Sunday, 4 October 2015

Survivors - Music and Musicians in the UK's West Midlands by Robin Valk


Music, musicians, and staying the course.

Stories of craft, graft and creativity in the West Midlands of the UK, taken from the Radio To Go blog

by Robin Valk

Survivors is an ebook by accomplished radio DJ, author and blogger Robin Valk. It contains 14 interviews with well-known musicians and singers from the West Midlands, Robin Valk explains:

"“I called it Survivors, because it’s all about some extraordinary stories of survival.”

Valk has worked in music and music radio and, more recently, software and digital media, for well over 45 years. While at University he helped launch University Radio York in 1968 and after graduation was offered a job by WPHD-FM in Buffalo, in upstate New York, USA, who felt they could use an English accent on their Progressive Rock FM format.

Robin says: "There were very few English broadcasters in the US at the time, and English music (especially rock) then was much more important and relevant to a US youth audience than it is now. I stayed at WPHD for just over a year, during which time the station went to number 1 in the Buffalo market.

" Returning to the UK, I joined the new Independent Radio sector, moving to BRMB Radio in Birmingham, again as a Rock DJ, doing my first show on launch night. My DJ stint meant I covered music developments throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s: classic rock, punk rock, the 2-Tone movement, the great midlands Reggae bands, and the growth of corporate rock and international megastars in the 80s and 90s."

In 2007 Robin started his blog Radio To Go as a platform for his musings on radio. At the end of 2011, he expanded the scope of the blog to cover The UK's West Midlands music and music business as well, which has proved increasingly popular.

The ebook, Survivors, contains interviews with some very big names such as Simon Fowler from Ocean Colour Scene, Brian Travers from UB40 and legendary Ruby Turner. But Robin Valk says this "is not about glamour, success, or stardom in enormodomes":

" It's about the grind, the persistence, and the luck you need to stay working in the music industry and maybe catch that break. So this book covers all kinds and levels of musicians; but they have all done this for a long, long time."

" These are stories of craft, graft and creativity in the UK's West Midlands: tales of triumph and adversity, tales of good luck and good fortune arriving unexpectedly after decades... and tales of horrendous bad luck and catastrophic mismanagement."

Survivors features revealing conversations with these artists:

- UB40's Brian Travers
- Judas Priest's KK Downing
- Ocean Colour Scene's Simon Fowler
- Ruby Turner
- Don Fardon
- The Beat's Dave Wakelin, Ranking Roger and Everett Morton
- The Selecter's Pauline Black
- Police Bastard's (and Kerrang Radio's) Johnny Doom
- Neon Hearts
- Casino's (and Stereophonics') Adam Zindani

Survivors is a great read for anyone with an eclectic interest in music from the West Midlands. E-books are good value and can be easily read on Kindle devices, tablets and computers. The font size is very accessible and Robin Valk's interviews are perceptive and engaging, in the easy conversational style we know and love from his radio work and blogging.

Robin, probably more than any music journalist on the scene, has been around the block half a dozen times and knows his local music history intimately. He also knows about the trials, tribulations, highs and lows of the commercial music business. In many of the interviews he modestly recalls his own personal part in playing tracks from groups like Pauline Black's The Selecter, for the very first time on the airwaves. As a big fan of West Midlands ska and reggae myself in the late 70s and early 80s, I can vouch for the fact that Robin Valk's evening-time BRMB rock show was the only place to go for our local sounds before they broke on national radio, UB40 being one very good example.

Valk was also the man who played punk when respected national DJs were vehemently shunning it, as well as turning musically naïve young listeners like me onto such classics as Mary Don't Fear the Reaper, Horse with no Name and Wish You Were Here alongside Walk on the Wild Side, No Woman No Cry, Virginia Plain, Anarchy in the UK and White Man in Hammersmith Palais. His scope was wide and I'd put money on the fact he was also the DJ who first played Handsworth Revolution - I remember that because I'm certain I taped it off his show onto my cassette recorder - as we did in those halcyon days before MP3s and I-Pods! 

But far from being a writer of music nostalgia, Robin Valk has kept his finger on the pulse of new sounds and emerging local groups at grassroots level, hence his recent hands-on production support for Paul Murphy's Song Writer's Café which streams live acoustic music from a performance space in Cotteridge, profiling new performers and song-writers alongside some of the old pros. Robin also has a strong sense of the impact of changing technology on the music market place, his interviews in Survivors explore this theme and there are many valuable lessons and tips here for anyone considering a music career as we approach 2016. A brilliant book to dip in and out of.

This ebook was published in 2014 and at that time Robin was already hinting at Survivors 2:

"It's the first one to come from my Radio To Go blog, but it won't be the last. I've had several requests for a Survivors 2. That's in the works right now. I've also been asked to tell stories of the people behind the success: road crews, sound men, producers, venues, rehearsal halls and studios - the guts of a music scene. I'll be working on that, too."

Download your copy for an incredible £2.32 (....what!!!) from this link:


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