Tuesday, December 23, 2014

News update

Volume 1 of the Filmmaker's Reference Kit is now due out on 1 January 2015. Volume 2 is mooted for March 2015. Both will be available through the Free Music Archive.

The Kesh zine Beware! is up and running again, this time as a zine-blog or web-comic. Daily posts with characters old and new, continuing the well-meaning left-leaning tradition, are viewable here and we'd appreciate your presence and comments. Or you can join us on the Beware! Facecrap page here.

Bob Art Models continues at rapid pace with his attempts to draw every celebrity in human history - you can purchase greetings cards and the like from eBay here. For those in northern England, keep updated on his market shows via the Twitter feed.

Grand old Keshcologist Gaffa Mondo has a palaeo-art blog - Pteroformer - of interest to any dino-fans out there or just the mildly curious - it's well-written. You can get T-shirts of his designs, too.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The economics of releasing music as a physical product in 2014

In preparation for recent releases, I did some extended research into different forms of physical production. This may sound dumb to today's kids, but we grew up in another time, before digital distribution became the norm. What we wanted was to see our name on a compact disc, on an audio cassette, on the centre of a piece of vinyl. We wanted to have a collection of our own stuff, and maybe even to be able to go into a shop and see that stuff there, alongside the stuff that artistes we like have put out. However, we don't want masses of unsold copies gathering dust bunnies. We're not rich, and there's too much wasted excess product in the world, and particularly too much wasted excess product in our flats. It would be nice to have a reasonably small amount of units that could actually be sold this century to like-minded folks.

So, what is it like getting music manufactured in 2014? And why can't you buy our home-made catalogue in high street stores? Let's go through the various options, and I'll explain what I found:


Since 2000, our music has been available on CD-Rs, which are home-made. If you take your home-recorded CD-R into an indie store (let's say, ooh, Rough Trade), they will probably say "we don't take CD-Rs" - irrespective of the quality or that you've personally verified each copy. So be aware of that. If you want to get over that hurdle, you have to get your CDs pressed up by someone else. The big surprise for me was the massive disparity in cost. There are two similar-sounding processes offered by CD copying businesses, and one is no good for your purpose. CD duplication is essentially what you'd do with a CD burner, but on a larger scale, and while it's cheap, to e.g. Rough Trade, it's indistinguishable from a home CD-R. So you don't need CD duplication if you want to get into shops. In order to get them pressed up like the professionals, you need your CDs not duplicated, but replicated. This involves the making of a scary-sounding glass master, and is generally only available in high runs of over 300 or so. It also costs a lot. I've done some homework for you, searching for "cd replication uk prices" on Google. The cost of replicating 500 CDs is, at time of asking (December 2014), for disc only:

Prices quoted are for cheapest option shown on website, and are inclusive of VAT - you may just find something cheaper
Replication Centre - £270 
Max Duplication - £270
Mobineko - £282
Demomaster - £300
Testa Rossa - £312
Cyclone Music - £324
Key Production - £348
Pure Music - £480

Is it possible to get a professionally replicated, economical short run of CDs - a Keshco size run? It seems not. However, in researching this, I found one place, Mobineko, which offers glass-mastered short runs starting at 100 units for £198 - yes, considerably cheaper.

But in CD manufacture, really there are no half measures. And in our case, it's all about half measures - Accountants By Day may have over 100,000 free downloads, but audiences are quite passive and only a handful will actually part with any money for music in these times, or even tell you the bits they enjoyed or what they'd like to hear more of. Blank empty space, until you actually corner people and coax opinions from them. For "Now That's What I Call Keshco", 160 minutes of highly creative and carefully recorded re-imaginings requiring our lengthy writing, practising, recording, mixing and mastering time, our pre-orders were a mighty two (that's two), and as it was a two-disc release, that would have entailed doubling the costs above. Also, your typical squeezed indie shop can be picky even with professionally-pressed content, as they only have so much floor space. So, the likelihood with getting 500 CDs replicated is that 480-odd will remain unsold, turning your house into a warehouse, unless you have hard-headed business contacts or want to spend your entire time playing the industry game (in which case, this whole article is a bit irrelevant to you).

Mini CDs (3-inch)

Don't. People don't understand the format, many players won't accept them, and the one mean review we received suggested that perhaps we'd bought these awful-sized discs because they're cheaper. They're more expensive! Result: we have a lot of mini CDs sitting around.


