If you have an idea, project, event or brand you want to bring to life online but you’re not quite sure how to do it, come along for a free one on one advice session. I'll be sharing some insights about the power of momentum, how to grow a community instead of “followers”, marketing myths, what makes bloggers blog, the biggest PR pitfalls, strategies that work, and how to tell compelling stories to help you find your way through the mysterious world of marketing. It's first come first served so please don't be late and please do bring a pen...
Technically, I'm a promoter. In reality, I'm always the biggest fan in the room, which is actually quite a feat when you've booked both Tawiah and Mahalia. There's something about them both - obviously they're significantly different stylistically - but they both have the kind of talent and originality that turns anyone who sees them perform in to believers. Believers who follow them around from show to show, basking in the moments we can still see them up this close. I won't describe their performances in detail here because we filmed them, but it was an extremely emotional evening, with Tawiahs' eyes filling up at one point during her single "Teardrop" as she delivered a performance that was almost brutally honest and heartfelt. The full set of photos by Wayne Thomas is on our Facebook page.
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Szjerdene tends to evoke the same response from everyone I speak to about her, whether it's A&Rs or brand new fans, experimental producers who make albums out of pigs or people who er, don't do that. They all say - *sharp intake of breath* "Her voice!!" It stays with you, as it did with me when I first came across it four years ago.
The single "Blue Lullaby" from her recently released "Patchwork EP" is desperately melancholic, but the beauty of Szjerdene's tone at times made me forget I was sad, and the next moment intensified the feeling almost unbearably. It may have taken her a couple of years to finish and release, but the mark of a good song is its ability to stand the test of time.
The performers I book for Put Me On It Live shows (so far Tanya Auclair, Dego with live band, Szjerdene and Tawiah) make it increasingly difficult to book the next one. I try to catch artists on the cusp of much bigger things, or those willing to do me huge favours, before it's too late and they're selling out huge venues. As I pushed my way through the crowd that night so many people stopped me to ask about Szjerdene and what she's doing next. Working with her gave me the insight that she is very much a perfectionist, so the answer is probably taking her time, which makes it all the more exciting.
Purchase: Szjerdene "Patchwork The EP"
What do Tupac's hologram, Grace Jones and Eska have in common? They're the three things that kept me awake after Eska's live performance at The Queen Elizabeth Hall on 7th May.
Before I say anything else, please only watch the video above up until the performance ends at 7.41 mins. It's taken from a funding showcase where a first draft of the show was essentially pitched in order to be developed further. There is a certain way things are done in the world of fundraising, so it was necessary for Eska and her collaborators to politely discuss their plans and ideas for the work. In the real world she would have gotten up at the end and said "after that performance do you need any more proof this show will be amazing?? No, thought not. Pow!", slammed the piano shut and sashayed off stage. Struan and Simon would have walked on with two large leather briefcases and whispered "you heard her, now make it rain", whereupon the funders would have sprayed them with £50s. Well, at least that's how it would work if someone died and left me in charge of the Arts Council.
So back to Tupac's hologram. What the version in the video above lacked was the amazing 80 piece Goldsmith's Vocal Ensemble in attendance at the QEH. "Vocal Ensemble" sounds like a fancy way of saying "choir", however the word choir for many of us evokes freezing cold school halls at lunch time, droning along (what's a harmony?), wishing Whoopie Goldberg would burst in dressed as a nun and sort it out. Or something. In fact GVE is much like my childhood fantasy version of a choir, but with added choreography, acting, really interesting songs and vocal arrangements, and Tom Herbert from The Invisible. Vocal Ensemble it is then. The overwhelming response at the end of the show (through stifled sobs) was "OMG Eska should always have a choir, why doesn't she?!" from very enthusiastic people who have clearly not thought through the logistics of taking 80+ people anywhere. Do you see where I'm going with the hologram yet? 80 power cables rather than 80 people - make it rain Arts Council, make it rain.
Being an icon in the making must be a terrible burden. You can't just show up to performances in a nice dress with a backing track and a line check, hoping for the best. You have a legacy to create and protect, and whilst Eska is a lovely person, she has done more than her fair share of paying dues. The atmosphere before the show began was buzzing, electric and hungry - hundreds of die hard fans praying that Eska was finally about to step on to the big stage her star deserves. I looked around and did the head count before the lights went down, not a spare seat, and a good percentage of the audience were well known musicians. There was also a woman who had the audacity to dress up like Grace Jones just because she looked like her. (Turns out it was Grace Jones, and yes I am going for an eye test). Perhaps icons recognise each other.
