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Thursday, November 20, 2014Edinburgh Council Completely Embarrassed by Queen’s Hall Fiasco

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Wonderful. Edinburgh Council spent Monday evening persuading people working in music here in Edinburgh that they are sincerely looking to find ways to encourage live music to flourish in the city, and not let it be dragged down by single complainants intent on damaging the cultural life of the city because they didn’t realise that moving in next to a music venue might involve hearing said venue going about its business from time to time.

And then today the Queen’s Hall was forced to remove all its external advertising because of a single complainant who objected. And instead of laughing at that complainant and telling them to grow up and piss off the council capitulated, and in doing so basically make themselves look a bit stupid at best, and craven, cynical and dishonest at worst.

Or, in slightly more familiar language for readers of this site: Jesus fucking Christ, this really is unbe-fucking-lievable, for fuck’s sake.

Neil Cooper – a journalist and formidable campaigner for the arts here in the city – pointed out the almost comically stupid double-standard here. When the Picture House was sold to Wetherspoons to be made into a megapub the likes of which Edinburgh very clearly does not have even the slightest need for, 13000 people signed a petition to protect it as a music venue. This in a city where they are closing all the time and we need as many as we can possibly preserve. So one complainant gets to prevent the Queen’s Hall advertising their own business, one crucial to the cultural life of the city. But 13,000 complainants asking the council to stand up to the big breweries are all ignored.

The imbalance is so utterly ridiculous it basically makes them either look stupid or corrupt. I have no idea which.

Now, the council seemed entirely sincere when they attended the meeting on Monday, and it seemed like a really productive conversation with genuine intent to tackle the problem, so this news today just seems embarrassing, but it highlights the problem very, very clearly. Simply put, one person complaining should never be able to have such a massively negative impact on one of the cornerstones and genuine work-horses of the city’s cultural life. It’s fucking ludicrous.

The Queen’s Hall may not seem like they support the local music scene all that much. You don’t see Edinburgh bands playing there all that often, let’s face it, but that’s because they’re a big venue and very few local bands can actually fill it. Having said that, as soon as anyone gets to that level, the support they give is fantastic. Withered Hand, Broken Records, Stanley Odd and Meursault have all graduated from the circuit of smaller venues to play the Queen’s Hall in recent years, and Plastic Animals, eagleowl and Rob St. John have all played support slots there. And that’s just Edinburgh bands. R.M. Hubbert, Rachel Sermanni, King Creosote, Randolph’s Leap… all these bands have come from the Scottish underground to play headline slots at the Queen’s Hall.

In fact, even if they can’t necessarily get away with it the rest of the year, the Queen’s Hall specifically take advantage of the extra footfall during the Edinburgh Festival to take a chance on other local bands who might not be able to fill the place otherwise. In other words, they know exactly what is going on and they give as much support to the local scene as they can, whenever they get the opportunity.

And that’s not even mentioning more adventurous stuff like Whatever Gets You Through the Night, Bastard Mountain and #Unravel – all risky, artistically ambitious projects related to music, but with much broader scope, which they have supported in recent years.

So, Edinburgh Council, the appropriate response when one dude objects to the Queen’s Hall relatively discreetly advertising their own business, a business which is a massive boost to the cultural life in Edinburgh, on the front of their own building, is this:

“Fuck off, you tedious, self-important idiot and stop wasting absolutely everyone’s fucking time with this bollocks.”

I won’t even trademark the response, so feel free to copy and paste it from this site for future correspondence.  The meeting should not have taken any more than about five minutes. “This guy’s a fucking tool right?” “Right” “Shall I just tell him to fuck off.” “Yeah I think so. We’ve wasted too much time thinking about it already.” “Cool.”  And that’s it. It deserved no more of your time than that. And no other response.

Because, let’s be clear about this Edinburgh Council, you should be absolutely embarrassed that this outcome was even suggested, never mind ratified. THIS is why you are such a big problem. It’s laughable. It’s pathetic. It makes you look like complete fools to absolutely everyone, and like enemies of the very community you are employed to administer. You are here to make our city work for us, remember.

Given the state of Nicholson Street in general, the very idea that you actually entertained this complaint for longer than it actually took you to read it all beggars belief. If the advertising was too cluttered and contravened planning regulations you may feel your hands are tied, but all you have to do is enter into a plan with the Queen’s Hall to tidy it up. This response is as needless as it is stupid.

13000 people can’t prevent an giant factory pub opening on Lothian Road, but one imbecile can interfere this seriously in a crucial creative enterprise.  I dearly, dearly hope Monday’s meeting is the first step down a road which ensures this sort of embarrassing nonsense never happens again. It genuinely seemed like there was a will to change within the council and I hope that is true.

Just commit to memory the fact that next time this happens all you really have to say is ‘ha ha, piss off’. That’s all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014Don’t Make a Scene

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A couple of years ago I wrote a surprisingly popular post called ‘A Few Reasons Promoters and Bands Don’t Get Along’. I’d just got into regular gig promotion and was only just starting to get my head around the difficulties of doing it right. I’d spent a lot of time around bands at that point, and had heard complaint after complaint about promoters, whether they be amateurish, dishonest, spiteful, or just disorganised and I was absolutely adamant that I wasn’t going to become one of those promoters.

