COPSTICK: Your adventures… Is it insanity or is it you don’t think you could write a funny enough stand-up show, so you go and do mental things?
TIM: I think that’s right. But I like to see if things are possible. Can you do it? I have the world record for longest distance travelled in a boat made entirely out of paper. I just wondered how far you could travel in a paper boat.
COPSTICK: How far?
TIM: 160 miles.
TIM: Where the comedy comes is I try these things and what is normally quite a mundane thing can suddenly take on a… With the paper boat, I had to get insurance for the paper boat before they would let me take it out on the water. I phoned hundreds of insurance companies. Nobody would give me insurance for that. Then one of them phoned me back and said: We will cover you and the paper boat against fire and theft. You couldn’t write a better joke than that. Just the truth is funny… Then I thought: Can you row a bath tub across the English Channel? I thought some Victorian must have done it, but no-one had.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How long did it take you to row across?
TIM: Nine hours and six minutes and I had my heel on the plug all the way because, obviously, you needed to be able to take the plug out, otherwise it was cheating.
JOHN: Was it difficult to set up?
TIM: When I first phoned the Royal Navy to try and get them on board with the idea, there was a mistake at the switchboard and I got put through to a rear admiral. And that was the best result for me, because both my uncle and my great uncle were in the Navy and they told me If ever you’re talking to a member of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, you always start the conversation with a question – How are your futtocks, old man?
So I get put through to the rear admiral and I say How are your futtocks, old man? and he replies At their furthest reach, dear boy.
When I asked my uncle about this, he said Yes, that was the correct nautical response. I said That’s fantastic, uncle, but what does it actually mean? and he said Well, that’s the thing, Tim. Nobody actually knows. It’s just this mad thing the Navy have done for 300 years.
I then finally got hold of someone sensible about the whole thing and it turns out what a futtock actually is is the ribs on an old-fashioned boat and, when you say, How are your futtocks? if they reply At their furthest reach then the boat is running at its absolute top capacity. You are, in effect, saying How’s your day going? and they’re saying Very well.
I had to go up to the Admiralty Board – which is quite a serious thing. It doesn’t often happen and there are five flag admirals. I sat there and one of the admirals told me: Rowing a bath tub across the English Channel is not possible. We’ve done the calculations. You’re a single guy. It’s just not possible. Physics is against you.
I looked him directly in the eye and said: I’m not saying it IS possible, I’m saying give me the chance to try.
And – literally in a second – he turned to the admiral next to him and said: And THAT’s the spirit that built this nation!
One second. One answer. And suddenly I had the Navy behind me and they are serious.
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.
(A version of this piece was also published by Indian news site We Speak News)
Bobby Valentino – when Young at Heart
This morning, Bob Diamond of Barclays Bank resigned because of the interest rate fixing scandal, which most ordinary people might consider fraud. Apparently it was not legally fraud and, of course, I would not dream of implying that anything illegal was done by anyone. Clearly, in the case of Barclays Bank, everything which was done was done in a perfectly legal way – even if, to ordinary people, it was amoral and arguably immoral.
Amorality and lateral thinking where money is concerned, of course, is not limited to the banking industry. The movie industry and the music business are notorious for creative thinking where money is concerned.
Last week, I was chatting to the superb violinist Bobby Valentino in London.
I think I first saw Bobby perform when he was part of the Hank Wangford band in the mid 1980s. He is arguably most famous for his violin intro to The Bluebells’ 1993 release of their song Young at Heart.
This resulted in a 2002 court case in which Bobby claimed he had composed the very distinctive violin intro and that it made a significant enough difference to the song to be considered an original contribution. He won the case and won 25% of the writer’s royalties, backdated to 1993.
You might think that would have made him a lot of money.
Last week, though, he told me it had not.
“How much do you reckon you are owed?” I asked.
“Maybe between half a million and three quarters of a million pounds,” he replied.
“But you won the court case,” I said.
“You like surreal comedy,” he said, “so you’ll like this.”
“Mmmmm….” I said.
