Category Archives: Exploratory Articles

Carpe Diem

I live to write. I love to write as well. I’m writing a story right now. Descriptive narrative has always been something I’ve excelled at, and if they had done a full module in creative English when I was at school there might have been a chance I’d have gotten at least one A in my final exams. But with great power, comes great responsibility, and I always felt that I needed to play to my strengths. I’ve spoken before about the first story I ever wrote – it was a news piece about the Stena Sealink, which had crashed into a wall docking in a Dublin port – and I had to edit the piece as reported by RTE online to a nice little script for my newsreader.

When I worked with Wave 102 in Dundee back in 2009, I got plenty of experience with writing news stories and creating articles for broadcast, and then I’d be the person reading them out during the broadcast. I always remember how weird it was to go for a walk around Dundee Town Centre and hear my voice reading the news on a loudspeaker in the local shopping centre. We pre-recorded the last four bulletins of the day on a weekend, so I’d recorded the first 8/10 live and then do the final 4 before I left for the evening.

December 2018 commemorates my tenth anniversary of getting a job at Talk107. As a Producer for a major Edinburgh radio station it remains one of my firm career highlights and allowed me to look after things like the Drive Time show and create content and features like I’d dreamed of since I was 15. Of course, I was closer to 15 at the time than I am now, and I’m still dreaming. Still writing articles and creating words and being as descriptive as I can with this narrative – perhaps to pull on your heartstrings this festive season?

My first Journalism lecturer was named Tom Clarke. He gave me some interesting advice, on my very first day as a Professional Journalist, when he told me that if I didn’t consider myself a Journalist from this moment on I would never be one. And he was right, because this was before the age of YouTube and Video Journalism, where every person with a camera can claim to be a reporter. Oddly enough, that used to annoy me, but then I realised that just because you give somebody a football doesn’t mean they know how to play soccer. And even when they learn to kick a ball and score a goal, does it mean they can make the first team?

What I mean by this is that Journalism, from my perspective, is a skill. There’s an ability to be able to create something and a talent or a flair that is inhalable. I don’t necessarily agree that you have to pay to go to University to obtain something like this, but I do agree that you’ll soon discover whether you have it or not, and your voice and your presence will carry you. I think another talent for Journalism is investigation – the ability to hunt and find what you need – to ask questions others would naturally shy away from or just to be the person who has the self-belief, self-determination, courage, respect or whatever to put their hand up and challenge.

The same lecturer also told me that you shouldn’t accept gifts from bands, that you need to avoid writing in the first person and that you should diversify as much as possible. And I don’t think I’ve been able to keep a single one of those rules. The difference between my skills in Journalism and those of, say, a solicitor; the lawyer doesn’t give legal advice for free. Rarely have I met a comedian who doesn’t inform me that when somebody learns what they do, there’s an expectation they’ll tell them a joke. Imagine meeting someone at a dinner party who informs you they’re a cleaner – would you immediately ask them to empty your bins?

At one point in my career I stopped being creative. I stopped presenting my radio show, stopped writing articles like these, stopped taking photographs and posting them online. I even hesitated to make Facebook posts longer than four syllables. I did this because a friend, who is also a Journalist, told me he wouldn’t take a commission for work unless it was paid. He’s still waiting. I became incensed at the idea that everybody wants this work for free, that I couldn’t earn a living doing what I loved because I was selling myself short. From what I know, most of the people I studied Journalism with in University went on to study other subjects – a majority of them retrained and entered medicine. They look back at their Journalism time as the naïve folly of youth, as if I’m approaching being that guy you notice in your record store. The dude with the ponytail whose greatest moment was aged 23.

But that’s not where my story ends.

Because I realised that if I enjoy doing something, monetary value (although important), should not be the deciding factor. I know filmmakers who are hesitant to create new projects because they simply can’t afford it. Ideas and scripts sitting in a drawer which would make millions – perhaps – but the world is saturated with Netflix originals and re-original content.

A friend once complemented me. We were standing next to a plane that had flown in World War 2 and I said “Imagine, at aged 19, getting in this plane and flying across the skies. Dropping bombs on other countries, shooting down enemies…” and he just looked at me, told me never to lose that, because all he saw “was a fucking plane”. But that gentlemen once told me that filmmaking, true filmmaking, is an art. Directors like James Cameron and writers like John Hughes used to create visual and aural poetry – whereas nowadays, there are less obvious concerns for craft.

