Decent day today despite the occasional intrusion of the odd crisis requiring calm management.
Foss finally arrived, yours truly still in a dressing gown after 2 hours ensconced behind a monitor screen playing ping pong on e mails, fielding calls and texts and a surprise drop in from my parents. Something quite bohemian and seemingly relatively eccentric to herald a writing session. Foss was however nonplussed as we sipped our Costa Rican arabica fire juice and discussed the prospects of a major European tour in front of the extended scawl on the notice board in the office. Impressed by the expanse of the decluttered control room he was seeing for the first time he loaded in as I showered and we sat down to listen to the Leamington live versions of the new material and the recent demos Steve, Robin and i had put together in the last week. He was duly impressed but like me shuddered a bit at the live renditions which didn’t sound like that on stage on the night. It was obvious that the new demos had acceded the earlier incarnations and the cuts and add ons met with his approval. the soundscape of “Perfume River” drew the best reaction and pointed us in a direction we needed to follow with the “High Wood ” suite in order to keep it in harmony with the rest of the album.
I needn’t have worried and like a magician he pulled a few ideas out of the hat right from the start that got me excited. We decided to start with ” the High Wood” which requires a delicate melodic piano motif for a vocal to thread a lyric within and around setting up the song for a move into a repeating theme and then towards something broody and heavy that gets bigger and climaxes to leave us with the plaintiff vocal of the the opening to “Crucifix Corner”.
As always with Foss I sit down and describe the “movie”, the images and lyrical themes I want to emote with the music.
The idea is to open with the High Wood now as a site in the modern age with battlefield tourists and locals going about their business and lives in a place that was a scene of carnage and that has continued to grow as time passes, healing it’s wounds and carrying on as it has done for centuries. Mixing those images with a more global perspective; human achievements, destruction and conflict; against the eternal nature of the wood all the time referring to it’s passive place as a witness to the grand scheme of things.Nice and simple and easy to rack up in about 5-6 minutes! 🙂 That’s the movie!
We found the geography albeit from a satellite position which we need to zoom a lot closer in to discover the detail and the routing.
Themes were looped to hypnotise me into finding the vocal melodic thread and I spent most of my time scribbling and taking notes like setting the clay correctly on a potters wheel and getting my hands dirty trying to find the first recognisable shape from the words.
And this is what I managed to conjure up myself, the next trick being to find a phrasing that weaves inside Foss’s piano melody. It’s going take some heavy whittling and maneuvering to make it fit and at times like this I sometimes wish I was just writing books rather than songs! :-0
“air conditioned coaches glide on soft suspension, foreign faces stare through dusty windows trying to close the distance on a long lost generation they barely knew, who never talked about the horror and faded into silence leaving ribboned letters in the attic and campaign medals in the sideboard for the kids to wonder over and decorate young warriors in the garden, or to be glanced at by browsing strangers with no more than a passing interest as they lie in rusty tins on antique market stalls.”
“pretty young girls with auburn tresses, their mothers in Laura Ashley dresses, corduroy dads with sensible shoes, moderate souls with conservative views, uniform sons who dream of soldiers, academy fodder who’ll follow orders till they day they die”
It’s a long dizzy meandering melodic line and the sections above will have words added and removed to snake them along side the keyboard melody and movement.
A brain frazzling challenging episode but in the end it’ll be something to be proud of.
The assault on the High Wood continues tomorrow. Hopefully this will be over well before Christmas! 🙂
I’m sitting here in the control room listening to the rough mixes of the Saturday night performance at the Leamington Spa convention last year while contemplating the May touring figures in the UK. Many of you were interested and surprised at the last blog regarding the state of the music industry with regards to distribution and my survival ideas. I touched on the touring situation and the difficulties therein and after talking to Yatta I have decided to take it a step further and open up with some details that may surprise you.
What I am about to disclose is a picture of a typical tour costs assessment using an unnamed venue from the May tour with explanations where needed as to the figures and what they mean.
Firstly I am showing the costs from the promoters perspective and where the money goes. As I said this is a “typical” venue but sometimes there are variations which I’ll point out and explain-
capacity 700 ( on the tour we are playing venues from 400 cap ( x3) to 1200 (1) the rest average around 650-700)
Ticket price (all prices in pounds sterling) 22.50 net after VAT 18.75 net after PRS (publishing on songs played during performance, takes over a year to come back minus percentages to society) 18.19
Total receipts at Box office on capacity sell out 12 731.25
Support 50 (standard fee)
Catering 300 for 10 people (sandwiches, teas coffees,soft drinks, water -lunch, main meal at night (normally a 10 “buyout” = fend for yourselves), 6 bottles of wine + soft drinks, water and snacks for dressing room
Venue Hire 1100 normally this is inclusive of PA and lights as most venues have their own installations, it also includes security, local crew (“humpers”), towels etc.Cheapest venue hire is 250 but PA and security add on 950. Most expensive is 2250 ( and that is a 400 capacity) Average is around 1500
PA/Lights/Security/Crew/Barriers/Towels as I said are inclusive at this level of gigging. Next one up they become extras or venue hire rates go up accordingly.
Rep 120 this what we pay per show for the promoters representative who liaises with the venue and ourselves and takes care of the fees due on the night of show.
Local/National press budget 700 this is based on the total budget split between the 12 shows The Gig Cartel are promoting for me.This covers ads and the cost of a press officer who deals with the tour in advance setting up interviews and notifying local and national press.