“I won the court case,” he told me. “The publishers were ordered to disclose their statements and PRS (the Performing Right Society) volunteered their statements. But they are, to be charitable, surreal. Young at Heart seems to have been the only pop song in history that didn’t earn anywhere near the expected royalties. On average, the figures are about 5% of what you’d expect them to be.”
“How do people calculate the expected royalties on a song?” I asked.
“By comparing it with other songs which sold similar amounts and had roughly the same amount of radio and TV play,” he replied. Bobby studied Mathematics at York University.
“There was a very high-profile TV ad for VW,” he explained, “which should have made about £80,000 for the song on just one run, from 14th February to 31st March 1993. The PRS statement for that first run shows less than £2,000 to the writer. And there was a second run of the same ad from 5th October to 4th December 1993. That should have made another £70,000.
“So how much did that second run make?” I asked.
“There are no royalties shown for that at all,” said Bobby. “None.”
“They claim there were zero royalties from the transmission run of a high-profile VW ad over two months?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Bobby. “And zero royalties for the song from America. It wasn’t a hit in America. It was only a ‘college hit’, so there would not have been a lot due. But there should have been something. Plus there were a load of British TV shows which used the song and which played in America – Midsomer Murders, all that sort of stuff. But there’s absolutely not one penny from America on the publisher’s statements or the PRS statements.”
“But Young at Heart is like Blur’s Song 2,” I interrupted. “The sort of song where TV shows and promo & ad makers use the opening and not the song itself. Song 2 has the Wooo-Hoooooo! opening bit and Young at Heart has your violin intro.”
“Yeah,” agreed Bobby. “The number of times they use the Young at Heart opening – Diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-yup-de-yup – in You’ve Been Framed!… When people are falling over, they use the violin’s Diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-yup-de-yup.
“People have said to me,” Bobby laughed. “Surely there must be something dodgy with the figures that are being provided? and I tell them: Well, YOU may say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
“PRS’s excuse is that every UK radio station failed to report to them correctly, every UK TV station failed to report to them correctly and every overseas rights society failed to report to them correctly.”
“Who’s saying this?” I asked.
“What’s the explanation?”
“Well,” said Bobby. “Someone suggested to me that the upper management at PRS has no idea what the lower echelons are doing. But that can’t be true, can it? I’m sure PRS are honourable guys. But the lower guys have come up with these statements of literally 5% of what you’d expect. You can only laugh.
“I get a bit of money. But what I should have got was the money backdated to 1993 and these statements are surreal: 5% of what you’d expect.
“In fact, I’ve got paperwork that contradicts the PRS figures, but apparently that paperwork is ‘in error’.”
“PRS is saying the EMI paperwork is in error?” I asked, incredulous.
“Yeah. And they claim the whole song made £25,000 in the first year. In that first year, it should have made about a third of a million pounds. And it would have made £2 million over ten years.”
“It’s PRS who are due to pay you the money?” I asked.
“No,” said Bobby, “it’s the publishers and the main writer who are due to pay me the money. The publishers did not disclose their performance statements. You get statements for Mechanicals (which is sales), for Synch (when something is part of a TV ad) and for Performance. Hit records usually earn considerably more in Performance royalties than they do in Mechanical royalties. And the publishers did not disclose their own Performance statements.
“So they (Clive Banks Music, Anxious Music (Dave Stewart’s publishing company) and Universal Music) relied on the PRS statements. They said The PRS statements are good enough, because PRS is supposed to be Blue Chip. But, like I say, the figures read like they are from some obscure surreal comedy.
“Young at Heart was a hit in Denmark. You’d expect maybe £25,000 in writer royalties for a hit in Denmark but the writer supposedly only earned £185.
“It was a hit in Portugal. The writer supposedly earned £141 – and the VW TV ad was also shown in Portugal which made the song No1 in the air-play and sales charts!
“It was a big hit in Italy. PRS claimed the writer was only due £31. There was a friend of mine in a bar in Italy and he asked about the song and the whole bar just started singing it – in English.
