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Wednesday 7 October 2020

Why Art Matters - My Response to Chancellor Rishi Sunak

It is the eighth of October 2020
I woke up to find my laptop full of anger towards a politician, Conservative Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

It’s been reported that when asked what musicians and entertainers who aren’t making enough money to live on during the COVID pandemic should do, he replied ‘get a different job’.
I felt pretty angry about this, but when I watched the interview, it said something kind of different:

You can watch it here:

Now I do think that musicians and entertainers deserve the same protection as everyone else during lockdown -
but I also think the chancellor is kind of right too - it’s a part of life that if you can’t make money from your chosen career, you have to find a different way to make money. And I can’t blame a conservative politicians for being money centric.

I’m not a fan of the conservative party, but complaining when a Tory is more concerned about money than art is a bit like electing Satan to office and complaining about the smell of Sulphur. The country should have worked this one out before it voted.
The question that is at the forefront of my mind is a different one...


There are people who think art is valuable, and people who don’t.

The Daily Mail thinks that artists are looney leftie luvvies, who want everyone to pay for them to sit in bedsits writing bad poetry, smoking weed and spreading sodomy and Cultural Marxism. And you're welcome to pay me to do that, if you like, sounds like fun, but if that was actually what I did for a living, I would have gone bankrupt a long while ago.

The thing about art is it’s really difficult to value. If I offered to sell you a CD for £10, you might say ‘no way man, I can get all the art I want for free on Youtube’. You could literally spend your whole life watching YouTube and never run out of fresh art. Why go to an art gallery, when you can google the artist and move your face up to the screen really close?

And I think this is where I think the anger of artists and musicians stems from. For the past 20 years, since the start of Napster, our work is becoming worth less and less in monetary value. We’re not in it for the money, but to make decent art is a full time job, and we need to survive. Musicians turned to the gig circuit to make their bread and butter, but now during COVID, many’s lifes work is left with no monetary value at all.

In the 1960’s & 70’s art was in it’s absolute boom. Record sales were exploding, Britain was exporting it’s art all over the world, and the music of 4 men from the Northern Industrial city of Liverpool changed the way the entire world thinks and feels with the power of music. The Beatles have the surreal ability to make everyone happy. Well almost everyone - perhaps you had your soul stomped on as a child or something and it’s tainted your sense of enjoyment. Try the white album.
Anyway, ever since then, Britain became famous as an exporter of culture, and the centre of a movement in free thinking and experimentation.

And this is what Britain is still famous for today - apart from Empire and slavery. Shhh. The incredible art and culture we’ve produced, from Shakespeare to Monty Python.
So why, instead of the steam engine, or the computer, or the bicycle, do people associate Britain with the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, and Dr Who?

Solitary confinement is a form of torture. Airports are almost as bad. What do we long for in these situations? We want to read a book to pass the time. To listen to an iPod, or watch a movie.

If you took away art, life would be utterly boring. Yes, life would go on, we would carry on working away, and all the suffering and labour would continue to keep the gears of the consumer economy moving, but when we got back home, after a hard day's work, there would be nothing. No TV, no Netflix. No music to streaming. No pictures hung on the walls. No elegant design. Just Brutalism, and the functionality of the continuation of existence, without any reason for actually living.

How many times have you heard the words ‘music saved my life’. How many times have you put on an album and danced, or laughed, or cried your pain away? How many of your favourite memories involve concerts, festivals, movie nights, parties? So many of these things can be viewed as ‘pointless’ and ‘Unnecessary’ - but without the fruits of culture, without the desert of life - why are we actually alive?

So if someone shouts at me ‘Get a real job’ when I’m playing music, I just smile - because I know that the closeness I feel between me and an audience when I play is an ingredient in the most important bit of life. I’m the dessert. I am your donut. Hi. Pleased to feed you.

Trying to work as a professional musician is hard work - it’s a bit like being an athlete. Every part of my day, from what I can eat to how much I talk and how much energy I spend has to be planned around how many sets I have to play in the evening. I don’t often get to have a beer after work, because if I have to sing four hours a day for the next 3 months, I have to manage everything I do around that. I work on a contract by contract basis, If I damage my voice my career is gone, with no backup. If I say the wrong word onstage, my job is gone. At 30 years old, I just received the first sick pay I’ve ever been entitled to. I have back pain from years of lifting speakers. I have tinnitus starting in my ears. I have no pension plan. Almost every single possession I have in some way relates to my job. And you know what? That’s OK. I’m happy. It’s worth it to make people happy. Still, I have to be able to feed myself.

