By Hans Ebert
It takes a lot for a train to cry and it takes a lot for a dam to burst and, gawd knows, it takes having to sidestep so many half-baked promises, and flimflam fakers to get to halfway near nowhere as a- I don’t really know, anymore. A chanteuse? Recording artist- and what does this mean anymore? A “YouTube sensation”? And if without the appeal of a Shawn Mendes, forget it. There are no twenty and thirtysomething YouTube sensations. Or is being in music today someone making time, wasting time doing the music foxtrot at tired old lounges at five-star hotels where usually female singers retread Diana Krall territory as regulars talk business and try to be heard over voices lost in the dark?
It’s been said here before, and it will continue to be banged home is that, in Hong Kong, and maybe everywhere else, singing at one of these lounges is going down that cheesy road to broken promises and middle age while losing whatever edge one might have had because of “agents” and villainous Odd Jobs taking advantage of naivety and disguising it as “gaining experience” when it’s only a career terminating trip to Blandsville.
Then there is that short term high of a “recording contract.” Seriously now, having recently watched Denmark’s Michael Learns To Rock in what looked like a mockumentary about the band that out-Spinal Tapped Spinal Tap, one-time success stories like theirs in this region, have run their course. Every single music company out here is made up of princes on steeples and all those pretty people who’ll do tricks for you and, in the end, leave you singing “Nowhere To Run” by Martha and the Vandellas. In other words, these companies are run by boffins reporting in to financial and legal people with zero music in their DNA. Sweet irony: Music companies moving forward through leadership by those with nothing to do with music. That’ll go far.
A “recording contract” is almost always something that can take a musician from the highest high to something that will come crashing down and end in tears. And that has much to do with financially bereft music companies taking everything from artists for nothing and gibbering like the recent waffles flipped over by the supposedly knowledgeable Jimmy Iovine.
Jimmy Iovine’s name might be behind some of the greatest records ever made, but, today he is just another businessman protecting his own brand and the assets of his various companies.
There is no difference between Jimmy Iovine and Lucian Grainge and Apple and Spotify and Tidal and Jay-Z and all the others rambling on about music than The Donald playing the role of presidential hopeful. It’s grandstanding at a PT Barnum level of a freakish circus comprising scary clowns that, when double checking all the words being spat out, make absolutely no sense and offers nothing to a musician unless this musician is Taylor Swift. This woman is so everywhere these days with everyone that one would be forgiven to thinking that the music world revolves around one artist. Perhaps it does? Gawd knows, Lorde is still closeted away penning her follow up to “Royals”- it’s been almost three years- and even Beyoncé has faded to black. Coldplay, U2, Springsteen etc release music, but is there anybody out there who cares?
Where are other musicians today? They’re either sad Yesterday’s People like Robbie Williams or else unknowns left sitting on a cornflake waiting for the van to come. That van will never come down that road unless driven by Keith Richards. Keef should have a quiet word to Jimmy Iovine: “Man, you’re talking fucking jive.”
In Hong Kong, meanwhile, if you don’t sing in Cantonese or Mandarin and are over 23, all hope is gone of being “signed” to a “recording deal”- but which is as meaningful as being told you’ve inherited a hundred billion euros from a long lost relative in Gambia. This constant flow of bullshit must stop along with the tsunami of stories taking up way too much space about streaming services and who’s swimming upstream and who’s swimming with the sharks.
People, no one is Charlie Sheen-type winning here, and all the banging at the pulpit of hype is a little bit of conversation that is a corporate free-for-all that, again, has nothing to do with music or musicians being paid for their art. This rocking in the free world where music fans have been taught to take without giving and where streaming and downloads cannot coexist in some musical fairy land where pixies ride on Taylor Swift’s unicorns and Ed Sheeran’s musical clone attacks must come to a screeching halt. It’s that simple, but made to look as if it’s some new findings into Darwin’s theory of evolution. Confusing the public is all about playing for time and ensuring that another new con is hatched by the usual suspects of greed.
The problem with music is the music and that no one either cares or bothers to understand what music is all about today and how this music can happen and, once again, be a valuable asset- in many different ways. And without giving a sermon to the three remaining majors- of which I was one and turned a blind eye to the rampant shenanigans of one-sided artist contracts where we took everything for free cos money was for nothing and cheques were for free- none of them are entitled to be what they claim.
Each is housed largely by wankers with scared little parasites working for them- and, in Greater China, jokers to the left, and clowns to the right who are just sitting there and doing the least possible work except for the jiggyboo to fatten their bank balances that have been fattened for a decade through cronyism, nepotism and despotism.
Gawd knows some of us have the names, we have the proof of guilt and we know how to bring down the so-called legacies of many of Hong Kong’s sacred cows- music executives, heads of television and radio stations, and all those money laundered artist management companies that offset their books against transparent forays into the losing local film industry with characters who, when it came to music, wouldn’t know a taco from a Paco and a Ping from a Louis Pong. The chain reaction of backhanders and corrupt music industry “legends” would make the head of former Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang- now facing down the barrel of a gun of graft charges- spin.
So, where are we today? The global music industry is in shambles. No one can bail it outta the quagmire it now finds itself in with no crutch to lean on. All aboard the Titanic masquerading as The Ship Of Fools with leaders like Jimmy Iovine, a one-time musical creative thunderball reduced to a corporate goofball mouthing platitudes to shareholders and a music media too meek to take him on and expose the huge flaws in his every argument. Guess being in America gives him credibility and relevance when he’s just as vapid as those music executives in Singapore, Hong Kong and Mainland China some of us know all too well to be toadies driving their Mercedes Benz toadstools down Orchard Road.
In Hong Kong, I met a sweet young thing last night happy to be signed to Sony Music by what one can describe as The Aerial Pandemonium Flying Circus. Hopefully, the label didn’t offer her the world. She’ll be lucky to get some dim sum. But lettuce pray. And all this finally leads me to Jennifer Palor, at forty and proud of it, the best damn singer in Hong Kong. She needs a completely different sound built around her and this will happen. Her voice, her timing, her phrasing is too good not to be featured in a new package.
The Jen Genie has been the best singer in this city for over a decade. Other female singers have come and gone, a few with a laughable sense of entitlement, but Jennifer Palor has not risen to the bait of get-rich-quick schemes from smooth talkers. It might take Gutz to be a Guiterrez, but it takes incredible patience to be Jennifer Palor, to try and experiment with her various musical projects, and, sure, give in when there’s money needed to be earned without completely selling out without needing some repellent, but, also taking the blows and waiting for the ghost of Hughie Green and Opportunity Knocks to come banging down her door.
These days, every Wednesday night, she fronts the best band in Hong Kong- and at, of all places- a racecourse- Happy Valley Racecourse- and its venue Adrenaline. Yes, the repertoire is covers- covers with some originality- but with the real musical ammunition for the future being originals that are only now being sneaked in with much bigger things in mind that might finally see some sense to that one-time 360 Degree mantra chanted by music companies too stupid to see that this cup runneth with a gaping big hole at the bottom.
Here’s the rub: the Hong Kong Jockey Club is succeeding where every music company has failed. It is financially solvent. It has the hardware- meaning its venues. There is a regular audience of over 15,000 people every Happy Wednesday, and it offers musicians the freedom to explore and the freedom to grow while actually being paid. There’s none of that “branded” dingle dangle of playing for free at those music conferences way past their Use By Date, attended by serial backslappers also way past their Use By Date in the hope of being “noticed by some of the biggest names in the music industry”. Really? Who? Sandy “Soft Shoe” Monteiro? Duncan “Donut” Wong? Jimmy “The Gibberer” Iovine? And then what? A recording deal? See above to what nightmares that can wreak on one’s psyche.
As for the HKJC’s Happy Wednesday evenings, there was a time when some musicians thought that this gig was an “easy one”- blow, suck, riff, shred and do The Mariah Carey and no one would be the wiser. Many got away for a while by playing second fiddle and Bo Diddling. No more.
With packed venues like the Beer Garden and Adrenaline- and an artist like Jennifer Palor and soon, singer-songwriter Ben Semmens from Wales- it’s taken the Hong Kong Jockey Club to succeed where so many, supposedly in the music industry, have failed miserably.
Here’s also a racing club- the most successful and profitable in the world- that just might create a business model for new artists where they are seen and heard as opposed to be streaming to be heard over a sea of clutter and boom shaka-a-laka ball busting contracts that render them making music an absolute waste of time, money and passion and commitment.
Watch this space. It won’t be empty for long.