Wednesday August 6th, 2014. Posted by Alex:

Is the SIAE as bad as they say – Part 2?

So far, in spite of a repeated inquiry, the SIAE have failed to reply. Simona, manager of the “venue” has not been given the money back, although there is some vague talk (that I don’t understand) about offsetting the mistaken payment against future events.

I have therefore written yet again, pointing out that

… all the copyright in the music performed was mine, and I have not assigned the collection rights to anyone else. You (the SIAE) were not entitled to collect it on my behalf.


I therefore need to ask you (the SIAE) this: where, how and when can I collect my money? I would like to give the money to Ms. Ferrari, as I had intended to do the performance for free.

What do you think the result will be?

PS Some of you might like to check out the “Stop SIAE” page at facebook


Wednesday June 25th, 2014. Posted by Alex:

Is the SIAE as bad as they say?

If you happen to have ploughed through you will not be surprised about the resentment felt by many musicians regarding the SIAE (the Italian copyright-collecting agency). In the past, this had been a matter of stories that I had heard, but now I am in the middle of direct experience. We will see whether they are the outrageous quasi-fascist leeches that some people say, or whether they will be reasonable. I will let you know how it goes. Here is the story:

Last Saturday I did what is perhaps best described as a “benefit” gig for a local health food shop, where I have performed before a couple of times. Key points are – an audience of maybe up to 30, nobody paid, nobody got paid, and it was combined with a “tasting” of wine and olive oil. Some tables were put out on the little square outside the shop, and I believe that a little bit of extra trade was done during the hour or so that I played. It’s also important to note that I have changed my repertoire, dropping old favourites like “Love Letters Straight From Your Heart”. This is a deliberate policy, tailored for Italian circumstances – I no longer do any songs in which other people hold copyright. To be sure, the current set includes things like “House of the Rising Sun”, and there would indeed be copyright holders for various recordings of that, such as the famous Animals version, or the Bob Dylan version they learnt it from, or the Dave van Ronk version that Bob Dylan learnt it from, before which it was known as a more “generic” sort of blues. So those *recordings* would be copyright, and if you play them as background music you might be liable to pay copyright fees. But the song itself goes back further.

Unfortunately I did not make it clear in advance to Simona, who manages the shop, that this was the case and she, since there had been more publicity, went to see the SIAE and ended up paying 70 euros! Now the only person with any claims to hold copyright in what I performed is myself. Arrangements of some of the old standards are mine, and some of what I played was indeed my own composition. I have not, however, assigned my rights to any collecting agency, let alone the SIAE. They, therefore, had no right to collect fees on my behalf. If they say that my music is subject to their authority (which clearly isn’t), then I would want to know how and when I get my share of the €70. (Yes, fat chance of that, I know.)

I don’t know what Simona’s markup is, so let’s say that it’s 30%, just the sake of argument. That would mean that she would have had to turn over an *extra* €230 during the hour. Again, I don’t know what her sales were, but it’s hard to imagine that it came to that much.

The upshot is that the work of organising the performance and of giving it served one benefit: fattening the salaries and pensions of the SIAE staff, and boosting the copyright payments to their favourite people, none of whom had anything to do with any of the music that was played.

Anyway, they have been approached and informed that the whole thing is a mistake. Who knows? Perhaps they will say, “Oh, sorry, here is your money back”. We will see.

Friday April 25th, 2014. Posted by Alex:

Doing more music

Since I have started to do a bit more music – blues-based guitar playing, to be more precise – and since I hope to continue, I set up a Facebook “musician” page the other day. Thanks to the people who “liked” it, I got to the count where Facebook lets you set a URL that is not unpleasantly long and ugly. It’s this:

I’m not an enormous fan of Facebook, though I will concede that if I took the trouble to get to know it better I might find it more useful. But the fact is that these days Facebook is one of the main places where ephemeral, local information gets distributed, so I figure I’d better get on with it. As and when I have news in that quarter, that’s where I’ll put, so if you take the link above and “like ” it (isn’t it a stupid word?) then you should be informed.

Sunday March 23rd, 2014. Posted by Alex:

Busking in Italy

This post began as a response, on a closed Facebook group, to a question about busking in Italy. By the time I’d written it I realised that I have collected a fair amount of information and it might be worthwhile “putting it out there”. On the other hand, I am well aware that there are things that I don’t know, and things that I might have got wrong, so I would be very grateful to hear from anybody who knows better. I will edit any other information into the text here.

I began by saying that I really hoped that the questioner would go ahead with the busking plan. There have been some moves in the direction of liberalising small-scale music in Italy, but the fact remains that the atmosphere is still pervaded by attitudes lingering from the Fascist era. (This is not meant as a cheap shot, but as a statement of fact.)

I myself only have a very small experience of busking (and none of that was in Italy), but it’s something I strongly support.

