might appreciate our warm analogue sound please do everyone a favour and just send them a link to us: http://highburystudio.com
I have two main memories of The Ramones. One was seeing them perform at Barbarellas club in Birmingham which was inspirational. The other was later when I was in ‘the music biz’ and having dinner in London with Ken Kushnick of Sire Records. It was the days of the first mobiles the size of bricks. Ken’s phone goes, “Ok” says Kenny “just back away and walk quietly out of the studio saying nothing”. The call is not much longer. “Who was that?” Says I, “Joey Ramone” says Kenny. “They’re in the studio in NY with Phil Spector and he’s just pulled a gun on them”. “Oh!” says I.
“You can move to a nuisance”
Those words chilled me at the time I heard them in 2009 as they were from a senior officer in BCC’s Environmental Health Department. They were used by one of the panel members representing Environmental Health, Licensing, and Planning Departments at an informal discussion at the Town Hall, kindly hosted by them, to share views and questions between the departments and landlords, venue managers and other interested parties re recent issues around live music venues and complaints from new residents to the area around those already existing venues.
The same gentlemen referred to the “Human right to a good night’s sleep” I’ve not checked but I was convinced that he was convinced that this was in the European statute of human rights.
So his and the department’s position, revealed clearly that evening is that if a complaining resident’s sleep was disturbed after 11pm even if they knew it would be when they moved to the property then “Environmental health officers who are qualified and trained to assess whether a noise is likely to be a statutory nuisance would be legally obliged to take legal action to stop the statutory nuisance”.
This meeting was held following the closure of the wonderful Fiddle and Bone, the threat to The Nightingale, the restrictions placed on The Spotted Dog and major difficulties for The Rainbow amongst others. During the meeting I concluded that the only way to preserve important music venues was to try to ensure that there was no inappropriate building of new residences near to them and that this had to be done at the planning stage.
Oddly I’d watched fascinated as the planning department refused permission for a new apartment build in Digbeth in 2008 on fears that “Residents would find the noise of gunfire and explosions from the neighbouring Gun Barrel Proofing House unbearable”. I knew that area well and had never heard a dicky bird from the Gun Barrel Proofing House myself but this showed the planning department had grasped the concept of not allowing development near to an important resource where new residents complaints might threaten the resource.
When a planning application was recently submitted for a new apartment build immediately adjacent to the cultural treasure that is The Hare and Hounds in King’s Heath I was concerned but it seemed such a ridiculous proposition that I didn’t over worry. A 3,000 signature petition delivered to the planning department, 100’s of comments directly to the planning department and the objection of current residents of the area to the proposal further assured me that the application would be rejected and rightly on Dec 20th it was, by the democratically elected councillors who are members of the planning committee.
Then at the next meeting of the planning committee on January 24th according to the Birmingham Mail The council’s chief planning officer, Richard Goulborn, told the committee: “We do not believe that approval of this apartment will jeopardise the operation of the Hare and Hounds.” as he overthrew the elected and representative councillor’s views.
I have spent this weekend angry, as have many others in Kings Heath, Moseley and across the City. Older ones amongst us have seen the cynicism of the developers who led to the demise of the Fiddle and Bone, they even hired the venue to show off their new apartments from across the canal to potential purchasers who then, when in residence complained and had the venue shut down.
Younger ones amongst us find yet another reason to be cynical of local government and it’s processes.
I’m angry that the planning department once again are showing no sign at all of recognising the importance of culture in the lives of our citizens and I’ve been devastated that despite this Council’s, I’m sure heartfelt commitment to transparency, accountability and increased local decision making we can end up with local wishes utterly ignored, over one apartment! Worth maybe £25k’s profit to the developer! We are putting one of the city’s cultural jewels at risk for that!
Remember the spokesman from Environmental Health’s comment Mr Goulborn? “You can move to a nuisance” “Our officers would be legally obliged…” That’s the threat from this approval to the Hare and Hounds.
I’ve lived through times in the 70’s and 80’s when this city’s informal music culture was strangled by a licensing committee that was as bent as a nine bob note. They were unique in the country, it took an act of parliament to disband the self generating, mainly slime balls, helped by a chairman of said committee going to jail for fraud.
