Friday 25 September 2020

Franz for a penny?

 I just started to post on FB about my experience of selling/dumping my cd collection while moving house this week. It got a bit long/ranty so I’m moving it here where fewer/less sensitive people and family members are likely to see it! 

[warning - this post might not be to all tastes] Has any commodity ever, outside of possibly Venezuela or Weimar Germany, ever been so remarkably devalued as the compact disc? Oil’s recent troubles barely move the needle by comparison. Before I get much further with this, I must stress I’m not looking for sympathy or an explanation - I do understand the concept of a market. But I moved house this week and in the course of doing so was forced to reflect on the value of creativity. 

I’ve been a music fan; a sort-of professional musician (I earned about £15 one year from PRS); and also kind of ‘industry’ thro running a bedroom label. I never wanted to get rid of any of the recorded music I bought, because I believed that it had a value in itself, as well as in terms of what it used to signify about me as a music owner of taste, displayed tastefully on my shelves; but also in terms of what it represented to the artists whose creative efforts it reflected. Now, I’m late to this party - and I’m also aware that a good subset of my musical friends are significantly younger than me and are probably raising their eyebrows/yawning at this. But I had a token stab at getting rid of a few cds today and yesterday and it was a dispiriting, salutary experience. 

I didn’t expect to make any money from them - I am fully aware that this is inverse-peak-cd (nadir-cd?). But it was still thoroughly depressing to see how little value is now vested in what is still amazing music - not really just because the cds are now worthless but really because we know that sales of physical product (vinyl and expensive boxed reissues of dad rockers aside) have been supplanted by a streaming model that earns the artist £0.000412 per play instead. Approximately. A situation that earns millions for Spotify and YouTube and means that the vast majority of artists (non-major label) will find it harder and harder even to be able to afford to create in the immediate future. Esp with little prospect of live shows in the current climate. 

I thought I’d chance my arm with Music Magpie, which I’m sure many others have used. Out of about 1000 cds (representing c. £10k in original retail payments, give or take, I suppose) I’ve managed to fill a small box of about 70 that they would even accept. That will yield about £35 for me. I didn’t go through the whole 1000 - I left the jazz & classical, and most of the folk. I also didn’t include anything for which MM offered me single figures, on the grounds that it wasn’t worth the carbon footprint to post it. (It goes without saying that I didn’t include anything by the Fall, or the Blue Aeroplanes. Nor did I try to divest any music by friends!!) 

I started by trying to shift the things that I didn’t want myself, though there weren’t many of those. I quickly found that Music Magpie didn’t want those either. Nor do they, perhaps unsurprisingly, want 90s indie dance crossover and big beat (Aim, Propellerheads, etc - even Underworld only yields a few pence a time). So my box ended up filled with the few things that pass the tragic £0.20 threshold. EG: John Martyn Solid Air; Roxy Music For Your Pleasure; Sonic Youth Daydream Nation; Sparks #1 in Heaven; Efterklang Parades; Kraftwerk Minimum-Maximum; Bob Dylan Another Self Portrait (the only rubbish bootleg series imho; Mark Lanegan Bubblegum). The rest are in the box in the pic ☹️. 

Franz Ferdinand’s inclusion here is no way meant to be any comment on what is still a great debut album, but because it best defined the exercise: MM’s buying price for this one was a princely £0.01. At the other end of the spectrum, Beefheart’s consistently baffling Trout Mask Replica can be yours for an equally baffling £1.82. I took out Franz, so if anyone wishes to bid for that please shout. Julian Christopher - at least the execrable Frank Turner is out of my house, and for a marvellous £0.47. 

I know I can still always listen to this great music. But its devaluation saddens me. Now for the books...

Monday 2 May 2016

New Single: Bearpark - 'Distant Fields'

Single News! Distant Fields, the second single from Wilderness End, the debut album from Bearpark (new solo project by multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Hirst) will be released on 10 June on Albino Two Recordings.

