It is partly about the search for missing royalty payments due to the Detroit-based recording artist Rodriguez, who sold zilch in the US but who was selling shedloads of albums (“bigger than the Rolling Stones”) in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s… and, indeed, in the 1990s and 2000s…
Coincidentally, in the UK, musician Bobby Valentino has just issued a press release about the surreal lack of royalties he received on the worldwide hit song Young at Heart.
Now Bobby says: “By careful investigation it has been discovered that there was a change of sub-publisher on or about 4th March 1993. What is peculiar is that the royalties disclosed by PRS for the whole of 1993 are taken as those for the period 1st January until 4th March 1993. In other words, about two months’ royalties were offered as representing the royalties for the whole year. So where did the royalties go? Quite simply to the new sub-publisher.”
The next bit takes a bit of careful reading but, says Bobby:
“The royalty information was supplied by PRS. Unfortunately they supplied the incorrect information in 2003 and since then have denied that they did so. Inconveniently for PRS there are a number of indicators that they did supply incorrect information.
“Some of this is complex but we can first focus on one key issue: On 4th March 1993 PRS recorded a change in the registration of Young at Heart. This change is shown as the (incorrect) noting of a German version of Young at Heart known as the Baerenstark version.
“In fact the existence of the Baerenstark version was not registered with PRS, as shown in their main records, until 5th February 2007. In other words whoever made the change on 4th March 1993 had supernatural powers of foresight.
“A less fantastic explanation is that the original entry on 4th March 1993 noted the change of sub-publisher and that when this became an inconvenient truth the entry was changed to a noting of the Baerenstark version.”
There is a second, related, indication of psychic gifts by someone at PRS, says Bobby, and it involved sheet music.
“Sheet music royalties,” he says, “are shown as paid to the new sub-publisher for July to September 1993. This is a further recognition of the supernatural influence of Young at Heart. Given that PRS claim the change of publisher occurred at the end of 1993 how can the new publisher receive payment for sheet music for July 1993? Someone or something is revealingly and inconveniently ahead of itself.”
Bobby Valentino says he wants PRS to treat him and fellow writers fairly and in his case to acknowledge the surreal accounting so that he can recover what is due to him.
Seems reasonable to me.
But, then, reason and moral accounting seems to be something alien to the record business and, indeed (I can tell you from personal experience) the film distribution business.
The rule of thumb is that, if they can screw you, they will.
With Bobby Valentino, though, they may have bitten off more than they can chew and gone several accountancy twists too far.
When the late comedian Malcolm Hardee died, the surprisingly voluminous obituaries quoted some of the many bizarre stories linked to him. But, often, the stories were slightly wrong. It was fairly obvious the obituarists had read Malcolm’s autobiography (which I wrote with him) but were slightly mis-remembering and mis-quoting the anecdotes.
One story involved his genitals getting painted in day-glo paint. It happened at the Glastonbury Festival but at least one obituary claimed he regularly did this at comedy clubs.
Now, because the mis-quoted and mis-remembered stories were printed, the myth will become fact.
Malcolm would have liked that.
Yesterday afternoon, I bumped into top rock fiddler Bobby Valentino in a street in Greenwich.
Somehow, the subject of calling people ‘Wally’ came up – as in “He’s a Wally,” meaning “He’s an idiot.”
I said: “I think that started at some rock festival in the West Country, didn’t it?”
Was it originally Wally from Essex or Wally from Wessex?
“No, Essex,” said Bobby Valentino. “There was a Weeley rock festival in Essex in 1971. I was still at school and a mate of mine, Barry Bartlett or Spot Hughes, came back from the Festival and said, Oh, I’m Wally from Weeley, and, from then on, everyone was called Wallies.”
“The story I heard,” I said, “was that an announcement kept being made Could Wally please contact the organisers about something and eventually people started to yell out Wally! as a term of derision and, when they left the festival and spread out to their homes across the country, the name spread all over the country too. That’s the story, isn’t it?”