I really did not think that by 2013 the biggest threat, other than the economy to the City’s music infrastructure was going to come from our very own planning department who seem to see the gun trade deserving one set of rules and live music another.
I know the application is for one apartment, it might be rented or purchased by some lovely, fluffy party animal who loves being there or it might be someone like my neighbours who have to get up for work at 4am in the morning and then we could be in trouble and that’s the unnecessary risk that I am so opposed to.
Councillor Martin Straker Welds, one or the planning committee members replied diligently this morning to my mail to him over the weekend pointing out that there were no legal grounds on which to turn down the application, he offered however to “ask the planning officers to keep a careful watch to ensure that the new construction is enabled to coexist in close proximity with live entertainment”. The problem there is that if a complaint is subsequently made by a new resident it’s not down to planning it’s over to Environmental Health whose officers are empowered……
So what now? There is no appeal, which in itself is one of the most cack-handed bits of legislation that I’ve ever come across, well maybe there is, perhaps an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, the same court that rules that someone has a human right to a good night’s sleep. I suspect that somewhere deep in the small print there might be a clause relating to the Human Right of a community to practice and enjoy it’s culture. I’m off for a read.
“All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe” is a song I first loved in 1974, when it reached No. 2 in the UK charts and No.6 in the USA.
Dodgy miming by The Hollies here: –
Then in 2008 I had one of those rare moments where all was well in my little bit of the world with my pal on a Portugese cliff top with swallow tailed butterflies, blue sea, blue sky, spring breezes and my pal sings “Peace came upon me” a line from the same song.
Fast-forward to February 2012 where I’m asked if I’d like to tour manage Albert Hammond’s first tour for 30 years! He wrote “All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe”
“Yep. Of course, I’d love to” I said.
In April this year Micky Greeney and team are filming a video at Highbury Studio.
I tell Micky that I’m working with Albert Hammond. “He wrote ‘All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe” says Micky “I was here at the studio with Bob when Allen Clarke who sang it with the Hollies came by.
May 5th 2012 and Albert and Daniel Serrano Gimenez and Carlos Solano Sevilla, two very handy sidemen from Madrid, well Daniel is from Madrid but Carlos is a Rock lifting Basque who has stopped more ladies in their tracks then anyone I’ve worked with for a while, pop into Highbury Studio for dinner at the start of the tour.
May 10th and I’m in Kendal at the fine Brewery Arts Centre. At the end of the 2 hour show, Albert is so moved by the crowd chorus that he asks them to sing “All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe” again and then leaves the stage with the audience singing his song. He has to leave through the audience so I quickly borrow a phone with a torch from someone and point it to show Albert the way, but as we get to the rear exit from the hall with the audience still singing he turns to wave goodbye and I hold the torch above him lighting him for the audience.
Suddenly, Manchester, Portugal, Madrid, Gibraltar, Birmingham, Los Angeles and Kendal all come together for me in a glorious celebration of the power of a great popular song and I’m so loving holding that torch. This was my Pop Music Olympics. Better than any of the mimed ‘tosh’ you are going to see on your screens this summer.
Albert, who also wrote for Johnny Cash, Jefferson Starship, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Julio Iglesias, The Carpenters and many more is at The Glee Club, Birmingham on Wednesday 16th May. I’ll be running around with a torch and a big smile.
There’s a chance that you need to be over 40 years old to get this, but if you are a budding pop songwriter try not to miss one of the masters.
Had an early morning surprise call from Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio on Tuesday this week.
Would I go live via phone on their drive time show in an hour to talk about Life In The European Theatre?
Woke up and agreed to do it on my way to Pilates.
We touch on their ‘drive time vinyl compilation album of the week ‘Life in the European Theatre’, Anti Nuclear Campaign, EP Thompson The Beat, Fine Young Cannibals and Inner City.
Not often that I’m heard to speak in the morning so here it is!
