It was at the Tower Arts Centre in Winchester and it must have been February 2000. My friend Richard had begged me to come and see a guy called Peter Bruntnell who’d already played there opening for Willard Grant Conspiracy. I’ll be frank, I’d never heard of him. “What is he like?” I asked. “Well, remember the Paisley Underground? Remember bands like Green On Red and the Long Ryders that people called alternative country? Think along those lines.”
In the foyer, they were playing a CD by someone called Richard Buckner. I loved the jangly guitars and the music, which did, in fact, sound a bit countryish. I had always had a strong prejudice against country music, with its attendant visions, in my mind, of soppy lyrics and redneck attitudes. It wasn’t rock. But Peter Bruntnell and his band did rock – like hell. The ridiculously young James Walbourne was simply one the best and wildest electric guitar players I had ever seen. There weren’t many people there, but that evening changed my life. Richard and I decided to become alt-country impresarios. Not to make money (you’ll soon see that could never happen) but simply for fun, and because if we didn’t bring Americana to Winchester, no other bugger would.
Categorisation has always been an irritating but sometimes useful by-product of music. Nobody knows who invented the expression “alternative country” – some frazzled publicist, no doubt – but actually it covers quite nicely the music that I grew to love from that day. Country sensibility mixed with a rock, and even punk, attitude. Checked shirts, twangy guitars, riffs, loping, swinging basslines and lyrics that can go anywhere. A peculiar yearning pathos that’s hard to explain. Almost anyone who’s been tarred with that particular brush has grown to hate it, none more so than Peter Bruntnell, who has been saddled with the alt-country tag for much of his career, whereas his palate covers folk, pop and psychedelia.
What about Americana then? I am simply struggling to tell you what music I like and and basically, it is anything that is American and alternative, all the way from Jackson Browne to the New York Dolls. That’ll have to do you. Our much-loved “prof” from the Isle Of Wight, Brian Hinton, has devoted several hundred pages of prose to explaining this music but I can do it in two words: Kathleen Edwards. If you love her music, you’re a friend of mine and you understand what we were striving to find when we set up sxsc in 2004.
sxsc? What’s that? Simple, really. I’d already started going to the South By South West festival in Austin, Texas and South By South Central seemed to fit Winchester geographically and sum up the music. It felt like the perfect name, and for many years, it was. We also had the perfect venue, in the form of the Railway in Winchester, a cosy pub that has a back room that feels just like a Texas roadhouse, with black walls, a sticky floor and a sweaty rock and roll vibe. I’d been putting on shows there since the punk era and knew the owners well. We had the concept, we had the venue and now all we had do was start putting on shows and see what happened. We certainly didn’t think we’d still be doing it ten years later.
If you look at the list of our shows, you’ll see that the first one (on May 1, 2003) featured, naturally, Peter Bruntnell. Well, it would have to. The Bruntosaurus, as he is affectionately known, has played for us over twenty times, and has graced all five of our annual festivals. Peter is officially designated as our lucky mascot. In our opinion, he is the UK’s premier songwriter, but far more importantly, he is an absolute legend as a person. Luckily, our audience shares our enthusiasm and any show he features in will always draw a healthy crowd. He has also become a great pal, and we’ll often be found visiting down in the seaside idyll of Mortehoe, where he resides and plays and records with a nest of wonderful musicians such as Jim Jones (Small Town Jones) and David Little (“Davey Lemonade”), currently playing bass with The Delines. This came about partly through sxsc, as we’d introduced Pete to Richmond Fontaine. They subsequently toured together and that’s how they met Davey. It’s true to say than any American band that visits us is always awestruck by the mere fact that we know Peter. His association with Son Volt and his own many performances in the US have ensured that he has iconic status with musicians in the US.
Anyway, that first show set a pattern that was to develop quite quickly, namely giving gigs to visiting American bands. In this case, it was a band from Los Angeles called Horse Stories, that Richard had somehow come across (although main man Toby Burke was originally from Australia). Also on the Loose label, they came down and opened for Peter, who then went on to blow the roof off the place with James Walbourne and the then Bruntnell band, with Mick Clews on drums and Peter Noone on bass. Hmm, we thought, if one American band is willing to play in our small town venue, maybe there are others.
