Thursday, 6 August 2015

Why I am getting bored of rock music - another rant about the state of rock radio.

I never thought this would happen, but I'm starting to get tired of rock music. Why? It's due to the repetitive, dull, and unimaginative playlisting on rock radio. I thought DAB radio was going to be great when it first started, but I have found it increasingly disappointing over the past five years. Yes, we have a far better choice of stations - and that's great. But all the rock stations are playing the same songs.

Team Rock Radio looked like changing all this - they really were a much needed breath of fresh air when they started broadcasting two years ago. But they recently decided to stop broadcasting on DAB and go online only - a huge step backwards in many people's view. They say going online only and making people listen through their PCs or Apps on mobile devices is the future. It's certainly not what most people actually want, although apps have their uses and can (in theory) be good if you are out and about - but so can FM or DAB and they are far more reliable. Who want's their radio listening frequently interrupted when their phone signal drops out? It's no bloody use in my car either. So unfortunately I can't listen to Team Rock much any more - not at all at work where I used to have it on most of the day, and not much at home 'cos listening via an app simply isn't convenient. What the people running Team Rock don't seem to get is that people like the sheer convenience and ease of use of conventional radio. When I get up in the morning or get home from work I just want to press one button and hear instant music. DAB or FM can deliver this - apps can't. I get home from work, turn on my tablet, wait for it to start up, wait for it to find my Wi-Fi signal and log into it, then launch my 'radio' app. Meanwhile, my tablet is downloading various updates for Twitter, Facebook, Play, Amazon or various other apps. Then various Twitter and Facebook notifications pop up. It might even decide to update one of my radio player apps too. So around five minutes after I could have pressed a button on my DAB radio and be listening instantly I am still waiting to actually hear any music from my app. Sorry Team Rock, but  this is not acceptable. They claim the reasons they have come off DAB after two years aren't financial - but as they also say it costs around one million pounds a year to broadcast on DAB. Go figure....

Anyway, my train of thought has become derailed. Getting back on the tracks... Now Team Rock has chosen to remove itself from my list of DAB radio listening options what is left? Planet Rock? Well I was initially pleased to discover this station a few years ago when I got my first DAB radio, and also Absolute Classic Rock. But I soon realised they were both playing mainly the same songs - the same tired old classics that I used to love. Back then they both broadcast in good quality stereo. Oh how things have changed - and not for the better. See my previous blog on this subject. Team Rock is no longer on DAB while Planet Rock and Absolute now broadcast in poor quality mono - another step backwards. When I was a kid I first moved over from the BBC's Radio 1 to Capitol Radio because it sounded so much better in FM stereo compared to Radio 1's shitty mono AM signal. Later Xfm appeared - this was great in it's early years with plenty of rock, metal, and classic punk during daytime, as well as loads of great indie stuff. Xfm grew increasingly commercialised as time went on after various sellouts and takeovers - eventually dropping rock and becoming a pop/indie station. I originally bought a DAB radio to listen to Xfm at work where the FM signal was poor, but then I soon discovered several other 'rock' stations. Salvation seemed to be at hand - I no longer had to put up with pop dross like LaRoux and all the overhyped mediocre indie bands Xfm were pushing. I was mainly switching between Planet Rock, Absolute Classic Rock, and The Arrow (which was great 'cos it didn't have adverts, news, or DJs - just music) but it was all too good to last. I got bored with Absolute Crock when I realised it didn't play any new music. Planet Rock wasn't much better as the new music it played was by only a few bands and seemed a bit of a token gesture. New music by old bands, but not many new bands. Like other commercial radio what got played seemed to be dictated largely by the major record companies pushing their own artists, while smaller record companies with limited budgets didn't get a look-in - and unsigned artists could forget it.

Things started to get a bit boring. Then the audio quality (one of the big selling points for DAB in it's early days) started to be compromised. Stations which used to broadcast in good quality stereo went mono and also decreased the audio quality (again see my previous blog on this subject) so it was like going back to the bad old days of shitty mono AM/MW broadcasting that I thought Capitol Radio started to sweep away back in the 1970's. So much for progress.... Team Rock was never in stereo for the two years it was on DAB - even for a million pounds a year. I think the government is largely to blame for this as they privatised the radio broadcasting system, so now it is no longer a public service but a 'Cash Cow' for companies like Arqiva to extort money for providing a poor quality product. One million pounds a year just to provide a shit quality mono DAB radio signal across the UK. Someone is making a hell of a lot of money out of this while providing a very poor service.

