MIDEM ’09: Day 2 – afternoon

Monday again – later in the afternoon:

It’s been a good day so far. I went back to the South Africa stand, and had a more fruitful time meeting people. The American guy’s “just go up and talk to ‘em” advice from this morning clearly worked! I visited a stand where a new French rapper called Poison was being plugged. I had a chat with his producer and gave him one of the Ground Level mixtape CDs I’d been asked to give to people. As we spoke, his producer explained that Poison was originally Congolese, and played me a track he’d done rapping in Lingala as well as French. A possible Sounds of Africa candidate, I thought.

I’ve also managed to make a lot of Latin/Spanish music contacts. Ferran Perez is from Spain, staying in the same hotel as me. He used to play accordion in a Mediterranean Celtic band called Dealan; now he’s gone into management and is representing them at MIDEM (which, he tells me, he’d never heard about until a couple of months ago). We both took the bus in to Cannes this morning, and he gave me an invite for a cocktail party organised by the Catalan music contingent. We chatted over drinks and Catalan food (various types of sausage/ham/chorizo thingies, cheese and ‘pan tomate’ – bread with tomato – really nice!). He said going into management and even coming to MIDEM were all risks for him, but he’d learned in life that you need to take risks – otherwise “you just stay at home and end up doing nothing.” Life is like standing on a travolator that’s moving in the opposite direction, he reckons. “You might think you’re standing still, but you’re actually going backwards and being left behind.”

The unexpected fun bit of today was when I was walking up to the Press Club and passed by a bloke walking in the opposite direction. I glimpsed his badge very briefly and thought I saw the name Oliver Cheatham. Was it? I went back to get another look… and it was! He was a brilliant sport. He agreed to an impromptu interview (which needed two takes, thanks to you-know-who forgetting to release the pause on the recording machine), and then took a picture with me. For the rest of today, I’ll be singing “I like to party, everybody does…”

MIDEM ’09: Day 2 – morning…

Monday, just after 10.30am:

Had an interesting bus ride in this morning. I bumped into a few other MIDEM attendees who happen to be staying in the same hotel as me. We talked about all sorts of stuff on the way in: how overwhelming MIDEM can be for a first-timer; the weird Russian acts who’d showcased the night before; what a great bargain we’d got on the hotel, and the best way to make MIDEM work for you. “Forget setting up meetings via email. Just go up to people and talk to them.” Good advice from an American dude who’s over from Ireland and hasn’t met the rest of his team yet! I’ve already been doing that; I think I’ll do a bit more after this…

Okay – I’ve just checked my programme and it seems I’m late for the “Music that feels like it’s free” seminar I’d wanted to attend. I think I ought to go and see what’s left of it and pick this up again later…

MIDEM ’09: Day 1, Part 2

Sunday night

Well, Day One wasn’t a bad start. Johnny turned up right on time and we chatted for about an hour. Things haven’t gone as well for him, though; Delta Airlines seem to have sent his luggage to some other country, so he’s having to conduct his business meetings with no product to give to people. He’s only got one day left, so we’re praying his bags do turn up…

Johnny confirmed what I’d been thinking about this year’s MIDEM and have overheard a few other people say about it; it’s a lot less busy than usual. It’s been scaled down (four days instead of a week) and fewer people have come. Just as long as we’ve got the quality, I’ll be happy, I think. Had my first look round the exhibition area after my chat with Johnny. As far as picking up contacts for the radio show goes, it was a bit disappointing. I did meet one guy at the South Africa stand who gave me his card and a few CDs. Now I’m listening to the CDs and not liking them at all. They’re all house music… and they’re terrible! Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got nothing against house music from Africa when it’s done right (the Martin Solveig remix of “Madan” by Salif Keita is absolutely brilliant – as is just about every track on Afroganic’s album). This just sounded very badly made. On the other hand, the Vallenato and Reggaeton tracks on the Urban sampler I got from one of the American companies exhibitingg were so good, I’m tempted to go back there tomorrow and grab a few more copies. Good music needs to be shared! Oh, never mind; I’m sure there’ll be more people (and better music) tomorrow.

