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Thursday, 17 May 2012

The NME, a ferret, and the winner is ...

And so the NME awards have once more been with us, and, look, I don’t want to sound big-headed but in its heyday, Fibbers would have won this by a country mile. Founded around the same time as King Tuts and long before many of the (worthy) Leeds venues, it was flinging out anything up to thirty bands a week, packing people to the rafters as well as being jammed all day for food and coffee and generally loved by all and sundry. Except by folks that I refused (a) a job, (b) a gig or (c) a drink after time.

That said, it does raise small venue profiles for a short while and gets everybody excited and involved which is no bad thing.

Quite soon after opening two decades ago, the Fibbers name was being announced at award ceremonies for Publican Magazine's Freehouse Of The Year, York Tourism Bureau's Small Business Of The Year, a website award I can't remember the name of but it was worldwide (natch), as well as features in, yes, the NME, Q, a couple of red tops and even a slot on Yorkshire TV's Calendar where I was shown excitedly pushing around a hoover …

My ten minutes of fame, and humiliation, was featured in an end of year 'best of' compilation introduced by the brilliant Richard Whiteley whereupon I was sandwiched between the inevitable ferret incident replay, a sniggersome interview blooper involving an attractive blond at a beaver rescue centre, and that great story about a Bradford shopkeeper who sliced a tomato and saw the very image of Jesus. Personally, I suspect that our Lord will announce the Second Coming more conspicuously than appearing in a small, red steak garnish in West Yorkshire where far from leading us from evil, God's big sign could quite easily have been smothered in Morrison’s salad cream and lost forever.

I was never present at these award ceremonies, they just don't interest me and generally upon being informed of an impending gong I presumed there must have been some terrible mistake and they meant to invite a Jim Hornsby or Tim Hornsbiscuit or something.

Nope, I’ve always preferred to be at the coal face with the customers rather than waving a shiny piece of tin by the lug. So consequently, somebody from a swish London ceremony at The Grosvenor rang us one rainy midweek winter night trying to explain over the racket of a Battle Of The Bands heat that we were triumphant. On other occasions, a reporter would drop off said silverware to the office where if it wasn’t immediately press-ganged in to service as an ashtray or sandwich crust holder it would loll Tesco-bagged underneath my desk in a permanent sulk.

I relate this stuff not to show how clever we were, but more in complete bewilderment. How could anybody with any sense, considered judgement or exposure to public ridicule when proven wrong (as I was always thinking they would be) possibly think we were doing something special. Did they have the wrong place? I mean, a lot of the time we were on our knees in the bank and reversing out bowing ("Oh thank you thank you thank you for honouring that £24 cheque to the milkman")

Although proper respect should go to our first bank manager Steve from The Royal Bank Of Scotland, a shoulder length-haired saint whose persistence with our £10k unsecured overdraft flew square in the face of business wisdom and got him in to trouble on more than a few occasions. You just can't imagine that happening these days and was maybe one more example of serendipity or just God saying, "Cheeky bastards, oh go on then".

Y'see, nobody had ever really come across a venue that was open all day, had a genuine cappuccino machine, real ales, a commitment to good service, and food of such a standard that it attracted restaurant reviewers. And a piano sawn in half fitted either side of a supporting pillar. And a stinking coffin propped up n the corner. And a big red telephone box. And a petrol pump.

And in 1992, there was no such thing as Starbucks, Costa, Pret, Nero and the like. People were divided, and those that didn't stare open-mouthed in wonder like a child seeing fairies in the nursery used to return their coffee to the bar and complain about the froth, "What's all that crap on the top etc etc". And worse ...

A menu with fajitas? Fadge. It. Arse. Its a difficult sell pronounced like that. And what the heck are they when they're at home? All those little pots of guacamole ("Is it made from REAL mole? I'm a vegetarian"), sour cream ("Excuse me, my wife's just been sick. This cream is OFF!"), and salsa ("Not eating that foreign muck" and "That's a bloody dago dance, mate") dutifully trailed out to fascinated, and by turn horrified, music lovers. They all got the idea eventually of course and now it's second nature to roll your own although it meant something different then.

We thought that a live music venue should major on good service, a willingness to accommodate the customer. Somewhere that didn't use the excuse of being rock 'n' roll for not cleaning every day, always having great food and coffee available and a bunch of smiley staff who didn't look they were in a Guns 'n' Roses tribute band or in between mortician jobs.

And of course these days with the Internet looming over our every twitch and sneeze, it's easier than ever to canvass support. It's only a different version of "Please LIKE me". I almost miss the days of C60s dropping through the letterbox, often accompanied by complex and boring CVs, posed 'press' shots with forlorn attempts at being interesting like posing with a confused creature of the wild, manhandled from slumber in the name of indie.

Yes, amongst the shaggy dogs and sullen cats I've seen frogs, fornicating lions, a deeply embarrassed pig and even a badger roped in to convince me that the next musical revolution was about to burst forth. And I was going to miss it if I wasn’t careful. Careful dodging the crap more like. In reality of course I had to be more careful I didn’t soil myself with laughter.

It's a doddle these days to bore the pants off your press-ganged readership (you're reading this, aren't you?) by stockpiling email addresses and spamming the backside out of it. Back then, I sat with my young daughters threatened in to folding a couple of thousand A4 sheets in to separate envelopes, all of which had to be licked, addressed and stamped. And then lumped to the post office. Two thousand stamps, as well. Do the math. It was a bit more expensive than hitting send.

Unbelievable as it seems now, the monthly listings poster was made by hand. Typewriters, remember them? I would one-finger the gig listings, painstakingly scissor out each line and Pritt Stick them over an iconic photo. Back then, rite-of-passage takeaway Yummy Chicken just up the road was a computer shop of sorts with a photocopier, and my replication needs probably paid the rent. Often, a great show would come in last minute and the event had to be once more typed out, enlarged and then glued in. Very Jamie Reed. 

I still have the entire collection many of which were embellished by last minute sloganeering like "No shit beer, no shit bands, no shit heads" (which we turned in to a t-shirt) and other artily self-flagellating strap lines like 'proper froffy coffee' and 'chip butties made with squidgy bread!'.

It all seems so quaint now but to my huge surprise and gratitude all this desperate make-do and off-the-cuff 'oh bollocks it will have to do' increasingly endeared us to a live music populus wondering what the hell nonsense we were going to come up with next as on a daily basis I reinvented and refined the genres 'rank amateur', 'innocent abroad', 'rabbit in the headlights' and 'fucking nutter'.

As I write this even now the excitement comes flooding back although it's no use pretending we had a mission to innovate and amaze. It was more a case of getting past the direct debits than leaping the vaulting horse of style.

We built relationships with people, sometimes the oddest and mostly not your usual live music crowd. One such was Maggie, a retired royal family nanny who, in a hushed and conspiratorial Scottish burr, would regale us with life's truisms and pratfalls whilst slinging back four or five double Tia Marias and fatally wounding a twenty of Embassy Regal.

