Sunday, 5 May 2013

Boat To Row: on tour in May, back at Moseley Folk in August, new songs to unveil, and national airplay

The May 2013 Boat To Row tour poster
Boat To Row have been sculling through peaceful waters for some time now. But it hasn't been plain sailing (and that's quite enough boat gags). Time to talk managers, repertoire, accosting national DJs on the street... 

Two or three years back, Boat To Row opened for Goodnight Lenin at a packed Hare and Hounds, rammed with GNL’s mates. That BTR line-up played an understated but highly effective set, swiftly followed up with some early material online, much of which is still current.

This band is astonishingly calm, collected and at ease. They're good company. For all that, there’s been a hefty turnover of musicians, but the current line-up seems stable. And there’s a really rather attractive tour coming up at the end of the month – the Birmingham gig packs in the wonderful Chris Tye, the fast-rising and very appealing Cannon Street and at least four other acts, on top of Boat To Row's headlining slot. And two days ago Moseley Folk confirmed that they will appear on the first day of this year's festival.. . 

And beneath all that sunny affable calm, there’s a good deal of judicious thinking going on.

For a few months, I’ve been chewing the music business fat with a newish Boat To Row member, the excellent drummer Lydia Glanville. In addition to BTR duties, Lydia leads her own jazz quartet, and plays with eight other outfits all told. Some drummers just... do that. A Conservatoire graduate – they’re everywhere – Lydia was a member of Joe Broughton’s Folk Ensemble back in the day, and also a key member of Bonfire Radicals, now temporarily off the road due to injury. 

Our previous discussions revolved around pay for play, and doing the right thing around musicians and the local scene, and bands filling venues for free and being expected to do so ‘for the exposure’… We haven’t come up with a solution for that one. Nor, I suspect, will we. But there will be blog posts to come out of it all.    

We met again to talk Boat To Row over cups of achingly trendy coffee. Lydia and fiddle player Anna Bennett turned up first, and we kicked off with some practicalities.

Almost all the guys I talk to for this blog are self-managed. And that’s both a hindrance and a convenience. A convenience, because you’re close to the issues – you know what you have to do, and of course you don’t have to pay anyone; and a hindrance, because that sort of extra responsibility can drag you down. Give me the pros and cons. 
Lydia  I suppose being new to the band, and having managed bands myself, I see the pros. Getting supports with much better-known bands that we’re used to playing with - like Dog Is Dead – that kind of thing, is really hard if you’re just representing yourself. A manager who badgers for you and represents you just makes you seem more professional. Whereas I’ve found when managing, you’re sending so much stuff out, you’re sending out a hundred things and you get a response from one of them. And getting everyone together can be really difficult.
A good friend  mine has that same problem. She calls it herding cats....
Lydia Yes!
 Anna It gives you more time to concentrate on writing and playing. We all have jobs; it’s hard to find the time anyway. And Nik (Sharpe)’s got contacts, and can call in favours… 
But you are part of a stable of his bands, right? So how can you ensure that he’s doing right by you? You have to trust your manager, and he has to trust you, else you’re simply a commodity that he’s touting. 
Anna You have to trust everyone you work with, otherwise there’s no integrity in the relationship. 
Does this stretch to music advice? Are we talking Svengali or supportive and enabling? 
Anna Oh, supportive and enabling. He has good taste – he likes our stuff. And his feedback is valuable. 
Lydia, you managed - would you take it so far as advising the people you managed on matters musical? 
Lydia Well, I was in the band (The Bonfire Radicals), so that didn’t come up. But it was hard work. 
And then founder members Ben Gilchrist and Michael King joined the conversation, so the conversation started to revolve around band longevity, keeping people focused and together in the band, and the like. 
Mike It’s commitment, really. It’s a lot of work. It’s not like playing the shows, or public appearances, or even fun things like this. It’s everything else – practising for hours on end… 
And is that commitment starting to pay off? 
Ben I think that when you reach the stage where you can put your earnings back into the band rather than fund it from your own pocket is a bit of a milestone. We haven’t put our money into the band for about two years – but we have ploughed all our earnings back in.
Mike We always used to play for nothing, or play for the petrol money, just to get our name out there. and pay for rehearsal studios out of our own pockets. But now we have got to the point where we can ask for guarantees that cover everything. It’s really good. 
Let’s get back to new material, which we were talking about with Anna and Lydia 
Ben We are writing an album’s worth of material. Since end December to now, we’ve been writing ample amounts of new material. Although we’ve been around for four years, we’ve never budgeted our time right. You write a new song, and you can’t wait to play it. And then in a couple of months, it’s not a new song anymore. 
Yeah… so what is the approach with your new material? 
Ben We are stockpiling loads of songs, being really strict, and not letting anybody hear them. It’s hard…
Mike ... by the time we reached the stage when we record the song, we’d been playing it for about six months. It’s old to us. So this time we won’t play it until it’s at the point of release. 
It’s a valid point. I’ve seen too many bands simply not find the time to refresh their sets, and in so doing go stale in front o their hometown crowd..In a local scene, where the great danger is of over-exposing yourself to the same local audience, bands can burn their repertoire with their audience. Of course, I would think like that, because I’m a radio guy. Burnout of over-played songs is a critical issue at radio. Stations spend thousands researching burnout. Bands really can’t, so it’s a question of judgment.
But while we are on the subject of radio, BTR are getting nibbles of radio support, aren’t they? 
Ben  We’re really proud of what we have got – Steve Lamacq has played us on 6music and has championed us on Radio 2.  
Mike  Janice Long too… We were at a gig in London, she was there, outside the venue, and we approached her.  She remembered us from Moseley Folk. So we played her a song though the car stereo…  
Ben ...a mighty Ford Fiesta sound system… 
Mike  ... she liked it, and she took it to play on her Radio 2 show that night. So on the way home, coming up the M1, we got to hear it. The radio in my car is not very good, so I was having a bit of a breakdown. But we got to hear it 

Boat To Row site
Lydia Glanville site

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