So it's goodbye to Team Rock from me as far as regular daytime listening is concerned. Absolute is just too boring and repetitive - do I really want to hear 'Paranoid', 'Freebird', 'Smoke On The Water', 'Won't Get Fooled Again', 'Ace Of Spades', 'Back In Black', etc every single day for the rest of my life? And have some idiot like Russ 'The Cock' Williams who knows little about rock music and is reading notes off a piece of paper telling me "What a great song!" after every song - I don't need some moron telling me 'Highway To Hell' is a great song - I can tell that for myself thank you. Which leaves Planet Rock - which is now also in shit quality mono on DAB. Team Rock gave Planet Rock a much needed kick up the arse and made them add a lot of new and old bands to their playlists that they never used to play before, but now they are sitting back and relaxing as their main rivals have taken themselves out of the game. Planet Rock don't have to try anymore - and it shows. The station is getting lazy again - it seems to be more repetitive now, and the programming far less imaginative. It used to be so much better when I could switch between three or four stations all day at the press of a button when adverts, a song I didn't like or was bored of, or just too much talking bored me. Planet Rock is now the least worst 'rock' station on DAB. It's OK for three or four hours, but there is no way I could leave it on all day - it's far too boring.

I've almost entirely given up on the 'rock' stations now - they are killing my love of rock music with their repetition, and their boring and dreadfully unimaginative playlisting. I can't take any more! So what's the alternative on DAB? I've been listening to the BBC's 6Music at the weekends mostly for some time now. They do seem to champion mediocre singer/songwriters, and there is the odd bit of unremarkable pop music that belongs on Radio 1, but there is also a refreshing mixture of indie, rock, classic punk, blues, and old school rock & roll. Also, they seem to only employ DJs (or are they all 'presenters' now?) who are passionate and knowledgable about music *some other stations take note* and mostly musicians themselves. I don't like all the music, or all the presenters but that's always going to be the case on any station - but there is enough to keep things interesting and I like the variety. It's also the least repetitive station I know - I particularly like this. 6Music now sounds at times a lot like the 'alternative' music station Xfm used to be. Also, they play some old rock & roll and blues stuff that I won't hear on any other stations outside of their 'specialist' once or twice a week shows. It does annoy me at times that there is too much talking on 6Music though - it is called 6Music and Music is what I want to hear! If I want to hear talking I'll tune into a 'Talk radio' station OK? It's nice not to be constantly interrupted by annoying and repetitive adverts though - thank God for the BBC!

Ironically, I have also started listening to Xfm again! Ironic because Xfm is the reason I bought my first DAB radio, but I stopped listening to the station soon after as I discovered other stations that played the rock music that Xfm had stopped playing. Xfm now seems to be slightly less repetitive than it was when I gave up on it a few years ago, and seems to have largely abandoned the lightweight Radio 1 style pop rubbish they had started playing a few years ago. They might only play one 'rock' song every hour or so, and they still champion mediocre indie bands but they play some good new and old indie stuff too. Xfm has certainly improved, but it's certainly nothing like as varied and interesting as it used to be back in the days when it was a genuinely 'alternative' station. It's actually not that far from being a commercial version of 6Music now, but not as varied or with as good 'presenters'. Xfm still has the legendary Ian Camfield though - possibly the only genuine ROCK fan on the station these days, although he can no longer play Metallica, Motörhead, Iron Maiden etc all the time in daytime like he used to back in the golden days of Xfm.

Oh - and one other great thing about 6Music and Xfm that makes them much more pleasurable listening and keeps me coming back - unlike all the other stations I have mentioned they still broadcast in good quality STEREO at 128Kbps!  For more on this bugbear of mine read this - I'm not the only person who gets really wound up about how DAB radio has not lived up how great we were told it was going to be. Ever get the feeling you've been swindled?

