Song, by Toad

Archive for the Rambling category

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Song, by Toad Records’ Year in Review

8 ambitious futility

Phew, fucking hell, nearly there! Another year comes careering to an end, with little in the sense of control, planning or even semi-coherence to sellotape it all together.

One thing, though, it’s been a fucking great year. Not a single other label out there has come close to matching the kind of stuff we’ve put out in 2014 as far as I am concerned. And alright, that statement might sound delusional or just plain arrogant to you, but music is all about personal taste and I am supposed to think that, am I not? There’s no point starting a label if you aren’t going to release your own favourite music, and if you thought that was already being done then you wouldn’t have the motivation to start in the first place, would you.

There’s a Soundcloud playlist at the bottom of the page if you want to check for yourselves.

People say that time flies, and it does, I suppose, but January 2014 seems like a very long way away indeed. There were normal records to be planned of course, but before we could get into that we had to record and release what turned out to be Meursault’s last album: The Organ Grinder’s Monkey.

That was my first real brush with crowd-funding, and I think it went really well. Getting people to vote on the songs worked nicely, and we ended up with a record which had broken even before it was even released. It made me wonder rather seriously about why we can’t manage this the rest of the time, but I suppose the project itself had a few uniquely suitable aspects which can’t really be reproduced.

It was financially successful of course, but oddly enough we couldn’t get anyone to fucking review the thing, despite Meursault being one of our most widely-covered bands for every one of their other releases. Maybe it was because it was mostly covers, maybe because it was crowd-funded, or maybe because it was released (and hence old news) almost before we even knew ourselves what kind of album it was going to be, but honestly it made the music press look particularly stupid in my eyes.

It’s one thing when magazines decide to only review this or that kind of release, but the internet was supposed to free us from that kind of pointless nonsense, and yet all the big online magazines seem to be drifting into mimicking the established press, and I really don’t think that is either a good thing, or in any way necessary, really.

Anyhow, as badly as we’ve fared with the press this year you do find yourself developing a rather acute appreciated of the people who have actually supported you.  As well as some of the online and print publications who have continued to be so supportive, we’ve had amazing results with the radio this year too.

Farewell, Bastard Mountain was the first sign that things might not be so predictable in terms of what appealed to radio shows. 6Music put five minute instrumental drone track Drone Armatrading on heavy rotation, and Palisade (a gorgeous track, but downbeat as fuck and loooong) did really well too.

These radio results finally cemented in my head the idea what we really have to stop second-guessing what radio will actually want and just send them our favourite stuff. Received wisdom is that you’re supposed to only really send them three-minute pop songs with hummable riffs and an obvious chorus, but this year has pretty much shown that to be utter bollocks so from now on that approach is going out the window. We’ll put out the songs we think best represent why we love an album, and balls if they’re the sensible choice or not.

Considering our struggles with press recently, I have to confess I was a little nervous about releasing the Virgin of the Birds album Winter Seeds in May. Given Jon lives in Seattle, which makes it impossible to try and build grassroots support never mind persuade the jittery hipsters of the internet to write about the album, I thought it could be really heavy going but actually the response was fantastic. We got some great reviews, and Charlie Ashcroft and Dani Charlton at Amazing Radio got right behind the record too, so the whole thing felt like it went really well.

Here at Song, by Toad Records we have something of a knack for releasing albums by bands who subsequently either cease to exist or just go so quiet that they might as well have ceased to exist, which is a surefire way to complete financial ruin. We have such a nose for that kind of project that it even works with festivals too. Our third Split 12″ was released in June, at a time designed to coincide with the Insider Festival, where the record itself was actually recorded the previous year. Except there was no Insider Festival this year.

Still, despite it ending up looking slightly orphaned, it is still a gorgeous record with some wonderfully odd moments, and actually served as a perfect precursor to to the David Thomas Broughton and Jonnie Common albums we released later in the year. That wasn’t particularly the plan when we set out our release schedule, but it did work out rather nicely in the end.

There was a brief interruption to the planned schedule with the second Pale Imitation Festival in August. It went fantastically again, although I have to question my wisdom in starting the damn thing. The idea was to fight back at the fact that the Edinburgh Festival more or less forces us to cease operations during August because we have no chance of being heard over the din, but the Pale Imitation Festival is such hard work that it actually ends up being more disruptive than just having to take a month off so, er… yes, I am a fool. What of it?

