Friday, June 26, 2009

Let The Earth Bear Witness

OK... this is important.

And, its a message to anyone out there who reads this... please, watch and then forward the you-tube link across to anyone / everyone you know.

Its a video montage of stills from whats going on in Iran set to music by The Waterboys' Mike Scott utlising words by the great Irish poet, WB Yeats.

Its incredibly powerful and moving... not easy to watch but... maybe thats the point.

"Let The Earth Bear Witness is inspired by the amazing scenes of hundreds of thousands of Iranian people standing up for their rights and freedom. I took the words from two old Yeats poems, in which he was writing about Irish freedom fighters. But his words apply to any freedom fighters, anytime, anywhere in the world." Mike Scott.


They shall be remembered for ever
They shall be alive for ever
They shall be speaking for ever
The people shall hear them for ever

Let the sea bear witness
Let the wind bear witness
Let the earth bear witness
Let the stars bear witness!

American Pie

Most people can remember where they were or what they were doing when news broke of a major icon’s passing.

In my lifetime, that’d include Kennedy being assassinated; Hendrix choking on his own vomit; HRH The Queen Mother sipping her last Martini; Elvis not making it out of his ensuite bathroom; Monroe – was she, wasn’t she murdered; Sinatra no longer able to run with the Rat Pack; Marley succumbing to cancer and Lennon being shot outside the Dakota Building in New York City, his adopted hometown.

And, Michael Jackson’s adopted home – given that he had been stripped of so much a few years back – one rental mansion after another in California. And, there’s a strangely quirky comic-book parallel – in that Orson Well’s Citizen Kane died fictionally and cinematically in pretty much similar circumstances; alone in his own never-never-land, warped of mind, corrupt and corrupted, fighting a losing battle with himself and long-since removed from the genius who’d created his own kingdom.

All over the globe, Michael Jackson’s death reverberates; the whys and the wherefores, the how and if, what might have been and what was – just a few of the subjects uppermost on everyone’s lips. From classrooms to chat shows; from news rooms to blog-sites – the tributes pour forth and the debate rages.

Not least over the legacy that he left behind.

But… what, precisely, did he bequest the world?

Its probably fair to say that over the past fifteen or twenty years, Jackson became a caricature of himself; exhibit-A in the celebrity zoo – modern day music’s Elephant Man equivalent.

Behavioural issues relating to his being a child-man; friendships with chimpanzees and snakes; the wealth of allegations; abused and abuser; the court cases; the fortune(s) earned and squandered; the list goes on and on.

However, underneath the flawed exterior lay the inner-talent that can, justifiably, entitle him to the title of supreme artiste of his generation.

Because, at the root of it all is one, single thing – Michael Jackson created the soundtrack to a generation.

So… how does this fit into AlphaBetaMusica..?

Every TV news-cast has, over the last few hours, been reaching out to people who had touched the hem of the garment; from Rabbis to Rappers; from lawyers to tax avoidance authorities; from medication experts to a-z list celebrities. If they can’t get them in the studio, they want them on the ‘phone with the prime requisite being… make sure your people can supply a picture of you cuddling up to Jacko. Illustrate to our viewers that yes, you knew (no matter how fleetingly) the man-child himself.

All of which is diametrically opposed to what lays behind the initiative that is AlphaBetaMusica.

What is of interest here is the other story; of what really happened behind the musical talent.

And, in this respect, only one commentator – that I’ve found thus far – has chosen to hint at this aspect; Richard Williams in The Guardian who disseminates the music within a crop of phrases in amongst a few paragraphs that are stylistically way beyond anything I could hope to write.

More importantly though, he uses his own first hand experience of seeing The Jackson Five perform a showcase at London’s (now defunct) Talk Of The Town to a handful of carefully selected media folk back in the seventies and how he and the late – and equally legendary – John Peel sat together, awestruck – at which… we shared looks of amazement as the group went through the fully choreographed routines of a Motown act, providing a platform on which Jackson demonstrated every ounce of the gifts and the potential that would make him, by the end of the decade, the biggest attraction in the world of showbusiness, the star of stage shows of previously unimaginable lavishness.

What makes this significant..?