Maggie lived in the terrace of houses to the rear of the venue, where the entire pensioner population was deaf as a post but still managed to complain about the noise. On a daily basis, Maggie used to 'sort them out' for us, before visiting another half dozen hostelries and depleting their stocks of Tia Maria, Cointreau and Drambuie. Our intrepid highlander had scant regard for her own safety, or maybe she was just too pissed, and, pushing one of those green tartan canvas shopping trolleys that ONLY little old ladies have, would launch herself across the busy street regardless of hurtling buses and formula one taxis. Above the din of a soundcheck, you could hear the screeching of tyres and muffled cursing, "Ah yes" we would say, "Maggie's crossing the road".

The final Maggie twist concerned her son who owned/ran a huge and successful delivery company. A larger-than-life character and typical Yorkshireman, burly and altogether suited to the cut and thrust of parcel post, he suddenly left his family, upped sticks and became a folk singer in New York. I miss Maggie. We all do.

I think its important to be yourself, but staying true to your heart often means falling out with people. Sometimes its short term when they’re drunk, sometimes its long term like the Welsh bloke who clicked his fingers at me, or the several who took a swing (and sometimes connected), or the serial vomiters, minesweepers, moaners and even the bloke who used his pint to rinse peanuts from his teeth and then spat it all back in the glass (GET OUT!), and the chap who I chased around the corner and up the steps with a glass ashtray. I’d been to the races all day, and that was my excuse.

Back to the present and it’s been a bit of a rock year so far, and one gig in particular brought out a lot of familiar faces. One chap in particular, a transvestite, I hadn’t seen for many years. A father, he was in a relationship last time I checked, and a lovely man all round. Apart from that fuss at the RSPCA with an axe, that is, but he’s served his time and fair do’s. Let’s call him Pete …

Fibbers has always been somewhere where folks can express themselves, for want of a better phrase. Somewhere to feel comfortable having raided the dressing-up box, and look like you want to look. And even if you don’t look like anybody else, it doesn’t matter. And so it is with Pete.

Apologies in advance to our cross-dressing friends, but without great care and a lot of practice in front of the mirror, some of the ‘chaps’ come across a bit, shall we say, blousey. More Dick Emery than Burt Reynolds.

On one occasion many years ago Pete came to a show at Fibbers as usual fully kitted out in the little black dress and accessories. After a night on the Newcastle Brown, our man returned home to his terrace house, one of those where you walk through the front door and you’re immediately on top of the telly and the teak nest of tables.

Ruffling in his matching handbag, our intrepid man-bird was unable to find the front door key but, being a slightly built chap and in an alcoholic spin, the catflap obviously looked like something that would easily accommodate an eight stone male.

Tossing the handbag through first, and with shoulders pushed back and that little black dress tucked in to his pants, our hero squeezed a slim upper half through the gap but became firmly stuck at the hips, displaying for all to see a pair of spindly and hairy stocking-and-suspender legs poking half way across the pavement.

Fortunately the milkman was passing by four hours later and pulled him out, long after Pete had finished thrashing and was now snoring loudly without shame. I always think it fortunate that despite being in such a vulnerable position he wasn’t rogered by a passing Arab.

We recently entertained a girl, well sort of, group of 70s vintage. Largely playing to middle-aged men with cameras and rose-tinted specs, the ladies served up an hour of gonzo rock. Like malevolent Mrs Tiggywinkles with your granny on drums spilling over the stool and a bass player with a preceding reputation she lived up to. Come on love, its all bollocks, we’re all real people just doing a job. Save the attitude for the stage.

Bands just talk bollocks though, don’t they?

Not as much as PR companies, however, and I’ve always been stunned by their sludgy prose not dissimilar to something you’d scoop from a u-bend, all tealeaves, baked beans, slivers of soap and the odd hair. And just as attractive.

“Fiendishly fermenting all the grisly girth of Oasis with the honey-sweetness of Katy B”. Yeah, honestly, somebody sent me that. A company that some musician had paid for directly or indirectly.

I get reams of tosh about the school playground in Swansea where Jim and John met, “cementing what has now become a writing partnership destined to eclipse even McCartney and Lenin”. Yes … Lenin.

“Grandiose Toothbrush are now ready to take on the world! … Check out the band pics here!!” I’m thinking why is there a dartboard behind the drummer’s head.

But it’s like that when you’re booking. First the enthusiastic deal closure, the excitement at the confirmation and readying the show for announcement to the world. Getting the right pic is often the most difficult part; the band preferring that out of focus arty shot in front of their favourite monolith. You, of course, manage to use the one with the previous drummer and last month’s haircuts – to wails of disapproval.

And then, of course, the band want to pick the supports. Now, this is fine when you’re selling the place out. I really don’t care. But when the show is struggling and you want your mates from Aberdare, and me to pay them £50, it’s a no.

The show is then announced to a great trumpeting except that the news has already been leaked by the band four days ago. You’re not allowed to ‘go on sale’ so that an ‘approved’ ticket site can take some of the sales first.

And this is crackers because in any business your best chance of a sale is that first instinct, “Wow, my favourite band are playing. Gotta buy a ticket, now!” Oh no, you can’t. You may have to wait three days, and then be directed to a ticket site you’ve never used before, and another database your credit card details are added to. For most people the moment has gone.

Yes, in the music business we truly are divorced from reality.

Meanwhile, a day later back in the office and you eagerly dial in the username and password to your ticket sales database. And then the slightly cocked head at first day sales of zero, then the sinking feeling as the pit of your stomach lands in your socks when no bugger has bought a ticket all week.

Then the poring through all the band’s media, yes you’re sure they’ve missed it off a vital listing somewhere. Yes, that’s it of course, the band themselves haven’t told anybody!

Oh but they have and we’re in to week three of zero sales. Now what. Get a good pulling local on board of course! Ah, but the agent has said no locals.  Why?

And then the saddest move of all ... put it on Groupon.

But wait, of course!  Get it in the NME - but wasn't that where we all came in?

Friday, 9 March 2012

Babies, Batman and banging in to people

You’re a musician. You’re having a baby.

It’s happened again. Following a recent gig offer I got this reply, “Sorry, we’re not gigging for two months. Our guitarist is having a baby”.

Two. Months. Eh? There’s a quarter of a million babies born every day.  You can’t tell me that’s half a million months off. 

It’s a different world these days, supportive and more in tune with parental needs, and for the better too.  I was there for the birth of all three lovely daughters and wouldn’t have missed it for the world but when the first two arrived, on both occasions my (ex) wife’s father did the hospital taxi bit.  During the run-up to No 1 daughter I went to work and rocked up later. For No 2 gift-from-God I had a gig and got back in at 3am just as the midwife phoned implying some urgency, but I fell back asleep for a while.

And for No 3, I was actually able to drop the better half off myself, then promptly dumped the car and headed round the pubs of Brid. I was tracked down in the nick of time, mid-G&T, in the Half Moon on Prospect Street. No mobiles in those days, they had to try hard.

