10 years ago
The Ride Operator blog #1
The record I made with Mark Brydon as duo ‘Moths’ had a song on it called the Ride Operator and while I was thinking of what Karousel-based moniker to use for the blog, it shuffled itself onto the iTunes playlist and squelched and wobbled it’s way out of the laptop speaker. Hearing an album I put almost twelve months of love into with one of my favourite people – which typically for my artist career, remains unreleased – reminded me how far we’ve come in a year. (The song is so dark it still makes me chortle listening now: ‘Your hands are never far from gloves/you leave no finger prints/on all the hearts you crush’.) While I was reflecting on how we got here over the last 12 months, I realised I had barely noticed the fact I hadn’t made much music for myself last year – well any really. I can’t think of another thing on earth that could have soaked up my energy like some nuclear sponge plunged into a shallow bowl of soy sauce, without me lashing out, packing up and running for the Finnish woods. Both Doug and I are used to making records in our respective guises (whether Moths, solo or Bench Connection for me; and Longview, solo, or various collaborations for Doug) and we’ve spent the last glorious 12 months yelling about other people’s. But this is no blog about our own music; rather it’ll be about how we got here, and where we’re going. An update as much as anything; and a view from our humble, cold operations box – strewn with bits of green tea like escaped tobacco whiskers… a ride entirely powered by other people’s sun. Change is afoot.
We’re still putting on shows at our beloved Karamel in Wood Green; we’re still doing our Soho showcase and industry networking at London’s most eccentric hidden gem with our great friends at the Phoenix Artist Club; we’re still doing everything we always did (and more – watch this space!) but to avoid confusion the overall name of the collective has changed to Karousel Music, and we’re setting up as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company. A feel good come-and-go-as-you-please, merry-go-round of collaboration, cooperation and invention. We were very aware at how difficult it was to keep track of all the different events on the multitude of pages, and felt it was a little unfair on Karamel in Wood Green when people were coming to events in Soho and East London thinking it was run by Rosely and the team (and in the case of poor Megan Bonnell, knocking on the doors in WG on a Monday at 5pm when she was supposed to be sound checking in Soho!) – it only happened a couple of times, but that’s enough really. So we’ve streamlined. And here we are – all happy with the change, and delighted to still be working together.
Karamel-the-venue is important not just to the locals of Wood Green, but to the music circuit in general. It’s proof that if the music is great – *with enough consistency* – then people will come for a night out and make it a regular thing – wherever it is on the tube line. And we love seeing people realise that Wood Green isn’t the place they thought it was: it’s an intensely creative community we’re very proud to be part of. We’re looking forward to helping them grow their brand with as close ties as ever – both on our nights, and on the other fantastic events they’re booking in, from jazz to soul, from world music to the much loved Booster Cushion Children’s Theatre shows that stream worldwide. Keep your eyes on here, and on our social media for more info on all that. And of course, The Karamel Music Club is still central to our live nights – and we’ve got a slew of superb shows coming your way this year. Can’t wait to get back in there, and of course, into the Phoenix!
[I’ve hired some muscle to help with the blog. Don’t mess with Mr Tea, sucka! Look at the little guy sweating it out with me. Geezer.]
We’re also currently chatting to some good folk about the Milk & Honey full band showcase. We’ve moved from the Waiting Room in Stoke Newington because they weren’t prepared to support the acts. Our model to date has been that for the more intimate showcases we don’t charge, so we don’t make anything, but we fill the place for the venue with midweek drinkers and eaters, and the venue provide the acts some proper food and drinks in return. Then we put a tip jar round that typically has anything in it from £100-£400 depending on the night. If we do charge on the door (which is a more effective method for full band stuff), every single penny of profit after costs goes to the acts. With the Waiting Room shows, by the time we covered the costs of the room hire there was nothing for the acts – (though we did give them something regardless where we could) and by the time Doug had cooked a couple of pots of chilli (and smashed to smithereens his Le Creuset pot! #firstworldproblems), and bought beers for musicians when they refused to give them even one free beer, we were taking a serious hit every time. When Karamel and The Phoenix kindly feed and water the acts and let us put the tip jar round – and let’s face it, all venues getting fifty odd extra Mon/Tues/Wed drinkers on an otherwise quiet night should – we owe it to those venues not to compromise on the way we do things at another place. It’s embarrassing that this isn’t normal in the UK. The Waiting Room is a very successful venue, and very nice people – they’re perfectly entitled to run it like that – it’s just not for us.