“When you average out all the amounts that are missing, it works out I got about 5% of what you’d expect.”
“And you reckon you might be down maybe £500,000 to £750,000 on it?”
“Yes,” said Bobby, “Of course, there are always cock-ups. It didn’t help that the publisher changed on 4th March 1993. Maybe, in that year, what might have happened is that we got shown the statements for money due before 4th March instead of for the whole year, but the odd thing is that PRS have matched the publisher’s statements to the penny. And that is weird. Statements never match each other to the penny. They might up a fiver; they might be down a fiver; it all evens out. But, in the real world, they never ever match to the penny.
Bobby Valentino smiles at surreal figures last week
“PRS claim that the sub-publisher changed from MCA to EMI on 31st Dec 1993 but I have a statement from EMI Music which shows them collecting royalties in July 1993 because, in fact, the change happened on 4th March 1993.
“This thing where the figures match exactly despite all those complications is just plain weird.
“I’ve done calculations on lots of other songs in the past and they’re never quite right. They can be a fiver or a tenner out each time. It’s up and down – swings and roundabouts – but these ones match to the penny. That never happens normally. If you don’t know the system, you might think the fact that they match seems reasonable: Well, they’re supposed to match, you would think.
“But not in the real world. For them to match to the penny is bizarre.”
I certainly have to admire Bobby’s ability to face the bizarre and the surreal.
What is even more bizarre is that I know someone else in the music business who tells me that there was a meeting of the Music Publishers’ Association shortly after that 2002 court case in which the judge (who was musically-trained) awarded Bob 25% of the royalties on Young at Heart.
“They were up in arms,” my friend told me. “They were going: We can’t have musicians getting royalties as writers! The world will fall apart if musicians get royalties as writers! And their whole vibe was: The judge got it wrong. So maybe someone decided to ‘put it right’.
“Someone told me PRS really stands for the Publisher’s Rip-off Society and not the Performing Right Society.”
But surely she must be wrong.
I believe that, like the movie distribution business, the music publishing business is an honourable world filled with honourable people.
The last time I flew to Eastern Europe it was to Moscow on Aeroflot in 1985 – they served you caviar to show what a People’s Paradise the Soviet Union was. Mikhail Gorbachev had just succeeded from Yuri Andropov, who died after an unusually and some might think suspiciously short stint in power.
Once you accepted that all Aeroflot staff scowled at all Westerners – partly because of the traditional Russian aversion to smiling at strangers and partly lest the KGB thought they sympathised with the evils of Capitalism – and that the interior decor of the planes appeared to be based on a Lambeth council flat circa 1952 – flying Aeroflot was a fairly relaxing experience.
Yesterday, I was flying to Kiev on the more smiley Ukraine International Airlines to meet up with Fred Finn (the Guinness Book of Records’ most travelled person). He arranged the sponsorship for Gorbachev’s first UK trip after the Soviet Union collapsed, has flown 15 million miles, had 718 flights in Concorde and is now an advisor to the Euro 2012 football championship and a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ to Ukraine International Airlines, for whom he writes a travel blog.
At his behest, at Gatwick Airport, I bought two bottles of vodka for people in the Ukraine. Yes indeed, as requested, I carried two bottles of vodka from London to Kiev. Over the years, I have come to accept such things as normal.
But I am actually in Kiev to attend a Burns Night Supper tomorrow. Yes, that’s tomorrow – the 31st March – and, yes, I realise Burns Night is/was on 25th January. And, no, I have no idea why the Kiev version is being held tomorrow either.
This Burns Night Supper is organised annually for a local charity by Stuart McKenzie, a highly-successful entrepreneur from Edinburgh.
Last year, apparently, his Burns Night Supper was combined with a St Patrick’s Night party.
It sounds like a great idea and one which I think should be picked up elsewhere. Lateral thinking is always to be encouraged, especially when unexplained.
Yesterday was a hotchpotch of a day, starting with the unsettling news that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il had died. There may be more about this in my blog in four or five months time.
