Serendipity, discovery and collaboration
Ways of discovering new music, new artists, new writers.
Take away music and there is nothing left. — Annie
Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid. — Frank Zappa
How do we come across music or literature worth knowing about, worth listening to, worth reading?
Damien Joyce mentions the music he grew up with. A strong influence.
I grew up with Frank Sinatra, then Elvis, rock n roll, then The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, The Who, The Kinks, Moody Blues, Chicken Shack, Blind Faith, Jefferson Airplane, The Hollies, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Animals, Yardbirds, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, John Mayall, Santana, Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin. Visits to my grandparents, playing old 78s on a wind-up gramophone.
Good music was mainstream, what was not mainstream, influenced mainstream.
At university The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin played. But also Soft Machine, Caravan, Spirogyra, experimental groups. I was exposed to a wide range of music, often what friends played in their rooms, music I would not otherwise have encountered. Much I did not at the time necessarily like, but it entered the psyche. We were part of what became known as the Canterbury music scene.
I used to read mainly classics, then modern classics, Franz Kafka, Herman Hesse, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley. Near me was a second-hand bookshop where many hours were spent,and where many of my books came from. Sadly this bookshop, like many good independent bookshops, has long gone. They had an excellent science fiction section, which meant I read Jules Verne, H G Wells, John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein,and of late Iain M Banks.
Another excellent second-hand bookshop, from where many of my books came, Readers Rest, Steep Hill in Lincoln. January of this year, I learnt the sad news it too was going the way of too many good bookshops, and it too was closing, most of the stock had gone and it was a sad reflection of its former glory days, a veritable rabbit warren.
So where now for books and music? Rarely personal recommendations, but there are a few I will trust and read and listen to what they say.
My friend Roman, once a train ride away, but now in France, or was last time I heard, had an even larger collection of books and music than myself. It was through Roman, Astor Piazolla and Gotan Project.
Visiting Roman, I would always come away with something.
Roman told me about a second-hand record shop behind Waterloo Station. I do not know if it is still there. Everything was random, but you’d come away with an armful. Not only that, the turnover was such, people would visit lunchtime, then again in the evening.
Ben’s Records in Guildford is a bit like that. I walk in with nothing in mind, or knowing what I want but he does not have, Keith, you will like this, or he simply puts something on as you walk in. Like Roman, Ben knows his music, knows his customers. Which of course is how a real music shop should be.
It was like that a few weeks ago. Ben was not there, he was out playing football, or some dumb thing, and his stand-in was manning the shop. I had no idea what was playing, but thought I would have. Diana Krall, never heard of, to the amazement of the stand-in. I have still not found time to listen to The Girl in the Other Room, but did check out Diana Krall on youtube, and liked what I found.
To me, if you do not exist on youtube or bandcamp, you do not exist.
I came across Paulo Coelho through an attractive Lithuanian girl sat outside a pub completely engrossed in reading a Lithuanian translation of The Zahir by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. I was curious what had her so engrossed. We got into a very long conversation about literature and music. I found her to be as intelligent as she was attractive. We found we had much in common. You must read, Paulo Coelho, she insisted.
I found I had time to make it to a bookshop, sadly no longer there, before it closed. I bid her farewell, and set off, just making it before the bookshop closed. They did not have what she was reading. I picked up, Like the Flowing River, a collection of short stories and anecdotes. I liked, a couple of days later I picked up a copy of The Alchemist. I have since read all of his books, and recommended to others.
If you like, then recommend to others. That is how good music and literature spreads, not through hype and marketing, but through word of mouth. That is one reason why bandcamp is so good, one click, and you can share with your friends, you can also embed within what you are writing (though does not work too well on Medium).
Talking to my Russian friend Alissa, she said, if you like Paulo Coelho, you must read Orhan Pamuk.
On one of my trips to Brighton, I found Brighton Books open, it is usually closed on a Sunday. I do not recall buying any books, but I did like the music they had playing. I asked what it was, they told me to try Resident. I could not find, I asked, the guy walked straight to the shelves and picked it out for me.
I went back to Iydea, examined my purchase. A hand-woven sleeve of grass, a unique piece of art, the lyrics written hand written out on paper draughtsman used to use for their drawings, and a CD, jet black, with grooves! Would it play? I took it into Brighton Books, and yes, to my relief, it played.
Undisciplined Art by Jacob’s Stories a limited edition of 500, mine number 19. I played on arriving home until the early hours of the morning, ran off copies for friends. They liked, asked would I pick them up a copy when next in Brighton. I arranged with Resident to pick up several copies, the others I gave away as presents.
I asked anything else, no, but suggested I try Mechanical Bride.
It rare for me to take note of what others recommend, as with literature, they have incredibly poor taste. Sadly most people think the bland manufactured rubbish on the radio, X-Factor, Britain Has (not) Got Talent, is music. I can find better busking on the streets of Brighton. But there are rare exceptions. Andrew Dubber @dubber whose only recommendation on Medium led me me to find the interesting article by Damien Joyce, is always worth following through.
It was through Andrew Dubber, or was it Steve Lawson, I came across Sunna Gunnlaugs. Now what is the chance of my coming across Icelandic jazz? Approaching zero, I would guess. Her album Long Pair Bond is beautiful, haunting music. I see she has a new album out, Distilled, which she says is a continuation of Long Pair Bond.
Serendipity plays a part. You randomly come across something, then other possibilities open up. I have given several examples, I could give many more.
Steve Lawson talking about music and effective use of the internet, led to Imogen Heap. She through one of her heapsongs Minds Without Fear (Heapsong4) led to the amazing Dewarists, an exploration of different artists in India collaborating to write a song.
Clicking on the sales on bandcamp as they flash across the bottom of the home page has led to interesting discoveries.
And live performers on the street. Alejandro Possetto amazing guitarist playing outside Castillo de San Felipe en Puerto de la Cruz.
West End Centre, a cultural oasis in the wasteland of Aldershot, had an excellent idea, re-tweet a gig and you are put in a draw for an album.
I was the fortunate recipient of one of these albums. I must admit, I have still not had the chance to listen to Pioneer, I did though check out Duke Special, liked what I found, and much to my regret, too late to go to his concert.
Demolition of The Tumbledown Dick for a Drive-Thru McDonald’s, is not only the loss of local heritage, a c 1720s coaching inn, loss of a live music venue, it is a lost opportunity for local people to be exposed to new music, to experience live music.
In Puerto de la Cruz, an old colonial town on the north coast of Tenerife, there is live music everywhere. I came across music I would not have otherwise found,Socos Duo en Castillo de San Felipe, Fusiones concierto de Ensamble dos orillas, Concierto de A Ritmo de Tango en Abaco Mansión Canaria, two jazz nights Concierto de Jazz and Música en vivo en Abaco.
The background mush that we hear, leads us to believe there is nothing around worth reading or listening to, and yet nothing could be further from the truth, it is just not mainstream.
In addition to the collection in my house, I have managed to build up on the net quite an eclectic mix of music. Please feel free to check it out, you may be pleasantly surprised, as in many ways was I.
Checking tweetlevel, as well as showing influence level, they now show a word cloud. Dominant in the middle, was music. I was quite surprised, but then, maybe I should not be.