For me, the next month is among the most exciting, frustrating, nail-biting collection of weeks that every musician who releases a record has to go through. I often think that recording artists are very much like farmers. They sow, they pray for good weather, they harvest and then hope for a good market day to help you start the whole process all over again…plant, pray, harvest, market day…repeat.
You would have thought I would be used to it by now. It’s actually 50 years this month since I first appeared on BBC Radio 1 playing my songs on the John Peel ‘Sounds of the Seventies’ Show. In October it will be 50 years since I signed my first record deal. How come I’m just as nervous now about sending a new record out into the world as I was back then?
50 years ago I really was the kid in the room. For my first Radio 1 session, essentially, I was still in charge of my career. I chose the songs I sang and the way I played them too. Once I signed the record deal I was in ‘the system’. Although I still wrote and sang the songs now I was in a room full of ‘grown up’ immensely talented musicians and producers. My limitations were covered by their expertise. If I couldn’t play or sing something they would bring in a professional who could, and everything they did was simply awesome.
Back in school aged 12 when I was in charge of my career.
Although it was an amazing experience and I learnt so much from all of them it did probably hinder some of the progress I might have made otherwise if left to my own devices. This really struck me recently when I bumped into an old school friend walking along Swansea Bay. He reminded me that about 50 years ago we had got together for a jam session in a church hall in Brynhyfryd.
After all this time he could still remember the song almost word for word. Then he said, ‘I think you had just recorded the song we jammed to with ‘The Elton John Band’. Suddenly my mind went back to those London sessions. Davey Johnson, the guitarist from the Elton John Band, who featured so prominently on that final Glastonbury Show, was on guitar for my London session. Nicky Hopkins who had played on the Rolling Stones records was on piano. In many ways those early school bands had too much to live up to.
It wasn’t just in the studio where things were organised for me. There was a PR department who put together press releases. An Art Department that organised photoshoots and artwork to accompany any release. There was a Promotion team that worked the radio stations and tried to get your records played. There was a manger who decided where you performed. Once you had written the song everything was decided by a group of professional people who knew best.
It took me many years to realise that in fact no one really knows best. As with everything in life it’s always a good idea to surround yourself with the very best people but that doesn’t always guarantee success. Managers and producers who have had hit records will have experience you can benefit from and well connected PR and Promotion people can get your records to the ‘right’ people but it’s still a mystery how one record gets to Number one, whilst another sinks without trace.
It took some time but eventually I did find my own team. I’m still making music with school friends and people I’ve known since I was a teenager. My arranger Andrew Griffiths started with me on work experience when he was 17; my mixing engineer and guitarist Tim Hamill first worked on an album with me in 1989.
So that’s the ‘easy part’, the musical side of things sorted!!! What about the record company?
My First CD Album 1990 on MPH Records
I set up MPH Records in 1990. Back then it seemed like a bold move, striking out for independence. In fact the first record I produced I had started to master it as a two sided vinyl album only to change horses half way through production when I found out you could get CDs made by a company in Cwmbran. Back then the big record companies were still very much in charge.
Over the years the process of releasing a record has got easier but also made a career more difficult. Back in the day the record companies were the gate keepers, they were the first hurdle you had to get past if you wanted to make it. When you got a record deal you were already half way up the ladder of success.
As the years passed and the internet, bit by bit, broke the music business it soon became easier for anyone to make a record and get it out there. The trouble is, now, with everyone making and releasing records on their own labels how do you get heard.
Well… you have just got to roll up your sleeves, get creative and not get too down hearted if you don’t immediately get an invitation to appear on the Jools Holland Later Show.
This week sees the release of my latest single ‘Breathe’. Recording it was maybe the easy part, well not that easy. Although I still work with the same players they are busy so getting them together is nigh on impossible. The record started in my shed and before you knew it bass parts and drum patterns were being emailed to me to add to the mix. Last month’s abortive trip to Prague didn’t stop the addition of an orchestra as again they were able to send their parts to me over the internet.
Then there’s the question of timing. Back in January the demo of ‘Breathe’ sounded like a summer song, well that’s what my pluggers told me (more of them later). We decided that it would be good to get the video filmed during a particularly lovely spell of weather in February. We settled on filming at dawn in Bracelet Bay car park. Now back in February dawn was around 7am. All week I’d been up early checking on where exactly the sun would rise over Swansea Bay. It was an easy decision as the sky’s were cloudless all week.
Sunrise and the cameras are all in position.
When the cameraman, Ian Parsons and I arrived at 6.30am all we could see were clouds. Nevertheless we persisted with low cloud hoping the sun would break through. Eventually it did but you never really know until you get the footage back to the studio.
Having edited the video together it was a case of working with my pluggers on a plan. One of the advantages of working in the industry so long is that I have old friends who are now working in various sectors as independents. As with all promotions there are no guarantees but at least they are honest and let me know the good and bad news.
And so this week we start. We planted the seeds; we have harvested the crop and now we are off to market. I do hope you like the video as it shows our region in the best possible light. I don’t have a team of people doing everything but there again I have no one to blame if it all goes wrong. In the meantime I intend to ‘Breathe’ every day and see where this ride takes me this time.