Monday, 3 August 2015

31/7/2015 The Vibrators @ The Hope & Anchor

I think this is my first visit to the Hope & Anchor this year and I find changes are afoot. It's business as usual in the ground floor bar and I'm pleased to find real ale on tap at reasonable prices. Downstairs where the bands play it's a different matter... The room is unrecognisable from my last visit and the bar has been moved yet again - it's now opposite the door as you go in and it's much smaller. This is not good when the room is busy. There is no sign of the old standby Newcastle Brown Ale either, so I have to keep running back upstairs when I want a drink. The stage has been moved to the other end of the room and is now equipped with a shiny new state-of-the-art PA system. The whole room has been completely refurbished in a similar 'modern' style to that seen in many pubs as they are refitted these days and turned into Gastro-pubs - and like those pubs all the old character that made them special has been stripped out of them. The old 'pub rock' vibe and character of this famous venue has been ruthlessly homogenised. I think this is the first event to take place since the refurb and they haven't even bothered to put signs on the toilet doors - leading to a lot of confusion for people who aren't familiar with the venue! Obviously a lot of money has been spent on modernising this small music venue - and yet the state of the toilets is disgusting! It's a pity they didn't sort them out while sanitising the rest of the place....

This sold out show is part of the Rockaway Beach series of club events, and tonight's event is in aid of the Rock 'n' Roll Rescue charity shop in Camden which is run by Knox of The Vibrators.

Ironically, although plenty of money has been spent bringing this well known venue up to date with state-of-the-art PA and lighting systems - the music from the bands tonight is very much from the past, with one band playing music from the early 1970's and the other band themselves dating from the mid 1970's. There is only one support band at this special 'One off' show - tonight we get to see the first ever performance from The Glitter Bombz.
If some of this new band look familiar it might be because they feature members from The Derellas and Healthy Junkies. The latter have a Glam influence, but this new band takes things right back to the classic Glam Rock days of the early 1970's with an all cover set.
It's 'Glam bam - thankyou mam!' all the way with this lot - with classics from Bowie, Slade, T-Rex, and even the Runaways. This is a lot of fun!
All too soon the Glitter Bombz set is over and the place fills up for the headliners.

I've seen The Vibrators a few times over the years, but never with anything approaching the classic original lineup that recorded the brilliant 'Pure Mania' album - a punk classic that is right up there with the first albums by The Clash, Damned, and Sex Pistols.
I actually think it is a finer collection of songs than any of them and 'Pure Mania' never got the recognition it deserved. However, the Vibrators set starts with the current three piece version of the band featuring drummer Eddie as the only original member along with ex-No Direction bassist Pete and punk rock 'n' roll journeyman guitarist Darrel Bath.
This version of the band plays some cuts from 'Pure Mania' as well as some of their more recent material - they are still touring and recording even now. Then comes the bit most of us have been waiting for - the newer members leave the stage to have their places taken by the people who wrote and recorded the band's debut album - it's the first time they have played together in 30 years!
Bassist Pat Collier doesn't appear in my pictures due to the crowd and the fact that he spent the entire set leaning against the wall at the side of the stage with an amused Charlie Watts style grin on his face. Singer/guitarist Knox was in the band until recently so is familiar with both the old and newer songs in the set. Like Pat Collier, guitarist John Ellis hasn't played in the band for around 30 years and has been more recently doing in his words "that singer/songwriter acoustic shit". He says it's good to be back playing rock 'n' roll again though.
After blasting through a few of the old 'Pure Mania' classics like 'Yeah Yeah Yeah', 'Sweet Sweet Heart' and 'Baby Baby' etc Pat Collier leaves the stage and another 'special guest' is introduced - it's Gary Tibbs who stepped in for the Vibrators second album 'V2' after Pat left the band.
More old Vibrators classics are cranked out, including hit single 'Automatic Lover'. There are a few technical problems with Knox's guitar, and Ellis makes a remark about it being some rubbish one out of Knox's charity shop as he says he never has problems with his own guitars! To be honest at times it looks like a bit more rehearsal time would have benefited the band as there is a bit of messing about and time wasted between songs when they have problems with equipment. They play OK overall though and seem to be enjoying themselves. To be fair, in spite of the shiny new PA system none of the bands get a good sound tonight and I don't think it's their fault.
Knox remains on stage for a few songs as the newer members of the band return - Eddie remains behind the drum kit for the entire show as the only original member - he's a real powerhouse and really seems to be the heart of the band as the member with the longest service. He also appears to have weathered the years far better than the other band members and is the only one who doesn't seem to look much different to how he did back in the beginning.
For the last part of the show the band return to their current slimmed down three piece lineup - with Eddie still thundering away on drums. I don't really know any of the songs they are playing by this stage, and some them are virtually brand new. This is the tightest and hardest the band have played all night - as if they really have something to prove - that they are still valid. And as these three members continue to tour and record together they sure are. Darrel in particular is really on fire by this part of the night! It's good to see him getting back to his old punk rock roots, although he's always been a rocker at heart even though he has been down more of a (mostly electric) singer/songwriter path in the past. At this stage of the night the current Vibrators have turned into an out and out rock 'n' roll band and Darrel is playing his heart out - I've never seen him this fired up before. I can't help thinking 'What if....?' when I see this guy rocking out - he really should have been a big rock 'n' roll star and I don't think I've ever seen such a 'natural' player.
It's been a wonderful night and great to see the original members of The Vibrators back playing together - a sight I thought I'd never see after missing them first time round. This reunion was intended to a a one-off for this special charity show, but the band announced tonight that the original members will be getting back together for another show at a larger venue nearby in Islington next year...

