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Friday, 24 February 2017

On The Payment of Musicians... And How a Plaster Rhino Destroyed My Faith in Humanity

'Yeh, basically it's going around about you that your exploitative and you use musicians to make you money. Actually, he said your a d**khead and scum'.

Right. OK. Now it's all coming back to me why I stopped promoting concerts. This old chestnut.

The weird thing is, whenever I stop putting on gigs, I have regular emails from people asking me when I'll start putting on gigs again. Saying things like 'my band need somewhere to play, there's just nobody putting on gigs here anymore'.

It's true and this is why - the bullshit factor.

I lost money over a recent gig, where I was greatly let down by a venue's management. Every artist was paid, I made a loss. I come back to England after living with my partner in Ukraine for a while, to hear that 'people' are angry about my 'exploiting musicians'.

So, I've put it off, but I'm going to tell you what it's like to be a gig promoter, and why nobody puts on any gigs here anymore.

Sadly, the days of bars paying £300 a pop for acts every night seem to be gone. With pubs shutting down right left and centre, the music industry is malnourished compared to what it was in every sense. It's a bloody tough living for the best of us.

So, when all this started, I felt like I'd got the golden deal. I would promote a gig at a small local venue. I would be paid fifty pounds flat fee, but if I filled the room I was given I would  receive another 50, which I would divide equally between the other five acts playing that night. Given £20 expenses, that would be thirty pounds for me, which was more than fair I saw considering the work that actually goes into promoting the night. When I'd proven how freakin' awesome my gigs can be, there would be a set price for £100 per gig, regular slots and for once, everyone gets paid, everybody is happy. Right?

The day before the gig, it's well promoted, pretty good Facebook numbers I'm feeling positive. There had been some setbacks though. I couldn't use the room I wanted, because the managers felt there wouldn't be enough footfall to the bar. I couldn't put fliers on the tables for the regular customers - I'm not really sure why still. My posters weren't up in the windows, but I didn't care. I knew the acts I'd chosen had the draw to make a great night for everyone.

Then I read the message.
'Ive seen that you've booked a lot of acts for this concert tomorrow - you do know we can't pay you?'

Holy f**k. My blood ran cold. I'd literally put my last few pennies into this concert, trying to make it beautiful. I didn't even have a fiver to my name. How could they possibly not pay me? We shook on it. I rushed for my coat. Would I have to find another venue? I couldn't call it off now.

Eventually we agreed that I had been offered money to promote the gig, and I would be paid the baseline fifty pounds. The hours were ticking down, but something else was eating me - the acts playing that night had agreed to play without fee, as this first show's payment would be adjusted to the audience numbers to remove risk to the bar. I had always assumed though that the bar would fill up and we'd get the hundred to split. But now it seemed obvious that the bar wouldn't pay the hundred whatever happened, the deal wouldn't be upheld - I couldn't let the acts go unpaid. I decided to pass round a bucket through the audience and split what we got between the acts. Best I could do. (each act got a fiver).

Weird for a performer, but I suffer anxiety quite strongly. I wasn't a good compare this night,  I was restless, and unhappy. I knew I couldn't please this management, although I also knew they were running a profit on the night. Going by the deal we'd shook on, I should be paid the full hundred, and it would still be worth there while, but that handshake felt like a world away. I put back my last pennies on drinks to settle my nerves. I was here with my friends, but I just wanted this to be over. Something felt really odd for me, but I thought 'brave face. this is your party'.

The gig was full of great musicians, but I'd put myself last on the bill, and to my sadness the room was almost empty by the time I got to play. I'd shot myself in the foot again for everyone else's sake. But the gig had gone OK, and that was a relief.

And then the Rhino.

This horror story reached it's peak when without warning a plaster bust of a rhino dived off the wall without prompt, to smash on the floor. I went to look, and it seemed the tacks the held on it's hanger had vibrated out of the plaster as the music played. I decided honesty was the best policy.

F**k no it wasn't.

'That Rhino cost £80.'

'Really did it?'

'Yes, it was my wife's pride and joy. Of course you'll have to pay for it, but as a good will gesture I will give you £20 still for the night'.

What. The. F**k.

