Save The Muni.

It is with a mixture of anger and sadness that I come to write this article in response to what can be only described as decisions made on behalf of us of which the stupidity of said decisions goes beyond any scale of measure.

Yes, Rhonda Cynon Taff council, I am talking about you, so any council members reading this (of which I hope you some of you may) better grow a thick skin fast and prepare for the fire to which I am about to throw your way.

To explain to everyone the full context of these feelings that has arisen. It is as a result of the Welsh assembly’s recently proposed cuts in funding. In particular, these cuts have been targeted at creative arts and culture. A major example is the proposal to close a local historical and iconic venue, The Muni Arts Centre in Pontypridd. The council’s decision is backed by the claim that closing the venue would save the local authority 400,000 pounds.

Save the MuniSave The Muni

Before I pick every possibly hole in this decision, let me make it absolutely clear that I am aware cuts at this moment in time are necessary. However, when heritage, culture and the arts as well as opportunities for younger generations come under threat, one certainly has to question the level of humanity in any individual who thinks that closing the Muni would be a good idea.

The Muni has provided a space for a variety of events that run from theatre productions run by professional companies or high schools, bands, including rather successful acts such as Funeral for a Friend, introductory showcases for writers such as Frank Vickery and Mal Pope as well as Comedy and variety nights to name but a few. It also holds itself as a venue in a town where much pride is held in calling itself the birthplace of Tom Jones.

Save The Muni

Bryn Celynnog’s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Save The Muni

BBC wales broadcaster Amy Wadge has been a support to aspiring artists, and regularly performs at the Muni.

This leaves me with quite a blatant question, how much of a black hole is going to be left in Pontypridd once the Muni is shut? Indeed, there will most certainly be one, and it will more than likely be filled with a dead town at day and a drinking culture fuelled cattle market at night.

I can’t think of any further justification the local authorities can bring forward other than the amount of money, that closing the Muni would save: but this is where I am going to have a field day and suggest as politely (well, I’ll try) as I can where else the money can be saved.

It isn’t news to any of us that the level of stupidity in our council’s decision making runs beyond; but to make this absolutely clear, let me point out a couple of examples to show how much money is needlessly wasted.

It wasn’t 12 months ago, that councils had plans to put aside funds to regenerate Welsh towns. 10.5 million was put aside for Pontypridd alone. So what did they spend a substantial amount of the money on?…Optical illusion paving. Overpriced and dangerous paving that caused a great deal of accidents for residents and inconvenience for hospitals, don’t believe me? I wouldn’t blame you, so here is the news article. You may need to read it twice…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-24494338

If that isn’t enough to convince you, does anyone remember this?

Unity Sculpture Costs

It’s probably only a faint memory to most because people can’t see it without crashing into a roundabout. The ironically called ‘Unity Sculpture’ didn’t bring that much unity between the authorities and the taxpayer once everyone was enlightened that officials had underestimated it’s cost by 30%- the overall price being 170,000 pounds.

Unbelievably, the council could have put aside half the cost of the Muni, had it not erected this big red piece of s###.

I would dig further holes in misguided spending, but I’m afraid I would be here all month, and there is a final point to be made.

By now, I hope that I have identified the significance of the Muni as not just a venue, but also an iconic home for art and community that can give a small town an identity and relevance on the cultural map. We the Welsh are a pride filled nation, and we have a right to be so. We have much to be proud of but we need to build on that. If the council goes ahead with closing this venue, we don’t only fail our honour to those we are proud of, but we also shut the gate of opportunity to nurture our talent and bring a further sense of disillusion to my generation as well as younger generations.

I grew up alongside brilliant talent led by brilliant people. I don’t think that should ever be seen as an area to cut; it should be seen as an opportunity to build. So let’s get creative. There are choirs, high school productions, professional productions, filmmakers, artists, musicians, comedians etc. all looking for a space to showcase their work, spearheaded by the likes of Rhod Gilbert, Amy Wadge, Stephen Preston and a host of other people with a passion for what they do. There is also an audience for it, and there is enough talent amongst events managers and marketers to bring that audience in to venue. Yes, it is ideal, but our pride would be misplaced if we didn’t believe that we were capable enough to achieve this amount of success.