A love letter to the country from the pen of a writer utterly in thrall to the city, it comes with an exclusive new remix by ‘brilliant but criminally ignored and notoriously unprolific cult London band’  The Unrecorded

See Nick playing a solo version here, shot lovingly in appropriately wintry light by Ryan.

Coincidentally, Distant Fields has also been chosen to feature on the latest 'Showcase Sessions' compilation released today by the excellent Fatea website/magazine/label. It's called 'Memory', it's volume 16 in the series, it features loads of other high quality stuff and it's free to download (until the end of July), from: .We recommend you do just that, and make sure you have time for a rummage around the rest of their site if you're not familiar with Fatea.

 Critical acclaim for Wilderness End: 

“…a rare delight. It has the same, lean-in-close beauty of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, but with a richer music palette. … this is an album to really cherish.” (THE CRACK) 

“... bending and blending genres, it is melodic, tunesome, even pretty … exquisitely recorded ... it’s an album of thoughtful musicality ... brimming full of Simon Gallup and Peter Hook style bass …” (FATEA)
"...a record that represents a journey of the heart and the mind ... should you ever need a reminder of the power of music to move and inspire, you’ll find it in 'Wilderness End'." (BESTNEWBANDS.COM)  

"There are beautiful moments on Wilderness End, demonstrated by standout track “Battle Hymn for the Republic”. A sprawling, atmospheric charge … it hints at a man quite capable of writing something none of us can even conceive." (DRUNKENWEREWOLF )

Wilderness End blends the pastoral, hymnal Americana of The Low Anthem, Bon Iver or Wilco with the distorted romanticism of Ed Harcourt and Sharon Van Etten. There are touches of colliery brass and the sad synthiness of Radiohead and John Grant, all held together by a deep love of words.

Sunday 11 October 2015

BEARPARK - WILDERNESS END - Pre-orders and pre-release exclusive

Bearpark's magnificent 'Wilderness End' is almost upon us.

It's now available to pre-order here and Nick and friends will be marking its release by joining Revere, who are also about to launch a new six-track vinyl EP 'Man of Atom', for live dates in London and Rotterdam. (This is coming out on new Dutch label Final 500 records and is also available to pre-order, from the Revere store)

Tickets for the Lexington, London N1 (23rd October) here and for Rotown, Rotterdam (26th November) here . These should be great nights.

Anyone who simply can't wait til then to get their hands on a physical copy of the album can get one direct from us in person - but only if you're able to get to Aberdeen next Saturday, 17th October. Following the success of last year's inaugural independent record label market, the event is returning to the Lemon Tree (for full details see here) and we will have a very limited number of cd copies available ahead of release date. The event will feature the usual mix of local luminaries such as Cool Your Jets and Fitlike Records along with Scottish indie royalty Chemikal Underground and Gerry Loves Records - to mention but a few.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Blue Aeroplanes - Access All Areas

My copy of the Blue Aeroplanes 'Access All Areas' release that had been pre-listed on Amaz*n for ages arrived this week and has prompted a blog. At this point I should add a disclaimer that this is not an Albino Two release and this post has nothing to do with the label.

I'd been slightly apprehensive about what this disc was, particularly so as it sounded as though the band didn't know anything about it either, and it was being listed for pre-order for the princely sum of £4.99. In short, and if you can't be bothered reading til the end but are just weighing up whether to splash out on a copy - it's not as bad as I had feared. Just make sure you buy something else at the same time so you don't have to pay postage.

It became apparent shortly before the release that this was a cd+dvd of the show at the Town and Country Club in 1992 that was part of a week of gigs put on by the NME. Turns out that 'Access all areas' is a brand owned by Edsel records, part of the Demon Group, and thus therefore the Aeros are probably not the only artists in recent times to have been slightly surprised to find they were about to release material, probably live material they had forgotten existed and for which they had blithely signed away the rights to decades ago.