Insurance 75 this is the insurance the promoter takes out for cancellation/public liability etc etc again split across 12 shows. It does not cover me.
Ticketing as with most venues nowadays the ticketing is outsourced to agencies who charge what I consider exorbitant fees and earn a tidy profit for very little in my opinion. A 4.50 charge in some cases to process a ticket plus postage which again appears more than enough to cover delivery. Just more middlemen eating the ever decreasing pie.
total expenses for this example are 2245
The Gig Cartel have dealt with my last couple of tours and they are easy guys to get on with and total pros, well versed at dealing with bands at this level. There are no hidden office expenses or extras that seep away at the expenditure.They guarantee a fee to Yatta and myself, cover their rep and like me hope that we “break percentage” on the show. That means we earn more money as we pass the “break even” figure where all venue costs and expenditure is met.The guarantee is based on the number of tickets they expect to sell. It is in no ones interests for promoters to go out on a limb with unrealistic figures as that means busted promoters and busted promoters can mean busted and potentially derailed tours and other bands getting hit in the aftermath if they are going through the same promoter ( as happened to me in 91 when I took a kicking on the Exile tour through a bankrupted company called Bandstand who’d booked me ,sold my tickets and lost the money before they went down through other busted tours just as I hit the road with my tour!. I took a 75k hit to the head with no comeback available)
Yatta haggles over the guarantee as our costs have to be met within that but after all I have said above a realism has to exist on all sides.The percentage splits after the break work accordingly, usually 70-30 in favour of the artist with the Gig Cartel not making any money themselves until after the break even is hit.
My guarantee on every gig on this tour is 2250
The break even on this show requires 273 tickets
And now we move onto my costs! (all minus VAT)
Band wages 750 5 musicians, I am not included in calculations for wages
Crew wages 400 4.Sound tech, backline tech,video/light tech and Yatta. As with the musicians these are not top notch wages but what I can afford and I am lucky I have great band and crew guys that have remained loyal and give and make time for me.
Agency 113 This is Yatta’s fee of 5% of the gig guarantee for setting up and booking the tour with the Gig Cartel, booking hotels, sorting out transport, organising and printing itineraries, phone bills, laminates and all the other work that goes into organising a tour before we go out. It can take months sometimes when dealing with European bus tours across a 6-7 week itinerary. The agency percentage also covers my side of earnings after we pass the “break even” point. A mainline “London” booking agent can take between 10-20% of a show fee and they generally don’t do anything apart from book the gig and only liaise with the band’s production manager with regards to all the other details. Mainline agents (especially the good ones) are more in demand and more difficult to get than record deals these days as the live scene takes over as the artist’s main income supplier from selling recorded product. As I said in the previous blog the album sells the tour and not the other way around as it used to be years ago when I started in the business. I couldn’t afford to deal with a mainline agent as it would mean it would be unlikely to get the numbers of gigs I do get as promoters either couldn’t afford the fees (re read the busted promoters section above) or I couldn’t fit the agents percentage in my budget at the level I work on. (add a managers 20% on top and you understand why I don’t have management!). Yatta and I have been around the block enough times to know a good selection of European promoters, the ones we trust, the ones we want and like to work with and who Yatta can pick up the phone and put together a tour with. By not having “London” representation we might lose out on some festivals and other gigs but we have our “meat and potatoes” and the lower costs mean we can work more often. With no major record company behind me and at 55 years old with the numbers I normally do it would be highly unlikely that either a mainline agent or decent manager would look at me anyway. I don’t take it personally. I am just realistic which is why we operate as we do.Anyway back to the costs!
Hotel (4 twin and 2 single) 400 ranges again go from 280 up to 550. This UK tour is not on a sleeper bus. The journeys are only a matter of a couple of hours which would mean sleeping parked up outside venues. On European tours the distances are greater and we couldn’t travel those hours on a gig day. On bus tours we get a hotel every 4 days unless there’s horrendous traveling involved ( as we have on a long section of the September tour with only a ferry cabin in 8 days). Bus tours can mean a day room on gig day where everyone showers etc unless there’s facilities in the venue.Bus costs are around 450 a day for something not luxurious! This UK tour there has to be doubles which means sharing for the band and crew. Yatta and I have singles .. It’s the only thing I “pull rank” on as I need my sleep to recover the voice and need the peace and quiet to chill and steady myself. Yatta deals with after show figures, advancing gigs etc and also needs his own space.Not ideal but necessity as you’ll see further down the page.
Insurance 42 this is another of those figures split over 12 shows. This is my cover for public liability and canceled shows in the main. It only covers the guarantees not any potential percentage break no matter how many tickets are sold in advance. It doesn’t cover merch loss or anything else. Only the costs I have incurred and lost through a “no show”.. Luckily my history has been relatively clean in recent years so although I don’t have a “no claims” bonus the premiums are not horrendous.
Splitter Van Hire 110 the new all singing and dancing “Clown Carrrier” driven by Shaun the “FTC” who also, as most of you well know, is our sound tech. A 9 seater Merc van that also carries all our backline equipment and my merchandise. On a “big bus ” tour it goes in a trailer behind the bus which is an additional cost, about the same as a splitter van hire!