Peter was unwittingly involved in setting up our second show. In March, I’d been at South By South West in Austin and had been approached by a Texan singer called Sarah Sharp, who’d somehow found my address while researching Peter, who she’d spotted as an artist from the UK who was performing at sxsw that year. Sarah is married to a Welsh gentleman with the unlikely stage name of Buffalo Speedway. The two of them were looking for some UK dates to help finance a visit to transatlantic relatives, so I thought “Why not?” The fact was that, having never seen her perform, I had no idea whether she was any good or not, so we put together an all-woman show which turned out to contain a mass of talent. Rachael Dadd and Kate Stables (both now prominent folk artists) opened the show, then came my daughter Annabel’s band The Sense and Sarah and Buffalo topped the bill. To my immense relief, they were fantastic. They have since returned several times and have developed into firm family friends.
Readers will be delighted to hear that I’m not going to give you a run-down of every show we’ve ever done, but bear with me through the first few, because they demonstrate many of the facets of gig promotion. Next up (months later, in October in fact) was Ben Weaver, a roots artist from Minnesota who approached us for a show. It was just the sort of thing we wanted, because there was a little press buzz about him at the time. One person I was trying to emulate was the dear departed Mint, from Southampton’s Joiners venue, who had a knack of finding artists just before they hit the big time. This, as well as hoping to put on “big artists in a little venue” was and remains my ambition too, simply because these are the kinds of show I enjoy. I’ve almost stopped going to big venues altogether. Anyway, Ben played to a very small crowd, and this started us scratching our heads about how we could do these shows without losing money, a conundrum that we still haven’t solved, but the next but one show offered a way to alleviate matters.
In between, we put on the first of several shows with Wreckless Eric. To me he was (and is) a legend, but the people of Hampshire didn’t agree. Hardly anyone came and we decided to try and stick with North American artists. Charlemagne fitted the bill admirably. From Madison, Wisconsin, this was a vehicle for Carl Johns, who was also enjoying some popularity in the press. We’d learned our lesson and filled out the bill with some good local acts (Chris T-T and Kate Stables) who we hoped would bring their friends and family along, and so it turned out. The members of Charlemagne had a gimmick: knitting throughout the set. It was quite charming but at the end of the show, it became clear that they had nowhere to sleep. We obviously couldn’t ignore this, so invited them to stay at our house. My wife, Birgit, who was manning the door at this show and all subsequent ones, kindly agreed. Thus started a tradition that continues to this day and has made it possible for us to book acts who would otherwise be well out of the reach of such a little venue: we would offer them accommodation. This decision was not unconnected with the immense pleasure gained from late-night chats and whisky drinking with delightful people.
This is perhaps a good point to talk about how it all works (or doesn’t) financially. Let’s take a fairly typical scenario. A band over from the States will have to cover the costs of flights, equipment, crew, accommodation, food etc, etc. Therefore their agent will try to get the biggest fee possible. Let’s say that, for the sake of an example, the fee (or “guarantee”) might be in the region of £500. You could accumulate that by charging £10 admission and hoping that fifty people will come. But there are other associated costs. You have to pay the sound engineer, the support band and of course, the infamous “rider” (food and drink to you and me). Plus, and this is the big one, a visiting US band will need to be accommodated. In an expensive city like Winchester, that could mean up to £300 or more for a five-piece band. See what I mean? Now the money required is already approaching £1000. That’s not a problem if 100 people come, but if (as often happens) very few people come, it means trouble. In the early days, we messed up frequently by agreeing to guarantees that the revenue didn’t even approach. In fact, even today, when I let my heart rule my head, it still happens.
If the band is “big” and we have a full house at the Railway, they can walk away with quite a lot of money, even from such a tiny venue. We generally have to pay 75% or 80% of the net income after the “split” is reached, i.e. the notional £500. That’s when you can breathe a sigh of relief, because you know that you aren’t going to make a loss that evening. The other side of the coin is when you don’t reach the split, and then you know it’s going to be painful and that you are going to have to dip into your own pocket or relinquish the profit you made the previous week. But it’s all part of the game, and we eventually got used to it. There are many promoters who do make a living from putting on shows, but they have to be much more hard-nosed than we are prepared to be, and they have to put on much bigger shows. They may even have to put on bands they don’t like, something we would never do. What would be the point?
So we will always be grateful to Charlemagne for making us realise that we could make shows work by offering the bands accommodation for free. As “empty nesters”, we had the children’s bedrooms available and ready to be used. Suddenly, it made things just about viable both for the artist and for us. Now, it only goes seriously wrong when I have agreed to a fee that the “bums on seats” don’t begin to approach. For example, the aforementioned £500 guarantee but less than twenty people turn up. It happens, and it happens more often than we’d like. But there are swings and roundabouts. In the last month, for example, we have had two loss-making shows and two profit-making shows, and they just about cancelled each other out. We had to accept from the start that this would be a hobby and not a business. Over the years, if you add everything up, we have made quite a substantial net loss, but had a huge amount of fun and satisfaction.