We just need to prove that to the authorities, and show them how misguided their decisions are and how passionate we are and that within the walls of the town’s converted church, lies a home for us to express that passion.

I close by expressing my empathy for all of those affected and my admiration for everyone standing up against this decision. I am willing to trek back all the way from Surrey with my guitar and offer my further efforts to stop this closure.

Save the Muni.

Ryan Elliott

The story behind Elgon.

Elgon

There are some moments in life where everything comes together in a naturally beautiful way. Be that a place you may be at, an event, or simply a feeling that’s welcomed itself to you to which the best things are illuminated.

My band, Eden Shadow recently released a song that refers to these moments, entitled ‘Elgon’ and I wanted to share with you the story behind my inspiration to write it.

When I was 16 years old, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. A teacher from my school was starting to become involved with a local charity called PONT (Partnership Overseas Network Trust). This charity was a development project that linked my local town with a town in Uganda called Mbale. Hospitals here linked to hospitals out there, schools also, churches, etc.

To build this partnership, members, doctors, teachers and preachers started to fly across the globe to meet each other to work on projects, from building schools, homes and communities to engineering facilities and hospitals. What my teacher eventually came to question was whether students could be part of building this friendship. When she asked whether anyone from my class would be interested, I had this instinctive message sent to my head that obliged me to go…‘Ryan, this will change your life’.

After a full year of intense studying and fundraising, I joined 9 other students in July 2009 on what would be a journey I would never forget.

In the 10 days I spent in Mbale, I learnt an overwhelming amount of lessons. I discovered Uganda to be a beautiful country, and for all the poverty and corruption that runs through it, I met some of the most warmest, friendliest people out there I have ever met in my life. I have memories of people whose attitude always remained bright and positive, even in the direst of situations. From a girl my age, looking after her 4 younger siblings by herself because of their parents untimely passing, to a man dying of AIDS, and with every struggle, insisting to stand up to greet us when we came to visit. I had also visited a school high in the mountainous region between Uganda and Kenya, where a landslide had killed 200 people of which many were young students of that school. Still 6 months after the tragedy, they rebuilt what had been damaged and with every sheer level of determination, humbly welcomed us as their guests. I struggle to put these experiences into words, so hopefully the following images may help.

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After coming back, it took me a while to adjust to my normal life. It wasn’t before long that another trip out there was being organised for 2011 to give the opportunity to more students, and once again, I went to relive the experience. After my second visit, I had seen PONT as a charity in full effect and I was quite startled by the achievements that both communities had made and the challenges they had overcome. An engineering factory I had visited the first time was barely functioning; comparing this to my second trip, the factory was manufacturing a dozen hospital beds a month. In Schools, more computers were being installed into school facilities and struggling communities were becoming more self-sufficient. Much progress has been made. Much more work is certainly to be done, but with the faith that PONT is holding to, I have every sense of trust that it will be done. I hope to go out again some time soon, I hope that more students are able to experience the same things I have experienced and the partnership is able to build from strength to strength.

Throughout this time, I had been extensively writing material, and after my second visit, I was inspired to write a song that reflected some of the beauty I had experienced out there. I didn’t want it to be self righteous, political or riddled in the complications of poverty. I wanted it to be instead, about the beauty this world holds, and that would reflect the spirit of the many wonderful people I met in Africa despite the hardships and tragedies they had faced.

In a strange sub conscious way, the title ‘Elgon’ had approached itself to my mind; the name of the mountainous region that sits next to Mbale. I have gone to the top of that mountain twice and there are series of waterfalls there, known as ‘Sippi falls’. Through this series of waterfalls are numerous villages; most of which make their way by agriculture and cultivation.

Elgon Coffee

As you climb up to the falls, the air gets very clear. You feel as if you can see the entire continent: that conjoined with the rich green scenery of the woodland amidst the waterfalls makes the entire place astoundingly beautiful. It is one of those places in the world that enriches me with a heightened sense of joy. Everything in life seemed lifted when I was there, and I could have cried with joy at the extraordinary beauty of that place.

