The Gig Issue: Nottingham Music Scene

Interview: Paul Klotschkow
Tuesday 10 November 2009
reading time: min, words

The Notts music scene has never had it this good. Ever. But what do the city's promoters and label-owners think?


The Panel 

Gaz Peacham
Manager/Promoter at The Maze, which has been one of the best independent venues in town for over a decade and a jewel in the crown of Mansfield Road. Gaz is also a member of Revolution Sounds, a collective of promoters who specialise in ska-punk.

Matt Newnham
Owner of Gringo Records (who have worked with Lords, Wolves! (of Greece) and dozens of local bands), which was described by Drowned In Sound as ‘a small but very special label’ Matt was also a prime mover in Damn You! – a group of promoters who have already racked up over 200 gigs in town.

Will Robinson
Promoter with I’m Not From London, a collective of DIY promoters who have booked pretty much every major local band in the city in a huge range of venues. Will was also involved in the INFL movie, which featured seventy bands playing live in The Arts Organisation.

Hannah Larham
The former head promoter at Seven - the Canning Circus venue with a strong leaning towards local acts - Hannah has just become an independent promoter and runs Therapy!, Blamethrower and Disgracelands.

What made you want to start doing what you do?
Will: I moved to Nottingham, started going to The Liars Club, and really liked what was happening there. I wanted to put on a night and someone thought that I actually wouldn’t do it; so I did it to prove them wrong. I really liked it, so carried on from there.
Matt: I started writing a fanzine about ten years ago called Damn You, and from that I started a record label. When I moved to Nottingham in 2000, we put on regular gigs with Anton Lockwood. He gave us a lot of help, and and I think gradually we started to take over his mantle after he got involved with Daybrook House.
Gaz: I started doing a fanzine as well called Saggy Pants and put on gigs around town. And then one day the owner of The Maze, Ben Pattell, asked me to manage the place. Because he is insane.
Hannah: I ran the Rock Society at Leicester in my second year, started to put on gigs, got a taste for it, and I moved to Nottingham with the intention of doing it professionally. Blagged my way into a job at Junktion 7, and here I am.

What lengths do bands go to in order to get your attention?
Gaz: Well, you get CDs through the post all of the time. But some girl sent me a little gift box all wrapped up with little presents in it as well as the CD, which got my attention more than a blank CD. So if any bands want to gig at The Maze, chocolate helps.
Hannah: You find yourself picking which ones to listen to from their biog. If the band are being really cocky about how brilliant they are, I tend to put it one side. But if there’s a biog that says ‘we’re a bit cack, but we want to play a gig’, I’d choose them.
Will: Having bands that come to your gigs makes a big difference. If you actually see them about, instead of them just sending you an email, you’re more likely to give them a gig.
Hannah: Bands that hang around and watch the other bands as well are good. You get a lot of bands that just pack up and leave, and I really don’t like that.

Is the sense of band community important in Notts?
Gaz: For sure. A lot of bands who come here say that Nottingham has got a good sense of band community. Whenever they play, they see the same people coming back. But it’s not as good as it could be. I think that there is room for more of that to happen.
Hannah: Rivalry is a bad idea. Trying to nick gigs off each other and doing stuff on the same day just dilutes everything. Finding a way to co-exist is the only way to do it.

With the effects of the current recession, are you seeing a change in gigging habits?
Will: More people don’t want to pay any money to get in to anywhere.
Matt: More smuggling of booze.
Gaz: Before this year if I had two gigs on that had a similar sort of style, I would see the same faces at those gigs, maybe even four times a week. Now, people are being pickier; they only go out once or twice a month.
Matt: I don’t put nights on in the week. I’ve totally knocked that on the head now.
Will: I’m the same. I wouldn’t like to be a venue booking up gigs in the week now. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are pretty much dead. I’ve told bands that if we get the money I will give them some and tell them what my expenses are. I don’t mind not making money, but I don’t want to lose any.
Hannah: I think the recession has made us more ruthless with negotiating fees and stuff like that. We’re less happy to take a risk.
Gaz: I haggle a lot more, now. Especially with agents I have a relationship with, even if it’s for a gig that I’m pretty sure we will make money from, in the hope that we can make a little more money just to cover other gigs.
Matt: It’s amazing what you can get it down to.
Hannah: Problem is, with downloads and people not selling enough CDs, agents are trying to get a lot more money out of touring.

But aren’t we approaching the end of the CD?
Gaz: I think that there will always be a case for some sort of physical release.
Hannah: Downloading something and having it on your computer is OK, but I had the dreadful situation where my external hard drive broke and I lost so much. Fans will always buy CDs - you want the inlay and you want something to put on your shelf.
Matt: I’m selling more vinyl, but not more than ten years ago. The last record that I put out on vinyl and CD, I sold more CDs in shops but more vinyl at gigs.

What are the effects of the internet on what you do?
Hannah: A lot of the promotions I do are on the internet. Facebook in particular; it gets information out to loads of people that a poster might not. We work with one promoter who doesn’t use the internet, and it’s difficult to do things.
Matt: Having a site that sells CDs like Gringo does makes things way better than in the pre-internet day, when you had a little paper catalogue in your records hoping that people would read it. But I still sell more at gigs. Online, there are all these little chains that you have to go through. I think my distributor is trying to get stuff on Spotify, but they are negotiating to get paid and it’ll probably be a minuscule amount. I have a distributor who uses a company to encode all of their music and pass it on to iTunes. So I get paid after everyone else takes their cut - and then I get about a penny! You have to embrace it though, it’s not going away. The BBC doesn’t support you much now that Peel has gone. And I don’t think anyone pays any attention to the NME anymore.
Hannah: I know people who are always getting emails saying ‘Come to our city, come to our country’, but they can’t because they’re not selling the CD. If everyone who downloaded the album bought the CD they could do that sort of stuff. It’s the bands with the day jobs who it affects. It costs a lot of money to tour, more than people think it does.
Gaz: We don’t sell lots of tickets physically at The Maze, but we do a lot of ticket sales online. People prefer to sit at home than go to the other side of town and get them from us or a shop.

