Lana Del Radiohead! What a creep. ‘Nuff said.
On the surface the shows that I run… co-run (sorry Ed) at The Victoria under the name Songs of Praise may seem like just another music event. Actually it is more than that. It is a way of smuggling in bands that we really think need to be brought to Swindon’s attention between a couple of more palatable acts, palatable according to the tribute band, retrospective and “I support live music, provided my mate happens to be the bassist” attitude that prevails. A sort of underground railroad for what we consider more interesting bands. And so it was last night.
Headliners, Yves, are a very competent indie band, they play it fairly straight but have decent enough tunes and appeal to a wide cross section of the music going public. There is nothing about them that you can criticise, but my tastes lay somewhere more leftfield. Openers Sahara Heights are more up my street, referencing the shimmering shoegaze of the late eighties with a few earlier post-punk musical moves thrown in for good measure.
And with those two solid ends to the structure we can offer up something a bit weirder and get a decent audience in front of them. After all, if we put Oui Legionnaires on stage as the one and only band on the bill and the audience would consist of the two organisers and a guy who wandered in asking for directions to the open mic. night at The Regent, “my mates playing, he’s the bassist with Mike Bland and the Ordinaries, they sound like an early James Blunt, you should check them out.”
So to the collective amusement/bemusement/amazement of a reasonable crowd, three Cheltenham oddballs fired off angular punked up, puzzle-pop (no, I don’t know what that means either, it just seems to fit) with brilliant titles such as the eloquent “Dear Charlie Please Write a Hilarious Title For This Song, Lots of Love Chris” and the slightly less poignant “Fuck You Nottingham.” It’s the perfect clash of punk attitude and pop sensibilities but pop-punk it is not, no backwards baseball caps of oversized guitarists wearing long shorts and hockey shirts, this is more The Fall meets Dinosaur Jr. if you can imagine such a thing. It was weird and it was great.
All at £3 for the night, a pound a band, or ten pence a musician or about 3 pence per guitar string. Good value for money I reckon. But not according to the crusty couple who tried to barge in without paying.
Me ”Hi, guys that’s £3”
Dog on A String Man “you’re joking”
Me ”no, £3 each please”
Me “yes, £3”
Dogman “ can’t we negotiate?”
Me “No, it’s £3” (holding three fingers up to make the point)
Dogman “£3 for both of us then?”
Me ”look it’s £3 that’s a quid a band, how else do you think we pay them?”
Dogman ”Nah, I’m not paying that”
Me” thanks for coming” (opens door and suggests they leave as they are holding up the queue)
So much for supporting live music.
One of the people who I always look to for inspiration when it comes to music promotion is a chap called Kieran Moore. He runs a promotional operation based mainly around Devizes called Sheer Music and for integrity, enthusiasm and sheer energy (see what I did there) can not be beaten. As our paths don’t cross that often these days, when ever he has a show in town I always try to go along, sadly his recent show coincided with that weeks Songs of Praise show, made all the more irksome by the fact that it is part of the tenth anniversary shows we is running at the moment. If I couldn’t get to watch the show itself, with the aptly named Decade headlining, I could at least do the next best thing and meet for a drink and a catch up at the soundcheck before heading off to set up my own musical concern.
So a few drinks at the newly re-re-named Level 3 (a club resorting to the name it had back in it’s heyday in an effort to lose its nu-metal/classic rock/goth tag of more recent, less imaginative times) and a nice catch up has had. The one thing that struck me about the difference in our respective shows was the amount of equipment involved, Obviously a four band, pop-punk line up in a 400 capacity room was going to generate a ton of equipment, especially as kit share seemed to be at a minimum and it made me glad for the nature of our show.
Arriving early for sound check at my own shows, or should I say our own shows as colleague Ed Dyer does more than his fair share of the work, is one of the pleasures of the night as you get to properly socialise and talk to the bands as they arrive and set up, something that is more tricky to do once the doors are open.
Emily Sykes opened the night with her wonderfully positive and often spiritual vibe, probably something to do with the fact that whenever possible she can be found standing on her head halfway up a mountain in India. Around her she had gathered some of her regular cohorts, Phil and Chris providing bass and guitars (and occasional clarinet) respectively plus Becky and Polly from Matilda on sumptuous and sensual harmonies.