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That’s the feeling that inspired ‘Elgon’ and if there is any message that the song has, it is about experiencing those moments whenever you can. I think it is so easy at times to get bogged down in modern day life about worthless problems and be ruled by them. I have fallen victim to that time and time again.  Hopefully by writing ‘Elgon’, I have a continual reminder of the wonderful gift that is life so that I can cherish it and be aware of the profound beauty that can be experienced in this strange world.

I hope you enjoy this article. If anyone has ever experienced something similar, I would love to hear about it! Also, anyone wanting more information on PONT, here is the website. Feel free to also contact me should you wish to hear about any of the experiences I had out there in more depth.

PONT website

We are here, we can feel, we can shape, we reveal.  

BandCamp – Sending the digital format in the right direction

As I grew up through the Internet age, I witnessed the culture of digital music flourish. I also became the snooty nerd to condemn it all. A few interviews by Trevor Horn taken in and it wasn’t before long that I felt the revelation of quality of sound reign upon me. I set myself the mission of spreading the news…

But I annoyed people. Telling someone that their Mp3 walkmans are portraying their favourite records as over compressed, two-dimensional mush, isn’t a good way to make friends. So I retreated. Since then, I’ve stayed with my rather traditionalist approach to listen to music in physical for the most part. However, in recent months, I have become enlightened by a service called Band Camp that seems to have taken action to cancel out the things I dislike most about digital music.

To clarify, there are two fundamental things about downloading digital music that I have a problem with.

Number 1.) The quality.

This is something I touched upon in detail in my last article. I was exposed to quality of audio files when I started producing my own records, and I became consciously aware of the unjust lacking of detail that these files portray of your favourite records when some of them have cost hundreds of thousands pounds to make. A little while ago, the below image went viral and it effectively sums up my thoughts.

Ryan Elliott- Band Camp Quality of MP3

In the long run, people are wiling to sacrifice quality for convenience. If people are able to enjoy music this way, who am I to judge them for that?

Number 2.) The Money

Money is a grey area when it comes to digital music sales. It has indeed caused much debate, but the truth is, unless you are a well-established act on top of the competition, record sales are no longer a sustainable income for an artist.

Itunes, as an example may sell your album for £7.99. They will take half of that amount for each sale. If you are an artist that’s signed to a record label, you will be lucky to see any more than 20% of the half that Itunes shares. What currently ensues at the moment is an argument between artists and record labels, with the artist fighting for a 50:50 share. Hopefully that will be the case before too long.

However, whenever challenges arise, opportunities open themselves, and this is where Band Camp comes into play.

What this service does, is give the artist the power to directly sell and engage with their fans. In relation to issue number 1.) BandCamp’s downloading service gives the opportunity for buyers to choose what format they want to own, be that Mp3, Wav or Flac. You the fans, have the power to choose the quality.

Band Camp also allows artists to make the experience of their download as interactive as they want it to be. You can include Liner Notes and even videos to make the download, ultimately a much more tangible experience.

They also shine a positive light on issue number 2.) The money side for artists as equally as much as their fans. Whereas, an Artist may obtain 50% per unit sale in Itunes for a £7.99 album, they can sell their album on BandCamp for £7 and with the exception of a small admin fee, receive most of that money.

So ultimately through BandCamp, an artist can earn more from selling their album for less.

So is this service being used enough? I certainly think it’s becoming a more prominent feature for DIY artists, but I believe it can go much further. So if you are reading this and you are an artist, and you are signed up, keep using it and emphasis the benefits to yourself as well as your fans. If you don’t have it, research it:  and if you are fan who wants a digital copy of an album whilst wishing to support the artist to the upmost, I would see if that artist has a Band Camp profile, and if they don’t…tell them about it!

Here is an example, I know the man behind this band, and he is seriously anti-download to the point where you will not find his music on any other digital service. So if he can be persuaded to sell digitally on BandCamp, you know it must be because they offer something different.

