After the success of The Summer Showcases at the Ironworks, a follow up was almost inevitable. Indeed, last month the amalgamation of the successful end of year Netsounds Unsigned events and the showcase format was announced, in a new format that will see sixteen acts playing over the course of two nights, the 28th and 29th of December.
invernessGiGs looks forward to catching up with some of the acts prior to the showcases, but in the meantime we thought it would be great to catch up with the organiser of the event Steve Robertson (SR) and one half of Netsounds Unsigned Jamie MacDonald (JM).
The plan was clear, to have a chat about the showcase format and gain an insight into the behind the scenes of the winter showcases, however what developed was not only that but a frank discussion of the music scene of Inverness….
It’s a long article so we have provided the latest Netsounds podcast to listen to at the same time.
IG – Where did the idea of the Summer Showcases come from?
SR – I went to the directors of the Ironworks and said is there anyway we can do anything for the local bands as it’s been a while since we done something to that magnitude. The Ironworks’ goal is to be part of the community, with the Ironworks directors were very happy to support the local music scene with the Summer Showcase. We don’t want to be seen as quite corporate…. It’s really important to nurture local music. It sort of rolled from there.
IG – From the Summer Showcases was there anything that stuck out?
JM – People. People turning up was a highlight. The first one was shaky then people got off their backsides and came out and supported it and that’s led to the willingness to do the winter ones too, knowing that people will come out, because there is a perception that people don’t go and see gigs. I was really encouraged by seeing people enjoying it and seeing bands for the first time. Also seeing some young people , fourteen, fifteen-year-olds being genuinely inspired by some of the people playing there.
SR – The youngest person to take part was Liam Macleod, who is fifteen, and he’s quite interesting because he is doing what he is doing in a large part because he came to the Ironworks to see Mr Hudson, and he saw The LED playing. So he saw two local guys making music and he thought it was really cool, and he’d really like to do that. It’s quite unique that he would be influenced by them and then a year later is on the same bill that directly inspired him.
SR – It was also great to see people like Megan Blyth get a slot, The Whisky River Band really grabbed the opportunity. It wasn’t just about people who had never had an opportunity but to give people a larger opportunity for people who had just played pubs.
JM – And I think there was a wider platform that just the venue itself. I think the bands, artists, yourselves, [invernessGiGs], Netsounds,and other local media such as The Highland News really took it on board. Social media was going mad, if you didn’t go along then you got the feeling that there was something sizable happening that was worthwhile to go and see, which would bring out more people to the Winter Showcase, we hope.
IG – The sense of community at the events was strong and people were not just going because of the genre…
SR – They were not supposed to be specific you know, this is a folk night, this is a rock night. The only one that we did that for was the producer DJ one at the end and the rest were the neatest fit. The one with KOBI, The Little Mill of Happiness and Midnight Glory, there was three different crowds came in but people stuck around a bit of cross…
JM – I actually was that person. There was one gig I went to and I was going to see this act and I’m probably not going to stay, but I did and I think a lot of people did that, which is just a band or artist that’s done that it’s the community and the atmosphere that’s been created, that made it a good night and people want to stay.
SR – The nights have generally been smooth but the Toby Michaels thing, everything fell apart but because of the way he is he made it work, I think on the night he was pretty gutted but the Highland News wrote him a glowing review and he got other things off the back of it.
IG – Was there any other way that you measured success for the event?
SR – I would say that success for me was when every band that played said thanks to the venue and thanks to sound guys thanks to the lighting guys… That’s the thing that people don’t pick up on is that the people doing the sound and lights are young; one’s of them is nineteen the other’s is twenty one; and the stuff that they have done include the Seedlings Stage [at the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival], the Showcases… To have people on this journey is quite rewarding. It’s rewarding not only about the people that came but what the bands got out of it, what the sound guys got out of it and what the venue got out of it. It really is a win, win, win thing. Everybody’s pretty positive about it. I am sure that there’s probably people that wanted to be part of it. Sometimes people got the opportunity because they fitted what was needed and there are people that are further on that need the opportunity now. There are other people that shouldn’t be put off as the opportunity will be there for them when they need it. Everybody seems in such a rush these days.
JM – When your building a line up you want acts to reflect what that is and what that sounds like and look like. There are obvious limitations, but as Steve says there will be other opportunities at the right time.
