Teenage Fanclub at The Academy, December 2nd, 2016

“In 1991 as his band partied their socks off with Nirvana in the penthouse suite of the Fairmont Hotel, Norman Blake fired a television over the balcony, destroying the Lamborghini below and launching Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque into the stratosphere like a katyusha rocket….The band finished the 90s with album sales in excess of 20 million units before finally breaking up in 2001 to tend to their broken marriages and heroin habits.”

Absolute nonsense of course…Anyone who loves Teenage Fanclub knows that the above scenario may have happened in a parallel universe, but even there it’s doubtful.  If it had happened there’s no hope that I would have seen them for the tenth time when they played a wonderful show in Dublin’s Academy on December 2nd.  I first saw them when they played Midnight at the Olympia on June 20th 1997. I’d never heard their music before but that night a mate – who’d introduced me to both the Go Betweens and Husker Du – sprung a surprise by bringing me along.  He didn’t think there was much risk that I wouldn’t like them.

2016-12-02-20-55-09We watched from upstairs and while I wasn’t doing cartwheels in appreciation – I rarely do – I was impressed.  My main memory was the audience reaction at the end of “Don’t Look Back.”  It was like a scene from the Muppet Show when everybody stands nodding their heads at the end in appreciation of how good the song actually is.

They’ve played that song every time I’ve seen them and if there’s a track with a better guitar solo at the start, well I haven’t heard it yet – though Johnny Hickman’s guitar break at the beginning of Cracker’s “River Euphrates” comes close.

Yes it would be magnificent if they got their dues and sold millions, if they weren’t so bashful and apologetic before introducing yet another brilliant song…Heck I would also love if Francis MacDonald murdered the skins like Joey Castillo or Chuck Biscuits but that’s never going to happen.  There have been numerous pieces written over the years bemoaning their sleepy existence and how they could do with a good old kick up the arse from a thick culchie farmer, but ambition only gets you so far.  Would more ambition have improved the stellar set list they worked through the other night?

Most bands are lucky to come up with a handful of genuinely outstanding songs but Teenage Fanclub have produced bucket loads and though the majority come from their brilliant nineties output the albums they’ve produced since then have more than added to their cannon.   “I’m in Love” the superb Norman Blake-penned opener on their latest, Here, is very uplifting and proved to be even better live – probably the highlight of the show for me.   In all they played for an hour and forty five minutes, which is long for them, but a show without close to ten tracks from Grand Prix and Songs from Northern Britain just wouldn’t feel complete.

At the opening bars of “Ain’t that Enough” my brother mumbled that it was the track he’d been waiting to hear all night.  Whatever about the harmonies on their other songs there’s something incredibly beautiful about how the voices of Gerry Love and Norman Blake work on that track.  On the rare occasion that I’ve needed a bit of picking up  as I’ve gone through my life “Ain’t that Enough” along with  the rest from Songs from Northern Britain usually does the trick.

A big surprise on the night was their cover of the late Grant McLennan’s Easy Come, Easy Go.  Gerry Love handled the vocals.  I remember listening to that song on my old red walkman as I passed through Llandudno Junction on the way to Euston in August 1993.  It has always been one of my faves of his.  Just to think that if they hadn’t played it I would never have heard it performed live.  What a way to remember one of the greats.

Going to see them is like going to see your mates from down the road.  They come around on average once every five to six years, and while it would be nice to see more of them, maybe it isn’t good to sample the genuinely good things in life too often.

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Jon Brion on Sound Opinions

Sound Opinions replayed a 2006 interview with music producer Jon Brion last week.  I’m a big fan of the Aimee Mann albums he produced, and I reckon “I’m with Stupid” is her best work.  The interview is possibly the best feature I’ve heard on Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis’s fantastic podcast, with the highlight being the looped track “I was Happy with You.”  What a talent….AND he mentioned that both “For Your Pleasure” and “Siren” , the Chris Thomas produced Roxy Music albums, were their finest recordings.  Well there was never any doubt about “For Your Pleasure” but I’ve always enjoyed the overlooked “Siren” the most and it was nice to here some form of validation for that piece of work from Brion.

Check the show out when you get a chance here.

Effective Workshop Facilitation

 

Organising and facilitating workshops is hard work.  I’ve been on both sides of the fence as either a facilitator or attendee to have come across plenty of the pitfalls.  Having facilitated quite a few workshops in the recent past here are a few tips that have served me well.

Nail down the purpose of the workshop from the start

Make sure your client is crystal clear on the purpose and desired outcome of the workshop and that you have interpreted his requirements correctly.  Never be shy about clarifying expectations as a misinterpretation could lead to the occasion falling flat on its face and your reputation with it.

