Category Archive: Musings

Opinions, opinions, opinions……

mymug“Everybody is entitled to my opinion” – although you may not agree…

In a former job, I had a mug, in which I was fed coffee every morning. On it said “Everybody is entitled to my opinion.” It used to make many people laugh, because I’m outspoken, I’d offer my opinion -but that didn’t mean to say everyone had to agree.

All I did was offer the best from what I saw, and from my life experience. I’m also big enough to take into consideration others views and perspectives and take them on board, and know that you too have your own opinion. And you may not agree with mine. And that’s absolutely fine.

As you can see from my blog I regularly review gigs. I would love to say everyone I go to is fantastic, I had a whale of a time, you must all rush out and see them. Reviewing gigs gives me the opportunity to see lots of very different acts, in different venues and live the experience. I also get to see acts that may not be my first choice in music taste, those of us that love seeing live music will have genres or acts we’re fans of, other acts are an opportunity to experience something new or different.

When I review a gig I take into consideration a wide variety of things – did they perform well, did they engage with the crowd, what was the crowd reaction, what’s the venue like, what little events happened, and given the face value of the ticket, would I recommend to ‘a friend’ what can be a lot of money, going to see them. The audience response is important to me, the particular act may not be my scene, but if the crowd are blown away, I will say so.

I’ve been going to live music for more years than I can count, seen hundreds of bands crossing across pretty much every genre, for most of that as a paying punter. Your average ticket price is around £25 -£30 for a mid- range venue, so for two tickets that’s £50-£60 plus booking fee, plus all the other costs – many gigs these days are not the cheapest night out – so I know as a punter, you become more selective who you see.

So for those that were there at any gig I review, I hopefully want to give a feel of the night, and those little things that make you smile. For those who weren’t there, what you missed,  to give a feel for if it’s worth you taking the effort when they come round again. Or for those looking for something new, whether it’s worth taking a punt.

I don’t get paid for writing reviews, however, I do get access to gigs. When I’m putting a review together I do try and check I’ve got information as correct as possible in any review. Sometimes errors sneak through, and if I’ve got something wrong, sorry about that. There will always be someone who knows more that I about a particular band.

But it’s something I really enjoy doing. I love the experience and hooking up with new people and the talented photographers who turn up to the gig to take the pictures you look at.  I really enjoy the ability of seeing something new. Few people have the courage to put their views down for others to read, even though they have an opinion. As I’ve said I would love to say every gig I have been to has been fantastic. The best thing since sliced bread. Whether it be my favouritist band in the world, or one I’ve experienced for the first time. But sometimes, that’s just not the case, for a variety of reasons. And I will express that view, yet try and be balanced.  It is, at the end of the day, my opinion. You may disagree. And that’s absolutely fine…..

Steve Jobs RIP

I grew up ‘arty’. I could draw. I was always going to art college. My life was always going to  take this route. There was never any question. 1984 brought us the release of the MacIntosh computer. The advert is iconic. I didn’t know at the time, just what impact it would make on my career.

I trained on manually creating design for print. I’ll give an example. Just to draw an accurate square box for print. Take a piece of graphic blue gridded (blue didn’t pick up on reprographic plate cameras) art paper. Take a technical pen with a defined pen nib width, with sold thick black ink. Take a ruler. Draw a line, holding the pen at the right angle – hoping the ink didn’t smudge under the ruler. Try and get the lines to meet accurately, making sure the line is dead straight and the same width. Take a look – to clear the smudge and make the corners tight – take a scapel (yes one of those things used in surgery) and scrape the marks away. All this just for a simple box.That’s an hour gone. At least.

If you needed a typeface beyond the standard of professional typesetters – that would be rubbed off a Letraset sheet. And you hoped it would ‘fix’ onto the art paper.

To visualise a page layout – take multi-colors marker pens – and do it all by hand.

In 1987 / 1988 a tiny beige unit appeared in the office. Just one. With a black and white screen. It could create text – perfectly. It drew an accurate box in a second.

The Mac didn’t give us the software to do this – Aldus, Adobe, Quark did that. It gave us the platform to be able to do this. Easily. And for every poster, leaflet, magazine, newspaper banner you will see today – it is the Mac that gives us the capability to create easily. I used PCs. It was a nightmare. Then I used Macs. And it gave me the ability to make things happen. The Mac is fundamental in truly changing the creative media industry – and for many years it was the main area that Apple ruled. They continue to rule it today.