Magenta – Band Camp

Whilst I may have been that anti-digital music nerd when I was younger, I have learnt to instead, not condemn it, but embrace it, and hopefully do my part to make it better for everyone else. Collective hats off to Band Camp…They are moving digital music forward in the right direction.

The table is turning- why younger people are appreciating Vinyl.

Over the last couple of years, articles all over the news have documented the increased sales in Vinyl (according to Channel 4, sales are as high as they were in 1977).  The fact that the people responsible for this resurgence are within the age category of less than 30 years old certainly leaves me intrigued.

As a young and aspiring musician/writer/producer and general anorak, the increased popularity in vinyl pleases me greatly for a number of reasons. The higher quality of sound, the warmer mid-range, the tangibility of the experience of opening up the gatefold sleeve and your roundtable’s needle gracefully tracing audio across a shiny black polyvinyl chloride disc.

It all feels so ‘Real’ doesn’t it? Which is why I think younger people are more attracted to it than ever before. We are in a culture now, where having a PC, Laptop or other form of information technology as a consistent companion is the norm. Not to say that is a bad thing, but having had spent days reading news, messaging people, emailing people, blogging people, posting a picture of my cat in an absurd sleeping position…it all just makes me feel a little dizzy (I guess I’m only making things worst by writing this blog).

My point is, with so much information out there, our attention spans have supposedly spread seriously thin, especially with music. I have an Itunes Library of about 15 days length, a modest amount compared to some. Topped with Spotify and various other streaming services, Youtube, Soundcloud etc. it is very easy to either render oneself as disassociated or riddled with Jukebox syndrome.

As great a platform as the internet provides for the discovery and convenient consumption of music, very rarely does it go further than passive listening for me, probably because I’m too busy reading or engaging with something else, such as social network feeds or another news article of Jose Mourinho talking about “nurturing his young eggs.” It leaves me and a collective number of people my age searching for something more.

Which is where physical plays a part, and which is why despite what seems to be the general consensus, the way I listen to music predominantly is through either CD or Vinyl. I was brought up on my parent’s record collection of Queen, Rush and Genesis. Indeed, a weird child I was, but I hold that influence dear. There are no distractions. It’s me, the record, the sleeve and the record player, all of it demands that I am going to give my full attention to it. What equates is a blissful state of solitude.

But the beauty of Vinyl goes above and beyond just the experience and I actually think it’s only half of the reason younger people are given a reason to buy vinyl. ‘The journey is the reward’. Nothing attracts me more to a city centre than Coffee and Independent Record stores. The independent Record store, as an aesthetic in my opinion is just wonderful. I’ve spent days fuelling my caffeine addiction and going to record stores. I find it liberating to be in a space where everything isn’t uniform, and there are plenty of people my age who despise uniform. There are also some great moments of discovery that lie in a record store, such as serious 80’s hair metal (as can be shown in image 1), to finding an artist who will just prove to you that they are worth your time (as can be shown in image 2). It is a voyage of discovery, something again, which is great, but the Internet has neglected.

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Comedy Genius

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A gem I discovered in Spillers Records.

Record stores are also doing more to give themselves prevalence in cities and towns now. Record store day has led to the rise almost to the point that the annual celebrated 24 hours is almost overwhelming for some.  Additionally, the conjoining of record stores with independent café’s, I see as being a great move: Spillers Records and Plan Café in Cardiff being an example and Truck Store in Oxford being another. Furthermore, signing sessions almost definitely will pack out a store. I’ve been one of many fans, who have managed to meet Steven Wilson as a result, and I think the more artists, record stores and other small businesses can work together, the better.

Ryan Elliott, Tom Burgess, Eden Shadow

Steven Wilson signing session at Sister Ray

Spiller’s Records, Cardiff.

Truck Store, Oxford

It really is an unusual and exciting time for music, and I certainly hope to see the rise of vinyl sales and number of people in Record Stores continuing. I for one, will certainly continue to play my part in that.

For further reading, I recommend Last Shop Standing, a documentary and book that gives insight into the history of the record store.