Of course, that was in the days when men were men, sheep were nervous, a vegetarian was ‘vegetable’ misspelled, and ‘gluten allergy’ was a green man on Star Trek lobbing polystyrene rocks at Kirk and Spock.

And, of course, the postscript to all that is she left me and in case you’re thinking NOT SURPRISED she took the money and left me with the kids.  But it did set me thinking about no-shows, I’ve had them all.

From the usual “Our van has broken down / run out of petrol / collapsed under the weight of sandwich boxes and Fanta bottles” to “The drummer has broken his wrist”.  Not by drumming, mate.

My favourite was “Sorry, musical differences”.  It was a solo act.

In 2001 I booked a North West band, generally hailed as the first of the ‘guitar group revival’, six mates who shambolically but in great style welded 60s psychedelia with folk-rock and indie.  They were brilliant (and still are, playing in big venues and high up on festival mainstage bills), the public agreed and the show sold out.

At 5pm on the day of the show I was told that one of the singers had a sore throat and was unable to perform.  These things happen but without the benefit of social networking etc I had to stand on the front door for two hours refunding many disappointed customers, “Watch the listings for the rescheduled show!”.

Hastily rearranged for a fortnight’s time, again we sold all the tickets (a little faster this time) and on the day waited as usual for the band. And waited. And waited. And then, once more, I found myself standing on that front door refunding ticket money except this time without an explanation, “Er … they just haven’t turned up. Sorry”.

Just as I got to the office next morning, the phone rang and it was the agent, “Hi Tim, just checking to see if everything is OK for tonight!”.

“It was last night”, says I to a long silence at the other end.

“F*ck. It was. I’ll let them know. Sorry”.

The band finally played a month later, tickets were £1 and I paid them £25 petrol money but I’m still a fan to this day. On a side note, the very wonderful Hope&Social (then Four Day Hombre) were first on …

Similarly with a matinee (afternoon) show on a May Bank Holiday Monday 2005 featuring New Jersey rock band Armor For Sleep.  The agent forgot to tell them it wasn't at night and when my No 2 at that time, Mark Walker, now of Kilimanjaro, phoned the tour manager at 11am to ask when they’d be here for soundcheck, sure enough they were all snoring in a London hotel.  Cue a bit of M1 chicanery and in double-quick time three hours later they loaded in after the supports had played and went straight into their set.  Heroic stuff.

Fast forward to a Sunday night late September 2007 and for the princely sum of £100 I had booked a young, fragile and prodigiously talented Laura Marling, along with her chums Noah And The Whale and King Charles on support duties.  Come the time for Laura for appear I was told our headliner was unwell and so NATW bravely filled in.  There were just over a hundred folks in the venue and I think we all knew we’d missed something special.

I'm sure it's not a girl thing but on a Sunday night late November 2005, yet another tour bus had just done the familiar nervous reversing manoeuvre down the back lane (Bus Driver: “It’s physically impossible to get down there”; Me: “Get on with it”).  It contained a North London female rapper and grime artist more famous recently for showing us on a national TV reality show (Celebrity - I don’t think so …) just what a spoiled and high maintenance madam she really is.  The show had sold out but our tuneless darn-wiv-tha-kidz bird put her head briefly through the back door and decided she was too ill.  The show went on, regardless, and the supports saved the day.  The tour bus was still there the next morning.

Of course, there have been a few “I’m not coming out of the dressing room until I get another crate of lager”, to which my answer is always “Cheerio, then, don’t think you’re getting paid and you now owe me £50 for everything you’ve consumed so far. I’ll be keeping your gear until you do”.  The show goes on.

Blues band Champion Franny Eubanks drove for ten hours over a snow-bound M62 to get on stage at 10.45, bloody heroic.  Not quite so the many rap artists booked for an occasional hip hop event Beatsiality.  Oft was the time that a wheezing W reg 2-door Ford Fiesta would rattle down the back alley, exhaust scraping the floor and suspension groaning under the weight of four or five twenty-stone black blokes from Brixton, arriving at nearly closing time just as everybody else was preparing to go home.  And that’s if they turned up at all.

And of course sometimes gigs just go wrong or don’t happen.

Pete Docherty was booked, sold out and his agent e-mailed at 6pm on the night of the show to say he was unwell.  I suppose it was a bit of trek up from London only to return the next day.

Local band Kid Ego lived up their name, or rather the manager did. “I’ve been in th’business twenty years lad”, he said to me.  “How come you know f*ck all, then”, says I and it all went wrong from there.  The licensing laws didn’t apply to Kid Ego apparently and when half the audience couldn’t provide ID and were turned away, Mr Daddy Ego pulled the show.  I’m since reconciled with the singer who, I am happy, to say, is piloting an excellent band, A Joker’s Rage, that I’m still booking to this day.

Around that time we also entertained a band who, ahead of their time, had spotted the arriving tsunami of social networking and played on it heavily.  They rose without trace, were pretty dreadful and their frontman/singer majored on introducing young girls to drugs.  There was a stage invasion, the gig was stopped and our hero kicked off very much in the style of … a young girl on drugs.  Recently reformed and asking for a comeback show I had great pleasure in refusing.

Other mishaps occur; the singer from a Bowie tribute broke his ankle before our eyes; Dr Didg skydived over a parking chain and tried to sue us for his own negligence; on other occasions mixing desks sank to their knees, speaker stacks toppled, barriers buckled, ceiling tiles showered us with little white bobbles, and fire extinguishers bounced around, foam-propelled.

The first Alabama 3 show nearly didn’t happen.  The Rev D Wayne Love arrived looking distinctly the worse for wear and Miss National aka the lovely Abbie Marshall took him to the doctors who after one look said get rid of the drink and drugs and you might pick up.

Me. Overreact? Never.  Except when Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster were just about to go on and I sacked our PA engineer on the spot for putting on the wrong music before they went on.  Oops, fail.

Of course, we live in a sue-it world, a place where everything is somebody else’s fault not our own because there wasn’t a sign to tell us to watch where we’re damn well walking.  It’s a yellow triangle world, “Beware, slippery floor”.  Beware you don’t fall over the triangle more like.

In one of our venues, the manager was waving goodbye to the last two customers who were laughing and joking and then fighting …  One of them fell backwards in to the front window which cracked, sending a small piece on to his nose.  The manager, seeing the issue, dashed outside to put on a plaster and sent him to hospital as a precaution.  Six months later, our insurance company still hadn’t settled the claim negotiations which stood at a whopping £40,000.

And at the same venue, a long steep alleyway lay behind, punctuated by a series of drain covers, one of which was outside the delivery door in the back yard. Every week without fail the draymen would dislodge the cover as they rolled barrels up the lane.  And every week, whoever took in the delivery would replace the cover.  Except this one week …

Next door’s café were already covertly dumping their rubbish in our backyard and it was one of these trips to dispose of rotting fish and tins of econo-beans on our premises that a commis chef got his foot stuck in the hole.  How I laughed at the irony of it all until the little sod took us to court.