Met writer Nick Toczek yesterday at the funeral of an old friend. More on the life of Chris Edwards when we remember him musically in a couple of months time but thought a few old Moseley types might enjoy Nick’s recollections of upstairs at The Fighting Cocks in the early 70’s…
great to meet you again – albeit in such very sad circumstances – found your site and been reading about you… my part in the history of the upstairs room in Ivor’s Fighting Cocks is that – before he had a proper stage built – I made the temporary one from bricks and planks stolen from a building site plus dozens of beer crates ‘donated’ by Davenports Brewery (slogan: beer at home) after giving a fiver to the night watchman in exchange for a van-load of crates. That was for the first Moseley Festival back in 1973, which I jointly founded with Tom Sorohan and John Dalton.
Reciprocally, in running Big Ears, you gave a regular early platform for dozens of performers…. among them not just the utterly brilliant John Dowie whom you mention, but also – if memory serves me right – Victoria Wood, Kay Russell (who had a big chart hit with The Susan Fassbender Band – ‘Twilight Café’ – which she wrote and played/sung on), Jim Cleary (who should’ve been bigger than anyone out of Brum),me (check out my incomplete wikipedia site), God knows how many musicians – including Ruby Turner (managed by Gather Owen) all of Robert Plant’s post-Zep Honeydrippers – plus ex-Move luminaries, some ace folkies, etc,… not forgetting others like the now-legendary cartoonist, then scriptwriter, Hunt Emerson, plus the playwright (but since established as a major children’s poet) Gareth Owen, plus John Row (of Stereo Graffiti) who’s now a leading player on the storytelling circuit…. and many more if I stopped to think about it.
What I’m saying is that your blurb about Big Ears is too modest… by far. It was an astonishing phenomenon.
For some reason been looking back again. I’ve been working recently with some of the funkiest folk that I’ve ever met in the shape of Jon Cleary and Earl Thomas and the musicians playing with them. Jon’s chaps are the finest sidemen from New Orleans and Earl’s for some years were Ike Turner’s backing band now resident in California.
Had the treat of driving Earl Thomas who’s song ‘Get Me Some’ was recorded by Tom Jones past Tom’s birthplace afer a gig at the delightful Mumbles Blues festival and chatted with Doug; Jon’s drummer about playing with Willie Nelson in the end credits shot of the Dukes of Hazard movie whilst gazing over the Tyne from The Sage. Good Criac.
But through the funk an image from ten years ago has kept recurring. One morning I was alone facing the lift on the ground floor in Polydor Records, thoughts quite elsewhere, stepped forward as the doors opened to be faced, from the lift, by Mr James Brown at the front of his large retinue. My immediate reaction was to take a step back and salute, not just any salute but the three fingured salute of the Boy Scouts where I’d last had occasion to salute anyone in 1964. Mr Brown nodded and gave me a “Huh” as he walked by. Perfect.
Here is a most strange version of “This Is A Man’s World”
Spring 76 and after five years in Brum I’d spent a couple of years as a roadie and a couple being a sales rep for the wonderfully niche Transatlantic Records. It was time to find a new music related challenge.
Since I’d seen 100’s of venues around the UK this agency business – finding gigs for artists – sounded interesting with less driving for sure.
There were 2 that caught my eye in town – Jim Simpson’s Big Bear agency for one but I didn’t fancy that since they’d recently booked my mate James Langstone’s band to play on the Isle of Man ferry. In the storm that they sailed through as the band were playing the power supply varied as the ship’s propeller came out of the water causing James’s vocals to vary in pitch an octave or so during just one vocal line. People subsequently paid a lot of money for this effect but it didn’t work when unplanned.
The other agency that I’d noted – Endale Associates didn’t really appeal as I knew of Dave Corke’s Juda Priest connections and I’d never bought into that bit of metal but the company had promoted some good gigs too so I called him anyway. I went to see him in an office up a few stairs in the Jewellrey Quarter on the afternoon of December 1st. An amaimable fellow, Corky figured that my experience was just the ticket to be a useful booker so it was quickly agreed that I’d start the next day. Corky explained that he was going to be out of the office in the morning so gave me a set of keys with instructions to “Answer the phone” until he arrived around lunch time.
