Monday, 17 March 2008

"You guys need to get a girl singer..."

I've been very busy being a manager recently.

This is my rather showy excuse for not having written the blog for over a week. I appreciate that to many of you 'busy being a manager' must sound rather like 'I've been organising a piss up in a brewery, managing my own way out of a paper bag and negotiating the logistics of my arse and my elbow' but it does appear that there are actually quite a lot of things to do when you look after a band, and the moment you've done them all, there suddenly appear to be more things on the list that all should have been done way before the things you've actually just done.

There are indeed so many things to be done as a band manager that frankly I don't know how I'm finding the time to write this, not to speak of doing another thing for the Guardian. This one is about the Beatles incidentally, just in case you haven't read anything about them for a day or so. By the way, if you haven't seen today's Sun headline yet, you're in for a treat.

So our Scottish band are playing some dates outside Scotland for the first time. It's quite exciting. Well, apart from the boring stuff, like booking hotels - I've taken it upon myself to book their accommodation but some manager-chums are telling me that I should make the band do this, it sets too paternal an example, apparently. (Honestly, I don't know - you tell me - should I leave it to them?)

Anyway, at least I haven't had to book the shows myself. I was doing that for our girl band earlier this year and frankly it was the most dispiriting thing I've ever experienced- akin to trying to get served at a fashionable bar where everyone is taller, more attractive and louder than you, plus you don't speak the language. You email local promoters and they either ignore your mails or tell you that they only do 'metal' acts or 'local bands that pull'. Or you phone them up (if you've managed to get the number, which always appears to be a closely guarded secret) and it's like talking to a slightly stoned teenager - "Yeah , I'll check out the Myspace, dude..." At this point the temptation to say, "I've got 20 years music industry experience! I've made records you've danced to like a twat! I know what I'm talking about when I''m telling you they're great!" is quite intense but would possibly have a counterproductive effect. Charlie, my business partner, who actually has way more hit records under his belt than I do, had a go booking dates for the girls and for the first week was greeted with the same wall of indifference that I got. Then, just as he was about to play the Don't You Know Who I Am? card, someone gave him a gig. We took the rest of the afternoon off. I think the promoter may have given it to him by mistake but by then it was too late. Anyway, since he got it, he's been on fire - he's got them about ten shows now. Ra-hey! Me, I managed one Bath Moles and some gig in Bristol in what appeared to be a urine bottling plant. At the end of the night, the drunk promoter refused to pay us. Presumably he'd spent all the takings on lager in order to convert it into more wee.

So when it came to looking after the Scottish band I couldn't face doing the gig-phony-uppy thing. Fortunately, I managed to get them an agent and she's a total pleasure to deal with. I wish everyone I dealt with was more like her. Funny, as a manager you really notice all the things that you heard yourself being accused of when you did A&R: when people don't call you back for a day, or sometimes just never call back, or claim to have lost or eaten whatever it was you sent them by registered post. It's the real world, which, if you're sheltered from it - i.e. if you're someone to whom everyone wants to speak, because you represent warehouses stuffed with record deals, cash and supermodels - is a world you never see. It's good for the soul, I suppose, but not good for the mobile phone bill which - and I'm speaking to you, Mr and Mrs Orange - is an itemised monthly bastard.

Lucy, our booking agent, works for an old friend of mine, Charlie, who used to be The Levellers' agent then put his foot to the floor and now has his own agency, which looks after some of the UK's biggest groups. We are, of course, currently one of the UK's smallest groups, so the first step towards joining the upper echelons of Charlie's roster is to play some shows away from home. But how do you do this when no one has heard of you? Answer: The club show. These are essentially indie discos that have a few bands playing based on the theory that the DJs have the taste to play good records so may as well book the bands as well.

So I went up to Nottingham last week to see them play a club night called Radar. The venue -The Bodega Social - is a good old-fashioned building with high ceilings and a covered rear outdoor area where there appeared to be some sort of smoking competition going on. In the bar the walls are covered with framed photos of bands the Bodega has played host to recently - Kate Nash, Jack Penate, The Wombats... Next week Duffy was playing. We were getting a fee and a rider ("a crate of beers and softs" - mmm, got to love a soft.) Oh yes, it appeared we really had entered The Big Time.