It’s the fact that there was a carefully orchestrated ‘machine’ behind the talent. Just as there was when the HIStory album was launched via a colossal effigy of Jackson; a statue that took about a month to create and which was towed up the River Thames right into central London to announce the arrival of his new record. The man who, on Sony’s behalf who ‘choreographed’ all of that – Jonathan Morrish. And, there are a hundred other examples – the people behind the scenes – from whom generations to come can glean knowledge.

Michael Jackson totally revolutionised ‘pop culture’; he didn’t just re-invent the rule book – he threw it out the window, trashing racial lines in the process and, under the tutelage of Quincy Jones, gave birth to three astonishing albums; each unbound by restrictions of race, ethnicity or genre – Thriller, Off The Wall & Bad.

Each, in its own way not only set the music meets image bar at a new height but… cemented his place as a generation’s role model, arguably the first of his type for young, black America – and long before Obama came along and transformed a nation.

And, it is the underbelly of all of that which – to AlphaBeta – is the important part of the whole. Those are the socio-musical hows and the whys, the whats and the wherefores that matter.

In under twenty-four hours, the outpouring of emotion has already reached Diana-levels; obligatory televised shots of grief-stricken, tear-stained faces. Commentators across every available medium dissecting and unraveling, dismembering and scrutinizing every tiny detail of a life less private, trying (and failing) to simplify a life that bred new meaning to the word complicated.

Nothing is that simple – indeed and as with so many true greats, the genius was (is) tinged with a modicum of madness. The tittle-tattle that ultimately became central to the circus-drama will, I hope, eventually evaporate; people trying to figure out the meaning to and of his life – meaningless in the greater scheme of things, because those ‘opinions’ can only ever be informed by the individual interpretating from their own particular stand-point.

The legacy is the music.

And, for AlphaBetaMusica – its what lay below the surface of the grooves.

Lest we forget.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pull Up To The Bumper (12” dub version)

Pop music is the classical music of now – Paul McCartney, at the time of the release of Sgt Pepper, Summer 1967.

The ring-tone volume has been set at a level that’d scare someone breaking concrete paving slabs with a jack-hammer and its intrusive screech splits the air – all William Tell, bow, arrow and Granny Smith apple-like – twelve rows behind where I’m sitting.

Within a few moments, the ill-informed fashion statement that comprises this half-mast-trouser-wearing, semi-mohican’d hairdo has answered his incoming call and trebled the decibel count; within thirty seconds he’s engrossed in a full-scale argument in which every third word is an expletive.

To all within earshot – and that’d include most of the municipal borough of Cheltenham and many of the large, deliciously green, swathes of the Cotswolds – his hapless co-respondent would, similarly, seem to be of argumentative bent.

Twelve seats to the fore, I’m beginning to wonder if he can shout his profanities any louder?

Quite clearly this self-important style-declaration, this arbiter of tasteful attire – who’s breathing and snorting as hard as a Derby winner through his heavily-studded, spotty, nose – doesn’t give a toss that their ‘domestic dispute’ is invading the personal space of a bus-load of passengers.

Privacy… discretion… maturity… tact… diplomacy… prudence… good judgement – oh heavens no; after all this is the year of our Lord, two-thousand-and-nine in England’s green and (un)pleasant…

Fairly obviously, it is time to reach for the trusty i-Touch and the little white ear-phones.

My silver-surfer kicks into life, ears and ‘phones get nicely acquainted. And yet the honeyed tone of Gary Christian within the long mix of ‘Words’ blessed by its cathedral-like wall of sound turned to maximum is absolutely no match for the missing link, seated twelve rows aft.

Is this a three minute argument or the full half hour?

Time to delve deeper into the bag of tricks – now is the moment to attach the super-deluxe, heavily cushioned Bose beauties to each ear. The manufacturer’s promise being that no sound will escape to annoy anyone close by – equals, no sound will get in either.

The people at Bose do not (in this particular instance) speak with forked tongues.

Offering up my very nastiest (best) evil eye, I glance back at mister angry; to all intents and purposes he appears like a deaf-mute, his mouth making fish-shapes in a now-silent world, his facial expressions contorting like a salmon out of water breathing it’s last.