Fuel Van 47 an average as you’d expect
Fuel Car 25 Yes you did the figures right! There’s 10 in the party and a 9 seater Splitter van. This means yours truly will be following the Clown Carrier again driving to gigs with whatever passenger decides to join me.We haven’t even registered a “hire” cost here!
Strings/Skins etc 42 Not drug paraphernalia but the “throwaways” the musos go through again averaged out over the 12 days. Drum skins, drum sticks ,guitar strings, bass strings break, wear out and have to be replaced. It’s a tour cost not an individuals. Normal procedure.
Catering – Breakfast 25 The only meal we pay for on gig days and days off. Sometimes inclusive in the hotel charge and sometimes not. Some of us do and some of us – mainly me – don’t. Again an average.
Video Hire 75 This is for the equipment we use to provide the backscreen projections. I don’t have the budgets to go for a “Porcupine Tree” visual extravaganza but we do what we can in the constraints to put something up to make more of the show. I use “in house” lighting techs on the night who are briefed on what we need from what we get provided with in the venue. There are some fine guys out there on the circuit and quite a few I would like to have kidnapped! Again at this level I can’t afford a Lighting designer (LD) with another wage and another hotel room etc. I use “apps” in the form of the video operated by “Secret” on this tour. (he did 13th Star and is a talent!) Again this figure is averaged out over the 12 shows.
Merch facility fee 50 The fee we pay to venues to allow me to sell my merchandise. We get a space we need to set up a stall provided by the house and lighting.I can deal with that! I can’t deal and refuse to deal with percentages of the revenue.My average take at a venue is 3 a head which means on average I sell 3 pounds for every ticket holder. In a 400 crowd I therefore would take 1200 which includes VAT. Take off the VAT and it’s 1000. T shirts have roughly a 35% profit margin so that’s 350 but as there’s DVD’s and albums with slightly bigger margins and I don’t only sell T’s say the take after VAT is 500.If the venue takes their 25% then it’s off the 1200 figure. That’s 300! Then they charge VAT at 20%. That’s 360.Ok I can claim the VAT back my end but it means the venue makes more than me from my merch. Rough figures but you get the idea! If only I could get a percentage of the beer they sell to the audience i bring in? .2 pints on average each, 600 pints, 25% =150 pints @ 3 each? 🙂 If I had a separate merchandiser he’d be on 100 a show plus a hotel room/ breakfast so another 150 a night comes out the nett to give me 300 after the facility charge of 50. Once again I have to take the “guerilla” approach and Yatta will be handling the merch stall on this UK tour with the rest of us helping set ups.
Rehearsals 416 The average taken from 12 shows for just under 2 weeks full band rehearsals on half wages with a hotel room (I have 2 rooms here and potentially 3 are “out of towners” with Shaun up for the last few days) catering for the band and fuel to and from the farm. It comes in around 5k.
And that ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls is only the rough costing without any allowance for miscellaneous! It doesn’t take into account the days off of which there are 3 that have no income but still have crew wages (the guys get paid by the week, the band by show), the hotels, the splitter van hire ( it’s out with us for the duration) the fuel, breakfasts coming in at around 1100. These all go into the overall tour budget! But I am getting slightly ahead of myself. Meanwhile back at the “venue” it’s gig day so let’s add up the Fishy costs!
In total the rough costs on my end are approximately 2496.
This gives me a loss of 246 on the guarantee but 254 ahead if i bring the merchandise into the equation!
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Remember these figures are on the guarantee that requires 273 people to buy tickets out of a potential 700.For every extra 100 tickets I’d sell here I’d make another 1200 with a potential of 4800 if I sold it out! And there’s extra heads buying merch? But realistically in both my eyes and those of the promoters that is unlikely to happen.500 maybe with a fair wind and a walk up. Maybe, maybe , maybe! I’ve been hit before and ran a tour with only about 5 breaks in 20 shows. I never gamble. I nearly lost a house before being way way too optimistic.And it’s a recession and there are a lot of bands all chasing the same pie!
On the figures I have across the 12 dates with Gig cartel based on guarantees and without any merchandise sales in the equation and adding those empty 3 days off I am looking at a loss of 6.5k.
The lottery win of a complete sell out tour would be around 45k profit. Those numbers aren’t coming up! Half that and I would be a happy man but that’s doubtful . If it did hit say 25k there’s still the bogey man of HMRC and corporation tax at 24% taking 6k and leaving 19k. It’s still a lot of money which I would be lucky to be able to make in this day and age and which I’d be exceedingly grateful for.
But to throw that figure in perspective in the big picture it’s the only UK tour I could safely command for at least another 18 months without another new album and apart from the Fishheads Club tour that closed in 2011 my first full electric band touring since 2008 with only around 10 or so shows in 2012.
The European tour in the Autumn is a completely different ball game.Slightly bigger fees but way more expense with the added kick off witholding taxes by relative countries.And again it will be the last one for at least another 18 months.It’s a harvest of sorts after years preparing the ground and you have to make sure you gather what you can as it has to last a while. Unlike the band and crew I only get one hit at this while they can move onto other bands and tours.
No matter how you look at it It’s all a gamble which in previous scenarios I have lost my shirt and underpants by taking. If it comes off then everyone is happy. I just wanted to share this with you to give you a better idea of how it works and what lies behind the scenes of touring at the level I am working on.It’s not a cry for sympathy or anything else of that nature. It’s how it is and as i said before I have to deal with it the best I can and hope the sun shines on me occasionally and makes it a good night for walk ups on the doors!.