It must be something to do with spa towns as a barmaid tried to sue us for wrongful dismissal after she got her marching orders for kicking a customer who dared to interrupt her from showing around her holiday photos.  The manager removed a whole upstairs bar one weekend without asking and took down all the custom portraits of iconic blues legends, replacing them with those of his own wedding.  You couldn't make this stuff up.

My theme, such as it isn’t, continues with a battle cry, heard up and down the land in venues big and small, full and empty, clean and smelly, well run and not.

COME ON YOU LOT, LET’S GO ****ING MENTAAAAAAAL!!!

A phrase bellowed not by your average acoustic troubador singing his plaintive bedsit songs of being dumped, or sailing back o’er the sea to see ‘Molly who’s been waiting for me’ (like hell she has)  but by T.H.E. M.E.T.A.L. B.A.N.D.

Why exactly do they say this?  As it passes whiskered chops, most onlookers are thinking, “To be honest, mate, trashing the joint is all very well but they won’t let me back in again.  A pint in here costs four bloody quid and if you don’t get on with it soon I’m going to miss the bus.”  Lads, they didn’t feel like kicking ten bells out of the telly at home so they’re not going to start now.

And weirdly enough it was an entirely different gig and an entirely different genre, but a very similar crowd behaviour, that got me thinking.

The impossibly monickered Dananananakroyd (think Batman theme meets Ghostbusters thesp) were until recently a Glasgow indie sextet that took a stance against everything ‘indie’.  The fashion haircuts, the earnest dissection of Franz Ferdinand b-sides, the lot really.  The difference being they had a skipful of terrific songs all delivered at, literally, breakneck pace by cracking musicians and two skinny frontmen hopping around like velociraptors with their haemorrhoids on fire but, and this is crucial, with a smile.

They recognised that not everybody comes to a gig on a mission to GO ****ING MENTAL.

At intervals they actually spoke to the audience not in cliché (have you bought our new album yet, it’s hot up here etc) but, and it’s a very specific skill this, as if they were real people.  And about halfway through the set, there was a small (it always is small) outbreak of slam dancing. 

If you didn’t already know, one of the most popular slam dancing moves is pretending you’re a ninja fighting in your own circle, kicking and spinning.  Geddit?  See that big semi-circle at the front of your local hardcore gig?  That’s where 99% of the audience are avoiding getting their drinks knocked out of their hands by three or four boys-without-girlfriends.  Those at the front can’t really watch the band.  Nobody else can get close enough to feel the volume or the power or the sheer energy the band is generating.  The band don’t say anything because it’s not cool.

Lads, go do that at the back of the venue where you don’t get on people’s nerves.  Or go and do it in your local pub and see how long your nose stays intact.

I’m happy with moshing, circle pits, the wall of death.  Everybody is joining in, picking each other up, smiling their heads off.  It’s what it looks like – bloody good fun and what a gig should be.  Not a few berks windmilling their arms and throwing punches.  That’s not fun.

Back to my point, and the small outbreak of slam dancing at the gig …

“Look guys”, said one of the singers, “Pack it in with the slam dancing.  Look after each other, nobody get hurt, OK?”.  And the guitarist weighed in with an altogether more honest appreciation, “It’s really good fun for a few of you but shit for everybody else.  So stop it”.

And stop it they did.  And the gig just got better, not dominated by a few but enjoyed by everybody.   What a great band and what a great night.

About ten years ago, surfing was more tolerated than it is now.  Not a gig went by without some idiot tumbling on to the stage knocking mic stands, pedals and bottles of water flying.  Most small venues don't have a 'pit' as such and Fibbers is no exception and I watched in horror as a lad landed on the stage, his head wedged firmly between two monitors. How his neck wasn't broken I'll never know.  Some venues operate a three strikes rule, that just means everybody does it twice.

And on the theme of domination by a few, my favourite venue is being dominated by just two people.  One at the front and one at the back.

Two hundred yards to the front a resident has decided he/she doesn’t like the noise.  Only on certain nights, mind.  The nights he/she’s not going out themselves.  Noise meters held close to his/her flat, never mind inside, stoically refuse to flicker.  Buses, taxis, emergency vehicles and go-faster boys whizz up and down.  All around are takeaways, restaurants, pubs, people going about their business walking home chatting, laughing and, yes, sometimes shouting.  But the almost non-existent noise from the venue is just too much for him/her.  And being a large building, it’s a sitting target.  You can’t ask every driver to turn his engine off and coast past, or close the city down at 9pm, or gag every human being so what do you do?  You go for the music venue that’s what.  Except when you’re actually in it of course ...

And so, bemused people stand queueing outside, admitted two by two so a complicated series of door opening and closing can be executed.  People standing outside smoking have to be shooshed.  They’re not shouting, vandalising anything or breaking any laws.  You can’t talk on a phone outside for the noise of the street but not a peep must come from the venue.  And it’s bloody ridiculous.

And at the rear, tens of thousands have been spent by the venue on extra soundproofing and a complex series of door opening and closing so bands can load out. Not needed for the last nineteen years but all of sudden a priority because of, yes, one person.  Who has decided that alongside quick access to Marks & Spencers and every amenity 24/7 there should also exist a Constable landscape outside their door.  A Dedham Vale of towering oaks, water-driven mills and hay carts struggling across shallow streams.  And this person has a history; ‘relocated’ (I am told) from a beautiful outskirts village where he took a house next to pub, the heart of the village and it’s peaceful population, and started a stream of protest about the noise.

But it’s not their fault.  Somebody gave them the impression that the full might of the law will back their quest to live in a York circa 1430 where the only noises after dusk were the occasional flutter of fowl’s wings on the village pond, the crack of a twig on the fire and your neighbour having it away with the livestock.

And it’s not the fault of the council officials, either.  They’re just as afraid of their jobs as well, and the endless paperwork and e-mail answering serial complainants with far too much access to regulations and far too much time to interpret them.  They’re just doing a job.

Maybe getting pregnant is the answer after all.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Sundays? Are they gay? Killers, flies and breeze blocks ...


I’m not gay.  No, really I’m not.  I just want to point this out in case you caught me humming, yes HUMMING, along to Electric Six last week and 2003 hit Gay Bar. And before you start an online protest or march on Stonebow House with burning torches I’m OK with gays, OK?

Glancing around that night I caught sight of lots of other blokes, men’s men, bawling “Let’s start a war, a nuclear war, at the gay bar gay bar GAY BAR!!”  It’s a fair bet that none of us had moisturised or flossed that morning, some not even daubing the armpits I thought, but it reminded me when, back in the day, Tom Robinson played Fibbs and we all grinned and hollered “SING if you’re glad to be gay, sing if you’re happy this way!”. 

Tom had arrived early to set up the stage, shuffling various aspidistra and cheese plants around in a valiant attempt to make the Fibbs stage, a quagmire of gaffa tape and peeling posters, in to a rough approximation of a Bali paradise sans dusky maidens, gently-lapping waves and coconuts.  Michelle, however, true to form, had earlier tried to lob our flower-arranging 2-4-6-8 icon off the stage, “Oi, what are you doing up there? Tom who? No idea! Never heard of you! Get off!”