It’s tough though. As I started to get my head around it I started to realise, for example, just how hard it is to pay a band a decent fee. Never mind all the other stuff about decent food, a nice place to stay, actually turning up at the gig and being friendly – it’s actually tough as fuck to even do the bare minimum and pay a band even a cursory fee. So I wrote about it – about all the pressures on a promoter and all the pitfalls they face, and about what I myself understood about the difficulties of touring and what makes a gig feel worthwhile or otherwise for a band.

Basically I was trying to show how hard it is to make the requirements and obligations of both actually meet in the middle. I’d heard so much about dreadful promoters, but I also thought a lot of bands didn’t really appreciate how tough the job was and I thought some explanation of the mismatch of expectations or the simple impossibility of some of the economics would be helpful in making things a bit less attritional.

Rob St. John and Bart from eagleowl are two people who have both toured extensively in bands, both their own and other people’s, and who have also spent significant periods of time doing regular DIY gig promotion. They’ve both experienced the frustrations of both sides of this particular fence, so some time earlier this year they decided to compile a collection of anecdotes and advice from people involved in DIY gig promotion, to try and give people a bit of help navigating this particularly tricky terrain. They kindly asked me to contribute, and so I sort of re-visited the article I told you about above.

The resulting zine is called Don’t Make a Scene, and you can pre-order one here (they’ll be posted out in late November).  There are loads of other contributors too, along with illustrators and photographers, and I haven’t seen the final product yet, but I am really looking forward to getting my grubby hands on one.

Contributors include Chris Tipton (Upset the Rhythm, London: ‘Curate your event with imagination, honour and taste’), Sofia Hagberg (End of the Road / Sam and Sofia, Sheffield: ‘Advancing a show’), Emily Tracer Trails (Edinburgh and Glasgow: ‘A guide to not losing money on gigs’), Fielding Hope (Cry Parrot / Cafe Oto, Glasgow / London: ‘Applying for funding’), Andy Inglis (5000 / former manager of the Luminaire, London: ‘We’re good at taking things for free’), Matthew Young (Song, by Toad, Edinburgh: ‘Bridging the promoter-musician gap’), Johnny Lynch (Lost Map, Isle of Eigg: ‘Some things I’ve learnt about putting on gigs’) and Andy Abbott (That Fucking Tank, Leeds: ‘DIY bother? Reasons to keep doing it’) and many more.

Don’t Make a Scene contains new visual art, illustration and photography by Lizzy Stewart, Tommy Perman, Sarah Tanat-Jones (Synaesthete / Kit Records), Craig Coulthard, Neil Cammock, Matt Pattinson and Cammy Watt (Enfant Bastard).  

The zine features an interview with Marie Tippex (from booking agent Julie Tippex), and articles on DIY sound engineering by Tim Matthew (regular engineer for Lau); all-ages gigs by eagleowl’s Clarissa Cheong, setting up DJs and club nights by Malcolm Benzie (Papi Falso) and Lisa Brook (founder of Cafe Kino in Bristol and DJ Cupcake); and advice for prospective promoters from experienced touring musicians David Thomas Broughton, Mark Andrew Hamilton (Woodpigeon) and Dan Willson (Withered Hand).

The first edition of 300 copies will be released on 24th November 2014, reasonably priced at £4, and will be available for pre-order through dontmakeascene.co.uk.  Don’t Make a Scene was riso printed by Footprint Workers Co-op in Leeds using soy inks on recycled paper.

Monday, November 10, 2014Aberdeen Label Market

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Do you live in Aberdeen? Do you give a shit – even a teeny-tiny little shit – about the records we release here at Song, by Toad Records? Of course you do. So come down to the Lemon Tree on Saturday 15th, where we and several of our other label pals will be setting up shop with our latest releases and probably spending so much money on other people’s records that the whole thing ends up seeming a bit silly, but hey ho, records and fun, you can’t argue with that.

And trivial nonsense aside, since the demise of One Up, I don’t think Aberdeen has actually had a decent record shop, although in my ignorance I could be doing someone a grave disservice here, making this kind of event even more important. I’ve said before that we don’t really make much money doing these label markets, once you take all the travel into account, as well as the amount we tend to spend on booze and other people’s records, but I still think they’re really important.

Mostly, I think it’s the type of fan who comes along which makes it important. I think you have to be pretty dedicated and pretty knowledgeable about your music to even realise these things take place (normal people don’t really follow the announcements of tiny indie labels), so the people you tend to meet at these events tend to be the most important fans, really: the ones who come back time and again, who know every artist on a label even if they don’t unconditionally love them all, and the people for whom their love of weird, under the radar music is really important. And I think it’s important that we keep a good connection with folk like that, because ultimately they are the same as us, and their dedication keeps small labels alive.

As for us, we’ll have a couple of new releases for sale: the new Passion Pusher tape and the CD version (not the vinyl yet, sorry) of the new Jonnie Common record Trapped in Amber. Please do come along and say hello. And do remember that Jonnie’s Aberdeen album launch is actually this Thursday at Downstairs with Christ and Colin Austin.