Over the past decade, Apple have made us ‘Think Differently’ beyond just the creative world. The iPod took digital music to a different level – vinyl, CD and tape, firmly confined to the bin. Log on. Buy online.

The iMac – brought back the single unit computer, get it out of the box, plug it in and it worked. Today’s iMacs you have the power to edit films on.  Remarkable. At one stage you could only operate one piece of software at a time – design a layout in Quark, close it down, edit a photo in Photoshop, close it down, re-open Quark to insert said photo, close it down, create an icon in Illustrator, close it down, open up Quark insert said icon. And that was using a high end desktop Mac (now defined as their range as a MacPro).

Right now I using an iMac – I’m typing this up, I’m streaming the news via Firefox, Twitter is running, I’m charging my phone, linked to iTunes, and have at least 6 other pieces of software up running and open. And it’s all easily and beautifully done, so much so, we don’t even think about it now.

The iPad is still new. It’s still shiny. It still has a way to go. We wait for Apple to show us where it can go next.

The iPhone. Apple made computers. Not phones. But the iPhone revolutionised the mobile phone industry, it gave us the App Store – it gave us the ability to have an App that would navigate us through the London tube in real time. Ability to transfer files easily via Dropbox.

And Apple took on retail. Until the roll out of Apple stores, if your Mac went down it was shipped back to Holland. Via an Irish Call Centre. Mac Stores gave us the opportunity to go and play – get hands on. To experience. If your iPhone has a problem – just take it back to an Apple Store. 99% of the time – no questions asked – here –  have a new one. They make it easy. For you who have been into an Apple Store or brought a product online, the experience blows most other retail companies away, in ease, usability, navigation and just, experience.

I’m not a groupie – though many would say I am. I have an iMac, and iPod, an iPhone, an iPad. Which all work beautifully. Together. Having used Mac for over 20 years – I know how  Apple operate, not everything works first time, worth waiting for second, third generation before jumping, not every upgrade is really worth it. Apple haven’t always got it right, and while they may be one of the biggest companies in the world right now, they have at times, really struggled to survive.

Steve Jobs had the drive, the vision, the unique ability to change the world that surrounds us. He took elements, be it of hardware or software or concepts, and built and supplied products that changed the way the world operates. He opened the market, drove his competitors to compete, giving us ultimately a far better choice.

He gave us customer experience – not telling us that’s what you get – learn and deal with it – but thought about how we engage, that infective child-like enthusiasm for how things work, not only raising expectations, but giving us the potential of new and unique horizons, the ability to join the dots, without a 500 page manual, or a long list of the reasons it couldn’t be done.

And beyond this – he backed Pixar. Who gave us Toy Story. And took digital technology in film making ‘to infinity and beyond.’

He thought differently. He’s made the world think, then operate differently. He made customer experience central. He made beautiful design and functionality as important as any product concept. A true pied piper with a vision to match.
As a creative person I get this. I love the fact that he loved the detail in design and that he made sure Apple delivered it. On every level.

Steve Jobs. A true legend in my lifetime.

stevejobs_apple_6oct11

Listen to this Standford Speech from 2005. A fine, and moving, moment.

The Hummingbird re-emerges from the flames – Welcome (back) to The Birmingham Ballroom

This was written way back in August 2011. We were so excited with the potential of what could be. The Birmingham Ballroom tried its hardest – but didn’t last. It be closed within 18 months of emerging. So much for a great venue…… (November 2013)

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Oh I’m a little excited. News of a ‘new venue’ in Brum! The former Top Rank (well before my time), former Hummingbird (spent many hours there), formerAcademy (and in there) in Dale End is being reborn as The Birmingham Ballroom.

One of the best venues Birmingham had ever seen, for so many reasons, with it’s surrounding viewing balcony and somewhat ‘used’ feel, it was rendered vacant as The Academy moved to the former Dome due to a multimillion pound development that was due to wipe out and rebuild that area of Birmingham.

It many have been a tad smelly (or smokey) at times, but it was a venue that had space (even when sold out), had great sound (wherever you stood) and the ability to see (again, from whether you stood). You never felt like a sardine or a commodity even in the most packed of gigs. That lived in, stick to the tacky floor feeling, gave it that comfortable old slippers feeling. In a great location. And I have so many memories of gigs there, I can’t count them all.