I have been hobbling a bit every since a humorous incident last month in which my left foot got stuck in a Wellington boot in a shoe shop and the Wellington had to be cut off me with a large pair of scissors. Before that, there had been much pulling by various people of my toes and heel with the result that the outside edge of my left heel has, ever since, been painful when I stand on it in my bare feet, though not when I wear shoes. But it has now started to occasionally be painful in shoes, too, so I guess I will have to go to my GP and maybe try to get it X-rayed. Two visits to my osteopath have not cured the problem, which he thinks is caused by problems in my toes, not my heel.
The humorous Wellington boot incident happened on 10th November; it is now 20th December. I have had problems ever since.
When you are younger, you think old people move slower because it is in their nature. As you get older, you realise it is often because of pain or the anticipation of pain.
Now there is something for me to look forward to.
Well, it seems I don’t even have to look forward. It is here.
My left shoulder is also giving me occasional pain after a visit to an osteopath (not my own) who was going cheap in a Daily Telegraph offer. She poked and prodded the flat stretch between my left shoulder and neck, which was damaged when I was hit by a large truck while standing on the pavement in 1991 – or was it 1990?- I can’t be bothered to check – and it has been more painful since then.
I think I was born too early.
The 19th century was all about mechanical inventions. The 20th century was electrical and electronic advances. The 21st century looks set to be an era of biological discoveries and advancement.
I was born too early.
John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy
I was thinking this yesterday lunchtime and then mad John Ward, designer of the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and eccentric inventor of bizarre contraptions, e-mailed to tell me he had designed the ultimate bird table and I could see it on YouTube.
I think it has some echo of the villain’s lair in The Spy Who Loved Me crossed with the Martian tripods in War of The Worlds – someone else who saw it just thought it might attract foxes.
Perhaps the 21st century will not be all biology.
Perhaps eccentricity will proliferate.
I then had to go to hospital to have a minor operation: the surgical removal of two growths – well, OK, two little bobbly things were cut off my skin by a highly-trained and I presume highly-paid consultant with a scalpel. He is, in all seriousness, professionally called a ‘Lumps & Bumps’ consultant and, like 50% of doctors, has a good sense of humour.
One of the lumps – well, as I said, it was more like a little bobbly thing of soft flesh – has been growing on the side of my neck for a couple of years or so; the other has been growing, mini-mushroom-like, on the inside of my upper left leg like my body was trying to grow a second, more impressive penis (not difficult) beside the original one.
I don’t know which was more embarrassing: having the two bobbly things sliced off or having the consultant comment unfavourably on my bright yellow socks.
As this happened in a private hospital, we (my accompanying friend and I) were given tea and two Quality Street chocolates afterwards by the very amiable Irish nurse who told me that, if you give blood in Edgware, they give you cup of tea, a sandwich of your choice and crisps. As I have shamefully not given blood for about three years, this is tempting.
Blood transfusion centres used to just give you a cup of tea and a selection of biscuits. Things are looking up, though my friend opined she has never fully understood why doctors stopped using leeches and ‘bleeding’ patients on a regular basis.
For hundreds of years, people seemed to think that it was an effective and positively healthy thing to do. Can they really all have been wrong?
She may have a point, but where can one get leeches nowadays?
On a more 21st century subject, she discovered her O2 dongle does not work with Apple’s new Lion operating system because O2 have not pulled their finger out and updated their system. The Lion OS has been in use for months and O2 has sold customers dongles that no longer work. There may be biological advances in the 21st century but one thing seems likely to remain the same – all British telecom companies are equal.
‘Incompetent wankers’ seems to be the suitable phrase which covers this.
When I got home after the (admittedly not what anyone could call major) operation and the major trauma of realising O2 is selling products which do not work, I was almost immediately phoned by Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley: always a cheerily uplifting experience. I do not think we have talked this century, though I did mention him at the end of a blog a couple of months ago.
I booked him on a few TV programmes in the 1980s and/or the 1990s to showcase his impressive talent for playing Spanish Eyes on an electric organ with his nose.
His nose has not lost its musical ability and I am surprised he has not popped up on Britain’s Got Talent.
