Blogs and Columns for the Evening News

Music Column for Evening News October 2016

I spent September enjoying some great live music in the city.  Last week I saw singer/songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich perform solo to a packed Norwich Arts Centre as part of his UK autumn tour.  Ben’s been earning wide renown as a songwriter, he co-wrote ‘Grow’ with British artist Frances which featured in the Amazon UK TV advert, and recently released his second album ‘After the Rain’.  His melodic acoustic sound and voice had the audience captivated.  I also really enjoyed the support artist, Siv Jakobson from Norway, also solo.  Her haunting acoustic songs have been compared to the likes of Laura Marling and Ane Brun and she has supported SOAK and Damien Jurado.  She performed a very unique cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’, giving the pop classic a very yearning and fragile quality and my favourite was her final song ‘How We Used to Love’ which also has a great Martin Hviid remix with a lovely string arrangement on her Bandcamp page.  Her most recent songs were created in Brooklyn and since its release has been well received in the press with praise from several national and international publications and renowned music-blogs, BBC 6 Music and XFM. 

I was at Norwich Arts Centre a few days later to enjoy Uke East.  Now in its fourth year, the festival celebrates all things ukulele and is growing each year.  On Saturday there were workshops at Cookes and an array of ukuleles and other other uke goodies for sale.  During the afternoon artists performed to a packed Arts Centre bar.  Samantha Muir impressed with her incredibly skillful classical ukulele and I really enjoyed Bex and Freda, who I’ve seen on the festival circuit when we both performed at Folk East and Dubs at the Hall.  Bex has some lovely hooky songs and performed tracks from her new six track EP ‘From Where I Stand’ which is available at Bandcamp: http://bexandfreda.bandcamp.com/ I particularly like the melodic title track.  Later on in the day the entertainment moved to the main room where the Norwich Ukulele Society led a big strum along in the main stage and the exciting five-piece Bijoux Toots and headliners Mother Ukers wowed the festival goers.  Sunday finished with a giant busk raising money for charity Musical Keys who I’ve featured before.

This month sees the seventh Norwich Sound and Vision.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended and performed at the festival in the past and it continues to provide an opportunity to see exciting new and established bands and artists all over the city as well as get an insight into the music industry with the inspiring panel speakers at the conference.  Saturday sees Award winning journalist John Robb in-conversation with Viv Albertine from the Slits and Adam Buxton with Brix Smith-Start from The Fall.

The beautiful setting of the Octagon Chapel brings a couple of real highlights of the festival for roots music fans.  On Thursday 13th October Dreams Music are promoting a very lovely concert of exciting local talent and quality songwriting when Jess Morgan with the The Light Band headlines.  This autumn sees the launch of Jess’ brand new album ‘Edison Gloriette’ which is released on 21st October.  Recorded in Norway and in the UK, this fourth album has already been gaining the attention of national press and radio with the lovely single ‘Skate while you’re skinny’ earning airplay on such shows as the Folk show on Radio 2.  Jess includes this special Norwich ‘homecoming’ gig among her autumn tour dates and for vinyl lovers there is a limited edition oxblood coloured LP available at her Bandcamp: https://jessmorgan.bandcamp.com/

Support comes from trio Alden Patterson and Dashwood.  Also taking their inspiration from both British and North American folk andAmericana, the trio weave rich vocal harmonies, fiddle, dobro, guitar and mandolin around wonderfully crafted original songs and melodies.  They have been warmly received at this year’s summer festivals and I saw their lovely set at Folk East when I had earlier performed with dobro player Noel Dashwood.  They release their debut album ‘Call Me Home’ this October and the title track has already been earning airplay on shows such as BBC Introducing. 

Also not to miss at the Octagon Chapel is Wooden Arms on Friday 14th of October as part of Cinema City’s Sound of Silence, vintage film taken in and around Norwich on a big screen soundtracked live.  Alex Carson is a composer, musician and member of the band Wooden Arms, a contemporary quintet who draw from alternative, classical, and trip-hop music and he will be creating an original score and performing it live with members of Wooden Arms as part of this year’s festival.  Their recent single ‘Burial’ and new album ‘Trick of the Light’ marks a change in sonic texture bringing something of a departure from the classical chamber music stylings of their first album.  It’s going to be a very special evening.  For more details on all the artists performing over the three days, check out the Sound and Vision website at:www.norwichsoundandvision.co.uk

IMG_2248Sound and Vision – Women In Music PanelBeing a woman in music, a singer/songwriter and one who also teaches music, writes music articles and produces my own music, I was particularly looking forward to a couple of Women in Music panels on the Friday morning, day 2, of this year’s Sound and Vision.

