Sunday, 9 December 2012

Karaoke Factor

It happened to me again the other day. "You should go on X-factor mate". It's so hard to respond gracefully when somebody throws you a twisted compliment like that.  I normally go with "I don't think I'm the kind of thing they're looking for" in preference to a lengthy verbal attack on what is probably someone's favourite television programme in the whole world, but this is the internet, and people don't have feelings here, so I can tell you all unreservedly that I think that awful programme epitomises everything that is wrong with the big business music industry.

These may seem like harsh words coming from someone who has never actually seen an entire episode from start to finish, but the whole operation drips with such cynicism that seeing ten minutes is enough to get my stomach turning and make me turn off the television to go and do something productive. After I've had a shower to stop me feeling so dirty. And taken the plug off the TV. And torn my TV license into angry little pieces to post back to the licensing people in bitter disgust.

is this man actually Satan?
Just take the opening rounds. "But what's wrong with getting a few cheap laughs at the expense of someone with mental health problems?", I hear you all cry.  Well, just put yourselves in their shoes. However misguided their beliefs in their own abilities, these people have invested a massive amount of their self-worth in their singing careers. If the couple of people I've crossed paths with who have auditioned are anything to go by, then it has been the ray of hope in a bleak time of their lives as they've kicked a drug habit, or recovered from a breakdown. And you're not just taking that one desperate ray of hope away from them, but doing it by giving them a thorough and comprehensive humiliation on national television. The kind of people who enjoy this stuff must be the sort of people who's idea of entertainment is to steal a child's sweets and grind them to dust on the pavement in front of them.

Then there's the people who do get through. Identikit, permatanned bright young things who are just doing it for their dying grandma, whose one wish before she goes is to see her progeny writhing in a skimpy outfit to a computer generated R & B ballad. It could be any one of us picked off the street and flung to stardom, as long as we have ten years music industry experience, and ink on a contract with Simon Cowell before we put our entry in.  That said, hiding the years of hard work behind every 'overnight' success is a long standing music industry tradition. My real issue with them is the way they all sound identical, chosen for their easy fit with some pre-recorded album, the marketing executive's pathetically bland idea of what music should sound like.  No musician of note from the last fifty years would ever have got past the first round because they all had musical ideas that were somehow challenging to the status quo.  Bob Dylan would have been slung off with the crazies in the auditions and mocked for his nasal voice.  Mick Jagger might have made it as far as being voted off in the first round after a tabloid outcry about his weirdly sexual rubber-faced stage antics, especially since it was always so open that he was doing it for the groupies and cocaine and not for the approval of anyone, not even his dying grandmother.  Frank Zappa? Kurt Cobain? Lou Reed? They wouldn't have got the time of day.

Then there's the manipulation of the Christmas singles chart. Once upon a time it was the home of dreadful novelty acts and Sir Cliff Richard.  Now, the odd internet campaign to reclaim it aside, with four months of prime time TV advertising it's almost guaranteed to go to the X factor winner. And the thing about the novelty acts is, as bad as they often were, they were at least novel and not the horror of music-by-committee inoffensiveness that we're now subjected to year on year. So that's why you won't see me on the X factor. I have better things to do than feed this monster that has been determinedly squeezing the music industry into a plastic lifeless conformity.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Bar Stool Problem

A stool is a stool, right? You can find one at the bar in any pub? Until recently I certainly thought so, but in yet another example of the hardships sent to test the working musician, I've realised the facilities provided by most public houses and venues just aren't quite up to the job of being sat upon whilst playing.

The first problem is arms. Great for preventing you slipping to the floor when you've had one too many pints, but they get in the way of the honest guitar player, forcing him to adopt a position that wouldn't be considered comfortable by a contortionist in order to actually reach his instrument.

Disaster waiting to happen.
Shiny padding and nowhere to put your feet...
The next is cushions, perfect for stopping the gradual numbing of the nether regions in an ordinary drinking context, but alas, try and play in a trendy bar where the stools are clad with an inch and a half of padding and white leather upholstery and you'll be lucky to get half way through a song before sliding off and making an inelegant face first lurch towards the crowd.

Height has been another stumbling block. Too short and there's a risk of your knee colliding with the guitar neck every time you tap your foot. Too tall and reaching the stomp box at all can be an issue.

The spindles are there to brace the legs and strengthen the stool right? Well maybe, but more importantly it's the place you put your foot to elevate your knee and prevent the guitar sliding off your lap. Imagine my horror to be offered a steel legged stool without any at all at a recent gig!  There simply isn't enough friction generated between the polished surface of a guitar and the front panel of a polyester-viscose mix trouser to prevent disaster...

So if anyone does know where I can get an armless, cushion-less,  not too tall, not too short, easily transportable folding bar stool, with good solid spindles to rest your foot on, I'd be extremely grateful if you could get in touch.  Otherwise I may have to actually learn to play standing up.