Back

Who do I have to tweet to get a review round here?

September 25, 2015 by norman lebrecht

12 comments.


Patricia Hammond, a London-based mezzo from Canada, has put heart and soul into making an authentic recording of songs from both sides in the First World War. But can she get a review? Editors complain that the music does not fall into any recognised genre and refuse to assign it. Absurd but true.

What does Patricia have to do to get a flash of attention?

Here’s her experience, confessed to Slipped Disc.

patricia hammond songs

I have released an album of songs of the First World War.

It presents the sound-world of the 1910s, painstakingly reconstructed with original instruments and instrumentations. It was funded by Ian Rosenblatt, so my colleague Matt Redman could take all the time he needed to transcribe from sources, train musicians unused to this particular style, and expand the original sheet music outward in arrangements that would have been at home in the West End salons of the second decade of the 20th century. My own research started when I was eight, listening to 78rpm records in my parents’ basement.

We have presented music from the pacifists and the Germans as well as some neglected gems that have, as far as I know, never been recorded. We performed it in a wooden studio with very little separation, gathered together as musicians would have gathered around an Edwardian recording horn.

And can we get a review, or a mention in a newspaper?

Classical editors tell me it’s jazz. Jazz editors tell me it’s classical.

Aside from works by Eric Coates, Cecil Forsyth and Herbert Ivey, all of whom are considered classical, we use such authentic instruments as a steel stringed guitar (a Gibson L-4 from 1911, especially designed to be heard without electronic amplification), an accordion and saxophone, not to mention a violin, cello, harp and flute.

The BBC Concert Orchestra often includes a guitar and drums in their lineup. Weill’s Mahagonny rejoices in banjo, steel guitar and woodblock, and Golden Age Broadway shows are now proudly presented by the likes of the ENO…to protest at their being included in a classical session is ridiculous.

But somehow we have fallen between two genres.

patricia hammond

The 1910s was a time when new recording technologies caused a sudden flowering and cross-pollination of many musical trends. Parlours, Thé-chantants and dansants, recital halls and theatres burst with new ideas. There were no microphones, so ‘classical’ technique was essential. Jazz-style improvisation had yet to come. It’s perhaps unfortunate that the songs produced at the time proved so popular, as it’s the revivals that people associate with it, not the source. If You were the Only Girl in the World brings to mind the Good Old Days and pub singalongs, because nobody listens past the scratches in an old record to hear how it originally sounded.

Our 1910s bands, Ragtime Parlour and the Versatility Serenaders have performed at Orchestral “Lates”, museums and festivals, but always, always the categorisation issue crops up, as does our lack of representation by an agent. Parameters are narrow, and getting narrower, conversely, as music genres splinter and fan outward in new directions that defy classification. We joke that people like the Dolmetsch family were dismissed as cranks, and we see our Edwardian research as a new Period Performance category that just isn’t recognised yet.

I knew a feisty old fellow who had an independent record shop in the nineties, and gleefully put Emma Kirkby’s CDs in “Easy Listening”. People are entirely entitled to their opinions.

But Hell, if Purcell’s Bawdy catches, with titles like As Roger Last Night to Jenny Lay Close or Full Bags, a Brisk Bottle are happily reviewed by the arbiters of taste in the classical world, why not The Rose of No-Man’s Land?

What do I have to do to get a review?


Comments (12)

  1. Olaugh Turchev says:

    Lovely… Think about it… It would have taken someone about an hour of his time to listen to your album and simply write about it… here.

    1. Anon says:

      Olaugh, I hope you don’t think this is true. Do you want to read reviews based on a casual acquaintance with disc, or one based on a deeper listening experience with a certain amount of time devoted to crafting a meaningful review which reads well? The latter is unlikely to be achievable in simply the playing time once through of such a disc, even if it sometimes seems to be the way some reviews do get written.

  2. DLowe says:

    Sinfini disc of the week, Norman?

  3. FD says:

    Not even a link?

  4. John Mullen says:

    I will happily review it for the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. You can find me easily on the web: (John Mullen, University of Rouen, France.

  5. Anon says:

    To some extent, Patricia is at risk of making erroneous assumptions.

    1. that her disc ‘should’ be reviewed: she should bear in mind that well over a hundred (indeed several hundred) classical albums are ‘released’ most months. No publication has the space to review that many (nor their readers the wish to read that many reviews). Patricia is not alone in not having her disc reviewed, regardless of genre.

    2. taking the editors comments too literally.
    Possibly some do mean exactly what they say – it doesn’t fit the genre for them, or for their publication. That’s not to say that some of their readers might not be interested, just that in the editor’s opinion it is likely to be of interest to insufficient readers to justify inclusion.
    It could also mean that the editor doesn’t have anyone trusted and in easy contact who they feel is enough of a specialist in a similar area to send to them for a review. Some editors can be fastidious about assigning reviews, to ensure it is someone reviewing who has a deep knowledge of the music in hand, and some reviews equally so about what they choose to review.
    Or, of course, it could simply be a platitude; a polite way of avoiding saying “we don’t think it’s good enough”.

    Equally, Patricia could be right, that her Edwardian HPP simply “isn’t recognised yet”, in which case that’s her answer right there.

    1. Patricia says:

      Thank you for giving this some thought!
      1. I worked in Classical music retail and buying for five years while a student, and then while saving up to come to Europe, and know the numbers involved. In fact now it’s more than ever because so many more musicians have the resources to get their own discs published. I’m not saying that my disc should be reviewed; I’m just wanting to have a genre of music taken seriously.
      And, 2, naturally I have taken on board the fact that it is possible they do all think I’m quite rubbish (have a listen on YouTube and do let me know!) and this is the easiest excuse to hand. However as the answer is uniformly the same from all sources, I have no choice but to consider the possibility that they might be telling the truth.

  6. Jim says:

    Well, I’d like to be a bit positive, I tried ordering the CD online a week ago. Since then, nothing. No acknowledgement email, the Visa is untouched, I tried a followup message but still no response. I’m a bit disappointed as the CD looks really worthwhile and a lot of fun.

    1. Patricia says:

      Hello Jim! I am VERY glad you’ve posted here! I have tried sending a response to you seven times since 30th September! Something’s wrong with your email server as it pings right back to me each time. I suspect this is what is stopping the BigCartel order from going through. Please take a look at your PayPal account and see if any money has gone out…I won’t rest until I know everything is all right. If it’s not gone out yet, whew! Your order hasn’t gone through, and you’ve not been charged. If it has, I’ll pursue it. It should simply be a matter for your email server to sort out. Anyway, I’ll get that CD to you somehow. Just need to be able to contact you.

      1. Jim says:

        Hello Patricia. It’s good to hear that you are on to it, so I’ll see if we can’t get together somehow, I’ll try contacting you with a different email. Thank you for following up. Regards,
        jim

        1. Jim says:

          I’d just like to follow up here by saying that Patricia and I have managed to get in touch and sort out the issue. It may have been a technical thing or (more likely, methinks) I entered something incorrectly during the order process.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *