Sick! Adventures In Music Promotion

Sick!

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Music promotion? Is it worth the stress? You book the venue, try and get the right mix of bands, design the flyers and posters, arrange time scales with printers, sort out the PR, work out logistics and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!!! Stumbling blocks are of course, an inevitability, bands drop out, want different time slots and you of course want to keep them all happy because your ethos has been that you will only book acts that you actually like. You’ve heard about shitty promoters and you certainly don’t want to be associated with that type of charlatan, so you put your heart and soul into the event. Yet despite your idealism you will always come up against that age old compromise, bums on seats vs artistic integrity and there’s the rub, because as sure as Arsene Wenger is a complete cockhead you WILL have to comprise your vision to some degree, that’s just ‘the way it works.’ The night eventually seems to take over your life and at one point your family start to ask who the strange bearded man in the front room on the PC actually is? ‘Do we know each other?’ On other occasions you feel like you’re wrestling with jelly and wonder if it’s worth the stress. Let’s face it putting on 12 bands in one night over two floors is fairly ambitious, some would say slightly unhinged but maybe it would be even more ambitious and insane to review all the bands we had on the bill for our “Sick!” night at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool. With that in mind I’ll concentrate on some of the edited highlights which is of course no slight on the other bands on the bill who were all superb.

This Devastated Fan kicked off proceedings downstairs with a powerful set replete with killer guitar riffs and singer and guitarist Robbie Cavanagh’s emotive, impassioned vocals.

With the sort of timing that would make a Swiss watchmaker blush a system was  in place that ensured that when a band finished downstairs, a set began upstairs – so in theory it was possible to see all 12 bands on the bill without needing to bend the fabric of time  And so as This Devastated fan completed their set  upstairs was getting ready for a more chilled vibe in the form of  “The Folk Upstairs” featuring fabulous  acoustic sets from Carrie Hayden Maxi Dunn (who was launching her latest album “Welcome To Soonville”) plus  Sensorites and The Big Iam

The Mono Lps

Things really started buzzing downstairs with a blistering set from the Mono Lps a band who manage to combine just the right amount of endearing cheek with streetwise tales from the urban prairie. Their guitar/cello (yes cello!) driven brand of rock really had the crowd bouncing like spacehoppers and proved why they are such a hit on the local scene. Highlight of the set was a new song they hadn’t played before ‘Watch The Games That You Play’ which had the ladies in the audience screaming with delight even before they noticed singer Ste’s flies were inadvertently parked at  half mast.!

And so to the headliners …

Polly Mackey, Live @ Sick, Zanzibar, Liverpool

Watching a band as good as Polly Mackey And The Pleasure Principle made all those sleepless nights worthwhile, because this is what we wanted the night to be all about, putting on upcoming bands in an intimate venue which has a fantastic PA system and hopefully reminding the audience just how great live music can be. After watching Polly MacKey’s sound check it was apparent to me that she must have the word “talent” written through her like a stick of rock, the sheer quality of her song writing and her amazing voice are the first thing that strike you about this girl. It must drive her to distraction when people constantly reference her age because when you hear somebody who has the ability to write insightful, literate, intelligent music that is both moving andPolly Mackey set list inspiring it shouldn’t matter whether that person is 18 or 80. However, I have to admit if this is the sort of quality song writing she is able to produce at 18, it’s frightening to think just how good she may become. At tonight’s gig Polly and her band the Pleasure Principle played with the assurance of seasoned veterans producing a set shot through with brilliance which not only demonstrated her wonderful voice but also what fine musicians her band are. Songs like ‘The Way It Works,’ ‘The Wall,’ ‘Seriously’ and the three fantastic new numbers the band performed ‘Control,’ ‘Higher,’ and ‘Silent Film’ all served notice that here is a major talent who is worth a hundred of the dreadful, karaoke, fame seeking wannabes with whom a brainwashed Joe Public seems to be in the thrall of via the medium of prime time TV. Yet it’s singer songwriters like Polly with whom the future of music rests, it’s people with this sort of natural talent that can lead the fight back against soulless corporate mass produced pop and it fills you with hope that a brighter musical future maybe about to dawn.