“As far as I know,” said Bobby Valentino. (Update for regular readers of this blog: his dispute with PRS over royalties for past work continues.)
When I got home, I looked up Wikipedia, which currently reckons a Wally chant did develop over the course of the Weeley Festival weekend in 1971, but that it had been a continuation of the same behaviour at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.
I had heard the term ‘Wally’ had started in the West Country. This seems to have been because (again according to Wikipedia) in 1974, a group of New Age travellers encamped near Stonehenge were being evicted and, to hinder the eviction, they all gave their name as Wally of Wessex.
Stories take on their own life. And, you may have noticed, I have been quoting what is in Wikipedia as fact. Always a dubious thing to do. But people do.
Later yesterday, I got an e-mail from Bobby Valentino:
“After I saw you today,” it said, “I remembered an Edinburgh Festival story which I hope is true.
“Some years ago one of Kirk Douglas’s sons – the one who had the drink and drug problems – fancied himself as a comedian and booked himself a slot at the Festival. At one of his shows, he wasn’t going down at all well, brick-like in fact. He then said completely the wrong thing – Do you know who I am?… I’m Kirk Douglas’s son.
“A quick witted member of the audience immediately piped up: No, I’m Kirk Douglas’s son! to be followed by another audience member… and another… and another.”
(For extraordinary people who have never seen the movie, this is a reference to the scene in Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus where, at the end, everyone in the hero’s army stands up and says I am Spartacus.)
“As far as I know,” I told Bobby Valentino, “the story is totally true, but it happened at the Comedy Store in London.”
I said this with some authority, having heard the story several times. But who knows if it is actually true?
“I think I might blog about stories tomorrow,” I told Bobby Valentino.
“If you do,” he said, “you should point out that there are two sorts of people who tell stories more than they actually do what they’re supposed to do – musicians and fishermen.
“John Sebastian wrote a song about it called Stories We Can Tell. The Everly Brothers covered it and I played it with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.”
In May 2011, I posted a blog about a very weird night there which included, in the audience, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard.
He was there again last night and sat right by the stage.
Michael Smiley and audience member last night
About a third of the way through the wonderful Northern Ireland comedian Michael Smiley’s act, which involved tales of coming to Great Britain 30 years ago, the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard asked in a conversational tone:
“Are you Scottish?”
“No,” replied Michael Smiley to loud laughter. “Are you Pakistani?” he added to louder laughter (including very loud laughter from the black gent).
When the laughter subsided, Michael asked: “Do you love people from Scotland?”
“I am the last king from Scotland,” the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard told Michael Smiley.
“You’re the last king of Scotland?” Michael Smiley said. “You’re not mate. Let me spread a few more rumours for you. What else have the voices been telling you?”
“You can get on with the show now,” the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard, said languidly.
“Well,” said Michael Smiley amiably, amid laughter, “if you’ll shut up, I will.”
“Alright,” said the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard.
“Thankyou,” said Michael Smiley.
The audience laughed and then added in a few ironic Owwwws of sympathy.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Michael Smiley, joining in, “He comes in, sits at the front, shouts out mad shit all the time, I try to get on with my shit, I try to get him to shut his shit up and I’m the feckin’ bad guy!”
The audience roared with laughter.
“I might have to stand up here and wank off a pig for you by the end of the show, just to weird the whole thing up just a little bit more. White middle class Herne Hill come out for a bit of weirdness!
“Just so you can say to your friends tomorrow: You shouldn’t have bothered your arsehole with that new restaurant down in Brixton Village. We were up in Herne Hill last night in the dark like a firecracker and there was a mad black bloke at the front and a really angry Northern Irish guy on stage. That was two stereotypes for the price of one! I couldn’t believe it! All we needed was a fuckin’ midget on a unicycle… There’s an angry lesbian poet on at the end. This is like shit time travelling. All you people who bought your squats in the 1980s are just flipping out now. When you get back to your house, there’ll be a re-run of Boys From The Black Stuff on TV and you’ll come in your pants!…”
The audience roared with laughter.