The money in music used to be from selling records - and that was what made the record industry great, and what means my shelves are stacked with amazing experimental music. Then in the 90’s, the record industry sold us those same albums on CD, and made double the money off them. Now, if I try to give away a CD after a gig, people tell me they don’t have a CD player. Why would anyone pay for a download when you can stream any song anywhere on the internet?

Because music is dying. And it’s our fault. We’ve been happy to take, take, take the experiences musicians ploughed their lives into making, and stream them for free at the click of a button. Anyone who works as a touring musician reaches a time when they want to settle down and have a family, and not be constantly moving around, and what should they do when the art they pour their hearts into loses money? Because the fans would rather stream them off Spotify than support what they make? When your favourite band breaks up, this is usually why.

If we don’t invest in art, we will be stuck in our cold grey boxes, eating toxic processed food, with nothing to watch but ‘Homes under the Hammer’, with nothing to read but the Daily Mail, and with nothing to listen to but Little Mix. ugghr.

But the economy will be there right?

If art dies, humanity dies. Art is the part of the human consciousness that is worth saving. Everything else is just cobwebs and suffering. Think about all the objects you’ve surrounded yourself with, and the junk food and alcohol, and the plastic crap, the make-up, the clothes, maybe the flash car, the coffee machine. Has any of it actually brought you real happiness?

Music does not cause climate change. Paintings don’t emit greenhouse gases. Dancing doesn’t make you gain weight, it cures your depression. Literature doesn’t make you hung over, it opens your mind . Festivals and concerts are where we go to refresh our brains so we can go back to work in those crappy jobs we feel we have to do. The cinema is where you go with your date and feel each other up in the darkness of the back-row, in the glow of an immersive artistic experience. Happiness comes from experience - and art is the experiences we as humans create for each other.

So the question you should be asking yourself is not ‘should we pay to subsidise musicians and artists’ but ‘do I really want to live in a world without my favourite art?’ You're subsidising your own happiness.

If you spend 40 hours a week or more in work, do you really want to spend your precious free time staring at a TV where a middle class couple consider moving from one home you can’t afford to another home you can’t afford? If that's all we are prepared to pay for, 
all that will be left is the most cheap, docile and monotonous entertainment.

Or shall we subsidise the arts, and get the next Beatles, the next Joni, the Next Dylan, Ginsberg, Dali or Freddie Mercury to create something that really opens our minds to new possibilities?

So now we come back to our question: what is the value of art?

My Answer is this:

Art’s value is beyond the measurement of a very insignificant little human concept called money. It existed before money, and when civilization falls it will continue long after. Art is not what we do to stay alive, it’s what we stay alive to do. It’s the cosmic expression of the human consciousness.

The economy is an administrational tool, to keep us alive, and so it is important. Art is the actual process of living. If we lose art, we are just fast food munching Zombies waiting for the heat death of the universe. 

That is my message to Mr Sunak.

Sunday 5 August 2018


Sometimes, it takes years to get to where you want to be, but when you get there, it’s really worth it.

This week my band ‘The Society of Strange Living’ released our  first E.P. - called ‘Energy Efficient’. It’s just four songs, but it’s the culmination of several years of work, stealing time in between International tours, and trying to make the perfect songs with the perfect band.

Let me introduce you to our crew - on drums, Danny Krash - explosive energy machine, channeling the spirit of Kieth Moon. Locking in with him, Dan, the gentle loving heart of the band, weaving delicate patterns of counterpoint on his bass guitar. Bethany’s angelic soul voice both powers and harmonises the band - then there’s me, Sam - the poet, dreamer and restless spirit on lead guitar & vocals.

We REALLY care about making music. It’s taken us years - and many changes of members to find the band that really gel together. Once we’d got the line-up sorted, we’d have runs and runs of bad luck, finding it almost impossible to get us all in the same place at the same time. We had no money, so we had to record with outdated, broken equipment, which would often break in the middle of takes, making the work take three times as long as it should do.

Then we found the Birdcage. A free spirited little boozer full of warm hearted, open minded people gave us a space to develop our songs and our sound, until now we really gel together as a band as well as four friends, thinking alike. With people listening and enjoying what we were working on, we found a new power and pushed on. 