I am eternally grateful to have made it this far down the road and to still be able to even pull a crowd after over 30 years as a professional singer. There are a lot of burnt out wrecks in the ditch and even more musicians that never even got a ride that were left standing holding dreams a long way back. I got lucky but there’s gonna come a time when I have to pull over and park up and cut down on the driving as I don’t want to end up a casualty. I’d like to slow down and take in the view for a change as there’s still a lot of things i want to see and do. I am very aware of the changes that are occurring and not all of them I like or want to be part of. It’s always been a rough ride being an artist but there’s only so long I can keep this off roading up for. This year will be a challenging year for us all and it’s going to be interesting to see where I end up when the dust clears!
I just missed the dawn by a few minutes and rather it being a guilty reminder of excesses it was surprisingly from the correct side. Thoughts had been whirring away in the half sleep of early morning, spurred into action by the klaxon wailing out of the iPhone that had roused my girlfriend from my arms and into a shower. I was coming to the end of another retreat; days spent inking in my little black book with it’s colourful peace symbol ; CDs of demos and live recordings tucked in between the pages held by an elasticated band. I was sad to leave for many reasons. The last plunge of the caffetiere and the hit of Columbian coffee racked up with a guilty smoke before I bid my farewells from the balcony to a valley that was just waking itself. Bound for the station and long goodbyes that have become tougher in recent months it was a journey I didn’t really want to make.
I could have stayed longer as the writing sessions had been rescheduled just before Christmas but the flights had been pre booked in advance and the 619 Euros Lufthansa wanted for the change of the return leg neither of us could justify. I climbed into an empty carriage and stared out the window as the landscape flashed by like a badly tinted black and white movie. Bouncing text messages that felt as if they were sonar signals that reminded me of the increasing distance and the 5 weeks until I returned. Frankfurt airport, lonely in the crowds, stolen cigarettes in the cold and flickering destinations on the departure board watching Edinburgh creep onto my timeline. It was a Friday and I knew I had an empty weekend ahead of me when I got home. I was going to be first footing myself.
Within a few days I had commitment from Steve Vantsis and Robin Boult to come up on the 14th January. I’d been concerned that the drift in time would continue and I needed to make inroads on the writing fast in order to keep my own momentum together. Pre Christmas I admit to feeling really down on the whole thing and felt like I was facing a never ending trial. So many ideas and projects had been stalled and left in limbo by the inactivity of third parties I had begun to question exactly what I was trying to achieve. The music business is in the worst shape that I can ever remember and I could hear a tolling of a bell in the distance. I was finding it hard to remain positive and needed something to get me excited again. I’d listened repeatedly to the demos in Germany and was buoyed by listening to them fresh and by the response of my girlfriend Simone who was hearing the sketches for the first time. She is not particularly aware of my solo career and only recently has heard the last couple of albums. She had started playing the demos as background music in the flat and I found myself enjoying hearing them and scribbling ideas even in the middle of dinner. I had begun to hear where we needed to go and gather a better idea of what we needed to do to move everything forward.
I still had a week to go before they arrived which included a visit from Rob Ayling who has been acting as a consultant and distributor for my recorded material. The subject up for discussion was “where do we go from here?”. With the High Street retail sector just about obliterated and HMV the last CD warehouse on the block in it’s final death throes I needed a rethink. My experiences in recent months had made me question just why I was selling to existing independent stores. Through tracking the “pirated” copies of “Internal Exile” and “Songs from the Mirror” it had come to my attention that practically every indy store was selling through Amazon and on line. The idea of small indies selling over the counter is redundant in the main and everyone is embracing direct on line sales. This made me question why I was allowing product to be sold to these stores to allow them to go into direct competition with my own mail order operation! It’s not really as if I get any extra promotion from them and there is certainly no artist loyalty. At the end of the day after I have paid distribution, manufacturing, MCPS and other associated costs they are making sometimes three times more than I am. This isn’t about greed or “profiteering” it’s about survival.
The major record companies are practically redundant and we as artists are being left to the mercy of download sites plagued with middlemen all wanting a cut or the scenario I mentioned above. Even live venues recognise that with the demise of record stores direct sales at merchandise stalls is filling the gap and compensating artists for the loss of outlet availabilities to their fans. It is fast becoming standard at most venues for the management to take 25% of the revenue of the merchandise and just to add to the shit cake we have to eat we have to pay them 20% VAT on top when they take the fee at the end of the night. That just happens to be near what we would pay a retail outlet in the “old days”. Yatta, my production manager and agent refuses to book venues where percentages are taken. It does limit us sometimes but at the end of the day not only are those sales my only earnings but also can make the difference between breaking even and not losing on a tour.
Add to the fact that for example I will only be touring for a total of 9 weeks this year, two weeks in May and 7 weeks in September and October. That is my only live commitment around this next album, not through choice, but what Yatta has managed to pull together and make financial sense of with regard to the costs of a full electric band on the road. The direct sales to fans of merchandise on that tour are important for continued survival and the ability to support my career. It’s getting tougher every year.