So I’ll continue writing. But not because I believe I’m better than anyone else. But because I believe that if you’re good at something, you should never stop doing it – and you should be able to choose the direction it takes. Last night I spent two hours sitting by a computer and listening to music. I heard an album from start to finish without interruption. I can’t remember the last time I did that. We live in a world of such fleeting glances, GIF’s and disposable media, that taking time out to do something which meant that other things couldn’t get done seemed alien.

Carpe Diem.

Private Photography

I’ve taken some time recently, with a new camera, to capture some photography and I’d like to share it here for the first time. Photography is something I’ve always loved and I just tried to capture some things within my life that make me smile. And find something each session that makes me happy, whether it’s fleeting (because it’s food) or it means a lot more (because it’s radio)

       

Grave Formats

The other day I found myself in HMV while my parents visited in the run up to Christmas. As it was a festive occasion, my parents had suggested we purchase a gift, something they could enjoy wrapping and leaving under the tree for me before their return to France. Not being one to ever miss out on a present I gladly accepted and proceeded to rummage through a number of my mental ‘wish lists’ attempting to come up with something I’d like to physically obtain.

As I proceeded to leaf through the copious amount of Vinyl on offer I realised just how far HMV have evolved. December 2012 seems like a distant memory, but more tenured employees of HMV will remember the time well, as it spelt a certain end to the company. At the time, economists took great pride in appearing on news programs, telling us just how obsolete a store like HMV was in today’s marketplace. And yet, it remains. The store I was standing in, in Gateshead’s Metro Centre, had recently located to a more premier retail location and a new store, in Boston Lancashire, opens its doors in the very unit its predecessor was forced to close in March 2013.

In many respects, it’s hardly surprising that HMV has managed to remain, but commendable and worthy of praise all the same. It’s current business model meant that more high priced items like phones, electronics and games took a back seat; while shelves were recently filled with comics, collectables and even Vinyl. Having worked for the company briefly in 2009 and again in 2013, I defiantly experienced some of this change first hand. Vinyl itself presented something quite unique; as if we’d suddenly travelled back in time and embraced a format which should – by all rights – be extinct. Just as many analysts argue HMV should be.

Compact Disc has been a regular fixture in the marketplace since the late 80s, swiftly seeing off competition from Mini Disc, VHS and even Laserdisc; they even buried Vinyl considerably in an episode of Tomorrow’s World recorded around 1992. Whereas a lot of music fans have embraced the digital revolution a decade ago, retailers are limited in their selections, admitting that embracing MP3’s and Spotify subscriptions would leave them out of a job. So CD has found a bizarre and unchallenged equilibrium; until the return of Vinyl. Asides from their popularity with collectors, their physical appeal, their openness to customisation (who doesn’t love a good picture disc?) there’s also an exceptionally unique quality to Vinyl which makes it a more attractive proposition for retailers; it’s practically impossible to steal.

Consider for a moment walking into a store on a cold Christmas day and shoving a cassette tape into your pocket. Even a CD would fit snuggly into an inside pocket without much effort. Vinyl, on the other hand, presents twelve inches of self-resistance to petty theft; for both customers and staff alike, making it the perfect product. In 2017 HMV predicted its most successful year of Vinyl sales in almost 20, thanks in part to the efforts of mainstream artists like Ed Sheeran and Noel Gallagher embracing the format, with UK sales for that year topping four million.

In 2018 this trend continues, with the average purchase of Vinyl made by a consumer younger than those purchasing CDs, according to information from the website Kantar. According to their estimates, the overall value of the vinyl market in the UK for the latest quarter (in the 12 weeks to 1 July) was £25 million. 420,000 people bought a vinyl record in this period, up by 6.6% vs. Q1 (that is, the 12 weeks to 1 April). And this is despite the evident proof that not all collectors of Vinyl have the means to play them.

What might be even more remarkable is that this trend has led to a number of other ‘Grave Formats’ returning to the fold. Swedish band Ghost released their latest album ‘Prequelle’ as well as their live compilation ‘Ceremony and Devotion’ on Vinyl, but perhaps more surprising is their choice to release it on 8 Track Cassette. Although a limited release, initially available through the bands website and the result of Spotify giveaways, their operations are not unique to just cult bands – with Metallica remastering their classic ‘And Justice for All’ album and releasing a special cassette version; which is available to purchase through Amazon and was also stocked in HMV alongside a Nirvana cassette release earlier this year.

