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Friday, 22 April 2011

Jackie Oates on your skin and musicians as third world countries, part two

"Not only are you going to be very well paid for this but you'll spend the next three years being massaged by beautiful women," entrepreneur Mark Constantine told Simon Emmerson, of The Imagined Village and the Afro Celt Sound System, in an attempt to enthuse him about something that sounded, frankly, a bit implausible (see previous blog for fuller details).

They were discussing a project to record some folk music for a chain of spas that Constantine was opening, using products from his cosmetics and bathtime brand, Lush. "But the therapists weren't all beautiful women," mused Emmerson (pic below). "There was Gavin. He wasn't beautiful..."

There will be a gig on May 5 at Cecil Sharp House showcasing the end result, which is called Fresh Handmade Sound and there are four CDs, each for use during a different spa treatment. But, in addition to increasing the amount of seratonin in the world - Lush's owner, Mark Constantine, loves folk music - the project has had several other curious knock-on effects.

First of all, Jackie Oates, who became involved later on as part of a duo with Belinda O'Hooley, has had a face cream (below) named after her. I'm not joking - although I've already been accused of making this whole tale up by the good people at Folkcast. It's a kind of make-up foundation for English rose complexions and it's for sale in branches of Lush all over the country.
The second is that Simon Emmerson managed to get his good friend Chris Wood - this year's folk singer of the year - to have a massage for possibly the first time in his life. "Do you know him? He's a kind of new puritan," said Emmerson.

"And musicians - particularly folk musicians - don't go in for things like that. We're a pretty ascetic bunch and it's not part of the culture, though I really think it should be. Your English, blokey folk musician doesn't go to spas, he goes to the pub and drinks ale.

"So during the development of all this I dragged Chris along to the spa in Leeds - he was very reluctant - but when he re-emerged an hour later he came out with this huge grin on his face, looking totally blissed out and wearing this sort of loungey dressing gown that had been hanging on the back of the door. He's had lots of problems with his back and neck, as many of us do, and said it helped.

"On a more serious note, though, this whole project was a revelation for me - it couldn't have come at a better time in my life. When Mark phoned I'd been about to give up. I couldn't support myself. The industry had collapsed, The Imagined Village album hadn't recouped and I felt totally defeated. I couldn't continue as a record producer or musician: there just didn't seem to be the money there.

"But it wasn't just the fact that it was paid work. It gave me a chance to sit back and assess what I am and who I am as a musician. The quality of your working environment makes a huge difference: if you're having a good time it's extraordinary how creative you can become. It's a myth that you have to be starving in a garrett to write good music.

"It's really difficult being a musician at the moment, especially on the fringes, where folk is." But Emmerson says that the last couple of years have changed his view of how to exist there financially.

"Chris Wood's business model is the best one. He owns everything: from songs to the label, to his music, to the band. Total ownership of your own creativity is the way forwards. It was Chris who said: 'You need to think about setting up your own label and setting up the band as a partnership.'

"What you need to know about me is that I'd signed to Virgin in 1983 and stayed signed to a major label until four years ago. I'd been in some very successful bands: the Afro Celts sold over a million and a half albums. But for the whole period I was living on £16k to £20k a year. That's how musicians live. They generally have a partner who supports them or a private income, if they're lucky. But Chris Woods and Steve Knightley (of Show of Hands) have found a different way of doing things.

"During this period, Mark Constantine became involved with the band. He went away and looked at the industry and said he couldn't believe how stupid musicians have been for all these years. He said he was only going to support us if we got our act together and cut out all the parasites and the middle men who have been feeding off our backs.

"He invested some money in the label, which we called ECC records. It's short for Emmerson, Corncrake and Constantine." Who's Corncrake, I asked? "Well, Corncrake started out as a bit of a joke. We thought it sounded like one of those slightly pompous prog rock bands from the 1970s: Emmerson, Lake and Palmer. Er. Corncrake's just a bird that lives somewhere a long way away.

"The label's got a book-keeper and an accountant, but no label bosses and the profit is split 50/50 between band and label, so that everyone can get paid as quickly and easily as possible. I think this is the only way you can survive.

"I guess that if you're starting out, the idea of running a label is scary and you don't really want to do that: you want to party and have a  good time. But the principle is really just a fair trade principle. If you look at musicians as third world countries and major labels as exploitative, first world countries, how do you set up a fair trade agreement? You cut out all the middle men and strip away everything unnecessary."

* Walking with Ghosts will be playing From Source to Sea, supported by the slightly mysterious FLK band at Cecil Sharp House on May 5. FLK will be performing something called I Know Where the Time Goes. Tickets £5. 7.30pm

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  1. Great advice from Simon - keep your eye on the money, keep control of the goods!

    The idea of merch diversification is clever, too. Can you put us down for a pot of 3 Daft Monkeys exfoliating lotion and a sachet of Phil Beer shampoo, please? ;-)

  2. Bellowhead has done beer :-) How about a Folkcast antimacassar or "Green Man" cupcakes branded with your logo? For The Glamour Cave I'm considering cigarette papers, a range of protective work garments or deely boppers...

  3. Hard to beat the Fairport Convention scanty-panties ... one size fitted no-one.


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