I wasn’t in the mood to learn a new route home tonight, so I spent about 40 minutes at the PRS For Music cocktail party in the Martinez Hotel and then headed for Rue de Serbes to get the bus home. The train runs a lot later than 8pm or whenever the last bus is – but I just wanted an early night. I was beginning to feel really tired.

I’ve now had a proper look at the contents of my MIDEM bag and am holding in my hands a pre-release copy of Hello Kitty’s debut album (that’s right – Hello Kitty, the Japanese cartoony thingy loved by girls all over the world). I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry. But one thing’s for certain: I’m not listening to it right now. I’ve had more than enough sugar for one day.

Bizarre/mildly amusing (in a “so-wrong” way) sight of the night: a couple looking the other way as their beautiful white poodle had a wee on the Louis Vuitton shop window. I’m sure there’s some deep anti-materialism message being made there somewhere…

MIDEM ’09: Day 1 – arrival in Cannes

I’m in Cannes for a few days, attending MIDEM – the international music industry conference. In between working, schmoozing, blagging and all the other stuff people do at this thing, I’ll be reproting here on whatever catches my attention. Just arrived, so let’s begin…

Sunday, 2.45pm(ish): Ah, well – I’m here. Sat in the Press Club in the Palais des Festivals, and it’s strangely overcast outside. This weather had better improve; I know I’m only here three days, but I’d expected it to be warmer and packed accordingly. Right now I’m wearing the hoodie I flew from London in – the warmest item of clothing I’ve brought!

I’m staying in an apartment in the Eden Paradise Hotel in Golf Juan, a few miles away from Cannes. Actually, it’s a hostel and I’ve booked a private room. It’s cheap and cheerful; concierge/manager guy’s extremely helpful, and the bus into Cannes and to the airport only costs one Euro (having said that, the last bus is at 8pm, so I reckon it’ll be 20 Euro taxis home each night, or maybe the train).

As usual with these things, the networking started back home on the way to France. It’s funny how you can just tell by looking at the other passengers who’s going and who isn’t. There’s the usual mixture of seasoned old grey blokes (the managers, CEOs etc who are making the real money in the music biz) and excited young guys (aspiring new artists about to be thrown to the wolves). I love watching the wildlife…

I’ve got about three different hats on this MIDEM. Apart from keeping you all informed via this blog/these notes (depending on where you’re reading this), I’ve got a couple of articles I’m writing – for UB1 and UKG Presents. Also looking for acts to interview for some other magazines (still waiting to hear whether The Bomb Squad are doing interviews or not). And then I’ve got my radio producer’s hat on, and will be scouring the place for all the African/World Music contacts and material I can find for the in-flight programme.

My first appointment’s in an hour’s time with Johnny Mendola – a guy Larissa Lam put me in touch with. This is his 15th MIDEM (it’s only my second; my first was in 1995). After we’re done, I’ll hit the exhibition area and do some networking, then at 6pm I’m off to the PRS/MCPS cocktail party. There aren’t any concerts on tonight that I’m particularly interested in, so I might just go home after that.

I’ve been looking at the bags we’ve all been given, and wondering what it tells us about the music industry. It’s got the MIDEM logo in a corner on the front, but then it’s got a great big Napster logo right in the middle. Then when you open it up, there are two labels. One’s the Fairtrade logo; the other one tells me that the bag’s made from “certified 100% organic cotton.” Hmm, let me see… “Hi! We’re the music industry! We’ve finally caught up with new technology – and we’re ethical too!”

