Welcome to the roller coaster that has been my life during November!
2014 on the whole has been a fantastic year for myself personally and for all of my artists but the path of life doesn’t always run smoothly and I certainly hit a bump in the road this month – but as the old saying goes: ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ so that’s exactly what I’ve done and thankfully, I’m coming out of the other side of November with possibly a more positive outlook and prospects for 2015 than what I started the month with.
If you know me in person or are (mis)fortunate enough to follow what I’m up to on Facebook you’ll be aware that I lost my radio programme on Star Radio this month. This in itself wasn’t a complete surprise and to be honest, not a huge disappointment because whilst it was nice to be able to play unsigned music to a different audience and one that can tune in a little further afield than those people who listen to my other show; it wasn’t really a programme that had developed as much as I had hoped it would do. I began Star Talent in June 2013, I remember it well because my good buddy Lewis Mokler was my first guest and he, like others who featured on the show during it’s 16 month run has gone on to develop himself in to a very exciting artist to look out for in the future. In truth, I always felt the show was the poor relation to the New Music Generator which I present on Cambridge 105. The NMG is well known, I receive emails every week from artists asking me to play their music whereas I could count on the fingers of both hands the number of new artists I discovered through the show on Star Radio. I kept the show going through my relationship with everyone in the unsigned scene and during the last few months the show really just became a copy of the NMG playing broadly the same songs and featuring the same guests. I started Star Talent as a way of getting my foot in to the door of commercial radio because as a boy, being a radio presenter was the dream job for me and I was able to offer Star Radio a programme they hadn’t had for a long time and bring them a new audience of listeners. Whilst I got to live my dream of presenting both Breakfast and Drivetime shows on commercial radio it never quite panned out the way I had hoped, largely through the lack of support from the bosses – there’s only so many times you can shout and if nobody listens to you in the end you have to give up and accept it’s not going to work out.
Ultimately it seems my success proved to be my down fall in this case. A new boss came in and didn’t approve of my associations with Cambridge 105, NMG or the publicity I was getting through my charity single so decided to let me go. I can understand the rationale behind that decision but unfortunately, that wasn’t what I was told. Instead I was told that the station had no place for an unsigned music show going forward and that was the reason why it wasn’t going to continue. Obvious lies when I read on Facebook a few days later that Star Talent was planned to be brought back in 2015 with new presenters. I don’t know who these new presenters are, but good luck to them.
So, my commercial radio bubble has been burst and my passion for radio tainted by these experiences; but that’s life and sometimes what seems so appealing on the outside isn’t so pretty on the inside. What made this roller coaster jerk even further on a downward spiral was the news just a few days later that my employment with Cambridge 105 was to be terminated at the end of the year! Great, two jobs lost in the space of a few days – that’s a bit careless, right? Everyone should be aware by now that Cambridge 105 is a voluntary radio station and funds, as in many other industries these days, are tight. I’ve been lucky enough to be the only part time member of the team for 3 years and that’s something I don’t take for granted. Thankfully, after some very kind gestures from within the station and some negotiation that decision was reversed last week, for the time being anyway so it was only the one job I lost this month after all!
What these life lessons have taught me this month though is that now is the time to stand on my own two feet and continue to develop something I’ve already created in to something bigger and better. So, for the first time my priority is right here – with my bands and with everything NMG. I have some exciting plans for the future which I will be working hard on getting off the ground over the next couple of months but going back to what I said when I started: Life dealt me a blow, I’ve got up and I’m determined to make the best out of a bad situation – and that’s something everyone should remember.
Before I move on to more positive thoughts I just want to thank everyone who has supported me during the last few weeks, I’m fortunate to have a lot of friends and supporters and none of that goes unnoticed.
