Tag Archives: black cab sessions

International Markets: The Upside for UK Music

Music royalty orgnization PRS for Music published its annual Adding up the UK music industry report today, presenting dismal figures for 2010. Even live music revenues, which had been on an impressive rise over the past several years, fell 11.8% between 2009 and 2010. UK industry revenues overall fell 4.8%. Yikes.

Is there anything good in a landscape that seems as bleak as London fog? Well, yes. Will Page, the chief economist for PRS for Music, advises in his report that the UK industry should ‘get small’ and ‘get abroad’. The first theme involves “reducing the transaction costs of managing metadata”, which I won’t pretend I understand. I’ll leave that topic for the grown-ups.

The second nugget of wisdom, though, I will happily discuss. The report found that royalties societies in the UK (like PRS for Music) did significantly better than those in the US (like ASCAP) over the 2010 year. Page acknowledges the huge potential for growth in exports, including in emerging markets like Brazil, India, and China. Page writes: “According to the BPI, UK artists’ share of global sales is estimated to be 11.8 percent in 2010, with one-in-ten sales in the US being a UK act and up to one-in-five in markets like Germany and Australia.”

While the report doesn’t talk about folk/new-folk/acoustic music specifically, I’d like to think that some of this growth has to do with the very artists I write about so frequently. While Adele may be queen in terms of sales figures (she was “responsible for almost 10% of all artist albums sold in the first four months of the year”), it shouldn’t be ignored that Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More hit number 2 on the Billboard 200. (And performed at the Grammys. And graced the cover of SPIN.) Their rise to the top is the gift that keeps on giving, through both their exposure-building US tours (bringing along artists like King Charles and Matthew and the Atlas) and the efforts of label/club night Communion. Even buzzy indie rock darlings the Vaccines grew out of the same tiny music establishment in southwest London, Bosun’s Locker (back when Justin Young was Jay Jay Pistolet, and shared a flat with Marcus Mumford).

While other UK folk acts have yet to reach the same status as the waistcoat-wearing Sons, they are certainly on the way. Noah and the Whale grabbed attention for their polished new sound and teaming up with director-photographer Autumn de Wilde on “Life is Life”. Alessi’s Ark made the New York Times at SXSW. Matthew and the Atlas and James Vincent McMorrow recorded for Daytrotter. Emmy the Great’s Virtue got a review in Pitchfork. Slow Club made waves (and Mashable) by debuting new material on Turntable.fm (with Paste magazine).

These are just the things that came to mind, but the fact remains that these artists are much closer to US recognition than they’ve ever been before. I can casually talk about Laura Marling or Johnny Flynn without getting blank stares, and I can buy the Communion compilation in Mojo magazine at an airport. I no longer have to scour Youtube for new-folk material–I can just click on iTunes (or Spotify). Back when I first found this whole ‘scene’, things like the Black Cab Sessions, Bandstand Busking, and even Jeremy Warmsley’s Welcome to Our TV Show (and the later version, Jeremy Warmsley’s New Thing) were about all I had. From my perspective, the rise in popularity since those early days (three-ish years ago) seems massive.

Furthermore, another BPI survey found that 83% of people are proud of the achievements of British music. While I’m sure they were dealing with Brits proper, I’m pretty proud of those achievements, too. For even though these new-folk artists often acknowledge American musical influences, there is something quintessentially and inescapably English (or Scottish, or Irish, depending) about them. So by all means, UK music industry–follow the advice of Mr. Page and ‘get abroad’. I’ll welcome you with open arms.

A Box, A Cab, and a Laundromat Walk into a Bar….

Not really. That would be pretty bizarre. But my earlier post on venues got me thinking about the variety of weird-ass performances spaces that have cropped up as videotaped sessions, and I thought I’d compile a playlist of some of my favorites. Just for kicks.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts (check out Fanfarlo’s)
Probably one of the most well-known recording sessions ‘in miniature’, the Tiny Desk concerts take place at the desk of Bob Boilen, the host of NPR’s All Songs Considered. Surrounded by the familiar chaos of a packed office, musicians from Adele to the Antlers have graced the space.

Bandstand Busking (Peggy Sue, above)
Bandstand Busking brings an assortment of fantastic musicians to abandoned bandstands around London. I happen to think it’s the bee’s knees, and I know from experience that it’s a great way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Black Cab Sessions
Black Cab Sessions has featured everyone from Laura Marling to Little Boots. Artists squeeze themselves and their instruments into the back of a cab, play a great song, and call it a day. One shot. My personal favorite is the fabulous session with King Charles, but the acoustic version of “Was It Worth It” by Summer Camp is also wonderful (and sassy!).

Balcony TV
Balcony TV films bands on balconies (duh) all over the world. They’ve spread from the UK to everywhere from Mexico City and Auckland. Balcony TV is very likely to have filmed the band you’ll be listening to obsessively eight months from now. Their Mumford & Sons video, for example (and by far their most viewed), was filmed not too long after the band was formed….and look at them now. I’m rather fond of the Spindle & Wit session above.

Lavomatik Sessions
This French recording session takes place in a laundromat. I never would have thought of that as a possible recording space, but admittedly the acoustics would have to be pretty good. Jeremy Warmsley’s session starts with “Take Care” and ends with a sweet little piece of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

Folk In a Box
Folk In a Box doesn’t record anything, and you should consider yourself pretty lucky if you happen to hear one of their concerts. The premise is simple: one person walks into a small wooden box. Someone in the box is playing folk music. The audience member listens.

Songs from the Shed
It’s like Folk In a Box, on a larger scale–with ‘larger’ being extremely relative. For one, these concerts are actually taped. The Shed has been doing quite well for itself; it was featured in a BBC documentary, and has gotten a lot of press coverage. You can see in the Admiral Fallow session above that it’s a pretty tight fit, but bands seem to do just fine.