I didn’t see the Grundy interview from Granada Studios that went out Nationally that night and caused the media furore led by the Daily Mirror but travelling on the No 9 into my new work place that morning and reading the Mirror I did wonder what the day might have in store.
I let myself in to the office at 9.00am and both phones were ringing. Neither stopped for the rest of the day. The first calls were from 2 of the Universities that had dates on the upcoming Sex Pistols tour which Endale had booked – cancelling the shows. Then the BBC looking for comments, then more cancellations followed by press from Europe as it’s press woke up to the story. Different people from the BBC and ITN called – no one could reach Mclaren or Corky’s mate Bernie Rhodes and most of the people calling from the media didn’t know the difference between an agent and a manager anyway so the calls just kept coming and by the time Corkey arrived in the office at 1.oo pm I had four sheets of A4 with numbers for him to call back and felt like I’d spoken to every journalist in Europe. Certainly the UK.
He hadn’t seen the TV the night before or read the morning’s press so a cheery “Alright. How are things?” from him led me to pass over a copy of the Mirror and explain that every date on the tour had been cancelled plus it seemed like every journalist in Europe had been on the phone. Corkey wasn’t phased and set about trying to find Mclaren or Rhodes. Failing at that he turned to getting the dates re-instated. “No problem Kid” he says. “Just watch this”
He called the first venue which I think was Stafford Uni and they weren’t having any of it. The date was cancelled and that was that. He called a couple more and got the same response. By the time he got to the fourth – Colchester Uni he took a different line and asked the Social Secretary who’d booked the date what the problem was. “It’s not us” says the Sec “It’s the Dean. He called up this morning and said we couldn’t do it after seeing the Grundy interview last night”. “Give me his number” says Corky. He calls The Dean. I could only hear one side of the conversation but that went something like this: “Good afternoon Dean I’m calling as the agent for the Sex Pistols who have a show contracted with your University later this month…. No hold on a minute you don’t understand they are really nice young men who’ve been misrepresented… Look they are lovely chaps, I know them well and this behaviour is totally out of character. I’ve met their Mums and Dads – lovely people. No! No! you are wrong, what you saw wasn’t really them…. Now will you listen to me or not? …. Look you f..king pillock”
… and the Dean was gone and so was the whole tour.
I left Corky with the 4 x A4 sheets of numbers and wondered out into the December chill musing on what I might do next. I didn’t see Corky again but I did hear from a friend a few years later who had seen him hiding behind a newspaper in the lounge of a Dublin hotel during a music biz conference when he realised that 2 a&r guys from 2 different record labels that he’d just signed the same band to were about to meet at the bar.
A couple of years later I had a quiet smile when working with the brilliant Mr John Dowie & The Big Girl’s Blouse and the NME described them as “Making the Sex Pistols look like babies farting in the bath water.”
(Picture by Pete Ashton)
Amazingly, the Digbeth O’lympics staggered into life again at the end of September. This time with added debauchery courtesy of Kent at the Rainbow. I was solely responsible for the aquatic events so all that carry on was nothing to do with me.
Typically it has taken 5 months to get the bit of filum below which I thought might be fun and capture some of the essence of the day hence the lateness of this post which has held up my blogging for months but i think some order is important.
Top fun on the Custard Factory lake in the Cardboard Coracle Challenge. I was in charge of that.
Doesn’t look like Digbeth does it?
(Pictures by katchooo)
Matt celebrates his coracle challenge victory with his usual understatement
(Picture by John McMahon)
You can feel the tension in the pits before the Go kart race down Bradford St.
(Picture by John McMahon)
Serious Welly throwing
(Picture by John McMahon)
Wellies featured this year – here is the Custard Filled Welly Race – just starting.
(Picture by Lynsey Turvey)
Kent Davies of The Rainbow and I – frightens me.
I did also however have the task of announcing the founding of The Free State of Digbeth at the end of the O’lympics Awards Ceremony. Now it had been a long day where under the nature of the games many pubs were visited so I might take this film down at any moment.