The introduction of the cassette tape by Philips in 1963 would lead to it becoming one of the most influential ways people consume music for over 30 years, and yet, it was somewhat ironically never intended never to rival the audio quality of the existing larger tape formats. Once Sony released a portable cassette player called the Walkman in 1979, such anti-taping arguments were more or less dismissed by the general public. Complete with portable headphones, the Walkman encouraged a generation of music fans to take their sounds with them wherever they went, and the advent of the boom box, which featured dual cassette decks, provided portability and seemingly encouraged music duplication through its design. By 1983 it was cassettes which outsold Vinyl.

And yet, as I made my selection that evening in HMV, my father looked on slightly baffled as to why – at 63 – it was his 33-year-old son who was purchasing albums on Vinyl, Cassette and 8 Track in 2018. Everything it would seem, has its place.

Revolving World of Colour

Revolving World of Colour
Wayne Madden

Even though Colour Television was a staple of the American diet from 1958, the

UK had to wait until John Newcombe won the Men’s singles at Wimbledon nearly a decade later, before the first colour images were projected onto European TV screens.

John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, first demonstrated colour television in 1927 but despite its popularity, high prices and the resulting scarcity of colour programmes, the format was not as widely used in its initial outing. As time moved on, however, cheaper alternatives and formats were created in order to make the expansion of colour film a reality for all mediums and budgets.

Barry Sandrew, PHD, an internationally recognized entrepreneur, digital imaging expert and visual effects pioneer invented digital colourization in 1987. “I invented digital colorization in 1987 at my company, American Film Technologies, as an alternative to the very poor quality that was being delivered using the initial analogue process.”

But new technology is not necessarily always greeted with Universal acclaim. Back in the mid-80s, there was a well-known and controversial campaign to colourise classic movies which led to heated public debate. Ted Turner (the media mogul and founder of CNN) spearheaded a movement in which he believed classic films, among them Orson Welles “Citizen Kane” and Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, should be colourised for the benefit of future generations. He believed that classics such as these were being ignored by viewers in favour of colour film.

This is an argument that goes back to Thomas Edison, in the late 20th century, who colourised film by hand as he perceived that audiences would not enjoy his own black and white work. It’s a popular misconception; therefore, that colour film was a more modern cinema trait. Victor Fleming’s 1939 musical fantasy “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the most well-known pieces of the time to have been shot purposely in colour (using two tone Technicolor), although the basic technology had existed for almost 40 years beforehand, with the earliest examples going back to 1902.

Technology aside however, there were also plenty of examples where black and white films were colourised in pre-production. Howard Hughes and Alfred Hitchcock created films in black and white, only to remake them in colour, citing both artistic and financial reasons.

Kevin Shaw is a colourist, with over 30 years’ experience in the industry. He believes there is some truth in the notion of a stigma towards black and white on film. “There is a feeling that black and white is “missing” colour rather than being seen as an alternative medium,” says Shaw, “and I believe this inclination persists today.”

Sandrew argues the very objections to colourization is what made it popular. “The fact that colourization was a “hot button” issue actually helped AFT become more popular with both clients and fans of colourization,” says Sandrew. “If people didn’t like colourization they didn’t have to buy nor watch it. Guess what…they did both!” Before Turner, there had already been a counter argument that colour film was damaging to cinema. French director Francois Truffaut argued that colour should not be used at all, making a statement in 1978 that “colour has done as much damage to cinema as television.

It is necessary to fight against too much realism in the cinema; otherwise it’s not an art. From the moment that a film is in colour, it’s not cinema anymore.” Shaw agrees somewhat with Truffant’s statement. “A director has to have a good, artistic reason to use black and white, and that doing so invokes a particular meaning to the project, it is a genre in its own right so not appropriate for all concepts.” Certainly there are examples of this. Alfred Hitchcock shot “Psycho” purposely in black and white to meet what he felt was the required tone for the film, as did CBS Productions with Rod Sterling’s original “Twilight Zone” television series. In both cases colour was offered and refused as a medium.

In the 21st century, it’s perhaps hard to imagine a time when directors had such creative control over their own productions, especially productions with such important financial outcomes for their respective studios. Barry Sandrew agrees that films such as these are classics, which he says have been helped significantly by colourization. “The directors and actors were paid for their work,” says Sandrew, “that does not give them perpetual creative rights to the film. They do not own the film nor did they, in most cases, put up a dime to make the film. Colourization has actually served to subsidize the restoration and preservation of some of our most treasured public domain black and white feature films. In that regard, I believe that colourization has actually done a great service to these classics.”

