Gig XII: It’s All About The Bass…Grant Sharkey @The Roaring Donkey, Swindon – 7th November ’15

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12186533_506360019522341_7831615255499723448_oGrant is an interesting cultural polymath: a musician with a background in  stand up comedy, a well-read composer of silly songs, a clever subversive who tries to engage you gently rather than bombard you with arguments, a cabaret act playing unsuitable pubs and an all round nice guy.

His booking represents this idea I have in my brain that Swindon could actually develop a music scene beyond the rowdy Saturday night tribute bands and the Elvis impersonators, an idea I think I may be deluding myself with. Still you have to try.

And so here we have it, a man with an upright bass which is alternately strummed, bowed, plucked, tapped, bashed and thrashed as he sings songs about the worries of over population and climate change, ethics and attitudes with wonderful titles such as “I’m Sorry To Hear You’re a Racist,” alongside fairly tale fantasy’s  of diving bells and sailing away on a clutch of balloons.

The turn out is better than expected though not everyone gets it and one particular group who represent his subject matter rather than his target audience are oblivious that they are actually becoming part of the show. Even when he stops a song mid way through to help one of the girls who is struggling with trying to get her glass of wine in here selfie they still don’t twig. It makes the songs all the more poignant, a sort of “see what I mean” moment that requires no clarification on the part of the artist or audience.

Being on tour, Grant stays at my house and it is great to get to know this intelligent and erudite chap. We both share a love of books (his day job is selling them) history, culture and just the joy of conversation and the next morning he is on his way, smart-car full to the brim with bass and amp and trappings of a man on the road.

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Gig XI: Still Shining On – Pete Fij and Terry Bickers @The Locomotive, 7th November ’15

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320793_117329211709659_1448593624_nAnother high profile booking and again I am wondering why I put myself through the ordeal of putting such great acts on in such a indecorous place as The Locomotive. Don’t get me wrong, the venue is fine, good staff, decent stage and PA and an owner who is trying something new by allowing us to bring a bit of what we do elsewhere to the nightclub part of town. But as far as the average punter goes, he would probably be happy with Oasis on the juke box, or possibly even Skrewdriver… and a good fight. Hardly conducive to what we were bringing them tonight.

The roots of the gig lie with the irrepressible David Rose, music uber-fan, music blogger and all round good egg who picked up on the fact that Pete and Terry were looking for places to host warm up shows and he managed to secure Swindon a place. Originally the gig was to be held at The Victoria but somewhere down the line they decided to bump our show in favour of something they felt would work better for them. So what would serve the venues needs better than two bonafide music legends, the people who brought you Polak, Levitation, Adorable and The House of Love? That’s right…an Abba tribute band. I know they have a business to run but surely there are ways of combining good music with fiscal security?

So here we were at The Locomotive instead and I have that usual feeling of embarrassment that this is the best we can offer as a venue. I need not have worried, Pete and Terry are two of the nicest, easy going and affable chaps you could ever hope to meet and work with.

Musically the gig was a great success, the supports, King in Mirrors and Familiars delivered great sets, both bands harking somewhat to Pete and Terry’s musical past and most of them clearly fans of the main act. (Familiars front man Steve later produced the whole set of Leviathan albums on vinyl for Terry to sign.)

Pete and Terry’s music is sublime and a testamant to what you can do with two guitars and two vocals. With Pete laying down the main song and vocal body Terry then adds wonderful detail, nuanced notes, harmonious backing vocal, additional textures and gossamer thin layers of beauty. Those there to experience the music were truly mesmerised. But that last sentence hints at the problem, “those there to experience the music.” Outside the support bands, the organisers and around half a dozen music fans the rest of the venue seems oblivious and occasionally disrespectful. I do find it odd that people with no interest in the sort of music we host think it is okay to come to the venue and moan about the band, the fact that the jukebox isn’t on, the fact that the band aren’t playing Freebird and just generally being loud and obnoxious. Something has got to give and I have a bad feeling that it might be me.

Gig X: Between a Rant and a Hard Place – Attila The Stockbroker and Charred Hearts @The Locomotive, Swindon – 30th October ’15

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12096066_1242712692421915_2891749228472957640_nThe frustrations of being the middle man stuck between the requirements of the artist and the failings of the venue you work in really came to the fore tonight. I sort of knew I had stepped out of my depth with this one way before I went down to set the gig up but some time you have to try. Discussions with Attila when we set the gig up already alerted me to the fact that he normally plays to attentive audiences who have paid and therefore listen, who have a penchant for literature and real ale. The Locomotive is not any of that, in fact if you had to design something diametrically opposed to that you couldn’t have done a better job. But the show worked logistically on his tour between dates in deepest Wales and Reading and a chance to catch up with his old friends Charred Hearts ticked enough boxes.

So from here on in we can make the gig work, right? Well the fact that there was no real ale on draught that night really didn’t help and actually resulted in Attila and a few of the Hearts heading to the Wetherspoons across the street so that they could get a decent pint. That’s saying something about the venue when you are gazumped by a cut price, drinking gulag.It also didn’t help that the bar staff spent so much time having a cigarette break outside that people actually left the venue to find a drink, fans who had travelled and some didn’t bother returning. Not good.

If Attila was not happy about this, I was fuming. I get to work with someone whom I had admired for 25 plus years and I feel like I am letting him down left, right and centre. Still his gig goes well, the audience is underwelming in numbers but diligent and enthusiastic. Trade mark social rants mixed silly stories, poignant prose cheek by jowl with amusing anecdotes, extracts from the recent Autobiography, politics, football and much more besides. Perfect.

