Last week Liverpool Acoustic received an email from a local musician requesting a headline slot at a Liverpool Acoustic Live event in the next couple of months. We politely explained that we were already fully booked for April and May and couldn’t ‘just squeeze him in’, and that our headline acts were all booked through to November. He seemed a little miffed.
So, in an attempt to de-mystify the situation (we’ve had other critics too) Liverpool Acoustic Live’s co-organiser, Graham Holland, explains how the event is put together, what the booking policy is, and why we can’t help everyone.
The most recent Liverpool Acoustic Live event took place last Friday 23rd March at the View Two Gallery on Mathew Street. You’d probably think I’m biased if I say it was a fantastic night of live music, and you’d be right. But you don’t have to take my word for it – you just have to glance at the facebook pages of the musicians who played to see how much they enjoyed it. The opinion is shared by Roxanne de Bastion in her blog post about her trip to Liverpool, and the reviewer from Fatea magazine was equally impressed too when he wrote his review. And there can’t be too many events which have featured a random stranger from the audience joining the main act on harmonica, or have been sketched by a local artist (in this case, Jim Fleming).
Liverpool Acoustic Live is unlike the vast majority of events out there. When my fellow organizer Stuart Todd and I started it three years ago we had an overriding philosophy to showcase some of the very best local musicians alongside some of the best national and international musicians available to us. Stuart and I are both musicians, and because the event is all about the music we chose the View Two Gallery as a listening venue, with its performance space separate from the bar area. Unlike the people who attend most of the open mic or showcase events in bars and pubs across the region, the audience at the View Two listens quietly to the music, something that the musicians themselves regularly comment on, occasionally even between songs!
We charge for entry to the event. Why? Because we think it’s important that musicians get paid for what they do well. We have to pay the door staff, and need to cover our printing and other costs, and we put a little bit into the pot to save up for new audio equipment and rainy days. However, the majority of the money taken from tickets and on the door is split between the musicians who’ve played for us, taking into account how long they played for, how far they’ve travelled, and whether we’ve prearranged any minimum fee. With four acts normally on each bill, a small venue and a low ticket price means we can’t pay the musicians a lot of money, but at least we can cover expenses, and anything above that is a bonus. We don’t believe in ‘pay to play’ and musicians aren’t expected to sell a quota of tickets. All we ask is that they help contribute towards the publicity for the event by plugging it on facebook, websites, mailing lists, and anywhere else they can. After all, the musicians are the best people to be able to reach out to their own fans and followers.
To a certain extent Liverpool Acoustic Live has become a victim of its own success. We save one slot each month for a musician from out-of-town, and we have over 60 names on this waiting list. This leaves only two or three slots each month available to artists on the local scene, and with a waiting list of over 50 names (and growing ever week) the sad reality is that we’re never going to be able to give a gig to everyone who asks for one. We listen to every single musician who asks to play, and if either Stuart or I like them then we’ll add them to the list of those to be considered. We also point them towards the Liverpool Acoustic online diary which is packed full of open mic and showcase events for anyone looking for a local gig. But with such long waiting lists it’s inevitable that some musicians will be disappointed. There’s just no way we can fit everyone in, and for that we can only apologise. If a musician asks for a slot at a Liverpool Acoustic Live event then we tell them what I’ve written here and ask them to be patient.
What this does mean, however, is that we have the luxury of being able to curate the night by putting together lineups based on who we think would work well on the same bill, who would complement the other acts without being just ‘more of the same’, and (occasionally) who would introduce something a little bit different and challenge the musical tastes of our regular audience members and those who’ve come along to support particular musicians. To this end we’ve previously featured a range of genres including traditional folk, contemporary folk, blues, roots, Americana, pop, rock ‘n’ roll, gypsy jazz, singer-songwriter, and stripped-back indie bands. Instruments played by musicians at the View Two over the past three years include guitar (acoustic and electric, of all types!), drums, bass, percussion, violin, banjo, ukulele, melodeon, harmonica, cello, keyboard, viola, and (of course) the venue’s grand piano. Variety really is the spice of life!
Like any promoters Stuart and I have our favourites, and we occasionally re-book musicians who’ve played for us in the past, although there’s normally a gap of at least 12 months from when they last played, and the supporting acts will be different each time.
We also enjoy booking young, talented and up-and-coming performers who we think deserve a bit of extra exposure, and the opportunity to play at a listening event in front of an appreciative audience. Our first ever event in 2009 featured a young Ali Ingle and 14-year-old Luke Jackson from Canterbury. Since then we’ve booked Megan Thomas (2010), Steph Fraser (2011), Dominic Dunn (last Friday!) and in July we’re looking forward to welcoming Linus Rowe.
As I said, not everyone is going to be able to get a booking at Liverpool Acoustic Live, and short of turning it into a weekly event, or booking more acts with shorter sets (neither of which we want to do), there’s not a lot we can do about that. Personally, I blame the enormous pool of talent on the local acoustic scene for making the job so much harder! Some people criticise the event having never actually been to it themselves – we tend to just ignore them. Amazingly, some people are jealous when their muso friends are booked before they’ve been booked – we suggest they get over it and support their musician friends by being happy for them and (here’s a radical idea) actually coming along to the gig to support them. Surely even the most cynical, seasoned musician wouldn’t begrudge the likes of 15 year old Dominic Dunn 15 minutes in the spotlight, would they?
So if you’re a local musician and are wondering why we’ve not booked you yet then please understand it’s nothing personal, and it could even be that you haven’t actually asked yet!
Graham Holland is the owner and editor of the Liverpool Acoustic website, and runs Liverpool Acoustic’s award-winning live music events with local musician Stuart Todd. In real life he’s a Web Development Officer, has been producing podcasts on a regular basis since July 2006, and runs a number of websites for other organisations. He lives in Wavertree with his husband and their cat Xiao Hei.