Bang Bangor Day 2 - Gallops/4 Sticks/Ryan Kift/Jamie Cee

Friday 30 October 2009, 14:28

Adam Walton Adam Walton

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You put a gig on and you put your neck on the line. Promoters rarely make enough money to cover their costs. Many of the most interesting gigs that happen across the UK do so at a loss to the promoters. You could blithely say that they're not doing their job properly if they lose out every time, but for those enthusiasts who create the space and opportunity for interesting new bands to play, it's a labour of love. It's not about money. And without them, the music industry would be entirely in thrall to Simon Cowell and his cronies and the British musical landscape a barren wasteland.

All of the most popular bands of recent years got their break from promoters willing to risk a few quid to give them the opportunity to play.

I stuck Coldplay on at Telfords Warehouse in Chester at the end of the last millennium. It was a couple of quid to get in. They pulled a smallish crowd including some of Jonny Buckland's old schoolmates from Mold, and that was it. We covered our costs, just.

We could have pulled twice the number with a Stone Roses tribute band, or a hellish karaoke, or by not having anything on at all and having Happy Hours and drinks offers on luminous card cut-outs, but - instead - we, like hundreds of other promoters - took the risk, full in the knowledge that we could lose some hard-earned pennies.

I'm not bemoaning the situation. However I would get irritated when only a couple of months later I'd be buried under requests for Coldplay songs at the DJ booth from people who couldn't be bothered to come and support them when they were on their own doorstep, and I will, no doubt, return to that subject before the end of this rant disguised as a review.

Served 'em right for asking for Coldplay is my revisionist take on it, for now.

So promoting isn't easy. You have to find a venue, a decent PA, a sound engineer (maybe), bar people, security, somewhere to get your tickets and posters printed. You then have to find places to promote your events and in North Wales, that can be tricky. For the most part, the local media pay lip service to the indigenous talent until, despite them, it goes supernova. This is the way it has always been, with some honourable exceptions.

Then, after a sleepless night, you roll up at the venue having probably had to take the afternoon off work and hope that the bands turn up on time to soundcheck.

That's a laughably forlorn hope.

Bands have a timezone all their own.

If you're lucky and the bands actually get to the venue within three hours of the agreed time, at this stage you're probably getting your ear bent by the pub/venue manager:

"You're going to have to turn it down!" "I thought you said they sounded like the Beatles." "I've decided I'm only going to give you 5% of the door. Take it or leave it."

You can feel the ulcers forming in your stomach as each obstacle flings itself in your face with a sadistic glee.

Finally, soundchecks done, managers appeased, feeling dizzy and sick and wondering why the hell you put yourself through this rigmarole, you throw the doors open and hope - pray, even! - that your efforts will be rewarded and people will come.

But here comes the most insurmountable mountain of a problem that blights the efforts of many promoters, no matter how good they are or how good the bands they are promoting are: the public - your potential customers - can only be bothered to part with their hard-earned money if it's for a band they've heard of, or read about in some bible of hyperbole. The bands you're sticking on are beneath their radar and, in general, their contempt, too.

Being in an unfamous band is like having a terrible BO problem, weeping sores on your face, a misleading murderous glint in your one-eye and trying to thumb a lift at night on a bleak moor during a thunderstorm.

No one wants to know you.

The unknown band, though, has a solitary, early champion - the promoter. That fool whose specs are fixed with insulation tape because all their spare money gets wasted on a consuming passion to find the best new music and share it with their tiny, beer-stained corner of the world.

I don't think the picture I'm painting is too melodramatic.

Again, there are exceptions. But successful, financially viable promoters are at least as rare as successful, financially viable bands. Pretty darned rare. Osprey-rare.

Taking all of that into account, why would anyone burden themselves with a task like organising Bang Bangor? An inaugural city-wide festival of new music. Not one gig, but over 10 of them; not one band, but 60.

I arrived in Bangor for night two of the festival typically late. I'd picked a couple of friends up and dallied, slightly. Still, we got the Y Menai in Upper Bangor and it was surprisingly quiet. I was convinced that I would have missed at least the first two bands but, in fact, no one had played yet. The organisers were, I think, waiting for an audience to turn up so that they had someone to play to.

