Category Archives: Pabs General music thoughts

Our influences. Radiohead Pabs

 

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As I write this blog Radiohead have just shared their 9th album, a Moon Shaped Pool on Spotify. Thom Yorke once described Spotify as the “last desperate fart of a dying corpse” and pulled his solo work and Radiohead’s post parlophone albums from the streaming service.

So what has this got to do with Weird Decibels blog? I want to  explain the influence that Radiohead have had on our band.

Around 1994 95 Radiohead had already released the single ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ my father didn’t seem to care much for the record so he kindly handed me the vinyl and I ran upstairs and played it.

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Anyone Can Play Guitar was hugely influential for a young guy trying to learn guitar. Then there was the song Creep.

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Weird had already formed when Radiohead’s 2nd album The Bends had surfaced and this more accomplished album would eventually see me experimenting with delay pedals and the structure of songs. It also opened up the possibility of mixing acoustics with electric guitars. That would be Firkin Outburst then.

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Greg and I went to see them at the Barrowlands towards the end of the Bends tour. Perhaps one of the greatest gigs I had ever been at (I think Greg would agree). Witnessing Thom Yorke jumping around onstage and publicly displaying his every emotion when singing was now on my repertoire

At this point Derek kinda lost interest in Radiohead, Greg no longer listened to them and Stu would visit the ‘head later in his musical journey, for now Ok Computer was mine. I loved the CD, studied the extensive artwork and slotted it eagerly into my Philips CD drive (again supplied by my ever influential father).

Ok Computer would be the latest album to be imprinted on my psychi. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins had only held this honor until now. Radiohead showed me that British music could be as good as the states.

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Ok Computer… I cannot work out where to begin. My love for the structure and ambition of this album almost frustrated me as I could not reach it. Then I had started to sit up and listen to Nigel Godrich’s spacious production. Steve Albini had been my hero for a while, both these guys would now influence my desire to try sound production. This obsession of mine would influence the sound of Weird Decibels until the present day (for better or worse)

Ok Computer unlocked another band for me, Grandaddy, and well that’s a whole other blog

As I moved away from my grunge rock roots (I was writing acoustic solo albums) Kid A arrived to the distaste of music critics and much of the radiohead masses. Only the true fans clung on after this ( there were many). Kid A was and still is a fascinating record (Derek hated it, Stu and Greg didn’t say much). I conquered Kid A,  listening to it several times and unlocked the beauty of the wonderful sonic landscapes that Yorke and co had created. Then it dawned that you could do anything with music but it was incredibly hard to get right. I recorded a terrible solo ep called ‘The man without a heart’ although I do still listen to it for my own selfish indulgence.

It was now the year 2000 and we all survived the millennium bug but alas Weird did not, the 17th (more on this at a later date) would be formed for a while and I would continue to consume whatever Radiohead had to offer. Indeed Amnesiac would influence my contributions to the 17th significantly. Pyramid Song would forever teach me how to find a mood for a song. Its a beautiful piece of music.

Hail to The Thief was the first kick at the shins, the first stumble from my biggest influence. I found myself floating away from my heroes and by 2004 the punk ethic had gripped me as Weird had reformed to  record One More Solo. In our opinion one of our best.

Radiohead had left EMI and for them things went south, they didn’t record an album until 2007’s wonderful return to form ‘In Rainbows’. We went on to the ‘Acts’ arguably our weakest era.

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In Rainbows was a great album however it wasn’t the shiny disc that influenced us this time. It was Radiohead’s decision to let listeners ‘pay what you want’ for their new album. I remember not trusting this, I wanted a CD not MP3’s so I steered clear, however this would have a profound impact on the industry. People downloaded albums for free, privacy was rife anyway and I think Radiohead were trying to find a new approach,however they alone would be unable to stop the demise of the record industry that had bloated to greedy heights in the 80s and 90s.

Our next album (2012) Weird Decibels 1 would be the first to embrace the online community( we were behind the times). It would be the first album to have different price entries. Free on Spotify, pay for a normal CD or pay more for a deluxe CD, Radiohead’s decision to let the fans pay what they wanted had helped pave the way for what was now an option on Bandcamp.