And far from having August off, actually during all the Pale Imitation stuff I ended having to work in all the press for Sliding the Same Way, the collaborative album by David Thomas Broughton and the Juice Vocal Ensemble. A bit like Bastard Mountain, this is another semi-improvised record which is primarily in the ‘alt-folk’ bracket I suppose but which is so tinged with oddness that the genre becomes irrelevant, it’s the personality of the album which dominates.

Jonnie Common’s Trapped in Amber is similar, in that sense. Nominally it is experimental electronic pop, I suppose, but his personality is so stamped all over the album that it is this which becomes its defining characteristic.

It’s part of the frustration of being a small label with pretty limited resources I suppose, but with both of these last two records I felt that I didn’t really do a good enough job with the PR.  I contacted all the right people of course, and I did it in plenty of time, but given the coverage both artists have had in the past and the quality of the records in question I feel like I should have got them way more coverage than I did.

In both cases the reception was great, and the radio play more than compensated for a lack of written press – and radio listeners actually buy records too, whereas I have never seen any link between sales and written reviews – but I can’t help but feel this is something I seriously need to look at next year because I don’t think the label is really cutting the mustard in that sense at the moment. Of course it doesn’t help when all the supposedly alternative publications are wasting both their and our time covering mainstream pop acts, but we still need to improve, I think.

And so finally, here we are, more or less at the end of the year, with just time for one last release: the Couch King EP by the erratic, prolific, unpredictable and occasionally inspired Passion Pusher. He may be all over the place at times, but there is some great stuff in amongst the madness and I really hope he can harness it in the future, because I love some of the stuff he does.

Couch King was also our first tape release, which I am hoping will be significant. Mrs. Toad and I moved in May, to a house with a small warehouse on the grounds, and in the New Year we are going to turn it into an informal recording studio. That will hopefully allow us to do more Split 12″s and Toad Sessions, and to encourage more projects like Farewell, Bastard Mountain and The Organ Grinder’s Monkey – loose, creative projects which are nevertheless quite intense, but hugely exciting and rewarding to be involved with.

I’m already working on a number of really exciting releases for next year, and you’ll all be getting a Christmas present on the 25th which will introduce you to some of our new projects, but for now I think I am going to take it a bit easy and relax for a few days.  I’ll do my end of year album list, and put my feet up with Mrs. Toad, who quite bafflingly continues to encourage all this.

It’s been an incredible year, and I am both really proud of what our existing comrades have achieved, and proud of the people who liked what we were doing enough to want to join us. Song, by Toad Records represents an amazing group of really interesting, creative people and I think next year I want to do more to emphasise that, just amongst ourselves as much as anything else. I might not be all that great at actually running the label all the time, but in being a part of it you are associating yourself with some properly amazing people.

And when we move back into our now-refurbished living room later this week I might just put on our records from this year one after another, drink too much gin, and reflect that yes, the world really is wrong about music.

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Ferguson

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I can get a little twitchy when I hear the term ‘white supremacist’ being used to describe the in-built prejudices and biases in favour of white people within Western society. Then you see something like the verdict in Ferguson and it feels like my discomfort with the term is irrelevant and possibly just plain wrong. This isn’t inbuilt prejudice or racial bias, this is active White Supremacy at work.

There are a couple of reasons I don’t like the term, generally, and one is rational and the other just plain emotional. Emotional reactions of straight, middle class white men don’t and really shouldn’t count for shit when the language of equality is concerned of course, and I accept that, so let’s forget that one. Maybe it’s just like men and ‘misogyny’ – a knee-jerk reaction that’s barely worth bothering with.

The other reason hopefully has a little more merit. As far as I have always understood it White Supremacy is a very specific movement, based on the idea that that the white race is superior and that all others should be subservient. It is deliberate and violent, sometimes genocidal, and is an active and specific socio-political dogma.

Racism, even the endemic, systematic inbuilt racism within our society is not the same. Some of it is, and some of the people perpetuating it are, but a lot of it is passive, casual and accidental. It is a hangover from the economic dominance of colonial Europe, and a lot of the people perpetuating it – white and people of colour alike – do so out of ignorance, habit, upbringing, or simple lack of vision as to how and make a whole, ingrained system full of awful biases go away.

