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    Industry Interviews


    Big George
    Big George

    Big George - the man and his music!

    Find out all about Stony Stratford's most famous resident and the man behind The Business of Sound!


    You can hear the first "Unsigned Artist" feature profiling "Martyna" plus an interview with one of the most influential men in the music industry, Steve Tandy, on Big George's Business of Sound on Sunday 7 May 2006, 3.00-5.00pm.

    The Quentin Tarantino of musical appreciation, composer, broadcaster and self-confessed media tart, what Big George doesn't know about music, frankly isn't worth surfing for!

    So forget all those so-called "let's big up new talent" music shows that sound as if a couple of schoolchildren are doing a radio show from their bedroom and getting rather over excited about yet another "life isn't fair" composition, again written by a another teenager in another bedroom! Big George knows what he's talking about, and he tells you all on The Business of Sound.

    "Music is the one and only true magic the human race has at its finger tips."
    Big George

    So, what are his claims to fame? They are numerous, but the ones that are most commonly trotted out are the fact that he wrote the theme tune to "Have I Got News For You", he arranged, produced and recorded the "Handbags and Gladrags" theme to The Office and did an arrangement of The Travelling Wilburys song, End of the Line which was the very last piece of music on the last episode ever of "One Foot in the Grave".

    In fact, George has spent a lifetime playing, composing and commenting and won a Sony Radio Academy Gold Award for Music Broadcaster 2002 for his Sound of Music Show on BBC Three Counties Radio.

    And this year he is making a bid for pop superstardom, having just recorded a World Cup song to the tune of Amarillo with Tony Christie himself!

    Here we find out more about the man .... and his music!

    What is your first musical memory?

    When I was six years old, our music teacher dropped down dead (in 1963, music was seen as a cultural necessity rather than a middle class privilege).

    As luck would have it, one of my class mates had a Dad who was about as big as you could get on the West End and Broadway stage at the time. His name was Donald Swann, one half of Flanders and Swann.

    From the first moment he lifted the piano lid I knew the direction my life was going to take. He captured my heart with his humorous stories and phenomenal mastery of music. Effortlessly segwaying a Bach prelude into the latest pop pickers, who just happened to be the Beatles.

    What's the first record you bought?

    "The Wind Cries Mary" by Jimi Hendrix (still my favourite single), although I do remember queuing up with my brother to get a copy of The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields" on the day of its release; along with a million other fans!

    The shop was waiting for their delivery to arrive, so the amassed crowd waited patiently outside from 7:30am until lunchtime, when the EMI van arrived. That afternoon we listened to both sides of the record a million times. Meanwhile back...

    What's the last piece of music (CD/download) you bought?

    Sorry, but this is a shameless plug. The last thing I downloaded was my own album (on Avant Garde A Clue Inc Records) entitled The UK Office Theme Tune by Big George Webley. It’s a 9 track album and will cost you six hundred and thirty two of your English pennies.

    But I am a complete download freak. I’ve probably bought over 200 tracks in the past year. It’s so instant. Think of a track you danced to at school, dial it up, pay 79p and before you know whether Bob is indeed your uncle, it’s in your ears!

    Is it possible for you to name a favourite band?

    I’ll name a couple of the 17 trillion who are firmly lodged in my soul. First off, a band called Little Feat, before their slide guitarist Lowell George died. Wonderful country boogie musicians who fed off each others' grooves and exuded fun, fun, fun.

    Then there’s The Wailers, Gin Blossoms, Madness, Monkees, Red Hot Chili Peppers Isley Brothers, Funk Brothers (Motown's backing band) etc etc.

    Currently, it's Urban Intelligence from Dublin. Now the fact that my son Harry is in the band may have a little sway, but they are true to their roots, they didn’t sell out for short term (no pay) notoriety and are starting to rumble the West Coast of Americas Hip Hop elite.

    Which other musician do you most admire?

    There are too many. Louis Armstrong, without doubt the most influential musician of the 20th century, but where does that leave George Gershwin, who’s every bit as revolutionary as Beethoven or Mozart and much more important than Schoenberg. But what about the cartoon composers (another one I could bore for England on).

