After The Lights Go Down

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Yesterday, we walked to St. Peters Seminary, a ‘modern building of world architectural significance’ on the world monument funds 100 most endangered important buildings list. It’s easy to see why. This post is a love letter to this magical place.

It began life as a place to teach student Roman Catholic priests in the 60s, & failed when less & less people wanted to do that. It’s been a drug rehabilitation centre & arts venue. All manner of artistic funding fires have plagued this place, it’s remote, has drainage problems & nobody seems to be able to make it make sense but man alive, what a spectacle it is. It does make no sense, a sensual clash of a building, angles that don’t line up, broken things lie side by side with rot in this beautiful vision of a place. It feels neglected & precious all at once. It’s A listed & decrepit, wrenches the minds eye in all directions. Isi Metzstein, who designed it, was sent to Clydebank by his mother after his school was destroyed at Kristallnacht. St. Peter’s Seminary is cognitive dissonance that you can walk around inside, weighty with age & heavy with history, but you can’t help but look every direction at once, open mouthed, afraid to miss anything.

Today, it’s full of beautiful graffiti. An artist was painting while I was there. No pictures yet, because graffiti artists never appreciate that, but I intend to document new works as they appear. You have to be a little careful. It’s not exactly safe. It’s full of folks who maybe aren’t there to take photos and document the stunning architecture & artwork. I came out covered in anti-vandal paint from the fences. Watch your back.

It seems to buzz with potential. A new company, the Kilmahew Education Trust, was handed the keys to the place by the archdiocese in July 2020. I hope they can do something with it, give it the status it deserves, this unique & important place.

The Price of Reckless Candour

So here’s what happened. I made the record. Cost around £5k, all in.

I paid Distrokid $30 to put ‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’ on as many digital platforms as they could find. That included Spotify, also, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc.

I had PR help from AtTheHelm PR, he did so much for me & working with him was a joy & pleasure, he sent out physical things, promo / review CDs, press releases, advised on timing, helped make a plan, which worked better than I ever expected.

I had thousands of streams on Spotify in the first week. Then I got an email from a company called www.StreamingFamous.com who said that they were affiliated with Distrokid and if I paid them a small amount, they could get me on playlists.

This is the dream, a spot on Indie Folk or something. That’s how it works. Spotify teach me to want that. I was hungry. So I paid $30 one off for playlist consideration. I figured, that’s what a label would do. Pay a PR company to get their artists exposure. I was no different, apart from I didn’t know where to go, who to ask, how to get that. I wasn’t a label. I don’t have one of those. So I used the thing in front of me. All of a sudden, I got tons of Spotify followers (all fakes, I guess) and some listens but no playlist placement for my money. I asked why. They said they could get me on a genre specific playlist, but I had to pay more. So I paid another $30 and they put me on a non-genre specific playlist next to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then they charged me $30 again 3 times, weekly. I wrote and asked them to take me off their shitty playlist, that wasn’t what I wanted. They did, after a week, then refunded me the recurring money I paid. Not the original two amounts.

Then yesterday, I got an email from distrokid that said had breached the Spotify streaming terms & my album would be deleted from that platform. They said that I was unable to use distrokid to redistribute it, again, ever. It is unclear if the other platforms they sent it to would still be supported by them.

Spotify replied with a vague ‘we detected suspicious activity’ and yeah, I can see that. It was obviously a stupid thing for me to do.

What is clear is that I won’t get any of that money back & that none of the legitimate streams from Spotify will earn any money, now. Also, all the legitimate stream counts are gone. I’m back to less than zero.

I contacted StreamingFamous who declined to comment. I raised support tickets with Spotify & Distrokid who said, what’s done is done, we won’t supply any details, please go away.

So, I will pay a different digital distributor to put my album back on Spotify like a good little boy. Lots of folks saying lots of sensible things about either not doing, or just giving them a single & stuff. The reason I feel the need to be there is that it’s the only way it feels real. I’m not a musician if my record isn’t there. Thousands of real people really streamed it and that feels worth another $30, even if it isn’t.

So yeah, I’m a little upset. I knew what I was doing, but this is a blow. It felt like I was trying to understand a game much bigger than me, where all the rules are secret and the people that run it have an interest in keeping it that way and I had found a little back door, a tiny leg up over the fence because tickets are too expensive for someone on my salary. But there’s none of those, I was a naive idiot, thinking I could get anywhere as an independent artist, the dice are loaded, the score is rigged, the outcome is already decided and the people who own it don’t want council house scum like me coming along and getting ahead. Labels can buy plays, followers, playlist placement, adverts, etc. But not me. What bullshit.

