Tag Archives: Soundcheque

TalentBanq: the new home of live music takes wing

28 Jan
Coffeepot Drive Soundbanq

Who says the devil has all the best tunes? Coffeepot Drive rock the launch of TalentBanq at 229 The Venue. Photo by Brown Eyed Girl

What a night! This week saw the launch of a new live music company devoted to, as CEO Ray Jones enthusiastically put it from the stage, “discovering, nurturing, promoting and paying new and unsigned talent”. The company is called TalentBanq, and they have 50 artists on their roster already.

Some of the best were showcased at 229 The Venue in central London, and they ranged from excellent to ridiculously good. Definitely in the latter camp is Liverpudlian solo artist Joe Slater, whom I wrote about in December. The Oasis-tinged tunes were as mighty as the first time I saw him, and this time I could concentrate more on the lyrics. “Singing for my sorrow, drinking for my pain/ Close the blinds in sunshine, walk around in the rain” was one couplet from Slow Down I scribbled in my notes.

Joe Slaetr Talentbanq

Joe Slater at TalentBanq: destined for stardom. Photo by PJ Photography

With his raspy voice, perfect pitch and soulful delivery, Slater is unquestionably destined for stardom, though he fared a little less well in the second half of the night, when we were ushered from an intimate venue into a much larger space. He was still magnificent, but a portion of the audience wouldn’t know it – those at the back kept talking through the performance, and Joe hasn’t yet developed the stage presence to get them to shut the f*** up. Would acquiring two more musicians help him transition to the larger venues he’ll soon command?

Another favourite from the December gig closed the night: Coffeepot Drive, still with their guitarists’ angel wings – one pair black, one pair white – and again getting the whole audience moving. When the keyboards were foregrounded they sounded a little like Deep Purple – if Deep Purple had a frontwoman with a gospel-powered voice, afro hair and knee-high boots, and swung as much to funk as to rock. You can imagine them wowing every festival in the UK come summer.

Some other shout-outs: Hollie Rogers has an unusually low-pitched and warm voice, giving real depth and emotion to her songs. I also bloody loved Anavae, a three-piece that had no problem filling the huge space. Their intro was pure showmanship: the lights came up on three drummers, one seated at a kit, the other two – a man and an elfin woman – standing bashing at drums to make a wall of sound like those Japanese drummer monks. After a minute or so, the two broke off into their natural roles – her singing, him at the guitar – but by then the spell was cast: the audience were hooked.

I’d struggle to describe or define their sound, which means it’s original enough not to be easily pigeonholed into a genre. But let’s try this: If Björk were to do heavy rock, it might sound a bit like this. The guitarist/singer duo, Jamie Finch and Rebecca Need-Menear, have been making music since 2011, and their experience shows. But whoever the drummer is they had with them on the night, he’s great – and I speak as the father of a talented drummer. I’d happily go see again.

Ray Jones Talentbanq

Ray Jones, CEO of TalentBanq. Photo by PJ Photography

All in all, if this selection is indicative of the quality of artists on the TalentBanq roster, they’ll soon be supplying original live talent to every conceivable venue from pubs and coffee shops through corporate gigs to massive festivals. The talent behind the scenes is impressive, too. As well as CEO Ray Jones, who brings a surprising energy to the role of compere – like David Rodigan, he looks like an accountant, but can get a vast room hanging on every word – the chief investor is Sir Mervyn Davies, Chairman of the Royal Academy of Arts Board of Trustees and also of Corsair Capital. He joked: “I love fine food, fine wine, and great music, and I invest in all three – luckily two of those make money.”

