Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ebb tidal text sculptures...three gone, three left!

Night swimmers: 'Far from harm, locked in each others' arms. Night swimmers in a dream of the sea'
This all happened as a result of kayaking  and beachcombing over the summer in Shetland's St Magnus Bay.

Our house sits on the shoreline, and pottering around in boats and canoes is a big part of our summer life, as well as walking our dodgy dogs along the beach. Scranning (local word) for anything the sea may deliver is an isles pastime I've loved since coming here, and of course with the kayak you can scran on otherwise inaccessible beaches.

I began retrieving interesting pieces of wood (some very large lumps, too, which are being dried for future use) and then sea glass, marine plastics and other detritus. You tend to find smoothed and polished bits of broken bottle and ceramic in pockets, near where it was originally dumped, and Hillswick, our village, is particularly good for that, as the oldest pub in Shetland used to be sited there (the building, The Booth, still is). Presumably a lot of old bottles used to be disposed of in an environmentally unfriendly fashion!
Watering: 'The shattered desert tree is not dead. It waits only for its moment'

Anyway I started messing about with bits of sea-delivered stuff, along with little slivers of text, all sea and island related. I like the idea of combining poetry, haiku, opaque sentences, in something visual, and for that matter physical. Something with a specific, intended meaning. I used pastel and acrylic paint, ink and watercolour to modify some of the found objects. And it's nice to do something that isn't just battering on a word processor, or talking into a camera or microphone. Call it a hobby!

We have thousands of old Ballachulish and Welsh slates in the garden left over from restoring the house, and I came up with the notion of creating wall hangings, using thick copper wire as both a method of mounting the plaques, and as something kind of warm and physically attractive in its own right. I made half a dozen or so pieces, carefully cleaning sterilising all the wood and organic material (microwave), and sealing the finished items with aerosol watercolour fixative. All the pieces were signed 'Ebb', dated and a single square from a 1948 Ordnance Survey Map of Shetland incorporated in each.

Months passed. I lost confidence and interest. Too busy, for one thing. And then this past weekend we had a 'Bake It For The Beatson' do and the local village hall, and, encouraged by our friend Gill, I took some of the Ebb 'tidal text sculptures' along. Hey presto, (some) people liked them (particularly children, who I think fancied having a go at making them), and three now have new homes. Money actually changed hands!
Seachange: 'The sea changes all, but in the end will itself remain unaltered'

They're just a wee bit of a spare time activity, some are better than others, and you may think they're just the usual ham-fisted amateur dabbling by people who hang about seashores. But anyway, here are the ones that have gone. There's three more for sale over on Etsy, with all profits going to the Beatson Cancer Charity, the clinic in Glasgow to which we owe so much.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nerina Pallot, Bob Lefsetz, 'the Troubadour' and whether musicians actually deserve to get paid at all

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side...

Hunter S Thompson

Nerina Pallot is a talented, fascinating and highly articulate musician, and during an interview and session she did for my radio show, she revealed that she's a big fan of the streaming service Spotify, as am I.

This is very unusual for a so-called 'professional' musician, most of whom complain bitterly about how little cash they make from the service. The American  commentator Bob Lefsetz is, however, blunt: Streaming is the future, the ownership model of music is over, CDs are almost dead, vinyl is a nostalgic souvenir, and it's the selfish big-business interests clinging on within the record industry who are stopping the Netflix model of TV and movies taking over music. If you're a musician complaining, it's because you're not good enough. End of. Face the future and get on with it.

I wouldn't go that far. Nerina talked about the concept of the 'troubadour', the 12th and 13th Century travelling musicians who had no regular income and were dependent on the generosity of common people for food and hospitality, or on rich patrons for protection and sustenance. Many, however, chose to remain independent as the very concept of 'troubadour' was about being able to criticise the status quo and the powers that be. She points out that making money from recorded music is an idea barely 60 years old, that playing live and sharing your songs is a mission, a vocation; that if you're serious you would do it whether you got paid or not. And again, if you're good, people will pay to see you or buy a souvenir or two. A T shirt. A badge. A signature on a sleeve. A meal and a bed for the night. And if you have to do that only at weekends, because you've a job and a family - well. Lucky you.

Nerina has various strings to her bow. She plays live, she has had a few major record deals (all rejected by her on grounds of interference with her own vision) but a serious publishing deal has I think sustained her, with songs being recorded and performed by all kinds of people, including X Factor competitors (Diana Vickers, Joe McEldery) and major artists like Kylie Minogue. She's also married to top producer and songwriter Andy Chatterly, which can't be harmful. And she pushes at the envelope, this year (2014) recording and releasing in downloadable and 'solid' media an 'EP' every month (funny how we still use those outdated vinyl-era terms). She has tackled the year like a troubadour, she has a smallish fan base that supports her, those pop royalities come in, and yeah, she gets some cassh from Spotify and YouTube as well. She's her own little industry. But she is under no illusion that music owes her a living. Maybe you need a day job to allow you to keep playing and writing, she says.

Fact is, Spotify or YouTube - streaming - is now how most major consumers of music first listen to tunes. Either for free or on subscription. They may download albums if they're serious fans of a particular artists, or even buy specially packaged vinyl or a CD as a keepsake. But nearly all of us are listening digitally now, on phones or computers or on our Internet connected TVs. And it's a fact that much less money is being made by artists, because there is less money to be made.

The 70s, with their vast advances, ludicrous self indulgence, swimming pool Bentleys and rock star mansions, are gone. Yes, you can still be successful, yes, major pop stars can emerge and become millionaires, but the deals nowadays are '360', taking in everything from merchandise and sync to live gigs and online advertising. The idea of an industry which sustains everyone from small-scale niche artists to major pop stars is over. I've lost count of the number of 'professional' musicians whose 'full time status' is actually that of house husband/wife, with the family bills being met by a partner possessing a 'proper' job.

Bottom line, and this is where all those college courses on 'commercial music' need to be much more hard-edged and economically realistic, is that the vast majority of musicians in future, ones who in the past may have been  lower division full-timers, will be hobbyists or semi-pro. College courses, like instrument shops, feed fantasies and some of those dreamers need to be shaken awake.

Talent is not enough to put food on the table and pay a mortgage; even a small and devoted following may not be adequate. Maybe you'll have to teach, drive a taxi, clean,  keep house, be a postman or woman, a waiter or waitress, a cook, bottle washer or for that matter shop owner, or business executive. You could enter the X Factor and go from a decent, normal talented person with a dream to some hard-nosed, caked-on-make-up cartoon, putty in the hands of truly horrible svengali-figures or brutal businesses, kicked aside when your moment is up. Because in the end, showbiz sucks.

Not everyone can be a Nerina Pallot. Not everyone is that talented, that secure financially, that fiercely self assured and intellectually committed (she gave up music at one point to do an English degree). But in the degree of control she exercises over her own work, her acceptance of economic and artistic realities, she may be a useful example to younger artists.

If you love music, you'll write and play and keep on writing and playing, no matter what.  You'll stay true to your vision, compromise occasionally, make mistakes and fail. Sometimes you'll succeed, but maybe not for long. But you'll keep going. Because it's more than what you do, or what you fantasise about. It's who you really are.