Tuesday, 17 September 2013

I know I shouldn't be watching TV....

A couple of nights ago, I caught the latest ad (probably a few months old) from Mondelez, advertising their new wholesome snack. It's marketed specifically at kids and their (Mondelez hopes) easily brain-washed parents.

To say the advert is misleading is putting it mildly. It's one of the most cynical ads (in an ocean of the usual lies and dubious claims we're peddled nightly) I've seen in a long time.

This 30s masterpiece of misdirection and weasel is mostly imagery of: wheat fields, open countryside, fresh food. But it is selling a high sugar biscuity sponge of little or no nutritional value. 

First shot: Doting mother giving child glass of milk at the kitchen table, two bowls of fruit in vision, fresh herbs and pictures of cows, trees, chickens etc on walls. Two bowls of fruit - already the alarm bells are ringing.

Enter Barny, our friendly bear who lives in a wheat field where the sun always shines.

"I need your help navigating", he says - Navigating what? (Subliminal message: Healthy food choices perhaps, or how to get around your parents when they deny you your favourite sugar hit?)

More shots of green and wheat and trees. A blue sky with fluffy white clouds. Through a hay gateway into a lake/river of chocolate. Yes-sirree, that's perfectly natural.

The sun shines on as our hero is exercising with his new friend (how fit and healthy can you get, eh?) on a bouncy sponge cake hill.

Voice-over: "Introducing Barny, a sponge snack made with ingredients like wheat, chocolate and eggs" - We see a pack shot, but also wheat, chocolate, eggs, a JUG of milk, olive oil (?) - and a stick-on type emblem with a green leaf which is clearly a rip of the Fairtrade logo. The logo proudly proclaims "No artificial colours, no preservatives".

Ingredients LIKE wheat, chocolate and eggs?? How about ingredients like glucose-fructose syrup, emulsifier, stabiliser, lactic and fatty acid esters of glycerol, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, salt, etc. etc.. 

By my reckoning the snack must be at least 1/4 sugar - in fact , if you add together ingredients 2 and 3 (glucose-fructose syrup and sugar) you have a higher figure than the first listed ingredient, wheat flour. So to be honest, they would have to list the most abundant ingredient as sugar, not wheat flour.

And what about that lake of chocolate I was promised? Oh, that comes in at just above 1/20 (6%) of the total.

Anyway, I digress.... back to the screen:

End shot featuring a big bowl of fruit, more milk and smiling mum and child.

Is there a single truthful image in this ad?

I think not.


Actual ingredients:

(I apologise for the incorrect placing of these commas, clearly Tesco don't care about the finer points of punctuation on their website!)

Wheat Flour 23%,Glucose-Fructose Syrup ,Sugar ,Egg 12% ,Vegetable Oil ,Chocolate 6% (Cocoa Paste, Sugar, Fat-Reduced Cocoa Powder, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin)) ,Stabiliser (Glycerol) ,Skimmed Milk Powder 3.5% ,Whole Milk Powder 2.3% ,Raising Agents (Disodium Diphosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate) ,Milk Minerals ,Emulsifiers (Lactic and Fatty Acid Esters of Glycerol, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids) ,Salt ,Fat-Reduced Cocoa Powder ,Flavourings)


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Uncertain times for London musicians

Air Studios - George Martin's magnificently realised vision of a World-class orchestral recording studio in Hampstead - is up for sale by its owner Richard Boote, for an undisclosed sum.

He has stated that he wants to sell it as a 'going concern', but history suggests that recording studios have always struggled to make a profit and at a certain point many owners just want rid of them.

So what will happen if a buyer can't be found? Who cares anyway? Aren't there plenty of other recording studios?

The sad fact is that over the last 20 years many medium and large-size studios have closed. CTS (Wembley), CBS (Whitfield Street), Olympic (Barnes), Advision, Lansdowne... the list goes on.. are all gone.

Of the largest studios - those able to accommodate a full symphony orchestra - only 2 rooms remain in existence. Abbey Road Studio 1 and Air Studios Hall, are, as far as I am aware, the only studio spaces in the U.K. capable of holding 80 musicians simultaneously with full technical support for working to picture.

