Sunday, 4 January 2009

"You say you want a resolution..."

We're seven miles up in the air somewhere over the Atlantic when Maddy asks me, "Daddy, what's 'meaning'?"

I've just read her the synopsis of the film Wall-E from the tiny screen in front of us and the final line says words to the effect of: '... and at last the lonely robot finds some meaning in life.' As questions go from five-year olds go - or indeed from anyone at all, "What is meaning?" is the big one. And to get it at 35 thousand feet up in the air on New Year's Day makes it seem all the more poignant. How do I answer a question like that?

We're coming back from a ten day trip to the US to visit Robyn's folks in Virginia. Yes, for those of you wondering what had happened to me since the last blog entry three weeks ago, that's where I've been. And now the holiday and indeed the Holidays are over. Interesting that the American catch-all term for Christmas is being increasingly used over here - I got a number of heartfelt corporate festive greeting texts from friends on my return, none of them mentioning the word Christmas. No doubt if any clients of a non-Christian faith received a greeting containing the word Christ during their hard-won Holiday, they would immediately declare a business fatwa on the offending well-wisher.

Yes, Holiday is over and I didn't even get the chance to wish everyone a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year but I do hope you all had a good one and didn't spend the time between crackers and Auld Lang Syne worrying about what how terrible 2009 is going to be financially, ecologically and of course for the record business. I spent the time in Virginia in the middle of what they call 'The Boondocks' (trans. 'the back and beyond') not once looking at the Internet, the news on TV, a newspaper or even turning on my mobile phone. Instead I cooked, helped my daughters invent games with the dolls and dug deep into the iPod shuffle for Christmas greats (Hark The Herald Angels Swing by The World's Greatest Jazzband Of Yank Lawson & Bob Haggart got a lot of love) as well as returning to my favourite CDs of the year and of course plenty of Maddy's - incidentally, if you have kids under 10 and haven't heard the Carrie and David's Pop Shop album yet you're in for a treat - it keeps your children off the streets, gives an ex member of Linx some well-deserved earnings and you get the fun of spotting the musical references as they plunder every genre to bring pop alive for kids. More fun than listening to Bon Iver, I Grant you.

I must stop going on about Bon Iver, I'm sure he's a very talented and likable guy. I actually did try and have another go at the album over Christmas. I figured I was in the middle of a forest, in a log cabin-style house, it was frosty outside with the nearest town, Scottsville, a twenty-minute drive away; aside from the fact that I wasn't on my own with only my beard for company, surely the atmosphere was identical to the one allegedly endured by broken hearted Justin Vernon when he made For Emma? But no, the thing passed me by again. I love simple voice and guitar music, from Iron and Wine and Elliot Smith to Jake Thackray and Bert Jansch but, for me, there is something missing about For Emma, Ever Ago. I just don't like the fella's singing, it sounds like he's putting on mannerisms, as if his voice isn't his own. And it's double tracked a lot too (e.g on The Wolves) which is always suspicious. And of course, my hackles are always raised when something is universally praised by music critics - every one of them falling for the dubious mythology of the tortured artist doing it for love and making it all my himself in a shed. I'm sure he did, but that doesn't automatically make it 'haunting' and 'beautiful'. I'll give it this though, I do quite like the final track Re: Stacks. But what an annoying indie song-title...

Consensus terrorism as Douglas Coupland calls it, is always rife in the press. I've mentioned it here before, it's when a couple of leading critics set an opinion , which is then followed by all the lesser journalists out of laziness or fear of getting it wrong, then the public follows suit and before you know it, people are either afraid to admit to liking Coldplay or fearful of saying they don't think Pet Sounds is the greatest album ever made. Given that I had time to reflect over things during my holiday in Les Boondocks, I concluded that this is one of the things that obsessess me and is perhaps the underlying motivation in everything I write.

I was angry about consensus terrorism as an A&R man, finding myself quite often very against whatever artists who were getting other A&R folk in a lather, and looking for inspiration elsewhere. Often I was wrong, and whoever it was I didn't care for (e.g. recently The Klaxons, or years ago, Suede) became huge and I actually ended up quite liking their stuff but just as often I was right (Where are The Twang now? And I'll be surprised if we'll hear much more of the Courteeners in 2009).

But why should I care about what 15-year olds listen to? I feel like I'm already father to a teenager as Maddy now wanders round the house singing Fabulous like Sharpay in High School Musical 2. When I started this blog a year ago (yes, amazingly it's been 12 months! I would hold some sort of event for its birthday, invite all of you and bathe in glory if I was the sort of person I dislike . Incidentally, I have to admit the popularity of A&Rmchair is one of the most pleasing things about 2008 for me and, as the risk of sounding like Halle Berry at the Oscars thank you all for reading it in such numbers with such regularity.

