Part Two of Jamie Holman’s diary of a musical adventure: Winterbird, the labour of love record label he willed to life with a lorry load of gumption, an ear for local talent and not much else. Wonder as Blackburn’s nascent answer to Factory, Motown and Universal takes its first faltering steps into the dark heart of 21st century rock’n’roll commerce- contracts, swimming pools, Fleet Foxes and all…
A random list of things that no one tells you when you are trying to set up a record label (a work in progress, in no particular order)
- To get good gigs you need an agent. They are like ghosts and although many people claim to have seen them, I haven’t seen one myself. I suspect they don’t exist.
- Myspace is one massive let down. Profile views do not sales make.
- Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, youTube. See 2, I’d never get back in the studio, never mind release a record.
Eventually the Fifth House CD comes back from the pressing plant. It’s stunning; the CD sounds superb, the print quality and artwork are fantasies and there are no spelling mistakes in the copy. There is one problem, however; the barcode is ‘wonky’ and won’t scan. This is, of course, my fault. I sent the wrong type of file and although it looked fine on the Mac, it hasn’t printed well. All the CDs will need to have barcode stickers put on them. Chris (the designer) takes this kind of thing very personally. While the rest of us are opening a beer and patting each other on the back, Chris is outside in tears. It’s a minor issue, I think; stickers will fix it. I am wrong.
It’s time to get things moving; if we can’t go to them, we’ll bring them to us. My friend James and I decided to start promoting bands locally. The idea is that we will bring good bands to Blackburn and Winterbird bands will support them, thus raising our own profile and breathing life back into a sub-Arctic Monkeys local scene. We even think we’ll make a few quid to put into the label. James has some experience and lots of enthusiasm. We can’t fail. I am now running a record label and a promotion company. All in the hope that I’ll see 500 records and get a review in Uncut.
Blitzen Trapper are on the US label Sub Pop. They are supporting rising folk-rock superstars Fleet Foxes all around the UK. They have one day off between their Newcastle and Manchester shows. We are geographically positioned between these two cities and I write an e-mail to their agent promising the earth for a show in Blackburn… on their day off. To our amazement the agent not only get back to us, he agrees in principle to the show (if we pay lots of money, provide food and hotels and sign a contract). We jump up and down. There is a sporadic outbreak of drunken talk about “mountains coming to Mohammed” and Del Boy-style, “This time next year we’ll be millionaires” bravado.
For one week we believe it. Then the contract arrives. It’s a fat as a phone book. It’s a legal document and any breach means the band don’t play and we still pay. We shit ourselves. It’s a lot of money. All the same, we think we can satisfy all its demands except one: “Hotel with swimming pool within a fifteen minute walk of the venue”. This is Blackburn, not Miami. A hotel with a swimming pool anywhere round here is pushing it, and “a fifteen minute walk from the venue”, will probably involve the kind of hotels you normally pay for by the hour, before someone kills you for your trainers.
James, however, won’t give in. He finds a hotel on the outskirts of town; goes to the band’s manager and negotiates a great deal. We email the agent, literally glowing as we tell them to bring their swimming cosies.
Winterbird goes into overdrive, promoting, pushing and begging people people to come to the show. Stacey Mckenna and Fifth House are opening and are rehearsing every spare minute they have. This will be our launch. it’s got to be perfect. We contact the local paper and get a full page picture article on a Friday. It says that: “We are on a musical mission to put Blackburn on the map.” Whoever said that there is no such thing as bad publicity didn’t live here.
The gig proves to be something of a triumph. Blitzen Trapper arrive, make a film for the Art & Music website, hang out in the sun and praise the food that Andrea has put on for them (butter pie, since you ask). Danny from Fifth House plays guitar outside in the street; Blitzen Trapper do the same and 30 lucky art students get to witness something truly special. Come show time, it’s a full house and Stacey opens with her first gig in four years. Fifth House follow and the response to both acts is fantastic. Blitzen Trapper are, of course, superb, real road to Damascus stuff. In the past, this would have got me down, but today it is inspiring. They show what can be done. The whole event feels really special. We even seen some CDs (we do, naturally, lose loads of money, get drunk, give stuff away for free and spend our own money on Blitzen Trapper merchandise). I won’t bore you with the spreadsheet details, but it’s not like Sony will be worried just yet.
But here’s the nice bit. Blitzes Trapper love the show; so do the Winterbird bands. Sub Pop email us and call the Art & Music video “utterly fantastic”. The day after the show, Tina, the tour manager, rings with backstage passes for Fleet Foxes. People email and ask for the Fifth House CD, praise the label and ask when the next gig is. At this point I remember why we started this.
(To be continued)