Finally, clad in earphones that protect me from his entirely selfish, self-seeking, belligerent and aggressively argumentative world, I’m free.

Or am I..?

Since, in a Calendar Girl kinda way, its dawned on me that we’re getting frightfully close to the grunters and groaners who masquerade as ladies tennis professionals – yes, the All England Championships at Wimbledon are almost upon us. And, for those of you watching in black and white, the pink is just behind the blue.

Is it just me who thinks this nonsense has got out of hand now? I mean, this whack the ball and howl like a stuck banshee at the same time ethic has been part and parcel since 1992 when Monica Seles won her only Wimbledon final. I’m not taking anything away from that (or any lady’s) achievement; just wondering why its taken seventeen years or so for people to get pissed off with the incessant bawling… or is that testament to the famous stiff upper lip of the British? I wonder.

Anyway… apparently, sounds over eighty decibels are considered hazardous. Which begs the question, will we – sooner rather than later – see some form of legal action brought against the groaners on the grass under health and safety regulations?

For example, Michelle Larcher de Brito’s squeals, groans and otherwise porn-film-friendly ‘noises’ have been measured at one hundred and nine decibels. Maria Sharapova regularly breaks the one hundred barrier while the Williams’ sisters exceed the eighty-count by sounding like they’re going through advanced labour pain with every serve and volley; their bass-line hits make it appear as if the epidural has yet to take effect.

All of which proves my theory as to why Apple invented its i-Pod range in the first place and precisely why the likes of Bose designed proper headphones: it is to stop people like me from committing actual bodily harm on egotistical twats like this bloke on the bus… or the train or… wherever they may… or tennis players whose verbose method of play is more suited to y-shaped position porn-actresses.

And so, whilst we’re on the subject… how about these blokes who (also) wear their trousers (pants if you reside in the Americas) below the waistline? A joyous vision, this new variant on builder’s bum, wouldn’t you say; a treat upon the eyes, hugely attractive and all that? But why… why?

Actually, I’ve started to wonder if this is really an anti-Simon Cowell movement; he, of course, famed for wearing the trouser quite a bit higher than traditional waist-level. Apparently not – it emanates from cell block H.

Prisoners are not allowed to wear belts – due, fairly obviously, to the inherent risk of suicide and so, in that trousers handed out to the incarcerated were often one, two or even three sizes too large, this led to the ‘sagging’ look.

That’s all fine and dandy and entirely logical. However, it appears that once prisoners were released they continued this fashion (?) trend to show that not only had they been put behind bars but that… they were… hard. (if you come from Liverpool that’d be well-‘ard).

Terrific eh… wearing your trousers half-way down your arse … signifies you to be… hard. Like blokey-bloke yelling in to his cell-‘phone on the bus… right?

Ok, lets look at a few synonyms for that particular word, shall we? Firm… solid… stiff… rigid… tough… unbreakable… durable… inflexible.

Well, what do you think, eh? I think it just publicly states that you (trouser-wearing-bloke at half-mast) look like a total turd.

Almost, but not quite as irritating as the mosquitoes that have been feasting on the Storey flesh these last few nights; I’m plagued every single Summer by these blighters – in times past having been told its due to the fact that I consist of ‘sweet flesh’. I don’t think that at all; I subscribe to the view that mosquito X – bandits at 10 o’clock, Roger… chocs away – sees the snoring-Storey body whilst hovering above my recumbent form and, basically, thinks… yummy… dinner.

Crikey, you’re a happy camper today, aren’t you?

Actually, I am.

My pair of seedlings are growing rather well – in fact, one has now flowered its first flower while the other’s budding beautifully.

Yes, its been that kind of last two weeks or so; a period of time that’d be marked as alpha-plus.

Been interviewed; been interviewing; have walked, bussed and trained from one meeting to another; drunk more coffee than is probably good for me and been to the bank too.

You have..? But you don’t like banks very much, do you? This is absolutely correct – and a direct throw-back to when I unwittingly achieved my very first overdraft.

The bollocking issued by be-suited bank-manager-bloke that day scared the bejaysus out of me and scarred me for life; I was ten shillings and threepence overdrawn and he decided to treat me like a criminal; this being not that long after the Great Train Robbery which saw Ronnie Biggs (pre-Sex Pistols) get banged up for a very long time indeed.

