Saturday, 12 February 2022

The Saturday list #337 - The ten most influential people in the London music scene (and a few thoughts on the industry)

 As regular readers will know, music is a central part of my life. I run Londons largest independent music rehearsal studios, so I get to see and hear what is going on at grassroots level. It is important to know the trends in music and to ensure that we are in tune with what London is doing. Twenty five years ago, our studios were full of aspiring indie rock bands, all wanting to be the next Oasis or Blur. Much ahs changed. Guitar based bands are not in vogue. Shows such as Pop Idol, the Voice and X Factor have changed the industry beyond recognition. This has had positive and negative impacts on the business. The most positive is the massive increase in female artists. Just about all of the major British artists to emerge in the last fifteen or so years have been female singers, those such as Amy and Adele are undoubtedly massive talents. The down side is that the concept of 'developing artists' has more or less gone out of the window. Labels used to allow artists to find their feet and develop over several albums. Now they want instant hits and move on to the next artist on the conveyor belt if this doesn't happen. 

As we emerge from the pandemic, it seems likely that the music industry will go through an inevitable period of change. Sadly, we will have lost some of our venues, artists have spent the best part of two years not performing. I wnet to see Echo and The Bunnymen at the Roundhouse on Monday and it almost seemed that the audience had forgotten what to do. It was a great gig, but the atmosphere was a bit odd. Many artists, with time on their hands, will have come up with new material. Generally the first couple of albums by artists who write their own material are the best, simply because they have a few years worth of music that they put a long time putting together and honing in smaller venues. By the time they get the third album, it's all been used. In between touring, it is difficult to keep the standard up. I fully expect some absolutely cracking music to emerge. 

Which brings us to todays list. When I started think about this, I realised just how much the industry has changed. In the 60's and 70's, there were band managers who were nearly as famous as the artists they managed. Brian Epstein was well known as the Beatles manager, as was Andrew Loog-Oldham who managed the Stones. Malcolm McClaren was almost a household name as manager of the Sex Pistols. Such celebrity managers are most definitely a thing of the past, as are the stunts they would pull to ensure that their artists were in the public eye. The 70's, 80s and 90's also saw celebrity label owners. They were not musicians, but people such as Dave Robinson at Stiff Records and Alan McGhee at Creation records were well known. Artists would sign to their labels as they felt this would bestow credibility on them. Lee Thompson of Madness told me that the reason that they signed to Stiff was because Dave Robinson took them to the pub and they instantly knew they could work with him. Apparently there were better offers on the table, but they knew they would prosper on Stiff. We don't have such figures anymore. So who are the important figures in the London music scene? In no particular order, here is my selection. 

1. Jool Holland.

Every major artist to emerge in the UK in the last 20 years has had their breakthrough moment on the Jools Holland show. It is alost unique with its eclectic selection of artists and genres. It is almost a throwback. I don't think anyone can call themselves a genuine music fan if they don't watch the Jools Holland show. 

2. Gary Crowley.

Crowley's show on BBC Radio London has been the first to play just about every indie artist over the past few decades. Crowley is one of the good guys and has always made a point of supporting new artists. His show is well worth a listen if you like great music.

3. Robert Elms.

Another BBC London legend. Elms has been at the heart of London's music culture. Whilst Crowley is slanted towards the Indie sound, Elms is more into Americana, Jazz, Blues and anything that is generally less rocky. The first London Radio presenter to play Amy Winehouse. When his show was a daily event, pre pandemic, he'd have artists in the studio every day playing live slots, many on a beaten up old piano he claims he'd rescued from a skip!

4. Jess Iszatt

Jess presents the BBC Introducing slot. This gives airtime to new artists. Jess is an up and coming presenter and I can only see her influence growing

5 & 6  David and Carrie Grant

These two North London vocal coaches present the BBC Radio London Saturday morning show and also feature new artists. David is also a MOBO award wining singer, Carrie is a reporter on the One Show. They are also highly respected vocal coaches and have helped many singers develop. 

7. Sean Flowerdew

Sean has run the London International Ska Festival for a couple of decades now. This brings some of the finest reggae and ska acts to London, as well as organising Ska cruises on the Thames. Everyone from Desmond Dekker to Georgie Fame has played at the Festival. This year we will see Ska Legends The Pioneers play the festival. In my opinion Sean is the finest independent festival promoter around.

8. Peggy Conlon

Peggy is the Landlady at The Dublin Castle at Camden Town. The Dublin Castle is perhaps the most Iconic pub venue in London. Peggy's husband Alo recognised that music would bring the punters in and they never looked back. Alo died in 2009 but thankfully Peggy has kept the place going and it is still at the beating heart of the London Music Scene. I doubt too many artists have emerged from London who haven't played at the Castle at some point.

9. Gaz Mayall

Gaz's rockin blues club is a legendary music club. Based currently at St Moritz at 159 Wardour St. Gaz also has his own band The Trojans and his own label Gaz's Rockin Records, who's first release was by the Potato 5, a London Ska band who I loved so much I went to see them play in Amsterdam! To me, Gaz sums up the spirit of the underground London music scene. 

10. Lee Thompson

Lee is the sax player with Madness. Most people know Madness for their quirky Ska music, but there is so much more to the band. For decades, they've been organising Madstock festivals. These are not simply Madness gigs, they deliver amazing acts, DJ's etc. The last one we went to in 2019 saw Ziggy Marley, Paul Weller and Jerry Dammers on Stage, as well as a DJ tent with the likes of Don Letts. The thing I love about Madness is that they always ensure value for money and a great night. However there is more to Lee Thompson. Whereas many stars would put their feet up, Lee also plays sax with his son Daley's band, The Silencerz, at various North London pubs, just for the love of it. He put together The Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra and got Ska legend Bitty Mclean to sing on their version of Desmond Dekkers Fu-Manchu. He's produced a film of his life and a book recently. What I love about Madness and Lee in particular is that they are what a band should be, a celebration and an organisation that puts something back. They've given dozens of artists a leg up over the years. Long may it continue. 

I worked with Lee to help him produce the video for Fu Manchu. It was filmed at Mill Hill Music Complex Studios and at Mill Hill Services Club! Enjoy

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