Friday, 13 March 2009

There's no stoppin' the cretins from hoppin'

Three superheroes run past me on Walthamstow tube station platform. Spiderman, Superman and someone whose identity I can't be certain of... YFrontman, possibly. They run into my carriage, make off down the isle, then get off again and board the next one. One of them has a video camera and is in fits of giggles. I'm sitting there chuckling to myself like a madman. Is this what Comic Relief is all about? Not to the only other occupant of my carriage, a middle aged black woman who is staring after them as it they've just sworn at her. No red nose for her today, then.

Earlier in the week, I'm coming back from the Royal Court, buzzing from seeing the new Mark Ravenhill play, Over There. I review it very favourably, feeling unequivocally that seeing twins acting opposite each other is remarkable and that the story of East and West Berlin they perform is shocking, clever, funny and all the things that make going to the theatre such a joy. Later in the week, I can't resist seeing what other people have written about and it looks like I am in a minority - The Telegraph predictably savages it as politically naive, and the otherwise evenhanded Michael Billington in the Guardian is less than enthused. Does this make me wrong?

Everybody has different taste. The world would be a most tedious place otherwise. The guy whose office I share, spent a large chunk of January ripping the piss out of me for being on Twitter. He does this sporadically, when I do something he considers unbecoming, e.g: "Why are you reading the NME? Are you 17? Eh? Eh? No, is the answer, my friend so PUT IT DOWN and start behaving like a grown up!"

He was particularly vehement about Twitter - "It's for c*nts!" he ranted,"It's for students with nothing better to do than talk about what sort of coffee they've ordered in Starbucks." I try to defend it: "Actually, there are quite a few really interesting feeds, Financial Times, BBC Entertainment, Brian Eno..."
He is unrepentant:"Hey, ever heard of newsfeeds? So what do you need Twatter for?"
"I can tell people when the blog is up... tell people about the plays I'm reviewing..."
"Exactly! Back to my original point: Twitter is for c*nts!!!"

But fast forward to earlier this week. He leans over to me and asks, "Hey, have you tried Tweetdeck?" How things change. Not content with having embraced Twitter, he is now getting excited about laying out his respective Tweets on his desktop. Added to this he is banging on about Spotify the whole time.

My point? Well, back to the woman on the tube and those clashing reviews - we all have different opinions and tastes but - and this is the point, sometimes these opinions change. Adults are expected to be consistent, to stick to their guns. But kids don't have to adhere to the guns law. Maddy changes her mind daily, "I don't like tuna," she said, the day after she wolfed down a mountain of the stuff - that's what you do when you're five. She doesn't like the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory music any more either and her favourite colour is no longer pink. Praise be for that last one.

As you get older, people pigeonhole you - it saves time. So whilst I'm not likely to suddenly change course, Maddy tuna style, and decide I no longer like White Man In Hammersmith Palais, After Eights or Huckleberry Finn, I like the idea that I could for example say: you know what, that Bon Iver album is OK.

Incidentally this is just an example and not a statement of fact, I'm sure you'll be reassured to hear that I still think Bon Iver smells of wee. No, what I've been thinking about is some of the artists I tried to sign at V2 and whether I would still pursue them now.

100 record business years ago, when I was at V2 back in 2006, the first thing I wanted to sign was the subject of much blog-related excitement - a solo act from Albuquerque called Beirut, which was, as it turned out a solo artist called Zach Condon. I'm sure you know his stuff already as he has gone on to do quite well. His music on debut album Gulag Orkstar is a strange shuffle of folk and mariachi blended with European lyrical references most of which, other than the song titles, are indecipherable. There was undeniably a mystery the record, it shouldn't have worked but it did. Plus, I freely admit, there was the comforting seal of approval from lots of other people who were raving about it in blogs.