The Fishheads Club tour kept my head above water in 2010 and 2011 and in 2012 festivals and the Convention paid the bills. This year everything is pinned on my first album for nearly 6 years! It’s been a hell of a long time coming as we all know but I refused to just throw out a product I couldn’t put hand on heart on and say “this is a great album” as I knew I didn’t have one. “Feast of Consequences” will be the best album I can deliver when it finally is released this Summer and hopefully the fans will judge it worth the wait. The problem is nowadays that albums support tours and not the other way around as it used to be when I was signed to EMI in 1982 when the “Market Square heroes” EP preceded the release of “Script” and the promotion around that tour supported the project. Touring becomes more difficult as costs rise, the venues are overwhelmed by bookings, money becomes harder to find on both sides of the 4th wall, piracy and illegal downloading of recorded product carves artists earnings up and middlemen lurk on every digital street corner!
Despite the “Kayleighs” and “Lavenders” and my history and income with Marillion combined with a solo career, which although never having reached the heights of those heady early days has supported me over the years, I am not particularly well off and can not even consider retirement at this juncture. I still depend on releasing and selling albums. The copyrights we were told in the 80’s would be our pensions have been devalued as sales dwindle and income streams become harder to trace in the digital underworld. I don’t want to be on the road when I’m 60. My touring lifestyle is not that of the “Rolling Stones” or Bruce Springsteen. I looked at the new tour Yatta has put together and flinched. Three years ago I would have been excited at playing some of the faraway cities on the routing but a shudder ran through me at the realisation that on one particular leg I won’t see a hotel bed for over a week! It’s going to be an intense 7 weeks on the road where the only saving grace is the 2 hours on stage 6 days a week!
This isn’t a whinge or a moan it’s a personal reality check that sometimes wakes me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat or makes my heart beat that little bit faster late afternoon when the phone doesn’t ring when it should. I just have to adjust and deal with circumstances and having read your comments after I posted re the Fishheads Club double DVD release I have to judge how I approach the release of the new album and other product with some degree of caution.
And it was with this in mind that Rob Ayling and I rallied in deep conversation in the second week of this month of the New Year to come up with some sort of cunning plan.
Downloading is something I have not in all honesty come to grips with as I haven’t found a company that has lived up to promises and expectations. The last one I licensed to went into liquidation owing hundreds of thousands of pounds to various parties including majors and I didn’t see a penny.
We are now looking at one respected company to deal with all the studio product including the new album while the live material is sold directly through the fishheadsclub.com web site on a gig or bundle basis which will be easier to deal with from an accounting basis and at the same time cheaper for fans to buy. A meeting is scheduled with John Reid and Rob in the second week of February to move this forward.
This will also include the Fishheads Club DVD audio and the forthcoming convention audio recordings as well as miscellaneous live material past and present. Between the 2 sources my entire catalogue will be accessible for download with the exception of “Vigil” which is regrettably still under control of EMI Records as they own the copyright. (Despite my offers to buy they refuse to relinquish control)
We are also going to be “opening” our own shops on Amazon and on eBay and will no longer be supplying third parties with product. These will carry all the planned re releases/re issues of my solo catalogue this year including “Feast of Consequences”.
With regards funding the new album I looked into a couple of options but in all honesty all these companies wanted was to approach my fan base and in return for “pledges” either as advance sales or investment and for that they charge 15%. I have decided to offer the new album as an advance sale at the end of April through my own mail order system. The “pledge” system I am sure works well for other artists but I prefer to act independently and as they are targeting an existing fan base I don’t think they are really bringing anything new to the table as far as I am concerned. I also think it is highly unlikely that anyone who is not already a fan will pledge money to the project. I will give more details about advance ordering and other ways to get involved as the weeks go by but I do know that I will be preparing a limited edition containing the album, extra tracks and demos, live recordings, a DVD of the “making of” and a 100 page hardback booklet all in specially designed casing with artwork by Mark Wilkinson as the premier release with other cheaper versions also available as well as the aforementioned downloadable version. The booklet will not contain reams of names of “pledgers” as I don’t really think that the artwork needs to have a telephone directory involved! I will however be looking at other ways of raising the 50k budget I need to complete the album the most obvious being releases of other product.
Learning the lessons from the Fishheads Club DVD I have elected not to go with an all singing all dancing DVD from Leamington and will instead be concentrating on the Sunday night performance as a single DVD release that will be available on mail order through the web site and on the merch stalls on the UK tour. The Saturday night will be released with extras in the Summer while we are recording the album which begins on June 17th here at the studio. Both releases will have separate audio available as CD’s and as downloads.
There will also be CD’s from the Haddington St Mary’s sessions and an “official bootleg” from the European tour – again down loadable for those of you who don’t want physical product.
The Polish documentary is still in negotiation and I would like to think I can have this available as a means of income to support the “Feast” recordings.
All these releases will be keenly priced in deference to the responses I received regarding the Fishheads Club DVD.
Promotion also plays an important part in all this and as was pointed out a lot of you didn’t even realise that there was a new live DVD from the Fishheads Club tour! I want to try and overlap and crossover promotion garnered by the touring to bring attention to the web site and will have to take on someone who’s sole occupation is to spread the word and the awareness around the new album. I realise that I may have close to 25 000 “likes” on the Fish pages on Facebook but that doesn’t mean I am reaching that number and I have to find a way to break out of the circle. I still firmly believe that word of mouth has more power than ads purchased in magazines although I recognise that those ads often act as a catalyst. As the year progresses there will be budgets made available for press ads to attempt to bring awareness to more than just one release and bring people into the Fishheads Club website where they hopefully will discover more about what I do.