The female panel featured Sophie Little of BBC Introducing, artist Mary Epworth of Hand of Glory records, Nathalie Du Bois, who had been on yesterday’s sync panel and is founder of 6 Degrees Entertainment, an independent music company that represents a wide roster of artists for film, television and commercial sectors, live music specialist Anna Moulson of Melting Vinyl who programmes venues across the south-east coast, and Juliana Meyer founder and CEO of streaming platform SupaPass which gives music superfans VIP access to their favourite bands and all their music.

In the first panel titled Mind the Gender Gap they discussed the often wrong assumption that females are going to drop out of the industry to have a family and how its time to change attitudes. It was really refreshing to see an all female panel but they also stressed how its still important to include men’s thoughts and it’s not about excluding a male perspective. To emphasise this they even encouraged a couple of men to join the panel.

The panel then discussed the ways in which attitudes could possibly be changed. They felt that through education would be a key way, looking at different sectors of the industry, for example, the corporate side, as they felt that the indie world is an area where people genuinely love music and nurtures female talent. Anna, who also teaches in concert promotions at Brighton Institute of Modern Music, said she has definitely seen a confidence gap, her female students can often be much less confident than the male students. They all agreed that we need more positive female role models. Juliana cited Imogen Heap and Sia as amazing female artists writing and producing their own music and forging their own paths. Growing up I was certainly inspired by Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Carole King.

A female artists visual presentation is something that often gets more focus but the panel had some astonishing examples of derogatory and sexist inappropriate comments they’d received during their careers and felt there was no excuse for it. They emphasised the need to take a stance, to not get bitter, and on asked what advice they would give, they said to continue wearing different creative hats and keep striving for your dreams.

Continuing with the same female panel, the next discussion was about lazy festival line ups. We viewed some recent festival bills and the lack of female artists was disappointing particularly at Reading and Creamfields, despite female artists really dominating the charts. They cited that the biggest draw at last year’s Glastonbury was Dolly Parton and Grace Jones and Patti Smith are still captivating audiences. They felt it was again about changing attitudes, not assuming that all women have children and take a break and become invisible while male artists can often break through at a later age.

The panel acknowledged that we have to consider that tickets need to be sold for festivals to survive however it should be about the artist as men can also love female artists. They believe there needs to be a discussion between men and women and that maybe inspiration could come from a smaller DIY level as the boutique festivals are flourishing and there is already more of a mix of male and female artists on the line ups.

The Reading festival audience now is very much a mix of teenage girls and boys so they felt it was a shame that there is often a lack of variety in some festival line ups, a lot of the same artists appearing on the bill. Creamfields is very genre specific but there were only 6 women in the line up this year. On a more positive note, Mary had been to Festival No 6 and thought it embraced more female artists and creativity and Anna felt there’s a bit of a resurgence in the Riot grrrl movement with the likes of Savages. In rock schools there is also now a half and half mix of girls and boys playing instruments when before they thought it was more of a novelty having a female bass player or drummer. I certainly teach more females than male at the moment.

How we add more females to festival line ups, the answer is in the curation. Anna suggested that its an issue the Arts Council or PRS funding should address and it’s also about addressing diversity overall. They involved the audience by getting us all to look at recent festival line ups and discuss how we could change them, suggesting female artists that should’ve been included. It was a great way of starting to do something productive about line ups, hearing the female artists whose names were put forward.

Later that evening I really enjoyed Ekkah, 2 friends Rebecca and Rebekah whose infectious mix of disco and funk pop got people dancing. I particularly liked their songs ‘Last Chance to Dance’ and ‘Home Alone’ and could really see them breaking through.

On Saturday an impressive crowd gathered at the Forum library to see an afternoon of live music. I first caught Cove Hithe whose new live EP ‘Live At Old School Studios’ is out now. I’ve seen them before and love their haunting songs, musicianship and instrumentation. I would also recommend their ‘Your Ground Is My Earth’ release which includes a cover of a song by Molly Drake. Next it was duo Dove and Boweevil whose music mixes Americana, soul, blues through to gospel. Lauren’s amazing voice and energy really engaged the audience and I really like the title track from their album ‘This Life’ which has also been played by BBC Radio Introducing recently. Emily Wiing (Sargasso Trio) rounded off the afternoon with her rousing band who I’ve enjoyed before at Norwich Arts Centre.