Did remember this night. Velvet Revolver. It was packed. Sold out. Great gig, even though there was questions that it would go ahead. Weiland walked away just two days later. You wouldn’t have known.  And as we emerged, the sign was lit up, and a took this snap.

academy_vr

Well the money fell through for that inner city development and the guys who refurbed the HMV Institute to its current glory are currently busy refitting and recreating this classic venue. We will once again have three venues on one site –Birmingham Ballroom, The Other Room and The End.

We are soooooo liking the fact it’s going to be a non-corporate venue.
We are liking the commitment to  sensible bar prices and booking fees.
All with a remit to bring back fun in the live music scene.

We await with eager anticipation just what the future will hold.

 

Are Gig tickets getting cheaper?

I’ve had a minor rant in a previous post about the cost of tickets to see bands.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut I’ve recently seen a few bands and tickets appear to be costing less for your average gig. Where a gig at the Academy would have set you back, on average,  £28-£35 a few months ago (less booking fee and all the other little hidden extras) – there appears to be a cut in the prices…..

Now maybe some are “loss leaders”. Tinie Tempah recently played the Academy. Although sold out, and online reseller were selling them at a lot more, face price on tickets was £16.50. For two supports and a DJ set as well as  the main man. A great gig, and pure value for your pound. The new and shiny kiwis, The Naked and Famous tickets sold at £7.00 (less than a round of drinks).

I’m reviewing some more gigs for Brum Live and Fused – Ticket prices for these mid range venues range from £12 – £29, with the average being £22. So looks like the cost of tickets are clearly dropping.

Is that to do with an assessment of what punters will pay, spesh given that money is tight? Or the fact that there’s a new kid in town – The HMV Institute?

But by all accounts – if live gigs are becoming cheaper  – that can only be a good thing to keep the punters involved and enjoying the experience, whether you be an established or new and spangly band. Keep Music Live!

Dudley Zoo 2011 edition

Well we went for a day trip out to the Zoo. Dudley Zoo.

Things have changed a lot over the years. Dudley Zoological Gardens opened in 1937. At the time it was a place to go and look at creatures you’d only see in books or in moving pictures.

I remember going when I was little. I sat on the back of a Giant Galapagos Tortoise and had a ride. I remember the Killer Whale. I remember the elephants. I remember looking into the meticulously aesthetically designed concrete pits at Polar Bears. I remember eating a picnic in the castle….

Things were different then. You looked at these animals. The environment the animals were kept in wasn’t a real concern.

Then came Zoo Check and real concerns over animal welfare. Many zoos, including Dudley, were wholly criticized for keeping animals in conditions which were way beyond fit for purpose. And taking into consideration the newly re-focused animal-in-captivity welfare concerns –  they were right.

Giant Tortoises (and rides) went. Keeping Killer Whales in pools that were so small they couldn’t move went (the Orca died in ’74 before it could be relocated). Keeping Polar Bears in concrete bowls where they paced all day just wasn’t on. From being intrigued about these bizarre animals from overseas that we wouldn’t see in real life without traveling; we all started to care that they were kept in the best conditions possible. Now that wasn’t to say keepers of their day weren’t doing their job, or caring about the animals in the care. Times they’d changed. Visitors expectations changed.

Dudley was a zoo that struggled it’s way through all of this. And to compound the issues of modernization – the Art Deco concrete enclosures, designed by Berthold Lubetkin’s Tecton Group,  were Grade II listed. So they couldn’t be taken down. They couldn’t be changed.

The larger animals began to disappear over time. And what do you do with an old Polar Bear that probably wouldn’t survive if moved, than you can’t build a new environment for, and that another Zoo probably wouldn’t take. Have it destroyed? Or look after it the best you can til it dies.

And the Zoo with lack of visitors and lack of funds began to literally fall into dereliction.

But over the past few years they’ve began to find a path. New structures, where possible have appeared, with environments that are substantially better than the old.  Some have been modernized as much as possible. Animals kept as mentally stimulated as possible to encourage natural behavior.

Dudley Zoo 2011 edition, now concentrates on several areas:

  • Conservation. Several animals including Giraffe, Red Panda and Asiatic Lion are part of bigger breeding programs, where species are so endangered that captive breeding programs are an option to keep the species alive.
  • Transfer zone. They are effectively a ‘holding’ zone in the transfer of animals from one location to another (while waiting for their new accommodation to be ready).
  • Taking in unwanted pets – from snakes to tarantulas, injured birds to birds of prey…
  • History. With a castle which goes from the 12th century through to Tudor times it utilizes it’s historic values through workshops of the times and ghost walks.
  • Education. Big time engagement – on a visit expect 15 or more mini experiences – whether hands on, feeding times, birds of prey flying times, ghost and historic stories. Or, for example,  you can be a Zoo Keeper for a Day.
  • Animal Sponsorship. Sponsor a penguin… Arkwright. Do you know which one he is?
  • Venue hire. You can have your wedding reception there.