The music that night was beyond my descriptive abilities. Flawless is an over used word but there were none. It was beautiful, classy, and emotional in the extreme. There were so many occasions I was totally overwhelmed I couldn't pick one, all I can say is that I was very grateful to be there. A teary-eyed Mara Caryle clasped my arm on the way out, asked if I was OK and suggested we set up a support group for "survivors of Eska at the QEH". I think perhaps we might be better off setting up a group for those who weren't there that night. If you are one of those people, I strongly suggest you add "seeing Eska's English Skies Song Cycle live" to your bucket list.
My friend Theo Jemison, whose beautiful work I've featured here often, sent over this footage of Gil Scott Heron shortly before he passed away. There's something so intimate about the way it's shot, it makes you feel as though you were in the room, like an invented memory, or the memories of other gigs past joining up to take you a short leap in to the El Rey that night.
Whilst obviously Gil was a performer of the very best kind - honest, warm, sincere and musically very gifted - this kind of film makes me so grateful for film makers who are there to capture those moments for posterity. I don't know how I would describe artists like Gil to my future kids with just their music to rely on; the next generation will be so much more visual than I, and I wonder how it will translate, but to have a little of the essence of the great and important voices of history preserved in cinematic moments like these gives me hope they will continue to live on vividly.
I wouldn’t change anything, if there’s anything I think I can do better I’ll make sure it happens on the next album.
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Tomorrow, at the same time
The same feeling will arise
And you will know by then to go
Down the straight and narrow
So move onto your painted place
And forget about which way you face
There is no rain coming over
Your silhouette imprinted on mine
Binds us wholly and keeps us trying
I never doubt this I never fear
The road you take will lead you here
So while you wait for the sun to rise again
Think of us dancing in the rain
- Jono McCleery
[wpcol_2third_end id="" class="" style=""] - Jono McCleery is very good company but not such an eager interviewee, which I discovered a few months ago upon hitting the record button. It caused me to reflect on the whole notion of the interview - here I have a heartfelt piece of work from an artist, produced in exactly the manner they choose to express themselves, and yet here I am asking for a little bit more, just to satisfy my curiosity. Whilst I'm not about to stop speaking to those artists who find that process enjoyable (or perhaps even just acceptable), I might try to let the Jono's communicate in their own personal, exceptionally gifted ways in future. The interview is printed below for posterity, but I suggest you buy Jono's eloquent and beautiful album 'There Is' to find out more. - AI
- We had a lot of instruments about the house when I grew up, and I always messed around on everything but I was never really pushed into music. It was only when I got to the age of 17 that I started to teach myself how to play guitar so I could facilitate singing. - When I was a kid I was really in to drawing, I was obsessed with it, I thought that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life, and then when I was a teenager I got obsessed with basketball and thought that was what I was going to do… I tended to get obsessed with things and really immerse myself in to one thing, and finally getting in to music is the thing that's stuck with me. - When I was at school, everyone was listening to dance music. I didn't have much inspiration around me, as far as my friends were concerned but because what I was exposed to at home was so far away from it, it almost made it more precious - lots of soul and jazz like Bill Withers, Otis Redding, Billie Holiday and Bill Evans. And I was happy to be alone in enjoying these types of music. - When I was about 18 I got my first gig and had my first residency at a pub in Surbiton called "The Brave New World". That went on for maybe a year, and that was when it started to become more of a job for me. I was playing weekly, learning and writing as many songs as I could so I could fill up the night. I would cover Nick Drake songs, I remember covering Radiohead - anything that I could get my guitar playing around at the time. - My deal with Ninja Tune came about through touring with Fink. He recommended me to them, and then they heard a remix by Fybe. as soon as they heard it they asked if I would come and join them and collaborate with Fybe on an album. This has been our first professional release together, and it's taken us just under two years to make the album. - It started off with just me recording on my four track, emailing the recordings to Fybe, he'd produce them we'd send them onto my string arranger Matt Kelly to work with, then we'd work on top of that, and eventually get my live band involved, so the project really expanded as time went on and became more and more ambitious and textured. - It has been a long process, emailing each other and working on it in our own separate ways, but we've all had a big creative input in to it individually, without restricting each other, which I think has made the project much more collaborative and experimental. I feel really happy with the album. There's songs and there's moments I feel we could do better if we were given a second chance but essentially I'm very happy with the intention of it. I wouldn't change anything, if there's anything I think I can do better I'll make sure it happens on the next album. - I don't have a specific goal career-wise, my main priority is to allow myself the freedom to express my creativity, and to keep evolving as an artist, whether I'm doing that in the context of writing songs for other people, or whether I'm doing it within my own albums, it doesn't matter to me. I'd like to give a chance to any opportunity or direction that comes as long as I feel it will allow me to do this. -
Purchase: Jono McCleery "There Is" [iTunes Link]
I’ve been lucky to just have passion, and that is where your energy is turned in to a good thing, artistic movement...