By the time King Of Limbs had surfaced I hardly listened to them. Thom Yorke started his spat with Spotify, yes it’s shocking how much these services pay and we have to see an increase in payments per stream but his won’t happen until Youtube in particular stops being a free platform for artistic content. .

One of my favourite singers took his vitriol out on the wrong (or flawed) service of Spotify. He took a stance and removed his music.

So where are we now. Have Radiohead been paid a handsome fee to upload their new album? Is it the record company that have done it on their behalf? The bottom line, they won’t lose money (it’s been suggested that streaming sites actually encourage consumers to buy physical products albeit on a far more selective way) on this but bands like us continue to do so.

Thanks to piracy, MP3’s and a general reluctance by the mainstream consumer to pay for music we make nothing yet pay a significant fee to get on these services. The bands who are at the top shouldn’t be fighting against the payment per stream, it’s here to stay until the next industry disruptive format arrives. Perhaps they should be asking a local band from every town they visit to open their shows. This would be far greater that anything they could do including anti streaming protests.

Moon Shaped Pool lands on Spotify on the 17th of June. Click and listen, it’s a sombre but beautiful piece of work from one of my favourite bands.

 

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Music 2015. The buzzword will be ‘windows’

Not the Microsoft kind although that is due as well. Windows is the term for the difference in time between physical media releases and them appearing on streaming services. (just in case you didn’t know)

It presents a wee dilemma to our band; we have a small but perfectly formed (and extremely loyal) following and we must make sure they are looked after. Which presents a challenge as we need to pay for the album (albeit we keep the costs low)

Weird Decibels 1 was paid for mostly by ticket sales (for gigs we organised), private function gigs (covers..) and then finally CD sales. Streaming did not contribute much at all (in fact by the time we paid set up fees we lost money this way)

So this has got me (over) thinking. How do we develop a ‘release strategy’; sorry I sound like a bit of dick but hey got to get with the times.

wpid-a2078779249_2.jpgWeird Decibels 1   was the first album we released on both the internet and CD. Previously we simply handed out CD’s like everyone else from that era (90′, 00’s).

WdB1 landed on Bandcamp first; a lot of people listened on that platform but we got no download sales. Due to a delay the CD was released a month later; it sold better than our previous albums probably because our listener base is orientated to a physical release (a kind way of saying we’re getting older!). Spotify and the rest followed and the payback was minimal.

The next HMR release (my solo album) Paul Henry Smith – Morningday aired on Spotify, iTunes and other digital services first. Listening rates were good and there was even a few downloads but again not enough to cover set-up costs. The CD sold a few copies but well down on WdB1 (I won’t take that personally!!). Did people settle to listening to the album on the stream?

Then along came Taylor Swift; not to our gigs or anything like that, no she pulled all her music from Spotify because it paid her (and her record company) a pittance per stream. This got the whole industry talking about release ‘windows’; basically your favourite artist (Swift is a long way from that) releases a CD or vinyl and then weeks later it will appear on streaming services. Great…

I love Spotify; I get my Uncut magazine and I listen to the radio; I will hunt for the album on Spotify. If I love it I will order the CD. Now if ‘windows’ are to take effect I’m screwed.

The conflict? Spotify unfairly cuts the band and I from the financial stream. I wish they would pay more.

I love being on the service; many of our friends have ventured to other lands and yet they can still enjoy our albums and even share them with new audiences. I believe, and I speak for myself, that it’s a price worth paying.

However we need to think of our next album and as you can tell by this blog entry my thoughts are going round in circles. I hate the idea of ‘windows’ I love music embracing new technology (hi def streaming etc); I love that fact I can listen to any album when ever I want and I pay for this service every month, not only that, I love CD’s dropping through the letter box!! (sorry record stores, although saying that I bought a few CD’s out of FOPP the other week)

Gigs we organise help pay for future recordings. So thanks for coming!!
Gigs we organise help pay for future recordings. So thanks for coming!!

I pay through my teeth for music, CD’s, Spotify premium and gigs and yet my record collection is all over the place because the industry has no clear vision. My CD collection slowed over the last couple of years. My iTunes collection; the hours spent ripping CD’s etc’ has stopped (waste of time and money downloading to be honest) and now Spotify could end up become a music library like Netflix is to movies (ie no new releases)

Well my head is bursting now; basically the music industry is going to have to find its feet. Those who love music will always pay; it just seems we have to change our plans for everyone else.

