I've been contemplating the benefits of the internet.
In the past week, I've had such a wide variety of offers. There was the sad story of a lady in Africa who had lost her husband in a plane crash and is, for some reason, unable to access his funds totalling over $10 million. Fortunately, a member of the banking staff has intervened and has approached me (obviously my reputation for financial stability and probity covers several continents) to ask me to become her sponsor in accessing the funds. For this service, which merely requires that I offer them my own bank account details - clearly they need this to ship the monies to me - they are offering a bewildering 20%. I've struggled with this. It's a lot of money for performing such a simple service and it's at the expense of a grieving widow. This really doesn't sit well with me. What sort of lowlife would exploit this situation?
I'll offer to do it for 10%.
Also, of course, my show reaches my listeners all over the world by using the internet. Broadcast times and places are detailed on my Home page. These are some of the clear advantages of subscribing to the world-wide web. On the other hand...
I use Facebook to give information to my listeners about upcoming shows and to point them at my uploaded shows. For many years, I used my show identity "Blues Show Bob" as the name of the page. Without issue. Until one morning when I was refused access to my own page until I changed the name to "Bob Williams". On questioning the reasons behind this, I received a generic message telling me nothing. When I told them that their message had told me nothing, they went a stage further and didn't respond.
Every week I post a show to Mixcloud. This automatically publishes to my Facebook page. I then inform those parties who I assume will have an interest by copying the link to a number of specialist Blues groups. I've done this now for a couple of years and I've been told by people in the Bluesic industry that my information path is second to none globally. Last week, when I had posted to half a dozen of the twenty or so groups I regularly post to, I received a message telling me I was 'blocked' from posting to groups for five days. No explanation was offered. There was nothing unusual in what I was posting. It was a replica of that posted for years - just an updated link to the current show. I questioned the reasoning. That was ten days ago. I've been unblocked for over a week now but still have received no explanation. The irony, to my little head, is that Facebook's very raison d'etre is as a communications company. I'm beginning to think it should be renamed Facelessbook.
Another facet of the internet is You Tube where we can see our favourite musicians perform their songs. Surely this truly is the magic of the internet. Well, isn't it?
I'm not so sure.
I was privileged to host the third annual Abertillery Blues & Rock Weekend last weekend. There was a fine mix of Blues and Blues/Rock musicians - five bands playing over a ten hour period. A lively and friendly atmosphere. A great line-up comprising Blacktop Deluxe, Red Butler, The Stumble, Danny Bryant (interview coming on Blues Exclusive #69) and Stan Webb's Chickenshack. All respected musicians and at an affordable price. One would have, perhaps, expected a full house. Sadly, it wasn't. There are undoubtedly many factors to play but I'm beginning to wonder whether people would now prefer to stay home and watch recordings of musicians rather than actually leaving home to watch a Live show. It's become a trend in recent years - Live gigs just aren't as well attended as they were 10 or 15 years back. Many clubs have closed. Okay, a general tightening up of families' budgets must contribute but it seems that many find it easier to watch their favourite bands on their computers and TVs in preference to going to watch them perform in the flesh. Frankly, there is no comparison in terms of the experiences.
Here's my warning: The videos you watch are recordings of Live performances. Without support, Live performances will become history. The well of recordings will run dry because the source will have been cut off. There will be no performers who feel able to tour because the rewards are no longer there to stay on the road.
That is, largely, thanks to the internet.
As I do every week at the tail end of the Blues Exclusive, I urge you all to stop being 'virtual' Bluesic fans. Get out to a gig or buy a CD or DVD of your favourite performers. The only way to guarantee a future for the music we love is to ensure that the artists can sustain their own livelihoods.
I don't want to sound too negative but, having been an active participant in the Bluesic community for a decade and a half, I am genuinely concerned. However, let's finish on a positive note. Using the internet:
The 12th Tenby Blues Festival takes place from November 10 - 12. I'll be MC-ing the free Blues Trail around the beautiful seaside town. Details of all ticketed performances together with a brief history of each performer are available at firstname.lastname@example.org
I'd love to see you bucking the trend by being there.
A YEAR IN A LIFE (A REVIEW)
This past twelve months has been a period of significant change in the lives of me and the wife. Having been retired for a while, we couldn't decide where we wanted to live; in Cardiff where we had a history, roots and family or in France in the house we'd bought as a project some 15 years earlier but specifically as a retirement home to see us through our Autumn years. So, Cardiff or Brittany?
We deliberated, discussed, debated, and finally decided.
And moved to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in west Wales.
As with all major life decisions, there were upsides and downsides. On the plus side, we would be moving from an urban area to a country retreat which is a mere ten minute walk from lovely beaches with crystal waters. When the early-morning light is right, you could imagine that the term 'sea green' was created here. The lane on which we now live often has a grassy stripe down the centre, it's so little used, and we see the seasons evolving on the banks - recent drifts of snowdrops gave way to clumps of primroses and wood anemones. Next come the bluebells which are bulking into blankets on the banks and in the adjoining copse. Plus we're now seeing evidence of foxgloves as their leaves begin spreading and seeking the light. Fantastic ferns are preparing to open in the shady areas, their heads resembling ammonites, shepherds' crooks or coiled cobras. And of course - this being Wales - hosts of golden daffodils.
