Saturday, 18 May 2013

The state of music journalism...

A curious side effect of my picking up the centenary issue of The New Statesman on a whim a couple of weeks ago is that I find myself deeply depressed at the quality of writing in music magazines.  I suddenly find myself wondering why, if magazines of witty, well-versed, high-minded political commentary exist, where all the witty, well-versed, high-minded writing about music is?

Frank Zappa famously said that rock journalism was "people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read". A depressingly cynical view of the whole enterprise that I would have been loathed to agree with until now, but what struck me was how even the music rags such as Uncut or Mojo which profess to be targeted at the more intelligent reader, are not even close in the calibre of their writing to great journalism on other subjects.

I suspect this is down to the fact there's not a great amount of money to be made from writing about music these days (and how thoroughly depressing - people are more willing to pay for politics than music!). The last year has seen Blues in Britain shift to an entirely volunteer based enterprise, after the last member of paid staff departed. And, whilst I applaud the efforts of these volunteers because I definitely consider the world to better with a monthly British blues magazine than without one, I think that this enthusiastic amateurism can be sometimes be apparent in the quality of the writing in this, and other similar publications.

Then it may well be the case that my idea of good journalism, and those of your average music magazine reader are wildly disparate. If the large numbers of poorly educated, but nonetheless brilliant blues musicians from Albert King to T-Model Ford, show us anything it's that a passion for music is not dependant upon being well read, or even on being literate.  There's no reason to assume the average reader of a blues magazine isn't the kind of person who believes the Daily Express to be a high quality newspaper, and that including lengthy thoughtful pieces of the kind a political journal like the Statesman specialises in isn't exactly the kind of thing to reduce an already small readership even further.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Diddley Bow

I've posted this elsewhere on the internet, but I thought my blog readers would be interested in my recent project to build a diddley bow making, as I'm sure it will, a refreshing change from me ranting about about what's wrong with the music business....

I built the whole thing from stuff I had kicking around anyhow, so my total investment was £1.59 which was the price of a jack socket.

Here's the ingredients, some scrap wood, some large nails, a tin can, some old guitar strings and the original pickup that had been swapped out on an old guitar.  The only thing purchased specially was the jack socket,.

Instead of working out the scale properly I just pencilled a rough idea across from my acoustic with the marks for the key frets - I figure it's supposed to be a folk instrument and therefore doesn't have to be too accurate....

The third & 5th 'frets'.

I filed in a groove for the tin can sound box to rest in

A nail at each end with a guitar string stretched between them, wedge in the tin can, and a block of wood for the nut, and that's the acoustic instrument ready to play. 

The pickup is mounted on two blocks of wood with a hole drilled through to mount the jack socket on the underside.  I realised that I didn't have nails or screws long enough to fix them without splitting them so I resorted to a little glue and a lot of duct tape.  I also added a couple of nails to keep the tin can in place as the groove I'd filed in wasn't enough to stop it moving when I started playing.  
And if you're wondering how it sounds, here it is acoustic:

and here it is electric:

These were very rough demos recorded in a single take after only a few hours practice on my new instrument just to give people an idea of the sound, so please don't judge them too harshly!