Agents: Don’t you just love them? A lot of savvy bands don’t bother with agents and book all their shows themselves, thus saving themselves up to 20% of their fee. But most artists need an agent to get their gigs for them, negotiate the best deals and allow them to concentrate on their music. In the main, I get on fine with all agents I have dealt with, although levels of flakiness in such a high profile industry are surprising. Most of them will only communicate with you in monosyllables and many of them simply don’t pay attention to a word you say. It’s almost normal for artists to turn up at the venue with absolutely no knowledge of all the detailed information you have painstakingly supplied to the agent. Many of them won’t supply you with any kind of contract, so you could cancel the show at a moment’s notice with no comeback. And often, you will receive no reply to your communications. But, for all, that, those that I have met have all been good eggs, and a few have become good pals, with whom I have developed a strong mutual trust.
It was in late 2004 and early 2005 that we hit our stride. A London agent called Chris Metzler asked if we’d like to put on a band from Oregon called Richmond Fontaine. Chris has a policy of avoiding the mainstream venue chains and had spotted us somehow. By pure serendipity, it coincided with Uncut magazine hailing the band as the greatest new thing and we were confronted by our first advance sell-out. The audience adored them, it was musically and socially a fantastic evening and, as a welcome by-product, we became lifelong friends with the band, having them back a total of (to date) eight times. They spent that first night in a bourbon-fuelled frenzy, wrestling on our lawn. And just four days later, we had a second sell-out with Laura Veirs, on her first UK tour. Both these acts went on to a much higher profile in the UK and that week sealed our fate: we were established on the UK “Americana” circuit and in a position to attract artists who otherwise would probably never have considered playing in a pub in Winchester.
Those two shows also provided us with the basis of a solid and regular audience, as we had the presence of mind to establish a mailing list. I would reckon that a good proportion of those two audiences make up the bulk of our “regulars” today. They are a knowledgeable bunch of music lovers, who adhere meticulously to our golden rule of not talking while the acts are performing, an idea we stole from the Luminaire in London, but made less confrontational. They virtually said, “Shut the fuck up or we’ll throw you out”. We politely request quiet. We occasionally have, indeed, had to ask people to leave, but it is very rare.
I’ll keep the promise of not droning through all our gigs, but what about a few highlights? Not necessarily musical highlights but things that stick in the memory? Let’s start with Luke Doucet. We’d booked a show with an American band and I got a call from someone in Toronto asking if a guy called Luke Doucet could be added to the bottom of the bill? I’d not heard of him but thought “why not”, so we duly awaited his arrival. Five minutes before his stage time, we’d given up on him, but suddenly the door opened and in strode this incredibly handsome, super cool dude with a guitar case. We’ve said over the years that it felt as if the whole room lit up, so charismatic was he. He went straight to the stage, brought out the most beautiful, gleaming Gretsch White Falcon and launched into a half hour set that completely blew everyone away – just him, his electric guitar and some killer songs. Needless to say, the evening went downhill from there. Something very similar happened on another occasion, when Liam Hayes of Plush was added to a bill. It was sensational and no one could possibly have followed him. Note how I am tactfully not mentioning the headliners.
Richmond Fontaine became so popular that we couldn’t accommodate all the people who wanted to see them, so we decided to do two shows, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. This was exciting because the afternoon show was a complete run-through of their Post To Wire album and we were honoured with journalistic royalty in the form of Uncut editor Allan Jones, who did a great review, bigging up the Railway. We thought we’d made a real friend and supporter in the media, and even got an Uncut banner for the stage from their publicity department, but they rapidly went cold on us, I don’t know why. In September 2011, Richmond Fontaine did us another favour: They agreed to headline the sxsc Festival by playing the whole of their concept album The High Country. During the afternoon, they went off the idea, concerned that the audience would prefer the hits, but bassist Dave Harding fell asleep in the band’s van and dreamt that they did do the album and that it went well. So they did, and it did!