I am not saying that this makes it feel any better when you are on the receiving end, but it is still different.  

I know I am racist in some ways, some I understand and some I don’t yet. I don’t want to be. I will happily learn, and I will try my best to change. Lots of people are like that. It is hugely different to White Supremacy, which is a political movement deliberately targeted at the subjugation and sometimes extermination of entire races of people, and it doesn’t seem right or helpful to conflate the two. I know I still have in-built sexism, for example, but I would balk a little at suggestions that I am a misogynist.

But when you look at something like Ferguson, and at what happened to Trayvon Martin and the dozens of other similar cases. Even I, in my mealy-mouthed, privileged way, with my hurt fucking feelings and my ‘not all men’ excuses for this shit look at what is happening and see only one thing: White Supremacy.

Black lives worth so much less than white lives. Black (and white) people vilified and attacked for daring to suggest otherwise. Deliberate, systematic repression and violent subjugation based upon skin colour. That’s what White Supremacy is. It is visceral, real, hate-filled, horrifying and utterly undeniable.

And as a white man I am as disgusted and ashamed as I am angry.

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Edinburgh Council Completely Embarrassed by Queen’s Hall Fiasco

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Wonderful. Edinburgh Council spent Monday evening persuading people working in music here in Edinburgh that they are sincerely looking to find ways to encourage live music to flourish in the city, and not let it be dragged down by single complainants intent on damaging the cultural life of the city because they didn’t realise that moving in next to a music venue might involve hearing said venue going about its business from time to time.

And then today the Queen’s Hall was forced to remove all its external advertising because of a single complainant who objected. And instead of laughing at that complainant and telling them to grow up and piss off the council capitulated, and in doing so basically make themselves look a bit stupid at best, and craven, cynical and dishonest at worst.

Or, in slightly more familiar language for readers of this site: Jesus fucking Christ, this really is unbe-fucking-lievable, for fuck’s sake.

Neil Cooper – a journalist and formidable campaigner for the arts here in the city – pointed out the almost comically stupid double-standard here. When the Picture House was sold to Wetherspoons to be made into a megapub the likes of which Edinburgh very clearly does not have even the slightest need for, 13000 people signed a petition to protect it as a music venue. This in a city where they are closing all the time and we need as many as we can possibly preserve. So one complainant gets to prevent the Queen’s Hall advertising their own business, one crucial to the cultural life of the city. But 13,000 complainants asking the council to stand up to the big breweries are all ignored.

The imbalance is so utterly ridiculous it basically makes them either look stupid or corrupt. I have no idea which.

Now, the council seemed entirely sincere when they attended the meeting on Monday, and it seemed like a really productive conversation with genuine intent to tackle the problem, so this news today just seems embarrassing, but it highlights the problem very, very clearly. Simply put, one person complaining should never be able to have such a massively negative impact on one of the cornerstones and genuine work-horses of the city’s cultural life. It’s fucking ludicrous.

The Queen’s Hall may not seem like they support the local music scene all that much. You don’t see Edinburgh bands playing there all that often, let’s face it, but that’s because they’re a big venue and very few local bands can actually fill it. Having said that, as soon as anyone gets to that level, the support they give is fantastic. Withered Hand, Broken Records, Stanley Odd and Meursault have all graduated from the circuit of smaller venues to play the Queen’s Hall in recent years, and Plastic Animals, eagleowl and Rob St. John have all played support slots there. And that’s just Edinburgh bands. R.M. Hubbert, Rachel Sermanni, King Creosote, Randolph’s Leap… all these bands have come from the Scottish underground to play headline slots at the Queen’s Hall.

In fact, even if they can’t necessarily get away with it the rest of the year, the Queen’s Hall specifically take advantage of the extra footfall during the Edinburgh Festival to take a chance on other local bands who might not be able to fill the place otherwise. In other words, they know exactly what is going on and they give as much support to the local scene as they can, whenever they get the opportunity.

And that’s not even mentioning more adventurous stuff like Whatever Gets You Through the Night, Bastard Mountain and #Unravel – all risky, artistically ambitious projects related to music, but with much broader scope, which they have supported in recent years.