So, as all roller coasters have ups as well as downs let’s move on to something that has definitely been a big positive and that’s the NMG Collective. For those who don’t know, the NMG Collective is a group of 19 musicians (singers/instrumentalists) whom I formed to record a version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ to benefit two charitable causes. (I did have the idea before Bob and Midge decided they’d rehash another version of it to benefit the Ebola crisis!). We had 3 recording sessions at Progress studios which are in the grounds of Cambridge Regional College at the beginning of this month to put the track together and from my point of view, the whole process was fascinating! It’s always exciting hearing a track created from scratch but this had so many different layers to it that it made everything 10 times more exciting as every time a new guitar riff, bass line or vocal take was added the song just grew and grew until it took on it’s own identity through the creativity of those involved. A huge thanks has to go to everybody who’s been involved in the project, notably David & Matt who recorded and produced the track.
As it’s a charity single there is a pressure on me to make sure it sells well and does what it’s meant to do and that’s to raise money for CASUS (Cambridgeshire Child & Adult Substance Abuse Service) and our very own friendly community radio station, Cambridge 105. In order for that to happen the record needs publicity so I should also say thanks to Gareth McPherson from Cambridge News who wrote a full page article on the track shortly after we’d recorded (see below) and is also doing a follow up piece to go in tomorrow’s edition (Monday, 1st December) including premiering the video on their website.
I also owe BBC Radio Cambridgeshire a huge thanks too because as a result of the article they offered the opportunity for the NMG Collective to perform the track live to an audience of thousands of people in Peterborough at their Christmas lights event. I never really considered turning the song in to a live performance quite this soon, it was always something we’d talked about doing next year because finding times in peoples diaries to get enough of them in to a recording studio to create the song in the first place was difficult enough without having to do it again to see who’s free to perform it on stage. Well, we did it. 10 of the collective made the trip to Peterborough and because of the success of that we’re doing two more live performances before the year is out too! You can see a rendition at the Mill Road Winter Fair next Saturday, 6th December and another at the Cambridge Junction’s Fiver night on December 19th.
The CD is officially released tomorrow (Monday, 1st) although as I type this it hasn’t been delivered yet but I am promised it’ll be on my door step in the morning! It’s available to order online and will be available from the live gigs mentioned above as well as from all of the artists involved on the track. If you’d like to hear the track before you buy then take a listen to the Soundcloud player below – but remember, make sure you buy a copy and don’t just listen to it for free!
All the details on the track and where it can be bought online are at www.newmusicgenerator.com[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/178901688″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]
Other words of thanks go to Josh Armstrong who filmed and edited the video as well as designed the CD artwork and to Julian Clover who’s producing a 1 hour radio documentary from the ‘making of’ the track which will be broadcast on Cambridge 105 on Christmas Day, he’s also created the website and written our press releases.
One other positive piece of news before I move on to what my artists have been up to this month is to confirm that I’ll be running a new live music night at the Boathouse on Chesterton Road from January. There will be an initial run of 6 events, on the last Saturday of each month and if they’re successful they will continue through the rest of the year. I’ll be looking out for artists to perform soon so if you’re interested, get in touch!
OK and now on to what the others have been up to – but before I start, as each month goes by it’s becoming more and more apparent that most members of my bands read this blog once it goes up online to see what I’ve written about them. It’s like some sort of monthly school report! I’m also beginning to think there’s a competition going on as to which band has the most written about them. So, hello boys (and girl), listen carefully:
Once again I’m writing this in chronological order from where the last entry finished – and as I wrote that blog I was actually running late for sound checks at the Cambridge Junction as Lost Lungs played the October edition of the Fiver night. It was the second time they’ve played and this time, 10 months on from their debut the set was (as you’d expect) much improved and had the bonus of nobody breaking any guitar strings or bleeding everywhere mid-set, I always find it helps to avoid that when trying for a good performance. I also think the band justified their position on the bill this time round in comparison to the first time in December 2013 when they were still adjusting to changing lead singer and hadn’t until that point really played to a big venue, they’re definitely more comfortable on large stages now and look much more at home.
