interviews

Rising Star: Warner Records' Luna Cohen-Solal

The biz's brightest new talents tell their stories. This week it's the turn of Warner Records digital marketing manager, Luna Cohen-Solal. How did you get your job at Warner? “Someone from HR got in touch with me via LinkedIn! I came ...

The Aftershow: Jamie Cullum

This month marks 10 years of Jamie Cullum’s Jazz Show on BBC Radio 2. Here, he recalls his early days as an artist, interviewing heroes like Paul Simon, Wynton Marsalis and Van Morrison, plus some of the misconceptions about jazz. Oh, and the time he ended up at Clint Eastwood’s house... Being on radio was a lot harder than I anticipated… “I don’t want to sound too casual about it, but I started it as a fun adventure. I certainly never struggled to talk about music in a passionate way, but feeling like being on the radio was natural took a long time. Musicians often think of jumping into radio but, actually, being a broadcaster is a different skill. It’s about drawing people in, particularly if you’re not playing Top 40 bangers. When you’re presenting music that is more on the niche side of things, it’s all about making people want to listen before you press play. I’ve always been a mixtape maker, I’ve always been someone who likes to communicate about music I love. In fact, I remember my PR would beg me to talk more about my music in my early interviews, because I was too busy talking about other people’s!” I actually prefer being the person asking the questions... “I remember Michael Parkinson saying to me that it’s all about asking questions that you’re intrigued to know the answers to. For example, everyone warned me about what it would be like to interview Van Morrison. And, actually, I’d been listening through his albums throughout the lead up to interviewing him and his lyrics are so dense with imagery, I just thought, ‘I wonder what he’s reading at the moment?’ I asked him that question and it took him completely off guard, in a good way… I have gone in nervous, but generally the really great people don’t need you to have a PHD in their B-sides, they just need you to be engaged in the music. Paul Simon and Wynton Marsalis were two I felt really nervous about beforehand because I absolutely love their music and know they are real scholars and wordsmiths. Thinking about what they brought to the table made me feel quite intimidated, but I was well-prepared and they appreciated the care I had taken.” Ten years ago, jazz was perceived as being… “Totally beard-scratchy and non-inviting. One of the reasons why I never really took to that feeling is because I discovered so much jazz through hip-hop and the culture of record collecting, it always felt more modern. In terms of the stereotype now, I think there’s still a bit of that feeling that it might be a bit beard-scratchy and a bit up itself sometimes, or that there’s no tune or whatever. I think a lot of younger jazz musicians still enjoy joking about The Fast Show Jazz Club sketch, because the fact is it’s just funny, and we’ve all been to a jazz gig that’s a bit like that… [laughs].” I self-produced my first album for £480 in a village hall… “Actually, it may have been slightly less than that. Mind you, that’s quite a lot of money by today’s standards. At the time, I was at university, knee-deep in student loan debt, and making my money three or four nights a week by playing piano in jazz, covers and wedding bands. I was living in student accommodation with five or six other people in about the dirtiest house you’ve ever seen. I was really happy to have created something from nothing, and it was a strange experience because we literally just had two to three hours to record it. We just played and barely listened back to it while we made it because we just wanted to get it done. My plan was just to have something extra to sell at gigs, it wasn’t supposed to be a demo tape or try to get a record deal. In the pre-internet era, the idea of being a musician for a living was so abstract because I grew up in the middle of nowhere.” The most surreal moment of my career was… “When I wrote the theme for [2008 film] Gran Torino and we recorded it at Clint Eastwood’s house… Sitting next to him and recording it and him loving this music I’d written, that was an amazing thing. He’s a big jazz fan, which is part of the reason I managed to get him on my radio show as well – he used to hang out with Miles Davis! Again, he was another one of those stars where people would say he’s not easy to interview, but he really loves to talk about music.”