TalentBanq’s Chairman is Pablo Ettinger, one of the founders of Caffè Nero and the man responsible for its promotion of live music. And TalentBanq’s Creative Director is the irrepressible Laura Westcott, a classically trained singer with a great ear for talent of whom I’ve previously written when she launched Soundcheque and then Music for Mental Wealth. She’s achieved amazing things since leaving The Times (where I have recently gone back to work), especially given her unusual handicap: she cannot recognise certain common words, namely “can’t”, “no”, and “impossible”.  🙂

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Christmas cheers: a night of Music for Mental Wealth

9 Dec
Coffeepot Drive

Lady Oracle and the angelic guitarists of Coffeepot Drive

“That wasn’t at all what I expected,” said a posh-voiced suit as he exited St Paul’s in Covent Garden, after the Actors’ Church had been shaken to the rafters by a mighty gospel-voiced singer named Lady Oracle and her rock band that included two guitarists with angel wings. He hated it, I thought. He only came for the heavenly a capella carol singing which kicked off the evening by Stelle Cadente, composed of members of the London Philharmonic Choir. But he went on: “It was absolutely fantastic. An amazing evening.”

This was “A Celebration of Christmas and Music”, in aid of Music for Mental Wealth and Nordoff Robbins. As the founder of Soundcheque (see previous blog) as well as of Music for Mental Wealth, Laura Westcott knows a thing or two about talent-spotting, and she came up trumps this time.  There were dizzying arpeggios from classical-crossover pianist GéNIA; a very modern take on the traditional Irish harp from the flame-haired Lisa Canny, who played a blinding version of Ed Sheeran’s You Need Me, I Don’t Need You; and the aforementioned finale by Lady Oracle and her band Coffeepot Drive, where they topped their own songs with the best cover ever of Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody.

Joe Slater

Singer/songwriter Joe Slater, up from Liverpool for the Music for Mental Wealth benefit at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden

But fantastic as they were, the real discovery of the night was young singer/songwriter Joe Slater, down for the night from Liverpool, who received a spontaneous and unanimous standing ovation. Ye Gods, that’s a talent. Even the brand-new song he tried out, Wasting Away, was brilliant. The songs have tunes as anthemic as Oasis, his voice is powerful, with high notes in the range, a rock ‘n’ roll rasp on command, and real heart. He’s all there. The complete package. The real deal. To all record label scouts: go see. Go sign.

And of course the night was one in aid of good causes. Laura Westcott herself battled with anxiety and stage fright as a music graduate, which made her courage in singing and reciting a self-composed poem as moving as the verse itself. As was the guitarist in Coffeepot Drive, who spoke of depression and suicide in his musician family, with a broad smile to hide the tears.

Christmas is indeed a time for giving, and not just iffy socks to distant family members who have more than enough already. If you’d like to make a donation, go to www.musicformentalwealth.com.

 

 

 

Soundcheque: putting movies and music together

28 Nov
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XFM’s Sunta Templeton and Liam Young with Soundcheque founder Laura Westcott (centre)

Film-makers: ever wished you could just magically find the perfect segment of music at a price you can afford? Musicians: ever wished your old compositions could bring in extra cash without you having to do any whoring around?

You might as well ask, “Bears: have you ever thought to avail yourselves of the bowel evacuation facilities provided by a sylvan environment?”

Soundcheque.com really is a no-brainer. Composers upload their music. Film-makers search by genre or mood and download the pieces they like. Or, even easier, they ask Soundcheque to suggest an artist and negotiate on their behalf according to their budget – this bespoke service comes at no extra cost, and overall Soundcheque take just 20% of the fee and 0% of any royalties, surely the best deal out there for composers.

The effervescent founder, Laura Westcott, is a classically trained musician and singer who founded the site for love rather than money, and is most definitely on the artists’ side. “My accountant thinks I’m mad not to take a bigger cut,” she confesses, “but for me it’s just the right thing to do.”