A few days later the band appeared on my Cambridge 105 colleague Dave Hammond’s programme to promote their EP, you can listen to the show again here:
The first Saturday of the month saw me in Bury St Edmunds with Lost Lungs at a new venue The Queens Head. It was refreshing when talking to the owners how they had a passion for live music and having recently taken over the pub wanted to turn it in to another proper music venue for Bury. I look forward to going back next year to see how their plans are progressing because the more music venues there are around the better in my book! The other thing to note from that evening besides the many people walking around dressed up in Halloween costumes (it was November 1st, why?) was that some genuine bonafide fans came out to see the band perform. This couple had seen the band play at the Apex a few months previous, followed them on Facebook and came out to see them again which is always hugely encouraging as it can sometimes be really difficult to build a fanbase. The actual thing that was noticeable about my encounter with this couple wasn’t that they were fans of the band but more that they thought I was their father… Thanks!
Moving on and I was in Bury St Edmunds the next weekend too, this time at the Apex with The Staycations who’d won a wildcard in to the BurySOUND final. It was my second time having an act in that final after Lost Lungs came runners up in 2013 so I knew the drill and also having judged the competition previously, knew what they were looking for. Helpfully, the organisers passed on some feedback from the judges of the first heat which the band had played in October so we took on board some of those pointers, changed the set up a bit and even gave the band a dress code – would they notice we’d taken the feedback on board? The band were drawn second to perform, backstage before their set they were bouncy, up for it and well rehearsed but sadly all of that energy drained away as they took to the stage and although the performance technically was solid there was no visible feeling behind it. There were factors to explain this which included bad monitoring sound on stage and a half disinterested audience not to mention being introduced as a band from Cambridge in a competition which is only really meant for bands from West Suffolk (last time I checked, Cambridge was not in West Suffolk). All that aside, I felt it was a valuable lesson to the band so afterwards we had a heart to heart and spoke about the issues that had blighted the performance, I have to remember that although hugely talented and very capable these lads are young and still learning and although I have high expectations; sometimes they’ll have a dodgy performance but as long as they take the positives and learn from the negatives it builds for a better performance the next time round. Needless to say they didn’t win – to be fair we weren’t there to win, the experience of playing the Apex was what we were there for and it was one I wanted them to enjoy – sadly that didn’t happen this time round but I expect, much like Lost Lungs who had a similar experience in their final, The Staycations will go back to the Apex in the future, play that big stage and knock the audiences socks off – and they will.
I took a trip to Bedford with 28 Boulevard to play Esquires the following week, a venue which many well known bands have performed at on their rise to stardom in the past. It was the first gig the band had played in quite a while and although the audience was small I was pleased with how they played and how rehearsed they were, it can be easy to get very rusty when you take time out of performing live but I didn’t see any signs of that on this occasion. They’ve had a quiet month mainly made up of rehearsing for upcoming gigs which includes another private function next weekend at Chilford Hall but the gig diary has filled up for December with a date at Anglia Ruskin University on Thursday and a slot at the It’s All Indie Christmas Party at the Portland Arms before rounding off the year with a set at the Cambridge Junction on 19th December.
We’ve been working with some PR companies to promote the latest EP ‘Welcome to Wester’ which has resulted in a few nice pieces over the last couple of weeks (see below). I had them all over to my office last week to blitz a list of venues with the view to playing lots more gigs across the country in 2015 as well as arranging a 3rd UK tour which is slated for March.
We also released the first video from the EP this month too, It’s for the track ‘Well, Hello’ and is a clever lyric video. See what you think!
Finally on 28 Boulevard, there’s some rather exciting news to be announced soon – look out for the bonus blog post next week for that!
Last weekend I went to Jimmy’s Farm which is situated just outside Ipswich. It’s somewhere I’ve been curious to visit for a while as I watched the TV documentary series about it and it’s owner (Jimmy Doherty – best mate of Jamie Oliver) a few years back. They’re quite big supporters of local music and amongst the events they hold is a monthly live music evening in their converted barn restaurant – you go along, eat a two course meal and listen to some acoustic music at the same time, what’s not to like?! It was back to basics for The Staycations who headlined the night and did what they do best, belt out some warped indie folk tunes to an engaged audience. One of their strengths as a band is their versatility and huge appeal to such a wide ranging audience where they can be loved just as much by teenage girls as they can be by mums and dads or even OAPs, I feel that’s an important element that shouldn’t be lost.
