Around 5 years ago, Dan Payne asked me to create some sort of little logo for his promotions company Dingo Barracks. I put a pair of scissors next to the name, explaining to Dan that they are one of the ultimate symbols of DIY. If you have in your hand a pair of scissors, you are about to make a change. It may only be the tiniest change that maybe only even you will witness, but you are about to use your energy and the choices you have as a human being to make a small change. It may sound a little over the top, but I thought it was perfect for Dan. He had been putting on gigs for 5 years already when he asked me to do it. I had seen the constantly thoughtful and fantastic line ups he was curating at some of the smallest yet most open minded bars in the North West of England.
These last few years it’s been well documented in the news how towns across the country are turning to ghost towns. The usual observation pointed out to us is the high street shops, the way they are shutting down en-masse, leaving us with derelict buildings, as the rent is usually too high for smaller businesses to try to even get a foot in the door. I feel my home town of Kendal is one of these towns. I feel a large reason these towns feel so lifeless, is the fact there are so few minds trying to put on events featuring peoples original ideas too though.
The small town of Shipley, just outside Leeds, was lucky enough to have a small team of music lovers who decided to club together and start putting on their own shows. The venue they chose was a little community hall. The people who came to the shows loved this choice of venue. There were the locals who helped out by selling their homemade cakes and their locally brewed beers, a local (brilliant) graphic designer who would design all their posters and screen print them himself. The whole operation reeked of beautiful DIY. The line-ups for these shows were completely mind blowing. There would be the musical worlds avant garde new heroes all meshed together on one nights billing. Of course Gnod played a part in it all, providing their ridiculous size sound system. Pulsing dark techno, completely hardcore doom metal, experimental folk…..all these wonderful styles were presented to open ears at these events. It treated its audience with respect.
Whilst this Shipley based lot I speak of (Golden Cabinet) were making headlines in such newspapers as The Guardian (the headline deemed them: ‘The club that brings the hip to Shipley’), my own little home town of Kendal was only offering the locals either cover bands at a place called Bootleggers or a rather lacklustre programme of musicians whose collective heydays were mostly in the 70s or 80s playing at the once brilliant Brewery Arts Centre.
It would seem there is no appetite for new music in a lot of these so called ghost towns. I worry what is really happening is that people are scared to try new things. They hear strange sounds emanating from a small group of people and they feel a strange sense of embarrassment rather than a sense of wonder. It seems the necessity of having a personal opinion on something scares some people to the point where they just use negativity as the base for their judgement. I hope I am making it clear that this only really seems to be the way people respond to new ideas in small towns. People in cities are regularly treated to ‘out-there’ gigs, transporting the minds of the listeners to new plains.
This is why I feel people like Dan Payne should be celebrated. For 10 years now he has curated the most thoughtful line ups for gigs in the smallest of pubs, all just so great music can be heard by the audience of usually around 30 or 40 people. My original piece I’d wrote to say happy birthday to Dan spoke of two of my favourite memories relating to Dingo Barracks, but I thought they made him sound like a complete nutter. Which he is! But thank fuck people like him exist, ready to invest so much time and energy in bringing bands willing to travel miles for so little money, all just to have a good time centred around music.
The first of the two stories was the fact Dan booked the Japanese trio Mouse On The Keys to play live. Weall loved that band when we first heard them about 10 years ago. They announced a very small UK tour. Taking in dates at just 3 major cities. London, Manchester and Edinburgh. Dan got in touch with their manager and asked if they could come to play Barrow In Furness. A place certain newspapers have called the UK’s arm pit. Obviously the manager had no idea where this place was, he told Dan the fee. The fee was very very high. Dan decided to go for it. Some of my friends who attended this gig have told me its the best they ever went to. Some of my friends told me how they had to pay hundreds of pounds for a ticket, just to help Dan out with the bands fee.
The second story was when me and Dan were set to play one of his nights in Barrow in our band Arficeden. We were living in Manchester at the time. Dan had organised for one of his friends to come pick us up. Dan’s friend would drive the hundred miles from Barrow to Manchester, load up our gear in his car (bass amp, bass and drum kit) then drive us the hundred miles back to Barrow. I thought this was very lovely of this friend of Dans. After he picked us up, his car broke down on the Manchester ring road. Dan was determined we get back to Barrow to play the gig. After racking his brain, Dan suggested we should get a taxi. He asked me my thoughts on this idea, I said ‘No’. Dan didn’t seem too happy with that answer though. He paced up and down as his friend worried what to do about his broken down car. After a little while Dan asked me again, telling me to actually make a decision this time, should we get a taxi? Again I said ‘No’. Dan then went ahead and rung for a taxi. The guy came and we set off back to the gig, the taxi driver allowing us to smoke weed the whole time, Dan’s mate left waiting for the recovery people.
Inspired by Dan, I’ve started putting my own gigs on up in Glasgow. Recently we had Adam Betts, the amazingly talented drummer with the band Three Trapped Tigers and Squarepusher come to play. He was travelling up from London, so to make it a little more financially viable for him, I offered to help get him gigs either side of the Glasgow date. He ended up playing in Newcastle the night before and Ulverston the night after. Adam’s reaction to the gigs was amazing. He said it was a great weekend due to the love and care the smaller DIY promoters put into their shows, but it was Ulverston he seemed the most excited to have played. With no idea what to expect from the show, it was Dan’s tiny Beerwolf gig that had been the most fun for him.
We can only hope there are more people in all these other so called ghost towns across the UK, who are just on the brink of going crazy with the lack of decent live music being put on, who will take it upon themselves to start putting on shows. It seems such an achievable thing to hope for, a network of venues in these smaller villages and towns open to interesting, strange music being performed.
Dan Payne is curating a stage for AnotherFineFest in Ulverston which will be held from Friday the 15th till Sunday the 17th June. Most the gigs Dan puts on are at the bar Beerwolf in Ulverston.
Stuart Metcalfe asks musicians to create music inspired by train travel. RailCables.Bandcamp.com