It was a very weird night
And that is without even mentioning the very attractive young girl Mina The Horse prancing around the stage with a tail sticking out of her bottom or Richard Vranch and Pippa The Ripper giving a chemistry lesson with hula hoops or George Egg producing a large bowling ball from a small suitcase and sharing with the audience the fact that, to encourage their greyhounds to win races, owners smear mustard on the dogs’ arseholes when they put them in the starting traps.
After the show, my eternally-un-named friend who used to work for the late comedian Malcolm Hardee told me: “He once asked me to get a large penis for him.”
“I think he was being a bit… well, he might have actually wanted it but there was one somewhere – was it in the dressing room upstairs?” she asked me.
“Search me,” I said.
“Or maybe it was behind the upstairs bar,” she continued. “I think it was a prop.”
“You think it was a prop?” I asked. “But it might not have been?”
“You always ask me these things when I’m very tired,” my eternally-un-named friend complained. “It’s not fair. It was a prop. I don’t know what he was actually using it for at that point, because I hadn’t seen it in anything, but then I didn’t see the shows, did I, because I was in the box…”
“So did he…” I started to interrupt.
“…office,” she completed.
“So,” I continued, “did he suddenly just say Get me the giant penis?”
“It was after a show and everything was winding up,” my eternally-un-named friend explained, “and there was a large penis upstairs and I can’t remember now because I’m very tired, but I think it was a papier-mache one. Whether it was worn on the head or on another part of the body I don’t know. Maybe an act had had it and left it behind or whether Malcolm actually wanted it…”
“But you found it?” I asked.
“Well, he told me where it was,” she replied. “I think it was in the dressing room and there was a muddle of stuff up there, but it was obvious which one it was.”
“How giant was it?” I asked.
My eternally-un-named friend held her hands apart.
“That’s about 18 inches,” I said. “What colour?”
“I don’t remember,” she said. “It was the early 1990s and I’m very tired, but I think it was a life-likey thing. I can’t help thinking it might have been some sort of headgear…”
“For a dickhead?” I asked.
“…or a prop,” she continued. “To be honest, I don’t even remember if it was papier-mache. You know who might know? Martin Soan. He might say, Oh yes, there was a giant penis we used.”
“Were there a lot of dickheads around Up The Creek?” I prompted.
“You know what Malcolm was like,” said my eternally-un-named friend, ignoring me. “There was a point where he has this stuffed cat, which you could easily get from the Nautical Shop.”
“That’s where he got it,” I said. “I was there when he bought it.”
I blogged in early July about violin virtuoso Bobby’s spat with PRS (the Performing Right Society) over royalties on The Bluebells’ worldwide hit Young at Heart. This seems to have been progressing and I somehow think that PRS have chosen the wrong person to have a fight with. I did not realise that venture capital companies regularly invest in prospective court cases which are likely to be won. Capitalism and gambling intermingled. Or is that tautology?
I suggested a show with either The Fabulous Poodles or the Hank Wangford Band or preferably both in an hour long show at the Fringe. Maybe only for one week, to sell the idea of a tour. Those are certainly shows I would (unusually) pay to see.
But accommodation cost is always one of the major problems at the Edinburgh Fringe, so I guess it won’t happen.
Accommodation is not the only ongoing financial problem in Edinburgh, though.
A ‘think piece’ by Bob Slayer which the Scotsman newspaper suddenly pulled and which I then posted in one of my blogs on 4th August – How the Edinburgh Fringe is financed – got a lot of hits at the start of the Fringe; and a flurry towards the end of the Fringe; and today it has had another burst of sudden hits with a few comments at the bottom of the post.
