Sunday, 29 June 2014

Making it pay: consider being a hard bastard; definitely get a lawyer.

2013: the Steve Harris memorial gig      
 Photo from Rob Campbell      

Four re-mortgages and counting – but Madhouse's Roy Davis is cautiously optimistic

At Madhouse Rehearsals last month, Jaci Davis startled me by revealing that she and husband Roy had had to re-mortgage their house four times to keep the business afloat. I've known Roy since his Shy days: late period NWOBHM. They had a pretty good run. Since then, I've seen Roy and Jaci build up their business against the odds. Lots of PR and charm; lots of graft. But they haven't exactly got rich.

That said, the place thrums. Twelve busy rehearsal rooms, a recording studio, two venues, two record labels, a Rock club night that promoters would kill for. A diverse roster of clients rehearsing and recording. And like all good music workplaces, it's got a calm and business-like vibe. 

So I'm curious. Let's start with what Jaci told me: you've actually re-mortgaged your house four times to keep thise place afloat
Roy Davis: We have. When we started, we re-mortgaged to raise the money. As things went along, we need to re-mortgage again, to get more money... and again... every time we needed money to expand or build, we re-mortgaged. 

Are you carrying a mountain of debt?
Well. We're in a much better place than we were, which is good. When things go well, it's fine. When they don't go well, suddenly you owe a shitload of money with no means to pay it back. There were desperate times. But we never had any business loans, any funding, any grants; we had to go out and find the money. 
When did you start? 
About 2001. We we got ripped off at the beginning, because we did it ourselves. We were so naïve; we knew nothing. I negotiated my own deals. At the end of the lease we got ripped off again because of a dispute with the owners. We had bailiffs knocking on the door. That cost me a fortune. They were morally wring but legally right.
That's typical rock and roll, Roy. You went into this...
...without a clue! Everybody needs to get a lawyer. Nobody does, because they ain't got the money. We've learned that now. You try to do it yourself, you haven't got a chance. When we did things here, it was a first for us every time. When we added a bar, all I knew was from drinking in one... I didn't know how to order beer.
From the outside, this all looks like a thriving, solid business. Does you both credit.
Full noticeboard: always a good sign   
It is a thriving, solid business. Don't get me wrong; all it needs is a couple of weeks when people don't come through the door, and suddenly it's not thriving. But it's been a real family affair. When we started it was me and Jaci and a partner; now the kids have come in to the business. When we launched (The Asylum) next door, it was hard going. Now we've got the UpRawr club night, which is run by my son Jack and his mate Lewis, and that's really done well. 
What I wanted to do was to make it a one-stop for all musicians. Everything a band needed. We used to rent the old Railway on Curzon Street every the month for a showcase. So when we developed the recording studio, we also did a little acoustic venue. We'd put tiny gigs on. Slowly we got everything together. And I've always wanted a record label too, to put the bands out on. The only trouble is, all that costs money. 
Most of the action seems to be on the south side of town: Moseley and Kings Heath, or in Digbeth, while you're in the middle of Hockley. 
It's funny. When we first started, the Custard Factory was the happening place. We had to somehow talk people into coming to ours. Everyone said we were too far out. But if you walk from the centre of town, we're closer than Digbeth.
Have you wound up specialising in Rock and Metal? You played in Shy, you know all the players in that scene. No one else seems to cater for that niche.
It wasn't deliberate. Maybe if we had specialised from day 1, it might have gone better. But the people who know me tend to come and work here, they tend to put their bands on, and word of mouth gets around. It's funny. I've just offered a big fee to get a band who are touring - Morbid Angel - at the Asylum. Their agent, Nick Peel, who I've known for ever, thinks this is the first band he's had that would fit well at the Asylum venue. It's taken a long time to to get to that place, where the contacts and offers come from the people you know. So maybe we will specialise a bit more. 
And now you're starting a record label.
Are you completely mad?
Yes, no-one makes money off records any more! My thinking came from when we opened the venue. Everybody said we were mad, that nobody would come. I thought if you put the right gig on, they would. People always travel to gigs. They go to where the gig is. We did two shows with Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower. Neither had gigged for a long time. And people came from all over Europe to those shows. If you do the right thing with the right band, people will come. 
It's that Metal loyalty thing. 
I believe it's the same for the record label. There's so much shit being signed it's untrue. There were some big bands pretty high up the bill at Download; nobody was watching them. But they had record deals. People are signing crap. But if we get the right bands, it'll happen. It's easier to build a cult following now than it was thirty years ago. I saw your interview with Miles Hunt (The Wonder Stuff). He's proved that you can keep it going, along with other bands like Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Pop Will Eat Itself. They've kept it going. Because they've done it properly. Young bands can do the same thing – get that cottage industry thing going. If you get that going, and you don't have to get a proper job, you've won. 
Picking bands? You've seen the full spectrum. You're in a good position to judge. But putting your money on the line?
Most of the stuff I like is pretty unfashionable. So I've done two labels – one is Lynchburg, the other is Hit and Run. First release due out next Monday. I put it out because I wanted to.
With Hit and Run, it's for young people. I've got the UpRawr team who get all that, and other guys. And we need to work out why some bands happen and some don't. With Hit and Run, I'm trying to create a scene. The record labels won't make money to start, but they'll be part of the marketing push. So we can sign the bands we want to sign. We don't have to be horrible with it. There's only two big costs: pressing and marketing. And pressing's not going to be around for much longer. Thirty years ago, if you wanted to do a demo at somewhere like Zella, it would cost you a couple of hundred quid. That was real money then. 
There's a problem. Everyone says you and Jaci are great. But now you're going to have to knock people back, so you'll become a bastard.
I can do that nicely; don't worry! But that's why I'll never get rich. To make a lot of money, you've got to be brutal. All the top bands of my era, the ones who made it, they were brutal. They were bastards. You have to be a hard person to not let things get in your way, to stamp on it and move it out the way. I can't do that.
[At this point, Roy reeled out a long, very juicy and thoroughly libellous list of BIG names that m'learned friends have urged me not to share. I'm sorry about that; there's some great gossip in there. But it has to stay secret.] 
I'm sure it's the same in radio. The ones who get to the top are real brutal bastards.
You might think that; you might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment...
Tescos started with corner shops. Now there's hardly a corner shop in the country because of their expansion. 
Ah. but you're forgetting the new discount chains. They're faster, tougher and cheaper than Tesco and the rest.
See? It's just like the music industry!

Madhouse Rehearsals facebook page 
UpRawr facebook page
Lynchburg Music

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1 comment:

PF said...

You have to admire what they've done there, it is inspirational. Hard work and conviction are an intoxicating combo.