Who buys a cassette in 2014? Strangely, despite having been left for dead many years back by the mainstream industry, tape sales are (albeit slightly) on the rise once more, as increasing amounts of creative types are reminded of how useful and economical they are. There is a horrendous Hoxton hipster crowd, for sure, but also collectors who fetishise the medium of their youth, just as others do with vinyl. There are a quiet few who never gave up cassettes (very Keshco, that); and those who just want some pleasantly-designed physical memento of their favourite artistes. Anyway, having assumed for years that CDs were the only game in town, we've recently broadened our focus. The tape is back.

It was a nice surprise to find that cassette duplication is considerably cheaper than vinyl, and as there is no need for glass masters, shorter runs are possible. For our Cassette Store Day releases, we used Tapeline (http://tapeline.info), who offered a very reasonable and personable service. 100 copies of our Bleak House "Music From The Middle Room" and 25 copies of "Freaks At A Wake", plus the cases and shipping, for £169.74. We sorted the artwork ourselves and it doesn't let the side down.

Your dilemma, though, is where to sell the cassettes. Most record stores won't take the things, or if they do, there will be extremely limited shelf space. With Cassette Store Day, we paid to be on the official stock list, which led to orders from shops who surely wouldn't have noticed us otherwise.


So, what about the old favourite? The never-bettered black seven-inch frisbee? The curious desire to have one's noises on vinyl goes back more than a century towards the beginnings of the recording industry. Again, sales are on the rise after a nadir in the early 2000s, but the flavour-of-the-month vinyl stock in somewhere like Fopp/HMV is way more expensive than most of the equivalent CDs, as if the industry is trying to claw back the costs of its loss-leading discounted CDs by fleecing vinyl collectors. For the independent band, your vinyl release (as opposed to your CD release) is more likely to be a desirable product, even amongst those who don't own a record player. Manufacture is fairly expensive, as you might expect. Here I've searched, non-comprehensively, for "vinyl pressing uk prices".

Again, prices quoted are the cheapest that were clearly available on the relevant website, and inclusive of VAT

100 7" singles (white label)
Unit 8 Recording Studios - £360
JTS Studios - £384
Mobineko - £420

300 7" singles (white label)
Unit 8 Recording Studios - £480 
Mobineko - £486
JTS Studios - £517.20
Cyclone Music - £546
Key Production - £564

With vinyl, almost all music shops will take them, there's more shelf space than for tapes, but of course an unsold box is very heavy.

One more thought. Supply and demand is an important factor. There's a lot of music. The marketplace is saturated. Then again, there's a lot of picky people saying "oh there's no good new music any more". If people can at least get to hear your music in the first place, and they love it, there's a chance they'll be coming to you asking how they can buy it (as I've done with bands I like). We make ourselves very contactable. It's a lot easier choosing the physical format of your release if you can stoke up some demand first.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Johnny Cocktail: The Novella - extract

An awfully long time ago, I started writing bits for a Johnny Cocktail novella, to be an expanded version of his struggle against the phoney bearded guru Angale R Bruin. As this is unlikely to get further - it's currently 18th on the Kesh project list, which is at least Top 20 status but seriously it'll never be high enough - I thought you might appreciate a little extract. Feel free to say hello.


Balls in the air. Juggle juggle juggle.
     These people, these places, these projects. Each has its own mass, its own weighting. Subtle variance of spin and velocity.
     Arcing back over each other, in and out of turn.
     The light and the air and the grease and the gumption.
     One thing you could say about being a lifestyle guru/private investigator – it's a test of your co-ordination.

August had already intervened with flash floods that dismantled a long-term house makeover. Bloody Boscastle. One ball down. Another had gained mass with reports of animal skeletons turning up in the Highlands.
     It was with research in mind that Johnny visited his local corner shop to buy his Sport, Mail, Independent, Murder Casebook and Crochet partwork.
     It was animal butchery he was pondering as he sauntered around Lidl grabbing all the bargains, virtually on autopilot.
     It was corruption in sport that tested him during his tour of Victoria Park, zig-zagging around virtually on autopilot.
     It was malfunctioning software that bored him to sleep.