I have a feeling people don’t spot any subsequent Comments on my blogs, so it is maybe worth pointing out that, in response to my blog yesterday about slugs in my back garden (it’s a glamorous life), Anna Smith made this Comment from Canada:
In British Columbia, which is neither British nor Columbia, we are over-run with slugs. Slugs have been known to decimate entire marijuana plantations, a vital industry here, now that much of our forests have been logged or destroyed by the pine beetle. The only solution to the pine beetle problem is a winter cold snap, which kills the larvae, but we have no control over the weather. Slugs are easier to combat. We place a saucer in the garden, and pour beer into it. The slugs soon appear and drink themselves to death within hours. Many comedians take years to perform the same accomplishment.
My eternally-un-named friend, at the forefront of the UK’s battle against the slug menace, has dreamt of slugs the last two nights. Giant ones climbing in and out of drains. She may try the beer option but, as I do not drink alcohol and she seldom drinks – in case the slugs do not take the bait – I may invite comedian Bob Slayer round to clear up the left overs.
Although, if I do, this may prove to be a major mistake.
Bobby Valentino and Paul Astles in London last night
In December 2010 I blogged about the wonderful Paul Astles and Bobby Valentino, both world-class performers. They should be living in mansions in Surrey in unhappy marriages and down to their last million like other rockers of a certain age.
At the moment in London, you can stumble on the most unlikely, highly-talented musicians playing in the most unlikely of venues.
“Why’s your album not on iTunes?” I asked Paul.
“Just because I’m not together enough to do all the PayPal and bank accounting and all that kind of stuff you have to do.”
“How can people buy it, then?” I asked.
“Only if they see us. It’s a rare and precious thing.”
“You could be selling around the world on iTunes,” I said. “Not just in the UK.”
“Well,” replied Paul. “A man contacted me on my Facebook account from New York and asked me if I would send a copy of Friendly Street to him, so I did and he sent me a cheque for whatever £10-and-postage is in dollars. He was a very nice man.”
“You should put the album – and the individual tracks – on iTunes,” I told Paul. “You might find you have fans in Texas or you might become a big hit in the Ukraine. As far as I know, Right Said Fred are still mega-stars in Germany – they were a couple of years ago – and they make a very good living. Here in true UK, Right Said Fred are yesterday’s one-hit wonders; in Germany, as I understand it, they’re still selling shedloads.”
“Weren’t they Princess Diana’s favourite band?” Paul asked.
“Well, there you are,” I replied. “You can overcome any set-back. You have to be on iTunes. If you put your album on iTunes, the two of you might become a hit around the world.”
Even if they only became a cult hit in China or India, they could be living in mansions in Surrey in unhappy marriages and down to their last million.
Everyone should have aspirations.
And there’s still time. It just needs luck and distribution.
I got a Facebook message from Ben Peel in Bradford, saying:
“I would love you to go check out my home-made video from my debut single here. It will sure make you smile. I have currently just released my debut album – which can be previewed here. ”
I don’t know Ben Peel nor his band The Wool City Folk Club, but his video and songs are interesting.
Quite soon some unknown person is going to achieve worldwide fame and become a millionaire through YouTube clips and subsequent audio or video downloads. Maybe the Arctic Monkeys have already done it, but only on a limited scale.
Perhaps in a couple of years time, Ben Peel will be a multi-millionaire.
Or maybe not.
The world is changing fast but no-one knows what the fuck is going on or what they’re supposed to be doing.
Shortly before Apple announced their new iCloud service, I wrote a blog in which I mentioned the on-going death of the traditional record industry – by which I meant vinyl, tapes, CDs and DVDs sold in shops.
The blog resulted in some interesting feedback.
Hyphenate creative Bob Slayer (he’s a comedian-promoter-rock group manager) reacted:
“It is at worst a myth and at best very misleading to say that the record industry is dying – there is more demand for music then ever. What has happened over the last ten years is that the music industry has completely reinvented itself. The X-Factor has had an effect and a smaller number of pop artists are selling a high number of records. They still operate in a similar way to the traditional industry.
“But everywhere else has radically changed so that the artist (and their management) can play a much more hands-on role in controlling their own careers.”