Mind you, Ronnie and his cohorts had made off with sack-fulls of cash and killed someone in the process; my error was over-investing in a newly imported, floor length, Afghan coat. Dedicated follower of fashion – you bet and then some; I was the only person within a twenty mile radius with a coat that utterly reeked of ‘cool’ at Everest level.

The fact that it stank to the high heavens of ancient, unwashed, far-away, fatty mutton when it got rained upon was, to my adolescent mind, neither here nor there.

Totally groovy… and ever so slightly overdrawn.

Maybe I should have gone in to that particular bank meeting wearing my trousers half-way down my backside. This would have told the be-suited bank-manager-bloke I was as tough as nails. Wouldn’t it?

However, the fashion of the day dictated skin-tight, emerald green, crushed velvet loon-pants, a loosely ruffled buttermilk granddad-style, three buttoned shirt under the aforementioned Afghan coat and, its entirely possible that my chosen attire might have had a direct bearing on proceedings.

Be that as it may, the bank that I’ve been to recently isn’t like that. No, this isn’t what one would term a High Street bank. It’s a place inside of which one only goes if invited and, better still, introduced. I have a bit of previous in this respect as, quite a few years ago, I trod the Italian marble tiles of their well appointed atrium once before – a rattling good surface on which the sexy, sexy boots clickety-clack in a most satisfying manner indeed.

That particular time, ultra-connected-lady (she should be, given her antecedence) and self arrived primed by a great deal of strong coffee courtesy a number of caffeine-emporiums en-route, marched straight up to the entirely discreet reception desk that was overhung by a good deal of flora and fauna to inform the lady presiding over this throwback to Kew Gardens that we had an appointment with the Chairman. Not, the Chair-person, not the Chair… the Chairman – this is a bank which conducts its business in a refreshingly old-fashioned manner.

A uniformed lackey ushers us up stairs and along corridors before pausing outside a vast, highly polished, oak door. The knock is as discreet as his approach is deferential. The door opens on well oiled-hinges and clicks shut almost as silently as we both sink into the carpeted interior.

The air is blue-thick with cigarette smoke.

After being introduced, coffee is ordered and poured into bone china cups as pre-meeting niceties ensue.

With cigarette ash raining like so many grey snowflakes onto his shirt-cuff; we’re informed by our genial host – his, instantly recognizable, wizened face criss-crossed by so many age-furrows a plough-boy of old would have been proud – that he’s only taken the position conditionally – I was asked to return to run the place but told them (one assumes the board though it’s not mentioned) I only would if allowed to smoke. They gave in and I have this office. Noticing that we’re both quivering with nicotine withdrawl, he says. I say… care for a gasper..? It takes one to know one.

During the course of the next hour, I was treated to an insight into the ways things would be – the revolution was at its zenith and everyone I knew was getting carried away with arranging loads of noughts into satisfying rows. The creased face in front of me – one as much used to Yorkshire grouse moors and duck shooting near Peebles as boardrooms within high-end financial institutions the world over – could see the future (where most of us couldn’t) and declaimed it.

Way back then, he was firm in his view that it’d crash to a large degree but would – eventually – rise up in a different manner ultimately creating a new business model the basis of which being that it had to financially sustain itself.

And, he wasn’t far wrong.

This time around, the (non-smoking) office I’m led to is underground; not quite as plush as before although the coffee has, without doubt, been hand-ground and the sugar lumps are offered via silver tongs – just as they were some years back. Unsurprisingly, the cups are bone china. Old world courtesy, charm and… discretion.

An hour later and the people I’ve come to see have listened, asked questions, had those questions answered and… when people like that say they’ll be in touch, one knows that lip-service isn’t being paid. Time to head to the next appointment.

And, a matter of hours later, one nagging worry in my head about the monetisation of ABM has been answered. Now, by monetisation, I don’t mean the seeding – I mean the physical method of ABM earning as well as paying out; the model that I’ve worked out in my head (and on paper) yet which, up until now, I couldn’t find a way of making work.

