A sneak preview of what you can expect to see at this year’s British Music Fair - the first to open its doors to the public for years.
August's British Music Fair sees the public admitted to a national musical instrument exhibition for the first time in several years. Here's a sneak preview of what you can expect to find.
For too long, the UK's only national showcase for modern musical instruments has closed its doors to the people who keep the industry going - musicians. It was a policy that resulted in a series of dull, apathetic exhibitions in which the hi-tech manufacturers, in particular, suffered from having to show their wares within the confines of small, poorly-lit hotel rooms and conference halls.
Fortunately those days are now at an end, and August's British Music Fair will be as much an event for musicians as it will be for the music industry as a whole. Not only that, but for the first time in goodness knows when, the most important show in the UK music business calendar will take place under one room - so no more tired limbs for visitors struggling from one small hotel to another in blistering summer heat.
The organisers hope the new-look British Music Fair will become an event of greater worldwide significance, and on the face of it, there's no reason why that shouldn't happen. After all, this country's been in the forefront of popular music development since The Beatles stood the music world on its head in the early sixties, and as a consequence of that, these isles house one of the most musically-active populations on the globe.
Yet the BMF is under a lot of competition from established musical instrument shindigs. And more worryingly, the Stateside NAMM Music Expos and the incomparable Frankfurt Musikmesse have succeeded in becoming the music showcases whilst remaining ostensibly trade-only affairs. So if the British Music Fair is to see beyond its national nose, it'll need more than just a public presence; it'll need an absolutely massive one.
So what, precisely, will this year's British Music Fair have to offer the prospective visitor? Well, the first thing that springs to mind is a pleasant, spacious environment well suited to the demonstration of modern musical instruments. That might sound like an obvious prerequisite for a music fair, but the sad fact is that recent UK efforts in this direction, even the public ones, have hardly been conducive to active demonstrations and musical performances.
If your memory goes back that far, you may well recall previous public shows at Olympia that were distinguished more by the venue's unsuitability for music than anything else. Thankfully, those days are now gone, because Olympia has been the subject of a recent - and very extensive - refurbishment programme that's resulted in the interior being totally redesigned and refurnished, and the hall being given the new title of Olympia 2. It's a big place - though obviously nothing like the size of Frankfurt's gargantuan exhibition centre - so overcrowding is unlikely to be a problem, even if public response is bigger than the organisers hope it will be.
It's also easy to get to, regardless of what part of the country you're coming from. It has its own tube station, is served by any number of bus services linking its Kensington location with Central London, and has plentiful, custom-built car-parking just around the corner.
But quite apart from the convenience and suitability of the venue itself, there's the fact that the companies exhibiting at this year's British Music Fair are going about their business in an encouragingly positive and considerate manner. It's as if they recognise that a public exhibition is much more of a challenge than a trade-only one, though it's also a lot more potentially rewarding, of course.
If you're wondering exactly who will be exhibiting at the BMF, the answer is almost everybody. The list of hi-tech representatives is particularly impressive, with Casio, Roland, Korg, Siel, Simmons, EMR, Yamaha, Panasonic, Oberheim, 360 Systems, Jellinghaus, Ultimate Percussion, Ibanez, Microskill and PPG all confirmed at time of going to press. And judging from comments E&MM has received from key personnel, it seems most of those exhibitors are planning to give musicians as much opportunity as possible to try instruments out for themselves, without pressure, without obligation, and without disturbing anybody else.
For the British Music Fair to be a really major success from a product standpoint, it's going to be of paramount importance that manufacturers have something new on show in one form or another. What that means in practical terms is the urgent flying-in of pre-production, often prototype machines from the summer NAMM Expo in New Orleans (which'll most likely be over by the time you read this), something that many multi-nationals have shown reluctance to do for past BMFs.
If our preliminary enquiries are anything to go by, the presence of the general public could be the factor that makes the manufacturers change their minds. Far more than is usual, the major musical instrument companies have been playing their new-product cards extremely close to the chest, refusing to give any more than the odd titbit of news to gossip-hungry media people such as ourselves.