There is a lot of thinking to be done outside the box and a lot of weaving of threads required to make it all happen.
And the goal? Well it’s not to become a millionaire that’s for sure. Not something I ever wanted even as a fledgling singer! I think it’s like many of us, some sort of partial, temporary security but mainly to enable me to carry on creating, writing and performing in whatever genre I am led into. I think being an independent artist nowadays is about maximising on what you create, “assassinating” middlemen and being as less reliant as possible on institutions that lead you into compromise that is adverse to what you are trying to do and the way you do it. It’s tough and lonely sometimes and as I mentioned to Mark Kelly recently sometimes you miss the camaraderie and internal support from a band. But I chose this route and I am not complaining. Despite all you’ve read so far I am relatively happy and up for a fight. The lyrical subjects of “Feast of Consequences” have worn me down at times and there’s been a feeling of helplessness and resignation especially in the run up to Christmas as I watched and read endless footage and print about global warming, finite resources, collapse of monetary systems, extreme behaviour etc etc in order to get a handle on where I was coming from in order to forge a meaning and a positive outlook on where I was heading. It’s become a lot more personal album than I imagined making and embracing a lot of emotions I didn’t think I’d be touching. I distinctly get the feeling of change in my life and a sense of growing up and out of a cocoon.
When Robin and Steve arrived I was ready and found myself charged up for the writing session. “Can’t see the Beautiful” was first up and almost immediately the title changed to “Blind to The Beautiful” as the energies flowed within the new dynamic and chemistry in the recently decluttered control room. Robin brought to the ball exactly what Steve and I had hoped for and the geography and structure of the song revealed itself quickly to the 3 of us. Over the next 5 days we managed to find the missing pieces of “Perfume River”, re arranged “All Loved Up/Beautiful People” into something far more tight and concise than was played at Leamington, did the same for “Other Side of me” and rechorded and restructured the second half giving us 4 songs ready for band rehearsals. With “Crucifix Corner” pretty much in place and “Feast of Consequences” likewise in good shape I have half the album with more than 3 months to complete the 12 songs I am aiming at for recording in June. Steve has “The Great Unravelling” and “The Weirding” ready to be worked on and they are next on the table when we reconvene at the end of February. We will be floating ideas on MP3’s back and forward in the meantime but with the evidence of the tracks already subjected to this new chemistry I have no doubts whatsoever that the next sessions here will be equally as productive. I am more than happy at what we have achieved so far and it was great to concentrate on the creations rather than the product after all that had been said and discussed in the week leading up to the writing. I am not going to say it’s the “best we have ever done” as when you are in the middle of the energies the perspective is warped. I do know that the few who have heard it are mightily impressed and I also know that I couldn’t have made this album 2 years ago! It will be as it will be and we will do the best we can to make it something we can all be proud of.
In the next week or so you will be able to hear snatches of what we have been creating on the interview Dave Barras filmed for the web site and in March I will put up some demos to give you an idea of the directions we are moving in.
I have 3 weeks now to work on whittling lyrics for the existing tracks and to advance the words on Steve’s other 2 songs. Foss is due for one on one sessions on the “High Wood” suite, 4 parts of which have still to be written to add to “Crucifix Corner” and these will be added to by Robin, Steve and hopefully Frank when we next get together in a month’s time. I can now say the album is on if not ahead of it’s new schedule.
When I next visit my retreat in Karlsruhe with my little black book in just over 3 weeks time I am sure the view from the balcony will be more clear than it’s been for a very long time and I look forward to hearing the church bells in the distance and watching the crows fly to the treeline on the faraway ridges as my pen fills the gaps in the story.
It’s been an eerie last few weeks. The virus that took me out just after Leamington persisted for over a month and refused to give me my voice back.
I traveled to Germany to visit my girlfriend carrying with me the up to date demos that Steve Vantsis had burned off at the end of a week long session that should have provided a bit more if the chanter had been on form. As I didn’t have a voice it was impossible to play with ideas and so we fuddled around with arrangements and parts coming up with some fantastic additions to “Can’t See the Beautiful”.
As I sat on the balcony on the first night the demos played through from the living room and I found myself relaxed and surprised at how far we were down the road with the songs we do have in some semblance of order. They were to be played throughout the week as I sat most mornings with boiled eggs, toast and coffee counting the crows swirling around an old oak tree in a neighbours garden before they threaded off in various formations towards the mist swathed ridges of the woods on the rim of the valley on some mysterious cue. I fell into writing patterns while Simone, my girlfriend was at work and the house empty of kids. The flat in Durlach was a perfect retreat for me and words started to make sense on the pages. My voice reappeared in the shower towards the end of my stay adding to the reinvigoration of my spirit which had been low and drained by the pervasive illness. I was returning home with a better outlook.
I was further excited on hearing the live versions from Leamington on rough mixes taken from the weekends recordings. The arrangements were rough and the playing less than convincing in some areas but for a first live performance after only a weeks rehearsals I could see and hear what was required and what needed to be removed. Robin Boult had been approached to join the writing sessions and both Steve and I felt that his input could greatly add to the process. We were all looking forward to getting together when I came back from Germany and we had scheduled around 12 days to get into the 7 songs that Steve and I had already set in motion and were close to taking to an advanced demo stage. Robin being such a talented guitarist always means that his services are in demand and we had agreed to have a loose arrangement around the writing schedules but all determined to get together in the run up to Xmas. News from Robin of racked up deadlines on projects he was working on and shifting dates ate away at the available time and we all realised that the chances of getting a meaningful writing session before the holiday period were fast disappearing. The plan of having 7 songs completed by Christmas with the other 4 sections of “High Wood” to be written in January was evaporating. Once again I was aiming at a recording schedule that was in danger of badly disintegrating as I wouldn’t be ready.