Charred Hearts rock out the after gig set, tight as ever and the numbers swell a bit more to do with passing trade than deliberate planning. So where is everyone? I think the location of the venue doesn’t help and breaking peoples drinking habits is never an easy task but with last weeks poor turn out for The manic Shine and this weeks woefully empty room, I’m wondering if the venue can ever become what I would like it to become or should we just fill it full of cover bands and sit earn our money the easy way…just like every other venue in town.

Gig IX: Time Team: The Musical – Anna Neale and Leon Daye @ The Roaring Donkey 28th October ’15

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12144798_10153633576093419_8663869927340706984_nJust another gig that showed how hard a sell live original music is in Swindon, mid-week in a small back street boozer. I’m a about a year in to promoting music here and still the turn out remains below average to embarrassing. Tonight two more artists who deserve a bit of recognition get to play to a near empty room whilst everyone is murdering Mr Brightside in the name of karaoke at The Victoria.

Leon is from Cirencester and having arrived early after a quick sound check we found ourself chatting about local history. Cirencester is the place for history, one of the big Roman provincial capitals you only have to put a spade in the ground to pull up a bit of the past. It’s a theme that continues with the arrival of Anna whose last album was about people living in the last days of Pompeii and who has, on occasion dressed up in Roman garb to play shows at The British Museum. All we needed was Tony Robinson and we could have staged Time Team: The Musical. Both played great sets, Leon takes a sort of Del Amitri/Squeeze approach towards songs and Anna a more pop template.

A chat with Sam Bates over a beer did moot a few ideas regarding marketing strategies and promotion. With the music industry in total overhaul as consumption habits change maybe it is time our ways of promoting what we do change.

As the acts drive home to Cirencester and Woking respectively,  am joined at the bar by a self confessed music nut (not nutty enough to actually catch the show though) who proceeds to tell me where I am going wrong, that I should put more cover acts on and does so whilst wearing a supermarket brand Ramones T-shirt, so the shining example of supporting live music. I never realised that irony could work on so many levels.

Gig VIII: Old Friends and new (Lion) Faces – The Manic Shine and Lionface @ The Locomotive, Swindon 24th October ’15

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12043188_887082451379501_8945474456267730715_nThis is the one I had been both looking forward too and dreading in equal measure. Well, not dreading but I sometimes get embarrassed when I book bands of this calibre and the only place I can get them a gig is in The Locomotive. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the room at all, especially now that the extras from Jeremy Kyle have been culled to a certain degree, but these are bands who should be playing in decent venues to hundreds of people not bottom end of town pubs to drunken idiots who only came down to watch the football on the telly.

Still, as my motto goes, you work with what you have got (although I still think we should have a crest above the door of a spilt pint and a latin inscription reading “I Guess We Are Not In Old Town Any More.”) Originally the support were going to be the excellent Echo Boom Generation who played for us at The Victoria a few months back and who partied for England during the support acts and then rocked like there was no tomorrow during their own set, but it was not to be. Linda and Emma the guitar and bass front end of the band also play in Kate Nash’s band and when they get the call to play American gig’s, with an international name for real money, understandably everything else goes out of the window. Rob at Electric Harmony, their agent, offered Lionface as an alternate support and so here we were.

It always strikes me about the image people have of rock musicians that somehow they are these swaggering, arrogant prima donnas when nothing could be further from the truth. If those existed it was when money was no object in the Seventies, in cliched films or in local bands who are wondering why they can’t break out of the local scene , not realising that promoters don’t want to spend 6 hours hanging around with a bunch of dicks. The reality is that bands such as Lionface and The Manic Shine have managed to move up though the ranks and get on the national circuit by not only being great musicians and performers, but by being easy people to work with on a technical level and decent people to hang out with on a personal one.

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Gig VII: The Less is More perspective – Nick Tann and The Real Raj @ The Locomotive, Swindon 23rd October ’15

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A quieter night all round, too quiet really, but it is the week before payday and there is that attitude, not necessarily a swindon attitude but one I suspect you find at work in all small towns regarding out of town acts, at work. We seem to have lost that adventurous spirit regarding seeking out new music, people only seem to go a see a band if they are already familiar with them (spot the conundrum) or if their mate from work is playing in them or some other parochial attachment. New acts coming into town, especially those who play original music, are a hard sell.

Not that Nick and Raj are new to Swindon, they are one of the first acts I put on when I got into this promoting lark back in (checks event history) July 2011, a Sunday afternoon gig at The Beehive and they have been regular returnees in the years in between playing The Victoria and The Donkey from time to time.

So a quieter turn out (and unfortunately one of the few nights the owner of the bar happens to be around) but some wonderfully nuanced and textured music. Both great solo acts in their own right they mix up the music via solo turns and accompanying each out, Nick often playing the bass to Raj’s leads and Raj utilising the harmonica and mandolin behind Nick’s songs. And although there seems a lot less going on, the impact of the music is clear through the dexterity and quality of the playing, plus all the instrument hoping and various dynamics of the music meant that Jamie, our erstwhile sound man, still has a lot to cope with.

Always a pleasure to be in their company and a set of music I suspect in a more cultured environment you could package up as a soiree of jazz tinged acoustic and charged a tenner on the door. Still you work with what you have got.

Here’s Nick in action – 3AM