So it hasn't been easy, scouring the industry for information on what will, or won't, be on public show in August. Take Yamaha, for instance. Most of the trade now knows about the baby DX21 stereo FM polysynth that'll be hitting the High Street shops shortly after the show draws to a close, but precise details about the keyboard's specification, price and packaging remain very much For Their Eyes Only. The same goes for the downmarket PCM drum machine, rumoured to carry the RX21 model number, that will be announced simultaneously by Yamaha's unceasingly-active hi-tech division. A lot of people know that it exists, but far, far fewer know precisely what combination of facilities it will offer, or at what cost.
More concrete (if that's the word) are Yamaha's new range of MIDI-equipped electric pianos and a new digital reverb machine, the REV7, that's already been seen at pro audio fairs at home and abroad, and incorporates much of the technology present in the upmarket REV1 into an altogether more affordable - and MIDI-compatible - package.
Yamaha's great Oriental rivals, Roland, aren't being any more cooperative when it comes to releasing advance product news. They have a competitor for the REV7 in the shape of the SRV2000 digital reverb unit, and also have a new rack-mounted digital delay by the name of SDE2000. Like the SRV, and almost every product Roland release these days, it's got MIDI on the back. Otherwise, what we know is what we knew six months ago: the excellent JX8P poly, the full range of rack-mounting MIDI synth modules (and their matching mother keyboards), the SBX80 Sync Box, and a clever little Boss sampling delay pedal called DSD2. If there's going to be anything more revolutionary on show (and it's our strong suspicion that there will be), Roland are being decidedly cagey about it.
Much the same can be said of Korg, who we expect to have a new upmarket polysynth, the DW8000, as the centre of attraction on their stand (itself only a small part of a huge Rose-Morris distributor presence). If our information is correct, the 8000 will be based extensively on the DW6000 introduced at the start of '85, with the important addition of a dynamic keyboard. Other goodies on show will be the SDD2000 sampling delay (reviewed elsewhere this issue), and the already-successful DDM digital percussion machines, plus EMR's MIDI software packages for Commodore, Sinclair and BBC micros.
But if exhibitors are being reluctant to disclose the precise nature of the instruments they'll have on show, they've been a good deal more forthcoming about telling us how those instruments will be presented to the public.
Given the open-plan nature of Olympia 2's layout (the BMF will be operating on three such open levels), it seems likely musicians will be greeted with something of a 'mini-Frankfurt' atmosphere, with fairly narrow gangways separating the vast, sprawling stands of the multinationals from the less ambitious, more enclosed sites of the smaller firms. Wherever you choose to go, space should be the keynote of the show's ambience, and at the moment, there's every indication that the exhibitors will be making efficient - and helpful - use of that space.
Roland, for instance, will have demonstrations on the hour, every hour, by session players Mark Wood and Michael Giles in a soundproofed, air-conditioned booth, and there'll also be an entirely separate recording room (reflecting the company's growing interest in this area), a constantly-manned Boss stand, and what Roland term a 'program your own' electronic percussion stand.
Yamaha aren't expected to be outdone in this area without a struggle, however. The man who's done more to bring the gospel of FM synthesis home than any other, Dave Bristow, will be on-hand throughout the show's proceedings for demonstrations and impromptu Q&A sessions, and it's hoped that he'll be joined by FM pioneer John Chowning at some stage to cohost one of Yamaha's three hi-tech concerts in the Apex suite...
And so to the finer points of getting to this year's British Music Fair. If you can prove you're a legitimate (well, it would make a change) member of the music industry, you can get in on any of the trade days, July 30, 31 and August 1. This will automatically assure you a less crowded arena round which to stroll, but will also deprive you of seeing (and hearing) a load of concerts, recitals and so forth that are planned for the public days. Those public days follow directly on from the trade ones on August 2,3 and 4, and admission will be £3 for adults, £1.50 for OAPs and children under 14.
E&MM's publishers, Music Maker Publications, will be there in force, with a huge 30ft stand selling back issues of E&MM and its many sister magazines. It'll be selling T-shirts and sweatshirts too, so as you wander round the Fair, you'll be able to tell the world which musician's magazine you value above all others.
Tickets for the British Music Fair are available on the door, or in advance from The Box Office, (Contact Details).
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