    If we’re talking about my social circle, then it has to be Herbie Flowers. As a 19-year-old I spent two years being his apprentice/dep. Unquestionably the most ubiquitous British session musician ever - literally 100s of top ten records with everyone.

    Apart from giving me confidence, understanding and a professional work ethic, which I follow religiously to this day, it was, and is, humbling to be so close to such a fluid and expressive musician.

    What instruments do you play?

    I made a living as a bass player, but I’ll have a go at most things. My latest quest is to be able to hit a super B on a trumpet, Mrs Webley is NOT impressed!

    These days, in reality I hardly play anything, I spend most of my time with a pencil and manuscript and get other people to do the twiddly bits. Come to think of it, I am probably the best tambourine player in the country!

    What's the best thing about the music industry?

    The people who play music, the people who arrange music and the people who care about music.

    It’s magical being in a room full of people who all speak different languages, but through music can all be understood. And the fact that racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and sizeism never rear their ugly heads.

    Standing on stage, or in a studio with a bunch of other musicians and the conductor counts 1 2 3 4 and we’re all in, it’s the second greatest sensation in life. Sadly the industry these days is run (into the ground) by marketing strategists who frankly care more about the height of their trouser waist line than they do about music.

    Everything is expensively done on the cheap. Rather than develop the MUSIC, it’s all about image and consolidating markets and celebrity jungle cooking. Oops, here comes another boy band with a lame cover of a 70s classic!

    What's the worst thing about the music industry?

    See above, but there’s more! The problem is, music has been sidelined by the industry as a vehicle to sell a brand of perfume, an overpriced hoodie, a fizzy drink or a pizza.

    If you could change one thing in the music industry what would it be?

    I would FIRE all record company dept. heads, I would totally restructure the royalty system, I would repeal the new licensing laws.

    I would stop records being played on the radio weeks before they’re released, I would STOP all give away CDs in Sunday papers (as they both under value music by giving it away and they are as guilty as playlist compilers around the world, by programming the blooming obvious - for instance, if you were to go on what radio stations worldwide play and newspaper CD giveaways, Thin Lizzy only recorded THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN. Whereas, Phil Lynott, the main man was a gifted poet, steeped in Irish music who wrote 100s of classic tunes)

    Who's the most famous person you know and how do you know them?

    I’ve never really given a monkeys about fame. I mean, Journey South are deemed famous these days, but they’re just a couple of guys doing the best they can (I like them, good solid geezers who have worked hard to get somewhere, I only hope the place they find themselves isn’t a short term dead end). It’s been my pleasure to work with some extremely renowned performers, and actors, but if you want a name, I once played a drinking game with Jodie Foster.

    Who's the nicest person in the music industry and why?

    There’s a guy whose name is Andrew Lauder. He was at Universal Records when they were a stand alone record company. He is a top geezer, although there was one time at a showbiz party when Mrs Webley was a little squiffy and she stood and bawled him out for being a industry leech who stifled talent at every turn (so she does listen to me occasionally).

    She laid into him, as he stood silently, for about 10 minutes to an ever increasing, amused crowd until I came along and butted in to inform her that he was probably the best guy in the industry alive. A spontaneous round of rapturous applause accompanied Mrs Webley's reddening face.

    What are you most proud of in your music career?

    Still being in it at 48. Not a day goes by without me making a racket of some kind. I am truly blessed that, on an almost daily basis, I get the opportunity to help, advise and kick up the backside a succession of talented young players.

    What would you rather forget about?

    The vast majority of my career as a session bass player, 80’s techno tosh for the most part, if only I’d been 12 years older???

    Come to think it, being 40 years older would have landed me slap bang in the middle of the big band era. But had I been born 200 years earlier I could have watched Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Nah, being born in 1957 is fine by me!

    Now, what was the question? It was about forgetting something...

    What's the best live band you've ever seen and why?

