Monday, 11 June 2018

Is Australian Radio pulling its weight?

Radio in Australia forms a dual passion and frustration for me. Passion in that it continues to fascinate me as to how content is created and presented so seamlessly, and frustration in how it so often misses the mark.

Radio occupies a unique position in the media landscape. It provides something that everyone has ready access to, and despite a changing entertainment landscape under pressure from Spotify, Netflix and other streaming giants, it continues to be successful.

With its continuing success, it could be argued that content directors are feeling untouchable, making content safe and bland enough not to offend anybody. Therefore it should come as no surprise to read that commercial radio are not upholding their local content quota requirements.

The reason these quotas exist in the first place is because commercial radio have never taken Australian music seriously. The quotas were instigated in 1942 for 2.5% locally composed music to be played in all radio programming. It was increased to 20% in 1976, and capped at 25% under the Australia/United States Free Trade Agreement. It has taken the ABC and community radio to pick up the slack, but it's still not an even balance.

Community Radio works hard to extend the music industry by giving airtime to bands that otherwise wouldn't see airplay, and the ABC are doing their best on Triple J and on Digital Radio with Triple J Unearthed and Double J.  These sectors of the industry are not bound by local content quotas, so why are they doing the heavy lifting? The commercials have the money and the coverage. Why do they continue to drag their feet?

It may be that many stations are lost in the fog. Since rebranding a lot of regional stations under the name Triple M, Southern Cross Austereo have spent more money and airtime trying to be everything to everybody and doing very little of it well. The idea of Triple M is different in every market and there seems to be no unity between the music they play. The only constant seems to be an over-dominance of Football content. They seem to have taken up the idea that "you'll never go broke selling sport to Australians", with wall-to-wall rugby league in NSW with the occasional song thrown in the mix. The other way around the local content quota is to be a talk radio station, or to program a "Pure Gold" format, which plays no music newer than 2005.

I have written in these pages before about the cultural cringe and why Australian quotas are necessary. Years later, things haven't changed and I'm wondering if they ever will.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Michael Waugh - "The Asphalt and the Oval"

Image Source: The Groove Merchants

Michael Waugh is a rare artist. One that has a unique gift of compelling listeners with taste outside of his genre to sit up and take notice of his music. One that has the gift to be able to write songs to reduce grown men to tears. One who has the ability to tell stories from his own life we can all relate to.

With the release of his second album “The Asphalt and the Oval”, Michael has created another set of songs that tell the stories of those closest to him and those he's met in his many travels. They're told in a way that is universal; told in a way that feels real to everyone listening. These stories have happened to the people he knows, but they've all happened to us too. Some of us were the footy heroes of the school yard, the awkward kid reading under a tree, the struggling farmer trying to compete against big corporations. And even if you weren't any of these, by the end of it you feel a heavy sense of empathy for the predicaments of the characters in the song.

This is also the second album made with Alt.Country artist Shane Nicholson at his studio on the NSW Central Coast. Michael lays down his dexterous guitar playing and plaintive vocals while Shane provides all the instrumental backing, perfectly complimenting but never dominating the songs. Michael never shies away from his natural accent, adding that extra air of authenticity to the music.

Michael writes songs that are compelling not only because the stories are heartfelt and human, but they carry a sting in the tail - when you think you know the direction of the story by the end of the second verse, in the third verse he throws a curveball and turns it all upside down. The new single “Baling Twine” is a classic example. A small family farm inherited by two brothers, who struggle to hold on against automated production complexes moving in around them, the twist in the third verse packs an emotional punch.

This new set of songs tackles some of the same subjects handled on his debut “What We Might Be” but in many cases, he furthers the narratives on “Asphalt”. On his debut we're introduced to his mother on “Heyfield Girl” and some of her struggle is discussed further here in the eloquently titled “Shit Year”. Where the single from his previous album “Paul” deals with bullying as a result of kids being unable to accept difference, this is furthered with a twist on “They Don't Let Girls In The Game”. “The Asphalt and the Oval” also contains heartfelt reflections on fatherhood in “For a Moment” and “Kindergarten Fete”, and some fun reminiscences of being a country teenager in the 1980s in “Acid Wash” and “Driving With The Windows Down". The title track sees Michael reconciling with his past, laying down his grudges towards his school tormentors and celebrating the survivor with a bright future he’s become, and all with his unique brand of country humility.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the album for me is how Michael shines a cold hard spotlight on the nature of masculinity. While this topic is never far from discussion in country music, this time the behaviour of blokes is boldly analysed and examined - not in a judgmental or demeaning way, but not with rose coloured glasses either. The album’s second single “Footy Trip” paints a dark picture of blokes letting off steam on an end of season trip to the big smoke. “Tapping” is a sadly all too familiar tale of barmaids and the overzealous amorous advances by blokes who've had a few too many…

The jewel in the crown is the album’s first single “Little C Word”. How do you write a song about swearing in a way that will get played on radio? The answer is in this cleverly constructed song. And again, the sting is in the tail - watch that curve ball in the third verse.