Mr Methane, the world’s only professional farter, who knows a thing or two about self-promotion and has made his own music CDs produced by former Jethro Tull drummer Barrie Barlow, tells me:
“Large record labels no longer have the money to keep well-known acts on retainers or publishing contracts like they used to and have pressed the ejector seat. New and well-known acts are not as a rule getting huge piles of money thrown at them to go away and make an album. The Stone Roses’ great rock ’n’ roll heist, where they made one decent album then got a shed load of money advanced to make another and did sweet FA, just would not happen in today’s economic climate – or at least it would be highly unlikely.”
We have entered the entrance hall of an iTunes world of downloads with megastars and small self-producing, self-promoting unknowns where good middle-ranking performers and groups will potentially be squeezed out. It is much like comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe, where the big TV names and unknowns on the Free Fringe and Free Festival pull in crowds, but it is increasingly tough for very good, experienced middle-rankers with no TV exposure.
Ben Peel, just starting out in the music business, says:
“The digital realm does not have time for people who are solely musicians. You have to evolve into some type of super musician / marketing guru to be able make an impact amongst people. I have to be 50% musician, 50% marketing and branding. The digital realm is creating a new generation of musician: one-man machines cutting out the middle-men. The downside is that the middle-men had collateral – and contacts.”
Self-promotion ability is vital, though Ben thinks e-mails are outdated in publicity terms.
“I do a gig… and send an email out… I get ten people there…. I do a gig and throw out a 30 second YouTube short… one a week on the run-up to a gig…. I get two hundred people to attend and the exposure of the viral promoting and people re posting is priceless…. You cannot buy ‘word of mouth’ promoting …. you can only inspire it through something quirky/ original/ funny/ catchy etc.”
Bob Slayer manages not only the wonderful Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock but also internet phenomenon Devvo and tells me:
“At his height, Devvo was achieving over a million hits on every YouTube clip we put online. We had no control over who was viewing them but, as they were mostly passed around between friends, he found his natural audience. Devvo is not really understood outside the UK, so that massive following came largely from the UK and predominantly in the north. It meant that, he could easily sell-out medium sized venues anywhere north of Birmingham and strangely also in Wales but, for example, we struggled to sell tickets in Brighton.”
Financially-shrewd Mr Methane has so far failed to dramatically ‘monetise’ the more than ten million worldwide hits on just one of several YouTube clips of his Britain’s Got Talent TV appearance. but he sold shedloads of CDs and DVDs via his website after appearances on shock jock Howard Stern’s American radio and TV shows because small local radio stations across the US then started playing his tracks. They were small local stations, but there were a lot of them.
The fact Mr Methane made a lot of money online, sitting at home in Britain, after very specifically local US radio exposure is interesting, though.
At the bottom of his e-mails, Ben Peel has a signature:
“Dwarves are like tents… a lot easier to get out of the bag than they are to put back in.”
Yes indeed. And that is very true with new technology. But it made me remember something else.
Years ago, I attended a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain meeting where the speaker’s message was “The way to make money is not to think big but to think small.”
He suggested that one way to make money was to create a weekly five or ten minute audio insert which could be run within local US radio shows. If anyone could come up with an idea, made in Britain, which would be of interest to Americans on a weekly basis, you could sell it to local US stations at a very low price.
If you tried to sell the mighty PBS network a weekly half hour show for £2,000 it was unlikely they would buy it.
But any small local US radio station could afford to pay £5 for a weekly five or ten minute insert. If you could sell that same insert to 499 other small local US radio stations (not competing against each other because they are small purely local stations), you would be grossing £2,500 per week for creating a five or ten minute item. And you could distribute it down a telephone line.
If you could persuade the stations to buy it for £10 – around $15 – still throwaway money – then, of course, you would be making £5,000 per week.
The trick was to price low and sell in volume.
That was before iTunes, which became successful by that very same model of micro-pricing. It was worth buying a single music track if it only cost 79c in the US or 79p in the UK. If iTunes had priced a single music track at £1.60 in the UK, they would almost certainly have sold less than half as many units, so would have grossed less money.