One day I remember with mixed feelings was a similar “double show”, this time starring Chuck Prophet And The Mission Express. A friend told me that some close friends of his were getting married that day and that their greatest wish would be to bring all their guests to the afternoon show. It sounded like a great idea, but what I hadn’t realised was that a lot of drinking had already gone on before they arrived. Some of the guests were quite rowdy, but Chuck coped with it all in true professional style, inviting the happy couple on stage to waltz through a rendition of “Then He Kissed Me”. Truth to tell, the bride was paralytic, and before long, she was annoying members of the audience, and one in particular who confronted her. I feared a wedding brawl was about to break out, but Birgit, peacemaker supreme, managed to defuse it. The audience member demanded a refund, which I granted with painful reluctance.
I don’t know what it is with Chuck, but when we put him on last year in a venue in Southampton, something awful happened. After the show, his priceless notebook containing lyrics, notes, set lists and other vital material was stolen from the stage. It absolutely ruined an otherwise happy evening. I was certain that it would never be returned but amazingly, two weeks layer, someone slipped into the venue and left it on the bar in a plain package. The relief was overwhelming. I guess the person who took it had a conscience after all or maybe had just been drunk and realised what a daft thing it had been to do.
It was at yet another Chuck show, this time in the Talking Heads in Southampton, that we nearly had our first murder. The support act was Bob Frank and John Murry, performing, appropriately, a set of murder ballads. Chuck had a particularly stern tour manager, who decided that Bob and John were over-running. Tactlessly, he simply pulled the plug on them, even though they were going down a storm. Within moments, John Murry had him up against the wall with his hands round his throat. Of course he was pulled off but what were we to make of it? Well, uncharacteristically, I sided with John. He’d been unprofessionally treated and was also (though I didn’t know it at the time) in the throes of a terrible heroin addiction. Now that John is my friend, a friendly, peaceful, unaddicted and fiercely intelligent artist, we laugh about it, but it was hairy for a moment!
There’s never a dull moment with Mark Eitzel shows. We love him, but there’s always a mysterious incident of some kind. The first time he played for us, he specified clearly that he didn’t do encores. No problem; as soon as the last song was finished, we brought up the house lights and put on some music. The next morning, I got a call from Mark’s agent: “Mark was really pissed off that you refused to allow him to do an encore”. Hmm. At our third festival, Mark did the most fantastic performance that everyone loved, but for some reason he was annoyed about that as well.
In 2010, we had the idea to do a small Americana Festival at the Railway. My particular bugbear about festivals is dealing with clashes, where two acts you want to see are appearing at the same time. We could use the two performance rooms at the Railway to avoid this. This year (2014) saw the fifth of these festivals. They haven’t been easy by any means; each has been fraught with problems which may not have been apparent to the audiences. In fact, the audiences have been the problem – not enough people. Financially, the festival goes right down to the wire, with every ticket needing to be sold to break even. I have put together bills that seem to me to be very attractive, yet on each occasion, we have only just scraped through. I wrote a piece about the 2013 festival to give a flavour of what it’s like putting it on. Here it is:
The 2013 sxsc Festival was to be the last under that name, following a surreal series of email exchanges with lawyers representing the South By South West Festival in Texas. I tried to respond with levity but was always flat-batted back with stern, unresponsive legalese, so in the end gave in. From now, we’ll be known as SC4M – South Central For Music, chosen largely because of its availability as a domain name.
We planned to go out with a bang, because as well as being the last festival, it also marked my 65th birthday and ten years of putting on shows as sxsc. For that reason, I set out to try and put together a bill containing artists that mean a great deal to us. It was a lot of hard work, because my friend and promoting partner Richard had moved to Spain and wasn’t available to help. So I set out to call in some favours from old friends. The first thing to slip into place was a headliner: John Murry had played a storming show at the Railway earlier in the year and promised to return for the festival. I trusted him entirely and so it proved. John made himself unpopular with booking agents by his insistence that he would play this show no matter what other, more lucrative offers he might have to turn down.
Encouraged by this kindness, I then set about chasing Andy Burrows, Winchester’s most successful musical export ever and another true friend. Again, music business politics were in play, as he was just changing agents and similarly had to arrange this rare solo appearance as a private agreement between the two of us. With those two main artists in place, I was confident of a quick sell-out (the capacity of the Railway is only 110) without the nail biting agony of previous festivals, most of which struggled with ticket sales. Budgeting for a break-even point of selling all the tickets (our aim is to pay all the artists properly and not make a profit), I felt able to relax.