Nobody can dispute the fact that ‘Britain’s got talent,’ but you won’t find it on Saturday night TV overseen by two gurning, sniggering Geordie dwarves. Nope, you’ll find it here in venues like this one were people play music for the love of the act not just for the rewards it may bring. Of course the music industry is littered with broken dreams and unfulfilled promise and talent alone is never a guarantee of success, a glance at the latest chart confirms that fact, but Polly seems to have the right people around her and tonight the band were quite superb, totally justifying my faith in getting them booked.

Polly Mackey And The Pleasure Principle

I suppose if I were to have a stab at objectivity I might say maybe Polly’s stage craft might be something that could be improved in terms of interaction, banter and general demeanour. She may give off a slightly aloof vibe, (but maybe that’s because she’s uber cool) and maybe that is one thing that will come with more experience, but to be honest when the music’s so good, who really cares? She’s here to sing and not perform stand up comedy or acrobatics and when her voice takes over, quite frankly that’s all the interaction you need. She’ll be on Jool’s Holland within three years if there’s any justice.

Next up were Manchester’s finest, Run Toto Run, a band I’d always enjoyed and had yet to see live, so booking them for tonight’s show was a bit of a treat. When I first came across the band the term “twee electro folk” was oft bandied about and I suppose there was some justification in using this description. But this evening’s performance took the band to another level and made me discard the twee tag forever. Their layered synths, samples and beats plus Rachael Kitcheside’s mellifluous vocals conjured up the welcome spectre of bands such as Dubstar and St. Etienne more so than earnest folk singers with great big beards and rough sweaters hewn from nettles and brambles (and that’s just the ladies!) Their sound has expanded almost beyond recognition; Rachael’s voice has always been imbued with a rich, melodic loveliness but possibly was a little too cute and fey for some folk, but now it seems so much stronger and full of real emotive power. Their new songs can no longer be classed as whimsical for they show a real depth and range and are underpinned by a pulsating electronic pop sensibility. It’s the sound of a band that has found their feet and is now blossoming into all that they want to be. When Rachael sings it can stop you in your tracks and to be honest it really does take something special to stop me mid-pint!!

Run Toto Run

They have retained their playful, magical sense of wonder but are now producing a far more expansive and rewarding sound than even I thought possible! This set proved that the band have made their way out of the gingerbread forest and are ready to kick some serious ass! And it looked like at one point as if Rachael was ready to do just that in relation to at least one chap in the assembled throng tonight. Initially she appeared somewhat concerned regarding a poor fellow at the front of the stage who appeared to be experiencing some kind of apoplectic fit, an aberration of the mind if you will. However on closer inspection it became apparent that the strange spectacle unfolding before our eyes was in fact a bizarre and singularly inept attempt at expressing emotion via the medium of dance!! This strange fellow bore an uncanny resemblance to the ‘The Haitian’ from the TV show ‘Heroes’ and although he jerked about enthusiastically and with great energy it soon became apparent his superpower arsenal did not include the ability to dance in a coherent and co-ordinated fashion. Still this was a minor hiccup and after the hapless chump was ejected Run Toto Run produced a set that was pretty much flawless, highlights included ‘Plastic Gold,’ ‘Welcoming Committee,’ upcoming single ‘Catch My Breath’ and the live debut of a new song ‘Girl On The Escalator.’ After the gig Rachael did admit that the dancing miscreant was a little off putting, which you can understand, I mean how do you keep a straight face when somebody’s convulsing in front of you in a fashion that can best be described as Mr Bean on some seriously bad acid!

Run Toto Run proved that anybody who dismisses them as mere twee, electro folksters simply haven’t been listening to how the band have developed, they still have their quirkiness but have allied that to some killer pop tunes which are mature and evocative and so much more than mere flights of fancy …..listen and learn…..

Here’s their version of Bombay Bicycle Clubs “Always Like This”

The final band of the night were tripped out  electro folksters Bagheera who are tipped by everyone from “BBC Introducing” to Steve Lamacq for big things  and despite it being after midnight the lads gave a fabulous performance. It’s difficult to pigeon hold their sound but hey ho, lets try😉  . If you imagine an electro shoegaze version of Fleet Foxes and replace the slightly twee rustic acoustic sound with guitar pedals, electro bleeps, synths and tribal drumming this may roughly point in a direction that begets a greater understanding of were Bagheera are coming from.