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I've known Yult (or Tomatom to his friends) for a few years now, but have really only become aware of his music quite recently. He is one of London's most sought after art directors so I assumed he had little time to make a full project, until Tanya Auclair began playing me their The Animal Inside EP which we premiered in 2010. Since then I've been pestering him for more and he sent over this remix of Portico Quartet's "Clipper". Luckily for us timing meant it didn't fit on PQ's release schedule so Yult is releasing it as an unofficial remix for free through PMOI. He is currently working on more music with Tanya and other artists, and plans to release something new in spring 2012. I decided to try to keep much of his original grammar and language in tact for the interview - he is absolutely hilarious and very charming, and I think it would be a shame to lose any of his "Frenchness". - AI
I was born in Besançon where I stayed for one year (I said that's crap, let's move on). Then I moved to Toulouse, where we stayed 4 years, then we moved to Paris, which is Paris, and we stayed 4 years. We moved to the Alps where I stayed for 5 years, and finally we moved to Montpellier in the south where I did most of my teenage years. I arrived there at 12 and left to come to London almost 5 years ago, so I done almost 12 years there. It’s really nice, really chilled out, but I moved because I needed new things.
- It's good when you're on holiday in Montpellier but hard to get things done in a way, there is no dynamic. The funny thing is I was feeling stressed there which is really chilled out, and when I moved to London I was feeling finally relaxed. People don't understand why, it was like "my god you move to London, you might be stressed everyday in this crazy city!” but actually I feel better because there is this flow.
- This city is really open… all these people come in from everywhere and this creates something where it's very intense, these people they don't waste time. They're really here to push themselves, in the prime of their life - I can't see myself doing that when I'm gonna be 60 years old you know, but at this time it's just perfect. I think that all these people have the same kind of need to achieve, or whatever how you call it, I think it just creates this massive energy thing that makes you feel better. I have this metaphor, when you're in the south of France you just walk the stairs normal, here you walk the stairs but you are on an escalator so you get there quicker and easier, and you go higher.
- I was very problematic as a child. My mum told me I was very difficult, very hard to manage, a troublemaker. I was 6 or 7 and I came home from school and I just said, "well that's it, I've stopped doing my homework, I've decided that's it, I know I don't want to do it anymore". My mum laughed and said "yeah fine you're going to do it", and we had a massive fight for a week where I wasn't doing it, and she had to be really hardcore with me, like proper hardcore shit to force me. My Aunty said "I've been on the pavement of money". It's a French thing; it means I was born quite rough or raw. Before my parents split up I had good social conditions but I was still quite rough, people don't understand - you have everything why are you still putting trouble? To be honest I still question myself. Sometimes it's not a science, you just can't really control it. It's been a challenge to correct this over the years, to get more civilized.
- I've been lucky to just have passion, and that is where your energy is turned in to a good thing, artistic movement or whatever. Definitely hip hop helped, it turned our anger and energy in to a good thing. I've been lucky to discover I like graphic design and visuals and sound, I was just very curious about this kind of stuff. Around 15 I started graffiti, and I started to really see that I loved it and I wanted to do this with my life - maybe not graffiti but visually to make things. I knew that I could make money and have a job with that, and I knew that I would be the king if I could actually get some money doing it. So that helped me to be more peaceful inside. You know when you're in trouble inside and it's quite hard to handle yourself? It takes time and maturity. I started to know myself [laughs].
- I started making music through some friends. I was a big listener, it started with French hip hop, I was maybe 12 and really deep in to it, in the time of the tapes. I would play it in the car, my Mum even knew the lyrics and was singing on the shit! I listened to the golden age of French rap (1992-1997), Oxmo Puccino, D Abuz system, Ideal J, the very first album of Lunatic with Booba was very good, he is doing shit stuff now. After this album the rap became more bling bling, but before that in France it was very hardcore against bling bling, showing off and being superficial. Philosophically the lyrics were really down to earth - like stay real, stay true. If you came and tried to extravert and showing off too much you were going to be hated in the rap world, so I really listen back to this time in French rap and I really connected with the lyrics, it was strong. I knew that it was more than just listening, it was really affecting me deeply. You know like when you see a good film and maybe it can change your mind?