The small black hole of Calcutta that we called a dressing room in those days had, still has, a huge gas main poking through the wall.  Crack it open, set it alight and it’s a fair bet that Fibbers would go up like the world's biggest firework, a Hadron Collider of bar towels, drip trays and drum techs. No 'God particle' there, then ...

I put a notice on the offending live music venue version of the Trans Alaska along the lines of, “**** with this and you'll be jamming with Hendrix” which Tom duly photographed and it was on his web site for a long time. Probably still is.  Tom’s show was great and I still recommend his album of the time Love Over Rage.  But I can’t tell my story about our chef being a fan …

However, I digress from Electric Six whose frontman Dick Valentine aka Tyler Spencer is returning for another solo show in May 2012 on a Sunday night.  Which got me thinking about Sundays, and with the Blueflies doing support duties with Mick Ralphs recently, that quite naturally got me thinking about Sunday lunchtimes at Fibbers.  Stream of consciousness or what.

The Blueflies tipped up once a month and if you weren’t in the building by quarter past twelve you weren’t getting a seat.  By one o’clock the kitchen was flat out and every table was piled with food, beer, cigarettes, parents and squeaking children.  At two o’clock we brought out free trays of Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and onion gravy which only made folks drink harder.  Excellent.  There were generally six, yes six, of us behind the bar for those manic three hours and we didn’t get a breath never mind a fag at the end of the bar (ahhh … those were the days) as the Theakstons Old Peculier, Becks and Mad Dog 20/20 flowed.   

On stage, The ‘Flies jumbled James Brown with Free, Stephen Stills with their own originals.  Miles Gilderdale, also of stadium-bothering Acoustic Alchemy, brilliantly eschews the blues guitarist’s standard ‘ner NER ner-ner’ licks and squeezes a furiously skewed Larry Carlton-ish take on Freddie King in to hours of loud music and wry laughter, like Ryedale’s own Richard Pryor given a Gibson and told to get gobby.  Long-suffering and eloquently-talented drummer Trevor King (“Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s sad old man on drums called Fatha”) bears the brunt of the jokes. And those lunchtimes were among the most enjoyable times I ever had at Fibbers.

In those days, licensed hours were noon until 3pm and I still think that time restriction forced people in to making the most of a short period – and it was fantastic, but of course while everybody else headed off for Sunday lunch and a snooze we were busy getting ready for the next bands.  Of which more later …

And it was one of those Sundays that, having let myself in mid-morning, unshaven and togged in scruffs, to clean the lines, that I managed somehow to lock myself out.  Fibbers was very secure and the only way back in was going to be through one the small front windows facing the bus stops.  The toughened front windows.  In front of the bus stops …

I gathered a brick from the garage and, in front of a bus queue open-mouthed in disbelief, proceeded to hammer away at a window pane like a madman, swearing loudly. It wasn’t even cracking so I returned two minutes later having retrieved a breeze block.  That should do it.  The bus queue held it’s breath and sense of belief (and some missed the Coastliner to Malton) as a bloke looking for all the world like some deranged tramp took several paces back and prepared to make an assault … Pensioners gathered their shopping, parents their children. I charged. And bounced off.

Happy to say that after several more attempts, cursing and swinging a large lump of cement and coal ash, the window finally surrendered and yours truly, now a very bad and very obvious burgler, somehow tumbled head first inside as the alarm, which had reset itself, howled in protest. To this day, I’m amazed nobody called the police.

And when you have a venue in a small city you generally pick up the crappy dates that places like Leeds and Manchester don’t want ie Sundays.  But they have been some of our best triumphs.

Killers played on the last Sunday in May 2004 costing £500, and duly sold out. As per usual, with the headliners packed up and gone the staff and crew were all sat at the bar post-gig. When out of the dressing room wandered Ronnie Vannucci the drummer, “Where’s my band?”.

Ronnie had been dozing and the rest of the band went partying, but nobody knew where. I got him a drink and we chatted, mentioning in passing that I had a sore back whereupon the drummer for The Killers proceeded to show me an amazing back and neck massage that still serves me well.  But not in a gay way, OK?

And it was only two weeks later, on another Sunday, that Mel C aka Sporty Spice brought her band and new material to Fibbers on a £14 ticket.  I arrived very early that day around 8am and already quite a few female fans, dungareed-up, were pressed up against the letter box.  As usual, and not really clocking the situation, I left the front and back doors open to air the place and before long the venue was being circled and several ladies made what I can only describe as reccy missions inside.  I remember thinking it was bit like being in ‘Birds’.

Mel C was lovely despite finding herself in a 200 capacity York venue only a couple of years after selling out Madison Square Garden.  She had gathered a significant gay following and the female bar staff received many and varied offers during the evening.

So Sundays, yeah.  A gay day.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Fall, the Jackass and the X-Factor


Three shows this week, two great and one not-so-great, reminded me of the relationships that performers need to sustain with fans.  And how the public are not the mugs they’re made out to be. Folks, I give you The Fall and Steve-O.  And the X-Factor …

Mark E Smith, celebrated curmudgeon and belligerently opinionated front man of a band that could only be British - could only be Mancunian - has been frustrating and delighting in equal measure since dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Running a show with Mark is painted as difficult.  It’s not – he’s not, he’s just himself – but you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get other than, of course, nine times out of ten, an uplifting hour of brilliant music, jagged like an uncut gem, in that atonal sing/shout as our man gets tangled in mic leads, fiddles with amps and invariably plink-plonks on the vintage synth played by his beautiful wife, also stage-front and concentrating madly.

But he arrived at Fibbers on Bonfire Night wreathed in crinkly beaming smiles, waiting patiently to perform whilst sat in the tour manager’s car tugging on ciggies and downing cold Stella.  “Is it alright for you tonight?”, he asked me, as one of the band dutifully brought a set list for approval.

And not for Mr Smith the carefully assembled de rigeur indie uniform, he’s about as un-rock star-ish as it gets.  Clean shaven in slacks, plain shirt, sports jacket and proper shoes.  ALWAYS proper shoes.

Despite crippling foot pain, there were only the occasional sit-down moments, a couple of walk-offs for fresh air.  Not for Mark the foot-on-monitor, the carefully-timed plea to visit the merch stand, the planned encore.  Nope.  If he goes off, even at the traditional time, he might come back he might not.  And ‘backstage’ (in this instance the garage) at Fibbers on Saturday night, each time the band gathered around him awaiting the great man’s will – and trooped back on.

You think his better half Eleni Poulou is studying that little keyboard and nothing else, head bowed.  But standing stageside you also notice the little unseen and loving asides as she gently touches her husband’s back to steady or guide, and deftly untangles a lead threatening to send him headlong.

In amongst the complete and utter bollocks and hype that surrounds many of today’s hopefuls, stand the evergreen giants of modern music.  And ticket sales across the board reflect that people are not reacting to ‘new’ bands, they are pitching up in better-than-ever numbers for what they know, what they trust, what historically has shown it cares about them.

