It Was Another Age

On our first album, Little Big Head, there is a track, Rolling On, which contains my most autobiographical lyric to date. In three minutes odd it goes from childhood, through moving to London, falling into the punk scene, settling down, family and now.

For me, the most evocative part is the early verse dealing with my upbringing in Canterbury, a sleepy, provincial town in Kent. Sixty miles from London but part of a different universe altogether.

I grew up at the edge of town on the London Road Council estate. Uniform red brick houses, three small but adequate bedrooms, sporadic traffic, apple orchards out the back and the famous Canterbury Cathedral, founding place of Christianity in Britain, visible from everywhere.

Butchery_Lane,_Canterbury_-_geograph.org.uk_-_826811
Canterbury Cathedral looming over everything

 

Solidly working class but safe. No one was rich but no one was really poor. And from the rose-tinted perspective of many decades later, the sun, of course, always shone.

London Road Estate
The London Road Estate with sun “always” shining.

The best aspect of growing up there was that, by and large, we were free. A motley gang of 7,8,9, and 10 year olds always playing football in the street. If traffic came by, the ball would be picked up and, once the car passed, the endless game would carry on.

I say “always playing football” but that’s not quite true. There was always time for other escapades.

As July and August approached the apples in the orchards would ripen and it was time for the farmers to be on maximum guard as the “scrumping” season approached. Packs of German Shepherd dogs were bought in to patrol the crops and save them from the gangs of urchins who saw it as a badge of honour to strip the trees of their bounty of ripe red fruit. The farmers themselves would patrol with shot guns ready to fire at any tree infested with monkey like boys who were busy helping themselves to everything they could grab.

The operation was military in its precision. Small boys were sent ahead to reconnoitre for dogs and guns. If the coast was clear a Game of Thrones like charge of older, bigger, better climbers descended and the harvest began. Sometimes the dogs would hear us without the small boys seeing them, and a mad dash ensued with hounds after their quarry and shotgun blasts going off behind.

Usually though, all passed peacefully  and a procession of scamps would be seen wending their way back through the estate, jumpers bulging bulbously with their illicit bounty. Mothers would wait at the door to give each and everyone a clip round the ear for being “naughty”, but apple pie was always on for “pudding” at “tea time”. Nothing was wasted.

Or there were the bike trips. “Where are you going?” our mother would ask as bikes were wheeled past the back door. “Just down the road” was the reply. But in fact an expedition was planned to Whitstable, 10 miles away and the nearest coast. The route would involve 20 or so imps often cycling down a dual carriageway to get to the sea. Swimming would  follow, then drying off on the way back. No food was packed so we’d knock on the door of complete strangers and ask for a sandwich. An ordinary day dodging high-speed traffic, risking not just drowning but, from the viewpoint of this modern, paranoid age, abduction also.

“Where have you been?”, was the question on our return. “Nowhere”, was the reply.

I could go on with tales of organised shoplifting in the toy shops of Canterbury high street. The aim was to get one over on the security guards who knew exactly what we were there for, but never caught us. Often the booty was thrown away as it wasn’t really the point. Or playing chicken on the electrified main rail line from Dover to London. Raids to let the bicycle tyres down of kids from other streets. “Knock out ginger”, easy pickings fishing in local fish farms, fake dog turds left on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral to shock the tourists, breaking my little finger the one and only time I hit a boy who had just hit my little brother………. you get the picture: a childhood of adventure and “We were all in clover”.

But “time rolled on”, I turned eleven, and for complicated, domestic reasons I was torn from the family home and sent to a middle class world where I needed to mend my ways and hide my roots, else people would think less of me if they knew where I came from. But that’s a story for another song.

So what has bought on this orgy of nostalgic reminiscing?

Well on 23 July we play in Deal, a hop and a skip from Canterbury, in that delightful seaside town, remote enough to be saved from the weekend home buying Londoners that Whitstable has been prey to, but lively enough to enjoy a thriving live music scene. It’s also now my brother’s home and we appear at The Lighthouse, his local and a boozer I wanted to play the minute I walked in.

All sorts of family will be there and, if you want to join us at this free gig, the details are here.

So, in celebration of this rare and momentous return to Kent, may I urge you to give “Rolling On” a listen, either in pure, unsullied audio perfection here or with added audio-visual splendour here.

Thank you for your indulgence and company on this fond meander down memory lane.

In Praise of Bandcamp

Here’s a few tips and info I’ve learned for new bands who want to get their music out there. It’s also hopefully interesting for those who like to know how these things work.

If you don’t have a record company to look after you, and these days if you aren’t a karaoke solo singer that’ll be nearly everyone, you have to make and distribute your own music. It’s quite easy to have worldwide digital distribution on ITunes, Amazon, Spotify and Apple Music etc. You just need an aggregator.

We use AWAL which stands for Artists Without A Label. They are owned by the large, relative newcomer, Kobalt. You upload your music and artwork to the account you create on their site and, voila, everyone can download or stream your music worldwide. (The depressing thing is you’ll find your music will also appear on loads of sites which steal it and offer it cheap without paying, but that’s another subject and not AWAL’s fault).

AWAL will also try to make sure that, if someone uploads one of your songs to YouTube, an advert runs and you get something at least. YouTube is a problem at the moment. (It’s owned by Google who believe they own the internet. Actually they do own the internet because governments allow them to own over 90% of internet search advertising which means they are a monopoly and richer than the rest of the world put together. Again, that’s another subject). YouTube pays out far less than the pennies others like Spotify pay so please bear that in mind when you rip a track by an artist to post on YouTube without their permission. (I’m not talking about clips you film at gigs btw. They only help spread the word IMHO).

AWAL works very well. They do the job they say they will for 15% of what you earn and a transfer appears in your bank account every month along with a very clear and interesting statement of where the money was earned.

If there’s one drawback it’s that you don’t have any influence over how things appear on the various platforms. For instance on Spotify if you listen to “Little Big Head” by “Duncan Reid”, there’s nothing to show that there’s an associated album, “The Difficult Second Album” by “Duncan Reid and the Big Heads”.

The other drawback is that while AWAL take 15% of what they receive, Apple, for instance, also take 30% of what they receive before paying AWAL, so you end up with just over half of what people pay.

If you want to offer LPs and CDs on Amazon the costs are also high.

For unsigned bands there is an alternative where you sell downloads, CDs, LPs and merch direct to fans. It’s called Bandcamp. You set up your shop yourself making sure fans get the highest quality downloads (yes there is a big difference in sound quality between a download based on a so called WAV file and one based on an inferior MP3). You can give tracks away for free, set a price or ask people to pay what they want.You can make sure fans also get lyrics and song notes with their downloads and add photos and bonus tracks.

And Bandcamp just make the one charge of 15% for downloads and 10% on physical items, so you get the majority of the money.

I’m sure there are other sites for bands to do this but this is the one I know and if you are searching to buy stuff from an unsigned band you have discovered I would urge you to check Bandcamp first. Every little helps.

If you are interested, our Bandcamp shop is here