February, 2009

A Tale of Three Concerts

In the last seven days I seem to have seen a lot of music, although I did pay the price just a little.
Last Sunday I went to The Junction in Cambridge to watch Bellowhead. Just to be clear, I don’t live in Cambridge, so it was a bit of a trip to see them. But The Junction’s just near the station, and depending on when they finished, I knew I’d be able to get back to London in time.
Foolishly, as it turns out, I had a pizza while I was there. Or perhaps it was the salad. Anyway, it had implications.
If you’ve never seen Bellowhead, then you really need to. Yes, they’re a folk band, but there are eleven of them (so buy their albums: think how much they must have to split the proceeds!) and they play a very upbeat version of folk. Sometimes the songs they sing can be a bit bawdy. The previous night they’d played at the Royal Festival Hall, but it had been sold out being Valentines’ Day, and we were told that some of their songs that night had been quite rude.
This was more family friendly fare, which was just as well as people do bring their kids along to Bellowhead (again – the previous day in London, they’d done a free kids concert in the Festival Hall earlier in the day).
Jon Boden is the charismatic lead singer, but everyone else just seems to love appearing on-stage, and they bounce around with excitement and play their incredible array of instruments with complete joy.
According to their Wikipedia entry, the band themselves describe their music thus:
“Merging a joyous, uplifting cacophony of sound with a slightly sinister, distorted collision of music hall, Lotte Lenya, Robert Wyatt and pure theatre.”
Curiously, midway through the concert, a girl collapsed near me for the second time in a week. I know what you’re thinking. It’s not that. The previous Monday, at a speaker at a presentation had passed out and collapsed against the wall behind her. This time, it was a woman behind me who basically fell into me. I think it was a small fit, and she had her mum (I think) to hand to help her up. She stayed on for the rest of the fantastic gig.
As I say, there were ramifications of that pizza meal, and let’s just say that I had a very unpleasant trip home, and didn’t sleep a great that night or much the next day. And I wasn’t in a rush to eat anything.
The second concert was with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank. This concert was called Music and Chance, and was a very strange affair indeed. The highlight was a new composition receiving its premiere featuring precisely one minute of music from each of twelve composers. These people had randomly placed in two groups of six with each composing their minute with only the very end of the previous piece available to them. So effectively we had two six minute pieces.
The composers varied from the Pet Shop Boys (receiving their Brit the following evening) and Anne Dudley, to Will Gregory (of Goldfrapp) and Andy Sheppard. I think it’s fair to say that you could hear where the breaks between composers were.
Charles Hazelwood, who talked us through procedings, also gave us a couple of variations of Mozart’s Music Dice Game, with one version determined by audience members rolling dice (essentially the dice roll determines which of a 176 one-bar phrases, the orchestra plays).
Also on the programme was the remarkable “In C” for which Hazelwood left the podium and the orchestra played by itself. Although the duration is indeterminate due to the rules of the piece, I got the feeling that some kind of agreement had been reached in advance. It works astonishingly well however.
The whole concert was recorded for Radio 3, although I can’t yet tell exactly when it’s going out.
Finally, I was very lucky and got a last-minute ticket to see Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Philharmonia for Mozart’s Piano Concerto 17 (with Emmanuel Ax) and then Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. This second piece, in particular is immense and lasts some 70 minutes. But Dudamel is an incredible conducting force and throws himself into it. Of course he knows the piece backwards and has recorded it.
At the end of it, he got a rapturous standing ovation, and the applause lasted several minutes. He’s back in the country later in the year with his beloved Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, but sadly this is well and truly sold out already.
Anyway, glorious stuff, and a concert that will live long in my memory.