IG – What was the selection process for the Winter Showcases?
SR – I did a draft and sent them off to Jamie and the Ironworks directors and I received feedback from that. We tried to get something that flows musically both nights. It’s not anything to do with talent and ability – it’s just about getting a fit. it’s the same with for example Belladrum main stage – you want something that’s going to flow. Your not going to have a heavy metal band, a folk band, a DJ and then have Bob Dylan, so part of it’s based on genres and who’s going to work together. Obviously it’s a difficult one as we don’t want to make anyone feel left out. The beauty is that there is going to plenty other nights going to happen between Netsounds and Hoots. If there’s going to be a Winter showcase next year, there’s no plan to repeat the line up. We would hope that the line up would be pretty different and pretty diverse.
IG – So it’s a statement about where the scene is at right now?
SR – It’s a statement about the scene.
JM – There’s always other chances. When Steve came to us about the end of year Showcases he said this year about doing it in the Ironworks – a kind of celebration. The end of year Showcases were about the year and also nods to what’s coming in the next year, and there are element of this in the line up. Trying to keep it as local as we can and it’s great to have it at the Ironworks as it opens it up. The use of two rooms makes it a bigger event.
SR- It’s kind of difficult for me as I am in one of the bands. You know there are two other guys in my band and we have had some radio air play and a lot of regional press support . I genuinely think we are doing enough to get the opportunities that we get. I can understand feeling like we are not getting anything as I’ve been there. It’s best to think how do I get what I want. I think Zombie Militia are very good at getting what they want, Shutter were very good at do it too. It’s one of the reason’s I am involved with James Mackenzie, Homework are another good example. Bands need a focus ‘what do I need to do to get heard?’
IG – So that would be the main bit of advice to bands?
JM – Absolutely. I think people can get too tied up in what others get – you’ve got to turn it into your own energy and put that passion into your own groups and communities. It’s only once you do that you can spread your selves out. It’s sounds like common sense.
SR – It’s not just bands here, you have to throw it out the window.
IG – So it’s about focusing on yourself and not comparing yourself?
SR – Most bands are alright with each other. In KOBI we speak to other bands and get advice, support. Imagine what it would be like if three or four bands from here got signed; how good would that be?
I saw on one website that the Inverness scene has died and that DownTown USA was a great place. I went to the gigs at the time, but they were few and far between, lucky if there were ten gigs in three years. There’s more going on now.
JM – People like looking back and that they were so good, whats happening now is rubbish; they probably don’t go to gigs now…
SR – Or live here…
IG – When you look at promotions and social media, there are advantages (as previously mentioned) but are there challenges?
JM – The real risk of doing social media is that it’s all you do, and you do all the work and you expect people to come. You still need to do posters and go out and talk about it; not just a post. Its about interacting: You can’t just rely on social media.
SR – Social media is a quick way, but its worth researching that.
JM – Its about being selective. It’s about having a plan. It’s not just about the gig, Facebook, Twitter… You kind of need to be an event organiser to some degree.
SR – I think there is a big deal made about needing a manager – I partly blame myself for that. You don’t need a manager from day one; you need one once you have a bit of a following. It’s not that hard to book a rehearsal space or know who to speak to for gigs and it isn’t that hard to have a plan for the next six months. Not just “more gigging, more recording,” which really means “we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re hoping for the best.” I’ve been in bands where we have just gigged loads and hoped that something would happen. It doesn’t sadly. It’s good to make even small goals like playing a festival because it leads to this coverage or this contact.
JM – I think as well the bands that say “more gigging, more recording…” It’s a dead end, you really want acts to engage with you so that someone is reading or listening will find it interesting. Or just make it up tell them that your going to Antarctic to find a “Metalikazoo”…
IG – Just going back. It’s interesting whether a band need a manager or for management to come from within…
SR – The only reason am a promoter is because with KOBI, the first time around the drummer and one of the guitarists was struggling to get us a gig and I was like “I’ll have a go,” but they said you won’t do any better than us. [laughs]. Here we are. It generally tends to be bass players and drummers that are good at these things, like Norman Maclean from B.I.R.O.
IG why do you think its bass players or drummers?
JM – It’s a gene they are born with.
SR – I think they have more time because you are maybe not the song writer. For Zombie Militia it was Iain Howie [bassist] and Last Summer Effect it is Michael and Stephen [bassist and drummer].
