Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Fate of The Good Ship Plentydough ... Part The Other ... A Bloody Massacre Thats What!

Yes. Well there was enough music business left to get us through the afternoon at least. Having replenished resources on the sumptuous raft of MU sandwiches (no crisps, gastronomes please note) the post meridian skirmish kicked off. Entitled ‘The Craft of Songwriting’ those below decks had been urged to bring along a CD of their work to contribute to the mele. Lucky for me I didn’t have anything that I wanted to expose in public. (My songs are actually fantastic as it happens. My performance even better. But bizarrely enough whenever I record them they sound shit and my voice reminds even me of a slightly out of tune angle grinder.) Boy was I glad I had kept my precious little fingers out of that particular fire. Thankyou, humility, thankyou, thankyou.

The line up on the bridge had changed. Cap'n and his faithful Midshipman had survived but were now augmented by the Purser and Cliff the Cabin Boy. Purser was MD for a real music company. He brought along a bit of gravitas and not a little bottle. But who had ears for it? When he actually admitted that 'CD sales in the market are collapsing,' was it only me that sensed the Plentydough suddenly list alarmingly to starboard. Was it only me who could hear the straining timbers popping off their pegs below the water line? Guess so. Selective deafness had descended and on we sailed.

In contrast to the grizzled veterans abreast of him, Cliff projected an 'acceptable face' of the business. In Ramones T-shirt and geeky specs he had nailed his cred firmly to the mast. Youngish and innocent looking he was introduced as the notorious ex-guitarist of cutting edge minstrel brotherhood ‘My Sister’s Lesbian Tortoise Rocks.’ Huh?

Perhaps I’m wrong. I'll look at my notes. No maybe it was ‘My Fathers a Bit Dodgy - But Don't Say Nuffin About Him- He's Still My Old Man, OK’? Or some similar amalgam of high school angst and gender re-alignment signifiers? Come to think of it, it could have been 'My Sister's Lesbian Rocks Tortoise.' Or was that a headline in the Sun?

Whatever. No sooner had the crew handed over their tiny treasures than the Cap'n and his men (they were all men by the way - but thats another post, ladies) ripped into them like vultures on a new born babe. In some sort of counterfeit X Factor pastiche each on the bridge sought desperately to prove that he, should someone on a real TV show unexpectedly kick the bucket, could best pick up the role at short notice. Oh, and the salary check please.

As my mind takes me back to the cut and thrust of that gory afternoon I find myself lost for words. But not for long. I had thought, and I was not alone as I found out afterwards, that this session was to be about the craft of writing songs. ‘Behold,’ I had expected to be told, ‘this is how Ray Charles did it, or Coldplay did it, or Gram Parsons did it, or Amy Whinehouse did it, or The Arctic Monkeys did it, or Hoagy Carmichael, or REM, or Irving Berlin, or Kaiser Chiefs, or Christy Moore did it. And the people you should be checking out because they can’t half put a song together are her and him and him and her. And he or she is hot with the words and the other one will melt your soul with the tune.’ Well guess what, gentle reader, we didn’t get any of that poncy, artsy bollox.

Oh no. The cat o’ nine tails came out big time. And a lot of the below decks scum, ie us, were subjected to severe emotional laceration. While the few egos facing us, and who had actually imposed this punishment agenda, preened and strutted in as ugly a spectacle of tough boys beating up little kids as I have seen since junior school. I think its called bullying these days. Those who were quite good, and kow towed, got patted on the head. Those who needed most help were given a kicking. Justified as being for their own good. 'If you can't stand the heat etc etc.'

Mr Midshipman, a bloke called Roger who no doubt to his great relief had avoided the role of Cabin Boy himself, managed to keep a shine on his karma. He was getting on a bit. Perhaps age had dimmed his appetite for other people's flayed spines? Having made the point that ‘I don’t have to be here,’ (as if any of us did, matey boy!) he softened up a bit. ‘The only person who really needs to believe in the song is the writer,' he said. 'It took me four years trying to find a publisher before I got my first break.’ Generosity of spirit roared for an infinite moment like a candle flame in a hurricane. And went out.

Fair as fair Roger had tried to talk about the songs in a creative sense. He even asked to 'hear a bit more' of one or two. But his fellow officers would have none of it and we were subjected to what was probably an excellent preparation for pitching a song in the real world.

But ‘Pitching A Song in the Real World' wasn’t the title of the session. I know, I’ve still got the paperwork, and it don’t say that. Whoever put the day together would do well to practise their communication skills and think a bit more creatively about what the membership were expecting and what would be productive. Maybe they could also put their speakers under a bit more pressure to deliver something that was constructive and had been thought through more intelligently.

Yes sure it might be a rough old whirlpool in the real world. But the real world also offers real prizes, ie a contract or deal or at least an expression of interest. I don't know what happened after the event in Bristol but I didn't hear any of that sort of connection going on. Maybe it did. I certainly hope someone got something tangible back for sitting through, if not their own then others', humiliation.

Amongst the carnage there was some good advice. There was unanimous emphasis on the importance of presentation. All experts agreed that submitting the best quality demo was essential and that front (or was it top?) loading the CD with the best song was a really good idea. As was front loading a song, with the chorus for example, so that when the record company earholes gave it the customary thirty seconds listening there was at least the vague chance it would impress.

But what about the broader picture? There was a little dissent on the bridge about what was an acceptable song. But not much. And the songs were judged in terms of what? Their artistic content? Their political impact? Their marketability?

I'll leave the answer open. But I would suggest that those parading about the poop deck should take a brief break from preening to check their course. There are some dark shapes eyeing their succulent hams hungrily from the foam below. Maybe the Plentydough is set to run aground and the days of tricking the natives with comodified garbage are numbered. Maybe Cap'n Dave and his not-very-merry men are about to find, as they cling to the timbers of the quaking hulk, that those looking for an authentic listening experience are legging it for Port Download as fast as their mouses (mice ?) will carry them. And could it be that they will choose to while away the final slow minutes wondering what sort of deal John Williams cut on the Jaws theme? Oh and by the way, does anyone know if the internet has a triangular dorsal fin?

Hang on tight boys.

Peace and love.

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