On the minus side of the decision to up sticks, I had to terminate my regular show with GTFM 107.9 where I had produced and presented a dedicated live-to-air Blues show every week for over thirteen years. (For those interested in statistics, it was for many years the only dedicated Blues music show being aired from Wales and was also one of the longest-running radio shows of its type broadcast from the UK). I did try commuting to the station a couple of times but the almost 200 mile round trip meant it just wasn't feasible. So, what to do?
Having already established a relationship with a couple of internet stations over the preceding four years or so, I decided to record a weekly show from home and offer this to them for broadcast. Another station also said they'd like to air the show (although they seem to have subsequently disappeared into the airwaves ethers a few months later) so it seemed like a good way to transition from my FM presence and, hopefully, take a few of my regular listeners on the journey with me.
Thinking that my days of interviewing stars of the Blues world were over, I settled into a routine: We got a rescue dog from a shelter, then every day we walk with him early in the morning, again in the evening and then fit in whatever we can in between.
It is often said that people get bored in retirement and this is what sees them off before they've had the chance to punish the exchequer for a refund of 45 or more years of contributions. I sometimes wish I had the chance to get bored...
Lots of my time every week is spent receiving, cataloguing and sampling new Bluesic from lots of sources - many are long-established contacts made over the years but some are new additions and this allows me a broader range of artists to set out on my aural stall. The weekly show which I record - The Blues Exclusive - generally takes me about four hours so counts as a day when mixed into the dog-walking melange. (Had we decided to move to France, this would have been called Le Blues Exclusif which might not have been grammatically correct). A couple of weeks back, I recorded show #52 - the first anniversary show.
My decision to move away from the bright lights of the big city had made me think that my relationship with Bluesic and its performers might begin to fade into history. Not a bit of it.
As well as being invited to join the organising committee of the long-established Tenby Blues Festival (this year's event is from November 10 - 12), during the year I have interviewed a long-time favourite of mine, former Junior Wells sideman, Albert Castiglia, riding high on his latest solo album 'Big Dog'. I was invited to the home of my hero, Andy Fairweather Low, to record an exclusive interview about his 50 year (so far) musical career. On the same day, I was asked to introduce the band Glas when they recorded their Live album 'Just A Stage We're Going Through' in front of an audience - they surprised me by keeping part of my introduction on the album for which I'm very grateful. I again introduced all of the main stage acts at the Abertillery Rock & Blues Weekend continuing a tradition that has brought me to Abertillery every July since 2004 – (2017 Festival dates July 7 - 9). I also got to chat with Kaz Hawkins just the day after she was selected to represent the United Kingdom at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis (and just this week, she and her band have won the European Blues Challenge 2017 - it's been quite a year for them too)!
I recorded interviews with old friends Lisa Mills and Paul Lamb and chatted briefly with Brits who are currently impacting the international stage, Ian Siegal and Joanne Shaw Taylor, as well as wunderkind Laurence Jones.
Also, during the year, I interviewed American stars Marcia Ball, Dustin Arbuckle of Moreland & Arbuckle, and (possibly one of my biggest scalps to date) Bruce Iglauer, the founder and President of Alligator Records - a label which has probably spawned more Blues musical talent than anyone since the legendary Chess label.
All interviews have either been aired on the Blues Exclusive or will be aired shortly. I also had an hour chatting with another (non-Blues) hero, Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel; our third meeting over the past 12 years.
So, that covers the Bluesical year. What else have I been up to?
Well, I've been regularly attending a 'bread club' where, under expert supervision - but in a very convivial atmosphere - we learn to make breads from across the world. More of that in a soon-to-arrive non-musical Blog which may well include a couple of recipes. I'll also tell you about my art classes, my allotment and assorted experiences over the past year.
But very topically - I've also returned to one of my early loves which is writing... A couple of decades back, I had some sketches aired on television and, like many people, feel that there might be a novel in me somewhere. So, it's under way. Currently, though, my priority is writing a 'treatment' of Elen's Island for submission to television companies. For anyone who doesn't know 'Elen's Island' you've clearly not been following me on Facebook. It's the first childrens' novel written by my elder daughter, Eloise. A second novel 'Gaslight' - this one based in Victorian Cardiff - has just been published. Check out her publications at http://www.eloisewilliams.com/ They're darned good!
Oh! Here's some 'news just in' - The Blues Exclusive has now been included in the schedules of Blues411, a very well established dedicated internet Blues broadcaster (that's almost an anniversary present - see Home page for airtimes) so I'm a very happy Easter bunny. More to come very soon.
Most of my Blogs have at least a passing affiliation with Blues music. This one won't - apart from, perhaps, sharing the fact that Blues music has often been political, sometimes subversively and sometimes totally overtly.