When TV (or Radio) Uses Your Workplace

This Wednesday, ITV2 launches that rarest of things, a new sitcom. Actually, that’s a bit unfair, as ITV has been commissioning a reasonable amount of programming for ITV2. It’s just that most of it really doesn’t interest me.
But this week there’s something that I am looking forward to – FM. Indeed, if you head over to ITV’s site, you can watch a preview of the first episode.
It’s not too bad with The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd playing a DJ alongside Kevin Bishop, who plays his co-host, and was a one-time boyband member.
If Skin FM, the radio station portrayed, doesn’t look too much like your local radio station, that’s because it won’t. There really aren’t any radio stations like those you see on TV. Skin FM is evidently modelled on Xfm – well Xfm before Capital (and now Global) took it over.
But sitcoms are more about the characters and a DJ who can’t mix but decides to fake it with a mix CD is not really that far from the truth at all (so I hear).
As ITV’s trying to be edgy with this show, there’s lots of swearing, and a bit of sex too. And we get a few cameos: the first episode features The Guillemots, Justin Hawkins (ex-Darkness) and Marianne Faithful! And we’re promised that there are more to come. They add, I suppose, a hint of Larry Sanders to proceedings.
I suppose the most disappointing thing about it, is not what was on-air, but the quote from producer Izzy Mant in last week’s Broadcast (NB. Quote isn’t in the online piece):
“When I first came across this project I thought: why hasn’t anyone done a sitcom set in a music radio station before?”
Umm. They have.
As I mentioned a while back when this series was announced, the UK’s seen Kit Curran and The Lenny Henry Show (the sitcom incarnation). And they’re both British!
And possibly more famous than either of those was WKRP in Cincinatti.
They’re just the shows set in music radio stations. There’ve been others set in non-music radio stations: Frasier immediately springs to mind. And radio comedies like Radio Active or even On The Hour.
Indeed, of all occupations featured in sitcoms, radio has definitely had more than its fair share.
That shouldn’t detract from FM, but let’s not forget our heritage shall we?
As I said at the start of this piece, it’s always entertaining to see your place of work featured in fiction, and invariably it’s not accurate. A couple of weeks ago Radio 3’s The Wire had a play by Mark Lawson entitled The Number of the Dead. This was set in an un-named news studio and featured Tim McInnery as Timothy Freeman, a slightly jaded news presenter with his much younger co-host. Suddenly a breaking news story begins to impact on his life personally.
Now Mark Lawson obviously has a good idea about how radio studios work (he frequently presents Front Row in between his otherwise gargantuan workload), but in this instance you felt that he was like a cook presented with a rack of herbs and spices, trying to desperately shoehorn all of them into a recipe.
So we had lots of lingo that those “in the biz” would probably recognise. But it was all just a little forced. His producer was rude and offensive to his wife, when if there’s one thing we all know about producers, and that’s that they don’t upset the talent. And the character was just that bit too jaded.
What was really more entertaining was trying to work out who Lawson might be basing this story on. With talk of studios like “C7” it could only be the BBC since even the largest commercial operator has a relatively finite number of studios and usually names in a sensible scheme: “A, B, C…” or “1, 2, 3…”
There really is no commercial news station with the exception of LBC, and Radio 4 doesn’t do long news programmes that continually ask for emails and texts. So it must be Five Live that he’s thinking of. And the obvious show there would be Five Live Drive with Peter Allen and Anita Arnand. But I don’t really think Peter Allen behaves like McInnery’s character!
(I’d love to post the mp3 of this, since we’re long after the iPlayer window, but I’d probably be shot).
At least we have series two of Moving Wallpaper to look out for on Friday. Not content with generally showing off on QI on Friday, Ben Miller’s back as his wonderfully awful TV producer Jonathan Pope. This time, he’s without the dreadful Echo Beach which I stopped watching after one episode (either you believe in a soap or you don’t), and we have a seemingly non-broadcast zombie series instead.

I Still Hate The Brits

Have I mentioned before that I hate the Brits? Well – yes I have.
Having studiously avoided them for several years now (despite working for a music radio station), I decided to watch this year simply because the Pet Shop Boys are getting the award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.
But this is dire.
I suppose at least they’re not recording to a show a day after the event – as far as I can gather, it’s only on a relatively short delay. But in no particular order, here are the things I hate about the Brits based on this evening’s show:
#1 The screaming Brits school kids
#2 Winners seemingly knowing that they’ll win (Katy Perry came off her sickbed because she was told she should), and betting closed in one category earlier today
#3 Tables of indifferent record company execs and assorted hangers on (£7500 a table folks) waiting for the after-parties
#4 Strange pauses in procedings (does nobody rehearse this stuff?)
#5 Constant screaming
#6 Fearne Cotton
#7 Way more presenters than need be
#8 The public voting winners
#9 The record industry divvying up the winners
#10 Unnecessary costume changes
#11 Unfunny presenter scripts
#12 Lawyers getting to vote winners (Yes – really. The voiceover women said so)
#13 Big name in music, Jamie Oliver
#14 The screaming
#15 Unfunny pre-recorded winners’ clips (e.g. Paul Weller)
#16 Fearne Cotton’s interviewing technique seemingly carried out in an empty aircraft hanger. Can you hear the echo – echo – echo?
#17 …and from mobiles will be considerably more… (What type of phones do you think people most likely to vote for this award will have?)
#18 God – the screaming never stops…
#19 Going behind the scenes to interview the presenter before he or she has gone on to present.
#20 Americans thinking England = UK (but still being far more professional than anybody else)
#21 No on-screen captions. How am I suppose to know who the idiots in the Logan’s Run jumpsuits on the Close Encounters spaceship are supposed to be? Yes… I guessed.
#22 Laboured video gags (again… I quite liked the fact that Iron Maiden are able to win this award, but I bet some producer made them do that at the end)
#23 The idea that Radiohead, Girls Aloud, Take That, Coldplay and Elbow could all compete for the same award (“It’s reassuring to know that quality music does get recognised” says voiceover lady. What does that say about the Brits?)
#24 Ashley Cole looking thoroughly bored – actually, I quite liked that.
#25 People standing very much indifferently and chatting while Kings of Leon play – almost certainly not looking at the stage.
#26 Unsure what’s more offensive, the “Hoff” being sleazy or the fact that Fearne Cotton’s the object of his affections (kudos for knowing/being primed that Elbow have Wembley gigs though)
#27 Hilllllllaaaaarrrrious Craig David gags. They’re just brilliant!
#28 The “audio muted” soundtrack
#29 Hilllllllaaaaarrrrious gags from music specialist Gok Wan.
#30 Taking no responsibility for the “commercial radio” part of the British Single award.
#31 Wondering when Tom Jones stopped dying?
#32 Girls Aloud, Gok Wan, Alan Carr and Fearne Cotton all on the screen at the same time…
#33 Did I mention the screaming?
#34 The idea that this is available to buy.
#35 Brandon Flowers was 13 when Discography came out?!?
#36 The many faces of Louis Walsh.
#37 Duffy Diet Coke ads.
In the end, the PSB were pretty good, although perhaps not as awesome as they might have been.
I think it may be another five years until I next watch this, although following it on Twitter’s good fun.

