By Stu Vincent

May 2019  Hillbilly Boogie

Summer is coming! That’s what I am going to tell myself, anyway and – to be fair – we have been having some good weather here is Northampton (and long may that continue)


Our first festival of the season is almost upon us when we shall be going to Red Rooster in Euston Hall, Suffolk. As I have said on my show, the lineup will be like listening to Hillbilly Boogie for the whole weekend! (…and before you say anything, that IS a good thing).


The artist who first attracted my attention to Red Rooster was Sam Morrow. Since receiving Concrete & Mud a few months ago, I have been steadily working my way through all of the tracks on Hillbilly Boogie and make no apologies for doing so. One the songs on Concrete and Mud is a co-write with Ted Russell Kamp – Paid By The Mile. Ted included this song on his Walkin’ Shoes album but, I have to say, I prefer Sam’s version; there is a wonderful (though brief) Grateful Dead-ish feel towards the end of this rendition of Paid By The Mile.

But what about Red Rooster? Nick Lowe will be there on Friday night and there will be some first-class Honky-Tonk from Dale Watson though the artists that I will be seeking out are Jarrod Dickinson, JD Wilkes, Cedric Burnside, Birds of Chicago, William The Conqueror (who I have heard lots of people talking about in excited tones), Martha Healy, Carson McHone and Lucy Kitt are all must-see’s as are Joli Blon Cajun Band. I think that it is going to be a busy weekend. If you go, look out for the Blues & Roots t-shirt (and say Hello to the handsome chap wearing it).


Last weekend saw the Market Square in Northampton come alive with Northampton Pride. Chatting to people as I took photographs there was universal agreement that the people of Northampton always turn out to support such events. The atmosphere was fantastic; music from Joe Payne (formerly of The Enid but now undertaking solo shows as well as performances with Zio), poetry from Sami Tite, the Bard of Northampton, as well as Peachy Rae and others.


Next month the town centre will come alive again with the Northampton Music Festival which will take place on the 16th June across six stages around the town centre. From community choirs, big-band jazz, rap and just about every other musical genre you could imagine there really is something to please everyone. Best of all, this is a free event enabling families to enjoy a day of music in the town centre with complete freedom to wander from stage to stage.


As the festival website states: “Now in its 12th year, the objective of the Northampton Music Festival is to raise the profile of Northampton through music; to provide a showcase for the broad range of musicians and artists that are based in the town and to provide a community-focused gathering which invites all to join in a festive celebration of our music scene.”


Last year, the stand-out performers for me were Sarpa Salpa whose reputation is growing all the time (and rightly so) and it was good to see a young local band being given stage time and then to watch them playing concerts further afield such as in Camden and at BBC Introducing in London.


In July, the town has another musical extravaganza in the shape of TwinFest which brings together artists from Marburg in Germany and Poitiers in France for a weekend of music in various venues across the town. While this is not a free event, for the price of a couple of pints of beer it is possible to four nights (and three days) of music in some of the best music pubs in Northampton (The Lamplighter, The Garibaldi and The Pomfret Arms).


While the music played is outside of what I normally listen to, it’s fun to go out and see (and listen to) different bands. I will particularly be looking forward to seeing Phantom Isle who I saw previously when they supported Sarpa Salpa at The Roadmender (perhaps one of Northampton’s oldest music venues).


There was a buzz around town last weekend when local rapper, slowthai, had his album launch at the aforementioned Garibaldi. Rap is certainly outside of my usual listening but slowthai has clearly worked hard and is now having considerable success. One of the things that impressed me is that he has had a 99p tour where he asked fans where he should perform and only charged 99p per ticket; then as fame grew he played the Brixton Academy and charged £5 a ticket – he is also doing dates in Newcastle, Glasgow, Manchester and Bath for £5 a ticket! I love that attitude towards his fans.


A Northampton lad, slowthai is getting massive recognition and will be playing major festivals this summer: after dates in Los Angeles and New York, he will be appearing at Glastonbury and Longitude, festivals across Europe as well as appearing at Reading. Considerable success, indeed.


‘Nothing Great About Britain’ from slowthai


Moving to a completely different subject now…


A week or so ago, I saw a Tweet from folk musician Sam Sweeney where he was talking about the commission that venues charge when selling CDs or t-shirts at concerts. As I said at the time, maybe I have been naïve but, I had no idea that this was a standard practice for many venues.


It seems that there are venues that will demand 15, 20 and 25% commission plus VAT (tax) on sales to fans – one artist on Twitter stated “More than 30% in more places than you might think.....a constant battle”.


Now I can understand that, if the venue provides someone to ‘work’ the merch’ stand then recompensing the venue might seem perfectly reasonable but the percentages that appear to be the norm - even if the artist takes care of the merchandise sales themselves – seems outrageous to me. I have MC’d at weekend festivals where all merchandise is in one place and the advantage there is that the artists can enjoy the festival when not performing and will undoubtedly pick up some additional sales where people go to buy one particular CD and then buy one or two more (I know I’m not the only one who does this). Under these circumstances a modest commission would be understandable.


Venues and promoters will cry out for people to buy tickets, support acts yet they seem to take advantage of the artists whose fans may wish to go home with a CD. I have heard of venues state that the artist should increase their CD/t-shirt prices to allow for the commission levied but wouldn’t that just result in few sales when on tour?


It strikes me that the venues are just finding a way to pay the artist less.


A venue would not be willing to give the artist 25% on drinks purchased by thirsty patrons so why should the artist hand over 25% of their sales especially when they will have brought those customers into the venue. Perhaps that is a simplistic argument, but it just seems to me that artists are being scalped by this practice.


I did have a lively conversation on this subject on Facebook, but I would love to hear from people whether artist or a venue levying these charges. I will be honest, unless the venue provides staff to sell the merchandise then I can see no justification in levying these charges. If you think that I am wrong: please tell me what I am failing to consider. If you are an artist who has challenged this practice, again, I would love to hear from you and confidentiality is guaranteed.


Until next time….Be Good x