Communicate the purpose, agenda and proposed approach to all attendees

Once you’ve agreed the goals and purpose of the workshop, issue a communication to all proposed attendees.  This should articulate the purpose of the workshop along with an agenda and your proposed approach to carrying out the work.  Invite feedback and amend the agenda and approach if necessary.  At a recent workshop I had an attendee object to content that he had previously approved.  I reminded him that he had acquiesced to the content in a previous email which led to him agreeing to carry on as proposed.

Get the right people in the room

Where possible only invite those who can contribute effectively to the task at hand.  Politics may deem that certain people attend who have no real expertise in the area under examination, and you will have to design your workshop exercises and interactions with this in mind.

Issue any required reading or preparation well in advance

Attendees may need to review certain material in advance in order to effectively contribute on the day.  Issue the material and explain why you are doing so.  Don’t expect everyone to do the preparation though, and be prepared for this in the workshop.

Room and Materials

If possible visit the venue in advance.  If it’s unsuitable for what you have in mind ask for a more appropriate room.  If a change of room is not feasible you may need to tailor your workshop design to cater for this.  Test all the equipment that you propose to use and make sure you’re properly briefed on how to use everything from the audio visual equipment to the air conditioning.  Bring your own markers, flip charts, blu-tack and post it notes.  I’ve lost track of the number of times that markers supplied by the venue were unusable.

Workshop Design

Design the workshop with the agreed goals in mind.  If I’m helping a client design a new solution or come up with a new business model I plan a series of collaborative activities that focus on building something as opposed to merely talking about it.  Be mindful that time flies during these activities so focus on picking quality exercises that help you achieve your goals rather than focusing on quantity.  Game Storming by Gray, Brown and Macunufo, as well as The Trainer’s Handbook of Leadershop Development by Karen Lawson are great resources for quality exercises.  You can also check out The IDEO toolkit and Business Model Generation by Osterwalder and Pigneur.

I tend to keep things moving at a fairly quick pace and don’t like exercises dragging out.  So it’s rare that I’ll have a burst of activity last for longer than 45 minutes.  Personally I’ve found that I’ve done some of my best work under pressure when I’m not second guessing myself.  In fact the best piece of analysis I ever did was done in 40 minutes before I boarded a flight in Edinburgh airport. I had to send it before I got on the flight.

Agree on a proper code of behaviour

Agree suitable rules of engagement from the start and ask that everyone signs up to them.  These could include anything from an agreement to respect everyone’s contribution to when it is appropriate for people to check mobile phones.  One thing I’m firm on is not allowing people dial in to workshops from remote locations.  I’ve attended umpteen workshops where people have dialled in and have never seen the value in it.  The people on the other end of the phone rarely pick up on what is going on and interactions with them are invariably awkward. If they are really interested in contributing they’ll jump on a flight and attend in person

Be clear on your role as facilitator from the outset

As a facilitator your role is to grease the tracks for the attendees and steer them in the right direction so they do the best work they can in the time provided.  This means that you have to keep your ego and opinions in check.  That means providing continuity and flow throughout the workshop.  It’s uncommon for a facilitator to contribute to the actual content.  Instead your role is to observe, listen, and provoke through asking relevant and open-ended questions.   Make sure that the attendees are clear on your role and don’t expect you to participate as a contributor.

It will be obvious from the outset who the dominant personalities are so think on your feet and plot an approach that ensures that their opinions and contributions aren’t the only ones heard on the day.

Make a record of as much as possible

The advent of smart phones make it very easy to capture the outputs of exercises.  Ask all attendees to record notes on flip-charts in block capitals so that you are able to read and record them afterwards.

Agree Next Steps

At the end of a well-designed and well run workshop everybody is bushwhacked but energised and looking forward to seeing what happens next.  It’s very important to agree next steps and allocate accountability and time frames for their execution and enforcement.  I’ve lost count of the number of people who find this part of the workshop to be of most benefit.

Follow Up

Present a report that captures the content and outcomes of the actual workshop within a day or so of its completion.  Present it in a format that you’ve agreed with your client and only give opinions and recommendations if it’s in your brief to do so.

Why Content Calendars are King

This week’s guest post is by Simon Geraghty, the owner and founder of DotDash – a cloud based digital agency that offers outstanding outsourced marketing services to the SME market. They work with companies who are looking for help with their website, email marketing, social media, or blogging.  They help their clients to optimise their content, keep their website fresh and up to date, making their website easier to find.