The bearded-wonder who’s been drinking two glasses of orange juice to my one (any more coffee and I really would have astral-projected) has explained that my idea isn’t as batty as I’d hitherto imagined and… this is his particular expertise; we draw maps and diagrams on random bits of paper – me by way of asking is this, that or the next thing possible – him by way of illustratively explaining how it works, why it works and… yes, it works.

Time to hit an internet café as the London Tube strike bites. Getting about has become twenty-degrees more problematical with the capital’s underground system pretty much shut down. There are queues of people waiting on buses; not being entirely conversant with what their routes are, there are times when one hopes for the best in order to get a bit closer to where one’s headed. Even more fun (sic) is when one of them breaks down in a hissing, gushing haze of diesel-smoke; the platoon of passengers disembarking to listen to a Russian immigrant berating the hapless Jamaican driver.

In amongst which a few other key things occur, all in fairly rapid succession.

Firstly, this bunch of music that’s been burning a hole in my bag; everyone who has heard what I’ve let them hear has got it, yes the songs are that good. But, within that, talking to people I’ve had – without revealing too much – my own, shall we say, shopping list. After a couple of false starts the top of that shopping list returns the call, the appointment I’ve been after is made and, a few days later, we convene south of London Bridge one sunshiney afternoon.

Ninety minutes later we both emerge into the late afternoon London heat-haze to go our separate ways having made a plan to meet again in a few days time; I’ve played the songs, the reaction was exactly what I’d hoped for, I’ve been told – yes… the songs really are that good and so… from my perspective, cautious optimism for proceeding to second base has become the order of the day.

Then, quickly following on those heels, is the news that ABM is now out there, in the public domain. The interview that I gave a week or so ago to the editor of Music Week has been published. Hence the need (above) for an internet café in order to download the pdf of the article that they’ve chosen to spread over two pages.

For so many years, I’d go about my daily duties, arranging interviews for person X with publication Y, occasionally catching subject X’s nervousness with regard to the end (published) result – had they said the right thing, would they have been quoted in the manner in which they’d wanted to be… all that sort of stuff.

Now, the boot is on the other foot; and I find myself approaching the download with a fair degree of trepidation. What if it’s a lousy piece, what if I really have been mis-quoted, what if… oh shit, push jensen button Z and… lets see what they’ve said about what began as a germ of an idea conjured up in a French field via a long-distance call with Tony the Greek and which, until fairly recently, has just been called Project-X.

So, lets see what one of the two most important music trade publications in the world has to say about AlphaBetaMusica, shall we? .

Its very much ok… in fact… its fantastic. I read it through twice, then a third time… whew – this is somewhat to the upside of as good as it gets… its all accurate… yes, those are the things I said and they’re all in context… crikey… this is… a bit bloody good.

Fire it over to those within the inner sanctum and, as the weird Arabian music plays away in the background – yes, it was a strange internet café to say the least – within minutes the notes flood back in; this is the public start of the initiative that I’ve been striving for and other believers had hoped for.

Within the course of the next few days I’ve struck further gold-dust; three – subject to contract – deals with separate entities as 3rd party strategic alliances.

Entities… hmmm, I suppose one could call them that – and nope, I’m not about to reveal exactly who, right now; lets just say these are serious, dormant at present, multi-year archives that will – over time – combine with ABM’s own, self generated content to provide a serious educational resource.

And that, self-generated content… how’s that coming along? Pretty well, I’ve been film-interviewing a wide diversity of people over the past wee while now; generally speaking utilising similar questions but, of course, tailored to each individual subject. The library of content is growing apace.

And, down that particular alley-way I’ve met up with a number of truly mesmerizing characters; one of whom really bears mention here – Bill Holland… a name not that widely know yet a man with career history than most would give their eye-teeth for. Amongst many other things, he’s the fella who was sought out by John Lennon and Brian Epstein when they were shopping for imports at HMV Oxford Street and he has a truly astonishing in-depth insight into record retailing on both sides of the Atlantic from the earliest days; and thats a small fraction of the knowledge he has - and which he's happy to impart to ABM's burgeoning content library.

My pink half of the drainpipe… you know what? I may very well paint it blue.