Bagheera, Live @ Sick, The Zanzibar, Liverpool

So, music promotion? Is it worth the hassle? Well, you ain’t gonna get rich quick that’s for sure, you might age ten years in a month, and if there’s a couple of you involved accept the fact that you won’t always see eye to eye on every detail. But if you really love music and are passionate about helping provide a platform for bands you love to perform upon, if you are a UN Peace keeping force made flesh and willing to accept some compromises for the greater good, then yeah it’s undoubtedly well worth it and very fulfilling. Because at the end of the day, it’s really is all about the music!

Cool Shoes!
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I wrote this review for Altsounds.com.  An edited version  can be viewed here

10 comments

  1. DaveCromwelll · November 30, 2009

    Your efforts are to be commended, Andy. I have to agree your venture into these realms is quite ambitious. I can just imaging the stress, juggling and pure headache involved in putting all this on.

    Still, like you say – “it’s all about the music”. Once you feel the passion for that – it’s amazing what we’ll go through to keep that feeling going.

    Well done.

    • vonpip · November 30, 2009

      Cheers Dave, its worth it when a band gets and stage and gives a cracking performance, all the stress is forgotten about then… its these moments we remember !

  2. JK · December 1, 2009

    Good account as always Mr VP!

    Every night I’ve ever done has been a bit of a rollercoaster and this one was certainly no exception, but when it ends on a high as this one did – there’s no buzz quite like it, and like childbirth (allegedly!) and Glastonbury the highs are so great that all those lows pale into insignificance, so much so that you come back for more!

    To anyone thinking of doing their own night – there’s no “How to put on gigs for dummies guide” out there, it’s a steep learning curve, you will lose money, it will take over your life for a few weeks, you will have to make “strategic bookings” i.e. get someone popular so that there’s an audience to see someone you truly like but won’t be able to pull a crowd yet, you will have dissapointments (the worse turnout I ever had was the night of the final of I’m a celebrity … the whole of Camden was deserted on a Friday night … it makes you ask yourself why you bother) bands will muck you about (bands telling you they will bring 70 and actually bringing 5 is a familiar scenario, your big popular headliner dropping out after you’ve had your flyers printed because they’ve had a better offer elsewhere…) venues will muck you about (In one north London pub that was dying on it’s arse our night was the only busy one in the month – but they wouldn’t let us in to setup and do our sound-checks!)

    But if you can survive all that, when you turn up on the night – everyone always looks a bit miserable at the start of sound checks, there are always panics over nobody bringing drum stands or whatever, but gradually it all comes together, people start to turn up, the first band goes on stage – sound amazing and the crowd are lapping it up, lets just say that’s when you remember that it’s all worthwhile!

  3. catshoe · December 1, 2009

    Very nice indeed young man – especially your intent to only put on bands that you liked. That shows some artistic integrity. You already know, but I juggled trains from London, my other half picking me up in Chester, her having to get up at 5am the next day, just to get there, but it was well worth it.
    Well done for getting Polly Mackey there – she really is on something of a trajectory right now, and is well worth getting to see in any circumstances.
    Now all you have to do is top it next time round
    I’ll buy you a beer next time round
    Mike

  4. catshoe · December 1, 2009

    Oh, and nice photo of Polly’s feet – something you need to share with us?

    • vonpip · December 2, 2009

      ys noble intentions about only putting on what we like but we are finding that’s a bit unrealistic and have to look for a balance to see what appeals to everybody…very tricky

      Good Shoes : I think Id seen a pro photographer take a pic of somebody’s shoes before an dit looke dquite effective , just thought it looked good amongst the effects pedals…Maybe we could start a new photo blog…”The Best Shoes in Music”

      • catshoe · December 2, 2009

        check this out then – me doing one photo of just the shoes of Beth Jeans Houghton. There are other photos there too I hasten to add
        http://hangout.altsounds.com/reviews/110198-beth-jeans-houghton-live-manchester-deaf-institute.html

        • vonpip · December 2, 2009

          Where’d she go ??

          • catshoe · December 2, 2009

            haha! The shoes were delivered and placed on the stage while Beth was getting changed. She emerged in her other ‘clothing’ but with comfy boots. She stepped into the porn star shoes for her show, then the minute she finished playing, she was out of them again. She changed into her boots, threw on a jacket and nipped outside for a ciggie. I think she drew a few stares in Oxford Road wearing just that ensemble!

          • vonpip · December 3, 2009

            I can see why that happened.😉

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