Think small. Think cheap. Think volume.
Modern technology allows ordinary bands to record, mix, cut and put their own tracks on iTunes alongside music industry giants. It also allows people in New Zealand to listen to and watch Ben Pool on YouTube just as easily as people in Bradford can see him play a live gig.
Just as some comedians are looking into e-publishing, bypassing traditional publishers, Ben Pool in Bradford and local bands in South East London can now expand beyond selling their own CDs after gigs and could reach a worldwide paying audience of millions with no music industry middle-men.
A week ago, I saw Paul Astles perform again, this time with his seven-man band Shedload of Love in their monthly gig at The Duke pub on Creek Road, Deptford, not far from Malcolm Hardee’s old Up The Creek comedy club. They also play the Wickham Arms in Brockley every month. They are astonishingly good. Formed in 2004, they recently recorded an album at Jools Holland’s studio in Greenwich.
Both the Paul Astles bands are world-class, playing mostly locally but, if promoted on the internet, they could garner a worldwide following with no music industry middle-men.
There are, of course, as with anything involving creativity and cyberspace, those big words IF and COULD.
It’s amazing what you can find in an ordinary British pub. Top class levels of musicianship, for example.
I once read an interview in which the brilliant Randy Newman unwisely said, with more than a trace of entirely justified bitterness, that if his name had been Bob Dylan his last album would have sold millions more than it did. Because Dylan had widespread fame and he didn’t. It’s ironic that Randy Newman, one of the most brilliant writers of songs for sophisticated grown-ups, should have only stumbled on serious mainstream success when he started writing songs for Pixar’s animated children’s feature films (although he did also write the wonderful theme tune for the equally wonderful US TV series Monk, currently screening in the UK on ITV3 and on the Quest channel).
On Thursday night I went to the Wickham Arms pub in Brockley, South East London, for a second consecutive monthly visit to see Paul Astles and Bobby Valentino perform together – they appear there fairly regularly – their next appearance is in a fortnight.
I figured last month might have been a freakish success. But this time it was definitely not; it was pure talent and experience. The punters in the Wickham Arms are so fascinating and individually unique they would tend to detract from and outshine most performers – I’ve seldom seen such a collection of odd headgear, facial hair and faces straight from Renaissance paintings or a Hogarth print – but not last night. It’s equally seldom I’ve seen a member of the audience in the saloon bar of pub actually get up out of her seat and bop. It was like Glastonbury gone local.
Before my visit last month, I hadn’t seen the amazing Bobby Valentino for maybe 20 years. I saw him perform back in, I guess, the mid 1980s with The Hank Wangford Band and then, around 1990, solo with his own backing band.
He was always talented – a great fiddler and singer who was a distracting lookalike of actor Clark Gable from Gone With The Wind. Now, after 25 years, his fiddle playing has a subtle, seeming effortless flow to it, the sound moving from violin to mandolin to ukelele and to an almost mini-orchestral sound on some songs.
And, on Thursday night, he played ornate backing to the wonderful voice of Paul Astles. Like Randy Newman with the inferior and vastly overrated Bob Dylan, if Paul Astle’s name were Paul Weller, he would be selling albums by the lorryload and playing arenas around the country. His voice is that good. And, with Bobby Valentino complementing him, it was an astonishing night. He switched from Johnny Cash to Neil Young to Merle Haggard to his own songs as effortlessly as Bobby Valentino’s violin swooped around him – and he made each song his own: none a copy.
The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent throw the spotlight on wannabe semi-talents or non-talents with the right hairstyles. Meanwhile, real talent goes un-noticed. ‘Twas ever thus.
As with comedians, so with musicians – it’s often British pubs which are showcasing world class acts. The bullshitters get on TV.
The good news is that Paul Astles and Bobby Valentino may have a CD out next year. Though not, of course, on a major label.