In the end he never signed to V2. We paid for him to come to London and meet the company but of course he met others while he was here and he liked 4AD more. His manager later told me that the reason for this was because they had signed Scott Walker for the love of his music rather than thinking that they would ever make any money out of him. Ha ha ha. Good luck with all that, I remember thinking. Did Condon aspire to making albums using meat being slapped for percussive purposes?

By the time the second album came out it had qualified as an album to be played on the marketing department's stereo. Beirut was a now cool name to drop (although, you had to wonder what he was thinking about the connotations of the name - actually, I asked him once, "There's a mystery to it... it's very evocative" he said.)

But despite our marketing team really liking it, I found myself unmoved by this follow up. It wasn't a million miles away from the first but it just wasn't doing the trick for me anymore. I have not heard the new Beirut album yet, but I read that it is a game of two halves, one of which is electro. Hmm, we shall see. I haven't totally done a Maddy on Beirut but I must admit that even the first album smells a bit of tuna now.

The next artist I tried to sign at V2 was Kate Nash - I'll save the full story for another time, suffice to say that you already know the outcome - she didn't sign to us. And you know what? Good move! I mean, we offered her a pretty good deal financially, but crucially the company was confused and afraid about what sort of artist she was - was she any good? being the underlying sentiment, I got from everyone. Yes, she was good but she did have the ability to miss the mark quite badly - The Shit Song being an example and Caroline Is A Victim being another. But other than this, she was talented and occasionally produced a song (Birds, for example) which seemed so effortlessly beautiful that it made the question of where she fitted in with Jamie T or the Klaxons or Lilly Allen seem entirely redundant. When the NME slated her first independent single, I had a queue of V2 people coming into my office saying "Oh no, the NME hate her! This is bad - do you think we should pull the deal?" I'm not joking, this really happened.

At the time, our plugger somewhat gleefully reported that George Ergatoudis, Head of Music at Radio 1 had said "Some people are going to lose a lot of money on Kate Nash" Well, you know what happened, somewhere along the line (around the time Foundations' Top 5 midweek came in), George, like my daughter, decided he liked tuna after all.

But I don't think I could listen to her album now. I still enjoy Foundations and Birds but on the whole, I feel the same way about Kate Nash as I do about Beirut - the novelty has worn off.

The one band I tried to sign at V2, who I still absolutely believe in, are Friendly Fires - and I'm pleased that they seem to very gradually be gaining a foothold despite not being feted in the same way as Late Of The Pier or other slightly more fashionable bands. A sold out night at the Forum - (that's the HMV Forum, pop pickers!) is impressive. Of course, I didn't get them either, partly due to the indifference of the marketing and promotions departments, who by this time had been given unofficial A&R duties by the increasingly panicking MD. But the main reason we never got Friendly Fires was due the fact that half way through courting them, I returned from their local pub in St Albans to discover that V2 had been sold to Universal. Boo hoo.

No one really wanted to sign Friendly Fires at the time and this was why I couldn't get the company excited, I think. It does help to know that others feel the same - makes you feel more comfortable. That's largely why Maddy went off tuna, I think - a friend of hers at school - possibly that pesky Carmen - told her that she didn't like it and after that all tuna betting was off. And that feeling of being in a minority never goes away, that's why I still feel odd about my review of Over There, despite still believing it to be a great night out. Another show I saw recently was so poor I could only muster one star for it and I felt pathetically pleased that other reviewers felt the same.

I just played To Earth With Love by Gay Dad as I walked back from dropping Maddy off at school this morning and it actually gave me that glorious bristly feeling on the back of my neck. That's the thing about music - like laughter on your own on a tube train, no matter how silly it might make you look, if it moves you, you can't help yourself.


  1. and here is me thinking you were blogging about my broken toes, courtesy of a visually impaired Turkish moped rider ;o)

    Have to totally agree about Beirut and while it may have been a financial loss not to sign Kate, imagine the A&R curse of working with a major artist you no longer have belief or joy from, thopugh I am sure you have a few tales to tell in that respect ;o)

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