'Are you sure it cost £80?'

'Positive, I just looked it up online'.

'Funny, because it says £19.99 made in china on the sticker on the back of it...'

But I didn't have the energy to fight. I didn't have the energy to argue that I shouldn't pay for breakages that weren't my fault. That we'd agreed that if I got more than 20 people into the bar that My payment would be doubled - allowing me to pay a full £15 with the bucket money too (thats more than I earn working for ships by the hour). I just wanted home and bed. I was close to a meltdown that night and I'm lucky  my friends were there to pull me out of the pit.

I made a loss.

Gig promotion sucks.

Lugging gear around sucks. Making artwork sucks. Postering and fliering sucks. But it's worth it.

What really sucks is hearing that one of your friends who played the gig is trash talking you. Saying 'He's lucky he's not in the country, because he'd be in trouble if he wasn't'.

Apparently this person was upset because they didn't know I was getting paid when they weren't. Even though they were.
And I wasn't.


I don't know who this is, but this is what I want to say to them:
Just why?
What's wrong with you?

I've played thousands, literally thousands of unpaid gigs. For the fun. For the love of it.

If you don't want to play an unpaid gig, just don't do it. Please. If you don't get anything out of it, don't say yes. Stay away.

There are people who need unpaid gigs. For fun. For experience. For practice. For the sake of doing something cool with your friends.

I'm doing my best. To pay you. Even when I can't give you hard cash, I take videos, pictures, I record and mix you for free, I make concert movies, I share your stuff and I listen to your music.

I'm a fan. That's all. Everything I've ever done has been 100% genuine. Full of love. And I thought I was doing it for you.

I'm sorry to the hundreds of people I've worked with who've never thrown it back in my face. I wish I could see clearly enough right now to realise that your love and your friendship means so much more than the haters, but I'm tired of this shit now.

Maybe it's time to move on in lots of ways and try something new.

I could do with something to restore a little faith right now...

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Record Review: SvarcTrio - Touch

I've not reviewed anything in a while, but this looks pretty special!

Touch by Svarc Trio

Before you even begin to listen to this record, the artwork is stunning.

The second thing that hits you is astounding musicianship. A lovely dark master lets this work wash over you, and the overall product is incredibly listenable.

Jazz is a genre that I don't pretend to have a comprehensive knowledge of, which probably makes my enjoyment of this record more profound, as the Jazz stereotype is music for musicians. I'm ignorant of all that stuff, and I love it all the same. I think this falls into the spectrum of Jazz, although the sound reminds me heavily of early prog, with it's space echoey guitars and fat drums.

The more Nothing Serious develops the more into it I get. It feels like listening to one of those great old early 70's prog records that last forever but really don't drag. A ten minute jam can easily turn into musical masturbation, but this doesn't. Not a second is wasted here, it's a tantric build up. A slow, tantric mind-fuck. I love it.

I should add I'm listening as I type.

Imprints part one, kinda spooky. I love the echo, all reminds me very much of John Martyn, whose Solid Air album is a firm favourite of mine.

Holy Crap! Chainsaw Snore is nearly 20 minutes long! I'm expecting good things here. Oh, wow. I guess that if you drop acid to this record this is where the freak-out comes. It's like a funky jazz-moose stampeding through a china-shop. Oh shit, a lorry's now reversing through the china shop and space time is falling apart. I'm going to stop with the analogy, it's not helping. I'll leave the ending as a surprise.

2 troubled magnets enjoys more spacially-aware writing, taking time to build and pull the separate parts into one entity. I have complete admiration of how these musicians can operate so individually yet so as a whole. All the instruments feel detached, but this must rely one a hyperawareness of what the band are doing as a whole.

Imprints part two is now tying the whole album together in a kind of epic finale. Seriously beautiful stuff here, the tracks really work as a whole, not just a bunch of jams glued together.

I was expecting this record to be good, but I'm a convert. This is wicked. In today's music world, a record with so much space, so much delicacy and intensity is very hard to find. Nice one SvarcTrio.

Sam x

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Porter's - Cardiff

We Spent the next day of tour driving through Wales - beautiful Wales! A lot of it was boring A roads, but eventually we got to some amazing countryside! We stopped off at this beautiful place to get out bearings and I decided to climb on top of the van.