Then, bringing us right up to date is what’s been taking place this week as I hosted the final NMG Sessions (#15) of the year at the Portland Arms on Thursday night and I think it was my favourite of the year! The room was busy all night, the artists which performed were all on the top of their game and quite varied. We started off with Shaun Colwill and his band, it was the first time I’ve seen Shaun play with a band and I’m usually quite skeptical about solo artists turning themselves in to the front man/woman of a band but this really worked with Shaun and he’s someone who I’ve seen develop over the last 18 months or so and has gone from strength to strength – from the boy I first met at the Avery when he played at my acoustic night to the man who led that band on stage at the Portland Arms, credit to him. Lunacre were next up – these are hot property and a band to definitely be on the look out for in 2015 as potentially following in the footsteps of Lonely The Brave to be the next big thing from Cambridge. Cody Pennington justified why he won the Best Male Solo Artist award at the NMG Awards last month with his strong vocals lifting the roof off the venue and then we were treated to a headline set from the Hot Lights who returned to the scene recently with a couple of new members and some really catchy tunes to boot!
Friday night saw me return to Ely, a place where I had the pleasure of living for 5 years. The Staycations played at the Ely Christmas Lights event and closed the night with a fun short set to a modest crowd who hung on until the end of the evening’s entertainment. To their credit they handled a tricky set very well after having very little time to set themselves up on stage and dealing with a missing guitar capo, Lewis coming in to his own and keeping the crowd amused, filling time by getting out his retro camera (you know, the one with film in) and taking a selfie snap of the audience promising that he’ll get round to having it developed sometime!
The next night the band were at the Portland Arms supporting Tom Lumley who’d kindly invited them to play at his first band gig in Cambridge. I thought this was their best all round performance of the month as they took the audience through their back catalogue of oldies mixed in with some of their newest compositions. Stage presence was good, they were having fun and the audience were too!
I want to give a special mention to Charlie who without going in to detail had a pretty difficult couple of days in the lead up to these gigs but pushed all of that to one side and played both gigs to the best of his ability – which by the way is in my book exceptional. For someone of his age I don’t know a more accomplished guitarist and the way he switches effortlessly from guitar to banjo and back again within a set is super impressive. I’m proud of you buddy!
Finally we bring things up to the present day and earlier on I was back in Bury St Edmunds (I should just move there) for the Christmas Fayre where Lost Lungs were playing for the second year running. They were headlining the Apex stage as the final band of the weekend (or as they put it, we’re headlining Christmas). It’d been a while since I’d seen them so it was nice to catch up and see them put on such a top class performance! Talking of roller coasters, this is a band with whom I’ve had more ups and downs than any other over the last 18 months and they know I was taking a risk when I signed them but boy did they reassure me that I made the right decision today. There was bundles of stage presence led by Helena who expertly patrols the stage whilst singing, lots of interaction between the other members of the band and some guitar skills thrown in too (I saw you playing your guitar behind your back, Dominic!). We were blessed with good weather and a really decent crowd too who enjoyed the 45 minute set as much as I did. The whole thing for me just worked, the occasion, the crowd, the songs – brilliant.
We’re approaching Christmas at full steam ahead as tomorrow night Lost Lungs are on the Homegrown Radio Show on Zack FM playing some acoustic numbers, on Thursday 28 Boulevard are playing the Academy at Anglia Ruskin University and on Friday The Staycations are playing upstairs on the balcony of the Apex for the BurySOUND Acoustic gig. On December 13th I’ll be at the Homegrown Festival Christmas Party with The Staycations, there’s the It’s All Indie gig with 28 Boulevard on 17th December and we’ve got the Cambridge Junction gig on 19th December rounded off by some time in the studio for Lost Lungs on 20th December recording a new single which will see a release date in early 2015.
Upcoming guests on the last few New Music Generator shows before Christmas include Charlie & Molly on Wednesday, Fast Infamy the following week and Fred’s House for the last live show of the year on December 17th.
This is my last blog post before Christmas, I will aim to write another before New Year but look out for other exciting news over the next few weeks as there are a few announcements set to be made.