As it turned out, this was premature. Every artist on the bill has a following and most of them sell out far bigger venues, but tickets stubbornly failed to start selling at anything like the rate they needed to. The reason, I had to accept, was my lack of a marketing budget. I was confident that press and radio would be amazed by the “big artists in a little venue” story and get on board; otherwise, how else would anyone find out about it? We tweeted and Facebooked like crazy but it wasn’t enough; we needed press support and we didn’t get it. I personally emailed, phoned and sent handwritten letters to all the presenters and producers on Radios 2 and 6, and I did the same with the main listings agencies and the music writers of all the national newspapers and music magazines. The result? Despite the line up being one of the most impressive and credible of the entire summer offering, not one single mention, apart from in our much-loved local paper, the Hampshire Chronicle. Even Uncut magazine, which had been supportive of us in the past, didn’t help and transferred its allegiance to the much bigger End Of The Road Festival.
With a week to go, we managed to get hold of tickets to End Of The Road and stood around at the end of John Murry’s set there, handing out flyers. That did the trick, as the performance was so sensational, and the last tickets went with two days to spare.
So then it was down to making the final preparations. We gave much thought to every aspect, so that all would run smoothly and in the best interests of both artists and audience. We were confident (when I say we, I mean me and my wife Birgit, the sole organisers) that we had thought of everything. At one stage, I found myself walking cagily along Eastleigh High Street with £2500 in cash in my inside pocket. On that day I found out, too, that the beautifully designed booklets a kind friend had donated had been printed with the pages in the wrong order, and it was too late to do anything about it. On the eve of the festival, I was hoping for some relaxation, following my wild and inebriated birthday party the night before, when I got a message from Chris T-T, explaining that he wouldn’t be able to perform with his band for some personal reasons to do with band members. This panicked me. In itself, it wasn’t a big problem, but I feared for what other unexpected developments might occur.
Sunday dawned with a sense of anticipation but also nervousness. At 9.30, for some reason, I decided to check my emails. There it was, an email from someone whose name I wasn’t sure I recognised. It was a message from the festival caterer: Sorry, I’ve hurt my back and we’re not coming. My heart leapt into my mouth. What? Why had he emailed and not rung? It was only by chance that I’d looked at my emails. We could have been waiting there all day for him and been humiliated. So what could we do?
I rang a series of other caterers, none of whom were available. At one stage, I entered negotiations with Domino’s Pizza for a series of staged deliveries. But then, someone had an idea. The hotplates from my birthday party hadn’t yet been returned to the restaurant. There was nothing for it – we’d have to improvise and do the catering ourselves. My daughter Annabel and her boyfriend Gaz would be in charge, so off we went to Sainsburys, dropping off Gaz to buy baguettes and the ingredients for vegetable chilli, while I took the hotplates in to the Railway and tried to set them up. I have to tell you, as I haplessly attempted to get those hotplates working, plugged into a socket that was clearly dead, as torrential rain teemed around me and the clock ticked ever onwards towards opening time, my head was filled with the mantra of every gig promoter: “Why the hell do I do this to myself?”
Well, the reason is the music, and that was what made the day, eventually, everything we could have dreamed of and more. In a strange sort of synergy with Chris T-T, Ryan O’Reilly, whom I had booked solo, turned up with a band, much to the horror of sound engineer Ben, who had to reconfigure the tiny stage in the acoustic room with his usual consummate professionalism. On their way to Paris, Ryan and band got things off to a lovely start, before Chris T-T gave a performance that couldn’t possibly have been topped had he had his band with him. As he debuted a new song about a dolphin, the rapt audience was sniffling with moist eyes, which, for me, turned into full-scale tears as Annabel jumped up to sing a special birthday song.
Back up in the Attic, I entered a day-long battle with chairs. It was clear all the chairs would have to be folded up and put aside if everyone was to cram into the room, but every time I did that and went away for five minutes, some naughty audience members simply got them out and sat back down. Meanwhile, others were queuing down the stairs, unable to get in for Ben Folke-Thomas giving one of his finest-ever performances.
In the Barn, it was the turn of Peter Bruntnell, a matter of great importance for us, since Pete played our first ever sxsc show. He and his band delivered in the way only they can, pulling the largest crowd of the day. My detailed preparation had failed to throw up the fact that Dave Little, from Peter’s band, would also be playing with Small Town Jones ten minutes later in the Attic, and would need to schlep all his equipment upstairs and set it up in a matter of moments. Meanwhile, downstairs, John Parish’s drummer declared that he needed to use his own kit, which entailed removing the onstage kit and replacing it in time to sound check. Engineer Joe Marsh dealt with this with his usual aplomb and helped attain a magnificent sound for the atmospheric film music, while Emily Barker performed in the Attic.