Logging in a forest

Georgie & Jeng

Later on we arrived in Cardiff and started looking for the bar. We were running pretty late, and when we parked up I found I had a text from my friends Sophia and Catherine who I'd met when I was playing on the cruise ship Thomson Majesty. They were at the bar waiting to meet with us!

We dashed out into the torrential rain, not really sure where to find the bar, but we trudged on and suddenly we were there! We even found an umbrella on the way, which has hung in my van ever since for just such emergencies...

When we got to Genevieve's Open Mic at Porter's, Cardiff, Sophia and Catherine were waiting for us, and we proceeded to have an amazing night. Not only were the standards of music awesome, but the bar was incredible. It had it's own cinema, and a front room with a giant record collection for the bar goers to listen to! Check it out...

When I got on stage I was right at the end of the night, and I got to play four songs, including the d├ębut of a song never played before called 'Writers of Rhyme'. It'll be online with a video in the next few days, so I'll post it at the bottom when I've made it.

Afterwards I used my normal method of letting people have CDs and records for free, but asking for a donation. This works sometimes, and doesn't others. Normally even if people don't give so much, it covers pressing costs. The great thing is, at Porter's the audience were so generous it covered our journey all across Wales! Much love to everyone who was there on that wicked night :-) x

So, that's the official verdict. Genevieve's Open Mic - give it a visit. It was totally worth the trip!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Liverpool - Hannah's Bar

Woke up in Sheffield, Laurel and I went into town before we split. We took some photos with the giant metal balls pictured below and did some shopping. I found two records - one called 'music to bathe by' with nude women swimming in a pond on the cover (featuring Johnny Cash's 'If I Were A Carpenter') and No Tomorrow by Orson (on vinyl - who'da thunk?).

Big Kahunas

Then Laurel headed back home and I headed onto Liverpool down the A57 through the Peak District. I pulled over in a layby, met a sheep and cooked some Tortellini.


Angry Sheep

Open Plan Kitchen
When we got to Liverpool, Georgie, Jeng and I hit the town for the next gig of the tour, returning to Hannah's Bar and Ogo's open mic. It was a great night but we bailed pretty early for an early start to Cardiff - here's some pics!

We stayed in Birkenhead for another night, then headed out to Cardiff the next day. Pics soon!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Start of the tour: The Millhouses, Sheffield + Welton Sports & Social

Welton Sports and Social was a good fun gig, most significant for this lovely bit of Graffiti on the cubical wall - right next to the words 'Cock - yum, yum, yum...'. I don't think it was related.

'Sam Harrison Rocks' Anon. Nice Person...
Next night was a bit of a triumph however - setting off a night later than we thought, we headed to Sheffield to a pub called 'the Millhouses'. Their Sunday open mic was in full swing when Laurel & I arrived at nine, but it carried on right into the early hours. I've never seen such a passionate and exciting jam! I was a bit nervous at first to play my own stuff, but the crowd were lovely, and gave us bags of support. I would recommend this open mic to anyone looking for a great audience! Here's some pics...

We ended with a really wicked Jam, and then we walked into Sheffield for a midnight explore and some takeaway pizza. I remember finding some giant metal balls covered in water, and we have pictures somewhere, I'll drop them in if I can find them.

I wish I could go into further detail about the acts here, but I'm awful with names, and I'd sooner not leave anyone out. I do however remember an incredible country duo with the sweetest vocal harmonies. They really blew me away, along with the high standards of the whole night. Millhouses, Sheffield folks - a real pub with real music :-)

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Liverpool - Return to Heebee Jeebies....

 Moving house for our friends gave us an excellent excuse to play in Liverpool again – Moral Laurel and I headed down in Molly the van armed with a guitar and plenty of booze money. We rode through the Mersey Tunnel into Birkenhead where Georgie and Jeng were putting us up, then caught the train into Liverpool James St. to meet them.