I’m better than this. I’ve been hit harder and been down for longer. I’m just gonna get back on my feet and try again, resubmit & see how it goes a second time round. Everyone of you, reading this, is a supporter and you know the journey I’ve been on. Your support means the world to me. I notice everything, I’m cursed with a detail eye so I can’t miss any of it.

I’ll share the Spotify link, when it’s back, and you can playlist me again and see if we can’t get back to the same streaming numbers then see what they do about that! That is all I need you to help me with.

Thanks for caring & in the meantime, my record is still here 🙂

One Month Anniversary of Buying Plays

Or, undermining my own digital marketing strategy.

‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’ has been out for nearly a month & I want to overshare some insights with you about what thats been like! Firstly, the murky waters of the streaming marketplace.

I now have 14,000 Spotify listeners! 1.2k Spotify followers! 7,443 plays of Safe Mode, 4,931 of Leaves & 5,560 of A Ditch Worth Dying For! All the other songs are <1,000! What’s that all about? Well…

I bought most of those followers & plays for $50. To start with, I paid $30 to get one song some plays. Ditch went up to 3k really quickly, but I couldn’t see who was listening. Loads of people. I asked by live chat if the people who took my money could show folks the whole album and they said yes, but just Leaves went up. I asked who was listening and they said they couldn’t say, but for $20 a week, they could get me genre specific playlists so I said yes.

There I am, after The Killers & The Red Hot Chili Peppers. 51,000 likes, but a faceless account full of lacklustre genre specific playlists. Lots of listeners though!

So, I have no idea. Is this real? Are there really people listening? Did my $50 go to a clickfarm in South East Asia? I looked up the whois on the website I paid and it’s owned by a guy in London. Mike replied to my messages, quickly, professionally, slightly evasively. So it’s pretty simple, you can pay for listens. The more you pay, the more listens you get. $757 will buy you 500,000 plays, and 50,000 followers. But then I suppose, we all knew they was kind of meaningless numbers. I get the streaming revenue for those plays. They don’t get anywhere near the fifty I paid for them, but folks might think I’m popular and give me gigs! This is how the game is played. Madness but very present.

I got on a few real playlists by real people, too! Chris TT’s New Folk Friday & Vesa Lautamaki’s weekly roundup of new releases always seem to bring actual plays in. I wish I’d never ponyed up the 50 notes for fake ones, but I had to know what it was like. What could be done & how. If I hadn’t I reckon Ditch would be on just over a thousand plays. I feel like I sullied myself, did a dirty thing. But there it is.

Bandcamp has been a different story.

Release day was great, and then, Bandcamp (thanks @modernistwitch!) put my album on their front page & it went a bit mad. Sold lots of copies, digital & physical. To all over the world. In total, to date, I’ve taken just shy of £1.5k through Bandcamp. It cost £1k to manufacture the CDs and then about 5% of that to ship, another % in Paypal fees, but digital sales help offset that a little. So you could say that about broke even, in the first month, and I have a couple of boxes left to sell in the future! Superb. I’m still £3.5k down on the deal, but mainly, the reach of it! Plays & sales all over the world. It peaked early and then fell for sure, but it’s still ~150 real plays from real music fans every day, with someone buying a copy every other day. I can see who, talk to them, see what other music they like, support that if I can, and folks can choose to follow me so I can talk to them & sell things again in the future.

A radically different approach. Transparent. Lower numbers, but real people, listening to real music. I can see where every click came from. 222 folks googled me and went to bandcamp as a result. Etc. They expose & share what they know. Spotify monetise that hidden data and bandcamp share it and let you do what you want with it.

Apple Music / Amazon / Deezer, I don’t really know how those places work, but I know there’s been some plays there because my digital distributor tells me so. I’ll earn money from all those streams. Pennies, but cool.

BBC Introducing & loads of other shows play my tunes. Loads of folks reviewed it and they all said lovely things. Songlines Magazine is gonna review it in print in the issue out June 19th. That will be a big deal. I could’ve taken out a 1/4 page ad in there for £277 but I don’t have £277 so the review will have to be enough. That’s an audience to reach! I don’t know their circulation numbers, but they’re a pretty serious magazine! I wonder if they’ll like it!