Anyway back to the band’s next release. We’re thinking about a ‘window’!!! ( 4 weeks tops! Buy our CD please!!)

Or maybe we won’t… Maybe we should just be happy that in this day of music overload you still have the time to listen to our music.

Love to you all

Pabs

Happy listening whatever and wherever that may be

Here is a fantastic music industry blog that tries to find the answers that I have clearly failed to find.

http://musicindustryblog.wordpress.com/

To CD or not to CD

Morningday is a wee album I made with Kevin Byrne and Jemma Burt. It was recorded when Weird Decibels had some down time. the sessions went well and we recorded an album that I am immensely proud of. It was just under a year of hard work, writing, recording, mixing, mastering and then designing the artwork.

My thoughts turned to its legacy, How do I get this recording to resonate through the world and through peoples musical conscience. I decided to try the on-line route; Spotify and itunes. The CD would come later in a big deluxe package.

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Morningday started well; there was the launch party which was fantastic (thanks Mum and Dad), the record was being played on Spotify and there were sales on itunes. So I got prepared to launch the CD packages albeit in a fumbled way. There has been a limited response; so I looked at my own listening habits to see if I could find answers.

I listen to Spotify a lot. Every new song I hear on BBC radio is on Spotify; I listen to the whole album then if I like it I will save it. I add it to my virtual collection and I lazily scroll down my albums. there are fleeting bands to which I have listened once. I haven’t paid for that album so I don’t need to invest time in it to fully understand it. I add and add until I have a huge catalogue of bands that I claim to like. Its worrying because I cannot remember much of what I have appeared to listened to yet when I look through my CDs I can remember a vast majority of the records I listened to and the joy they brought me.

My CD collection is there it exists I can pick the CD and study the art work. However my collection stops around 2012 save for a few records that I simply had to have.

So as I wade through the digital sea, through the masses of talented artists who struggled to get listened to I realise that my £10 a month for Spotify premium isn’t enough. I need to start buying the physical format of music again before it disappears and the artists years of work putting out recordings becomes a fleeting moments of a listeners attention.

As I write this I have listened to CDs; Dinosaur Jr ‘I Bet on Sky’, Sonic Youth ‘ the Eternal’ an The Middle East ‘ I want That You Are Always Happy’

I will buy a couple of CD’s tonight…Via Amazon…there is not one record shop in Falkirk.

Weird Decibels next album WdB 2.0 due late 2015 will be released on CD first with a full deluxe package including the album. the full Oakley sessions, b sides, demos, and a full booklet! Once we sell a few maybe then will it float away in the digital sea!

Pabs

Music in 2014 will be…

…the year of writing Weird Decibels 2.

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Weird Decibels 1 is actually a 2012 album, 2013 was the year we promoted it. Some of the songs were written back in 2009. So our thoughts turn to the next set of songs. We started writing last year but the writing was in fits and starts. Ms Asphyxia has been played live, a few others are holding on, Kill it! Kill it! Standing on a Viewpoint but its fair to say life got in the way and writing halted.
We’ve booked a weekend break in a lodge in Oakley. We’ll take the acoustics and a load of beer and wine, the studio and a dose of hope that inspiration will take hold and some songs will be born. I can see this being the way we write our songs in the future.

….when One More Solo turns ten.

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Its hard to believe our ‘come back’ album is ten years old. This is the first album we recorded when Stu rejoined the band. The album was easy to write, we were invigorated, the 2 year break (myself, Derek and Greg joined Jon Shaw and formed the Seventeenth) helped refreshen our outlook. We recorded this album at Derek’s old flat on a Tascam 788. We had one or two mics the best of which was a Stagg condenser. We made a vocal booth from egg cups and it was mixed on my hi fi with two huge Celef speakers as monitors. I’ve learned a wee bit more about sound production. The album has been remastered, it sounds a bit better, more clarity and more dynamics and less guitar ringing! (Derek is gutted) Its a simple remaster, it will sound a lot better on its 20th anniversary when I finally work out how to use multi band compressors. The One More Solo remaster is out soon and will be free to download.

…. Weird Decibels playing live.

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Derek is injured so we won’t be playing live until at least the spring. We hope to play new venues and new cities, maybe even new countries. Playing live made 2013 special for us and we met a lot of great new friends. I’d definitely like to re visit the 13th note I love that venue. Another gig in England would be nice…

….when music videos are once again all the range.