In principle, there is no law against busking in Italy. In that respect, it is much like Britain: apart from nuisance and obstruction, it’s all a question of bylaws. Some bylaws can be structured to encourage good busking, and there are places in England and elsewhere that have done that. Here in Italy, the situation seems to be very mixed.

Since you are likely to come across officials who do not know the law, or who do not agree on the meaning of the law, you will be well advised to make life as easy as possible for yourselves by sorting out as much as you can in advance.

You will therefore want to know what the position is in the commune (pronounced a bit like “ko-moo-neh”, a municipal authority) concerned. The place to start is almost certainly the office for the local police (vigili); if it’s not them, they would almost certainly be able to tell you where you should go.

It is perfectly possible that you will be met with a smile, made to feel welcome, and told what you can do. It is also possible that you will meet the opposite. There is an interesting description of how bad the situation is in Firenze at .

There are, unfortunately, other parts of the bureaucracy that you might have to deal with. One is the people who handle the question of copyright, the SIAE (I think it’s pronounced something like “see-aah-eh”). In theory, for a small performance, you should no longer have to worry about them very much, but it’s possible that they will see things differently. Musicians largely hate them (except for a small number whose pockets they line). I have heard of cases where performers have paid a couple of hundred euros for the rights to present a performance (I think this was a concert-hall setting), as a result of which the composer got no more than a couple of euros. Essentially they are just extracting a tax, much of which feeds themselves and their own pensions. There is another case of the musician who had to pay a lot to perform *his own* compositions, but did not even get that much back. Much will depend here on what you are performing. If you are singing modern standards, they will be able to come for you with all guns firing. If you are doing classical pieces, or your own compositions (provided you haven’t been foolish enough to register your compositions with them or any other collection association like the PRS, for whom they claim representative rights), or traditional material, you should be fine. There have been cases (this is for small, organised events rather than busking) where the SIAE have insisted that a fee for copyright is paid in advance of the performance, and that when they, in their wisdom, finally agree that it none of it was under copyright protection, they will at a later stage return the fee – minus their own management charge, as you may have guessed. Do not imagine for a minute that the SIAE has a close resemblance to Britain’s PRS.

I have prepared the following statement, and am keeping a copy in my instrument case. It ought to help in the event that the “music police” turn up, but the acid test has not yet been tried. Please feel free to copy it and keep a print-out with you. First, the English version:

All music performed or likely to be performed is either my own composition or is of traditional origins. Some versions of some pieces may have been used for copyright-protected publications or recordings at some stage in the past. In all cases, however, my versions emerge from a wider background predating those publications or recordings, in combination with my own creative work.

And the Italian (this translation has been checked by an educated Italian musician):

Tutta la musica eseguita, o che può essere eseguita, o è di mia invenzione o ha origini tradizionali. Qualche versione di alcuni pezzi potrebbe essere già stata ulitizzata per pubblicazioni o registrazioni protette da copyright. In ogni caso, però, le mie versioni emergono da uno sfondo più ampio anticipando quelle pubblicazioni o registrazioni, in combinazione con il mio lavoro creativo.

It is worth bearing in mind that if you do spontaneously play in something like bar, do not be dismayed if the bar manager gets very excited and tells you to stop. The law is such that whoever is construed as the “organiser of an event” is responsible for paying the fees, and there is a high fine for failure to do so. The bar manager has little or no choice but to stop an unplanned performance of live music. (This, of course, is part of what many people would like to see change.)

It is even possible that ENPALS (a statutory sort of insurance/pension fund for people in the performing arts) will come after you, especially if you do at any stage perform in a bar, club, hall, whatever. I heard of a case where some Irish musicians, totally not professional, struck up some tunes in a bar in Italy, and in due course the ENPALS people said that they were “obviously” professional, and therefore they must pay into the ENPALS fund. Someone I know who is a full-blooded professional concert pianist is dismayed by ENPALS, to whom he must pay 20% of his earnings, because he knows there is no way he will ever qualify to get anything back. He said that he would need to perform something like two or three concerts a week for 40 years to qualify. Here, however, you are in fact on safer ground. One of the few reasonable things in all these regulations, is that you are exempt from these charges if you are a) a student less than 25 years old, or b) simply a young person less than 18 years old, or c) a pensioner who is 65 years old or more, or d) paying into another statutory pension fund for your main work, and if, in addition, you are earning less than €5000 per year from your music, then you are exempt. All you need is a “self declaration” which you can download from the net, print, sign, and keep with you. If you can’t find it, I can send you a PDF.

There is, across Europe and elsewhere, a movement to encourage busking and the enrichment that it brings to local culture. But it can be a battle, especially in places (and Italy is not the only one) that like to see everything tidied up, documented, licensed, charged for, approved or not, and generally under the control of the authorities. So I really hope you go for it – let us know what happens!

A summary of the position was helpfully provided by someone else in that group:

Busking is ok in pedestrian areas, but requires a police (“vigili” – the local police) permit. It is free and easy to get. Just show your documents and fill out a form.

Don’t bother in Rome. Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Ferrara are particularly relaxed about it.