We rolled on into Heebee Jeebies on Seel St. for their Thursday open mic – this is the second time I’ve played this bar and I’ve really enjoyed both nights. One or two of the regulars recognised me, which made me pretty chuffed and put me in a good mood for the set. The atmosphere was great and a whole chain of cracking acts took to the stage, including a guy who sounded like Tom Waits. Love a bit of that!

Georgie & Jeng
I took a bit of a risk by opening with 'Price Tag' by Jessie J – the bar was what my Mum would refer to as 'trendy' – i.e. Indie, dark and low lit – very un-poppy. Still, Liverpool's inherent friendliness shone as always, and everyone got involved and some sang along – no music snobbery here! I followed it up with my song 'Cheese on Toast', 'I Wanna Be Like You' and finished on a Johnny B. Goode jamming with the Heebees regulars. I bought a stack of CDs and Vinyl and managed to get rid of them all.

(Welcome) Stage Invasion
The liquor kept flowing – we started by teasing free shots out of an empty gay bar called 'Pink'. Then we headed to meet Dan, Suzie and Amy at some pub in Mathews Street which by this point some serious inebriation had prevented me from recalling the name of. Within a short time we were all dancing like maniacs on a little stage, where the locals were joining us for a sozzled tumble. From this pub we went to another and watched a band absolutely blow the place away. They were called JC and the Two Steps and had a residency at one of the clubs. They were tight as a ducks arse and the crowd went mad for it. I have a vague memory of a gay bar called 'Superstar Boudoir', with drag queens and some really eclectic songs that were meant to be classics, but they were completely fresh to my ears. We then headed back to Birkenhead, where Laurel went to sleep and I lap danced a pot plant.

Thus concluded Liverpool...

Me n Laurel

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Boy On The Naples Train

The Boy on the Naples Train

I decided to do Pompeii as a post on its own because this seemed like such a significant happening at the time that I felt it deserved a detailed write-up.

Pompeii was pretty dull in itself, especially after Ephesis with Grace last year, but was worth the train ride. I didn't see however the plaster people which was a big point of going, because we had to catch the train back. What was particularly important about this trip for me was the train journey.

Naples station was full of beggars. What in retrospect struck me particularly about these beggars were the number of women, especially those with young children in tow, sometimes babies. It has only occurred to me as of now the disproportionate amount of male beggars there are in the UK. Maybe UK society is less sympathetic towards the stronger sex, who knows.

The train was packed to the point where we couldn't move. Two of my friends were sexually harassed et the stray hands of a smelly Italian man, who clearly thought a lot of himself. The girls ended up hiding behind the guys to keep away from this asshole. I’ve never seen anything like it apart from maybe the 11X bus on a busy school night. Somewhere in the two hours of this cramped sweaty endurance test, we had out first train busker.

She was an elderly woman, with a small kid in tow. She had a cheap old accordion, and she clearly had no idea where to play it. Through trial and error and hours of riding the trains, she had found a button and a set of keys with which she could make a sorry excuse for a tune with. She squeezed up and down the train as the small boy went around with a little cup. I put a euro or two in. It genuinely made my day when he gave me a fist pump and a hi five. This kid made my day.

On the way back an experience so strange happened that it has left an impression on me that will never go away.

A boy and his father walked onto the train, the boy with a drum and his father with an old trolley with a speaker on it. He triggered an mp3 player, and cranked up the music real loud. This tiny tiny boy began to drum. I disagreed with his age with my friend later, I thought he was younger, he thought a little older, and being skin and bone he may have been right. The kid looked starving and so did his dad. Still, he can't have been younger than seven.

He kicked ass. He was amazing, he had natural rhythm and flourish, the marks of a natural performer at an age when it rarely shows that well. His eyes however looked tired and betrayed the fact that he'd been on the trains all day. His Dad shook a tambourine, but couldn't hold a beat, let alone a rhythm, and it was clearly just a token gesture of performance.

The boy drummed for another three songs, which were long and loud and pissed off everyone in the carriage. The boy would have done better playing alone. Afterwards he looked up at his father, who said to him in Italian 'You know what you have to do – take the cup around'. The kid was shy, but he did it anyway for his Dad.