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Wonder was great in 2013 but we left it too long to record its follow up so this year we’re going to have more content on YouTube. The Speak video will be first, then a video for Joker. We hope to have the film Making of Weird Decibels 1 finished and uploaded into episodes on YouTube. We’ll give video podcasts a shot as well.

…. a new Podcast series.

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The podcasts have been popular. Thanks for listening. This year we will reminisce. We hope to have some friends from old Falkirk bands guesting in our pods, some live performances. A look at one more solo and general silliness. Look out for the podcast from the writing weekend where we’ll hopefully have a brand new song or two for you to hear in acoustic format.

…. social networking???

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I’ve no idea where social networks are going. We’re signed up to all the major players. Updating them all is a pain in the arse. Engagement is the key… Is Facebook declining? Is MySpace back? Is reverbnation the hub? Is Bandcamp ever going to improve their search algorithm? There is a part of me that says word of mouth is best. I’m at a loss. Where is the best platform for our band? YouTube? See above.

….the solo album

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I am writing a lot of songs at the moment. I trying to write my writers block to death! ( writing as much as you can kills block ) Some are for the band others are for me, mainly the tunes that wouldn’t work with the band but I don’t want to throw away. Seriously around early December I was staring at a blank page holding the guitar and nothing was coming. That thought. Is this it? Is this me finished? I played and played the guitar, staring out into the garden. Then stuff clicked and I recorded everything onto the tablet. I took the best ideas and have laid them down but its getting harder, so I have to work harder. Hopefully my 7th solo record will be out this year. However my priority remains Weird Decibels 8th!

…. I will expand ‘Pablo’s unsigned adventure’

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Bandcamp, it was a random search and I stumbled upon the Spanish band 9M Lied. Loved their recordings and I decided to write about my favourite unsigned bands. Its not easy, there is so much content on the internet and its frustrating trying to find the hidden gems. The criteria? Unsigned. Not recommend by staff ( I don’t trust this). Not the most popular. I want the bands that are ignored or just starting out. Recommendations welcome. Hopefully I’ll get one new band a month.

…. Fail to hold back the stream

I love CD’s. Want to explore vinyl. You cannot match the sound quality of these physical formats…yet. But i cannot afford it. Bought 5 CDs last month, (still waiting for their arrival…) Cost me a small fortune. I have Spotify premium. ( another can of worms) For now its great but I feel weird using Spotify knowing how much we as artists get paid per stream. Anyway its feeding my music appetite this year as it did the last.

So enjoy your music in 2014 my big hope? Well we get signed, but seriously? A new scene, a fresh batch of new bands. Fingers crossed.

Pabs.

Pabs music musings. I prefer the early stuff?

At rehearsal we recently played through our entire first album Whapper Stormer as part of our preparations for our 20th anniversary celebrations in Feb 2015. It got me thinking about bands, their longevity and the law of diminishing returns. Is early output an artists best?
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When thinking of this subject I thought of some of my favourite artists and some others. Let me begin.

Case 1. Nirvana. 1st album Bleach. Best album In Utero 3rd studio release.
Case 2. The National. 1st album The National. Best album Trouble Will Find Me, their most recent.
Case 3. Oasis. 1st album Definitely Maybe. Best album. Definitely Maybe.
Case 4. Guns n Roses. 1st album Appetite for Destruction. Best album Appetite for Destruction.
Case 5. Radiohead. 1st album Pablo Honey. Best album. Ok Computer.

There is one band on the above list that did not achieve overnight success that the others enjoyed. The National. Slowly they have been building their music, and slowly they have been building their fan base. All the others, bar Nirvana had stratospheric success with early output and have since struggled to match this with later works. Radiohead had huge creative problems after Ok Computer and opted for Kid A which was great but not in the same league as its predecessor. They hit a high with In Rainbows, their peak lies with their difficult third though. Oasis produced one of the greatest debuts of all time then rarely recorded anything of merit thereafter. Guns n Roses had an agonising death after the wonderful Appetite.

So what has this to do with a small band like Weird Decibels I hear you scream at your tablet/laptop/mobile phone/PC and maybe, just maybe surface…

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Pabs tries a new approach to song writing.