Bird Song – Alessi’s Ark (TWHP Session) from The Wild Honey Pie on Vimeo.

The Wild Honey Pie Buzzsessions
These things take place everywhere. King Charles played in a horse-drawn carriage; other bands play in New York’s Union Square, LA vintage stores, random apartments, various parks, creepy New York alleys. The Wild Honey Pie also has a lot of concert footage and filmed interviews. The above session with Alessi’s Ark is beautiful.

Yours Truly
Yours Truly (http://www.yourstru.ly) hails from San Francisco and has produced some wonderful, high quality music sessions. The one above by the Morning Benders was the very first thing I ever heard by the Berkeley band, and it got me hooked. They produce lovely videos, and get great artist interviews/behind-the-scenes looks. It also features the clever gimmick of artist letters–signed Yours Truly, of course–written to whomever they damn well please. The Morning Benders, for instance, wrote to Phil Spector.

These sessions are the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t include the obvious ones, like Daytrotter (yeah, it’s audio…but it’s fabulous) or La Blogotheque. If you have any favorites or sessions in particularly zany locations that I’ve missed, leave me a comment!

My Name Is Katie, and I’m Addicted To British Folk Music.

Last week I realized: I’m addicted to British music. I already knew I had a raging case of Anglophilia, and an abnormal obsession with English new-folk, but Wednesday’s epic Mumford & Sons-headlining show wasn’t just a concert–it was a fix.

I knew I’d crossed into the realm of addiction as soon as the lights dimmed and King Charles took the stage of San Francisco’s Warfield Theater. It had been almost a year since I’d last seen my favorite royal, and the sight of him in his Beau Brummell-inspired outfit did not disappoint. Charles began with an a cappella version of “The Brightest Lights”, and continued with a gentler rendition of single “Love Lust”. Although the short solo set differed from his typically boisterous performances, it set the tone for the softer delivery on his new EP, which is set to be released on US iTunes sometime this week. The definite highlight was clever crowd-pleaser “Ivory Road” (seen here in a fantastic Black Cab Session)–a girl near me described its articulate wit as simply ‘Shakespearean’. King Charles’s performance was exciting in a way I hadn’t expected; though I miss the rocking and rolling, the crazed dancing, and the sheer spectacle of his wilder works, this more sensitive side proves that Charles is a talent in all arenas.

The next band, alt-country group Mt. Desolation, has already been getting some buzz–including a placement as Amazon’s Deal of the Day for the eponymous album’s October 19th release, and a random shout-out from Us Magazine. The band is the new brainchild of Keane members Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin (also of Jesse Quin and the Mets), and the album itself features a smorgasbord of musical guests, including members of the Killers, Mumford & Sons, and Noah and the Whale. My immediate impression as the band began was not of sound but of movement: Mt. Desolation is one of the most active groups I’ve ever seen on stage. And while these exaggerated gestures would likely be obnoxious in another setting, they work for this particular amalgamation of pop Americana. Their set was littered with bouncy, bass-driven numbers like “Departure” and “Platform 7”, which effectively warmed up the already clap-happy audience. For even the mildest of Keane aficionados, Rice-Oxley’s influence in both bands is readily apparent: Mt. Desolation imbues similar songwriting styles with a sizable dose of country flair. The result is not exactly deep, but definitely entertaining. Though they never reached a Mumford & Sons-esque level of rousing emotion, Mt. Desolation certainly started the hoedown.

As the long-awaited headlining band walked on stage, I went through my mental list of things I’ve come to expect from a Mumford & Sons show. They always seem to open their set, for example, with “Sigh No More”; Country Winston always adds some gyrations to his banjo-playing; Ben Lovett always has a toy donkey on his keyboard (look for it!). Most importantly, Mumford & Sons always, always brings an unparalleled energy to their live performances–a level of excitement and fervor that makes their studio album seem sleepy by comparison. As the band has become more widely known and the venues enlarged, this exuberance has thankfully not diminished. Wednesday’s show, attended by nearly 2300 adoring fans, was as much an emotional thrill as previous small-scale performances. Furthermore, their fame has come with the perks of a larger budget: a beautiful backdrop and glittering lights mimicked the “Little Lion Man” music video, and a horn section complemented “Winter Winds” and “The Cave”. Both “Winter Winds” and “After the Storm” have found their way back into live shows, and my unreleased favorite, “Feel the Tide”, was added to the encore. They also had time for some newer material–even more than the usual few that have been in rotation for some time now. A very new song, succinctly titled “New One” on the set list, is reminiscent of a more restrained “Nothing Is Written”; others, such as the always popular “Lover of the Light”, adopt a bit of rock and roll edge. Nothing veers too far from the formulas that worked so well on Sigh No More: the building energy and unbridled emotion that have become so definitive still operate with full force. For this gathered mass of overexcited San Franciscans (who began a chant of “Let’s go Giants!” at one point during the set), these new pieces provided a much-needed taste of the Mumford & Sons to come.

After the show, bassist Ted Dwane mentioned that the foursome had never been completely satisfied with their other San Francisco gigs. No one, however, could deny that last Wednesday’s performance was truly exceptional; more than one person in my general vicinity called it one of the best nights of their lives. As much as I’ve loved the band’s smaller gigs, the sheer power of two thousand bodies fully committing themselves to beloved music makes up for any lost intimacy. The show left me with the now familiar rush of pride I come to associate with all Mumford & Sons performances, and I realized it’s not just the music that keeps me coming back for more. Their shows make me feel like I’m part of a community–and that community, whether it’s Mumford & Sons fans or English new-folk in general, just keeps growing.

Stay tuned for more pictures (including personal ones with Ben, Ted, and King Charles)! Flickr account coming soon.