Are you producing fewer flyers and posters? And isn’t that a shame if you are?
Will: I never did that many flyers anyway. People take them, look at them, and chuck them away. Unless they’re really well done, and nice and small.
Hannah: Seven has a flyer pass – you’re not allowed to flyer in the city outside venues unless you have one. They’re really expensive - £400 a year per person. If you send people out on their own at night it can be dangerous, so we need two. I had to beg my boss to get them, so we could let people know that we were re-opening.
Matt: Listings flyers are much better - I always pick them up.
Gaz: Posters are still important; you don’t get the same effect online. A good poster can make a gig; there have been bands I’ve put on that no-one has ever heard of, and I’ve asked people at the door why they’ve come, and they have said they just liked the poster.
Matt: But there’s a definite lack of space in Notts - and probably a lack of etiquette with sticking them up.
Gaz: When I first started doing it, there were walls that you were allowed to stick your posters on. But now, you have to pay for that space. The council should make more space for event flyering; it’s not like every road you walk down is full of shops.

How do you choose which bands to work with?
Matt: I have to like them, they have to like me, and I have to have the money available to sign them. I very rarely pick someone new up these days because I can’t afford to and
there is only so much time I have to do anything.
Gaz: You will have to put some money in if you really want to make it as a band. A lot of bands from outside Notts who contact me for gigs, I tell them I’ll cover their petrol. I can’t pay them at first if they’re not going to bring anyone and I’m not sure if they’re that good. But if they’re good, I’d pay them if I make any money. And if they’re really good, I’ll try to put them on a better bill next time. When you’re starting out, you have to take the risk of playing for nothing or very little.
Hannah: No one has got any money at the moment to give to bands.
Gaz: We’re not it for the money, really - we do it because we love music. Bands have got to accept that they will have to do things for favours and on the cheap to get their name out.
Matt: And if you are a band putting your own gig on, don’t pay yourself loads of money!
Gaz: If you have bands from out of town who say that they will help and put on gigs in their own city, that always makes me take notice, because I know loads of bands who would love to get out of Nottingham.
Hannah: You’ve got to expect that you will play lots of shit gigs when you play out of town. I’ve been on tour with bands that are sleeping in a van in winter playing to four people. I went to one gig before when the band played to one person. But they became really good friends with the promoter and got better gigs out of it. You can’t go out and expect it to be
Gaz: There are bands who I put up, take them out, feed them, and we get pissed and have a good time. And I pay them. But that’s because the first time they came over, they did it for bugger-all money and slept in their van - but after the gig, they chatted to me and bought me a drink to say thank you, and we became friends because of it. Now I book them every time they want to tour. If you go out of town you’ve got nothing to lose by being friendly.

How much does your personal taste affect your professional actions?
Hannah: You can’t just put on people that you like; you need to be diverse and look at everybody. I often book shows that I personally wouldn’t go to, but they have a lot of fans in Nottingham.
Gaz: You need to diversify. If you have a venue that puts on the same sort of bands all of the time, you’re automatically limiting the audience that comes to the venue, and limiting the city. There are a lot of people in Nottingham and they have different tastes. I would prefer to cater to as many people as possible - both in the business sense and because people deserve to have bands they like come to the city.
Will: If I ran a label, I wouldn’t want anyone that I wasn’t really into. With being a promoter, however, you have got to get your night busy.

So why does Notts have so many bands in such a small space?
Will: There are so many different types of music, and then you have all of the bands who meet and end up forming new bands. Bands within bands. Then there is a massive hip-hop scene. And we have good art colleges as well.
Gaz: People have a passion for music here, but there is a real diversity too because there are a lot of bands that do well and can just about make a living from it, but there is no-one that’s really blown up. I think that there are a lot of people who are willing to experiment with music in a way that you don’t get in other cities as much.
Matt: I’ve heard the thing about Nottingham not having a big rock band before and I don’t think that it really matters. We have a much better live music scene than Manchester. More people come out to gigs here, Manchester’s pretty crap for that. There aren’t many cities better than Nottingham for music, with the number of gigs going on.

We’ve got a new intake of students – what advice would you give them?
Will: Don’t be so boring. Check things out that are out of the student circle.
Gaz: Don’t just do what you’re told to at the freshers’ fair. A lot of the best places in Nottingham are the ones that don’t advertise as much. Places like The Arts Organisation, Loggerheads and The Chameleon have a really good atmosphere.
Hannah: When I was at Uni, I went to the SU only once. I stayed there for half an hour, then wandered down the street and went in to some random club and met my best friend
for the whole of university. So go to random pubs and meet random people.
Matt: Don’t be shy. Chat to promoters, because they can tell you what’s happening. Some things you can’t even advertise because you get grief if you do.
Hannah: You need to assume that not everyone is at the Rock City student night, not everyone is at the pound-a-pint night. People want different things. Don’t think that everyone is in the one place.
Will: And if they’re not happy with what they find, they can put their own nights on.
Matt: Absolutely. There’s enough people moaning about stuff when you can actually go out and do it yourself.

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