The hard bit for most bands is the songs, but for us this came pretty easy. We knew we wanted to write songs that sounded different to everyone else, about things other people wouldn’t dare to write about. Our E.P. has four of these songs. 

We sing about joining a sex cult and trying to explain it to your Mum, Sociology conversations with our washing machine, Secret jealous unspoken lust, and of course a bit of good old fashioned unrequited love. 

Featured on the last song is our washing machine drum kit, Ginger. He’s become an important part of our family, and one of the reasons SOSL sound like no other band in the know universe. Hear him on track 4 - ‘Instant Noodles’. 

It’s not been an easy ride. All working jobs, living lives and balancing relationships, and often not even in the same country, the band have pushed on through thick and thin, and now we have something indelible to show for it. A beautiful, hand-crafted record, made over hours and hours in a Frankenstein home-made studio. It’s not perfect, it’s a dirty, gritty, sexy beast, but it’s the first mark on the world made by four unique, beautiful friends. 

We hope you love it as much as we do!!!


Friday 24 February 2017

On The Payment of Musicians... And How a Plaster Rhino Destroyed My Faith in Humanity

'Yeh, basically it's going around about you that your exploitative and you use musicians to make you money. Actually, he said your a d**khead and scum'.

Right. OK. Now it's all coming back to me why I stopped promoting concerts. This old chestnut.

The weird thing is, whenever I stop putting on gigs, I have regular emails from people asking me when I'll start putting on gigs again. Saying things like 'my band need somewhere to play, there's just nobody putting on gigs here anymore'.

It's true and this is why - the bullshit factor.

I lost money over a recent gig, where I was greatly let down by a venue's management. Every artist was paid, I made a loss. I come back to England after living with my partner in Ukraine for a while, to hear that 'people' are angry about my 'exploiting musicians'.

So, I've put it off, but I'm going to tell you what it's like to be a gig promoter, and why nobody puts on any gigs here anymore.

Sadly, the days of bars paying £300 a pop for acts every night seem to be gone. With pubs shutting down right left and centre, the music industry is malnourished compared to what it was in every sense. It's a bloody tough living for the best of us.

So, when all this started, I felt like I'd got the golden deal. I would promote a gig at a small local venue. I would be paid fifty pounds flat fee, but if I filled the room I was given I would  receive another 50, which I would divide equally between the other five acts playing that night. Given £20 expenses, that would be thirty pounds for me, which was more than fair I saw considering the work that actually goes into promoting the night. When I'd proven how freakin' awesome my gigs can be, there would be a set price for £100 per gig, regular slots and for once, everyone gets paid, everybody is happy. Right?

The day before the gig, it's well promoted, pretty good Facebook numbers I'm feeling positive. There had been some setbacks though. I couldn't use the room I wanted, because the managers felt there wouldn't be enough footfall to the bar. I couldn't put fliers on the tables for the regular customers - I'm not really sure why still. My posters weren't up in the windows, but I didn't care. I knew the acts I'd chosen had the draw to make a great night for everyone.

Then I read the message.
'Ive seen that you've booked a lot of acts for this concert tomorrow - you do know we can't pay you?'

Holy f**k. My blood ran cold. I'd literally put my last few pennies into this concert, trying to make it beautiful. I didn't even have a fiver to my name. How could they possibly not pay me? We shook on it. I rushed for my coat. Would I have to find another venue? I couldn't call it off now.

Eventually we agreed that I had been offered money to promote the gig, and I would be paid the baseline fifty pounds. The hours were ticking down, but something else was eating me - the acts playing that night had agreed to play without fee, as this first show's payment would be adjusted to the audience numbers to remove risk to the bar. I had always assumed though that the bar would fill up and we'd get the hundred to split. But now it seemed obvious that the bar wouldn't pay the hundred whatever happened, the deal wouldn't be upheld - I couldn't let the acts go unpaid. I decided to pass round a bucket through the audience and split what we got between the acts. Best I could do. (each act got a fiver).

Weird for a performer, but I suffer anxiety quite strongly. I wasn't a good compare this night,  I was restless, and unhappy. I knew I couldn't please this management, although I also knew they were running a profit on the night. Going by the deal we'd shook on, I should be paid the full hundred, and it would still be worth there while, but that handshake felt like a world away. I put back my last pennies on drinks to settle my nerves. I was here with my friends, but I just wanted this to be over. Something felt really odd for me, but I thought 'brave face. this is your party'.