- I had this confrontation of two worlds I grew up with, which is the city (where I lived), but going back to where my mum is from, lost in the vineyards, and I developed two types of friends. I had my 'urban' friends, but also my mates who are from the countryside who have a different way of seeing things. I think it is important to know both. So, in the city it was rap, and in the countryside it was lots of reggae (and I can understand why). The only thing is that when I was coming back to the city and playing reggae to my mates they couldn't understand at first because French is very how you say – if people are in to rap they are in to rap, reggae could be almost perceive as a weakness. They don't mix. I started to really be in to producing music through watching my friends playing reggae, and also loads of people from Leeds coming on holidays there, amazing musicians who really inspired me. That’s when I decided – OK I'm going to buy a computer and start on Fruity Loops and Soundforge and start to put my hands on.
- I came to London a few times to check out the vibe, I was alone on a bridge at Embankment checking out the Thames and the intensity, I just felt so good. In the south of France at this time I was stressed, I almost had a panic attack there but I don't know why. On the bridge I felt serene, and that's when I said - I feel good here, that's how I should feel every day. That's when I really decided to move to London.
- I booked my room through a friend without seeing it, and then I arrived, and then I depressed for a week. For the same price I was living in a flat in the south of France with two or three bedrooms, and I arrived and was living in one room. Here the question hits yourself bad, I had the happy time on the bridge but to move meant loads of stuff. You have to forget about your comfort zone. I left my flat, my car, my job, my friends - everything was fine - but inside I wasn't fine, and then I moved here and I took a slap. Like fuck! What am I doing?! I quit my job, I sold the car and now I'm in this tiny room, I have no job, and it's raining. But I knew what I was looking for, it was about blooming, and this started really quickly. I learned so much from this moving, I just packed my life in to a suitcase - keep just what you need. And now I feel stronger, I feel I can face all kinds of situations.
- I feel at home here, but my roots and where I will end up is in the vineyards in the south of France. I can see myself quite nicely there chilling out. Even now I wish I had money to invest to create a studio there, it's perfect, you're fully disconnected and have no distractions, so creatively it's really good. The contrast is inspiring between London and this place, finally in the middle I've found my balance and I feel lucky to have this. To be a Londoner 100% with no exit or place to go and take a distance from it, I think it would be quite challenging.
- I self taught all my work - I was learning a lot of Photoshop and all the softwares, so I was approaching music through the digital door, I never really knew the analogue era. Now I'm definitely starting to see what's going on in the analogue old school world, there is definitely some interesting process and I feel I need to know this side as well. I am interested in quite complex music, and I think I have a weird perception of rhythm. I work totally with my ears, I don't know chords. When I said I'm not a musician I can't play instruments properly, it's very hard for me to learn a structure, and so I come with a very abstract way to music, which makes it 'soundscapey' i guess. It's more about the texture and materials before the arrangement.
- What I've learned moving to London is that pop culture influences every kind of music in a way. People here have this thing where they really think their music needs to be accessible even if it's very niche, they still keep this restriction where they want people to connect with their music. That's what I'm learning at the moment, trying to get stricter with this, because I'm a very chaotic guy in my ideas, and I think if when there is too much chaos you can't see the chaos, you need a contrast. If you want to do something completely crazy you need to structure it so people can understand what happened at least, and I find it very challenging for me.
- Working with Tanya Auclair has forced me to have a structure to the instrumentals because she's a songwriter with lyrics and I've learned a lot. I struggle to have this ear that people here almost have like common sense… I don't know if that is the wrong perception of pop music but to me you have to provide something to the listener to keep him hooked. Before that I just didn't care, I was just making sounds that I like, but actually there is this very well known technique of songwriting that works, that I'm just discovering now, so I feel young in this way.
- I want to go long term, I don't want to close myself in to a new trend or style of production because then after it's hard to reinvent yourself, and I hope to keep enough distance. Maybe be influenced by trends because I live in the middle of it and I think it's good, but I don't want it to be this kind of throwaway creation like ‘ok, that was the boom of the Dubstep but now actually it's gone, what are you doing now, what's the next thing?' I think it's very important to create your own identity through the long journey. I don't have any style, I hope I can produce some folk music or whatever - something completely different - but still having my own vision.