Juvenile Behaviour on the Radio

If you’ve never taken part in a phone-in on the radio, you might be surprised how easy it is to get through if you’ve got something interesting to say.
Listen to “Tony” speaking to Five Live’s Victoria Derbyshire on Monday:

And on Sunday night, “Pavinder” called Eddie Nestor on BBC London:

If you happened to be Iain Lee or Matt Lucas you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourselves.
Of course this has a long history. Peter Cook used to call Clive Bull on LBC under the guise of Sven from Swiss Cottage…

At The Top of the BT Tower

This evening I was invited to a presentation at the BT Tower, followed by a dinner at the top of the tower in their famous revolving restaurant. This is closed to the public, and it was exciting to get a chance to go up there.
Sadly, today probably wasn’t the best day to go up.
09 February 2009
There was a quickly descending fog which meant significantly reduced visibility, and of course it was pouring with rain too. So the above photo is about the best I got from up there. I couldn’t even tell you which direction I was looking in when I took it.
The following photo gives you an idea about just how bad the conditions were.
BT Tower on Dark Stormy Night
I must go on the London Eye again at some point, as my sole visit was also on a foggy evening, and you could barely see Big Ben just across the river.
Oh… and the restaurant in the BT Tower did revolve!

BAFTA Technical Foul-Up

And it was all going so well.
Last year the BAFTA awards had the sound messed up for the BBC1 broadcast. There were apologies all around, and we were told that this wasn’t because the OB was put together by an independent. We were told that the production team had years of experience.
This year, things looked like they were going well. Coverage ran over three channels for no obvious reason with an hour each on BBC Three, BBC Two and BBC One. I watched the latter two covering the awards.
The whole ceremony is broadcast on a significant delay – presumably to allow time to bleep Mickey Rourke’s acceptance speech (and Mick Jagger).
But the real problem came when we saw the Terry Gilliam montage sequence as he was inducted into the academy was just appalling. It looked like an early edit had been used, as we saw repeated clips and sequences of clips. It was clear that nobody had watched the final edit all the way through at the end. Given that the one thing we knew before the evening was that Gilliam would definitely be winning, this particular montage could have been edited weeks ago.
But instead it looked like they’d given it to the work experience kid.
It was an embarrassment.
Gilliam came on and made his acceptance. He got out a long piece of paper and threatened to thank all the “little guys” beginning with those from Time Bandit. Now I don’t know how far down the list he made it, but there was a clunky edit as he suddenly ended his speech with a thanks and left. Again, very poor production.
As is traditional, we then began had a round up of the awards that didn’t make it into the two hour broadcast (BBC Three’s coverage was red carpet stuff). So we had the winners of the Best Short, etc.
As we watched Nick Park accepted for Short Animation, who let’s face it, is much loved by British audiences, the credits rolled right over the top. This was obviously for timing purposes, but it was awful. And given that we were only a minute over the 10pm scheduled finish, nobody would have minded a very short over-run.
After Nick Park, we had the editing award for Slumdog Millionaire and had credits running over credits as the winner accepted his award. Then the same happened for Animated Film (Wall-E). Then we had the transition music and we just cut to an end credit as the broadcast ended.
I think we got to see all the awards, casting an eye over the official winners’ list, but it was complete amateur hour. Absolutely dreadful.
These awards are broadcast internationally and it really did not reflect well on Whizz Kid Entertainment who co-produced the awards with BAFTA for the BBC.
How about next year we get the awards live – or at least on a very short delay for the potty-mouthed likes of messrs. Rourke and Jagger. Run it on one channel, and if it over-runs, then it over-runs. Award ceremonies make a habit of that, although at least unlike the Oscars, the BAFTAs cut to the chase without silly interludes.
(PS Why does the BBC correspondent in Sydney this evening look like he’s talking down the line on Skype? For a major story like that in Australia, surely a satellite feed should be used?)