Y Menai wasn't the only venue participating in Bang Bangor last night. Other, successful and busy events were going on elsewhere in the city. We'd chosen Y Menai because one of Wales' most talked about and highly-regarded new bands, Gallops, were playing there. A band who were one of the critics' choices at the recent Swn Festival. A band who had also earned excellent reviews for their appearance at In The City in Manchester.

Both of those events had occurred in the last fortnight. They'd even had their music used on the late night version of Hollyoaks. It takes a lot to drag me 80 miles away from home when I've had no more than 30 hours sleep in a whole week, I've got a sore throat, gut rot and I've taken to naming individual cats eyes as I drive past them, again-and-again, on the A55 at 2 o'clock in the morning.

Gallops, though, are worth it.

But, like I say, Y Menai was more-or-less deserted.

Jamie Cee - a fine songwriter who understands innately how to hotwire his soul to some fine songs without employing the usual cliches - is the first on stage. An hour and a half late. He has to battle a venue that is empty with the exception of a gaggle of people who aren't remotely interested in listening to his songs. It's their loss. Really. They're fine songs.

Local troubadour Ryan Kift is up next. He does his best to engage with the audience that is there. My friend Ben enjoys his set and he's about as easy to please as one of Paris Hilton's chihuahuas. Ryan can hold a tune, for sure. But there's a boorish sexism to some of his songs (a story about a 'slapper' and the artwork on one of his singles) which I find objectionable. Nice bloke, I'm sure; but it's 2009 not 1999.

The next band on, Prestatyn's 4Sticks, are convinced its 1969. Their psychedelic blues groove is as traditional as the folk songs I heard the previous night at Hendre Hall. But as I argued in my review of that, it's what the personalities of today do with their older, classic influences that determines its validity in 2009. Given my despondency at the lack of attendance, 4Sticks were a wonderful tonic.

4sticks_102009_01.jpg


They're an amalgam of some of the greatest music ever made: The Stones, The Byrds, The Band. They were tight, louche and thoroughly enjoyable. But any wider success that they might hope to achieve would be predicated on an audience's willingness to ignore the elephantine influences in the room.

4sticks_102009_02.jpg


When Liverpool's The Stairs were doing something similarly well-informed, authentic and impassioned in the early 90s, the reissue culture (CD reissues/digital remasters/most of the past's musical glories available at anyone's fingertips, internet-allowing) wasn't as well-established. These days when a band is so obviously in thrall to its influences, you have to give people a reason to not just go and buy those influences instead. Outstanding songs is one way to do that. And 4Sticks are getting there.

I can't imagine what it must be like for Gallops. As I mentioned, they've been rightfully-lauded at two of the UK's most influential music events in recent weeks - playing to packed out, feverish rooms.

Now they're in Y Menai in Bangor and the crowd size has just diminished by a quarter because 4Sticks and their retinue have left. There's no evidence of egos going out of control in Gallops but a reality check will at least give them something to laugh about when things inevitably get more hectic over the coming months. I did something similar to The Pipettes at Rhyl Town Hall a few years back. They still remember the strangest gig they ever had to play with a certain perverse fondness!

The situation isn't helped in Y Menai, however, by the fact that the organisers have pushed the bands' start times back so far that Gallops, the headline band, are being told they've only got 20 minutes to play - not the promised hour. I learned many things at Swn Festival and this particular lesson the hard way: stick to your schedule. It's the first rule of putting on a professional event. I only learned that myself last Thursday, so I hope this doesn't come across as too patronising.

gallops_102009_01.jpg


Eventually Gallops do hiccup into life. The sound engineer, whose welcome to correct me if I'm wrong, seems to have given up. Requests to have drums and laptops turned up to requisite volume in the monitor are seemingly ignored. We therefore only get a slight inkling of Gallops volcanic power. But it's a cameo that demonstrates exactly why the music lovers of Bangor were the ones who missed out tonight.

gallops_102009_02.jpg


There's lightning in this music - a serrated edge and cataclysmic power that feels like a whole new, thrilling incarnation of the spirit of rock n roll. It's progressive without being indulgent, complex without being opaque, and so damn good that even the tinnitus it induces sounds better than many of their contemporaries.