August 20th. Two things of note happened to Johnny that dark, muggy day. Firstly, he chanced upon a wrongly-placed book in the Humour Dept. Secondly, an unexpected visitor rang his doorbell.
     The misplaced volume was Secrets of Core Pulse Tone Love, by Bruin.
     The unexpected visitor was a man in a karate suit.
     Gaunt, sweating disgustingly, glasses slipping down his bony nose, he propped himself up against the alcove as Johnny cautiously pulled the door back.
     A painful intake of breath. Two words: “Help me.”
     Johnny's features softened into a fatherly smile.
     Five words: “Help me kick his arse.”
     An eyebrow duly raised.

The volume had regained Johnny's glance as, having skimmed around the section, he found himself trying to make out what the hell that title meant. Picking it off the shelf, he scanned the blurb and was none the wiser. It was clearly a double-espresso read, if not triple. The pages thick with gobbledygook. Back on the shelf it went.

The man gulped back his second hi-ball of water while Johnny took notes.
     When the words came they were thick and fast and garbled. There were slogans and retreats and deadlines and mocking laughter. And for Johnny, there was a lightbulb switching on in his head as he connected the man now dampening his cheapest armchair with something that had happened back in May.
     It had been a light, tantalising early Summer day and JC was in SoHo amassing material for a show about alternative lifestyles. The kind of thing they lap up on Blighty. He was filming a bunch of Koreans wrapped in dayglo bulbous cartoon costumes, when his attention snapped onto a hubbub nearby in Leicester Square. A group of men in light karate outfits performed stunts and poses for an appreciative female audience. One chap was handing out broken bits of slate together with calling cards. Intrigued, Johnny took one and frowned at its message:
     “You seek the truth through all these things. You call 0898 800 1800. Zen Zen UK UK”.
     He found a payphone and dialled the number, ignoring the stale urine stench.
     “Hello? I was wondering if Zen was around … I've got lots of questions about the meaning of life and I've heard that Zen has all the answers … Hello? I want to talk to Zen!”
     That day Johnny had been forced to give up, the card left to languish in a jacket pocket stuffed with sandwich receipts and ladies' scrawled addresses. He had never found out who this Zen was, or why he wrote his own name twice.
     Now he understood.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Five Doctor Who stories that have inspired us

It's fair to say Doctor Who is the Keshcologist's time-travel anthology show of choice. Yes, yes, we remember Crime Traveller (which, I'm guessing, came about once the Beeb realised the 1996 TV pilot with Paul McGann wasn't being taken forward); we long for a DVD release of Ken Campbell as Erasmus Microman (which, I'm guessing, came about after he nearly got chosen as the Seventh Doctor, and decided to do his own take on it anyway for ITV); we have undimmed fondness for The Magician's House (which was based on a series of children's books but, I'm guessing, was taken forward by the promise of Ian Richardson being uncannily Doctor-ish on a Sunday teatime). But it's the longevity and endless elasticity of Who that weaved itself into the mindcloth of our woolly little heads. Here are a few stories you may wish to check up on, for context.

The Mind Robber (1969)
The Doctor's time-machine, the TARDIS makes a sudden emergency detour and gets sucked into an alternative universe, the Land of Fiction. The hastily cobbled-together first episode takes place in a white void, and ends with a spooky and iconic shot of the Police Box exploding, and (the very saucy) Wendy Padbury clinging onto the central console as it spins off into darkness. The costumes and props were mainly made up of whatever was available from other shows, and daft plot points included Patrick Troughton having to put Frazer Hines's face back together - he does so wrongly, and a different actor plays Jamie for the next episode!
Further listening: I Almost Died

The Daemons (1971)
Swishy style icon Jon Pertwee arrives in a stuffy English village where the vicar, a Reverend Magister, is revealed to be his arch-nemesis the Master, attempting to summon up evil hairy god Azal from the dawn of time. Maypoles, morris men, sacrifices, "chap with wings - five rounds rapid", it's ludicrous and archetypal and a rollicking good yarn in the Hammer vein.
Further listening: Village of Death

Enlightenment (1983)
Sailing ships in space, can you imagine? A race around the solar system, the crews plucked out of Earth history to traverse the solar winds and compete for the ultimate prize - enlightenment. Delightful whimsical concept well executed with neat model shots of the racing vessels. Plus - it's deliciously camp; I direct you to Turlough's troubles in the lower decks, and the fearsome space pirate played by... Nurse Gladys Emanuelle?!
Further listening: Enlightenment

Vengeance On Varos (1985)
The clown-coated Doctor arrives in a seedy world of trial by television, live executions, gunrunners, drugs... oh and there are evil interplanetary commodity traders who are talking molluscs. It pushes the concept of how dark you can make kids' entertainment, and lo and behold a couple of weeks later Michael Grade announced the show was being put on hiatus.
Further listening: Weapons Expo