Now, I don’t really know what to do with any of this knowledge, but if the aim of the game is to share the music I wrote, then that’s going well. Thanks to Bandcamp, it was worth making CDs and it’s a thrill to see who is listening. Spotify is nothing more than a moment in time, the fast changing face of how business colonises artistic ideas. It always has & always will, and tiny nobodies like me always will blow around the surface of that, trying to keep our heads above the water.

So I’m building up to saying that Bandcamp are doing their revenue share thing again on Friday 5th June, tomorrow, as I write this! I can’t afford to donate what I sell but I’d encourage you to check out some music on Bandcamp by POC.

Here’s a couple of places to start, Daudi Matsiko is a star of the Nottingham scene, and he writes wonderfully tender heartfelt tunes.

Daisy Godfrey has a voice that will stop you in your tracks. Proud fact – Trevor Hamilton (who took my album cover shot) also took that wonderful promo portrait of her.

Fill up my mentions with other great artists & musicians who we can all support tomorrow.

Thanks for reading. See you somewhere down the line.

Pandemic Psychogeography

A few days ago, Josienne & I visited the tree that she is tied to in my video for her song ‘Slender, Sad & Sentimental’. The tree has fallen over & will now gently rot into the field, as must all things. We explored it’s majestic carcass for a while.

Here’s the video, featuring the tree when it was still standing.

Ringing Bells – New Music Video

I made a video for Josienne Clarke’s latest single, ‘bells’ – it’s live on her channel now!

‘bells’ is a home recorded GarageBand demo version of her classic song & live favourite ‘Bells Ring’, from ‘Seedlings All’. This is the song, how it sounded when she wrote it. Isn’t it surprising, what changes when you work with other musicians? How much is lost, how others filter ideas in different ways. How the initial spark of one idea in one woman’s head can become something entirely else in the head of another. I always found this crystal clear, pristine moment on ‘Seedlings All’ austere, shiny & distant. Hidden behind a coat of glossy paint. And then I heard the original demo & it landed like a ton of bombs. It all made sense. What a piece of work. That lyric. It’s a love song, it’s not a love song. If only there was a word for that, feeling happy & sad at the same time.

You can buy Historical Record vol 1&2 from Josienne’s bandcamp.

Josienne described her idea for the metaphor of the video, so all I had to do was bring it to life. I had plans for using a studio near here, rented lights & some other kit, but of course, they’re all closed & we’ve no income. So, fuck it. I made it in a bedroom with whatever we could find, the light was awful but I’m pleased with the results & I hope you enjoy it.

Please enjoy a gallery of stills from the video I made for Josienne Clarke’s ‘bells’ video.

And here’s the video:

Supernatural Photography

I took my camera on our short government-approved exercise today. Rest assured, all social distancing guidelines were adhered to in the taking of these photographs. Here’s what the outside looks like here & now, which is mainly a fallen tree.

‘I Used To Be Sad And Then I Forgot’ Listening Party Replay

The #SADLP listening party was a great success, thank you to everyone who joined in. = I was surprised at how well the format worked when we did one for Josienne’s LP and this was no different. It’s kind of quickfire. I had prepared some text and folks asked questions along the way. I don’t know that I always gave good answers, but I tried and it was a really gratifying community experience. What I’ll try to do here is copy & paste the whole thing into a post, because a few folks missed it at the time and they can read it through, relive it at their leisure! Maybe will work? So I’ll put it in order, JC tweets signed JC, mine unsigned. If I miss anything or anyone, sorry, this is a copy & paste nightmare and I’m already confused, but I’ll do my best 🙂

Hello & welcome to the beginning. I’ll hit play at 20:00. That fat baby is me & that’s my grandad, a flower grower & driver in WWII, who the record is dedicated to. I remember his quiet strength. He played church organ & helped me understand music.

He used to help put on organ concerts in village halls & I used to play. My favourite was always getting to do chariots of fire on the weird string machine. Felt like the future, then & it still does now.

Then ‘Alex Bowman’ had this hairy rockathon phase, but at least my charity work made the local news. It’s all vain narcissists like me need, eh?

Here’s an early iteration of the album cover, made especially for twitter when the title wasn’t quite fully formed. Yes, I am wearing a charcoal facemask. No, I do not know why.

For the album cover, Josienne, @TrevorHphoto & I went to Chatsworth House for the day because I wanted a soft, sunny image of me immersed in flowers. I was quite prescriptive & Trevor nailed it. Here’s the shots we didn’t use…

And there’s the cover. I’m glad so many of you like the image. It seems to have gone down really well. So now, let’s hit play – go!