Indie venues adopt 'guerilla tactics' to stop closures and demand industry help

The coronavirus pandemic is threatening the UK’s grassroots venues with a spate of closures that could take decades to recover from, according to Music Venue Trust (MVT) CEO Mark Davyd. “The situation could not be any more serious, the next stage from where we are now is complete, total shutdown and the loss of hundreds of venues,” Davyd told Music Week. “We’re not on the edge of a cliff, we’ve fallen off and are looking for a parachute.” With the UK still in lockdown as the virus continues to spread, the MVT last week launched the Grassroots Music Venue Crisis Fund (GMVCF), with the aim of raising £1 million, a figure Davyd said will facilitate the fight to save venues threatened with closure. Frank Turner and Ferris & Sylvester have already organised online fundraising gigs for specific venues (The Joiners, Nambucca and The Leadmill) as part of an MVT initiative to encourage artists to play virtual gigs to save the venues they love. The MVT surveyed 670 venues last month, with 114 reportedly secure for eight weeks and 556 threatened by imminent closure. Last year, the organisation worked to save 96 venues from shutting down, succeeding in 91 cases with five still ongoing. “As a whole music industry, we really have to consider what that means and take the appropriate action,” Davyd said. “This isn’t a crisis that would last in the grassroots music venue sector for three, six or nine months, it will impact for decades. There’s no likelihood whatsoever that people are going to start opening new venues after this lot close down. It would take years to bounce back, if it ever happened.” Davyd said that most of the 7,000 full-time staff in the sector have been furloughed “if they’re lucky” and he’s already seeing the repercussions. “I wrote to one venue offering them a virtual gig with an artist that would probably raise them the money they need and got a bounceback email saying there was no one there to answer,” he said. But Davyd believes that, with enough industry help, the MVT can win the fight. “Most of these venues can be saved for £10,000-20,000,” he said. “We have an ambition that not one venue will be lost in this crisis.” Davyd is hopeful that online fundraising performances, alongside industry donations to the GMVCF, can help save each venue under threat. “With the size of organisation the MVT is, we couldn’t possibly do this on our own. Without the support of the rest of the music industry, it’s complete fantasy land stuff, it can’t be done,” he said. “Labels, streaming services and the live music industry, everybody’s got to pay attention.” The MVT is already working with Independent Venue Week (IVW) on the issue. IVW founder Sybil Bell is urging venues to start crowdfunding and called for funding from “high net-worth individuals”. “Venues are already going into liquidation. Once they close, they won’t reopen,” Bell told Music Week. “Property developers are waiting to buy up buildings at knock-down prices and convert them – this has been happening for years, but the situation we are in now means buildings in key locations will be up for grabs at a fraction of the cost of a few months ago. Without serious backing, many more will close. Thousands of people will be without jobs, artists and crew will have nowhere to learn their craft or build a fanbase.” Bell noted that promoters are struggling, too. Danni Brownsill, promoter at Stoke’s Sugarmill, said the venue’s 26-year-history is under serious threat. All full-time staff have been furloughed. “While this is a global crisis that is much bigger than us, it’s awful to contemplate the impact of losing two or three months of live shows and club nights,” Brownsill said. “Our team is like a family. It’s hard to see the impact this is having, especially on freelancers such as sound engineers. It’s definitely going to be a rocky year. At the moment we have absolutely zero income as a business, yet we still have outgoings.” Many in the sector have highlighted the resilience of grassroots venues, but Nick Stewart, who runs Edinburgh’s Sneaky Pete’s, a Music Week Award winner in 2019, says that isn’t enough. “This isn’t just a case of businesses failing, these are cultural institutions that have mostly survived without any public funding thus far, but they can’t carry on in these conditions,” he said. “Urgent help is needed.” At The Windmill in Brixton, South London, booker Tim Perry says the coronavirus crisis hit when the venue was “on a roll”. Anna Calvi starred during IVW and Perry booked a stage for The Windmill at SXSW. That, like all his upcoming shows, was cancelled. Domino act Sorry (pictured) had their launch gig for debut album 925 pulled last month. “The Windmill holds a big place in our hearts, it’s very sad to think how much venues will struggle from this. They’re very important for keeping culture alive,” said Sorry singer Asha Lorenz. Perry said the impact will be “hard to gauge until we get whatever government aid we’ve been promised”. “We’re a tiny operation, so hopefully being quite lean will see us through,” he added. “Right now, the response we’re getting is that people can’t wait until gigs are happening again and they can have an actual pint in a real glass. We like to think that there’s an active community around the venue that will help.” But everyone contacted by Music Week said that the sector needs more than just local support to survive . “Is it going to take a virus that could wipe out the grassroots circuit to make the industry finally wake up to its collective importance?” asked Sugarmill co-owner and Kilimanjaro Live promoter Steve Tilley. “British music faces a very dark future if we can’t keep our grassroots venues afloat. The MVT have argued this point until they are blue in the face and yet the response of the BPI, major labels, publishers, the arena and theatre owners, ERA and most of the other trade bodies has been muted or platitude-filled at best. It’s time we all stepped up to the plate.’’

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