Golden Guitar-winning country artist Matt Scullion said “It's easy to make people dance [with your music], but it's a lot harder to make them listen. And [Michael] makes them listen.” Michael Waugh is that rare artist - One with something to say, and one who says something that is worth listening to.

"The Asphalt and the Oval" is available now.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2016 Wrap-up

Well, I for one am glad 2016 is done and dusted. It wasn't a great year personally for me, and for those of us who follow the world of music and entertainment, we lost too many great people.

I stopped writing this year because life got in the way, but in retrospect, there would have been too many "Vale" posts to write.

Here's a fairly thorough list of the entertainers we lost in 2016:

  • Robert Stigwood (artist manager for Bee Gees, Eric Clapton, et al)
  • David Bowie
  • Glenn Frey (guitarist/vocalist/songwriter for the Eagles)
  • Alan Rickman (notable for the character "Professor Snape" in the Harry Potter franchise)
  • Bryce Rohde (Aussie Jazz Pianist)
  • Paul Kantner (Guitarist in the Jefferson Airplane)
  • Maurice White (Vocalist from Earth, Wind and Fire)
  • Vanity (of Prince-associated project Vanity 6)
  • Harper Lee (author of the classic "To Kill a Mockingbird")
  • Sir George Martin (producer of many great records, including all of the Beatles catalog)
  • Jon English (Australian Rock star and theatre actor)
  • Keith Emerson (keyboardist of the Nice and Emerson Lake and Palmer)
  • Frank Sinatra Jnr (son of the late crooner Frank Sinatra)
  • Steve Young (outlaw Country singer)
  • Phife Dawg (rapper from A Tribe Called Quest)
  • Dennis Davis (drummer with David Bowie and Stevie Wonder)
  • Merle Haggard (Outlaw country singer)
  • Pete Zorn (multi-instrumentalist with Steeleye Span and Richard Thompson, among others)
  • Prince
  • Billy Paul (American soul singer, whose biggest hit was "Me and Mrs Jones")
  • Muhummad Ali (boxer and media figure)
  • Mac Cocker (Triple J broadcasting pioneer and father of Jarvis Cocker from Pulp)
  • Bernie Worrell (keyboard wizard with Parliament/Funkadelic and Talking Heads)
  • Mac Rice (writer of "Mustang Sally" and Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself")
  • Bud Spencer (a favourite actor of mine, in films like "They Call me Trinity")
  • Scotty Moore (guitarist on all the early Elvis Presley records)
  • Alan Vega (founder of post-punk band Suicide)
  • Sandy Pearlman (manager of Blue Oyster Cult and founder of online download service E-Music)
  • Viola Beach (British band, all members of which died in a car accident)
  • Ronnie Corbett (British Comedian)
  • Rudy Van Gelder (producer of the some of the finest jazz records of the 20th century)
  • Prince Buster (Jamaican Reggae pioneer)
  • Buckwheat Zydeco (accordionist and Zydeco musician)
  • Ross Higgins (his most famous work was as Ted Bullpit in "Kingswood Country")
  • Fergus Miller, aka Bored Nothing (Australian indie Musician)
  • Mode Allison (American jazz pianist)
  • Milt Okun (producer for Warner Bros Records in the 1960s and 1970s)
  • Sharon Jones (American Soul Singer)
  • Hugh McDonald (songwriter and violinist in Redgum)
  • Florence Henderson (best known for her role as Carol Brady in "The Brady Bunch")
  • Ray Columbus (NZ singer in Ray Columbus and the Invaders, famous for their original hit "She's a Mod" in 1964)
  • Wayne Duncan (Daddy Cool)
  • Ross Hannaford (Daddy Cool)
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Greg Lake (bassist in Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson)
  • Alan Thicke (American actor)
  • Rick Parfitt (rhythm guitarist in Status Quo)
  • George Michael (founder of WHAM! and solo artist)
  • Carrie Fisher (best known for her role as Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" franchise)
  • Debbie Reynolds (mother of Carrie Fisher, actress)

Wow. We will miss each and every one of them.