Maybe I should just stop being so cynical…

Resolutions, etc…

Never been big on New Year Resolutions. Too much guilt when you slip up. Yeah, I know – you’re supposed to get up and start again. I just find that the initial enthusiasm dies a little with each slip. So instead of a list of Things I Will Stop Doing This Year, I’ve decided to use a little reverse psychology (or something) and gone for a list of thing’s I will do (or at least aim for) in 2009 – a list to which I’ll add things as time goes on. I’m starting with these (in no particular order):

• Write something every day (this post doesn’t count as today’s, by the way)
• Do one crazy thing each month
• Say ‘yes’ to any gig that involves travelling
• Use the Mac more and the PC less
• Learn one new guitar chord, dos palabras nuevas en español and deux mots nouveaux en Français each week
• Choose one stupid TV show and stick with it for an entire series (suggestions as to which show would be appreciated; at the moment, I’m thinking either Ugly Betty, Samantha Who? or Gilmore Girls)
• Read more
• Raise the price threshold of the wine I take to friends’ “bring a bottle” parties to £5

I think that’s enough for starters. Suddenly I’ve got a good feeling about 2009…

The Shed

THE SHED (A parody – well, sort of)

Muck stirred in bed, semi-awake as Morrissey’s voice whined Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now on the radio.

Half of him felt cheated that God had chosen half term to cover Camberwell in two feet of snow; the other half was just glad to have a break from the torture school had become. Either way, he had the whole house to himself today and was determined to spend it doing as little as possible.

The shower was quick and breakfast suitably unhealthy, as befitting a 14-year-old with free rein of the house. Muck entered the front room and was about to settle down in front of the telly when the plop-plop-plop of letters landing on the doormat signalled the postman’s arrival. He went to pick them up. In amongst the gas and phone bills was a blue envelope with his name on it. No stamp; no postmark; no return address; just his name.

Muck ripped the envelope open. Out fell a page torn from a ring-bound notebook, with handwriting that looked like a spider had tried to mark out its territory on the page.

“We need to talk. Meet me behind the bike shed. Signed, Your Daddy.”

Your Daddy. Muck had heard those words several times recently, always accompanied by something painful: a punch, a slap, a kick, the sound of his Musical Youth cassette being smashed to pieces… “Who’s your daddy?” was the Ladykiller’s catchphrase; taunting his victims with it seemed to enhance whatever twisted pleasure he derived from bullying.

Your Daddy. The words brought a bad taste to Muck’s mouth as they brought back memories of the worst day of his life. Sissy was a year behind him in school, but ever since the day he first saw her, he’d had a massive crush. When she agreed to go and see Return of the Jedi with him, he’d walked on a cloud all week. Ever since then, they’d been inseparable. School discos were heaven. And then came the Ladykiller.

“If you like a girl and he looks at her, forget it,” Muck’s best mate Billy said to him during Double Maths one Tuesday afternoon. Sure enough, Muck became the Ladykiller’s prime target. For a while, he toughed it out… until that Friday afternoon when he saw – through two black eyes – his beloved Sissy disappearing behind the bike shed hand-in-hand with his nemesis. The Great Misery descended upon Muck like a ton of bricks that day. It had hung around like a bad smell ever since.

But sending cryptic notes wasn’t the Ladykiller’s style. He was more your bog-standard, give-you-a-wedgie-then-knock-your-books-into-a-puddle type of bully. Not the kind who went in for psychological warfare – mainly because he didn’t believe in doing stuff he couldn’t spell.

Well, there’s only one way to find out what this is about, Muck reasoned with his saner side. All right then, commonsense replied resignedly. Off to the bike shed it is. But have a word with Billy first, and see if he knows anything about this. Billy’s house was on Muck’s route to school, just a five-minute bike ride away. It can’t hurt to show it to him, Muck thought. He might even know who wrote it.

“I haven’t a clue whose writing this is,” Billy said after examining the note. “And I really don’t think you should go.”
“I know,” Muck replied. “But I have to find out what this is all about.”
“Just be careful, mate.”

Billy disappeared for a few minutes. When he came back into the room, he had a shiny H-shaped object in his hand.