He lives in Brownhills in the West Midlands which, when last I heard, was home to several Guinness world record holders.
I think it’s the tedium that gets to them.
I hope, in the 21st century, it is eccentricity which proliferates.
Kim Jong-il, the Dear Leader of North Korea died two days ago; it was only announced today.
I went to North Korea in 1986, when his father Kim Il-sung, the Great Leader was still in power.
Now his youngest son Kim Jong-un has been announced as the Great Successor.
There is no way I am writing about North Korea today except to say it is the most interesting country I have ever been to.
However, I will admit I was pleased-as-punch last week to meet Fred Finn, who is officially the world’s most travelled person. He has been in the Guinness Book of Records since 1983 and has now flown 15 million miles – the equivalent of 31 trips to the moon. He made 718 trips on Concorde and always sat in the same seat – 9a – because, he told me last week, “It was the first row to be served from the back galley, so I got served first and, before I got on, the crew used to put a little kettle under my seat with Dom Pérignon in it. They used to change it three times during the flight, so I got a bottle-and-a-half of DP for my lunch on the way to New York.”
Fred has visited 139 different countries but not – and it made me feel good to hear this – North Korea.
“I don’t really want to go there,” he says.
And why should he?
“I’ve been held hostage in Iran during the Revolution,” he told me, “I’ve had bombs on board and I’ve landed without the wheels down.”
I met Fred in Esher one morning last week, although his current home is actually in the Ukranian city of Komsomolsk.
It was very cold in Esher last week, so Fred persuaded a local pub which was closed to open just for us so we could have a seat. He is very persuasive. (We did not drink until the pub officially opened and, then, we only had a cup of tea.)
In his youth, Fred was a professional cricketer. Later, he advised Richard Branson on the start-up of Virgin Atlantic. He also helped arrange Mikhail Gorbachev’s lecture tour of the UK, Sarah Feruson’s charity trips to Kenya and was a friend of country singer Johnny Cash. Any man who can tell first-hand anecdotes about Adnan Khashoggi is someone I will always happily have tea with in a pub in Esher.
Indeed, Ukraine Airlines are soon to start an online magazine called Fred Finn Destinations.
But the strange thing is, with 15 million flying miles under his belt, Fred does not believe in jet lag.
“I don’t believe in it at all,” he told me. “You never got jet lag on Concorde and you went through five time zones.
“I believe that, if you sit in a flying aluminium tube for over five hours, you get dehydrated, your eyes get dry and your skin gets dry and you get tired because of this. I’ve found that, if you keep water – a little spring water spray – on your eyes and face, you don’t get jet lag.”
“But it’s not jet lag,” I said. “Really, it should be called time-zone lag.”
“Well, it’s a ‘tired’ lag,” said Fred. “But I don’t get it. When I get on a plane, I set my watch to the time zone I’m going to and I eat accordingly.
“When I get off the plane, I stay up until the local going-to-bed time and then I sleep well and I get up in the morning like nothing happened. I know that works for me, because I was doing it every week for Christ knows how many years.”
“But,” I said, “if you fly from London to Beijing, your body clock is all out of kilter.”
“But is it?” he asked. “I didn’t get that.
“You should also take into account, if you’re flying to China, how long your day has been. You are putting in a day and a half on a long-haul flight but, if you keep yourself moisturised and live in the time zone you are going to…
“Some people get on a flight from London to New York in the morning and they eat breakfast. I won’t take breakfast leaving London because it is lunchtime in New York – so I eat as if it were lunchtime. By the time I get to New York, I’ve already lived in that time zone for six or eight hours – the flight is around six hours in one direction and eight in the other because of the jet stream – it changes in March and November.”
“I wrote an article 25 years ago called Aerial Isometrics.
“It’s about how to sit in your seat and do exercises without anybody seeing you. Just by clenching the muscles in your leg. And that stops the problem. People said there was no such thing. Then they started selling socks to stop it and there was a big deal about it.”