The kid didn't come to me. He didn't ask me. I wanted to approach him, but something held me back. Here was my thought process:
a) This child shouldn't have to work
b) His Dad was pushy, and will take all the money he's earned at the end of the day.
  1. That kid is scared, tired and unhappy. It's not fair.

Nobody on the train gave him a cent. For some reason my feet were glued to the floor. Some deep inbuilt etiquette, some social fear, the same one that stopped me buying lunch for a homeless man in Greece put the brakes on a naturally good gesture. Here was my thought process.
a) That kid was amazing.
b) He's playing to the hardest crowd anyone could play to.
  1. I know what it's like to be a performing monkey in front of people who don't want to know – especially if they're all glaring at you. At 24 it can break me down emotionally. This child is having to deal with continuous rejection at the age of below seven.
  1. If I give this kid money, at least he'll eat tonight. He'll have to work anyway, money or no money...

Then he was gone, him and his dad hopped off at the station, with my feet still glued. I watched the slums and shanty towns rush by the window and I ached with guilt. I’m earning more money than I ever have done in my life and I couldn't put fifty cents in a cup for a starving kid. I’m a wanker. There, it's said. I know that boy will never read these words, probably never even knew I existed, but If I could say something to him, this is what I'd say.

You're amazing. You're a real star, you work through the pain and fear for your family. I could see the fear in your eyes as that train full of people glared at you, but you played on and your held your head high and you passed your cup around. In a grown up world full of rules and conventions, you weren't shown the appreciation you deserved, maybe you never are. It wasn't your fault, it was the grown ups who had their priorities fucked up. But somewhere in the world you have a fan, who loves your playing, and if he'd pulled himself together you'd have had twenty Euros in your cup.

Some of you might be reading this and thinking that I’m pretty soft. Maybe too soft for travelling around the world, where poverty is a daily encounter and something that is to be come to terms with. Well, I say to you that if a child working, or a begger with a baby in her arms doesn't give you pain, then you're dehumanising yourself to cope with a broken world. The minute that poverty becomes an acceptable fact of life to you, you become part of the problem. That's the kind of thinking that lets condos and shanty towns share the same beach.

Here's a conversation I had recently with a colleague. I gave a coin to an old wizened lady, begging.
Him: Did you just give money to that beggar?
Me: Yeh.
Him: Bad idea!
Me: Wha?
Him: I used to give money to beggars, now I know better. If they have two hands they can work.
Me: Well, I disagree.
Cowardly me. What I should have said was this:
Me: 'That analogy is stupid. It ignores the concept of unemployment which has to exist for capitalism to function. Also, what about the mentally ill, or disabled? Have you never depended on the charity of another?'
Another colleague told me this:
Her: Lots of beggars fake it anyway – they pretend to be poor, but have iPhones and stuff under their blankets.
Again, I kept quiet. What I should have said was this.
Me: That's crazy. If they're hidden how would you know about them? Anyway, the whole benefits system works on the internet now – surely it makes sense that the first thing a homeless person would need would be internet connectivity? Also, even if these people do exist, why should you let the genuine beggars suffer?
Another colleague told me this:
Him: Didn't you hear about that beggar who was actually really rich, and drove a Mercedes? He had a really good job, he just did it because he was greedy?
Me: That's the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
Well, at least I got it right once.

These are first world defences against a sick worldwide wealth gap. Nobody chooses to be a homeless beggar, to live in the freezing cold and demean themselves to every person who walks by them just to earn enough to carry on. Begging to people every day would kill every last ounce of ego someone possesses, and how do they pull themselves together and get a job?

I think everyone who grew up in a first world country has some degree of 'fat wallet guilt' when they look the living conditions of a world of which massive chunks are still below the poverty line. There's two ways to deal with this – come up with some crappy false logic chain to justify your wealth, and your greed in not giving it to someone in need – or to give some tiny act of charity to try and sooth that guilt a little bit. The charity probably isn't going to get rid of your guilt, and it probably isn't going to solve the problems of the person in need, but it will help. The only alternative is becoming an ass-hole, so probably best to embrace it.

Like the butterfly effect, one small good deed can spread out indefinitely, like falling dominoes throughout the world. Sooner of later, somewhere along the line it will come back to the boy on the Naples train.