“Here,” he said. “My Dad uses this for DIY. Says it’s better than a hammer. It fires staples. If anyone tries anything, you can really hurt them with it.”

Muck took the staple gun hesitantly, and put it in his jacket pocket. “Cheers, Billy,” he said. “Sure you don’t want to come?”
“No, thanks. You be careful.”

Denmark Hill was a tough cycle, even without so much snow on the ground. Muck wheezed his way past King’s College Hospital, thinking how handy it was to have a Casualty department within spitting distance if he and his bike ended up under a bus. The way his wheels were slipping, that seemed extremely likely.

Eventually, Muck gave up trying to cycle and pushed the BMX the rest of the way to the schoolyard. Even when deserted, the place gave off bad vibes. Muck approached the bike shed with trepidation, wondering exactly how much real damage a staple gun could do at close quarters.

What the-?

It wasn’t a sound or a sight that had triggered Muck’s surprise; it was the sudden change in temperature of the air hitting the back of his neck. In a split second, it had morphed from an arctic wind into a pleasantly warm summer breeze. As he turned to look round, he noticed the place getting brighter. The snow under his feet melted quickly and disappeared. Young flower saplings burst through the already green grass. Suddenly it was summer in a tiny corner of south London, with Muck the only witness to it.

As the weather changed, the forbidding presence of the bike shed also appeared to be going through a transformation of its own, into a welcoming house with double-glazed windows and stone cladding on the front wall. It looked just like Muck’s grandmother’s house. Nan’s house had become a refuge for Muck since the Ladykiller’s terror campaign began. It was the one place he could escape to and just be… loved. But why was he imagining Nan’s house in the middle of school… and in the one place he’d come to hate so much?

The house’s front door creaked slightly ajar. Muck could hear raucous, warm laughter from within. “Here goes nothing,” he muttered under his breath as he ventured up the steps and pushed the door open. As he stepped in, a very loud Nigerian accent boomed out.

“Well, you took your time!”

Muck turned in the voice’s direction and found his eyes level with a massive bosom adorned in the most flowery fabric he’d ever seen. He tilted his head slowly upwards, taking in the sight of an enormous black woman in a voluminous flowing print dress.

Any minute now, he thought to himself, she’s going to whip out an umbrella and start singing ‘It’s Raining Men’.

“So glad you could join us.” Two other people had entered the front room to form a welcoming party for their shell-shocked guest. “This,” the woman said, motioning to the tall Latino man on her right hand side, “is Jesus. And over here…” pointing to the Oriental-looking woman on her left, “…we have Soraya.”

“And you are…?” Muck asked.
“Well, most people call me God – although that’s actually all three of us. I prefer Pops myself.”

Hmmm. The temperature outside just went from 0 to 60 in three seconds; the school’s bike shed has turned into my Nan’s house, and I’m inside it with a Puerto Rican bloke called Jesus, some strange Chinese bird and a fat African woman who says she’s God. That’s it – I am officially mental.

“What – you’re God?” Muck spluttered. “That’s impossible!”
“How so?” said Pops. “It’s the dress, isn’t it? Humans! You have no problems with men in frocks claiming to be my representatives on earth. But when I rock one myself, your minds can’t handle it!”
“No, it’s not the dress. It’s… it’s…”
“Is it cos I is black?”
“Er… um…”
“It is! The idea of me being – how can I put this – non-Caucasian – disturbs you! I blame George Burns for this. I can’t wait until Morgan has his turn!”
“Who’s Morgan? Have his turn at what?”
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough.”

If the few occasions Muck had been to Sunday School had taught him anything, it was that the Wrath of God wasn’t the sort of event you wanted a front-row seat for. He decided humouring Pops might be the safest option all round.

“Don’t humour me,” said Pops.
Oh, sh-
“And don’t even think of swearing!”
“I – I – I’m sorry,” Muck managed to spit out. “I’m just not that used to God inviting me to hang out with her-him-them… I mean you. And certainly not in a bike shed.”
“Why wouldn’t I, child? What parent doesn’t want to spend some time with his boy?”

