Monday, 24 August 2009

I'll Be Back...

It's not the post holiday blues. It's not that as each week passes we seem to get further away from what pop music is supposed to be. It's actually just me. I love writing this and of course I love the fact that so many people seem to enjoy it. But everything comes to an end. Blimey, does anyone reading this subscribe to Bob Lefsetz's pompous music business "letter"? I'm sounding him, aren't I - all self aggrandising and humourless. Sorry, I'll lighten up. Maybe tell a couple of poo gags. Actually you wouldn't want to hear those, we've just got two kittens and the expression "pull up a stool" has taken on fresh meaning.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Saying goodbye. The basic point is that I don't think I'm going to be able to write this blog anymore. The reason? Well, put frankly, I'm going to try and earn some money, get a career, do something else. And to do that it would seem I have to study, work hard and focus. The new thing is nothing to do with the music business, by which I don't mean that people in the music business don't have to work hard (Christ, they have to work twice as hard as they did ten years ago), no, it's just that because I've chosen to do something totally unrelated to the music business and I've got to learn about it. So I don't think I'm going to have time to write this anymore.

You've probably got a couple of questions, haven't you? Well, firstly, I'm not sure I'm ready to tell you what I'm doing, except that it's not porn. A friend of mine - a singer songwriter actually - traveled to LA a couple of years in the hope of earning money from being in porn films. He was well into his 40s, but figured he was still quite popular with ladies, so he would fit into some sort of niche category. He was under no illusion that men earn considerably less than women in the porn business but he was fine with that. I haven't heard from him since but I suspect that he is happily panting away somewhere in front of a camera. Good luck with all that. I'm going to try for a much more respectable career option but I'm just not ready to talk about it here.

The other question is: "but, but, but.... weren't you doing really well as a freelance writer? Weren't you writing books and lecturing to music students and reviewing plays and doing columns on Radio 4? And your Guardian blogs always succeed in annoying people so well!" Well, yes, all of those things have been happening over the course of the last year or so, and many of them continue - here's a Guardian blog from this week about 10 new Kinds of Blue.

But you know what, the reality is that you don't earn much money being a freelance writer. Especially these days. I bumped into a proper freelance writer at my dad's 80th birthday party last weekend - he is still reviewing books for The Daily Mail aged 75+. He could remember having interviewed Marty Wilde and Doc Pomus in the 1960s and he's still at it. "I'm living proof you don't earn much as a freelance," he said, shuffling off to get another drink. OK, you may know people who do earn a juicy living - and so do I for that matter, but they are in a minority. I tell you, for all the joy of being creative, seeing your name in print and getting paid for it, there are long days of watching tumbleweed drift around your inbox waiting for one of the "editors" to get back to you on an idea. Putting the word editors in ironic inverted commas is as close as I'm going to get to naming and shaming.

Also - and this is the big one - I haven't written one sentence of fiction since I became a freelance journalist; haven't even jotted down a single story idea. I went to a local writers' group the week before last to get myself back in the mood. The group is an absolute textbook selection of would-be writers: old man who pens detective fiction set in the present day where everyone behaves as if they're living in the 1950s; strange fella with a squeaky voice who writes poetry, middle aged woman who is a talented poet but lacks confidence; woman who writes equestrian romances, then shows you pictures of her horse; sci-fi guy; Samuel Beckett-wannabe etc etc. They're all good, to be honest; there's no one there whose work you find yourself inwardly cringing over. I took a short story with me to read and realised that it was about two years old. I read it and it still came over well I think, but, I felt like a impostor. I was so distanced from the thing, that it felt like someone else's work.

Anyway, to cross the road and get the bus back to The Point, I'm going to stop writing A&Rmchair for a while. I will be back, possibly in this form, possibly anonymously writing about what I'm going to be doing. In the meantime, I may contact you about my novel Pink Flag, which we hope to have ready before the end of the year in a lovely pocket-sized hardback edition. Also, feel free to keep your comments coming - Facebook, still seems inexplicably to be the most popular - and I promise get back to you.