Sky Player

In today’s Observer there’s a Sky ad that reads:
“Want to watch Sky Sports live on your PC?”
Then there’s a picture of a laptop showing some Premier League football.
“Now you can with Sky Player.”
Hmm. I’ve heard that claim before. Yes you can, as long as you subscribe to Sky Multiroom (i.e. pay for an additional box on the same subscription – usually to put in a different room in your home), or Sky Broadband Max (i.e. take their phone and broadband package too).
So I looked closely at the ad. Perhaps they’ve changed their terms?
“PC with Microsoft Windows XP/Vista or Intel based Mac with minimum 2Mb broadband connection required.”
That’s all fine…
“Some programmes are unavailable to show online (see sky.com/skyplayer).”
Understandable. Some programming will sell its online rights seperately.
“On demand content outside of your subscription will cost extra.”
That seems reasonable. But I subscribe to Sky Sports.
“Movies and entertainment to download are unavailable to Mac users.”
They use a Microsoft DRM system.
“Information only applies to residential customers in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Further terms apply.”
The devil’s in the detail.
“Further terms apply.”
I log on to Sky Player, and of course I can’t watch the football online, although since I’m sitting in front of my TV, I can watch it there. Sky’s not changed its terms. As I live on my own, I’m not likely to buy multiroom, and as I’m happy with my broadband and telecom providers, I’m not buying their full package.
There are free programmes that I can watch. Lost and 24 are good examples. But even then, I’m forced to download rather than stream programmes. If the BBC iPlayer’s shown us one thing, it’s that streaming’s pretty popular.

Ben Goldacre and LBC

This is interesting to watch, and perhaps shows how if you’re not careful, things will run away from you.
Ben Goldacre, the writer of The Guardian’s Bad Science column and author of the very excellent Bad Science book, wrote about a programme broadcast by LBC presented by Jenni Barnett.
I’ll say up front that I think Goldacre’s work is excellent and important with the media regularly misusing and abusing science to make a good headline or story. Seriously – get his book and read about them yourself.
Goldacre is undoubtedly especially upset by the mis-reporting of MMR and the whole nonsense that came out of it. The media scare stories naturally did just that – scare parents into not having the vaccination.
Only today comes news that the rise in measles in the UK is “very worrying.” The cases reported are disproportionately high in London (where LBC broadcasts incidentally), and the blame is squarely being laid at the now discredited research linking MMR with autism. So it’s a matter of public health that false stories aren’t perpetuated.
To illustrate his piece, he uploaded a long piece of audio lifted from the show, or more probably, someone paid for that edition’s podcast and excerpted 44 minutes of the show.
I am not a copyright lawyer, but that’s probably not legal*. The copyright in the audio does reside with Global Radio – indeed, beyond the value attained by broadcasting advertising around the programme, there are also podcast revenues derived from sales and subscriptions to LBC’s programming.
So cut and dry then? Goldacre shouldn’t have re-published the audio.
Well yes, but that’s only part of the story. Barnett later apologised on her blog, and Goldacre felt that the full extent of what had been broadcast needed to be understood.
I’m summarising – read the full story here and here.
LBC responded by sending a legal letter. Goldacre took the audio down, although it has since resurfaced elsewhere.
And while LBC, Global and their lawyers are almost certainly entirely within their rights to demand the removal, the net affect at time of writing seems to have been to antagonise a wide ranging web community.
The story was published on the influential, and widely read Boing Boing earlier today, and the traffic from that site actually temporarily brought down the Bad Science site (it’s up again now).
I suspect that there may be complaints to Ofcom forthcoming as well.
What do we learn from this? That once lawyers get involved, not everyone just folds. Especially if they’ve just fought a major case in the High Court against an Aids denier.
And the net result might be a lot of negative comment about your brand, even if you’re technically in the right.

* From what I can gather, there’s the US “fair use” concept does not exist in UK law. We have “fair dealing“. In this instance, it’d be within the purvue of “reporting current events“.
As a non-lawyer, it’s not clear to me in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 what proportion of copyright material might be quoted or broadcast.