In Milan, You have to go to the police station close to Duomo/San Babila metro, give your details, pay a very small amount and book your slots for the week. They give you a paper permit which you can show to police.

What else needs to be said?

There is a kind of busking project you can read about at


So to flesh this out a bit, we have a friend, whom I know to have very little cash, and certainly none to waste. He held a private party in the village hall – there were perhaps 40 people present at the particular time when I was there. The music played was mostly either traditional or the “invention” of the performers. There was a group playing mostly Irish traditional music, a group of more electrically oriented young lads, and one or two other “acts”. Possibly it’s true that one or two numbers with copyright protection crept in there somewhere. For this pleasure he had to pay around about €140 to the SIAE, and had to fill in all the stupid forms (the famous and hated “bordero”), listing what was performed. The contents of this form was mostly, he admitted, made up, so we know for a fact that the sum of money was entirely at the disposal of the SIAE for their salaries, their pensions, and the people whose pockets they like to line to keep everything sweet.

I checked what the position would be in the UK with the PRS for Music. There would be no fee. The PRS was careful to say that technically they would be allowed to charge a fee, but that they choose not to charge for a private party. (You can see the exact details on their website.) That would probably even have been true even if copyright recorded music was played all afternoon.


Sunday March 23rd, 2014. Posted by Alex:

A sign of the times?

The property market is not exactly bubbling here, any more than in many places, but a couple of days ago this notice appeared on a lamppost at the corner of the village:


It says that this estate agency, with an office in Pontremoli, is looking on behalf of Russian clients for farms (poderi), houses (casali – a Google search of images will show you  what kind of houses the word covers) and villas.

It made me think.

Friday January 31st, 2014. Posted by Alex:


Frana? Yes, Italian for landslide. Much of the hilly landscape here consists of stones of various sizes stuck together by sticky clay. And when it rains and rains, the clay can go soft. So I took the dogs out this morning, and we found a funny thing on the way to the cemetery:

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Not far from the village, as you see here:

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Wednesday January 22nd, 2014. Posted by Alex:

A couple of complete pieces

Fender horiz

Having enjoyed the company of Jeanne the Resonator for a couple of months now (thank you again Sarah for such a beautiful present!), one or two friends have actually said, “Yes, but what about a complete piece?” Well, that kind of puts me on the spot, doesn’t it? So here are a couple. Firstly a version of “How Long” blues (a song of miserable irony). I’m actually thinking of changing the whole “groove” of this one, so I don’t have a huge emotional investment in this recording – feel free to criticise away!

Secondly, a short version of an instrumental I call the “Empty House”, as it’s meant to be mournful and sad and nostalgic and wistful and meaningful and… you get the picture.

I hope you like them! PS If you’re not certain about Jeanne the Resonator, have a listen to Blind Willie Johnson at

Thursday December 19th, 2013. Posted by Alex:

Jeanne the Resonator

I am now proud to own a Fender resonator – an FR55. “What’s that?” you may cry in harmonious, polyphonic chorus. One of the most (metaphorically) rock-and-roll guitars you can get while still being entirely acoustic. My “main” guitar has a beautiful, smooth action, which unfortunately has the side effect of making it very unsuited to playing with a slide, whereas this is ideally suited to the bottleneck. I’m still *very* much in the process of getting used to it, but I’m hoping to have enough repertoire together to use it soon.

So here is a picture together with a clip having short snatches of the introduction to Little Red Rooster, a homage to John Fahey, Louie Louie (yes it’s party time), and a more mournful piece called The Empty House.

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Listen to some snatches here:

Thursday October 31st, 2013. Posted by Alex:

Back at the Cubist Hen

Soo… here was the introduction:

I’ll be doing another spot at La Gallina Cubista, the health food and eco shop in Via Garibaldi, Pontremoli (about 50 m up after leaving the Duomo on your right).

I’ll be doing a bit of acoustic guitar (authentically bastardized white urban country blues) there on Saturday (2 Nov), starting at 4:30 or so. This time I plan to perform standing up, so bringing a dynamic, new and vibrant energy to the tired old genre.  (Insert ironic smiley.)

Bring your shakey eggs!

And here is a link to a short youtube video of the event. I should have started later, but I was pretty happy about how it went.


Sunday October 27th, 2013. Posted by Alex:

Quasi-secret gig

Friday night. I knew where. I knew when. “Untrio” was playing. I approached the pub in downtown Pontremoli:

There it is – you see the lights on the left? But is it open?

There is a notice!


OK, cars down the street to the left and round the back, on foot go the the right and down the tunnel. That means 50 metres up here:


Then down here:


And down here:


(Trust me.) Then down here:




And here:



See, it’s getting lighter again! Or it was, because now it’s down here:



And here:



And you’ll have seen the light on the left:



You don’t exactly emerge into the light of day, but, yes:



You have found it. Enter!



Unfortunately the sound was very poor, and I could make out about as much of the music as you can make out visually in this picture.