To everyone who read this regularly and to those of you who dipped in and occasionally sent me comments, thanks ever so much. It's difficult to know where the record business is going now and to be honest I'm glad in a cowardly sense that I don't have to try and figure ways of earning money within it. Whilst it would be easy to interpret recent music business events as being negative (Bob Dylan leading the team of artists who are pulling out of Spotify; hardly any new UK acts hitting Gold in almost two years; Radio 1 being full of vacuous star turn DJs just like it was in the 80s, the live circuit dominated by reformed bands) there are still good things happening - new acts like La Roux and Florence - good acts who weren't championed at the outset being recognised, like Friendly Fires and Tynchy Stryder and the charts resembling less of a graveyard of re-releases and bearing some relation to the singles chart (Calvin Harris, who would've thought it?).

Also, it occurred to me as I sat in the Royal Albert Hall watching the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain playing Anarchy In The UK last week, that maybe the armchair in which I sit and observe things needs a break too. I was getting annoyed that people found the Sex Pistols/cute tiny guitar/Proms juxtaposition in any way amusing - a hall full of middle people (aged/class/management/skin tone) singing along to "Anne R Key" in an ironic way, made me feel like like the angry 13 year old having just rushed back from the shops with Bollocks. Clearly, I am taking it all too seriously. Just because I am still listening to Fast Cars, When You're Young and Hate and War doesn't mean that normal people haven't moved on with their lives.

So for all these reasons, I think it's time to bow out. I shall miss you. I hope you'll miss me a bit too. This blog is about the same age as my daughter Esther who is now 19 months old. At the risk of sounding mawkish, the two of them have developed side by side and I'd like to think that A&Rmchair occasionally managed to be as articulate, amusing and charming as she is.


  1. Thanks Ben.

    Thanks for giving me an insight into a profession at least in part responsible for a cultural form I care about.

    Thanks for entertaining and engaging me (believe me there were some of your stories that really hit the spot).

    Thanks for showing me that I wasn't the only reluctant grown up on the block.

    I'll miss this blog.

  2. I'd only just discovered this blog (yes, I'm slow on the uptake). This seems to keep happening - I discover a blog, add it to my favourites list, and it disappears...

    I've been hugely entertained by your insights, though, and your self-effacing honesty, which is an incredibly rare thing in the music business. I look forward to whatever else you do in the future.

  3. Ben, it shall be a great shame not to read your superb musings any more, but I suspect this is not the last we'll hear from you, at least I hope not!

    Good luck sir, with whatever endeavor you choose to weather.

    Mr Ridley.

  4. Ben, I miss you already.
    Good luck in your new adventure. Let us know how it goes, when you're brave enough :)

  5. Hey Ben -

    Sorry slow on the comeback - been off on holiday, Beautifully, elegantly written as always. Look forward to the new offerings, when it comes, and Pink Flag, and the LP covers book. Oh and best of luck in the new thing - I'm sure you'll be great at it, once the catatonic shock wears off...

    Matt x

  6. Dear Ben,

    Very sorry to hear you'll no longer be blogging. Iestyn George put me onto A&RmChair and I've enjoyed dipping into your world here and there enormously. I know how difficult trying to carve a career as a writer is and, glib as it sounds, can only say try and hang in there somehow and keep showing up at the desk. In the meantime I hope your new career move pans out well, whatever it may be.

    Very best,

    John Niven

  7. Love and thanks to everyone who has emailed or Facebooked me goodwill messages - and a special digital hug for those that posted the above comments. Blimey, it's like people signing your leaving card at work. I'm especially touched you wrote, John, since we've never met and I may have intially been sniffy about your novel. This was, as I'm sure you already know, purely out of jealous rage. Anyway, I'm pleased you enjoyed what you read here and thank you for the advice. Maybe someday I will join you on the shelves of Waterstones and Amazon. XX

  8. Dear Ben.
    Good luck in your new direction.It was great to flit in and out to the a&mchair.I knew you a while back with wea (I was the guitarist in 'an emotional fish' reunion promised!). I too made that career change - I went to college and did a masters in Music and Media technologies and now teach disadvantaged young adults here in Dublin. I know your a great music lover and your insights shall be missed....and I'd like to think we will hear you again!
    take care Ben and all the very best for the future.
    David Frew