The good news - this was a relatively short-lived lineup so great to have a record of it. On guitar and bass are Dave Newton and Marcus Williams both ex Mighty Lemon Drops, and also on guitar is Suzy Hug, formerly of the Katydids. Suzy's brief stay contributed a handful of songs to the Aeros canon including 'Open' from 'Life Model' (IIRC) and 'Jealous Town', which gets an airing here and was later released as part of the B-side triptych to Detective Song. Bob Bradley on lead guitar stuck around longer than the aforementioned three, I think - the first time I saw the Aeros live was the Life Model tour of 1994, where I believe he was still playing lead. For a set of ten songs there's nothing pre-Swagger - ie, older than three years - but there is a decent showing for new material including 'Beautiful Is' (another Suzy Hug effort) which is played here with an uptempo pulsing swagger far removed from the fragility of the version that was eventually released on 'Altitude' (although i think there is a version hidden away on the Outdoor Miner digital-only single that may be closer. Also you get a romp through 'Bad Moon Rising' which was the band's contribution to 'Ruby Trax', a charity compilation of covers of UK number ones by contemporary artists to mark the NME's 40th birthday.

Full tracklisting is:
Jacket Hangs
Broken & Mended
Jealous Town
Vade Mecum Gunslinger
Yr Own World
Beautiful Is (As Beautiful Does)
...And Stones
Bad Moon Rising
Pony Boy
Breaking In My Heart

On the downside, the audio is pretty awful - safe to say it wasn't taken off the desk. There is also at least one horrific tape glitch and 'Vade Mecum Gunslinger' in particular is so murky at the beginning that you barely realise what it is until Gerard starts singing. The video quality is also pretty variable, particularly the long camera shots, but there's enough interest in the close up, onstage camera shots to compensate for that. Plus you get a couple of typically arch mini interviews with Gerard and an interviewer who sounds like it may have been Lamacq, to a backdrop of a mute Mulreany and virtually mute Bradley. It's a lot like the grainy VHS in my parents' loft that I originally taped from the TV at the time, in fact.

The most curious aspect is probably the sleeve notes, written by Michael Heatley, presumably the sport/music biographer. His own biog claims more than 100 books and with that amount of text under his belt you might forgive him the odd hack job along the way, particularly if it's for a fairly low-rent series of live cds. So we get the usual myths and touchstones trotted out, for players of Aeroplanes bingo: comparisons to REM (check); the 12-guitarist finale at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 (check); too rock n roll for Peel, too arty for the Late Show (check); manic, limb-flailing Polish dancer Wojtek (check); we also get the more recent assertion, repeated on the outer sleeve, that they influenced the Manic Street Preachers. While this is technically unarguable - see JDB's Quietus 'Baker's Dozen' here - any Manics fans who dashed out to pick this up as a result are probably crying into their copies of Miller/Mailer/Plath/Pinter just now.

Having said that, (and remembering that the band don't seem to have sanctioned this), there are also some anecdotes that suggest closer acquaintance. There's a lot on the Glastonbury 92 appearance earlier in the year this show was recorded - Tom Verlaine himself shared the stage to play 'Breaking in my heart'? Could well be true - Television were there - just that I'd not heard it before. The band were 'banned' from Glasto after the performance following an incidence of a chair being thrown through a Portakabin window, apparently in annoyance at the set being cut short? This is certainly plausible - the Beeb recorded the whole show and on the full recording (possibly not the set as subsequently broadcast) Gerard can be heard moaning about it just before the band launch into 'Breaking...', including a gloriously snippy comment about 'only being a "local band"'. Angelo, Hazel Winter and Andy McCreeth were i believe all gone by the time the T&C show came around just a few months later, which might bear out the assertion that mid 92 was a time of strain for the band - 'a road-weary band imploded there amid off-stage tensions'. The author is also close enough to events of the time to reference that the shirts worn by Gerard and Rodney in the video were commissioned, and designed by Ann Sheldon for that same Glastonbury show. And even that 'Pony Boy' was the song cut from the set whose omission resulted in said chair through window...

So how in that case to explain the clangers? 'Lover and Confidante...' as their 'second Fire album', anyone? 'Their most fruitful spell as a recording band came after they'd recorded a debut, 'Bop Art', for Abstract'?? [Well, presumably...] And there's a particularly cringeworthy signoff - 'Enjoy the experience of Blue Aeroplanes, a band that knew how to move around on stage, in sound and vision. Indeed, they still do!'. Finally, this one not necessarily Mr Heatley's fault but '...And Stones' is listed as '...And Stones (Love is all around)' [sic] which conjures up some bizarre mental images involving messrs Langley and Pellow. Possibly only for me, granted.