The gig was full of great musicians, but I'd put myself last on the bill, and to my sadness the room was almost empty by the time I got to play. I'd shot myself in the foot again for everyone else's sake. But the gig had gone OK, and that was a relief.

And then the Rhino.

This horror story reached it's peak when without warning a plaster bust of a rhino dived off the wall without prompt, to smash on the floor. I went to look, and it seemed the tacks the held on it's hanger had vibrated out of the plaster as the music played. I decided honesty was the best policy.

F**k no it wasn't.

'That Rhino cost £80.'

'Really did it?'

'Yes, it was my wife's pride and joy. Of course you'll have to pay for it, but as a good will gesture I will give you £20 still for the night'.

What. The. F**k.

'Are you sure it cost £80?'

'Positive, I just looked it up online'.

'Funny, because it says £19.99 made in china on the sticker on the back of it...'

But I didn't have the energy to fight. I didn't have the energy to argue that I shouldn't pay for breakages that weren't my fault. That we'd agreed that if I got more than 20 people into the bar that My payment would be doubled - allowing me to pay a full £15 with the bucket money too (thats more than I earn working for ships by the hour). I just wanted home and bed. I was close to a meltdown that night and I'm lucky  my friends were there to pull me out of the pit.

I made a loss.

Gig promotion sucks.

Lugging gear around sucks. Making artwork sucks. Postering and fliering sucks. But it's worth it.

What really sucks is hearing that one of your friends who played the gig is trash talking you. Saying 'He's lucky he's not in the country, because he'd be in trouble if he wasn't'.

Apparently this person was upset because they didn't know I was getting paid when they weren't. Even though they were.
And I wasn't.


I don't know who this is, but this is what I want to say to them:
Just why?
What's wrong with you?

I've played thousands, literally thousands of unpaid gigs. For the fun. For the love of it.

If you don't want to play an unpaid gig, just don't do it. Please. If you don't get anything out of it, don't say yes. Stay away.

There are people who need unpaid gigs. For fun. For experience. For practice. For the sake of doing something cool with your friends.

I'm doing my best. To pay you. Even when I can't give you hard cash, I take videos, pictures, I record and mix you for free, I make concert movies, I share your stuff and I listen to your music.

I'm a fan. That's all. Everything I've ever done has been 100% genuine. Full of love. And I thought I was doing it for you.

I'm sorry to the hundreds of people I've worked with who've never thrown it back in my face. I wish I could see clearly enough right now to realise that your love and your friendship means so much more than the haters, but I'm tired of this shit now.

Maybe it's time to move on in lots of ways and try something new.

I could do with something to restore a little faith right now...

Saturday 4 April 2015

Record Review: SvarcTrio - Touch

I've not reviewed anything in a while, but this looks pretty special!

Touch by Svarc Trio

Before you even begin to listen to this record, the artwork is stunning.

The second thing that hits you is astounding musicianship. A lovely dark master lets this work wash over you, and the overall product is incredibly listenable.

Jazz is a genre that I don't pretend to have a comprehensive knowledge of, which probably makes my enjoyment of this record more profound, as the Jazz stereotype is music for musicians. I'm ignorant of all that stuff, and I love it all the same. I think this falls into the spectrum of Jazz, although the sound reminds me heavily of early prog, with it's space echoey guitars and fat drums.

The more Nothing Serious develops the more into it I get. It feels like listening to one of those great old early 70's prog records that last forever but really don't drag. A ten minute jam can easily turn into musical masturbation, but this doesn't. Not a second is wasted here, it's a tantric build up. A slow, tantric mind-fuck. I love it.

I should add I'm listening as I type.

Imprints part one, kinda spooky. I love the echo, all reminds me very much of John Martyn, whose Solid Air album is a firm favourite of mine.

Holy Crap! Chainsaw Snore is nearly 20 minutes long! I'm expecting good things here. Oh, wow. I guess that if you drop acid to this record this is where the freak-out comes. It's like a funky jazz-moose stampeding through a china-shop. Oh shit, a lorry's now reversing through the china shop and space time is falling apart. I'm going to stop with the analogy, it's not helping. I'll leave the ending as a surprise.

