New year, new awards, same old faces

It’s awards season at the moment, before long you’ll be bombarded with hype over the BRIT awards, then there’s the NME awards, and over the pond there’s the Grammys. Add to that a new ceremony, another excuse for back-slapping and media hype: The Global Awards. Needless to say the same old faces will be up for these gongs; your Sheerans, your Oras, your Sam Smiths, whoopdedooo…
But what’s significant about this ceremony (to be held at the Hammersmith Odeon on March 1st, or as they would insist on calling the place, Eventim Apollo) anyway?

If the name ‘Global’ doesn’t mean much to you, then you have heard of their stations. Global is a media conglomerate who own many of the commercial radio stations in the country. It is they who are responsible for Heart, Smooth and Capital FM, and if you’ve ever had to suffer even an hour of their output you already know this is going to be a vapid exercise. They also operate Radio X, as well as Classic FM and their model is to network much of their programming centrally across what were once ‘local’ stations, with only minimal output broadcast from the regions they supposedly serve. They and Bauer Radio have the commercial radio sector in the UK carved up between them, which goes a long way towards explaining why their output is so bland, and so repetitive. Global’s brands such as Heart are high-profile but the parent company isn’t just yet; presumably they are aiming to change all that starting with this bash.

Six of the categories are open to public vote, the rest are down to a ‘judging panel’ who will, they say, make their decision ‘with due care, consideration and weight given to a variety of factors’. That’s about as vague as you can get, and to be eligible for nomination an artist has to have been played ‘at least once’ on any Global station in the previous year. Given that the stations are all formatted tightly to a narrow playlist, one you can actually set your watch to (!) that doesn’t give many options. A quick look reveals the usual suspects: Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Rita Ora, Taylor Swift, Beyonce… such variety of choice! But wait, they’ve gone just a little edgy in nominating those Gallagher brothers (Liam is up for Best Male vocal, Noel is nominated for Best Group with High Flying Birds) and they’ve also put Stormzy in for Best Male. That covers all bases, right?

Oh wait, you want rock? By that you must mean indie, and there’s a category for that too. Indie to them means Catfish and the Bottlemen, the Killers, Florence + The Machine and Noel again; that’s sufficient for those rebels amongst you who want a bit of rock, isn’t it? I’m laughing myself silly just reading that list of nominations, they really must think the music scene in the UK begins and ends with the narrow selection Global decide is fit for the masses, as they sit in their cars on the M62 of a Monday morning in another traffic jam, or as they while away their days in their offices knowing that there’ll be a Sam Smith record, followed by a Taylor Swift one at precisely 2:45 and then they have the commercials urging you to check for having had PPI… give me strength!

Have a look for yourself at the list of nominees, and barf! The safest, blandest, most corporate, most fluffy load of pap imaginable. Even the ‘indie’ isn’t really so; without wishing to rake over the coals of what ‘indie’ means yet again (it stopped meaning independently-produced and released music – regardless of style – a long time ago), only Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds out of all their nominees for ‘Best Indie’ is actually on an independent label. And he hasn’t been what you’d call ‘cutting-edge’ since about 1995 (or maybe he is, to Global execs!) It’s interesting that they still consider the Foo Fighters to be ‘indie’ too; a band so big that they sold out huge stadium dates inside an hour, and whose last album featured a guest appearance from one Paul McCartney. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other bands completely off Global’s radar, who can sell out tours with regularity, who actually do release their records on genuine independent labels, and who score well in those independent charts, that will never get recognised by these self-important, self-satisfied ‘gatekeepers’ who have taken it upon themselves to decide for the rest of us what is, and is not ‘relevant’. I mean of course ROCK bands, as in those who actually do play music with craft, with thought, with care but who might be the wrong side of 40, or they might be a bit too different from ‘the formula’ to fit in with the background music that Global dispense on a daily basis between their beloved PPI ads. Such bands might sell out venues up and down the UK, but for a regular gig-goer who goes to see rock bands frequently, who has co-workers who just accept this repetitive stream of tedium day after day on the workplace radio, just try telling them about anything else and the answer will always be ‘never heard of them’ – the implied subtext being, they mustn’t be any good then. It fair makes you want to reach for the nearest baseball bat…!

