From open mic nights to your name in lights (The Bedford music scene)
By Michael Green, Feb 3 2016 09:38PM
Guest blog post written by Lily O'Brien from her A Little Bit Of Everything blog
This is her view on what the Bedford music scene is like.
read more of her work at http://lilysalittlebitofeverything.blogspot.co.uk/
Before we begin delving into the back-catalogue of Bedford’s music scene, I’d like to clarify something. With the exception of a few performances in musical theatre (strictly chorus parts only), and the occasional, gloriously loud and obnoxious, shout-along to the car radio, my musical talents are relatively limited. I can carry a tune, but that’s about it. I am not one of the very many local talents around Bedford, but an observer, purveyor and admirer of those that are. This article is not being written from the mind of someone who has first-hand experience of performing on any of the many stages primed and ready to display the audio delights of solo artists and bands alike. It is by a person who has been lucky enough to be surrounded by musically blessed friends and, as a result, been able to observe their progress and success with a keen eye, and is maybe well placed to advise any keen up-and-coming talent on the best steps to take to get your name – and your sound- out there.
Bedford’s music scene has always been something of a wonder to me. How has this sleepy little market town, famed for not much more than being home to a couple of stellar athletes (Etienne, Paula, I’m looking at you) and the bi-annual River Festival, hosted some of the biggest names in music? Bloc Party, Ryan Roxie, Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, Buffy Clyro, The Libertines, Editors, all have found their way to the Esquires main stage at some point or another to perform for us. The Pad has played host to an eclectic mix of performers, from Dub Step aficionados, to electronica-pounding DJ sets. During the Garage craze of the early 2000s, it was a disappointing weekend if Artful Dodger or DJ Luck & MC Neat weren’t found in some local nightspot, driving party goers to distraction. I think the answer is that here in Bedford, we are just incredibly appreciative of all things melodic (and some things that aren’t, to be fair).
We’ve produced some exciting artists, musicians, writers and performers over the years, and I’m willing to bet money that most of them started out in the same places – at the local jam nights. Jam nights and open mic nights have been a staple of Bedford’s pubs and clubs for years, with some performers carefully selecting which ones to attend as per their musical stylings, others delving head first into all of them, just wanting to participate. Whichever path you opt for, should you be an aspiring musician, the advice I would offer is simple: choose one or two songs you can perform well and feel confident in. The worst thing you can do is over-expose the jam night audiences to too much of you. Impress them with your talents, but always leave them wishing to see more. If they like you they’ll seek you out. Don’t be afraid to trial original material at jam nights either. This is your opportunity to display your skills, fan your feathers as it were. Audience response will be an incredibly useful tool when it comes to honing your songs, skills and sound. It is also a fantastic opportunity to watch other artists, both new and more seasoned alike. See what makes them differ from each other, note their qualities, observe their style. Take our very own Mat Roberts. Host of jam nights, and nurturer of new talent, he must be witnessed. His depth of knowledge, stage presence, and sheer, raw love of all things music should be appreciated and learned from. His experience alone is enough to encourage you to seek him out and tap him for advice, but Mat has a genuine love of supporting local artists, and will actively help them where he can. He is a local musical gem, if you can impress him, he’ll be the best support you could ask for.
A newer name on the Bedford circuit who has been making himself known recently is Elijah Miller. Bringing his own take on the solo guitar artist, Elijah has been making waves with his songs, and has an air of Ed Sheeran about him, albeit with less tats. As yet I’ve been unable to catch him live, but so many of my friends are championing him on social media, that a few videos have crossed my path and I have to say, I’m impressed. Elijah demonstrates an air of relaxed calm when he’s performing, a quiet confidence that makes him a pleasure to watch, and that is undoubtedly a skill any budding performer should be looking to develop. As common as stage nerves are, it’s always difficult for an audience to connect with a performer who is obviously uncomfortable on stage, taking a musical performance into the realm of théâtre de la cruauté, a spectacle rather than a show. Again, Elijah has been paying his dues on the jam night circuit, building up a following to the point that he now has the command of hosting EP launches, comfortable in the knowledge that people will want to be there to support him, stressing again the point that the value of small, weekly music slots, and getting your music out there for all to hear. People are predicting great things for Elijah, and from what little I’ve seen so far, I think they’re right.