Professor James O. Young, of the University of Victoria, wrote an academic paper entitled In Defence of Colourization in 1988 that stated once a work is modified it is no longer able to express its creators original intentions. His paper was written at a time when the first Turner produced colour films came under criticism, namely because low quality colourization, restricted by the technology of the day.
But Young still believes its possible colourization can have a negative effect on a film’s artistic merit. “Appropriation from earlier art ought not to be prohibited,” he says. “Artists frequently borrow from their predecessors in a variety of ways and do so (some of the time) with good aesthetic results.”

Shaw argues that, regardless of 21st century technology, the same rules of artistic filmmaking merit apply. “We design images to fit the concept, to be emotionally evocative and to be easier for an audience to interpret.
It is a creative decision that should be made at the creation stage.” It would seem that the image (and colour choice) of a film is therefore essential to its concept. Sandrew agrees with this up-to a point. “When I re-invented colourization in 2000 the film critics were no longer saying that the work looked shoddy or unrealistic. Instead they were saying that the colourization looked so natural. This raised a new concern from critics that the quality was too high and young people would never know what the film looked like in its original black and white format. So surprisingly, high quality colourization earned negative feedback as well!”

 

Ted Turner had the ability to spearhead a movement which, he personally felt, was of benefit to his consumer and made the business steps necessary to do this. But perhaps more ironically, as Young concludes, “the use of colourisation has increased the distribution of original black and white versions, since these are now often packaged with colour versions.”
Ironically, the greatest benefits come to those who feared their legacy might be jeopardized in the first place. While there’s no doubt life looks better in colour the facts seem to indicate that audiences would rather see them as they were originally intended, sparks of geniuses intact. Colourization, like everything else in Film, has its place.

Plus Booking Fee…Goodbye Yellow Brick Road…

Plus Booking Fee…Goodbye Yellow Brick Road…
by Wayne Madden

On Wednesday July 2nd Elton John (and his band) is set to perform at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena. The website quotes that he is “undeniably one of the most acclaimed and adored solo artists of all time” and you’ll get no argument from me. His career success parallels few artists of any genre and his recordings are, quite literally, embedded into popular culture.

Tickets for the event are listed at £55 and £75, a look beyond the home page and prices have now risen to £62.75 and £83.75 respectively with the click of a mouse. The rise in price equates to a booking fee of £8.75 for purchasing tickets online, with an optional “missed event insurance” of £3.75 and a further, mandatory, minimum mail or venue collection charge of £2.50 – none covered in the previous charges.

England, like most other first world countries, is a market economy. In a world where we’re more readily checking our pockets and bank balances it seems unusual to pay an additional £2.50 for sending a letter by first class post. Even more unusual when the £8.75 booking fee doesn’t, on its own, include any form of insurance and is more than what you’d be paid for doing an hour’s work on minimum wage.

With new rules introduced in April 2013 by the UK Government to cut down on credit card surcharges, Booking Fee’s for performances have remained unaffected, with Elton John’s performance at Nottingham Arena also demanding a £9.25 fee atop a £75 ticket price via Ticketline. This is far from a regional occurrence.

In 2013 Ticketmaster UK appointed Chris Edmonds as their new chairman. He’d spoken to the BBC about ticket pricing as managing director, in Dec 2012, saying that “there’s a misunderstanding about what the fee’s are for…in reality we wouldn’t see any share of the actual ticket price. That would be shared between the promoter, venues and the artist” and went on to say that “the actual per ticket fees that we charge to our consumer are our sole source of revenue…in some instances some of those may be shared with the actual event organiser”
By that logic, the Metro Arena has already been paid prior to Booking Fee; a quick survey of their website informs us that all online sales are powered by Eventim.co.uk – the English branch of CTS Eventim AG, a German registered company who purport to be the largest ticket seller in Europe and who reported a turnover of €520 million in 2012. What it doesn’t tell us is why £8.75 per ticket is being charged for simply clicking a few buttons. Do we blame the Arena, Eventim, MasterCard, Visa or Elton John?

So, how can you save money? Phones4U Arena in Manchester is just one venue who informs consumers – through its website – that all tickets purchased from the venue box office, and with cash, will not be charged a booking fee. It might seem like small consolation but if you live near the venue and don’t believe the gig will sell out within moments of tickets going on sale then the advice is clear, visit your venue and purchase tickets in person. Organise a pooling system with friends or relatives.

There is also hope for the future on excessive booking and admission prices as the EU plans to crack down on credit card surcharges and online fee’s, calling for them to be more representative of the services offered, though it’s unclear just what changes it will have for companies like Ticketmaster and Eventim who often register business roots outside EU market zones and avoid such laws.

As part of this article I attempted to contact the Metro Radio Arena and speak to someone about the Elton John example, but nobody was available for comment.