So, Edinburgh Council, the appropriate response when one dude objects to the Queen’s Hall relatively discreetly advertising their own business, a business which is a massive boost to the cultural life in Edinburgh, on the front of their own building, is this:

“Fuck off, you tedious, self-important idiot and stop wasting absolutely everyone’s fucking time with this bollocks.”

I won’t even trademark the response, so feel free to copy and paste it from this site for future correspondence.  The meeting should not have taken any more than about five minutes. “This guy’s a fucking tool right?” “Right” “Shall I just tell him to fuck off.” “Yeah I think so. We’ve wasted too much time thinking about it already.” “Cool.”  And that’s it. It deserved no more of your time than that. And no other response.

Because, let’s be clear about this Edinburgh Council, you should be absolutely embarrassed that this outcome was even suggested, never mind ratified. THIS is why you are such a big problem. It’s laughable. It’s pathetic. It makes you look like complete fools to absolutely everyone, and like enemies of the very community you are employed to administer. You are here to make our city work for us, remember.

Given the state of Nicholson Street in general, the very idea that you actually entertained this complaint for longer than it actually took you to read it all beggars belief. If the advertising was too cluttered and contravened planning regulations you may feel your hands are tied, but all you have to do is enter into a plan with the Queen’s Hall to tidy it up. This response is as needless as it is stupid.

13000 people can’t prevent an giant factory pub opening on Lothian Road, but one imbecile can interfere this seriously in a crucial creative enterprise.  I dearly, dearly hope Monday’s meeting is the first step down a road which ensures this sort of embarrassing nonsense never happens again. It genuinely seemed like there was a will to change within the council and I hope that is true.

Just commit to memory the fact that next time this happens all you really have to say is ‘ha ha, piss off’. That’s all.

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Don’t Make a Scene

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A couple of years ago I wrote a surprisingly popular post called ‘A Few Reasons Promoters and Bands Don’t Get Along’. I’d just got into regular gig promotion and was only just starting to get my head around the difficulties of doing it right. I’d spent a lot of time around bands at that point, and had heard complaint after complaint about promoters, whether they be amateurish, dishonest, spiteful, or just disorganised and I was absolutely adamant that I wasn’t going to become one of those promoters.

It’s tough though. As I started to get my head around it I started to realise, for example, just how hard it is to pay a band a decent fee. Never mind all the other stuff about decent food, a nice place to stay, actually turning up at the gig and being friendly – it’s actually tough as fuck to even do the bare minimum and pay a band even a cursory fee. So I wrote about it – about all the pressures on a promoter and all the pitfalls they face, and about what I myself understood about the difficulties of touring and what makes a gig feel worthwhile or otherwise for a band.

Basically I was trying to show how hard it is to make the requirements and obligations of both actually meet in the middle. I’d heard so much about dreadful promoters, but I also thought a lot of bands didn’t really appreciate how tough the job was and I thought some explanation of the mismatch of expectations or the simple impossibility of some of the economics would be helpful in making things a bit less attritional.

Rob St. John and Bart from eagleowl are two people who have both toured extensively in bands, both their own and other people’s, and who have also spent significant periods of time doing regular DIY gig promotion. They’ve both experienced the frustrations of both sides of this particular fence, so some time earlier this year they decided to compile a collection of anecdotes and advice from people involved in DIY gig promotion, to try and give people a bit of help navigating this particularly tricky terrain. They kindly asked me to contribute, and so I sort of re-visited the article I told you about above.

The resulting zine is called Don’t Make a Scene, and you can pre-order one here (they’ll be posted out in late November).  There are loads of other contributors too, along with illustrators and photographers, and I haven’t seen the final product yet, but I am really looking forward to getting my grubby hands on one.

Contributors include Chris Tipton (Upset the Rhythm, London: ‘Curate your event with imagination, honour and taste’), Sofia Hagberg (End of the Road / Sam and Sofia, Sheffield: ‘Advancing a show’), Emily Tracer Trails (Edinburgh and Glasgow: ‘A guide to not losing money on gigs’), Fielding Hope (Cry Parrot / Cafe Oto, Glasgow / London: ‘Applying for funding’), Andy Inglis (5000 / former manager of the Luminaire, London: ‘We’re good at taking things for free’), Matthew Young (Song, by Toad, Edinburgh: ‘Bridging the promoter-musician gap’), Johnny Lynch (Lost Map, Isle of Eigg: ‘Some things I’ve learnt about putting on gigs’) and Andy Abbott (That Fucking Tank, Leeds: ‘DIY bother? Reasons to keep doing it’) and many more.