Something inside Muck snapped.

“No offence, but if you’re God and I’m ‘your boy’, why is my life so rubbish? What kind of mother – father – whatever you are – lets ‘their boy’ get all the crap I’ve been having? My life’s bloody awful!Yeah – I said ‘bloody’! Are you going to strike me with lightning?”
Pops hardly broke a sweat.
“No, son. But calm down. That’s exactly what we’re here to talk to you about.”
“Go on, then,” Muck said calmly.

Pops paused. Soraya put a reassuring arm on Muck’s shoulder and sat down with him, facing Pops. Jesus, who had briefly popped out of the room, came back in and took a seat on the sofa next to Muck and Soraya. Pops started to speak.

“Look, son. I know things have been rough for you. I hate it as much as you do, but that’s just what happens in a fallen world. But trust me, it won’t always be like this. It will get better. And all of us here are looking out for you – even if it doesn’t always feel that way.”
“And what about Sissy? What do I do about her?”
“You’ll get over her. I know it hurts now, Muck. But being dumped isn’t the end of the world. There will be other girls – girls who won’t leave you for the first thug who comes along. You’ve got a great future ahead of you – not just relationships, but every area of your life. See those computers you love playing with so much? The other kids give you so much stick about it now, but all the knowledge you’ve gained about them will be worth gold dust in the 90s. The meek – the geeks, if you like – will inherit the earth. I said it, and what I say goes.”
“And the Ladykiller?”
“Well, I don’t want to give too much of the future away. But let’s just say that next summer, he’s going to choose the wrong boy to pick on. Rajesh might be short and skinny and wears glasses, but he’s also his school’s junior kickboxing champion.”
Muck stifled a laugh.
“Don’t push it, lad. He may be the one making your life a misery, but vengeance is still mine.”

A loud ‘ding’ from the kitchen signalled that dinner was ready, and the four of them went into the dining room. Dinner was hot, delicious and loud. Muck had heard it said that God had a sense of humour. But now he was witnessing it up front over rice and peas and a wicked curry, topped with a tall glass of Um Bongo.

When dinner was over, Muck stood up to say his goodbyes, unable to stop the smile taking over his face. The Great Misery was still hovering away in the back of his mind. But its power was now considerably diminished. The fog was clearing, and Muck could sense it.

He turned round for one last look at his three new friends before setting off for home. Jesus threw an air high-five and shouted “Siempre contigo, hermano.” Soraya smiled and gave him a hug. Pops stood tall, arms akimbo, and flashed him a broad grin and a wink. Her warm voice boomed out again.

“Muck, we’ll always have your back. Never forget who your daddy really is.”

© George Luke, 2008.

From the Y Crate: Playgroup

From the Y Crate, #9:
playgroup1“Number One” by PLAYGROUP (Source)

I don’t know if the events are linked, or if it’s just a mad coincidence – but every time I drive my sister’s car and put XFM on, I hear a tune for the first time and it completely blows me away. I can remember dropping her off at Heathrow and hitting the M4 to the sound of Richard Ashcroft’s “Check the Meaning”. Biiiig tune!! (and not in the Y Crate because it was a hit, of course). Then there was the other occasion where I was driving somewhere in south London and this came on. Took me all the way back to the 80s, it did…

If you can remember the Eddy Grant tune “Walking on Sunshine” (or better still, the cover version by Rocker’s Revenge), you’ll have some idea of what this sounds like – then out of nowhere, in comes Edwin Collins (of Orange Juice and “Never met a girl like you before” fame) with a blistering guitar solo. A nicer slice of retro Brit-funk you’ll never find. I can’t say the So Solid Crew’s remix of it does much for me, though…

The Freed Bird Sings

 I haven’t been as prompt with my updates on here as I’d like to. But I should share a really heart-warming moment from a couple of weeks ago with you.

