Gig Attendances: Should We Be Worried?
Prog promoter Nellie Pitts discusses the current state of play when it comes to booking prog gigs and tours.
In such an austere age, when small venues are closing at an alarming rate and disposable income is hardly at a premium, the plight of the plucky prog band or promoter can seem quite a daunting one.
In the near nine years that I've been editing Prog magazine I've seen all manner of ventures come and go. Some have been rip-roaring successes. Others have sadly fallen by the wayside.
The one constant in all this is hard work. And there are those in the prog community who I know go above and beyond the call of duty in trying to help promote the music they love. I've been working with music long enough to be able to tell at a glance if the amount of work put in, be it by band or promoter, will be enough to hope to coax out a crowd. And if you don't put in the man hours (often woefully disproportionate to the reward) then the chances of everything going tits up is vastly increased.
But I've asked Nellie Pitts to discuss some of the issues that have arisen from her recent attempts to book a UK tour for French proggers Lazuli to highlight some of these issues, and hopefully start some debate that will at least bring the problems facing bands and promoters to the fore. At least in the hope something positive might come from raised awareness.,
Of course, we can't tell people what to spend their money on, or even who to go and see. But this very day, my friend Ian McNabb of The Icicle Works had this to say: "The grassroots venue is dying out. People will buy arena tickets a year in advance but seem to have trouble shelling out a tenner to see a star of tomorrow or a star of yesterday in much smaller venues than many of them deserve. It has never been more difficult to get paying gigs. I feel for new artists trying to make their way."
Maybe it's time to decide what's really important to you...
JERRY EWING, EDITOR
I first saw Lazuli at Summer’s End festival 2013 where I had taken The Merch Desk for the weekend. Alison Henderson had insisted that I drop my pinny to poke my head around the door to the auditorium and watch. Not only did I drop my pinny, my jaw fell to the ground at what I saw. Their music is raw, vibrant and almost trance-like and the audience of mainly (I won’t say largely) middle-aged proggers were actually dancing! I loved their sound so much that I immediately stole all the merchandise that they’d asked me to sell and signed them up to the shop. I believe they agreed.
When I’d calmed down, I realised that this band should be seen in the UK again and went about organising a small tour with Swedish lovelies, Moon Safari. This five date tour was up against the likes of Kate Bush, Marillion and other giants of the music world and was voted in at number five in Prog magazine’s Readers’ Poll for event of the year.
With everyone singing their praise, we decided to do it again this year and with the new album imminent, autumn was the time to strike! Tickets went on sale early in the year so there was plenty of time for promotion with posters, flyers, event invitations and magazine articles. 'Yay! Lazuli will return', they cried! Four dates were booked originally to cover the towns that they didn’t play before. Bring them to Wales, bring them to the Midlands demanded the fans, so I booked one in Leamington Spa and one in Chepstow. One of my downfalls is trying to please everyone all of the time, it’s never going to happen so I should stop that, however, the Lazuli boys are of a similar mentality and were more than happy to play wherever the fans requested.
In the meantime, in July Lazuli played at the fabulous German festival, the Night Of Prog in Loreley where Fish was also performing. Fish features on track eight of their latest album Tant Que l’Herbe Est Grasse so he is quite familiar with their work. Blown away by the show, Fish asked Les Gars to come on tour with him as support for the entire six weeks in the UK and mainland Europe. My first reaction to the brilliant news was to cancel the whole tour because I didn’t think that they would want to do the “Nellie tour”, as it has become known, when they had much bigger Fish to fry (pun intended). They wouldn’t hear a word of it saying that it was out of the question, although the Liverpool date bizarrely coincided with the first date of the Fish tour but I didn’t feel too bad cancelling that as we had only sold 2 tickets so far. So why now have two more shows been cancelled due to poor ticket sales? Guess which ones have been cancelled, yep, Chepstow and Leamington Spa.
I started booking gigs for non-UK bands as a favour to them and to their fans who wanted to see them play in the UK. Most promoters won’t touch these bands as they are mainly unheard of, but to hire a venue and some cheap hotel rooms is doable as long as there are more than 40 people buying tickets. The rest can be covered by merch sales and a big slug of goodwill. I don’t do it for Kudos or to make a profit, BUT the musicians do it for a living and none of us want to make a loss.
The last mini tour I organised featuring Franck Carducci and Ghost Community cost me personally over £1000. I don’t even want to ask how much it cost them. SO what do I do in the future, only book gigs for the bigger bands who I know will sell tickets? What about the small bands who need an audience?
I am losing faith in the British gig goer and feel it slightly hypocritical when some say they don’t have the money to come to all these gigs when they will happily pay silly money to see a “name” in a large venue hundreds of miles from their home but won’t pay £10-15 and take a chance on a band they might not have seen but could be the best band they’ve ever seen who are playing just down the road (but not in their back garden, sorry). Is this the same gang of keyboard warriors who like to abuse creatives from the safety of their bedroom?
I know there is too much choice and not enough money but please, please, please don’t ask for a band to play in your town and not buy a ticket. Adversely, one guy who was prepared to travel 300 miles to see Lazuli in Leamington Spa was so upset that another gig would be cancelled, he bought a pair of tickets to a gig he can’t attend in order to boost the coffers and asked that I put them up as a competition prize.
Lazuli arrived chez moi on Monday, having driven for 24 hours from the south of France. I will give them booze, bed and breakfast. The remaining dates on the “Nellie tour” are Wednesday 28th at The Lexington in London with George Wilding, Friday 30th at Farncombe to help celebrate Alison Henderson and Martin Reijman’s wedding and Halloween itself at The Wesley Centre in Maltby, hosted by the Classic Rock Society, both of these dates have the gorgeous Alan Reed supporting. After that I set them free to swim with da Fish.
NELLIE PITTS, THE MERCH DESK