Don’t Make a Scene contains new visual art, illustration and photography by Lizzy Stewart, Tommy Perman, Sarah Tanat-Jones (Synaesthete / Kit Records), Craig Coulthard, Neil Cammock, Matt Pattinson and Cammy Watt (Enfant Bastard).  

The zine features an interview with Marie Tippex (from booking agent Julie Tippex), and articles on DIY sound engineering by Tim Matthew (regular engineer for Lau); all-ages gigs by eagleowl’s Clarissa Cheong, setting up DJs and club nights by Malcolm Benzie (Papi Falso) and Lisa Brook (founder of Cafe Kino in Bristol and DJ Cupcake); and advice for prospective promoters from experienced touring musicians David Thomas Broughton, Mark Andrew Hamilton (Woodpigeon) and Dan Willson (Withered Hand).

The first edition of 300 copies will be released on 24th November 2014, reasonably priced at £4, and will be available for pre-order through dontmakeascene.co.uk.  Don’t Make a Scene was riso printed by Footprint Workers Co-op in Leeds using soy inks on recycled paper.

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Young Fathers on Edinburgh’s Creative Environment

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I wasn’t going to mention Young Fathers’ Mercury Prize win here, because given I haven’t talked about them all that much in the past it would have felt a little bit like hypocritical attention-seeking on the back of their success to suddenly start mentioning them now that they’re in the news.

But but but but… that was before I read this interview in the Guardian in which G gets stuck into Edinburgh council for not supporting the arts in the city at all:

“Edinburgh council are really fucking bad. They shut down anything if you try to make noise. I’ve been in studios where these guys come with meters and tell you to get out. It’s a city for tourists and rich, middle-class people, it’s not made for people to be creative.”

This needs to be said, and needs to be said again and again. The Edinburgh Festival does NOT make Edinburgh an artistic city. The self-image of this town utterly ignores the artistic communities working here, spaces and venues are absolutely never supported and there appears to be absolutely no effort whatsoever to encourage what is happening here between the months of September and July . There are good things happening here, but I have never seen any sign that anyone outwith the tiny communities of dogged supporters actually gives the tiniest fragment of a fuck about any of it.

Consequently, the people actually working in the arts here are amongst some of the people I admire the most: that kind of perseverance in the face of general indifference, if not outright hostility, takes seriously thick skin and serious determination. And as for the handfuls of loyal fans who are the only ones who give us the encouragement we desperately need, well bless you all, you brilliant bastards.

Young Fathers won this despite Edinburgh, not because of it. Well done lads.

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I Have Been Reading Books Again

books Yep, that headline is absolutely as tragic as it sounds. What? Books? Like the internet, but analogue? You’re such a fucking hipster, dude.

I know. We all read books and we all love books. Well, pretty much everyone reading this site, anyway, I would imagine. And I am the same. I fucking love books.  But for some reason I lost the habit about five years ago – maybe even more – and I have been struggling to get it back.

It sounds like an incredibly banal lament, but for someone who absolutely loves books and reading, I just stopped dead for some reason. Back in London I used to read all the time. I was commuting to work, and for all it wasn’t a long commute and I didn’t exactly plough through the pages on the train, I was still getting into books by doing so, and it meant I was way more likely to read at home as well.

Then when I moved up here I was rather taken aback by Mrs. Toad’s disconcertingly early bed-time. I’m a natural night owl, so her insistence on going to bed at 10pm just felt weird, but it did mean I continued to hoover up books just as much as ever before. And then, probably some time in 2008 or so, I just stopped. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Years of Audio Antihero

audioantihero Running a record label can be a little like being in Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition at times, in that I lose count of the times I get into conversations which start with ‘The toughest thing about running a record label… wait, wait, the two toughest thi… actually the THREE toughest things about running a record label are…’ and so on and so forth.