And such was the case also with Steve-O.  Often cast as little more than a sensationalist stuntman and clown, swallowing pain like sweets.  For cheap laughs.  But this week he showed himself to be an accomplished stand-up comedian perhaps a bit heavy on the dick and BJ jokes, but funny and compulsive viewing nonetheless.  He even split open his nose balancing my heavy 12” kitchen knife on his nose, and then set his hair on fire.  You don’t get that with John Bishop.

After the show and a break to draw breath, Steve set himself up, impromptu, on a row of stools at the opposite end of the venue and plugged his iPod in to the PA desk, bidding the engineer, ‘Turn it up, turn it up!”.  And for the next ninety minutes, DJ’d his personal favourites, danced, posed for photographs, chatted, laughed, joked and generally gave every single person there exactly what they wanted.  Those are real moments.  As a fan it’s what you want, to be up REALLY close to your heroes, guessing what’s in their pockets, wondering about the birthmark, scanning their eyelids and judging the mood close up.  They got all that and they got it in spades.  And that is what sets the enduring performers apart.  They give, they connect.

And so to the third show, the stodgy and limping great white heffalump of music on TV.  The X-Factor. 

I confess to loving the human element, the Tesco cashier finding a huge bellow, the Scottish wallflower dropping jaws, the painter now a pin-up.  But much as I admire and respect Gary Barlow, it’s now becoming a bad call. As his Cowell-ish pantomime villain persona, perma-swivel head and ‘knowing’ smirk become predictable and cartoon-ish, Louis Walsh is now emerging from the car crash intact, fulsome in praise and damning in turn.  “You’re not a rock star and you never will be!” he shouted at the hapless Frankie Cocozza and he was right.  He’s the butt of jokes from the other judges, perhaps because he’s not an established performer himself, but he knows what’s what.  Yes, he knows.

And as the show haemorrhages viewers, at least the public are getting it almost right and they despatched the only remaining, and truly dreadful, boy band to the bargain bin but fear not they’re going to carry on … whoo and, indeed, hoo.  They’ve been murdering great tunes on a weekly basis, most notably Thriller with a version that had all the creepy menace and lurking teen sex of Mo Mowlam in a nappy.  The Risk?  Hardly.  Go your own way boys, like the Mark E Smiths and the Steve-Os.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Lutes, leeches, a milkman and a Mars bar ...


So … it was big rock star time again at Fibbers this week. 

It’s not that the Americans are needy it’s just that they’re well, yes, needy. 

“Hey dude, these really need to be sugar free”

“Are you saying you only have sixteen bath towels? But there are FIVE of us, man”

“We soundcheck real quick and totally super rapid, buddy, but can you hold the doors for another forty minutes, the bass player can’t hear the cowbell in his monitor, my friend”

“We’re totally cool and low maintenance but, dude, this ice ain’t cold enough and do you have Lite beer instead?” … LITE beer?  Have you looked at your population recently?

Much of how your day will go generally revolves around the tour manager and his demeanour.  A laid back and experienced guy/girl generally means a relaxed day, the focus being on delivering the best possible performance with the least stress.  Immediate acceptance that (a) only fifty folks have bought tickets and (b) this isn’t Wembley can be really helpful so we don’t have to argue about the drummer’s champagne bath.

Of course, the experience can be fairly horrible, revolving around a ‘difficult’ band member (sometimes the whole band, miffed at a change in fortunes perhaps) and the day starts and ends badly, as all and sundry skate on thin ice to avoid upsetting the one(s) with the delicate disposition, “Sorry, man.  He just doesn’t like touring”. Then why is he in a band.  Join a sect.  Live in a lighthouse.

I was reminded of another iconic guitarist I promoted at York’s Grand Opera House in 2000.  Our hero kept the pixie hat but was now in full Blackadder mode and, with his beautiful American wife, now churning out full blown mediaeval mush.  Sample lyric, “Summer is coming, loud singeth the cuckoo” and other sundry keenings about maypoles, swains, bringing in the sheaves and shagging in the woods (oh come on, that’s what it was all REALLY about).

Anyhow, that evening backstage there were to be no purple flowers or even the merest hint of magenta or violet.  Even mention of the word was strictly forbidden.  The very wonderful Angie Gordon (money and music genius, and our bedrock for so long) was repping the show (and doing the support slot as well) so someone reprogrammed her ring tone to Smoke On The Water and called her at every opportunity when she was in the great man’s presence.  Small things amuse, yes small things.

At the time we had The Golden Fleece as well, a 500-yr old city centre pub complete with slanted floors, wobbly walls, ghosts, the lot.  Our manager there was a ghostly presence as well but that’s another story.  We decked out the function room in holly and ivy and laid out a mediaeval banquet complete with pewter goblets and even somebody tootling away in the background.  And then our man whipped out a lute instead of a Stratocaster, and, boyhood dreams shattered, I nearly slipped hemlock in the mead.

My problem is, y’see, I have an intolerance of the plainly ridiculous and a highly developed sense of injustice. I can keep my trap shut for a while, even lurk in the background trying to stay out of trouble, but, sooner or later, I just have to come out with it.  I’m rubbish in polite company, I’ve walked out of lucrative positions simply because someone spoke to me very badly, and I’m the last person a band should ask for an opinion.  Or am I?  Isn’t truth a good thing?

Many is the message, with links attached, “Please let us know what you think!”  I’ll do my best to find positives, and wish them well but, when pressed rudely with the inevitable demand for a gig (‘Cos we’re the dogs bollocks”) it all comes spilling out.  Calling a spade a Spear & Jackson does have it’s positives, though, and it’s nice when a band asks me knowing they will always get an honest answer.  Yes, truth, it’s a good thing.

It’s not easy booking gigs at the moment.  Breaking bands aren’t breaking, and with a general disillusionment the public just aren’t getting excited.  They’re not stupid, they can smell rats.

One of my best industry and personal chums advised strongly about the following skit but if you’re in the industry and think it applies to you I hope you take it in the spirit intended.  It’s that truth thing again …

Good morning Mr Sweet Shop Owner, my usual Mars Bar please!

Aaah … sorry, mate.  Someone else bought it.  He’s seen you buying them for years and likes the idea  so I sold it to him instead.  Oh, and he gave me more money.

Hang on a minute, I’ve been buying a Mars Bar off you since you opened.  You were skint and desperate for my business.  You even used to ring up and tell me about new products.  Even ask when I was coming in.

Things change, man.  My sweet shop is bigger, I don’t really need you anymore.  Was there anything else?

Er …well, I suppose I’d better have that Crunchie instead.  I can’t go a day without anything sweet.

            It’s yours, no problem.  And that’ll be extra for the Makeweight Bar that goes with it.

Why do I have to have one of those as well?

            Part of the deal. No Makeweight Bar, no Crunchie.

Bloody hell. I want the Crunchie so I suppose so.  What’s a Makeweight Bar when it’s at home, anyway?