But I am digressing again. What I was about to say was that a year ago one of the first entries here was about me getting stopped by a beautiful girl who was collecting for The Samaritans outside Farringdon station. After having done the usual bloke thing of assuming that she had collared me because she found my rather splendid looks beguiling, was told that I reminded her of one of her dad's mates. Since then, I have rebuilt my confidence back to being convinced of my adorability. I've done this by means of growing a beard (see, me and that Bon Iver, we've got more in common than you might think).

The beard happened over the summer by accident really; we were on holiday and I just didn't shave for a week. Then, on being complemented by my wife, I kept growing it until, in her words, it 'got a bit Mick Fleetwood' whereupon I trimmed it rather than the usual post-holiday clean shave. Now six months on and I have embraced being a beardy. I never thought I'd be one - my dad has always had a beard and I whilst I always thought it looked good on him, I was on the side of Roald Dahl who disliked them so much he included a whole chapter on them in The Twits. I wear the beard now with pride. But with it come all sorts of new responsibilities - like the wiping away of toothpaste after brushing, or the disentangling of toasty crumbs. Also, I now have to think about the way I dress because it makes me look grown up. I've been to the Old Blue Last many times and stood at the bar next to lots of bearded-up Hoxtonites, but I am aware that if I went now, I could not pass for one of the Mystery Jets unless I was the dad. The beard is not some facial equivalent of a leather jacket and girlfriend 20 years my junior.

This notion crystallised while we were in America. We were doing a shop for kids' clothes at a store called Old Navy which is like a kind of low rent Gap. I wandered off to have a look at the Men's section and found a whole load of T-shirts for $7 each (American T-shirts are always a bargain, it's almost as if they are subsidised along with the petrol). These shirts were individually designed, some had messages, others hand drawn Mo-Wax-style creatures or line drawings, here's one I really liked and tried on. It was then that it hit me: I realised that while I am still fortunate enough to have a waist and reasonably broad shoulders, I just can't pull off the logo T-shirt anymore with the beard (PB). In fact, I'm now not sure if I could even pre-beard (BB) It was a big revelation, to be honest, as I am a huge fan of graphic design on T-shirts, but right there and then I made the decision that I was no longer going to wear shirts like that anymore. I may not be mutton, but I'm damn sure not going to sink into some ignoble middle youth. So there's a New Year's resolution - along with all the others that I'm not going to share here. If you do see me out in a T-shirt, it won't have a graphic design on it. If it does, I hereby give you the right to say, "Oi, grandad! Get yourself something nice from Marks & Spencers instead!"

So what about meaning in life? What did I say to Maddy, who wanted to know about meaning all those feet up in the air? I said this: meaning is your friends, it's knowing that you're not alone - just like Wall-E in the film, which we watched about five minutes of before Maddy got too scared. I told her we were finally going to see her friend Katie who lives next door to us in Walthamstow. Katie, whose name Maddy had mentioned almost every day of the trip, normally in the sentence: "I'm bored, I want to go home, I want to see Katie!" It's about me going out with for the annual Scared Hitless Christmas lunch with two of my oldest mates both of whom are now hugely successful in the music business and being able to talk and laugh as equals for three hours and not notice the time pass or indeed the time that has passed between us - we realised that we'd been having these Christmas lunches for 14 years. So if meaning in life equals friendship, there's another resolution for all of us in 2009: think less about your office desk, your inbox and making money, and see more of your friends. Happy new year!


  1. You are dead right about Consensus Terrorism. Part of it may be the internet, in a few seconds you can find any review of anything. Two people say they love it,and suddenly that's what everyone is saying. Likewise great stuff gets ignored because people are too busy trying to associate themselves with the latest buzz band. Bastards.

  2. Hello Ben,

    Well I've been reading your blog for a while and find it fascinating. It's all the bits of the music industry you never get to hear.
    Coincidentally Word dropped through the letter box this morning with your A & R man article in there. Now that would make a great book. A collection of interviews or articles about the A & R men from the sixties onwards and all the good and terrible decisions they made. You should pitch it to a publisher!

    all the best,


  3. Totally off-topic, Ben, but the comment about Adam and Joe you left on my blog has been answered by none other than Adam Buxton from Adam and Joe. You can scroll down and read it here.

  4. I quite like the Bon Iver album, but still do think it's a bit overrated. Re. Stacks one of my favorite songs of 2008. Agree about the title though..

    I hope you are doing well my friend!

  5. Very exclusive photo and article thanks for sharing.