Their drummer, Moz, lets his frustrations erupt out of him at the end of their curtailed set. Bashing tonnes of holy hell out of his kit. It's a thrilling insight into how the best musicians use their music as a release valve.

So we thank Bethan, the promoter, for her troubles. She looks gaunt. Exhausted by her own efforts and expectations. I don't half feel for her. And I applaud her work and ambitions.

Bang Bangor continues over the weekend. Information about the line-ups and the venues can be found at:

myspace.com/bangbangor
bangbangor.com

As a last thought, as I was driving home I wondered how much busier the night would have been had even just a handful of North Wales' finest musicians and most engaged new music fans made the effort to support this festival on their doorstep. Next year it'll be Coldplay tribute bands, if we're not careful.

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    Comment number 1.

    I started putting on a few nights in Manchester earlier this year after a few months learning the ropes working with some dodgy promoters (the "sell 50 tickets and we'll pay you 20quid" type) one thing about a lot of today's "promoters" i am sickened by!! So i thought I'll give this a go the old fashioned way until i went home to work for the summer as my student loan had disintegrated.

    One thing that surprised me was that 90% of bands didn't stick around to watch the other bands, hence 25% of the crowd disappearing usually. There was no sense of community or musicians influencing each other, just wannabes that listen to a band on CD, rip them off and pass it on as their own.

    I found that usually the 10% of bands that took an interest in the other bands music (no matter how appalling/mediocre it may sound in mine and sometimes their opinion) they were the ones striving to be better and picking up any little tricks the other bands had to offer.

    The state of some "scenes" around the UK is quite disheartening and the fact people would rather pay 40quid to see Pussy Cat Dolls play the MEN rather than 4quid (my pound sign doesn't work!!) on seeing some local new music, that has a lot more feeling and passion/meaning to it.

    I'm hoping there will be more of a balance in the future and i think a lot more money needs pumping into the promotion of new Welsh/English bands to help that.

    However i was pleasantly surprised at the turnout for the SWN and the ITC festivals this year every venue i went to was packed.

    I think more and more people are switching over to the more independent and unsigned band night/gigs as the quality is steadily rising and the people who were "just in it for the money" are slowly dying out.

    Gallops are a great band and Moz also plays in Owain Ginsbergs band Get Out Clause who are also worth a listen.

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    Comment number 2.

    Excellent frustrated and angry review Adam, and rightly so. I'm heading up with an all star Introducing line up next Tuesday with bands traveling from Edinburgh, and Liverpool - and hope we have a better reception. If people don't want to support these efforts in North Wales, then the events will just not happen. There's enough population for an exciting, cultural hub as Bangor is a University town, so its very sad to hear about said event and Bang Bangor not being supported. Shame.

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    Comment number 3.

    Hi Rich,

    Thanks for taking the time and trouble to read all of that -- and then for commenting, too. Much appreciated.

    I don't have enough experience of each and every one of the localized scenes in North Wales to know whether the bands within them help each other out. I know that some of Wrexham's bands have created for themselves a nourishing environment that has given them inspiration, an audience and a circle of music-making acquaintances who can help them out if they have problems [bust equipment, that kind of thing.]

    I think it would be a start if bands hung around to watch each other - but there are some who would say that if there was more spite, back-biting and competition then these 'scenes' would be more interesting and more likely to generate crowds.

    I understand that the other events on last night for Bang Bangor were very successful -- a comedy night and a music night headlined by Yr Ods. Yr Ods are a mighty fine band... they've got significant label interest at the moment, they've been regulars on Bethan and Huw's playlists for a long time, now, and for good reason.

    It surprises me - astounds me, actually - that there weren't more people out last night curious to check out something new.

    It might have helped if there had been a bigger Bangor / Caernarfon band had shared the bill with Gallops. It's a learning process for everyone involved.

    The day that money gets pumped into English-speaking Welsh bands is a long way off, I think. It's a debate we will have in these blogs one day, once I've availed myself of the necessary figures.