A delicious blend of crunchy biscuit, beetroot, lemon curd and oregano.  Y’know, the stuff they put on pizzas.  It’s had a great review.  I think they wrote it themselves.  Nobody’s buying ‘em.

Not surprised, they sound terrible.

Yeah, but they’re covered in creamy milk chocolate in a nice wrapper.  Oh, and you have to eat it when I say so, by the way.  It’s in this contract you have to sign.  Hope that’s OK.

<<sigh>> Whatever … There’s your money.  Can I go now?

            In a minute, I just need a contribution towards my new sign outside.

Whaaat?  Shouldn’t you be paying for that?

Yeah, but business hasn’t been great recently what with the recession, so anybody that buys a Crunchie has to give me a bit towards advertising my business.  No advertising contribution, no Crunchie.  So do you wanna buy or shall I give them to somebody else?

You’ve turned me over there mate but you’re the only shop so I suppose that’s that.

            Correct. NEXT!!

There are people, the powerful as well as the new, in big buildings who, like you, will want to play their part putting on great gigs.  Seeing and signing lots of new bands, putting their money and trust in new talent, and always networking, always building and always bringing you good opportunities.  These are the people who the industry should cherish.  Thankfully, they are in the majority.

But you also come across the hangers-on, the leeches, the empire builders, the motormouths and chancers. Many of them in high places, and more waiting to sit there themselves.  Waiting for that big band, that big break.  There are some who only have the one band.  And this, they think, makes them clever.  It doesn’t. 

[It is at this point my proof reader has blue pencilled an entire paragraph, so you’ll have to wait for the book]

… and, in truth, there IS so much enjoyment to be had booking bands in to small venues.  It’s the pleasure on people’s faces, it’s the happiness of musicians after a good gig.  It’s the reason you started doing this in the first place.  So you wanna be a promoter? In a small venue? Don’t be silly.  It’s absolutely the wrong time, get a day job and come back in a year. 

Rant over … on with Fibbers and it’s 1996.

It was a year when, being very much a community venue, we did lots of private parties including, unbelievably, weddings.  I recall our milkman and his new bride having their reception one Saturday afternoon late in June and, making polite conversation, I asked him how he met his wife.  Adjusting his carnation he raised an eyebrow, “Tim. I’m a milkman”.  He must still be a milkman because I saw him only the other day and he’s remarried again.

You just have to be flattered when somebody picks your grotty live music venue for the biggest day of their life.  About as far removed from your local Best Western function room as Frankie Cocozza is from music, Fibbers had furniture not to die for but die on; a floor like the surface of the moon where beautiful trailing wedding dresses soon had splinters; the décor was as if the blind school had wallpapered a squat; and when the temperature rose to 90F as it often did, the walls would run with perspiration making beautifully made-up brides and birthday girls look like Chucky’s sister.  Ventilation and/or air circulation was the front door, open or shut.  Good job the food/staff/music/ale was good and, of course, we wanted the business so we were cheap.

Several 40th celebrations picked up the weekday slack and also a 21st with a lovely girl from York Uni.  She paid for a huge buffet, a band and a DJ and nobody turned up.  I was very sad for her and I expect she’s still scarred to this day.  On another occasion we were hired for a 50th and our semi-centenarian strutted about like Mussolini giving orders instead of partying, until the band invited him on stage for a chorus of Happy Birthday but played Ivor Biggun’s ‘I’m A ****er’ instead.

I continued booking the weird and wonderful.  From New Jersey’s Lizard Music to Glasgow’s Hugh Reed And The Velvet Underpants; Brighton’s David Devant And His Spirit Wife were fab (I think they’re still going?) and Joey Ramone’s brother played with his band Stop; the fabulous Wedding Present (for me, David Gedge is up there with Mark E Smith) did a last-minute warm-up with Cable; celtic progsters Iona (great band but I’m not a fan of ancient worlds, flowing rivers and lands being cleansed) filled the venue two nights in a row; The Glitter Band made an appearance but it wasn’t an all ages show; there were punks galore with Captain Sensible, X-Ray Spex, UK Subs and John Cooper-Clarke (“I’m very lazy and eat two thirds of a Mars Bar so I just rest and play”); Hazel O’Connor (still on the go and at Fibbs last weekend) and TV Smith looking through Gary Gilmore’s eyes. 

Mark Manning (Zodiac Mindwarp) appeared with Bill Drummond (who sensationally burnt a million quid in a Jura cottage only a couple of years earlier – YouTube it, creepy) reading from a huge wooden lectern.  Glenn Tilbrook was just starting his solo jaunts and played for nearly three hours, pulling people on stage to sing (or not!) along.  We encouraged local singer-songwriter Marc Atkinson to bring his guitar and he jumped on stage and duetted with Glenn on Weather With You.  Great stuff.

In fact, such was my enthusiasm and love for booking bands that I would book anything and do my damndest to make it a success.  U-Mniegit, remember them?  No, I don’t either.  Mansun were huge at the time and their 1996 show was bookended by The Hideaway Blues Band and two brilliant Scottish folk musicians Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham.  More used to theatres they were horrified to arrive at our dungeon but admitted to having their best gig for years amongst the mismatched matchstick furniture, a spluttering cappuccino machine and a front door that blew open with the slightest breeze or bus whooshing past. 

Feeder played the night after Phil Bates and Mick Kaminsky from ELO, Rock Bitch (see June 23 blog entry!) rubbed shoulders with the heavenly, literally, Martyn Joseph but whither now Space Monkeys, Northside, These Animal Men, The Frank Chickens, Delgados, Showgirls, Smaller, Harvey’s Rabbit, Dreamgrinder, Crazy Gods Of Endless Noise and my least favourite bunch of ‘musicians’ of all time The N*b***s.  Why?  You’ll have to wait.

It was also the year of Nowaysis whose fee increased from £200 to £1000 in a fortnight until I finally squeaked.  Kula Shaker played their first of several shows on a Sunday night after playing The White Room (a kind of precursor to Jools) on the Saturday.  John Martyn and a band including Gerry Underwood held a full house in complete thrall and I swear people levitated when he played Over The Rainbow.  At the time Martyn was painted as a monster, a drunk you couldn’t cross and ‘difficult’.  He was nothing of the sort but he was a bloody big bloke I wouldn’t have messed with and he filled the back door when he arrived.

One band who shall remain nameless (they’re still going) refused to play a full set as they were only getting £50.  Well why agree to the bloody gig then! What’s the point of punishing your fans?  I didn’t understand then and I don’t understand now.

And I’ve just realised I started this entry with a rant and ended with one …

Coming up: How we got five agents, four record companies and three A&R reps to come to Fibbers one afternoon and still nobody brought a demo tape; the guitarist who played through seven amps at once and thought he wasn’t quite loud enough; and the guitar tech who quite literally threw an amp at the audience. Still plugged in.

Friday, 7 October 2011

A magpie, Thom Yorke, red leather and a didgeridoo.