I wrote ‘Physics & Form’ on a hundred flights, thousands of feet up in the air. That was my happy place, for a while. I had a strange relationship with arrivals & departures. Nobody to say hello or goodbye to at the gate.

‘Physics & Form’ always started with something other than the guitar & Josienne’s half-a-pitch sharp harmonium part was just right. Wheezing, barely able to make a note at all, in tune with nothing but itself. It was always how the record would start.

It’s a pretty shocking start but the title says ‘he used to be sad’, and he really did, really sad, right through to his bones. (JC)

I finished writing ‘Physics & Form’ in a frozen rented shipping container in some godforsaken backwater shithole in London, feeling like a part-time pretender with nothing to say. The last line took a long time to get right.

Rarely has a song about wishing for a plane crash been so moving and so scientific, so scientifically moving! The Harmonium is a bit wonky and stuttering and a bit infirm like his resolve. (JC)

‘A Ditch Worth Dying For’ is one of my favourite lyrics. That first verse. It rhymes so oddly. I hope it’s clear what I mean. The Gm chord, I didn’t know, I discovered it in my living room & found this song there waiting for me.

It’s a quiet, bitter lyric, but I can’t claim it’s honest music if I don’t try to articulate my experience. Can you hear the subtle saxophone drone in the verse? Understated, subtle, powerful production from JC.

That last track now seems light in comparison doesn’t it! I knew this song had to be dirge-y and dirty sounding. So I came up with saxophone drones fairly early on it makes a nice shitty spittle-y bed for the rest of the song to sit in. (JC)

The sax drone sits round his voice like he’s singing in three part harmony accompanied by two wheezing bags, the world’s grimiest barbershop trio. (JC)

The electric breaks it up now with some mid-range pitch, with a delay that rings round your head like an alarm. The bowed cymbal literally cuts through setting ya teeth on edge (JC)

I had the title ‘Safe Mode’ long before I had the song. It took an age to work it into words I could live with. I managed it, I think. A testament to effort. It wasn’t easy. But I didn’t fail. Proud of this one.

We used a bow on electric bass to make the low booming creek that starts us off, I wanted everything other than Alec’s voice and guitar to sound far away and muffled. (JC)

The piano was recorded and treated to have all the attack taken out and just leave the reverb tail. The distant vocal tones is me screaming into a piano and then drowning it in reverb. (JC)

‘Leaves’ used to have a chorus but I let it go. Josienne’s performance & production on this is a highlight of the album. All the reviews love it. I’d like to explore it more with her in the future recordings. Go further down that road.

You know how you know when you need to leave the party but other people need you to not do? How do you know what to do? Whose need is more important? Is it ok to ever ask someone to not leave? And then be angry when they do? I’ve no idea.

This was one of my favourite ones to do! Recording all the different woodwind instruments, they sound uncharacteristically chirpy perhaps, but to me they are the euphoric sound of fucking off when all you want to do is fuck off. (JC)

“but what else can I do? I’m not leaving AT you” is one of my favourite lines, for you owe no proximity!! May you merrily fuck off to the sound of a million recorders…(JC)

‘Long Goodbyes’ came to life in a fancy London rehearsal room. My friends in a proper band were playing in one room, and Suede were rehearsing next door. Strange pressures. Paul Mosley played the piano, he gave it such life. I just play it on guitar.

there’s me in that fancy room. well, it’s not so much fancy as expensive & full of proper musicians, all side-eyeing each other to check nobodys more proper than they are

I guess I’m questioning the value of communication in ‘Long Goodbyes’. Sometimes, you just can’t get your message to land, however hard you try, so you can stop. It offers no excuses. It’s a bit of a tirade. Frustration to the fore.

That title suggests a touching love song, but Alec would never call a love song something like that, no this is a ‘learn to shut your mouth’ song. I have my own history with those. (JC)

Here @paulmosley ‘s Rhodes is subtle and touching and perfect. This is the calm that comes after all the storms, let it go, don’t waste another breath on it. They’ll say whatever they say, but we carry our own truth with us. (JC)

INTERMISSION – The Old Rugged Cross. My Grandads favourite. I never really liked it but it has a special magic now. Paul Mosley played it beautifully, despite Josienne’s repeated requests to play it worse 🙂

We recorded incidental bits of us talking in the studio, doors slamming chairs scraping, the sounds of endeavour. @paulmosley had to be directed to play shitter than he normally would, still sounds lovely because he has a limit! (JC)

Half time break, starting again at 20:30!