My wife and I have just returned from our first trip to Berlin. Over the years I've read lots about the city; John Le Carre and Len Deighton's novels often featured spy exchanges here as it formed the border between the West and the Eastern Bloc. It was also where David Bowie, my ultimate musical hero, recorded three albums: 'Low', 'Heroes' and 'Lodger'. The visit was to me to be something of a pilgrimage for that reason. For my wife it was the opportunity to visit one of the famed German Christmas markets as well as, for us both, the chance to discover a little of the city's history. What's detailed above was pretty much my knowledge of the city before my visit. Oh! I also recall driving home from London when I worked there in 1989, listening to Radio 4 as they gave us live coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I knew that this was history in the making but hadn't really grasped the intensity of the popular groundswell and the sheer guts and determination shown that day by the East Berliners. I am ashamed to admit that, although so much of Berlin's recent history has taken place in my lifetime, I'd never truly understood or felt the extreme way in which the East Berliners were subjugated by their oppressive and brutal regime.
I got to visit the building housing the Bowie studio and we drank some gluhwein at a Christmas market. But those much-anticipated events became the almost frivolous backdrop to our visit.
I am not a particularly political animal. My head has rarely been raised above the parapet over anything more important than mere office politics. But my brief visit to Berlin has moved me deeply and I feel compelled to write of it.
Berlin was a broken city by the end of the Second World War; allied bombs having ripped it apart. As peace descended, the Allies divided up the city with each claiming parts as their own. There were the American, British and French sectors representing the Western democracies and the Russian sector which transmuted into East Berlin. Historically, this style of division was nothing new following a conflict. We Brits are old hand at it: India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine being just two examples of how dividing a nation of people for political purposes has never, ever worked successfully. Particularly unique in the case of Berlin was the fact that the whole city (including the Western parts) fell within the geographical confines of East Germany.
In August of 1961 - despite assurances a couple of months earlier that it could never happen - the East Germans built a wall dividing the city in two; East and West. This took place so suddenly that whole families, living just streets apart, were prevented from having any further contact. Residents of the East became virtual prisoners with no way of getting to the West unless they could escape the border guards, the dogs and the rifles. Any attempt to escape was a shooting offence. A death sentence.
Expressing an opinion which was regarded as negative to the regime led to people being hauled before the secret police and incarcerated. Or worse. It was an Orwellian nightmare and this is how it thrived. If you cannot freely express your views without fear of retribution then those views are silenced. No criticism of the state is possible and by this, the state becomes all-powerful. Add to this the immense disincentive of certain death if not toeing the party line and you have a controlled, suppressed population.
In Berlin, people risked everything to get to the West. Literally. Many tried. And many died.
I think all of our children should be taught about Berlin to give them some insight into how fortunate we are to live in a free society. For adults, I would recommend a visit and would suggest the following:
'The Gate', a hundred metres from the Brandenburg Gate gives 300 years of Berlin's history in 20 tear-jerking minutes and for me would be the starting point for any future tour. Next would be the 'Checkpoint Charlie Museum' which is a humbling yet fascinating experience. Then, most certainly, the 'Topography of Terror' which documents the rise of the Third Reich and the Nazis which might provide a cautionary note to those who object to racial harmony.
Sit for a moment and consider this. (Impossible though it is). Try to place yourself in the position of an East Berliner. What if your own town or city were divided so you could no longer travel freely to see a sister, a friend, a favoured shop or restaurant? Any attempt to do so would lead to your certain death or, at the least, imprisonment. How would it be if you could not express discontent with the progress or otherwise of Brexit? For those in the States, how would you feel if unable to criticise your President or President-elect? These are things we all take for granted in a free society. We can all offer our opinion. It is inconceivable that it should be otherwise.
But this freedom brings with it a solemn responsibility. To ensure that our future remains free, we must not single out parts of our society to deride or to treat differently. Dividing a nation, as history has so often proved, can lead to its downfall. We should have the same respect for the rights and views of people of all colours, creeds and political affiliation- we may not agree but we should offer them the opportunity to state their views. Marginalising any parts of society is a recipe for disaster and inhumanity. I find it alarming that the people who voted for Brexit are being labelled as racists by parts of the British media. My own conversations lead me to believe that most voted against remaining in the European Community because they feared the loss of sovereignty and the continued absorption of independent thought and national identity being sucked away by the expensive behemoth with its petty rules and regulations for every aspect of our lives. The 'Remoaners' (What a derisive and divisive term!) complain that they have not been advised what Brexit actually means. Well, let's face it: no-one truly knows. This is unprecedented in the whole of history so I imagine that there are politicians, diplomats and civil servants all over Europe scratching their heads and wondering "How the hell do we sort this out?" But it will, in time, become clear how the future will be and that future will be democratically arrived at.
I have to say this: I was moved to tears several times on my visit to Berlin but my overwhelming feeling on coming away was of awe at the sheer will of man to overcome oppression; the strength of humanity to overcome adversity. There are clear lessons here for us all if we value true democracy.
Anyway, that was my political rant. Visit Berlin if you get the chance. I'll certainly return there.
Now I'd like to finish with a message for all my listeners (and readers). A very schmaltzy opening script (reminiscent, perhaps, of a Swedish porn film "I'm your TV repair man. " "Ooh, come inside...") leads to a great song from David Bowie and Bing Crosby.
Wishing you all you would wish yourselves for the festive season and 2017.