To add to that Mark Wilkinson has put a lot of effort and energy into the “High Wood” imagery which, as some of you saw in his “in progress” exhibition at Leamington has taken a major profile position in the overall album artwork. There is a heavy onus on me to deliver a “High Wood” suite that matches his contribution and I do not want to go of half cocked.
The research into the WW1 lyrics as well as the other “miscellaneous” “Feast of Consequences” subject matters have drawn me in with a vengeance. It’s been a real eye opener and at the same time quite depressing reading about hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, financial collapse, global warming etc etc. Don’t get me wrong it’s not a depressing album but I want to get the background in order to catch the essence of it all. It’s all making sense and I’m finding my bearings on the “High Wood”. I can see the trees!
Foss was supposed to drop off some ideas last week for me to channel on but he’s disappeared into the grotto somewhere and I knew he had a lot of other issues to sort out. Another slight set back.
Adding it all up I had to admit that February recording schedule was not going to happen and phoned Calum Malcolm for advice. He was totally understanding and advised me to hold off rather than rush into it all. We have now marked down recording to begin in June directly after the tour. It’s meant some jiggling around with ideas but I’ve come up with an idea that has been accepted by all concerned, from Yatta, with a UK tour now without a released album, Mark Wilkinson, who has more time to set up and current writing team who breathed a huge sigh of relief.
This means January, February, March and April will be allocated to writing and rehearsing with the recording band going out on tour for the 2 weeks in the UK, a short break then we hit the studio with a unit totally at ease with the new material which will allow faster recording and a studio feel from a full band playing together. I’ll be able to examine what we have from night by night live recordings which will also give me bonus material for the deluxe limited edition packaging as well as the ability to see what works and what doesn’t. I know nobody wants to hear 70 mins plus of new material that they are not familiar with at a concert so I will be changing sets nightly to feed the material in. The album will be available for advance sale at the gigs through vouchers sold at the merch stall.
Obviously with such a long wait after this new unforeseen set of delays there will be a lot of emphasis in the weeks running up to the tour to put up examples of the new songs on the Fishheadsclub.com web site as well as keeping you up to date through filmed interviews etc.
The 4 months also allows me to look at the repackaged re-releases of the catalogue as it is about time I started to get the old material back out there. I have taken note of the responses on the Facebook pages regarding the main reasons for the slow sales of the new “Fishheads Club Live Acoustic” DVD and it appears that financial concerns rank highly with “no new material” and ” no desire to watch DVD’s” coming up as 2nd and 3rd and well behind. I’ll be taking this on board and will not be pursuing elaborate releases and will try and keep the price hopefully within reason.
“Vigil” and the newly remixed “Field of Crows” are first up.
There will be more promotion around the new album and with other releases following around during the year it’ll be easier to spread the costs. Another comment on the Fishheads Club DVD – a lot of people didn’t know it was released!
I am discussing the Leamington Spa convention footage with Russell Cherrington tomorrow and we are looking at that for a release in May for the tour to help directly fund the album recordings. Again your requests are noted re price and available audio downloads.
As expected there is yet another delay on the Polish film documentary DVD. I have a finished edit of over 2 hrs 30 mins to consider but other elements such as a “missing” producer and a camera man who resigned a few weeks ago have thrown it into confusion. Only “Magic” the editor remains! It will come out this year – eventually! The “making of” would have been hilarious for those not involved 🙂
The 4 months, although focused principally on the new writing, will also give me time to look at other projects for later in the year.
Yatta has booked around 6 weeks of electric band touring from September. Dates will be released as soon as I have full confirmations. This will be the limit of our touring capabilities this year. Costs have increased and promoters are nervous with guarantees in this economic climate. It’s been tough for Yatta to get the routing together and to make financial sense of it all. Everyone wants to tour these days and venues are getting booked up and are in the driving seat re deals and percentages being taken on merchandise. I refuse to play venues who take percentages. They are just becoming retail outfits where we bring in the customers. Everyone concerned with touring wants bigger slices of the pie but there is just not enough pie to go round these days. I may go back to a more affordable Fishheads Club tour scenario in 2014 but the full electric outfit is doubtful. It’s time to examine other options.
Friday was supposed to be the End of the World as the Mayan calendar ran out. I don’t think this blog signals the end of an era either but it does herald the beginning of a new one. A time for changes!
It’s going to be a great album 🙂
The breakfast room looked like a casualty clearing station. I wasn’t too bad and Simone and I sat down with Mickey and Sarah for our first breakfast together in a very long time. The other tables were scattered with band, crew and friends, most in distressed states like Muppets in a blender. I was glad I’d kept it toned down and my voice felt surprisingly open and clear. It was 10am and rehearsals / sound check were scheduled for 11 with 12 doors again. Another gauntlet of events to run but It was better paced today. Rehearsals were with Steve Vantsis as again we had new tracks that needed working over as it had been a while since we played them for the first time up at the studio 3 weeks before! “Feast of Consequences” had been originally scheduled for it’s debut on Saturday but I felt it was maybe a song too far and had stuck to the 2. The other new one up for Sunday was “The Other Side of Me”. I knew there would be some awkward moments ahead.