There’s nothing wrong with small promoters making money from the shows, of course. As long as the acts are getting a fair share of what’s coming in and feel looked after – not ‘we’re doing you a favour by putting you on.’ Earmusic are one in London who seem to have a very fair approach to it – either a free gig with no pressure to bring anyone (do they run a tip jar in that instance? I’m not sure, but I’m sure they would if someone suggested it), or a 50% door split if you’re bringing a crowd. Steve Folk’s ‘Folk Modern’ nights are getting a warm reputation and the Woodburner nights seem to have a nice rep too. Given that we have all the other strings to our bows we’re not interested in making money on the door and we’re happy if the audience and venue are happy; but equally in that situation we want everyone to share the burden of supporting those people that for too long in the UK, have been the last to get fed – the artists. No artists, no music. At some point that penny has to drop, or we’ll be seeing tomorrow’s greats putting their instruments on eBay before they even get to make record number two or three. The London circuit is missing out on some phenomenal glimpses of future overseas stars in intimate settings because our reputation is that we don’t look after visiting acts. If we don’t start addressing our way of doing things as a music loving community, it’ll all fall in on us all like the roof of the Water Rats (and what a shame the Monto team weren’t stood on stage when that happened.)
The Water Rats – ace venue that was polluted for a few years by Monto running their abhorrent
pay-to-play system. Scum.
We don’t want the scene to become one dimensional. There has to be room for music made by people of all backgrounds, beliefs and social status, and if we don’t want a music industry that is solely populated by those lucky enough to have affluent and supportive parents; or people with full time jobs who are treating music as some amusing hobby, then we all need to share the burden to support what we love in it’s infancy. It’s not an attack on those from the middle class or above… far from it. This here ride operator is, despite wrestling with it through his teens and twenties and immersing himself in eau-de-left-wing, inescapably middle class. (Though it’s still ‘bath’ not ‘barth’) What can you do? But we need an industry from all demographics. It’s relative pennies for the venues to provide some drinks and meals if we can bring them a full house. You’re getting in free, or super cheap, and you’re getting a great night out with top music and – wait for it – some community. In London no less. We’ll organise; the venue can feed and water the artists bringing the punters in; you buy a vinyl, or a CD, or stick a tenner in the jar. Ok? Ok!
Before we wrap it up, there’s one other thing that was on my mind a lot last year and talking about looking after live acts makes me wonder if there’s a small link in there. The live outlet is in some ways key to the actual creative process because it gives the musicians a reason to be together in the first place – and if the artists begin life with a revolving door policy in mind because the live experience in their town is so unpleasant that only the guys writing the actual songs want to play (after all, they’re playing for free, for no food, drink, tips etc), we lose something in the music itself. All too often at shows and festivals last year, we saw an act where they’ve got some good songs and were tremendous musicians, but all the players were isolated in their own tiny bubble, concentrating on the backing track and terrified of being the one that went out of time. It kills the camaraderie amongst the band. I want to see the bass player and drummer having conversations with their eyes. I want to see the guitarist whispering something in the singer’s ear because they think they’re in there with someone on the front row. I want to see the players trying to catch each other out, coming up and down together… a relationships on stage, not 5 people in their bedrooms in front of a crowd. This is why I was so elated by Antimatter People live at Reeperbahn, after seeing 5 acts on the trot playing to backing tracks. The audience wants some danger! We want some chemicals in the air! We want to hear the song with a mistake that becomes as one an amazing recovery that they make look deliberate. I want them to speed up a bit when the singer sings that line like he’s writing it the first time. LIVE! Not the same bpm at the end as it was at the start. Imagine Big Star playing live to a backing track. No, actually, don’t.
Antimatter People – Yehan is 18 or 19… it’s ridiculous how good he’s going to be – get to a gig. They’re so loud it doesn’t really translate on here but you’ll love me for it.
This year, let’s keep shaking a few trees, and breaking the necks of some of the accepted norms out there. It needs to be universally unacceptable to expect acts to fill venues while not feeding, watering and collect some money for them. Either that, or give them a genuinely fair share of the ticket sales. It does feel like it’s starting to happen. We’re talking the new music, smaller showcases here that account for a good many artists’ entire experience of playing live. There are some promoters out there doing just that – we’re by no means revolutionaries – and I’m sure there’s those doing far more than us. But to the rest: you’re not doing an act a favour giving them a show, they’re bringing people to your venue; they’re bringing souls onto your ship. It’s time we all did a bit of rowing. And if they’re not that good so you don’t want to feed them, stop booking crap. Less nights and a higher quality threshold? Yes please! OK. That went on longer than it was meant to. More news on developments to come in the next few days, and we’ll see you on Feb 17th and 19th at the Phoenix and Karamel respectively. Komrade Ride Operator: OUT.