    Sŵn and ITC are now established -- due absolutely to the hard work of the teams involved. I'd imagine that the organisers of Sŵn would be very happy to pass on some of the lessons that they have learned to people wishing to start their own events.

    In Cardiff there is an association of the city's music-orientated promoters - I forget what it's called. I wonder if there would be any call for a national body with quarterly meetings where expertise / contacts / itineraries could be shared. Pie in the sky thinking from me, I think. These promoters are busy people, and they face all of the challenges outlined at the beginning of the piece upstairs.

    I know Get Out Clause. They're ace. Didn't know that Moz played for them, too, though. How many bands is he in????

    --

    Hi Beth! Irony is that 150 yards around the corner from Y Menai there was a massive house party that had spilled out onto the street. A 100-or-so students banging bongos and making a hell of a noise. Maybe they didn't know about the gig. Perhaps the £6 door price put them off.

    Just to say, though, that I understand the other events at Bang Bangor have been better supported. Certainly Hendre Hall had a good crowd on Wednesday [and was magical!].

    I'll see you on Tuesday!

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    Comment number 4.

    Great review Adam, I'm in full agreement with regards to bands keeping to 'the schedule' and having a professional attitude and as a fledgling promotor myself I appreciate and respect your points. It was good to read your 'take' on the bands too and I share your sense of frustration about the lack of local support for 'live' music, as you've stated before The Gallops are/were very good and despite a few technical gremlins and a sleepy sound crew they played well and deserved a bigger audience, perhaps if we'd have dropped the admission charge it may have been a different story but we live and learn. I felt almost ashamed about the size of the audience and more so for The 4Sticks, who just knocked me sideways, they really are a hot new band with a real rock and roll swagger and like you I'm willing to see past the 'influences' and appreciate thier thing and what they're doing with it and I really enjoyed thier set and I hope we get to see them again in a small venue Bangor before they're snapped up by some mega corporate organisation and thier ticket prices rocket skywards.
    Day 1 was well attended and the comedy night was also a success, here's hoping that it'll become a regular thing in Bangor and maybe, just maybe we'll break even.

    Bless.
    Anniexxx

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    Comment number 5.

    Hello Adam,

    First of all I'd like to say that I'm enjoying these blogs a lot. I thought I'd throw in my two cents from a touring band's perspective.

    We've played around 200 gigs over the past three years, and it never ceases to amaze me just how up and down the crowd sizes at gigs are. Sometimes we'll drive for hours to play a town or city we've never visited before and play to a full room, then a week later we'll play in Manchester, which is like a second home for us, and play to an empty room. It's even the case for playing the same venue - we've played at The Enterprise in Camden twice; the first time it was empty, and the second time it was full. It can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening at times, but the important thing is that bands like us (and I'm sure Gallops) and promoters like those that run Bang Bangor carry on as there will always be ups and downs. The ups (like Swn, which was fantastic) make it all worthwhile.

    I also would like to reiterate how much of a shame it is when things don't run to schedule. We pride ourselves in being reliable and punctual, but the amount of times we've turned up on time only to have to wait around for hours for soundcheck because we're waiting for other bands. This also results in us getting our set cut short. Then to top it all off the bands don't even watch us play, just to rub salt in our wounds. I wholeheartedly agree that bands watching each other is really important - not just because it is good to support one another but also because it's a great way of learning. The very least you can do is apologise if you have to leave early. This isn't the same for every band though, so hopefully it's an attitude that will change soon enough.

    Tim

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    Comment number 6.

    "I stuck Coldplay on at Telfords Warehouse in Chester at the end of the last millennium. It was a couple of quid to get in. They pulled a smallish crowd including some of Jonny Buckland's old schoolmates from Mold, and that was it. We covered our costs, just.

    "...I would get irritated when only a couple of months later I'd be buried under requests for Coldplay songs at the DJ booth from people who couldn't be bothered to come and support them when they were on their own doorstep... Served 'em right for asking for Coldplay is my revisionist take on it, for now."