PS: You will be able to see The Glitter Bombz much sooner than that.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

18/7/2015 Healthy Junkies, Hearts Under Fire, Hands Off Gretel, Stiletto Farm & PollyPikPocketz @ The Unicorn

Another Saturday night at The Unicorn in Camden; 5 bands, free admission, and drinks at pub prices - what's not to like? The first band was PollyPikPocketz.
This band with their double vocal attack, punky attitude and rocking grungy groove were a lot of fun!

Next up were Stiletto Farm - the only all male band of the night and not what I was expecting at all.
This was dirty rock 'n' roll with a heavy groove powering it along. Uncompromising and in your face - these guys play it like they mean it. If you like bands like Motörhead and The Almighty you'll probably like these guys too.

It's back to female fronted rock again as Yorkshire crew Hands Off Gretel take to the stage.
This band are fronted by a very Riot Grrrl influenced singer who demands your attention without being screechy and annoying. As with many of the bands at this monthly 'Rock N Roll Rendezvous' club there is a strong grunge influence. Like the previous bands this is another I'd definitely like to see again.

The female fronted theme continues with a band who are actually all girls, but southerners instead of the more usual northerners at this club. Hearts Under Fire deliver a more straight ahead punk rock sound, but with a slightly annoying singer - sometimes it's good to talk between songs, and sometimes it's not.
Hearts Under Fire definitely sound like the least tight and well rehearsed band of the night and probably should have been first on, but they are also the most original sounding act of the night..

Last but most definitely not least tonight are Healthy Junkies with their tuneful brand of punk/pop/grunge/glam rock driven along by a fantastic drummer.
This band just get better and better as they play all over London along with festival and tours further afield and into Europe. Not content with rehearsing and gigging a lot, they are constantly dropping new songs into their already two album strong repertoire. Album number three is in the pipeline...

Another great value for money night in Camden - it makes such a refreshing change not to feel you are being ripped off every time you go to the bar - it's things like this that keep you going back. Sorry about the poor picture quality; As it was actually decent summer weather for a change I decided to travel light and leave my jacket at home - meaning I had far less pockets to put things like cameras in. So I decided to try out the camera in my new phone instead - not a great success as you can see! Not only is the picture quality less than great under gig lighting conditions (maybe I need to experiment with the settings - it's great in daylight) but the new phone also a very slim, smooth and slippery shape - leading to it getting knocked flying at one point and hitting the deck - fortunately with no apparent damage. However, I don't want to risk getting it smashed as it's not as expendable as the cheapo £50 digicams I normally use - and I've already broken two of them at gigs. I can do without a camera easily enough, but having a working phone is more important.