The support band - if such a thing exists in the context of a club night - were female fronted. "And she's French," pointed out Jack, our singer. The French singer in question was, it must be said, really attractive too: kind of damaged blonde with a waspish figure and violent cheekbones. All this and French. We couldn't wait to check out her band Tramp (incidentally, I wanted to put a link to their Myspace here but it doesn't appear to exist).

Expectations for Tramp were perhaps excessive. As the singer stalked the stage, gurning at members of the audience in a Hazel O'Connorish, wide-eyed, I'm-a-bit-mad-me sort of way, the rest of the band plodded away in the background. She had an odd voice that ticked all the boxes like 'in tune' and 'powerful' but managed to remain resolutely unappealing. I felt a warm glow of confidence and relief that those involved with bands get when they know there's no competition - like the band who meet Spinal Tap in the lobby of the hotel who are playing the Enormodome. We watched the rest of the set along with the rest of the small, bloke-heavy crowd.

When my band went onstage it was to an even smaller crowd, made up largely from members of Tramp and a couple of their mates. It started well and drinkers from the adjacent bar sauntered round the corner so they could see who was making this truly fantastic music. Or so I thought. As the show progressed there seemed to be a nice little knot of people who were getting into it, some of them even dancing. But then, inexplicably, one, then two, then three of the girls in the crowd decided it was time for a wee or a fag and b-lined it out of the room. No problem, I thought, as I stood there alongside two spindley indie blokes, the girls will be back soon with a whole new crowd of converts. Then the two indie men meandered back to the bar and it was just me and the sound guy left.

Jack and the band heroically played on. They did a new song, which was fantastic, the sound wasn't great but all the bits were falling into place musically and the band were performing their hearts out - Will's backing vocals keeping the whole thing underpinned beautifully and Robert locking everything down on the drums . Towards the end, a handful of people came up and had a conversation in front of the stage.

Eventually, like an operation, it was all over. We returned to the dressing room (more of a dressing corridor, actually - like the office that Tuttle gets in Brazil). We cracked open the crate of beers, we downed a few of the softs, we did the gig post-mortem thing.

There was no great secret as to why we hadn't connected. As the promotor said later: it was a club night, sometimes audiences can be weird - especially when there's a WKD promotion going on downstairs. Plus, people had come to dance to records they knew - that's how some club nights are - no doubt Duffy would have a field day the following week. This was proven later as the dancefloor was rammed with 2 For 1 Bacadi Breezer drinkers in mini-skirts dancing to the Klaxons. As the band and I joined the smoking competition going on outside, someone from Tramp sidled up and offered us one solution: "Tough one tonight, you guys need to get a girl singer, then your problems will be over..."

Next time: The band play Newcastle and Leeds. Rock and, to be perfectly frank, Roll!


  1. Your time is too valuable to be booking rooms or club gigs. You are the manager - working the deals behind the scenes and you list of industry contacts is why they need to stay with you. Your knowledge of what sells is why they need you.

    The manager is the artists biggest fan but also the bands worst critic. If you didn't believe in them, why bother investing your time? Not every song is a hit record, the manager must be able to point what does not work and explain why.

    If the band sees you as a travel agent, somewhere down the line it will come down to the band saying "why do we need a manager?" One of the guys will say I can book the hotel rooms or give their girlfriend the job.

    So get an assistant and have the assistant book the rooms...

  2. Alright, I'll get an assistant, Richard (do I know you?) But will you pay for them??

  3. the UK is weird..
    When i toured the UK for the first time last year i was so surprised that we actually had to specifically ask the promoters to get us some places to stay.. and usually their answers were "uhh.. what? uhh.. yeah okay i guess i could find something" like they'd never done that for a band before..
    Anywhere else i've played in the world (which is starting to reach a pretty high number of countries) we wouldn't even have to ask..

    So my answer is: No, you shouldn't be the one booking hotels for the bands.