    I can empathise this attitude, but can also see it from the other point of view. I'm not suggesting it's an age thing, but in my 20s I spent a fair bit of time hanging around dank, sweaty venues watching bands I'd never heard before (sometimes on friends' recommendations, but often just for the sake of seeing live music). Occasionally bands that I'd seen alongside a dozen other people would appear on Top Of The Pops a few months later, and people would gladly shell out £15 to see them in much bigger venues. Keane and Scissor Sisters (separately) at the Cardiff Barfly spring to mind, just weeks before they broke into the charts. Nobody gave a damn when they were starting out.

    I was happy to take a chance on bands because venues were where I used to hang out, as did most of my friends. But then I moved on a little, got married, some friends moved away, and suddenly I found my social circle changed and weekends weren't spent watching unknown bands who (more often than not) were disappointing.

    It's OK, though, because there's another generation of 20- and 30-somethings who *are* happy to carry on discovering new acts, and I'm happy to listen to their recommendations. I do like going back to the dank 'n' sweaty venues now and then, just not every week - generally it's easier to see a band that are fairly likely to be good, rather than wasting an evening on a bunch of gawky teenagers who can barely play or write.

    And when bands become bigger, it's logical that more people would discover them for the first time. I can't really blame them for not being there at the beginning (although I'd blame Coldplay fans for a lot of things), but I can understand why it's galling for the passionate pioneers.

    I do know that here in Cardiff there are some really passionate promoters who often lose money putting on acts they love. It must be frustrating doing that kind of work in the face of indifference.

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    Comment number 7.

    Hi Annie - sorry it's taken me a while to get back to you... been in bed shivering with the lurgy. Hasn't everyone?

    Yes - "live and learn" is probably the moral of the tale. I don't think the individual events were over-priced in their own right, but perhaps a cheaper ticket price and a Bangor band on the bill, too, would have made a big difference.

    There's an excellent review of the rest of Bang Bangor at theABSURD's website ( http://www.theabsurd.co.uk/news/nov09/bangbangor_rev.html ) that indicates the weekend events were much better attended. Perhaps a three day festival over the weekend would help concentrate the audiences (and their pennies!).

    Tim - thanks for the kind words. I really enjoy writing the blogs and I'm learning as I go along.

    The unpredictable nature of crowd sizes causes me a great deal of anxiety where I promote / DJ. The band who played last Friday, who we can normally rely on to pull a very sizeable and passionate crowd - pulled a quarter of what they do normally.

    This coming Friday, as you're no doubt aware because of my intense spamming campaign, we have Glasgow's Mitchell Museum playing -- easily one of the best bands I've seen this year, and I'm so, so nervous that the event will be under attended. Beyond mailing people / advertising on Facebook and by good old fashioned word of mouth, there's not much I can do. Apart from pray loudly to a god I don't believe in, just on the off chance.

    I rue the lack of camaraderie that 'some' bands show for each other. If you have a long return journey to make then fair enough. Typically, though, bands from around the corner from each other are the least likely to bolster each other's support. Just the illusion of an audience is enough to keep some people in a pub / venue to watch what's going on. I've seen great great bands play in front of no one (when the rest of the venue is busy) because people think that if no one is watching the band they don't warrant further investigation. Equally, I've seen rubbish bands get big crowds by chance because people gathered in front of the stage by happenchance.

    So much of this is about 'happenchance'.

    I hope that's a word.

    Joe - you're right, of course. In general, the populace are only interested in bands when someone else is interested in them / there is already a momentum. Which presents bands & promoters at my level with a bewildering chicken and egg riddle to try and solve.

    There's another truth in your reply, too: promoters like me - and as a broadcaster I'm frequently guilty of this - sometimes over egg their pudding, saying such-and-such is the best band you're going to see / hear. People turn up or tune in and they have an objectivity that can see a band for how good they truly are. Hence I've probably put on too many mediocre bands and trumpeted them beyond their station, and people stop trusting you.

    I have been guilty of that. I'm not the only one!

    I've found that now I'm a little older again I have more freedom to enjoy and go to gigs again, now.

    Speaking of which -- it's theAbsurd in Mold tonight and if I can shake this damn sore throat with a couple of paracetamol, I'm there!

    I'll report back tomorrow...

 

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