IMG_2251With Jay from Cove Hithe

In the evening I saw Fossa at the Mash Tun. Recently their track ‘Five Days’ was made mp3 of the day on Lauren Laverne’s 6 music show. I could hear influences of Radiohead and Alt J but think they have their own inventive sound and emotive songs that really draw you in. Finally I saw Port Isla at Norwich Arts Centre, who I wrote about at the Radio 1 Academy. They have an anthemic sound and strong uplifting melodies as demonstrated on this year’s ‘A.L.I.V.E’ EP and a highlight of the gig was when they were joined by True Adventures to perform a moving version of his song ‘North Atlantic Ocean.’ It was a lovely way to close another great Sound and Vision. Looking forward to next year!

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Sound and Vision 2015 ~ previewed in my October music column for the Evening News

Norwich Sound and Vision returned to the city last week bringing three days of live music. I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in the past, performing at a showcase evening at the Bicycle Shop and also a PRS opening reception and believe it’s a truly exciting festival that really puts Norwich on the UK music map. During the festival I’ve seen some amazing live performances at key venues across the city.

Sound and Vision also provides a major opportunity for media, artists, labels, film makers, writers and anyone involved in a creative industry to all meet and network. I’ve made connections with bloggers and radio from attending the festival and as a musician and music lover Sound and Vision has become one of the essential dates in the music calendar.
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Performing at Sound and Vision PRS Reception

Not only is there the high quality of eclectic live music to see, during the day there’s also the conference itself. I’ve enjoyed the excellent and relevant panel discussions from trusted and respected members of the music industry, some coming from around the world. I’ve often felt inspired and motivated, (despite also often feeling overwhelmed) after hearing what they’ve advised and had to say about the industry.

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With BBC 6 Music’s Tom Robinson at last year’s festival

This year the first first panel I attended was how to market your content. The panelists included Will Spencer from digital marketing agency Bozboz MAS, Michael Bailey from Mustard TV and Rosie James from Tru Thoughts records, an indie label in Brighton.

The panel discussed the ways in which they use social media and this is the panel that day I was really interested in. When Michael started in 2007 it was before Twitter and predominantly print based. Now with social media dominating how we share information, he constantly posts news online at the same time, feeling there’s a community of interest. Will, whose company provides digital marketing for festivals, said their approach to social media depends very much on their clients. For a festival like Sundown which has a very young audience, they utilise Instagram and Snapchat.

Rosie and her label advise their artists to maintain a constant drip feed of posts. For something like an album launch there would be more focus on a specific artist due to all the promotion involved in a new release. Will said their content was often tailored depending on if it’s Facebook (good for core messages), Twitter (more often, about sparking conversation) and Instagram (giving more of a backstage view, like a band sound check). As an artist I can definitely relate to these approaches. I often interact and discuss music I like on Twitter, share posts about my major activities on Facebook and share fun photos and videos of what I’m up to on Instagram.

There was also talk about how there are new developments coming along all the time. Michael mentioned Periscope, how it’s being used differently and all about engaging live with people. The panel felt it was about finding the best one for you and the one you most enjoy using as that will definitely come across and really build a bond with your fans. Different artists are also better at certain social media, each one has benefits and it’s worth experimenting with your channels and ultimately being yourself as that will shine through. It’s all about creating engaging cool content, something that people will want to share, posting about other music you like not just promoting your own material. Competitions work well, thanking people (e.g radio stations) that have promoted you, creating a story and giving access to your world.

The next panel was the secret of syncs with Peter Bradbury (head of music at Sky TV) and Nathalie du Bois, the CEO and founder of 6 Degrees Entertainment, an independent music company that represents a wide roster of artists for film, television and commercial sectors providing, among other services, music supervision. They looked at how the whole process worked for UK television and the differences between the UK and in the US and also explaining terms like blanket licensing, Mark Gordon, from creative music and sound company Score Draw Music, had drawn diagrams which really made it easier to understand. The panel also gave some useful advice on how to pitch your music to companies such as Sky and how they in particular try to be discerning and ahead of the game in their music choices. By also viewing promos for Game of Thrones and The Legacy, we saw how original music was used. There can be many spots for TV shows for indie artists, particularly in the US, but they emphasised how essential it is to do your research.

The third panel I attended on Thursday was focusing on breaking an artist through streaming services. It featured Ben Rimmer from digital distributors Believe Digital, Sarah Fulford at digital music platform Supa Pass and music managers Bob James and David Manders. They discussed what a massive impact streaming has had on the music industry. With Spotify passing iTunes and now with the advent of Apple Music, streaming has reached a whole new level. David, who manages the excellent duo Public Service Broadcasting, says digital has become a huge part of their income with the band now embracing it. He believes streaming is a discovery tool, giving fans access to the music which could then lead to someone becoming a super fan and wanting to buy something. Most of the panel weren’t huge fans of SoundCloud but felt it was great for sharing band remixes and B sides.