I first wrote about Soundcheque the day it soft-launched, back in January (click here to read). It had just 50 composers and 19 Facebook fans. Nearly a year later, it has 1,000 composers (twice as many as its nearest UK rival) and 35,000 Facebook fans, and on Tuesday night celebrated its relaunched website with a banging party at Concrete in Shoreditch. There were terrific sets from Soundcheque protégés Sykes and from beatboxing legend Beardyman; also in attendance were XFM DJs Sunta Templeton and Liam Young (pictured above), as well as the still utterly fabulous Patricia Quinn.*

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Laura with film producer Marcus Campbell Sinclair and the fabulous Patricia “Magenta” Quinn

The great thing about Soundcheque now is its range. It welcomes micro-budget film-makers who can only afford £50 for a track, but Laura Westcott has also been courting the big advertising agencies. The latest convert to the Soundcheque cause is Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP (only the world’s largest advertising company), whom she met at an awards ceremony in the House of Lords, as you do. Sky and the BBC have started using Soundcheque too.

As to the future, Laura will be doing a talk and workshop on music licensing at the BFI’s Future Film Festival in February. Caffè Nero plan to use Soundcheque music in their coffee shops, as well as getting Soundcheque bands to play live. There will be a songwriting competition in association with Gibson Guitars. And next summer, I can exclusively reveal, Soundcheque will be running a stage at the Latitude Festival in conjunction with Live Nation. The production team will be drawn from a pool of youngsters with the Prince’s Trust, with whom Laura does a lot of pro bono work.

It all sounds almost too good to be true – especially when Laura, at her party, is resplendent in a dress loaned by Vivienne Westwood. And then she reveals that there were times before the bigger business started coming in when, to make ends meet, she had to rent out her flat and sleep in her car. Now that’s passion. Long may she remain in the driving seat.

*Patricia Quinn, of course, played Magenta in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I first met her at a party of Kim Newman’s, where she sang the whole of Science Fiction Double Feature in the kitchen. This follows on from Richard O’Brien serenading me after dinner in the Ivy Club, so an open call to Susan Sarandon, wherever you are: I’m waiting for a burst of Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me!

They shoot, she scores! Soundcheque’s movie music

31 Jan
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Soundcheque founder Laura Westcott makes it Big (as in Tom Hanks)

Music and film. Or, as Bowie sang, “Don’t you wonder sometimes/About sound and vision?”

You may not notice it consciously, but soundtracks have a powerful effect on your emotions. Try watching a horror movie, or even a romance, on mute with subtitles. Or imagine Jaws without the cello, Star Wars without the strings. It’ll leave you cold.

Not every film-maker can afford to commission a brand-new composition. Not every musician knows how to get in touch with directors. So welcome, please, www.soundcheque.com, a brand-new website, launched today, that aims to bring the two together. Don’t expect bells and whistles, not yet anyway, or a refinable Search facility. Do expect the personal touch.

“I’m not doing this for the money,” says Laura Westcott down the phone from New York, where she now works as an online content editor for News Corporation. “I’m doing this for love, to help musicians. When someone posts their project, I and my small team of Soundcheckers will try to match it to the right music.”

The site takes 20% commission from any transaction. Fees are negotiable, depending on the size and budget of the project. Laura will even allow student and no-budget film-makers to advertise no-fee projects, assuming one of her musicians is hungry enough for credit.

There are other sites you can go to: www.Scorerevolution.com, for instance, or www.Magnatune.com. SoundCheque has a way to go before it can match the range of their catalogues. But it is free for film-makers to register their projects, while musicians get a no-win-no-fee deal. And Westcott appears to have the nous, the contacts, and, most importantly, the passion to build her site up for the future.

Before spending three years as a recruitment consultant and then pitching up at News International, she got a degree in Music, and spent eight years with the London Philharmonic. Having crossed the Atlantic, she has just got into the New York Choral Society, which will mean singing at Carnegie Hall (she’ll have to “practise, practise, practise!”).

In fact music is, quite literally, in her skin.

Westcott confides: “Peter Brookes (the Times cartoonist) gave me a drawing of a musical butterfly, joking that I should get it tattooed… and I did!”

Soundcheque welcomes project synopses from film-makers, and uploads from musicians, at http://www.Soundcheque.com

Nearly a year after I wrote this, Soundcheque relaunched with a new-look website and 1,000 composers. Read about it here.