2 troubled magnets enjoys more spacially-aware writing, taking time to build and pull the separate parts into one entity. I have complete admiration of how these musicians can operate so individually yet so as a whole. All the instruments feel detached, but this must rely one a hyperawareness of what the band are doing as a whole.

Imprints part two is now tying the whole album together in a kind of epic finale. Seriously beautiful stuff here, the tracks really work as a whole, not just a bunch of jams glued together.

I was expecting this record to be good, but I'm a convert. This is wicked. In today's music world, a record with so much space, so much delicacy and intensity is very hard to find. Nice one SvarcTrio.

Sam x

Thursday 28 August 2014

Porter's - Cardiff

We Spent the next day of tour driving through Wales - beautiful Wales! A lot of it was boring A roads, but eventually we got to some amazing countryside! We stopped off at this beautiful place to get out bearings and I decided to climb on top of the van.

Logging in a forest

Georgie & Jeng

Later on we arrived in Cardiff and started looking for the bar. We were running pretty late, and when we parked up I found I had a text from my friends Sophia and Catherine who I'd met when I was playing on the cruise ship Thomson Majesty. They were at the bar waiting to meet with us!

We dashed out into the torrential rain, not really sure where to find the bar, but we trudged on and suddenly we were there! We even found an umbrella on the way, which has hung in my van ever since for just such emergencies...

When we got to Genevieve's Open Mic at Porter's, Cardiff, Sophia and Catherine were waiting for us, and we proceeded to have an amazing night. Not only were the standards of music awesome, but the bar was incredible. It had it's own cinema, and a front room with a giant record collection for the bar goers to listen to! Check it out...

When I got on stage I was right at the end of the night, and I got to play four songs, including the d├ębut of a song never played before called 'Writers of Rhyme'. It'll be online with a video in the next few days, so I'll post it at the bottom when I've made it.

Afterwards I used my normal method of letting people have CDs and records for free, but asking for a donation. This works sometimes, and doesn't others. Normally even if people don't give so much, it covers pressing costs. The great thing is, at Porter's the audience were so generous it covered our journey all across Wales! Much love to everyone who was there on that wicked night :-) x

So, that's the official verdict. Genevieve's Open Mic - give it a visit. It was totally worth the trip!

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Liverpool - Hannah's Bar

Woke up in Sheffield, Laurel and I went into town before we split. We took some photos with the giant metal balls pictured below and did some shopping. I found two records - one called 'music to bathe by' with nude women swimming in a pond on the cover (featuring Johnny Cash's 'If I Were A Carpenter') and No Tomorrow by Orson (on vinyl - who'da thunk?).

Big Kahunas

Then Laurel headed back home and I headed onto Liverpool down the A57 through the Peak District. I pulled over in a layby, met a sheep and cooked some Tortellini.


Angry Sheep

Open Plan Kitchen
When we got to Liverpool, Georgie, Jeng and I hit the town for the next gig of the tour, returning to Hannah's Bar and Ogo's open mic. It was a great night but we bailed pretty early for an early start to Cardiff - here's some pics!

We stayed in Birkenhead for another night, then headed out to Cardiff the next day. Pics soon!

Monday 25 August 2014

Start of the tour: The Millhouses, Sheffield + Welton Sports & Social

Welton Sports and Social was a good fun gig, most significant for this lovely bit of Graffiti on the cubical wall - right next to the words 'Cock - yum, yum, yum...'. I don't think it was related.

'Sam Harrison Rocks' Anon. Nice Person...
Next night was a bit of a triumph however - setting off a night later than we thought, we headed to Sheffield to a pub called 'the Millhouses'. Their Sunday open mic was in full swing when Laurel & I arrived at nine, but it carried on right into the early hours. I've never seen such a passionate and exciting jam! I was a bit nervous at first to play my own stuff, but the crowd were lovely, and gave us bags of support. I would recommend this open mic to anyone looking for a great audience! Here's some pics...

We ended with a really wicked Jam, and then we walked into Sheffield for a midnight explore and some takeaway pizza. I remember finding some giant metal balls covered in water, and we have pictures somewhere, I'll drop them in if I can find them.

I wish I could go into further detail about the acts here, but I'm awful with names, and I'd sooner not leave anyone out. I do however remember an incredible country duo with the sweetest vocal harmonies. They really blew me away, along with the high standards of the whole night. Millhouses, Sheffield folks - a real pub with real music :-)