So I am scratching my head as to why we need yet another awards ceremony, of course *we* do not. It’s Global themselves who want to establish themselves, their stations are ubiquitous as it is but clearly they now want you to know who it is that is ‘delivering’ this garbage to your ears each day. The corporate speak in their ‘About’ page is enough to make you reach for the bucket; they claim that half the UK population tune in every week to their ‘media brands’ and now they’re boasting of a ‘world-class’ (THE most meaningless, vapid piece of high-falutin’ corporate-speak you will EVER encounter) phone app that will deliver to your smartphone every station they offer. Sign me up now (!)

No doubt this tedious event will be promoted relentlessly on Heart, Smooth, Capital, Radio X and probably the one local station they still have (XS Manchester, the one-time rock/metal station which was turned into a carbon copy of Radio X; ostensibly ‘owned’ by Communicorp UK now but broadcasts out of Global’s studio facilities, takes their news service, and participates in events such as the charity Make Some Noise – to all intents and purposes it remains a Global station).  If you are sick and tired of the same slop served up day after day, there isn’t much you can pick from as an alternative – Bauer’s stations have a similar ‘network’ programming strategy and their ‘local’ stations are all geared up to play the same generic pop tunes. Bauer do operate Planet Rock (the UK’s only ‘national’ station that caters for hard rock fans) but even that is tightly formatted much of the time and is in any case now limited in its coverage since its move to the Digital 2 DAB network, leaving out large swathes of the country.

Global claim they are ‘obsessed with radio, music, and entertainment’ in their blurb – I disagree, they are only interested in advertisers, celeb ‘gossip’, inane chatter and six or seven songs from major-label artists they can repeat over and over until your brain rots away. Maybe one day there’ll be a decent regulator who won’t let these and Bauer walk all over them, until that time comes I suggest CDs for the car or, if you have one of these new-fangled players with a USB port, make use of it!

The usual rubbish from Global

Meanwhile, for as long as I continue to attend gigs, buy records, I will continue to write about those artists your co-workers ‘have never heard of’. To sign out, here’s a track that is more than apt, from one such band who consistently sell out venues across the UK  whenever they play (parental advisory, yadda yadda!) 😀

The attack on Manchester’s Arena

OK, this one really hit home.

The majority of my ‘out’ time is taken up with concerts – I’m not one for nights on the town, generally and parties tend to bore me. But I do enjoy a good live gig, whether it be watching a band play a small gig in a local pub, or watching a major band in a huge arena production along with tens of thousands of other fans, as was the case last Saturday when Iron Maiden came to my city. They also played in Manchester a fortnight before then, and under different circumstances I might well have been at that show rather than Liverpool. It is a venue I have visited many times over the last two decades, I know it extremely well and that’s why I was watching BBC news in the early hours of Tuesday morning with an increasing feeling of dread and horror, as pictures flashed up on screen of terrified concert-goers fleeing the venue into the adjoining Victoria railway station.

It was clear from the early pictures that initial reports of a speaker blowing up were just not true, as people on screen were shown being helped from the arena in tattered clothes. That night’s show at Manchester Arena by US singer Ariana Grande, had just ended when a blast was heard. Within minutes, as television showed a convoy of emergency vehicles heading for the arena, it was obvious that this was a horrific act.

As details began to emerge it was clear that there would be casualties, as police soon confirmed what we had feared – a terrorist attack had killed and injured many as they left the venue. Soon television networks across the world were carrying the pictures, as it became clear Manchester had been hit once again by a terror attack.

The fact that a concert was chosen as a target was terrifying enough – having been to that arena so many times myself I counted myself fortunate not to have been there that night, but the fact that it was a show from a performer popular with teenage (and younger) girls which was targeted, really chilled the blood. It was devastating to see the faces and names of those caught up in the blast, ranging from an 8-year old child to parents who were just waiting on the concourse to collect their children. A lot has already been said regarding this atrocity, which I shan’t reiterate here, but the fact that the attacker didn’t even need to enter the venue itself to cause this much death and destruction was what really chilled me to the bone. Much has been made about the security arrangements going into the arena; the tightest security on the door would not have stopped this attack because he did not actually reach that door entering the hall.