 Actually, I’ll go back further – back a few years to when I was hosting my World Beat radio show on UCB, and I first heard about an Eritrean gospel singer who was serving a prison sentence inside a freight container.

 Helen Berhane was a member of an Evangelical church in Eritrea – one of the many religious groups deemed ‘illegal’ by the Eritrean Government. When she refused to renounce her faith, she was arrested.

 Torture and imprisonment followed; Helen was held in a freight container in sweltering heat, with a mentally ill woman who’d tried to assassinate a Government official as a cellmate (probably in the hope that the mad woman would try to kill her too).

 Helen’s plight caught the attention of several people outside her homeland. Amnesty International joined Christian groups such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Release International in campaigning for her release. Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie took up her cause. As well as give her album T’kebaeku airplay on my show, I also lent a hand in remastering the only available cassette of it for a CD release.

 In November 2006, we received the news that Helen had been released after spending two years in her makeshift cell. The following year, she was granted asylum in Denmark, where she now lives. And that brings us to Saturday before last, when she was a guest speaker at CSW’s annual conference in London.

 She couldn’t come to the conference in person, due to the terms of her asylum status (if she leaves Denmark within her first three years there, she loses all her benefits). But thanks to the power of Skype, we were able to see and chat with her, and have her sing for us. I don’t mind telling you it’s been ages since a singer’s voice made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end…

 Helen is free. But there are still hundreds more Eritrean Christians facing heavy persecution in their homeland. As long as that’s the case, the fight continues. 

From the Y Crate: Seeed

From the Y Crate, #8:

seeedrelease“Release” by SEEED (WEA)

 Berlin-based eleven-piece dancehall massive Seeed are one of my favourite Reggae acts of recent years; the fact that most of their songs are in German could be the reason why they’re not that well known in the UK. Having said that, each time they have played here, they’ve gone down really well. Their Glastonbury gigs a couple of years ago got rave reviews (please don’t tell Noel Gallagher that they’ve had ragga at Glasto; he’ll probably have a heart attack). And when they played east London’s Cargo as part of the amusingly named Fertiliser Festival, demand to see them was so high I spent half the duration of the gig in a long queue outside the venue, chatting with some very friendly Germans. Good times…

 “Release” isn’t my all-time favourite Seeed track (that honour goes to the first song of theirs that I heard: “Dickes B”, their ode to their home town). But it is the first one of theirs I heard that was entirely in English (well, patois actually. But that’s close enough). Its rhythm track borrows heavily – and quite cleverly – from the Cure’s “Close to Me”. 

From the Y Crate: Nash

From the Y Crate, #7: 

nashchancer“The Chancer” by NASH (Go Beat)                

 If you’re an Ali G fan, you’ll probably remember ‘Tha 4orce’, the house DJ on Da Ali G Show. What you probably wouldn’t be aware of is that he was in a band responsible for one of the funkiest (yet sadly overlooked) British albums from the beginning of the new millennium. Tha 4orce – Steve Ellington to his bank manager – did turntable duties for Nash, an eclectic London four-piece led by multi-instrumentalist Russell Nash.

 I was on a Swissair flight to Atlanta in the spring of 2000, and became quite taken with a song called “100 Million Ways” played on one of the plane’s audio channels. Its stop-start guitar groove (not too dissimilar to Madonna’s “Don’t Tell me”) just grabbed you the moment you heard it. After the song ended, the DJ mentioned that it was by a new British group. The moment I got back to Blighty, I tried to track it down.

 I never heard from Nash again until a few years later, when I was rummaging through the shelves of a budget CD shop that had opened on East Street Market and happened upon this – their debut (and only) album. Several tracks off it have since become favourites of mine: “Black Box” with its ‘go on, take the plunge – what’s the worst that can happen?’ message; the jaunty, string-laden “Just A Little Sign”; the defiant “I Don’t Care”, and the dark, moody reprise of “100 Million Ways” that closes the album.