    The Neville Brothers from the heart of N’Awlins. You don’t get any funkier, and there ain’t nothing like a talented musical family, eh Donny? Or maybe it could have been the Small Faces at Streatham Top Rank one Saturday morning when I was nine years old. The first band I ever saw, and they were FANTASTIC!!!

    Is pop music dead?

    No, and it’ll never die. Mozart was pop. Beethoven was pop, Sinatra was pop, Jolson was pop. Even though the VAST majority of what is fed us today is product, rather than music, it simply can’t deflect from the fact that, successive generations will always find their musical icons, regardless of what a svengali serves up!

    As a musicologist, what's  the most exciting thing you've been asked to do?

    Arrange a lost Mozart flute duet, which he composed on the spot for a couple of his pupils. He wrote the piece out in front of their eyes and dropped it on the floor. When one of them picked it up they asked Herr Mozart which way up was correct, the Maestro replied “it doesn’t matter”. The two parts were written side by side, but part one was part was two upside down. Meaning whichever way you held the music, it would be the same. Don’t get me started on Mozart, or Louis Armstrong, or Jimi, or....

    And the strangest?

    I’ve been an expert witness in a couple of breach of copyright cases - which was bizarre.

    Or the TV programme I did with Graham Norton called: Eurovision Masterclass on Channel 4. I had to explain the secrets of a Eurovision song success, dissect the beat, the musical key and the lyrical content.

    For instance, ABBA’s Waterloo takes the struggle of French expansionism against the will of the Prussian empire and uses it as a metaphor for having it off. I was asked by the Eurovision committee to enter the following year. I declined.

    What do you think of the Eurovision song contest?

    I think it’s cheesy, totally unrepresentative of what is happening on the streets euro shlock, and I love it. Although the voting process needs to change. And can someone please tell me, when did Israel become part of Europe?

    How many times have you been on TOTP - and what were you doing in each?

    I’ve heard myself loads of times, but actually appearing, twice. And you’ll NEVER get me to tell you who with!!!!!

    What's the most interesting place / show where you've been a guest musician?

    The David Letterman Show, Radio City  New York circa 1989 OR, the time I was drafted in to play bass with the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the baton of Mercer Ellington. You don’t get more nerve racking than the biggest TV show, or  the greatest Jazz Orchestra this planet has ever seen, arguably!

    Why don't you compose for adverts anymore?

    The reason I do not do advertising work anymore (and man does it pay well) is... I have a moral code that I live by. I don’t wear designer labels, I don’t wear jewellry or precious metals as I do not want to be complicit in the slave trade and I won’t be compliant in brainwashing techniques on vulnerable members of society. The last two adverts I was part of I was so disgusted by the lack of humanity that I walked away, never to return!

    What has most surprised you over the years?

    How every generation throws up virtuoso musicians who don’t just play, they fly. Music is the one and only true magic the human race has at its finger tips, and the application of this gift is one of the things that makes us the dominant species on this beautiful planet.

    Listen to the featured band or artist of the week and interviews with top industry professionals that really lift the lid on the music business.
    Featured bands/artists >
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    Submit your band! >

    Big George presents Big George's Business of Sound on BBC Three Counties Radio, Sunday afternoons from 3.00-5.00pm.

    last updated: 04/05/06
    Have Your Say
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    The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

    paul barnard
    listening to early hours radio usually helps me back to sleep,big george did the opposite,too much facinatiting information to absorb at 3am.are there plans for daytime show on radio london? before robert elms or after danny baker would save switching stations.look forward to sunday on three counties which i think i can get,thanks

    Sean
    A great Man is our George, he cares and gives his time to one and all and what a talant he has on music both as a critic and writer, ps James is still playing your Grandad song, it,s even found its way onto our Ipod

    Nick
    You recently had a band The Kindred on your show a couple of weeks ago. The tracks that you played were great, but I can't find out where to get their albums from, or web site. Any chance of giving more details of them. Thanks

    yaw asiyama
    you are THE GREAT ONE... you really know your stuff. best love, yaw

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