Bob felt you shouldn’t forget YouTube which is still absolutely massive for the youth market. He also revealed how streaming can be beneficial to an artist, advising on how you can monetize your YouTube channel and its income streams and how lots of streams on Spotify can lead to play listed spots which can then lead to radio play. Again, as with the earlier panel, they reiterated how it’s all about building your platform and creating a story.

Later on I managed to catch some live music and really enjoyed the sets in the Arts Centre bar. Singer songwriter Abigail Blake, who performed for Huw Stephens at the Radio 1 Academy in Norwich earlier this year, mixed her set by playing guitar and also beautifully playing harp. She has a wonderful voice with really lovely songs and is currently promoting her 6 track EP ‘Etch’. Abigail was followed by True Adventures, the project from Norfolk based Sam. He’s been championed by BBC Introducing and 6Music’s Tom Robinson and I really liked his debut single ‘North Atlantic Ocean’ a moving song which sounded great with just his voice and electric guitar.

In the main room I caught Let’s Eat Grandma, 16 year old’s Rosa and Jenny who are managed by Mary Epworth and her Hand of Glory label. Seeing these young multi-instrumentalists was so impressive, I love seeing talented young musicians and their mix of pop and progressive sounds and performance had the audience captivated.

 RADIO 1 ACADEMY – DIGITAL JOURNALISM Q&A, May 2015

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I always enjoy, and feel really inspired after attending music workshops and panels. Today I had a fun time going along to the R1 Academy at OPEN Norwich. There was a great atmosphere and lots of invaluable advice for those wanting to get into the creative industries. I especially found the Q&A on digital journalism really informative. With Rick Edwards and Tina Daheley asking the questions it featured Anna Doble, Online Editor at BBC Newsbeat, Martin Bryant, Editor in chief of The Next Web and Greg Cochrane, Editor of NME.com. Martin talked about how he started out by blogging with no expectations of it becoming his career, Anna began with local radio while Greg did 5 stints at NME doing work experience, all illustrating the importance of gaining experience and working your way up. As well as a broad skill set, a specialist knowledge can also be a real advantage and really help in getting you further in your chosen area of journalism. With regards to the fast ever changing world of digital journalism, Anna felt that being open to new ways of executing things is crucial while also reflecting your audience. Ultimately, they agreed it’s all about having that great idea, building a community, asking people what they think and getting them to share, whilst consistently providing varied content and constantly experimenting. All excellent advice!

With regards to my music, I’m excited that Kathryn Tickell will be playing me on her lovely show on Amazing Radio tonight.

I was also recently interviewed at C2C Festival by Just Zoe who writes an excellent country music blog, take a look here: Best British Country Music

And huge thanks to other big supporters of UK country music W21 Music who have made me their Artist of the Week!

BBC Radio 1 Academy ~ Songwriting Masterclass with Ella Eyre

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I had a great time today being part of BBC Radio 1’s Academy and a songwriting masterclass. I love, and am fascinated by songwriting and have written extensively about it; about renowned and favourite songwriters, and my own creative process in my column for Songwriting Magazine. The masterclass was run by London based musical director Zara Nunn and it was really inspiring seeing young aspiring songwriters, many who’ve never written before, come up with original lyrics and then perform some impressive compositions to the group. Zara got everyone in their small groups to write down lyrics and they were then passed to another group to edit, an important part of songwriting is making lyrics more succinct. Then the short songs were written with melodies and instruments added. A lovely group singalong at the end showcased the songs they’d written. It was lovely witnessing the songs blending together and there were certainly some strong melodies that resulted from the workshop. Access to Music, who’ve been a really important organisation in my own music education, also provided a great house band.

Ella Eyre was also part of the masterclass and talked about her writing and what inspires her. She’s responsible for many cool collaborations and written hits including co-writing Sigma’s number one hit ‘Changing’ featuring Paloma Faith. I really liked what she said about keeping it personal as I agree that when you write about what you feel and have experienced, it really resonates with, and moves people. Ella says she keeps a diary and is always writing down ideas and doodles, as well as recording herself as soon as she gets a melody or lyric, and that’s a great way of ensuring a great idea isn’t lost. Here’s what she said about writing as counselling:

“If you force it, it doesn’t seem so real. I always say “if it comes from the heart, it goes to the heart.” That’s my approach to writing a song from the heart.”

It was also great meeting Greg James and lovely to see the various Radio 1 DJ’s and their obvious enthusiasm for inspiring music fans. Thanks to Radio 1 Academy for such a fun and exciting week in Norwich!

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With the cool songwriters today!