I am not sure about jet lag, but who am I to argue with the world’s most travelled person? I do know I was once on a long-haul flight where I got three breakfasts because it was breakfast time in each time zone when we were due to have a meal. That really confused my body.
I suspect it was cheaper for the airline than serving lunches or dinners.
We live in an uncertain world.
But I do know for certain that the ice cream in North Korea was very good.
Though I would – of course – expect nothing less in a People’s Paradise.
Yesterday, I went to see my chum, the professional farteur Mr Methane, being filmed in the basement bedroom of a hotel near Primrose Hill in London – for a TV show which, alas, I am not allowed to describe until late next month at the earliest.
Apparently the series gets around 20 million viewers worldwide – more than the almost 14 million hits his Britain’s Got Talent clip currently has on YouTube.
While sitting around during the filming, I did have a chance to meet for the first time Paul ‘Burper King’ Hunn, the man who holds the record for the loudest burp in the world.
These two great audio entertainment legends had not met in the flesh until yesterday, so it was a historic day in bodily function circles. I felt privileged to be there.
Paul Hunn has held his distinguished Guinness Book of Records title since 2000 and still does but, he tells me, he is not in this year’s printed book because Guinness do not print every record every year – something which I had not realised.
How strange, I thought.
But the logic, it seems, is that if they printed every record every year then, with some records standing unchallenged over long periods, the book might seem too ‘samey’ every year. So not every record is printed every year.
Paul’s friend Steve Taylor holds the record for having the world’s longest tongue but, this year, he tells me, the Guinness Book of Records only includes the girl with the longest tongue.
According to The People newspaper in 2007, Steve Taylor can “fit five ring doughnuts on his monster. And he is only millimetres away from licking his own elbow – a feat always thought impossible.”
The full abilities of the girl with the longest tongue in the world remain strangely unreported.
They said spaghetti-juggling was “a little too specialised”.
Now, having recovered a little from the worst of my grief, I feel they simply did not show fitting respect to the sense of adventure and exploration of the unknown which made Britain great.
After leaving the hotel yesterday, with the sounds of Mr Methane and the Burper King still ringing in my ears, wistful memories came into my mind of booking Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley, a man from the West Midlands who could play the tune Spanish Eyes on an electric organ with only his nose.
Well, rumour had it that his nose was not the only one of his bodily protuberances with which he could play the electric organ, but modesty and a presumed inability to actually screen anything else on national TV meant I questioned him no further on his other physical abilities.
Sometimes, in the lengthening twilight of my years, I think fondly of Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley and sigh a sigh of contentment that, after booking him on The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, my life has perhaps not been totally in vain.
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.
I recently wrote a blog about fame which mentioned the music business and the comedy industry. It provoked an interesting response from Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing farter.
There is, of course, that famous old saying (usually credited to Janet Street-Porter) that “Comedy is the new Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
Mr Methane’s view is:
“Comedy was not, is not and never will be on a par with rock ‘n’ roll stardom. You do not wake up in the morning humming a joke you heard fifteen years ago because a joke does not take you back in your mind those fifteen years – unless you a comedy trainspotter.
“Music finds pathways into a nation’s soul and gets very deeply rooted there. It is valued as a great work of art by those who listen to it.
“Comedy, though a very serious business and labour of love for the artist, is generally seen as nothing more than a throw-away laugh by the consumer.
“Ringo Starr was not the only drummer in the Beatles – and, according to a joke by John Lennon, he wasn’t the best either – but let’s just say you have a choice between Ringo Starr and someone currently at the very top of the comedy tree coming round for dinner – maybe that Michael McIntyre bloke.
“It’s going go be Ringo Star every time for 90% of the British population. That is just how it is.
“We ain’t rock stars. We are the comedy arseholes of entertainment. In my case, literally.”
Is Mr Methane talking out of his arse (something he surprisingly rarely does) or clearing the air?
My thoughts are divided.
Comedians certainly rarely get respect as performing artists whereas singers do – although the increasing amount of money swilling around the upper, rarefied reaches of comedy success may be slowly changing that.
Nothing breeds admiration more than millions in the bank.