Here's hoping for a better 2017. Happy new year to you all.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Last Words on...Glenn Frey

Vale Glenn Frey

Eagles songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Glenn Frey passed away on January 18, 2016.

Despite a 14 year absence between their initial breakup in 1980 and their MTV reunion special in 1994, and then sporadic moments in the public eye between then and the release of their first new music since "The Long Run" ("Long Road out of Eden" appeared in 2008) The Eagles were ubiquitous: on radio, on T-shirts, in iconography, in appearances in films and so on.

Familiarity obviously breeds contempt. Because the news coverage and commentary in the wake of Glenn's death was markedly different than it was with David Bowie a week earlier. Almost all of the commentary was glowing for Bowie. The commentary on Glenn Frey was increasingly negative, claiming he was a rather unpleasant individual (and worse).

At the end of the day, it is counterproductive to be negative about him in death, just as it was in life. Sure enough in the "History of the Eagles" documentary, at least during the last half, he painted himself as an arsehole in dealing with his bandmates. We can criticise but nothing is going to change that. He wouldn't have cared what we thought anyway. It is what it is. What is probably better and a more fruitful enterprise is to look at what he managed to achieve.

No matter what we think about the Eagles, a hell of a lot of people like them. Even if you never want to hear "Hotel California" ever again, at least in this country, it broke open commercial radio to independent music (it's funny to think that The Eagles were considered "alternative" for the first couple of album releases!!!). Their albums were masterfully written and recorded, even if the lyrics of "Lyin' Eyes" are lazy and the song drones on for about 3 minutes too long.

Glenn Frey had palpable talent. He is clearly audible as a guest vocalist and guitarist on the early Bob Seger track "Ramblin' Gamblin Man" and on some of the Eagles' early records ("Desperado" especially) his guitar work is stellar.

Ubiquity clouds judgement and can negatively influence taste, but that's not the Eagles fault. You can't blame them for never being away from radio for long. Blame the commercial radio stations. I'm personally glad Glenn gave the world the music he did.

Vale Glenn. He will be missed.

Last Words on...David Bowie

Vale David Bowie

David Bowie left this earth on the 10th January 2016. Yes it's taken me this long to find the words to write in response.

It's hard to process what Bowie's loss means to the world. Or even to me. The music he gave us indelibly soundtracked our lives for so long, and it did so with such potency. It felt like the music's charismatic creator would be around forever.

Never mind the fact that David himself was out of the public eye for a decade before the surprise release of "The Next Day" in 2013. Even with the release of the record, he remained reclusive, rarely making public appearances and making almost no attempts to promote the record. He didn't get a chance to promote his latest record "Blackstar", as his untimely passing occurred two days after the album's release.

Bowie always seemed to be masterfully in control of his music, his image and his career. He changed from one thing to another during the 1970s with effortless ease and grace, always ahead of the curve and defining trends rather than following them. It came as shock to me to read an old quote from the NME dating back to 1984:

"I always thought I was intellectual about what I do, but I’ve come to the realization that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing half the time."

If he didn't know what he was doing then he was constantly trying on new concepts and ideas to see what fits. He was once described by filmmaker Nik Roeg as being "awkward within society". It appears to be that he was possibly changing the outward look to hide the insecurity within. That insecurity drove his restless creativity to go beyond the norms of what should be expected of him.

Watching the "Reality Tour" live DVD again in the wake of his passing, it appears that on this tour he was finally comfortable with himself, in his own skin. He'd finally reconciled what it meant to be David Bowie. It was a glorious sight.

To the every end, with the "Blackstar" album, he challenged the listener, challenging them not to rest on their laurels and the assumptions of what David Bowie could be. He gave us what we now can assume were hints of his impending mortality, but the needle was barely off the record from the first playing of the album before that could fully set in. The news hit the world like a collective kick in the head.

Bowie gave the world so much joy with his fantastic and challenging creativity. He inspired and entertained us for close to 50 years and Earth's loss is Heaven's gain. The music will live with us and I'm personally greatful for his fine works.

Vale David. Your life's work will be remembered long after the pain of your sad passing has faded from our memories.

The Triumphant Return of FACEplant

FACEplant, Grrumble and Shuda: Live at the Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle 14/05/2016

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. And there's nothing like a nostalgia gig to remind yourself how old you've become. Looking around the room at my fellow 1990s gig goers, my how we've aged! But all the beer bellies and receding, greying hairlines are not going to get in the way. The vibe in the room is electric and we're all hoping the main act will lift the roof off of this place.

