How did you start out promoting? Was it an intentional path for you? How did you end up at the Ruby Lounge?
Like a lot of folk I was a musician who, through a combination of interest in the other areas touching being in a band and an increasing necessity to bring home the bacon ended up doing other things. So I did a little radio presenting, tour managing, studio producing, sleeve design, journalism and whatnot. Slowly but surely the promoting side came to the fore, culminating in me taking on the in-house promoters job at Night & Day Café over on Oldham Street; I guess this would have been around 2002. That job went pretty well with some sensational shows coming through the place and the venue making a solid name for itself.
And then a casino hired me.
A big casino.
They said all the right things and wrote all the alluring cheques. However, any sage advice I may have had about the area I felt I know a little about was pretty much ignored. Ultimately – a great casino but a dreadful live music venue. Venues are collaborative ventures, but to shine they need auteurism not an endless committee.
Then a chance meeting in a bar with a fly-postering pal brought me to a meeting with the person I’m now in business with at the Ruby Lounge. I walked blind into a superb space which was mostly un-used and had a bit of a sinister reputation left over from it’s previous life as an R’n’B club (not Rhythm and Blues, but that mostly dire, modern variety). And so we set to creating a great venue, partially informed by the things I’d not been allowed to do previously.
Are you a music freak? Do you have other music interests other than promoting and do you have a natural love for live music or is it a matter of work for you? Do you get a buzz from promoting?
At the venue we hire enthusiasts. We like people who buy music. Who play music. Who like to yammer on about music. It’s a magnificent environment to work in and it’s a fine feeling when you initially book in something you really like of course. We all get a kick come the night of a show, especially if it’s done well and there’s a beaming crowd in. And yeah, I still play from time to time when someone asks my combo Bone-Box to do something nice; and I dip in and out of a few other things - I tour manage Ren Harvieu who’s staggeringly great; I look after shows for SJM Concerts from time to time; work at V festival, I’m on a Musician’s Union committee and I’m a PRS for Music Foundation advisor.
What’s the best part of promoting music for you and what’s the toughest?
The best part is the eventual show plainly. The toughest is running a small business where running costs are forever escalating in an already fraught climate. Evidently, small venues up and down the UK are under-funded, overlooked, marginalized and in some cases persecuted. That these wonderful places stay open at all is often a miracle and bless the folks running them – they need medals. Or something.
Have you ever witnessed an artist have a ‘Diva’ moment? Any outlandish rider requests?
I’ve not seen so many at the smaller places I’ve worked in – recherché demands tend to be the province of artists able to play larger halls of course. It is the case that you’ll get acts asking for something odd but actually attainable on their riders and it’s often somewhat of a test. An artist asked for a pony the other week, so I dutifully stole one of my daughter’s toy horses and plonked it in the dressing room with the catering. It’s a great way for a tour manager to test the tenacity of a promoter and conversely a great and easy way for a promoter to get off on the right foot with the touring party. That said, that famous M&Ms story is really fucking dull.
To date, what is your favourite show you have put on?
Oh, too tough to call, you knew I was going to say that right? But let me say, the evening I put on T Model Ford was one of the most enjoyable of my life. A truly sensational show and a man I could have sat and listened to all day long, just the very best stories. It made a pleasant change from indulging some twenty year old hipster that doesn’t know squat. Oh, and he had a ring made from a bent spoon.
We’re not here to discuss how happy you are with your job but more what you think about how the ‘live show’ is developing. The industry says that there is a lack of album sales and big wigs seem to suggest the money is in the tours. What do you think about that?
While the money people have to spend on going out may have shrunk, there’s been no paradigm shift when it comes to live shows in the way there has with recorded music. The most exciting and visceral way to experience music will always involve being in the same room as the act and intimate venues excel at this. So yeah, people will always want to see artists play live, even if the process has evolved to include ticket bundles, downloads, merchandise and tour releases etc. Bands have always had to be inventive to help bankroll the enterprise haven’t they?
Do you think the internet and downloads have made it harder for an artist to sell music and make a living or are they just as successful?
No, not at all, it’s made things easier. Artists are in the business of communication – communicating ideas and energy, the more avenues of communication they have at their disposal the better. The climate is much improved when it comes to freedom of information too - the intricacies of the industry were a mystery to bands in the 60’s & 70’s and guess what? The industry used that cloak of secrecy to rip them off. Now it’s all easily found and on public record for bands if they want to soak it up and arm themselves or self release etc.
Has the internet made it easier for you to promote shows or do you think it has saturated the market?
Absolutely, this is pretty much the same answer as above. It’s a dream not being stuck with just flyers, posters and newspaper adverts. It’s great how a gig-goer can choose the method by which they prefer find out about shows too and opt in and out.
Once upon a time there were a unique handful of festivals but now there is a whole season littered with them. How do you see the future of the music festival? Will we see some fall by the way side or simply become more mainstream? Should Beyonce headline Glastonbury?
The line-ups aren’t the main problem as even some of the smaller festivals have a great program of events. It’s the sheer volume of festivals versus the amount of people wanting or being able to afford to attend that’s the issue. Saturation point, it has been reached it seems. Furthermore, foreign festivals like Coachella are firmly on people’s radar now – a great bill, favorable weather, cheap flights – it seems like a no-brainer (that said the Olympics diary may be an issue this year, The Big Chill has already cancelled citing them as the problem). Glastonbury has always felt like it exists outside all other festivals though - it’s so vast and so diverse. It doesn’t really matter that Beyonce may be headlining the Pyramid stage as there are countless other things to do. Personally I’d rather watch Beyonce than stodgy old U2 or Coldplay who preceded her on the Friday and Saturday anyhow.
Why do you think the UK is so accepting of American artists and why do you think Americana is so popular with Brits? Do you see Americana as this constantly growing and transforming genre which is being nurtured by newer/younger artists?
It’s always been the case hasn’t it? Swooning over US culture is ingrained in UK culture and for a variety of reasons, but with regards to Americana it’s rightly perceived as more authentic. But sure, it’s good to see genres stretch themselves and reinvigorate, I for one don’t want to see some act doing a pitch perfect take of Hank Williams over and over. British acts by nature of their geography alone should be bringing something new to the table of course.
Who do you see emerging from the British Americana scene in the next 12 months?
I really love Dave Arcari – fuck the cliché, he’s the hardest working musician in the UK and damn superb.
What have you been listening to? And seeing as we’ve just done our ‘Top 10’, what are yours (I’ll accept ‘Top 3’)?
I’ve been listening to these characters of late (in no particular order, and they aren’t all new or indeed Americana acts I guess)… Agnes Obel, Wilco, Antlers, Ren Harvieu, Paley & Francis, Terakaft, CW Stoneking, Minutemen, Ludovico Einaudi, Wye Oak, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Midlake, Earth, Tim Heckler, Duke & the King and loads more.
What are your plans for 2012? Any big shows coming up?
Well, the diary is pretty advanced at the venue and there are shows booked out towards the end of the year already but we will see these acts through… Jonathan Wilson, Pelican, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Ladyhawke, Various Cruelties, Russian Circles, Those Darlins, The BossHoss, Sea of Bees, Nneka, Slow Club, Ren Harvieu, Jah Wobble, Diagrams, Xiu Xiu, Mayer Hawthorne, Earth, Three Trapped Tigers, Silver Seas, Duke Spirit, Kathleen Edwards and loads more thankfully.
Happy to be busy of course.