So, you’ve made your way along the jam night trail, emerging victoriously sought after and well-known on the local circuit. What now? Well, you’ve successfully snared the attention of the audiences at open mic nights, providing them with a mere taste of what you have to offer. You’ve built up your stage presence and your confidence, learning new tricks from older hands. You’ve possibly even been invited to support other local acts. Now is the time to truly hone your skills in front of larger audiences. Get a set list together, book a venue and get selling tickets, because now my friend, you are ready for your very first gig.
Hosting a gig can be tricky, but nothing in life worth having is easily acquired. Where should you host it? Who should promote it? Who should be your support? How often should you be performing at gigs? First things first. Gigs should be few and far between when it comes to performing in the same place. You want excitement, anticipation and longing to be attached to your gig, not the feeling that it’s old hat and been seen far too recently to warrant an attendance. What you need to be doing is looking further afield. Check out bars and clubs in neighbouring towns, venues in bordering counties, anything to take you out of your comfort zone and get your name on the lips of people away from the local following you have built up. Most venues do their own promotions, but utilise your own marketing methods – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram all have their own merits as a form of communication. Use the aforementioned jam nights to announce approaching events. Ask other local artists and bands to fill support slots for you, bringing their own supporters along for the ride and widening your audience. Once you start attracting the crowds you can organise mini-tours and album launches. Find local pubs, clubs and venues that are supportive of new artists and up-and-comers. It’s incredible where putting in the effort can lead you. Only recently, local band The Wholls found themselves performing at the Miss World pageant in China, to an estimated 2 billion viewers worldwide. FCUK and Pretty Green have listed the band’s latest efforts for UK store playlists across the UK, and the boys have found themselves being touted on Channel 4’s Future Sounds, with therather wonderful Carl Barat. All this achieved through applying themselves. Well done boys, you deserve it!
There you have it. When on paper, the process of success really doesn’t look overly complicated. But it truly does take dedication, blood, sweat and tears to achieve great things. I really urge you to get out there and make your mark. I also cannot stress enough the importance of getting out there and watching your fellow musicians. Not only will they notice and appreciate your support (and offer theirs in kind), but you will pick up skills, performance ideas, and tips like you wouldn’t believe. I kid you not when I talk about the wealth of talent Bedford alone has to offer. As well as the aforementioned acts, the likes of Amy Leeder, The Scruff, Edwin Ireland, Jonny Mudd, Henry and the Bleeders and, of course, the wonderful Michael Green, offer so much in the way of entertainment, it would be a wasted opportunity if you were to miss them. In a world that, unfortunately, finds itself revering the vacuous ineptitude of reality ‘talent’ shows and the cannon fodder contestants determined to be the ‘next big thing’, without having built up the all-integral support which can only be acquired and cemented through the hard slog of putting yourself out there, people like you are more important than ever. Not only to bring through new sounds and keep music moving forward, but to preserve the journey that, in my humble opinion, musicians must go through in order to truly understand their craft. At the time of writing this piece, the great David Bowie, forward-thinker, artist, visionary, stepped off this mortal coil, leaving many a heart-broken fan in his wake. But just like the many artists that followed him, he started out his musical stylings playing at weddings, parties and small gigs, proving that even the most talented of us can have the most modest of beginnings. And just look at what he achieved.
There are some excellent examples of local talent who have moved on to bigger things. A prime illustration would be that of Don Broco. The quartet met at Bedford Modern, before forming what would become Don Broco, rock band and Kerrang darling. When I first started watching the guys perform (yes, at jam nights), they were known as Club Sex. I firmly support the name change,
although the rumoured reason for said change – the breaking of Simon Delaney’s wrist during a football match, hence Don Broco – does make me question their sense of humour! Don Broco are a great example of a band who have truly earned their success through hard-work and dedication. Non-stop touring and gigging, promotions and recording have been key to their achievements, and they’re still on the rise.
Big thanks to Lily for taking the time to write the blog post. Once again you can check out her stuff on her blog A Little Bit Of Everything at http://lilysalittlebitofeverything.blogspot.co.uk/
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overcome stage fright & nerves & know what to say in between songs