Here we are, one year later. A year ago, in March 2022, we set out as a team of three to put out a great music magazine. We began with two features on bands we liked, The Bombpops and Starcrawler, and headed into the unknown with no readers. A year later, we have up to a thousand readers a day and have one more on the team (Lorraine Foley joined Benny the Ball Benson, Mark C. Chambers, and Stevie Ritson). We have been really happy to place a range of features and reviews, as well as poetry and quizzes. The shop got going in the summer of 2022, and there is still a sense of “wow” from us a year later. To celebrate our birthday, we decided to do something different for you. We set up a four way Zoom call, with Stevie asking the questions and the rest of us doing our best to provide some light reading about music and reflections on the artists we feature here.
Stevie- Okay guys, Gene Simmons has lamented the death of rock music and asked where the big new bands are today. Michael Hann for The Spectator magazine lamented the “death of the pop star” and asked how we measure success in the music business today. Can any of you answer that one?
Benny- As a marker, I don’t like the streaming figures much, as they tend to tell us how popular a song is, not how popular an artist is. The other major indicator is the live show, where, at a festival like Download, rock is very much alive, with some great bands performing.
Mark- Yes, I’m looking forward to going with my family to see Blackberry Smoke in March, and then we are off to see Kiss in July, along with other gigs. Live music is recovering post-COVID, and I think it is a benchmark of success. Are you playing at a local club, a university, an arena, a stadium, or whatever?
Lorraine- But…in a difficult era, success is also survival. People talk about the vinyl revival. Now, vinyl helps bands because it is buying an album. But if you go into HMV or wherever the vinyl is sold, it is really for the big-hitting bands of the past. When I try to find new music there, it is very hard. I can get the new box set of The Beatles, but if I look for the new Troy Redfern vinyl, it won’t be there. That is why artists are selling through their sites because the big stores are just playing it safe 24/7, and Spotify is almost like giving their music away for free.
Benny-Troy Redfern is an example of someone working incredibly hard; he puts in one hell of a shift. Emma Wilson is another incredible talent out there, singing the blues, performing, and making a living. That is success today. And you can’t just point to live shows. Remember, Queen only did a stadium tour after Live Aid, it was Freddie’s last tour with them. Previously, they performed in arenas and were extremely successful. We talked about The Beatles, who stopped going on tour and only worked in recording studios, but were more popular than ever.
Stevie- Do you have a favourite interview from the past year?
Mark- Such an unfair question, Stevie—it’s how to offend every other artist who all feel they are the best to chat with! One that did jump out was Brenna Red from The Last Gang, that was a lot of fun as we went off script and began talking about unusual words like discombobulated and pusillanimous. Brenna Red is a delightful interviewee. Then there was the recent interview we did with the French band, Avaland, which was great fun, as their guitarist Jeff Kanji and I were talking about Queen II, and you get lost in music chat. With Eva Schubert, another delightful lady from the world of jazz, I got lost in a history talk as she also does a history podcast. However, every interview and feature has been fantastic, and I’d like to thank every artist we’ve worked with over the last year.
Benny- I like the ones we do with world music. Right at the start, we spoke to Nikki Matsumoto of Rock of Asia, and there was a really positive response to that feature. So I am really proud of how we made connections to a range of international artists, especially in India, and that has given me a sense of pride this year. I feel it has really made a positive contribution to the music press. Where there are a lot of other magazines and so forth out there, we hope we are delivering something extra that is valid; introducing readers to new music.
Stevie- So, we are sometimes told we are eclectic in how we have diverse musical genres. How do we now, a year later, define what we cover?
Benny- We set out originally to cover singer songwriters with a nod towards punk. But right from the start, we gravitated toward the blues. This is partly due to our friend, the great Shirley King, daughter of BB King, who was gracious enough to do two interviews with us and really helped get us going and make connections. You need to be able to say to artists, “We have already featured so and so,” otherwise they are reluctant to be there at the start of things! Then, as we developed and grew, we went for the singer-songwriter angle and were fortunate to then connect to the worlds of jazz, country, and rock (as well as punk). That is the wide umbrella we have. But we don’t venture beyond that; this is a hip-hop free zone!