The Happiness Patrol (1988)
An anti-Thatcher fable with forced jollity the way of life - the TARDIS gets painted pink so as not to depress the people - but don't worry, the trickster-like Doctor will defy the system. (Script editor Andrew Cartmel's job interview: "What would you most like to achieve during your time on Doctor Who?" "I'd like to overthrow the government.") Features a hilarious executioner who looked like Bertie Bassett, and who killed people by drowning them in hot sweets. This is one a lot of people our age seem to remember.
Further listening: Climate Dance

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Copyright extension

When I worked at a medical school a few years back, I occasionally attended business meetings where a pair of accountants, who had usually flown straight in from Hong Kong, would intone humourlessly about Libor rates and the yoyo-ing performance of speculative investments, without any serious questioning from the medical school representatives as to their rationale or any ethical concerns, before jetting straight out again. They had no interest in medical research, in what the money was going to be spent on, in the implications of a sudden loss, or in using that money for the greater good. They'd flown in business class, and would be flying straight back to continue their monitoring of vast sums of money. It was all about the money, almost as an abstract. Amoral. We could as easily have been Lockheed Martin or the Newmont Mining Corporation, except that we'd have been able to offer them posher nibbles and bigger bonuses.

From them to us, reluctantly
The muted release in recent years of voluminous amounts of unreleased studio material by aged moneyspinners like Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Beach Boys is to satisfy the terms of the EU's copyright extension on sound recordings, from 50 years to 70 years, specifically the proviso that in order to get this extended period, a recording simply has to be released in any form. A single copy release at £1000 available for one minute by a single vendor in Hong Kong would satisfy the rules. The people who negotiated this copyright extension, the people who put out these comprehensive releases in cynically obscure form just to stop them falling into the public domain and prevent people everywhere enjoying and learning from them, the people who run these companies and are responsible for their policies, are of a type with the humourless accountants above. They have no interest in the creative side of music making, the counterproductive implications of this kind of behaviour. They're certainly interested in money (and they retain the posh nibbles and big bonuses), but allied to that is a mean-spirited, rather obsessive-compulsive determination to lock down any last asset that could possibly be exploited, even if they have no idea what to do with it. The diametric opposite of the Creative Commons and Free Music Archive movement. I am reminded of fossil fuel executives, ceaselessly pushing their outdated products through a seeming obsessive-compulsive determination to extract every last bit of energy from the ground and burn it, even to the point where more energy is expended extracting the stuff in the first place; and even when they must know they will have to change to renewable energy in the long-term.

Amusingly, despite this seeming desire to get the copyright stamp onto every last asset, in the case of the Beatles plenty of known recordings were left off of the mopping-up collection. As such, a glut of their recordings from 1963 are now public domain, and you could legitimately sell these tomorrow as your own release. Fab Beatles blog WogBlog lists some of the recordings which the Beatles' compilers left off the 1963 collection, and which are now public domain.

We release most of our music for free, for the fun of getting positive feedback and finding out the daft uses to which it's been put. Shares and comments are our currency. They give us the energy to continue. You like to share and comment, surely.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Political slot: Air quality

When I was growing up in the flatness of 1980s East Anglia, on foggy walks to hated school my dad would tell me of the air conditions he put up with living in London in the 1950s. Thick yellowy fog dense enough to reduce visibility to about arm's-length. In the Great Smog of 1952, 62 years ago today, at least 4,000 Londoners died. But those were the bad old days, pre-central heating, when most people had coal smoke pumping out of their chimneys, and those days were ended by the Clean Air acts - at least we thought so. Air pollution to my 1980s self meant industrial accidents, grim editions of First Tuesday featuring asbestos timebombs and iron lungs; something you could easily fathom. We were clean, we had a gas fire and nice warm radiators. Through the 1990s, the move to unleaded petrol and widespread adoption of catalytic converters gave the surface impression that we had improved things further; though near busy roads on still days there remained that persistent slight burning sensation in the eyes and the back of the throat.