Then it was time for Andy Burrows, and the emotion was tangible as the rammed Attic came to terms with sharing a tiny room with a major star. Members of Andy’s family were present too and the whole event had a real “Winchester “ feel to it.
And so to the headliners. I knew John Murry would never let us down, and he and his trio almost blew the roof off the Barn in a lengthy and bruising set culminating in his masterpiece “Little Colored Balloons” and an encore with Dave Little on guitar that would have had Neil Young and Crazy Horse shaking in their boots. The feeling all around was of supreme happiness, as most people hung around after the end for a few more drinks and to chat with the stars. The Railway is unique in the whole UK in its atmosphere and its perfect layout for an event like this.
Back at home, it was a late and fuzzy night, with fifteen people staying over. In the morning, I awoke with a feeling of calm contentment and the sense of a job well done. But it didn’t last. When Dave Little returned to the Railway, he was distressed to find that a valuable effects pedal had been stolen overnight. Even now, we haven’t been able to work out how this could have happened and who might have done it, but it took the shine off the day. Never mind, I thought, I’ll go on the internet and see what people are saying about the event which, after all, had gone spectacularly well. And guess what, my blood ran cold as the only comment I could find on Facebook was a COMPLAINT. I was speechless.
It was from a person who was complaining about something I was completely unaware of and still don’t really understand. According to the correspondent, Peter Bruntnell and Jim Jones had been horsing around at the back of the room during John Murry’s set, allegedly spoiling it. She said it was unprofessional of them. I immediately consulted Birgit, as no one else had said a word. She puts up with nonsense from no one, and said they’d just been a bit exuberant. But I don’t like anyone to be less than satisfied, and my first instinct was to reply, apologising for what the complainant said had happened.
But then I thought about it properly. Those guys had just played their hearts out for very little money, as they have consistently done for us for years. The audience had loved both of them. They are good friends with John Murry and there’s a mutual admiration society going on there. Their best mate Dave was on stage with John Murry and thrilling the audience with his virtuosity. They were excited and proud and they have a tradition of joshing with each other in a light-hearted manner. Everyone had been as good as gold all day and this was the climax. No one was going to spoil it for me now.
“I know whose side I’m on”, I thought. And I deleted the message.
Another question I get from prurient friends is, has anyone behaved like a real arse? You’d expect temperamental artistes to be a bit awkward but I can honestly say that almost everyone has been a pure delight. They have that disarming North American attribute of remembering everyone’s name and showing genuine interest in what people have to say, blushing in a humble way if they are complimented. As house guests, you couldn’t wish for better. But there have been a few nasties. I won’t name them, as it would be unfair. One band from Austin that I adored were extremely unfriendly and ungracious, thus tainting their music for me. One US artist that everyone else seems to admire infuriated me by refusing to adjust the ludicrous volume he was playing at, causing half the audience to leave, clutching their ears. He won’t get re-booked. One UK band were horrible to bar staff when they quite rightly refused to serve them after the bar was closed. And, never to be forgotten, one person, who went on to become very famous, abused our hospitality by crashing around the place blind drunk, cussing and being generally abusive. But now he’s too well known for us to book him again anyway!
Now to the question that I get asked most often. Which show has been the best? It’s bloody difficult, because each show has different merits. There are those that are exciting because you’ve managed to get hold of an artist that wouldn’t normally play a little venue. Old Crow Medicine Show, John Fullbright, Alejandro Escovedo and Ian McLagan spring to mind. There are those that completely mesmerize the audience: I think of the Deep Dark Woods, Jesse Sykes or Simone Felice. There are those that rock your heart and blast your head: Chuck Prophet (always), Centro-Matic, The Broken Family Band. But do you know, the show I remember with most affection took place this year, and there were twelve people in the audience. Sarah Borges, from Boston, had played for us once before and this time she came with a backing group called Girls Guns And Glory. I battled and battled to get people to come and for some reason no one was interested, but these pros didn’t care. They behaved as if they were headlining at Madison Square Gardens, just killing it with pure sassy professionalism, audience interaction, humour, energy, commitment and supreme musicianship. A lot of people missed something amazing that night.
Dear Richard is no longer in Winchester, but at the end of most shows, the artists nearly always are kind enough to thank us for putting them on. “We’d like to thank Oliver”, they generously cry. “And Birgit!” I bellow back. Without her endless patience and super efficiency, we’d be lost. She welcomes random people into our house, she tends to the venue door and sorts out any misbehaviour with strict benevolence. She’s a true heroine and I am forever grateful for her support.