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The value of a Content Calendar for your online marketing

You understand that creating content and blogging is critical for attracting visitors, leads and building SEO for your website. Your business is using social media, generating a variety of original content that is relevant to your audience. But you’re struggling with time and planning. This is where developing and maintaining a content calendar comes in.

The main benefit of a content calendar, or editorial calendar if you are really motoring, is to keep you on track and also avoid the dreaded ‘what will I write about this week’ scenario!

How does a Content Calendar for my marketing help?

Coming up with ideas for content and writing blogs and creating content is in itself time consuming.  By developing a content calendar you are able to reduce a lot of the stress that comes from figuring out what content you should develop next. You are also creating an action plan for yourself or your team.

An editorial calendar helps you balance short term goals and long term objectives. If you’re managing your blogging in-house a content calendar allows everyone to see what’s in production and what has gone out already. Your calendar can also be used to revisit evergreen content. This is content that isn’t time specific and has a long shelf life, there’s more on this below.

A Content Calendar will help:

  • Focus on needs and provide value to your audience
  • Foster idea generation and innovation
  • Refine key words and develop themes by week/ month
  • Create alignment for all marketing activity
  • Plan & integrate evergreen content (blogs, articles, case studies, videos,  ads, infographics, whitepapers, research results)
  • Balance content types (as above)
  • Organise authors and topics
  • Resource and workflow management
  • Ensure that content is developed on time
  • Brief content new contributors on what has gone before and what is needed in future.

Editorial Calendars in larger organisations

Where content is a big driver of the business (such as for a magazine, cultural, tourism, technology or events companies) producing good, and relevant content becomes more pressing. For these larger scale content marketing efforts, the content calendar also aids in the management of multiple contributors and for multiple formats (journalists, designers, videographers, and so forth).

Here it is vital that any calendar developed, by an internal team or external agencies, is aligned with your overall sales and marketing activity such as:

  • Above the line campaigns (do these still happen? Only joking of course)
  • Events
  • PR activity
  • Mail shots/ newsletters

This becomes relevant whether you have outsourced your content marketing or where sales and marketing functions sit in different teams in the organisation.

Make sure your Content Calendar is tracking:

  • Your keywords
  • Calls to action
  • Content categories & themes
  • Content format/ type (blogs, infographics, videos, slides, etc.)
  • Channels used
  • All related activity happening offline.
  • Metrics and outcomes

What format should it take?

The form your content plan takes can be as straight-forward as a spreadsheet or a Word / Google doc. The team over at Hubspot have a free Excel blog editorial template. You just sign up top their mailing list and give them some detail about yourself and your business, but not too much, and then download the template!

Their calendar covers the following 8 areas:

  1. Author
  2. Due date
  3. Publish date
  4. Topic/ title
  5. Top level Details
  6. Keywords
  7. Personas/ Audience
  8. Offer & call to action (CTA)

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Form versus function

Your content calendar should keep your organisation focused on what’s happening now and also planning ahead and avoiding the panic on Monday of what you are going to create that week. For larger operations the calendar will aid teamwork and help to streamline resources.

The plan should not resemble edicts written on stone, or even electronic, tablets come down from the mountain. Your content calendar shouldn’t be restrictive, it can change, depending on market circumstances and the reaction of your audience. What is the audience responding to? Has a key channel become more visual, or is now presenting video in a better format?

It is important that you allow room for flexibility  and modifications. The Calendar needs to be able to react to opportunities that present themselves – an award won, a key endorsement, or winning new business, or receiving an injection of funding.

If your business or organisation is looking for help with its blogging and content generation why not mail us at info@dotdash.ie to find out how we can help?

U2’s Legacy

By all accounts the U2 shows this week at the Point Depot  have gone down well and resonated especially with those brought up in Dublin in the 70’s.  It’s never been easy to get a dispassionate view on U2 from Irish music journalists for obvious reasons, so I found this archived episode of Sound Opinions very interesting.

http://www.soundopinions.org/show/199/

Like Greg Kot and Jim De Rogatis, I found U2 to be at their most compelling when they were at their most experimental in the 90’s with works like Achtung Baby, Zooropa, Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1 and Pop.  I also have a soft spot for both October and The Unforgettable Fire – the title track of the latter moves me more than any other U2 song.  They lost me when they moved into the naughties and seemed to make albums by focus group in order to try and please everybody. Their work in this period sounds like a reheat of their early phase albums.  For instance the song Vertigo of 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is a dead ringer for the excellent Two Hearts Beat as One – a song they recorded 21 years previously.   Maybe they need to return to the edges and go back to pleasing themselves.  Just a thought.