I prefer their earlier stuff. This is an expression I had fretted over for years. When we had written Whapper Stormer we were a fresh faced young rock band with ideas pouring out of our finger tips. Whapper had found a small audience of people who really enjoyed it, including a radio DJ who loved The Rain and Vancouver. A year later we had recorded some of our follow up album, the slightly lazy drunken romp that is Firkin Outburst. We handed this DJ our new demo and in the very pub the album is name after I asked him what he thought. His answer? Well I think you know by now….
I stormed out the pub in anger, seething our new songs had not received the praise that our debut collection had mustered.
In the following years we wrote songs of varying quality, another 5 albums would be produced. The other guys would ask me what my favourite album was. Without fail I’d say Whapper Stormer, for the lyrics, the music and the youthful exuberance. Then from 2008 we started to write Weird Decibels 1.

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Our best album to date? Time will tell...:-)

Derek is quoted saying we had to do Quiet Act (our first fully acoustic album) to write Weird Decibels 1. He’s right. We had a renewed enthusiasm for writing. So many things came together. Our music, my lyrics and the gear we had to record it. A year ago I knew we had written one of our greatest albums. For months I was not sure if it was better than Whapper, a year on and several listens? Its my favourite.

So what Is the point here? I hear you ask.

We are a small band, very small. We have our little patch on the huge quilt of music. We have no pressure to make a living out of music, we can write what we want when we want. We have been together so long it was likely we would hit another creative peak.

Any band that is allowed to breath, grow within itself without the pressure of producing an even better follow up to the last will always prosper. In this new age of self released music, small artists will produce music the way they want to smaller but more enthusiastic fans. I hope these bands will glow for many years instead of burning out and fading away…

Pabs.

Pabs Music Musings 3. The Blackpool Soundtrack

I forgot my headphones for my tablet. Two days in Blackpool without my music.

So I boiled the kettle and emptied two Colombian coffee sachets into my mug. Poured the boiling water straight. Black coffee done cheap. Looked out the sand smudged window of our room out to the sea and the emptiness beyond.

Coffee ready, feet up
Coffee ready, feet up

My music was the waves crashing furiously against the promenade. I looked out and thought about our new album. What do I write about where do i go from here? Where do my fellow musicians get their inspiration from? Two huge influences of mine, Matt Berninger (The National) seems to capture his lyrics perfectly, slightly off centre but enough meaning for you to relate and  Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) writes of technology, robots that almost have feelings.

We head out the arcades. The slot machines flashing, bells sounding, coins spilling into metal trays. Reminds me of the arcade scene in Lost In Translation (greatest movie soundtrack ever). I look at the people wandering around, the fellow tourists, the locals staring into the machines, automatically hitting gamble as they clutch a plastic cup of coins. A young boy wanders around with a cowboy hat full of coins asking punters for change. Cheeky wee bugger. It’s here I think of characters again, the different life’s, all colliding in a sea of flashing lights and confusing bleeps. We head out onto the prom.

The Wonder Blackpool Illunimations

Here the stalls are still open, bored attendants hoping for a sale, some make a half-hearted pitch, two for a pound and all that. A tram rolls past, a modern machine not like the old romantic rollers from the past.  Blackpool has aged but still has a bit of magic, a bit like an old 80’s light entertainer strutting their stuff on I’m a Celeb. I start to get ideas for lyrics, as my boy grabs my hand desperate for another shot on the racing car.

The next day after a full English breakfast we head further along the front towards the pleasure beach. I walk to a security gate and the burly guard asks me If I have a ticket. I meekly say no, he points me to the ticket booth. I was going to protest that when I were a lad you could walk in free.  Inside the park I am £34 lighter but still giddy with excitement. My childhood taps my shoulder as I hear the siren of the ghost train, the clacking of the roller coasters and the laughing clown. Again lyrics flood my head, the yearning to return to simpler times can be disturbing.

Inside the pleasure beach
Inside the pleasure beach a pigeon takes flight

I’m keen to show my lad round the shows but he falls asleep…So I run to the Pepsi Max roller coaster. As I stand in the queue I look at the faces of boredom as we are about to ride upon one of the tallest, fastest coaster in Europe, according to the voice over. Later I grab my wife and we run onto the ghost train and I try to make her jump every time we turn into a dark corner.

Sometimes you need a change of scene to write the next act, I often wonder how other writers pen their lyrics. I hope as the sun sets on our break I’ll go home and create some more characters that will come alive in our new songs. See you again Blackpool!

The Broken but still standing North Pier
The Broken but still standing North Pier

If you are a writer please tell me how do you get inspired?

Pabs

Pabs Music Musings. Episode 2. Is rock music dead? (And has anyone checked?)

Is rock dead? How many times have we heard that question being asked. Many times.

I was reading my latest copy of Sound On Sound in which they review a music submission by a band called Teenage China, an artist from our very own Scottish shores. In the review there is a statement ‘ The distorted guitar/crashing drums combo has been done to the point exhaustion in the multi-pronged world of rock’ Now that statement almost had me reaching for my acoustic guitar and writing Quiet Act 2. The reviewer went on to give Teenage China an enthusiastic thumbs up. A fine achievement from this excellent magazine.

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Stu does this classic rock post at every gig we play and i love him for it.

So as a fully fledged vocalist in a distorted guitar/crashing drums band I wonder if the music world has once again shifted its sonic tastes into another dimension.

Kurt Cobain said great music happens every decade or so, I’d say every 20 years. So here we are now, and no one is entertaining us. There is no scene. I search obsessively for new music (see last musing) and yet ‘proper balls out original rock ‘ appears to be buried deep in the servers of our music providers.

I love acoustic, folk, electronica, mix them up, indie, a bit of trance, however I miss a primal scream, not the band of the same name but a vocalist who yells so hard down the mic with such passion that you clench you fists, grit your teeth and thank god you are not the only person on this planet that has had a bad day or two. Indeed Mr Cobain had that scream but Mr Plant perfected it well before him.

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The primal scream, beats counselling ten fold.

I thought we’d have a scene when the recession hit. Then I thought the riots would piss off some youngsters holding a guitar or two, then there was the cuts and the empty pockets and the run down schemes and shameless poverty that countless rich politicians and richer musicians have tried to eradicate, but nothing. There is no scene.

The music is there, buried deep in the Soundclouds and Bandcamps. Lost in a fuzz of commercially controlled search engine algorithms that recommend artists based on your listening habits. I really regret listening to ABBA when I was pissed.

Anyway that ‘celeb’ that pisses herself has just won big brother so I’m going to rock out to Teenage China.

Pabs, primal screaming lead singer of a guitar solo obsessed rock band that has loud drums and deep bass. Musically Fashionable? In 20 years I guess!

Pabs Music Musings. Part 1 The Search.

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My wee sis is a good few years younger than me. She is of this generation of music lovers, accepting with ease MP3’s, Streaming, single song listening and music Blogs. I on the other hand come from a generation of CD lovers, albums and record shops. Today’s music lovers have everything they need to build the most honed music collection to suit their tastes and yet as I sit at this laptop listening to streamed music I feel overwhelmed by the choice of music. Its all about the search.

I take you back to when I really started listening to music. My father was the first source. Here son listen to this album, it was Dinosaur Jr, I was hooked. Others followed and soon I discovered what I liked. Next I listened to Peel, read the NME, Select and occasionally Q (thanks for Grandaddy Q!). A narrow source by today’s standards. I steadily built a CD collection of which I am proud.

Today there is an unstoppable flow of music I like but I cannot hope to give those albums the same sort of attention that ‘Where You Been’ got. Uncut, Guy Garvey’s finest hour, Spotify, Personal suggestion lists, countless internet stations, DAB, the wonderful Third Class Ticket, Blogs, Blogs and more wonderful music Blogs (thanks sis), Jim Gellantly’s amazing radio. Last.fm, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Facebook/Twitter friend suggestions. I could go on. I have a wish list on Amazon I cannot possibly hope to afford. I also want to explore the music that has past.

Perhaps we need another Peel, Steve Lamacq could be the man if he got that late night slot that Peel used to fill with sublime music. Perhaps we need someone we can trust to say, this band are great and you’ll love them. Or perhaps I need to learn to filter the mass of talent (there is tonnes out there) and pick only the very best. That feels wrong though… So tell me how do you search?

(Pabs lead singer of Weird Decibels, we are on every modern platform waiting to be searched!!)