The attack is bound to have huge implications for concerts across the country; venues nationwide are already stepping up and/or reviewing their own security procedures. Manchester’s arena is the largest indoor arena in the UK, with a maximum capacity of 21000. It draws people from not just the Greater Manchester region, but from across the country and all over the world, with its wider catchment area taking in Merseyside/Lancashire/Cheshire, North Wales, West Yorkshire and the Midlands. It is almost always visited by major international stars when they come to the UK, often to play only a handful of shows. In addition, it has staged major boxing events, has hosted ice-hockey and basketball, and was used during the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in Manchester. On the night of the Ariana Grande show, it would have held around 15000 people with the floor seated and the stage at one end of the arena.

The operators SMG are responsible only for the area after that foyer; not the steps leading to the car park, not the walkway to the station and not the station itself. Other large-scale arenas in the UK will now have to review their own security – Liverpool’s Echo Arena is a bit different, sited close to the River Mersey and not near a main line railway station (the main bus station is across the road and a few minutes’ walk away), it also has a more open concourse but how is it possible to legislate for one man so determined to cause mass destruction that he would be prepared to blow himself up in the process?

Certainly the Manchester Arena will be out of action for some time; at the time of writing it remains a crime scene and is cordoned off still, as is Victoria Station. Police forensic examinations are ongoing, and with such a huge site to cover it must surely be several days before they can even think about reopening. The scale of the damage is not yet clear, despite some leaked images from the site which were published by a US newspaper (causing a row between UK police and US intelligence) but, given what we already know there must be considerable damage to the foyer area, the walkway to the station and probably the roof of that area. Whether there is damage to the actual arena concourse is not yet known. All of that will have to be repaired and made safe; this can only take place once forensics are satisfied and the area cleared. Even when that work is completed, there will have to be a total review of the security in and around the arena and the station. The arena is accessible through a car park, via entrances on Hunts Bank and also Trinity Way, as well as the entrance through Victoria Station.

Consequently, that means upcoming shows will need to be postponed. Take That’s scheduled concerts for this weekend have obviously been called off (they performed at Liverpool on the night of the attack in Manchester, and postponed a second date upon hearing of the tragedy. They will perform in Liverpool on Friday 26th May on a date originally intended for the Manchester Arena.) This almost certainly means that the upcoming concert by US rock band KISS is off too; it was due to be played on 30th May and although no official word has yet been confirmed, it is extremely unlikely that the venue will be back open again in time for that show to take place. Even if it were, how would fans feel about heading to that same venue so soon after such a horrific attack?
UPDATE: The KISS show at Manchester Arena is now confirmed to be off;  the other UK dates will go ahead as scheduled.

There are many events scheduled for the arena in the coming weeks, one I am booked for is the performance of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow on 22nd June. Whether that (or indeed the other forthcoming events) goes ahead is at this stage questionable.

As for Ms Grande, a singer about whom I confess I knew little about until this dreadful night, she has understandably cancelled her remaining European dates and returned to the US. She went to ground shortly after posting a tweet stating that she was ‘broken’. How that will affect her in years to come remains to be seen, whether she can – or even wishes to – set foot on a stage again is something only she can decide.

I for one am still trying to process this even several days on; as a dedicated concert-goer who has spent many evenings in that building I confess I would feel apprehensive about ever setting foot in there again. However, the other side to that is I do not want to let these people succeed in their aims, therefore I shall still be going to concerts both there and elsewhere. Nevertheless, I do feel that it should be some time before that venue opens its doors to the public once again, as a minimum I would say keep the place closed for a month.

The music scene in Manchester is famous the world over, the city’s many venues host live bands on a nightly basis. The arena is the flagship, and after a suitable period it will doubtless play host once again to the biggest names in music.

MEN Arena

(photo: Wikipedia; used under Creative Commons licence)