I’d decided to wear my new T-shirt that I’d been given by Paul Bennett the day before. He wanted me to wear one of his designs from his Mr B Was Framed range of shirts. I thought it a perfect design for the Sunday – “The Death Bear!” 🙂
We decided to walk down to the Assembly rooms and take in some fresh air. Down the tree lined avenues, across the empty park to the leaf strewn iron footbridge and into the back stage area to be greeted by familiar faces. The post mortem on the Saturday had been overwhelmingly positive with our rendition of “Grendel” and “Crucifix Corner” singled out for high marks. I knew we had another breathless set list for this night. First task of the day was rehearsals and we spent a bit of time trying to get rid of the bass traps on stage that had caused some wobbling the night before. A bit of twiddling and turning down alleviated the problem but that time ate into the rehearsals. “Feast of Consequences” was slightly shambolic but memories recovered enough to render a passable version before we climbed into “The Other Side of Me”. I still have a couple of issues with this song but this was not time for engine rebuilds and we agreed to take a running jump at it later that night. Doors slipped back a few minutes. Green light! … Continue Reading
Outside my bedroom window I heard familiar voices. Dave Barras and Scott Mackay, the director and writers of “Electric Man” were unloading a similarly familiar vehicle, the pick up truck I’d driven as “Uncle Jimmy” in the movie and which belonged to Scott. It was a wreck then and hadn’t improved with age. An exchange of haranguing and “witty banter” resulted in Scott having me unknowingly pose for his camera at the window, clad only in a towel, above a sign for the hotel restaurant which read “The Fat Knight” and suitably posted the photo on his Facebook pages immediately thereafter! Touché! They were both knackered after a long drive South and were unloading the new “Electric Man” DVDs and T-shirts just as a beleaguered Foss stalked purposefully past in a style I recognised from the Fishheads Club tour. The forward leaning slouch indicating he was late for sound check and that the previous evening had not been an early one as betrayed by a grey pallor and slightly misplaced hair. Yatta had told me to take my time getting down to the venue as the check was going slow.
A smuggled coffee and then a taxi with Dave and Scott landed us at the backstage door. The downstairs dressing room was a hive of activity like the bowels of a ship at the end of a voyage as boxes of merchandise were stacked and shifted upstairs to the venue, people clambering up the stairs and into the elevator to the main room where musicians readied their gear and tables were groaning with T-shirts being folded, counted and piled while Shaun rang out the PA . Steve Vantsis had arrived and was distinctly nervous. Doors were scheduled for midday and it was already 11 with no stage sounds of note taking shape. I sallied round the hall greeting members of the old guard. Sandy and Judith Fearfull, Hutch, Lou, Elspeth, Gregor all helping out with the merch stalls, haberdashers for the event and who would be joined by others over the weekend as a frenzy developed especially around the bargains table as we jettisoned reams of old shirts at knockdown prices. Chris had come to terms with the lighting desk and Shaun was tweaking merrily, grunting away, focused on the dwindling time. Yatta had his serious look about him and I decided after consulting with my main man that perhaps it was better for me to go in search of breakfast and strong coffee. I wasn’t needed as yet.
Across the road from the backstage door the “Jug and Jester” was already jumping as Simone and I crept into a nearby cafe for a couple of takeaway bacon and egg baps. I bumped into a few people I knew and friendly welcomes and small talk in passing started to create the vibe I remembered. As we waited on our breakfast rolls we got into conversation with a couple of brothers up from the deep South West and questions over the set lists were ducked with a wry smile! Taking on water and Costa coffee at the supermarket across the road it was then a retiral to the sanctuary of the dressing room and the last few moments of relative tranquillity before the assault began. … Continue Reading
Just after 9am on Friday we passed through Galashiels in the packed estate car and descended into mist where the A7 skirted the river Tweed. The market square with my lyrics to “Kayleigh” carved in cold damp limestone behind us and perhaps an omen missed as Elspeth and I headed South towards the border.
Shaun was driving the “clown carrier” and picking up Frank Usher and Gavin Dickie after collecting Foss Paterson and Gregor Firth so was already well out of my mirrors. We were all fully loaded with gear and merchandise and even had to send overflow bags with Hutch on the train. It was a laden caravan and I was running point.
The signal of Radio Scotland started to break up as we wound our way slowly through the border valleys in low visibility guided by the taillights of impassable trucks and wary cars stacked in unwanted convoys.
A scene of fresh wreckage washed by spinning blue lights of recently arrived emergency vehicles, our second of the journey, reminded me not to gamble on the pedals.
The weather wouldn’t break until Carlisle. … Continue Reading
2 F’s with 2 T’s . Rehearsals. “Feast of Consequences” title track in workable playable order for Lemmers.
The “Daleks” are as pointed out extractor fans from the flat roof at the back of the house. They were used when it was a fully functioning commercial studio to move fresh air around the building and into the booths on the North side of the building.
They had brick surrounds as when we opened up the place to record “Internal Exile” with Chris Kimsey producing we kept on hearing low range hums that we couldn’t identify.Turned out it was the wind blowing under the unit’s cowling so we made low brick structures around them.It did the trick. … Continue Reading