‘Patience’ was a tough one to record. I nearly didn’t manage it. It’s the one that sounded like a defiant Frank Turner singalong chorus in my head when I wrote it, and then it sounds so tiny, barely there, broken on tape.

The microscope glare, laser-sight focus of the recording studio vocal booth does strange things to a person. You better really know yourself before you start or you’ll learn in the most brutal way. I wrote ‘Patience’ in that same frozen shipping container in London.

This is my favourite track, Alec almost couldn’t sing it, he was smaller & scared-er & more broken in this one than he perhaps realised. It’s a heartbreaking listen but that’s what’s good about it. It’s falling so far, hitting the floor & then getting up again. (JC)

“when you’re next to nothing with nothing to lose you get carried away patience, the truth” is my favourite line of the album I think. The truth always comes out in the end, you’ll get yours, they’ll get theirs, it’ll be alright someday. (JC)

‘Hand In Hand’ has been strangely popular, I wrote this in about 3 passes, the chords & lyrical idea all just appeared in my kitchen, real quick. Yes, that’s a reference to Scott Hutchison, RIP. The laughter is real, the sound of me wondering what on earth I am doing.

This song is both ridiculous and sweet, what kind of person sings a love song about all the ways they might die?… Alec is! We couldn’t even sing it without laughing. In terms of production it needed nothing but a jangly guitar and his wonky vocal. (JC)

This sigh, at the start of ‘Event Horizon of You’, is probably my favourite sigh on the whole album. You can’t have a great album without a cough or a sigh or something. This one, I meant it & I’m glad we left it in. @jonwilksmusic said it was ominous & he’s right.

Now that’s the kind of title Alec would give a love song, it’s a space love song. The sigh at the beginning always annoyed me and I’d never have let it stay but it’s not my album so… (JC)

‘Event Horizon of You’ is the first full song I had ready, but the middle verse took forever to get right. @paulKblabber described as ‘an odd combination of physics & Lewis Carroll’ which I love. I choke the metaphor a bit & I’m not certain of the science.

“shifted to blue and then brown” is the lyric – I imagined an approaching object moving toward our hero, reflected by the light in her eyes. I don’t care, really, if that’s how it works or not, I reckon it’s just right how it is. Physicists, holla!

i love yelling I’M A SNOWFLAKE at rooms

Alec and I both played an elec guitar part for this he did the arpeggio and I’m doing the strummed chords, which was lovely cooperation at the time but now we forget who did what and argue about who played electric on this track (it’s me at the end for deffers!) (JC)

‘My Kind Of Chaos’ started as a title & I knew exactly the kind of song that went with it. Nobody knows what the second verse means & I’m ok with that. I love Josienne’s recorder orchestra. We’ll do that again.

‘My Kind Of Chaos’ is one of those guitar parts I can barely play. challenging my own skills, being better at coming up with ideas than executing them, this is the way around I like it.

Another of my favourites, those are 4 recorder parts sounding like a weird steam engine there! Trying to sound as sweet as this little song, soft and gentle, like a dream. (JC)

Every great LP has a cough somewhere on it, right?

The cough he does before the vocal here is bang wrong in every rule book but he doesn’t care for rules so he kept it in! This is a lovely way to end the story and it isn’t ever the end of the world. Stay here and find out x (JC)

‘Never The End Of The World’ was the last thing I wrote. Capo on 7 like ‘Lua’ by Bright Eyes & the whole thing came in one go, crashed landed out of nowhere, a real surprise. I knew the sentiment, the ending, before I started, I wanted hope & hope appeared.

Not wishy washy platitudes, though. I wanted realism. Underneath everything, at the end of it all, does anything worth knowing remain? This was my attempt at drawing a conclusion, finding catharsis, best I could. It feels like I did it, to me. Good enough.

it clocks in under 29 minutes and that means the bastard beats me on brevity, my own accolade! I only realised the other day and I’m furious. (JC)

So, there, that’s it, it’s done. The dust settled, the words spoke, I put it best I could. Thanks for listening. I want to try & play them live, one day. Would you want to come see that? Ax

A load of people said because of course they did, it was a bit of a mean twatty ending on my behalf. But I do want to play live. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I am able to do it, hah.

Anyway, there it was! Thanks for reading!