It’s not the same as being in a band, but it’s close. I don’t think maintaining a level head amongst near constant rejection and occasional hyperbolic adulation is quite as personal a challenge when you’re one step removed from the actual making of the music. But there is what can only be described as a crushing sense of responsibility to the people who choose you to be the one to do your best with their life’s work, and make sure it gets out in the world properly, particularly if you are small and tend to work with friends and people who personally trust you.

A pal of mine who I have known since very near the beginning of the label is Jamie from Audio Antihero. You’ve heard about Benjamin Shaw, Jack Hayter, Nosferatu D2 and Superman Revenge Squad on the blog before, but more or less everything the label releases is good. And he has the best label motto of all time: “Specialists in commercial suicide.” I wish I’d thought of that first.

If you don’t trust me on that one, well there is a very simple remedy. To celebrate their first five years of existence they are offering up a free sampler – well pay-what-you-like, which is NOT THE SAME THING! – which you can get from their Bandcamp page here.

If you want a clear indication of why I like this label so much, I think it is summed up in their press release which contains maybe even more sarcasm and bitter cynicism than even these pages:

“It’s our “Birthday” – Audio Antihero has been a label for five long years. It could have gone worse, I suppose. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of it. Thanks for supporting.

50% OFF:
Get 50% off anything from our Bandcamp for the next 48 hours (expires Friday) with the discount code “fuckthisshit” (after that, it’ll switch to a 15% off code). Valid on anything (CD/Digital/Cassette/Stress Ball).”

Kindred spirits, clearly. Anyhow, go and buy things. Or least listen to them closely, to make up for the fact that I didn’t write about the Cloud album when I actually rather liked it. Sorry Jamie. Here’s to the next five years old chap!

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An Orgy of (sort of) Exploitative Vinyl Re-issues

Frozen So many vinyl-reissues and only so much cash. I fucking hate this kind of choice, and I can’t help but feel a bit ripped off, but the truth of the matter is that for all it seems a bit cheeky, I still really, really want these immaculate new vinyl versions of old albums I love.

Part of Guy Hands’ comically disastrous purchase of EMI a few years ago was the anticipation of mining the back catalogue of the label for infinite re-packaging and re-release. It was supposed to be a viable new model, and for all it failed completely, the idea was clearly not crazy because a lot of people are enthusiastically embracing large aspects of it today.

For example Mute have just sold their back catalogue to BMG, and one of the first things that they did was to decide upon an immediate re-release of most of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ back catalogue. As a massive Nick Cave fan, of course this is thrilling news for me, albeit in a slightly wary sort of way.

But really, given I have already bought a lot of these albums a couple of times already (the old vinyl -> tape -> CD -> etc… milking process) there is a perfectly reasonable argument to make that this is basically just ripping off an existing fanbase, exploiting their nostalgia and love for the bands to get your hands in their now well-stuffed middle aged pockets. It can feel, no matter how much I love a lot of the music, pretty grubby.

This isn’t a new thought to be considering, of course, but at this point in time there are three series of these reissues which all seem to be approaching it a little differently, and I think it sort of highlights where I start to feel exploited, and where I think that it feels less like back-catalogue-flogging and more like fan-boy completism.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series

It feels fair to say that pretty much no-one has exploited their back catalogue more (or indeed better) than Bob Dylan. Live show reissues, rarities, early demos, encyclopaedic album sessions… you name it, if he’s recorded it, someone has remastered it, stuck it on vinyl and flogged it to idiots like me.

For all I feel that my weakness for Bob Dylan has been identified and exploited, though, I am not sure I would really call the Bootleg Series exploitative. It’s a bit merciless, I guess – I mean, holy fuck, how many hundreds and hundreds of pounds have they managed to prise out of me since this series first started, but holy hell it’s good. The records are beautifully packaged and accompanied by gorgeous design and extensive writing and photography, and this really helps emphasise the raison d’être of the collection, as well as making it a wonderful thing to own in and of itself.

Some of it’s a bit obscure and weird, but for the most part this is all new material as well, things which existing über-fans and regular passive fans can enjoy equally. As an example, the 1966 Royal Albert Hall recording is arguably the greatest live album of all time. For a casual Bob Dylan fan, this contains some of the most ferocious and vital recordings of his music – it’s not just scratchy shit, played and recorded less well than the album the songs were released on, these are actually the best versions ever captured of many of these tunes. On the other hand my parents are huge Dylan fans – my mum was actually at the Manchester Free Trade Hall show which gets surreptitiously spliced into the recording part of the way through. They were, in fact, amongst the outraged folkies who howled in dismay as their hero went electric.