The problem is, even though we can't see the pollution (well, not like the residents of Beijing can anyway), the air we breathe particularly in cities is nowhere near as clean as it should be - in busier London streets the pollution average is over twice the World Health Organisation's legal limits. Current estimates for yearly deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution are around 7,500 in London and 55,000 across the UK (with ozone possibly responsible for at least 5,000 further deaths per year). Yes, that's 7,500 deaths a year, or roughly 20 people a day in London whose deaths are down to air pollution. Bad old days? Did they ever stop, or did we just find a way of hiding the problem?

Pressure group Clean Air in London should be applauded for its tireless work dragging these facts into the public arena. It's only in recent months that newspapers have picked up on what is a major public health scandal of our time. It seems worse because it sounds a relatively easy thing to improve on - hang on, surely you've had clear figures for a while now, and you know it'll be a vote-winner to improve the air quality. So a fleet of new buses, hybrid technology, great, but what - they run on diesel? Isn't that responsible for far higher nitrogen dioxide and particle exhaust emissions than petrol? Who signed off on that?

You can monitor current street-by-street readings for air pollution, here: http://www.londonair.org.uk/LondonAir/Default.aspx

Monday, December 08, 2014

Now, still, a free download

Our 30-track tribute to the original Now That's What I Call Music compilation, rewritten/recorded in 2013, is now available for free - it was already available free, but now perhaps easier to find? - at archive.org:


Do grab it - there are many original moments within, the styles are all different, we've found ways to make them our own, and really it's shocking that (say) Freaks at a Wake has had over 10,000 downloads while this has been heard by a few dozen.

And now a haiku:

Mouse click on a link
Music burst across the globe
Sleeping eye and mind

Here's a haiku triptych, about Ali Dia:

Blyth Spartans reserves
A manager's telephone
Southampton first team 
Your moment has come
Chase the ball and chase the game
Your moment has gone 
Empty hotel room
Coach on the motorway north

Friday, December 05, 2014

Strategies for success

[Irony alert] Over the many decades of Keshco, Bleak House, Guivarsh, Stinky and the Peepholes, and sundry other side-projects, it's fair to say we've been enormously successful at bringing freshness, excitement and strangeness to the firmament of rock, and building a tightly-knit audience comprised of kindred spirits. It's a massive responsibility knowing that people hang on our every utterance. In the spirit of fraternity, it's only well and good we share some of our strategies that made Deforestation of Dak a top-10 album in Vanuatu, and Got Lot Of Stuff the title music for Dutch cuisine series "Bossche Bol".

STRATEGY No. 13: Snarled-up tape can be a beautiful thing.
STRATEGY No. 12: Make your own luck and then sit hard on it.
STRATEGY No. 11: Diversions are essential palliatives.
STRATEGY No. 10: Let all your hairs hang loose.
STRATEGY No. 9: By all means rhyme, but not all the time.
STRATEGY No. 8: Never repeat yourself even if nobody heard it the first time.
STRATEGY No. 7: There are some other nice musicians out there, but only the ones who aren't trying to make it.
STRATEGY No. 6: Never hustle.
STRATEGY No. 5: The most tuneful bits should come at the end of songs, after the interlopers have turned off.
STRATEGY No. 4: 4/4 is over-rated.
STRATEGY No. 3: Christopher Chope is the enemy.
STRATEGY No. 2: If Rough Trade are involved, it's not alternative.
STRATEGY No. 1: Do things back-to-front.

So, we'd like to throw it open to you. What are your strategies for success? What methods have you used to drive women wild, make money fast, wrest control of the zeitgeist, catch the red dot? Let's get some comments going!

PS: Anxiously awaiting your response. (That's our top post to date.)

PPS: You can get nice Bossche bollen from Albert Heijn. Best served cold with slagroom.

PPPS: TTIP. Just say no. Learn about the self-organised European citizens' initiative against TTIP and CETA here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Beware! Vision Update

If you've not yet caught the 23rd November home concert, you can watch it here (the incredibly catchy ident runs until 5:20):


You're allowed to share it with friends too, you know. Comments are also permitted!

It went OK for a comeback run-through, and we were happy that the live Skype link-up worked at all, especially seeing as integration with Skype isn't allowed on uStream's free account, necessitating the multi-laptop workaround. When improvising with long latency and so-so sound quality, some types of expression are limited, so you have to find avenues of creativity within a tight boundary. More programmes to follow in mid-December, and your requests are again sought. Remember, watching on a mobile device there are no adverts. Thanks for watching, and do get in touch with any comments on our TV endeavours. If you sign up with uStream they can notify you of any future broadcasts - I believe this is done without excess unwanted mailings.