Second up was one of our regular bookings Faye Rogers who unveiled her new sound as she moved away from the more pastoral folk that she is known for and went electric. Unlike when Mr Zimmerman did the same there were no shouts of “Judas” just a quiet appreciation as she blended chiming guitars and smooth saxophone into a set that moved from pin-drop atmospherics to full on rock outs. The birth of something new is always an exciting time.
And finally The Cadbury Sisters. Playing their first headline tour and fresh from playing at the recent ELO headed BBC Hyde Park show, they were a less in vocal harmony like no other. Chilled Americana to minimal beats and guitar work that framed the music rather than dominated it, they were mesmerising and all the more so when they de-camped from stage and played a couple of songs amongst the crowd. The great way to end the night, a full room of people and a pretty perfect gig all round. I know it is a total cliche but sometimes less really is more.
Songs of Praise normally takes place on a Thursday. Try as we might to persuade the powers that be otherwise it seems that Swindon is locked into the idea that the only things that will be successful on a weekend is cover and tribute bands and so an endless grind of people re-living the glory of Green Day, squeezing all of the spontaneity and originality from Nirvana and sadly reminding us just how awful Judas Priest actually were is our lot.
I was surprised then by the turn of events when Charlie Bath approached us looking for a live date for herself and a band she had been working with, but could we secure a specific Saturday. Slim chance I thought and probably said as much but when I approached the venue they agreed. Blimey! So with Ed having secured Colour The Atlas as headliners we ventured into pastures new, armed with a great line up and something to prove. Could original bands, one of which had never played Swindon before, draw in enough people to make the night a success. I will just leave you with the picture below and you can make your own mind up.
When I set this blog up I intended it to be a diary of my progress into self-sufficiency as a writer, music promoter, record company boss and what ever else it took to keep from returning to office based paper shuffling or pallet truck pulling boredom. I have been a bit lax in keeping things going I must confess. So in an effort to fill in the gaps, let me tell you about the night that I currently co-curate and organise.
Songs of Praise is a night of original music, held every 1st and 3rd Thursday at The Victoria in Swindon. It was the brain child of one Rich Craven, one of the people behind the equally successful Swindon Shuffle, both of which are now in their eighth year. About four years ago I myself took the plunge into promoting original music in venues that were either not known for original music or who were needing to find more acts to broaden their scope. For one reason or another, normally financial, these nights didn’t really fulfil early promise and so when Rich messaged me to say that he was moving back to Oxford and did I want to take over the running of the night, I obviously jumped at the chance.
So on Sep 3rd 2011 with Hello Lazarus, The Porn Issue and Kill Cassidy as my line up I took the reigns. Less than a year later I was joined by Ed Dyer and between us we have never looked back. WE have doubled the frequency of the shows, are booking bigger bands than ever, paying them more than the night ever managed to, we occasionally make a bit of money ourselves and have even set up a record label on the back of it. Not bad for a couple of chancers who are just trying to bring (in our opinion) good music into town.
Firstly, whilst people are willing to take a second mortgage out for a couple of Kate Bush tickets, they will do almost anything to avoid paying to get into a local show. The classic answers range from “I paid the other guy,” or “ I washed my hands and the stamp came off” (yeah right) to “My mate’s in the band” (surely you want to see him get paid then?) and the occasional “ I don’t pay to see local music” (shut the door behind you!) That’s if they bother to come at all. Many peoples idea of supporting live music is going to see their brother-in-laws cover band playing the Bucket Factory Social Club and then rabidly posting “support live music” banners on Facebook. There are also a large percentage of musicians who don’t go to watch other bands play, I mean, where is the community spirit in that? Why not treat gigs as a networking opportunity, or at least a chance to check out what else is going on, but don’t treat it as a “them and us” situation, this isn’t football, this is music. Co-operation rather than competition.
Even when booking the acts the problems start. Bands who don’t meet the criteria of your bookings whether by genre, attitude or proficiency will regard you as some sort of evil regime and discuss the cliquey nature of the local scene on social network sites. When they do so they will spell it clicky. And be prepared for people to be blinded by their own self-importance, especially if you are looking for bands to play your shows. If you make a public appeal for a specific genre of band to fill a gig slot, be it pop, funk, indie or jazz, ninety per cent of the responses will come from newly formed metal bands based over 50 miles away.
So why do we do it? Because we are not just promoters, we are music snobs eager to show the man in the street what he is missing out on or maybe just to show off our holier than thou music taste. And you know, sometimes we even get it right. Sometimes.