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There are one or two animals still from times past. A Brown Bear, now thirty odd, too old to move, and near her end of life, is looked after as well as possible, in one of the old enclosures. Her coat is shiny. Physically the old lady looks well.

There’s a Lemur Walk - where you can walk through a large area which contains different breeds of Lemur – where you walk into their world, not a cage. Large area for Asiatic Lions as part of a conservation program (there’s only 300 left in the wild). And further (if minimal work) is undergoing.

In 2009 Dudley Zoological Gardens Charity operated on about £2.5m. In today’s money that’s nothing. And it severely could do with infrastructure investment to do something with the derelict, but listed structures. But it’s clean and well kept, the animals are well looked after and you cannot fault the keepers and workers on their commitment to the animals.

There are many animals at risk of dying out in our lifetime. And it is a pre-requisite about zoos these days to be primarily concerned with conservation. And there is probably still a need to care for those animals too old to move, or who are unwanted, or born in captivity couldn’t be put back out into their own environment.

Dudley Zoo does a lot of great stuff. But clearly runs on limited money, limited resources and limited staff.  Does it know what its long term direction should be?  I’m also not sure that it has a real structured marketing plan either. It’s almost that like many animals, Dudley Zoo is about day-to day-survival.

I’d like to see Dudley Zoo expand on it’s education. Do more and more conservation work to do with rare breeds. Have a strategy. Utilize it’s phenomenal history far more.

It is a really sweet day out, rather than a great day out. You will enjoy it. But in order to survive, just like some of the animals it cares for, it needs your help. The choice is yours. Support it by visiting. If you keep away –  like the DoDo –  it’ll die out.

 

Vinyl. Remember that?

recordWe brought in our millions, that black circle of etched embedded music. A vinyl album. Or EP. Or a single. We’d go to one of them, now nearly defunct, Record Shops, and look through rows and rows of Bands to find what we were looking for, alongside other doing the same thing.

We’d look beyond the norm – we’d for gatefold, pop-out packaging, rare limited editions, 12”  vinyl mega remixes of our favorite songs, colored vinyl, picture vinyl. We would buy a product. We would get it home, and clean off the dust, and listen to it crackling on the deck.

We would immerse ourselves in the content, be it lyric sheets, or the artwork of the cover. And cover artwork was a form in it’s own right. Be it Roger Dean and covers for Yes, Hypnosis and Pink Floyd, classic covers of Bat Out Of Hell, Iron Maiden or Guns ‘n’ Roses. Or classic iconic images like Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”.  In its own way, buying an actual record was an experience, total engagement of the band through a real tangible product. It gave you a talking point. And much, much more.

And if you scratched the vinyl, you’d wipe it in soapy washing up liquid. Kinda fixed the problem. And if you stored it on it’s side, it could warp. So you’d stick a 2p coin on the label bit when playing to weight it down so the needle wouldn’t jump.

Tape cassettes.The poor man’s version of vinyl. Horrible things. They would warp out of control, so you’d end up with some drunken version of your favorite song. If the tape broke you could fix it together cleverly with some celloptape. And you could record over them. Time and time again. Till they warped that little bit too much. More drunken singing.  But they were a huge pain. Fast forwarding or rewinding in an attempt to find the right song on the tape.

And the CD. It took some time to make this work. Initially marketed as “You can eat your lunch of them and they’d still be perfect.” Erm. Not. A scratched CD jumps. As we all know.

Other attempts. Remember the mini -disc?

We’ve all used a range of different media to play our music. Now we don’t buy a physical product. We buy some code, and import it onto our computer, iPhone or MP3 player and listen that way. It’s is clean, no scratches, no jumping, no realism. Perfectly sanitized.

We download. Or not as the case may be – we listen online, through Spotify, through YouTube, streamed through our TV services or do what we all used to do – switch on the Radio. Through a Radio. Or online. Or via our TV, phone or which ever gadget is to hand.

Progress is great. I’m a user of all those modern ways of listening to music. But I can’t deny –  I miss vinyl. For so many reasons. Once purchased it was mine. All mine. For all it’s rubbish imperfections.

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