Stevie- What about acts that we have covered that you really feel are going to make it? Anyone standing out, one of those watch out world moments.
Lorraine- We have been lucky to come across some really great artists. I would say straight off that Olivia Lynn is really one to watch; she has “pop star” planted on her, her music is radio friendly, and her image is strong. At the moment, she is there on the edge, but I really feel doors will open for her. Then we got a review done for a fourteen-year-old called Rosie Hollins last month; now what great vocals from someone still in school. Watch out for that name too. And then there are bands out there really making great music and hitting the live scene that we have come across, Brave Rival spring to mind, as do Five Points Gang. I disagree that we are in an era without new talent, we find it everywhere. Look at how well Laura Evans is doing, she has to be on the cusp of much greater recognition.
Stevie- One comment sent to our email was from a reader over in the US (hello, Bryan), who was asking why there was no Rock the Joint 2023 Awards and why we don’t give stars on reviews.
Benny- I’ll answer part 1 of that. We are not well enough established to give awards, and no-one would really care enough about us yet, it would have no real status. Also, I’m not sure I’d do one anyway. I will note that our dear friend, Indian musician Doctor Lincoln highlighted how artists (himself included) get scammed by awards such as the Indian Clef Music Awards, which appear more interested in taking money from artists. What would we gain by saying this was the best artist or whatever? I don’t see us ever doing that, we place features and reviews on artists we like.
Mark- And the reviews we feature are of artists we like. If we get sent material we think is not for us or we don’t like, we won’t feature it at all. I worked for a while with a magazine, and they did so many reviews, but every one seemed to be given five stars, it made the whole thing seem undermined. And sometimes I read reviews and am basically reading the press release. Where is the input from the writer in the magazine? So we say to our two reviewers that they must listen to an entire album and comment on every song. Show respect to the artist who has worked on the album. We will say if we don’t like a track, but it is all subjective, isn’t it.
Stevie- Nearly done! Can we talk about the other side of things? The merchandise, the Amazon links, and the poetry. Why are they there?
Benny- This is a free magazine. Free content. It is professional, we hope, and you are not reading an article while trying to push away endless advertisements. So we are not interested in spoiling the reader’s time with endless annoying pop ups. But we are also increasingly, all of us, spending a lot of time doing this. So we rejected the donation, “Buy me a coffee,” as it felt like begging. Instead, we have the Amazon links, so if you download a track from our links or buy an album in one of the Amazon shops, we get a cut. The merchandise is either designed by family members of ours, or we use artists to create fresh designs that are ours. We then present and sell it. The money we generate goes to us, yes. But we are working hard!
Stevie- And the poetry?
Benny- The poetry and the quiz are there for readers who want to hang around and explore a bit. We are trying to offer something extra.
Mark- We love it when readers explore us a bit. Don’t just read the review and head off! If you explore the past features and acts we have covered, we believe you may find some great music you wouldn’t necessarily have heard before. I’d suggest checking out Voodoo Magic Man by Eva Schubert or the version of “Musst Musst” by Isheeta Chakrvarty. Now Isheeta won’t be well known by many here, but look up her music, and if I was giving an award, it would go her way for that single. But it’s subjective, I agree. And what we are saying here is we will present you new music from exciting singer songwriters. Embrace the old classics, but be open to new musicians too.
Stevie- Thanks everybody. It remains for me to wish us a happy birthday. I really speak for all of us in thanking all of you, artists and readers, who have joined us on the journey, We are here to stay! And if you do support us by using the Amazon shops or getting some merchandise, you keep our little team very happy in what we do. I will add that if you would like to review music with us, then get in touch on the contact page, and we will get back to you. We get occasional guest reviewers too, sometimes like our friend, musician Rebecca Richards. We are all volunteers, but it’s good fun too!
God bless all of you.
A couple of clips below of artists we featured last year are provided for your listening, and watching, pleasure. And do have a look at the poetry and do the quiz!
By Benny (the Ball) Benson, Mark C Chambers, Lorraine Foley and Stevie Ritson