It comes in a nice wee cardboard slipcase, if that's your thing. If you were there then it's a great historical artefact. But if you're still waiting for a decent Blue Aeroplanes live recording then this isn't it. I'm not a massive fan of 'Fruit' either - in fact for me easily the closest thing to capturing the Aeros live experience is the limited, self-released 'Skyscrapers' of a few years ago which contains a truly incendiary version of 'Police' and is still available via the band's own website

If that doesn't satisfy you then hopefully we don't have to wait too much longer for the next full album. Apparently it is recorded....

Monday 22 June 2015

An introduction to 'Bearpark' - and a look ahead to 'Wilderness End'

The debut single 'Boxers' is released today and is available as a digital download through all the usual platforms. It will be followed by the album 'Wilderness End' in the autumn. We thought it might be about time to find out a bit more about all things Bearpark - so here's the man himself:

I borrowed the name Bearpark from a remote village near Ushaw Moor, County Durham, home to my late Grandad. It's a quiet, windy place between moorland and collieries, where miners were born and no-one goes - it seemed strangely fitting. 

The songs on Wilderness End document a turbulent decade through the eyes of a rural Essex boy colliding with the glittering noise of London. This is mostly an album about the things we do when we're kettled in together, all doing our best and trying be happy. I think we are wild animals at heart, not designed to live in cities. But live in them we do, with strange consequences. There are unrequited love songs, songs about depression, songs about lashing out, looking out and the changes to ourselves that we don't even notice until we try to return home.

It blends the pastoral, hymnal Americana of The Low Anthem, Bon Iver or Wilco with the distorted romanticism of Ed Harcourt and Sharon Van Etten. There are touches of colliery brass and the sad synthiness of Radiohead and John Grant, all held together by a deep love of words. 

It's been a while in the making, because I spend a lot of my time playing keyboards with London band Revere, occasionally guesting with Gabby Young, and playing everything from guitar and piano to accordion and scissors for Scottish singer Kat Flint. Because I am a megalomaniac I initially planned to play everything; because I am part of an incredible scene in London (and a shit drummer) I leant on others - so Revere drummer Marc Rollins-McKie played drums; Revere frontman Stephen Ellis lent his celesta skills (and his celesta) and violinist Ellie Wilson played some violin. Then I enlisted the help of Kat Flint on vocals (she also designed the sleeve art). 

Like its songs, the making of the album itself was pulled from city to countryside and back again, written in many locations - from a remote recording studio in Invernessshire (while making Revere's first record) to London, via the sofas of friends, exes and parents. Produced by Dave Moore (Revere, Polly Paulusma, The Laurel Collective), the songs were recorded everywhere from my flat in Brixton to analogue wonderland Urchin Studios in London Fields (which houses an amazing 19th century pedal organ used on album tracks Turn Around Take a Bow and Little Black Holes).

I don't know where it's meant to live: in the city or in the country… or maybe somewhere in between the two, at the edge of the wilderness.

I hope you like it. 



Nicholas Hirst is a London-based multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter. He has spent most of the last few years playing with London band Revere and Scottish-born singer-songwriter Kat Flint (to whom he is also married). He was born in Essex and grew up between Colchester and Detroit, and now lives in Brixton, London.

Monday 18 May 2015

Bearpark: Boxers

There's going to be much, much more information coming here about Bearpark over the coming weeks and months.

For now, suffice to say that the first single from the debut album is called 'Boxers'; it will be released as a digital download on 22nd June; and it is astonishing. Watch this space very, very carefully.

Delicious discord

Lo-fi photo session session ahoy! Zippy trying in vain to hide his resentment at the other two not telling him that the pics were going to be taken outside in a Grampian swamp

Good review tho from the Ringmaster Review - cheers!