Working to picture (i.e. recording film scores) is the other crucial element. A large number of Hollywood composers - Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Howard Shore and so on - regularly come to London to record their movie scores, providing valuable work for hundreds of freelance orchestral players, bookers, engineers, assistants, hoteliers, caterers etc.

If Air Studios closed, there would only be Abbey Road Studio 1 for a large film score. Already, there are occasions when composers can't get time at either Air or Abbey Road as they are both booked - without Air, many productions would simply not be able to record in London. (Abbey Road is also popular with many of the London orchestras, and the LSO and RPO are often to be found recording there.)

The current business for freelance players is precarious - one little change could upset everything. It's my belief that the closure of Air would lead to many of the older players opting to retire, with the younger ones scrabbling to earn a living wage. It would, without doubt, be the final nail in the coffin of the freelance recording scene.

It's likely that Mr Boote and his partners have had the building valued twice - once as a going concern and then as the base real estate. It's possible (I guess) the real estate value to a developer who was willing and able to put sustained pressure on the local planning authority for change of use (i.e. conversion to flats) is many times that of the building as it stands. The present owners may be holding out for an unrealistic price - seduced by Foxtons' (or whoever it may have been) slash and burn valuation.

Air Studios is housed in Lyndhurst Hall, a Grade 2* listed building designed by Alfred Waterhouse (who also designed the Natural History Museum). It's a building, clearly, of historical interest - but also in the last 20 years, it has acquired further cultural significance. Is it to be the victim of yet another case of a small number of individuals making a lot of money at the expense of the livelihoods of hundreds of working people?

Help save this historic building and the people who depend on it:

1) If you live in Hampstead, write to Glenda Jackson MP:       jacksong@parilament.uk
2) Write to the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP:       enquiries@culture.gsi.gov.uk
3) If you've a few million quid to spare, buy it and preserve an iconic recording studio.


Air's own website has details of the many artists and projects which have been recorded there:
artists
movies

Monday, 13 August 2012

In pursuit of excellence

The 2012 Olympics are finally over (with the Paralympics soon to follow) and I have to admit it - I was completely hooked. From the brilliantly bonkers Opening Ceremony through to the crazily chaotic Closing Ceremony I watched a huge portion of the BBC's output. Football, athletics, swimming, table-tennis, basketball, cycling, plus all the sports I'd hardly heard of - I found myself inexplicably glued to the TV screen. In the past, I've not been inclined to watch much sport on TV and I couldn't have told you any of the athletes' names two weeks ago. But this was different - I was addicted. I've thought a bit about why this was so, and I'll get to the main reason shortly.

But first, a compliment. In marked contrast to the BBC's coverage of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, this time the bods at the Beeb had done their homework and cast presenters who knew their subjects. Ex-sportsmen and women are, of course, very knowledgeable about their fields, even if their delivery may not always we as slick as career presenters. I even looked forward to the post event analysis, especially from Michael Johnson.

Technically too, the BBC seemed to have pulled out all the stops - with cameras and microphones everywhere and plenty of graphic overlays.

The pre-prepared mini-docs enhanced my enjoyment of the sports (aside from the odd occasion where they caused us to miss live action) giving useful texture and background to the athletes (I was meeting for the first time).

So, fair's fair - well done this time BBC!

Back to my reason for this post. What's so enthralling about watching men and women compete against each other in athletic competition? It wasn't the fact that Team GB and Northern Ireland did so well. I didn't care who was winning (well maybe I did shout some encouragement at the TV to Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah and Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendeleton and... OK fair point). But the real draw for me was this: Here we had people (and that includes the athletes' trainers and all the behind the scenes people) who had worked incredibly hard, for many hours each day, for weeks, for months, for years on end in pursuit of one thing - being the best. The pursuit of (sporting) excellence. I find that inspiring. I don't think the impetus to do this is fame and fortune - it's a hard life being an athlete, and the career is painfully short for most of them, with much financial hardship along the way, except for a select superstar few. It is the antithesis of the all-pervading cult of celebrity, which I vainly hope has lost some ground, at least for a few weeks.

We rightly celebrate the achievements of these athletes and I don't begrudge a penny of the support they get from Lottery Funding and other central government budget sources. But - wouldn't it be great if we could get equally excited about chemists, biologists, engineers, scientists? - physicists pushing themselves to solve impenetrable equations, inventors experimenting for years without guarantee of ever succeeding, etc. Or, dare I say it, professional artists, musicians, playwrights?