When I bought this for my folks I said ‘I know you’ll love the acoustic half of this, but just listen to the full band side – it’s one of the most electric (ha ha), confrontational performances I have ever heard’. Predictably, after a few weeks they got back to me saying ‘well yes, but the acoustic side really is incredible. It’s Dylan at his best really.’ But what surprised me was my dad taking the time, almost a year later, to agree that the second album, the plugged-in part, really was incredible – that it really was the highlight of the album.

So it works for casual fans, it works for lifelong fans, and for someone like myself it made me understand just how intense the betrayal when Dylan went electric really was for his fans, even to a degree for society itself, something I could never have understood from simply reading about it. This may be the pinnacle of Dylan’s Bootleg Series and an exceptional moment in music history, but if you are going to mercilessly mine a back catalogue for things to sell to people, this is how you do it.

The Wedding Present Reissues

The other vinyl reissues I wanted to discuss are a little different from the Dylan Bootleg Series, in that they aren’t releases of material people haven’t necessarily heard before, they are simply plain old reissues of old albums to an established fanbase. This is where things start to feel a little more dubious. ‘Hey, people who already bought this the first time, how about buying it AGAIN? This time for TWICE THE PRICE because it’s a deluxe reissue on heavy vinyl.’ You know what I mean.

Where these reissues make sense, however, is that The Wedding Present were at their most prominent during the nineties nadir of vinyl manufacture. A lot of their stuff was pressed, if at all, in runs so tiny that getting hold of the bastard things is a serious challenge. I know. I have tried. Bizarro and Seamonsters can be tracked down, but the likes of Watusi and Saturnalia represent a bit more of a challenge and can be rather expensive. So for all I kind of resent paying once again for albums I have already bought on CD, well, I still sort of get it, and really it’s my own stupid choice.

Plus, once again, the artwork may not be new but they have taken care with the re-packaging and included single b-sides and EP released around the time of the album as well, and the Wedding Present are a very good b-side band. I still am sulking about it a bit, I must confess. I have successfully tracked down Bizarro and Seamonsters second hand, and I am now looking at these re-releases wondering if I really, really think it’s worth it but… oh, I don’t know. It’s tricky. There’s good stuff here, but it does feel a bit like I am being tricked into paying for the same damn thing over and over again.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Reissues

This is actually today’s announcement: full vinyl reissues of more or less every fucking Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album. This was a proper fucking forehead palm-smack moment for me, because I have put a fair bit of time into finding these recently, and to own slightly tatty old copies when new, heavy, shiny ones will be available so soon is hugely galling.

Beyond just plain bad luck with timing, however, there are a couple of aspects of this which really do smell rather strongly of fish. The first and most obvious one is that this series of reissues includes fucking Dig Lazarus Dig, which was only released in 2008 in the first place.  Come on, lads, there’s surely no fucking way that merits a reissue already.

The second, and one which perhaps annoys me the most, is this: for all these are all being remastered the actual quote from the press release about the artwork is this: “Each album has been crafted to reflect the original release from the cover to the printed inner sleeves”. Now, I may be being unreasonably cynical, but to me that reads like they haven’t really done anything to the artwork at all. It’s possible that the original recordings were over-compressed in the mastering stage, because that’s what people did back then, but unless they are remastering the original mixes there’s not much that tweaking an over-compressed master can really do, so even that causes me to raise my eyebrows a little.

I suppose it’s also arguable that a lot of these were originally released on shitty 80s vinyl pressings where the record itself was wafer thin and the liner notes were minimal, so maybe these will just be slightly better quality, but these records are out there so for the most part their scarcity is debatable, with the exception of a couple.

The final product may prove me wrong here, but what this whole enterprise smells of to me is someone realising that the market for second-hand Nick Cave vinyl is strong, there is no in-house stock, and dammit that money should be ours. And that’s actually fair enough, I guess. If people are buying Nick Cave records, they should be buying them from Nick Cave.  But once again, I find myself in a position where I have paid for these damn albums so many times I am really starting to resent it. I love the music, I go to the shows, but if I am going to cough up for something like my third fucking version of Henry’s Dream then at least give me something new so that I don’t just feel like you’re taking the piss.

