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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Damaged goods: and now here's Nils Blythe with the business news

Only just heard it (thanks AH for mentioning it) but the Gang Of Four's Andy Gill and Jon King's appearance on the Today programme yesterday prompts a thought (rare for me). What are musicians doing on progs like this? Who benefits? What's the point?

Yeah, OK, it's all promotion and if I were PR-ing the GO4's new album (god forbid) I'd also probably be sending the Today prog's planning editor some press release blurb about the availability of "this massively influentially post-punk-funk band" who can talk about "whether music is politically engaged these days?" Yes, it's a dirty business, but someone's gotta do it...

But who benefits? The band get their three mins’ of exposure to 750,000 quarter-interested listeners (in between slabs of a comfortingly querulous Humphrys or Naughtie); a current affairs audience gets to hear 10 seconds of (say) Damaged Goods; a few extra albums get sold. Job done.

So, ordinary PR, yes, but that's what's wrong with it as well. It's got commercial ordinariness stamped all over it ("Listen up, goods for sale under not-very-convincing cover of topical chat"). Fair enough: doing PR myself I know it's often an unglamorous hard slog at the media coalface (you should see my raw, blistered hands some days) and the "obvious" is often what succeeds (ie the media will say "can we just have them talking about politics and pop?")

But: it's falling between two stools. The chat is underwhelming and the music under-appreciated and barely played. If you must PR it, I prefer the PR-with-a-twist approach of that time New Order's Stephen Morris was on the Today programme talking about being 50. Art, media and sales meet and manage not to kill each other. Sort of.

As it goes I think the Today programme is generally terrible on music (I'm still smarting at the memory of that trite, over-obvious tribute by Mark Coles to "Peely" the day after John Peel's death). In my day-job ... PR ... I was once in the Today programme green room (ie about four chairs around a polystyrene coffee cup-strewn table in a corridor) when Mark Ellen was there to do three minutes on Led Zeppelin at the O2 arena. It was exactly what that sounds like: heritage rock act gets few minutes of the knowing/amusing patter treatment to entertain highbrow-ish current affairs audience. Yep, take it or leave it.

OveralI, I may not like it, but I guess I'll continue to take it. Hey, there's still something pleasurable about hearing a little blast of Black Dog or I Love A Man In A Uniform straight after the business news. It's just a pity it sounds so much like business as usual.

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