Any time you put your head above the parapet you are fair game for people to take pot shots at you. Anyone going into any sort of public expression, art, music, literature, journalism, any public opinion knows those are the rules and must deal with it accordingly. It is even more poignant for someone like myself who as a music writer takes it upon himself or herself to make critical judgement on other peoples work. As much as I have a right to judge the subject has a write to question my thoughts, it’s a two-way dialogue and sensible dialogue is always healthy. When my thoughts are called into question then it is up to me to justify them or retract them, again all part of the process and I accept that, though I rarely do, print and be damned as the saying goes. Recently however there has been a lot of discussion about bias in the work I do and as such I felt it was time to respond in the form of an open letter to explain where I am coming from. I don’t care if people don’t agree with my conclusions but I hope they appreciate my process and see that if there is any bias it comes from a justifiable place.
I also want to say that even though most of what I do is done in tandem with my business partner Ed Dyer, these are my own thoughts and any response should be aimed only at myself.
Sounds Around Town:
I write the regular gig guide for the Swindon Advertiser and as such make a choice as to what gigs to recommend to the readership at large. The key word here is recommend, these are my suggestions and not a definitive list and as such are subject to my personal preference. It is a bias of sorts but better described as personal preference. The age-old spectre of “you only mention your friends gigs” has been raising its ugly head of late but I think that the argument is the wrong way round. After years of working in local music, I have met, worked with, written about, helped promote, drunk with, debated with and become friends with a large section of the musical community. So the argument should of course be that many of the gigs I mention involve people who have become friends because I have worked with them and not that I work with them because they are my friends.
Also the conflict of writing about the gigs I put on has been called into question so here are a few thoughts. I am one half of the nights called Songs of Praise, an original music night that brings in out of town acts and mixes them with what we consider the best and more importantly most interesting on the local scene, there is no fixed genre just a desire to be creative, new, exciting and interesting. Because these gigs run on a Thursday and the gig guide comes out on a Thursday they do get a prominent position in the chronological make up of the article. It has also been questioned as to how much space is devoted to these gigs. As original music it needs describing to some depth, something I try to do with all original gigs. Cover and tribute bands already have their work done for them, after all a Bon Jovi tribute band by its very nature is going to sound a lot like Bon Jovi, but a new original outfit needs more discussion to sell the idea. If I devote more space to Songs of Praise it is because having promoted the gig, I have already done the research, have the descriptions in front of me and am able to wax lyrical about it. The amount of times I have tried to write up what is an interesting and original band but they have no music on-line and the only description I can find is their own would-be wit of “we make music” is beyond measure. Bands if you want a good write up by journalists, then give us something to work with. We may be good with words but mind reading is still outside our remit.
Songs of Praise:
As mentioned SoP is an original band night which takes place at The Victoria (with a little brother acoustic version every Wednesday at The Roaring Donkey.) Again there has been talk about which bands get to play and which don’t and to this there are two answers. The first, the blunt and honest truth is that it is our night; we are the ones who have to risk our own money as we have a very ethical policy when it comes to paying bands, even if it is out of our own pocket. Also SoP is run on genuine enthusiasm, if it was all about money then we would be hosting the safe bet cover and tribute bands that others resort to.
One accusation has been that we favour the same bands, though I would defy anyone to find a band who has played for us more than twice in the same year. And if we do favour bands it is because if we are going to have to spend 8 hours in their company then on top of all the other criteria that they have to meet in terms of interest, excitement and originality, they also have to be the sort of people that we want to hang out with. I think it is also safe to say that many of the bands we work with end up becoming friends with us and our paths then cross through out our other endeavours.
I have seen comments on Facebook from bands that I am only vaguely aware of moaning that people like me don’t give them a chance. Have you ever contacted me? If you have and I have missed the message I apologise but feel free to keep reminding me or better still, come to a show, have a chat, give me a CD to listen to, that will work far better than a link in the massive stack of e-mails I receive daily.
Also, accept the fact that you might not be our thing, musically speaking. We have a certain style and idea about what our night is, what works and what doesn’t and also it are not a democracy it is part of our income and as such something that needs to be protected to a certain degree.
The bottom line is that we are just a couple of music fans who have tried to add something to the existing music scene. We bring in bands that wouldn’t otherwise be found in town, many have gone on or are going on to bigger things – Manic Shine, Empire, The Cadbury Sisters, The Black Hats, Gaz Brookfield, Case Hardin, She Makes War and also acts from other countries – Rob Moir (Canada,) Zeptepi (Australia) Courtney Yasmineh (USA) Anton Barbeau (Germany) The Very Most (USA) and more.
We write reviews about local and not so local bands for national websites and local publications and we run a record label that helps local bands get their music out there, make videos and get better connected on the wider circuit. There are even plans afoot to take some of the bands we like into Europe next year. I guess we may not be doing everything you want to see happen, in the way you want to see it happen, but I don’t think you can say that we are not doing our best to improve things. And if after all that you still think you can do things better…go and do it. After all, that’s all we did.