Conclusions

Well, simple, really. I assume that most of these records are being sold to existing fans. It’s possible that this is considered as a chance to gain new press for old material and perhaps address an emerging fan base who might be more likely to buy vinyl than they were ten or fifteen years ago, but in general this stuff is being sold to people like me: people in their 30s and 40s with slightly deeper pockets than we once had and an enduring love for the bands in question. So really, as much as I moan, I really do want these products.

I am delighted about the chance to hear Bob Dylan scare the shit out of his audience for having an electric guitarist and a drummer in his band. I’m actually quite excited about being able to get the three 10″ vinyl reissue of Seamonsters with all the accompanying b-sides and EP tracks. And actually, I hadn’t thought about how good an album No More Shall We Part is for ages, so I am pretty chuffed about it being available on vinyl as well. But please give me something. If you are going to come back for my money again and again for the same material, at least put effort into the artwork, the context provided by the accompanying material, the historical significance for dedicated fans of the band of the unheard material you include, and.. well pretty much anything that makes this more than just a clean, new duplicate of an album I already own, and probably also bought on CD in the 90s too.

It needs to be a bit more than that, because one side is giving dedicated fans something of depth, interest which strengthens their relationship with the band, and on the other is simply ripping people off because vinyl is back again and you know you can get yet another payday for the same damn material. So it’s a very fine line, but not one you want to fall on the wrong side of.

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Nostalgic Wandering in Manchester

2012-12-13 13.56.23

I am in Manchester at the moment, visiting my Granddad, who has lived in the same house in Withington since before I was born. I’ve lived here myself on two occasions, and for some reason the last one particularly comes back in waves when I walk around this part of the city, despite being back around the turn of the millennium.

I’ve said dozens of times before that my relationship with Manchester, where my mum’s family are all from, was always a bit ropey simply because I lived here during a couple of the most difficult parts of my life and for some reason it’s always coloured my relationship with the place.

That changed a few years ago when I started to come down here regularly for music events, and met some brilliant, inspirational people in doing so. Now I really look forward to coming down to Manchester, and think of it as one of my favourite places in the UK, but for some reason wandering around Withington always brings back that strange period of limbo after I graduated from university when my life was perhaps as sensitive to small nudges in one direction or another as it has ever been. Read the rest of this entry »

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Song, by Toad Says YES!

[Advance warning: this is too long, and if you can’t be fucked, don’t read it. I am not adding anything new to the debate, I’m just another idiot parping out their own opinion for no better reason than, I suppose, a bit of vanity. Don’t feel compelled to indulge me.]

I know no-one really cares what I think, but fuck it, I think is how democracy is supposed to work these days. People voice their opinions on the internet, read what a wide variety of people have to say and then decide which bits they do and do not agree with. Besides, I quite like the idea of nailing one’s colours to the mast when it comes to this kind of thing. It’s a pretty important question, after all, given that between the record label and Mrs. Toad’s job, we are probably now committed to spending the rest of our lives in Scotland.

Of course, I am not talking about the views of anyone on the label, which are fairly mixed I think, if perhaps vaguely Yes-leaning, but they are the business of the artists themselves and if you’re interested then you’ll have to ask them. I speak just for myself.

This could get long, like all the articles on this subject, but I’ll try and break it down into chunks so you can skim or skip entirely, depending on which arguments you can and cannot be bothered seeing re-hashed on the internet for the millionth fucking time. I think one of the reasons I am writing this is that I see it as a genuinely difficult decision and, for all once you’ve decided, you really have decided and there’s no going back, anyone who thinks it’s really simple one way or the other is just not thinking straight, whether because of ideology or simple rose-tinted excitement.

But it’s not simple. I don’t think any of the Yes arguments are as straight-forwardly compelling as a lot of the people making them seem to think they are, and I certainly don’t think any of the dire No warnings are all that realistic either. It’s muddy. It’s politics, and it’s people, and people are weird, unpredictable, vain, selfish and stupid as much as we can be generous, noble or compassionate. All of us are, in one sense or another, and that’s the country we will inevitably get. Read the rest of this entry »