In the afterglow of a job well done, we need to expand our Olympic thinking not to "Sport for all" - that is missing the point entirely (as governments invariably do) - but to the pursuit of excellence - Faster, Higher, Stronger - in every field of human development in the UK. Let's celebrate the fact that some of us are better at running or maths or chemistry than others - and encourage and nurture those people to their full potential.



Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Cock-up or conspiracy II

Those who know me well know that I am usually very circumspect in criticism of others, but in this case I am more and more convinced 'something must be done'.

I encourage everyone to write to the BBC, to the press, to Parliament, Ofcom -  to Tweet, FB, etc. etc. - this was a complete failure by the BBC and someone (probably a few) should be: (1) held accountable (2) made to publicly apologise and then (3) sacked. The BBC did not represent or acknowledge with any respect the vast majority of performers and composers on Sunday. And it also did a great disservice to the organisers of the pageant with its wilful mis-representation of the event. Perhaps a 45 minute programme featuring all the music Herald barges would go someway towards saying sorry?

In my previous post, I omitted to mention all the families of the members of the Commonwealth choir (from all around the globe) who were hoping to see a glimpse of their son/daughter/brother/sister singing in front of HMQ. I can only apologise for the lamentable 'show' you saw - I assure you, the choir, in fact the whole pageant was an absolute triumph.



Monday, 4 June 2012

Cock-up or conspiracy?

Yesterday (June 3rd 2012) saw the largest pageant ever on the Thames, in celebration of HMQ’s Diamond Jublilee. One thousand boats took part, including 10 ‘Music Herald Barges’. Thirteen composers were also specially commissioned to write music for some of these boats. It was a triumph of detailed planning and organisation, involving many agencies, and went off safely without major incident. It also succeeded magnificently in it's aim to do something truly grand, inclusive and ambitious to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Hats off to Adrian Evans, Pageant Master, who must now be heaving a huge sigh of relief.

The BBC had spent days recording interviews with some of the composers and musicians, and thousands of pounds clearing use of the live music on the day itself with the Musicians’ Union. Not to mention the countless meetings between the BBC, MU, orchestra representatives and the Thames Diamond Jubilee Trust, one of which I had the misfortune to attend.

The weather was, unfortunately, atrocious – on the boat I was on (the Georgian) the cellist was completely soaked by the end,  despite being under a canopy – yet all the musicians and singers performed brilliantly and thoroughly entered into the celebratory spirit of the event.

And what did we get on BBC? What appeared to be an extended version of the “One Show” with countless celebs talking about the event people had tuned in to see, rather than the actual event itself. Hardly any shots of the music boats, apart from a little from the LPO, and not even a single name-check for any of the composers, let alone some music. They even managed to cut away at the opening of Tower Bridge for the Queen to pass.

To say that I am disappointed with the BBC is a gross understatement. By any measure, the coverage was woeful. If you were one of the million people who were there in person it was a fabulous event – but anyone watching on TV in the UK (and around the world) saw and heard only a fraction of the sights and sounds of the day.

On behalf of all the composers, musicians and singers who were royally snubbed by the Beeb yesterday I would like to recognise your contributions towards the success of the event.

And, from me personally, I have two words for the morons at the BBC who (either through incompetence or conspiracy) chose not to feature us in any meaningful way:  screw you.


So here are the composers and lyricist who were commissioned to write music which was premiered at the event:

Anne Dudley


Carol Ann Duffy

Graham Fitkin

Orlando Gough

Gavin Greenaway

Christopher Gunning

Howard Goodall

Adrian Johnston

John Lunn


Julian Nott


Jocelyn Pook


Rachel Portman

Stephen Warbeck

Debbie Wiseman



If you are interested in hearing the music from the Georgian, there’s a link on my website.

Edit: 21.27 BST - My further thoughts on this here:  Cock-up or conspiracy II

Thursday, 10 May 2012

I've just wasted 2 hours trying to find a blog address name which hadn't already been taken. Not an auspicious start. Any single word has gone. Any combination of 2 words seems to be already in use. And even more annoyingly, most of these appear to have only 1 or 2 posts, after which the author lost interest and blogged no more.

So, the chances are this is post 1 of 2.....