I know a promoter who owes pretty much his complete oeuvre to inheritance and theft.  I imagine being in the same town as this magpie is like drinking in a pub where despite knowing everybody you can’t put your pint down for fear of it being stolen and held aloft, barefaced, by someone claiming it as their own purchase and evidence of good taste.

I was in his city last week and over a beer I asked him about his latest shameless piece of nicking the fruits of somebody else’s enterprise and he just said, “That’s business”.  What a cloak of cowardice that phrase is.  Tossed off by the mediocre and malevolent alike, it’s been used to mask double-dealing, theft and greed by snake oil and Doctor Good salesmen everywhere.  It’s like having your homework copied and I bloody hate it.  Although I expect it from banks, building societies, insurance companies and pubcos.

Y’see, businesses are about people.  I get mails all the time from would-be Harvey Goldsmiths wanting to start a venue, "It's my dream, I've always wanted to put on bands".  Oh dear.  I tell them you can install as much brass and swag as you want in those four walls.  You can bark long and loud on Facebook and Bebo and Tumblr and all those other social networking sites that sound like Tellytubby characters.  But if your doormen are dicks and your bar staff think they’re in a Guns N’ Roses tribute band; and your toilets are wiped less than the arses they serve and nobody but nobody can be bothered to smile, you may as well flyer the ‘out’ with your own ten pound notes. People make the difference. Always.

But I’ve got it very wrong myself at times.  The safe was emptied in the middle of the night without the alarm going off (hmmmm ...); and when we had a pub by the river a manager put £10000 banking on the bar whilst he ran to the toilet, “I was desperate to go, I was only a minute".  And someone who walked in for a pint ran out with the deposit for a house.

In swift succession I hired German and Japanese students, neither of whom could speak a word of English.  One new barman on his first shift, mid-pulling a pint, went straight to the front of the stage to listen to the band playing his favourite song.  And from there I put him out of the back door.  

The cleaner arrived one morning to find a night manager fast asleep on the floor after robbing the fruit machine and drinking the proceeds.

The red leather settee saw more bare bottoms than a sumo sandpit, the barmaids got more customer propositions than usual from their own sex when Mel C appeared (nice person, by the way); one manager in another of our outlets didn’t usually surface until the pub bloody well closed whereupon he’d sit all night draining Jack Daniels and snorting lines with his mates until disturbed, as dawn broke, by bed and breakfast guests.  Looking around for, but not finding, evidence of the advertised Full English and welcoming pot of tea, they would lift mine host's head from the bar to find out if he was dead.  Of course, you find all this out after the fact.

But by and large, standing alone like a beacon, Fibbers was made by the staff working and smiling through clouds of cigarette smoke, a wall of heat, the thick smell of sweat and a carpet of broken glass and fag ends.  Several would toil through a sixteen hour day, serving drinks and food, dealing with bands, sweeping floors, cashing up tills until the early hours and still be back at 9am ready to go again.  One day, I’ll get every surviving member of staff back in the same room and have a huge party.  And then they will all kill me.

Now, where was I – 1994? We tried a bit of comedy in this year. Hattie Hayridge, Richard Morton, Frank Sidebottom, John Cooper Clarke and many others would all perch precariously on a home-made plinth (temporary stage would be too grand a phrase) outside the kitchen.  The Salford Stick Insect would bowl through the door ten minutes before he was due on and an hour in to my seizure. Comedy is cruel, though. I know several promoters who have had entire runs wrecked because of one bad night.  Unlike live music when folks accept the occasional duff show, people just abandoned the poor chap because one night they didn’t go home with a sore tummy.  A moment’s dullness and it was almost as if they thought they would never laugh again.

Flickernoise appeared around this time.  Years ahead of Prodigy and Pendulum, an early incarnation featured Thom Yorke and they had a mighty mix of beats and furious guitars.  Posters for one of their events were plastered around town, one of them outside my daughters’ school.  The text was quite close together and ripe for post-detention intervention.  Thus 'FLICKERNOISE' became 'FUCKNOSE' …

I booked acid-jazzers Corduroy solely on the basis of finding a 12” left behind by a band the previous night.  I’d never heard of them but played it when I got home.  And on a whim tracked down the agent (no internet in those days!) and he blithely asked me for £1000.  And I blithely agreed.  And it blithely sold out.  Trust your instincts …

Dr Didg (didgeridoo and dance tracks) sold the place out and he broke his leg afterwards tripping over the parking chain; Labi Siffre had the voice of an angel and the attitude of a parking attendant; the Inspirals were drowned out by moo-ing although I can’t recall if their soon-to-be-very-famous roadie Noel came along; and Champion Franny Eubanks played their last at Fibbers as very soon afterwards they split up following a fracas at a Manchester gig between the singer (a boxer) and the drummer (blind).  Possibly an unfair match.

Michelle never got nearly enough credit but far from being ‘the little woman’ being locked away in the kitchen dreaming up ostrich and saffron sandwiches, she played a huge part in the development and bookings and shaped Fibbers far more than she will ever be given credit for.  Indeed, it’s a wonder we ever got Everything But The Girl to Fibbers seeing as they kept ringing the bar phone only for Michelle to tell them to get lost – didn’t they know she was busy cooking and would whomever this is please stop taking the piss as you’re not really Everything But The Girl, anyway!  Are you?  Michelle also thought that Eddi Reader was a gay biker but that’s another story.

The Damned have since mellowed but back then they had the tour manager from hell who made the PA engineer quite literally weep (“We’re not ****ing playing through this”) and was such an arse in general that the aforementioned intrepid Irish bird marched on the stage next to drummer Rat Scabies and proceeded to try and get the amps off stage.  But she couldn’t lift them …

Labi Siffre told her she was a racist because we didn’t have ‘a black man’s toilet’ and the following week she escorted one Harrogate performer out of the back door after he laid flat on the stage mid-set still wearing his guitar, announcing he was so stoned he couldn’t possibly carry on.  The following week, our fearless Madame had to use her considerable mediating skills when, after receiving terrible abuse from China Crisis about the monitors, the PA engineer promptly turned them off and marched on the stage swinging punches.  She did such a good job that night that the band asked the engineer concerned to travel with them for the rest of the tour.

And Fibbers was closed for just ONE night (a Monday in the January) in the whole of 1994.  A trend that would continue …

Coming up:  the beginnings of noise issues and how one person can rule thousands; Fibbers starts to win national awards; and on to 1995 where I start to get an eerie sense of déjà vu looking through the calendar seeing names that are still around now … Richard Hawley (then in Longpigs), Australian Pink Floyd, Dodgy, Toby Jepson, Seth Lakeman (then in The Equation), Attila The Stockbroker, Bert Jansch (who sadly died only last week), Steve Phillips, Captain Sensible (who met his wife-to-be in the venue that afternoon over coffee), John Otway, Tom Robinson, Kirk Brandon, Wishbone Ash, Geno Washington, Zodiac Mindwarp, Half Man Half Biscuit, Nick Harper, Hugh Cornwell, Wilko Johnson, The Real People, Tom Russell and Albert Lee.  They must be doing something right.