Some Long, Rambling Thoughts on Rock the Bells and the Enduring Power of Hip Hop

My piece in today's Guardian makes mention of the Rock the Bells concert/festival on Governors Island in New York a few weeks ago. I used it as an example of how there's quite clearly a significant number of people willing to pay money to hear classic rap. But I didn't really get much of a chance to talk about the event itself in there, and wasn't able to review it anywhere, so here's a few ruminations and reminiscences on what was a pretty incredible day. WARNING: even by my standards, this one's pretty long, with lots of rambling tangents and asides of dubious relevance. I'm told that online isn't the place for long-form writing, but I can't persuade anyone to actually print this twaddle, so this is where it's going to have to go. If you want to skip to the exclusive interview with John Legend, it's about three-quarters of the way down. Everyone else, pull up a pew, make sure you've got a hot cuppa, and off we go. ... more »

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posted: 08/10/2010 | comments »


The Last of the Few

Cowling on the BBMF's Mk XIX Spitfire. Photo (c) Neale Haynes

The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain reaches a climax this weekend as the World War Two air base-turned-museum at Duxford hosts a commemorative air show. It's unlikely such an array of the aircraft that won the Battle will ever be seen flying in one place at one time again - some 17 Spitfires and five Hurricanes are due to fly on both days. That's more than enough excuse to publish the "director's cut" of my recent piece about the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight; an edited version ran in the Mail on Sunday's Live supplement a couple of weeks ago, but space constraints meant quite a bit of material was cut. And I'm delighted that photographer Neale Haynes has allowed me to use some of the shots he took during our two days at with the Flight at RAF Coningsby, none of which were included with the originally published piece. ... more »

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posted: 03/09/2010 | comments »


Chronicle of a Coalition Foretold

It's good to be out of the political vacuum. Just like the real one, it can make your blood boil. But imagine my surprise when I realised last night that one of the greatest poet-seers had predicted it all 45 years ago. ... more »

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posted: 11/05/2010 | comments »


Selling Scarcity: Souls of Mischief and the New Music Business

Souls of Mischief, in a record shop, recently. Photo courtesy of Vision PR

In the summer of 2008 I spent a very entertaining few days on the road in the UK with the great Public Enemy (for this piece in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine - signup required, and the online version sadly misses Kevin Cummins' superb photos), talking about what the future had in store for musicians who were neither new kids on the block, nor stadium-filling cash cows. The short answer: lots and lots of hard work to keep the cash coming in, and in PE's case, a diversification away from the purely musical, with band and crew members involved in everything from personal security work to college lecturing in order to keep the money flowing. One of the most interesting conversations I had was with the band's erstwhile producer, Hank Shocklee, who spoke of a counter-intuitive means of monetising the fan/artist connection - and it's one that, two years on, we're seeing more and more people adopt. Which will bring me, in a moment, to Souls of Mischief (above), who start their first UK tour in an aeon tonight. ... more »

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posted: 11/03/2010 | comments »


Mayer, Race and the Decline of Reading

It's been interesting to observe the fallout from John Mayer's interview with Playboy. As both of my regular readers will be aware, I'm a Mayer fan, and have read nothing to make me change my mind about the man or his music. Nor was I particularly surprised that the combustible combination of wit, intelligence and an addiction to flying close to the edge in conversation would eventually blow up in his face. What has become worth noting, though, is the afterlife of the interview, and what it says about the way we're accessing and engaging with information. ... more »

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posted: 15/02/2010 | comments »


Back on Track: John Mayer's All About the Music (At Last)


John Mayer, Hammersmith Apollo, from the back of the room (again) [the pastel effect isn't a Photoshop filter, it's all my own incompetence].

A week on from a performance so quirky as to seem almost self-defeating, John Mayer returned to a London stage and played the kind of understatedly triumphant show which only someone of his considerable class, constitution and conviction is capable. I've seen him play five times in London now - at the Forum in 2006, the Albert Hall (on my birthday) in 2007, Brixton Academy in '08, last week and last night - and this was far and away the best of the lot. ... more »

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posted: 19/01/2010 | comments »


Why "Hyperlocal" Might Not Be the Future for Journalism

One of the RAF's new Chinook Mk3s on a training flight above the snow at Odiham, January 13, 2010 [Confused as to why this photo has no relevance to the story below? Click HERE.]

I'm hearing excellent reports of the New Ways to Make Journalism Pay conference organised by the NUJ's London Freelance Branch (of which, in the interests of disclosure, I should point out I'm a member; and a member of the Branch committee - though I had nothing to do with the conference so am not claiming any credit for its success). Hopefully this might help prove that the NUJ isn't the head-in-sand dinosaur some commentators assume it to be; it's very much an organisation that is driven by its members, and those members, right now, want to know what they can do, pro-actively, to help secure their livelihoods. One thing that concerns me, though, is the way the term "hyperlocal" seems to be being unquestioningly transplanted from the theoretical to the practical. I'm worried about this because I'm not sure it's a concept that has as much relevance in the UK as it seems to have in the US, and therefore may not be a useful tool for British journalists to use when trying to map out a new way forward in a changing world. So here's a few thoughts I'd like to throw out, in the hope that readers can help me see the light. ... more »

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posted: 18/01/2010 | comments »

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