IG – Going back to the Winter Showcases, is there any bands that stand out?
SR – I’m really pleased to have Red Kites back. I am really pleased about Megan Blyth and Toby Michaels. I am generally excited to have all the bands. And Sara Bills and the Hasbeens; they are one of the bands that I ask them to hassle me for stuff. I don’t mind people asking me for stuff.
JM – For me I have only seen Sara Bills twice – I was really impressed at the summer showcase and so looking forward to seeing her again – and the Whisky River Band, definitely. I am really looking forward to the two rooms and I think its nice that we have the lounge environment where Steve will be serving teas and ice creams [Steve chuckles]. The way we have got the bands timed out this time everyone can see everything. This time we are going to have comperes on the night, which I think will work. This time it will be me and Toby Michaels in drag [laughter].
SR – There will be a few surprises. KOBI have a couple of guests as it’s the end of the year.
JM – Is Sting playing?
SR – You haven’t heard this one? We went down to London with Shutter and the band before us were saying “Sting’s going to play a song with us tonight”… did he f***” [laughter].
JM – I just think it’s going to have such a great atmosphere. It’s bang in between Christmas and New Year, a lot of people are on holiday a lot of people are back up in Inverness. I just think their will be this community spirit and there is a wealth of talent and a fairly diverse range of acts and artists there.
IG – The last question is just about the plans after the Winter Showcase for Netsounds and Ironworks, and Netsounds and Hoots…
SR – I guess that’s part of the reason for the interview. A lot of this come from the working relationships and friendship with Jamie. I can’t remember how we started talking about doing nights. I remember the first time I met him but not the in-between.
JC – I met him in Borders with a dodgy hat on and he came up with something that I have never had for a long time; a CD and a hand written note. It was like that scene in Fawlty Towers where Basil Fawlty came out from the kitchen saying “I am sorry, there has been a lot of cock ups today, but here is a letter from the chef.” Not only did he come and speak to me but he brought a hand written note, he didn’t tweet me or poke me or anything.
SR – When I was in London in January I was working on something and I wanted to meet the woman who does the PR for Madonna, and I wrote her hand written note as well. That was one of the reasons why she met us, because no one gets hand written notes any more.
JM – I should dig the note out.
SR – I think KOBI had been played through the HUBL CD on Netsounds. In those days we though making the CD was the battle but it was half the battle and actually getting out and about and getting promo was the battle. When I was trying to get some promotion for a band, he actually came up. I was surprised
JM – So was I. I was hungover, had a look and left. I think when we got involved with Hoots, my recollection was that there was some bands we played, if we play ten acts we try to play at least two local ones. You could never play just ten Highland acts – you just couldn’t, there is not enough volume. Even Glasgow Podcart and Peenko mix it up. What we always do is make it diverse. It’s the other half of Netsounds, Murray Cameron, who has the Zen like ability to pick up and discover bands. Steve offers us the ability to takes the podcast to the next level. Steve has the contacts and books the acts. It’s incredibly complex booking and getting dates, some bands we have been talking about for ages.
SR – We have been trying to get the likes of Niteworks for an album launch, Dead Boy Robotics… These are just the Netsounds nights.
JM – The things that I like about the Netsounds nights is it’s kind of doing a home and away, although we did it a bit different. I think the Inverness music scene is very much alive at the moment; I defy anybody to say it is rubbish.
SR – We very much are very much hoping for an Easter Showcase and another Summer one too, as there are so many new acts coming out.
JM – At the end of each year you would think how good the year has been, but then you also think who will come out next year, this year it was acts like Megan Blyth.
SR – Toby Michaels is a good example as he has thought about what he needs to and can do too. Megan Blyth is another one to keep an eye on. The thing about Inverness, it would be good to see things grow, especially when things are closing down. I think other people could do it but they should do it properly, but you have to keep on going and not cut corners.
JM – I think there are a few bands we hope to get up for Netsounds in the New Year, but I think whats positive is that we have people working together.
At that positive note it was time to draw to an end.For an hours interview there was a massive amount of information and insight into the music scene of Inverness.
Details of the Winter Showcases can be found here.
Many many thanks to Steve Robertson and Jamie MacDonald,
Article by Chris Lemon Edited by SR and TB
Photos by McIntosh Photography