We're gathered here on something of a red-letter occasion for adolescent Gen X Novocastrian gig goers from the 1990s: when FACEplant, the next big thing to follow Silverchair onto the national stage, make their rumoured resurrection a fact. Stories have been going around for years about this night, and finally, it happened.

The night opened with Shuda, a Central Coast band (they laughingly referred to themselves as "out-of-towners", but near enough). Warming up the crowd and fired up about the impending release of their second record, the crowd took to them and gave them some good attention. Pete Davies, combined larynx and 6-string shredder, is a big bloke with a big voice; the guitar in his hands looked almost miniature by comparison. He gave that thing a guttural rumble that let you know you were alive. He donned a King Parrot shirt for the set. However the band he fronts sounded nothing like the Sydney hardcore outfit. More like Shihad-meets-Iron Maiden. If anything, the first couple of songs sounded a little too deferential to their influences. Over the course of their short set they threw in enough stylistic curve balls to keep us guessing.


Aside from FACEplant getting back together, it was also a showcase for one of their contemporaries of the era, the recently reunited Grrumble. Grrumble made a mean sound out of one Les Paul, bass, vox and drums. While they trod a path with a heavy grunge feel, they always added elements of metal to the mix to create something quite interesting. They were a tight unit back in the day and tonight they proved they still had it. They played a crowd pleasing set, including this writer's personal favourite "Justice". Their 1995 EP has been reissued as was available at the Merch stand. Reviews to come later...


FACEplant (uppercase FACE, thank you) finally hit the stage to the sounds of an electronica and sample-heavy audio experiment. A remix of sorts of what turned out to be the opening song when the band slammed in seamlessly into the first chord. 20 years may have passed between gigs but who'd have known? The hair may be a lot shorter, but the band still had it. Their enthusiasm on stage was almost tangible and the packed house loved them for it. In 1994 the band were playing a melodic surf-grunge but by late 1995 they have turned darker into a drop-tuned, Shihad-esque grind. Tonight's set showed the best of both sides. They gave the crowd plenty to sing along to and quite a few tunes some of us hadn't heard - I'm looking forward to hearing them released in the near future. They played all the tracks from the now-near-impossible to find 1995 EP "Upper Case FACE" and taking a few risks with the arrangement on "Eyes", slowing down the tempo and revving up the drama.

FACEplant have made it clear they want to keep going as of now. If the shows are as good as Saturday night, the future looks bright for them. Now, if only they'd dig through the vault and release the vintage recordings for the fans and get some new tracks on the shelves to further the momentum.

Welcome back, lads...

Monday, 18 April 2016

Axl Rose joins AC/DC

Yes it's true.

Yes ok, it was reported on recently, someone having seen Axl leaving AC/DC's rehearsal space in Atlanta, but so what? That was speculation then, and I don't generally buy into speculation.

Now it has been confirmed by AC/DC's management and their label. Axl has only just decided to accept Slash and Duff McKagan back into the Guns n' Roses camp for a few gigs. While he was in pretty decent voice at recent shows, despite being immobilised with a broken foot. However, the prevailing opinion (and I tend to agree with it) is that Axl is an ill fit for AC/DC. Being a mega-fan of the band, as he is, is not enough of a pre-requisite for joining a band. He just isn't the right voice for the band.

I guess AC/DC need to be aware of the Latin term caveat emptor: "Let the buyer beware". Axl has some form, with his megalomaniac outbursts, turning up late, starting riots, bad behaviour towards fans and so on as a member of his own band. As a hired gun in someone else's outfit, technically there is no room for that sort of thing, but will he try it on? It's certainly possible, given his history.

AC/DC have been a massive concert draw and record seller for years, despite many people thinking that Brian Johnson was an ill fit for the band. Brian made it work, however. Loads of fans loved his voice fronting the band. Indeed his first appearance on record with them, "Back In Black", is the biggest selling rock album ever released at the time of writing. Since "Who Made Who" in 1986 they've been rather pedestrian on record, in this writer's opinion. The Bon Scott albums, all of them, are unimpeachable. A large number of what has come since is interchangeable at best and disposable at worst. What value is Axl Rose going to add to the band? Sure he's a famous name, but that's not enough.

It was like adding Terence Trent D'Arby as vocalist to replace Michael Hutchence in INXS. A big name, a great voice, but not the right fit. It remains to be seen if this can be pulled off...

Heat the popcorn, it will be very interesting...