The second day of GoNorth all kicked off at The Ramada for seminars. The first of the day was the 'Do It Yourself' panel organised by Born to Be Wide. Olaf Furniss conducted the panel, even adopting Jeremy Kyle tactics and coming into the audience to hear questions. On the panel was the legendary musician/journalist/TV panelist John Robb, Meursault front man Neil Pennycook, Little Kicks singer Steven Milne, The Debuts singer Michael Lambert and soul singer Carrie Mac. The panel debated the ins and outs of managing a band by yourself. The major benefit was seen to be control and monetary. If you do everything yourself you are bound to make more money in the short-run. The biggest pitfall identified by the panel was dealing with dodgy promoters, however they also stressed that there are an equal amount of good promoters out there. As an impartial party, I took quite a lot from this panel as it gave me an insight to how much work being in a small, self-managed band is. At the end of the day a band is only to get what they put in. It is also essential for small bands to exhaust all possible resources before looking for third party management. If you have someone who can do artwork, use that resource. If you have someone who can book the gigs, use that resource. If you have someone who can do PR, use that resource. Overall, this panel would have been extremely fruitful for up and coming bands looking to make it on their own. A change of pace from the bloated, self-interested panels of the GoNorth Fringe.
After sitting in on what appeared to be a strange orgy on Second Life which I assume was supposed to be some kind of online conference? Whatever it was it was a total panel-libido killer. In stepped BBC Radio 1/Scotland DJ Vic Galloway to tell us to come next door for the Scottish Arts Council run SxSW Panel. So Peenko and I did. The panelists included two reps from the Scottish Arts Council, Vic, Adam (who basically pimps bands to college radio in America) and Jamie (We Were Promised Jetpacks co-manager). Going to SxSW is a massive dream of mine and this panel deterred me slightly. The sizable costs of going over which were quoted were daunting and the Arts Council reps seemed to veer off subject a lot of the time. This was sorted by Vic who always put the focus back on the interests of the audience. Admittedly, I did raise a rather redundant question (in terms of SxSW) as I mentioned the closure of WOXY, the American independent radio station and website. I was met with a very frank 'WOXY will be back'. In the ensuing hours I would learn that a company has stepped in and it is looking as though WOXY will be up and running sooner than expected. I don't know if that is a scoop or not. Fuck it. WOXY is coming back, so I don't care if it is.
The next seminar was a rather star-studded affair as Born to Be Wide had organised a panel consisting of; Keith Harris (Stevie Wonder's manager), Rab Andrew (Primal Scream, Texas) Dougie Souness (Wet Wet Wet), Phil Ellis (Baby Boom Records) and Grant Dickson (The View, Broken Records.) The managers shared stories and dispensed advice on how to manage bands effectively. One of the highlights of the seminar was Rab Andrew telling the story of how he had to bail Mani from Primal Scream out of jail so he could play a festival. Yet he identified that he found this to be fun. He appreciated that you don't get into management to have an easy ride and that he lived for the 'fuck ups' as they were fun. What a top bloke. An interesting point made by the panel is that they do not sign contracts with their acts. This seemed absolutely mental to me, yet it appeared to be the done thing as it shows a give/take relationship based on trust.
Against my appeals, Peenko dragged me to the 'Flash Forward' seminar. He should have listened to me as it was essentially music industry people rooted in an old-school mindset trying to grasp the various new avenues the industry is going down. The main part that got my goat was their view on Spotify, feeling that it should pay artists more, which I think is just wrong. Spotify is a promotional tool. Yet this seemed to be lost on these dinosaurs, so Peenko and I left early to go see the Bronto Skylift album launch.
In typical Detour fashion a group of us were lead to a small clearing in the middle of an island. After a quick introduction Bronto were away. Anger, passion and humour combine into one with these boys culminating in lead singer Niall (who would later threaten to 'push me in the fucking face', but never mind) attacking his guitar with whatever he could find. Mostly branches. My appetite was whetted and this would not be the last time I'd watch them at GoNorth.
Next up were my favourite band of GoNorth, The Seventeenth Century. Having seen them a few times before I knew what to expect but I was no less blown away. Combining euphoria derived from Beirut songs and a sophistication beyond their years, the Glasgow 5-piece delivered. Big time. New single 'Roses in the Park' was a highlight, as the band would find out later from my drunken rambles devoid of all superlatives.
As Peenko was my designated 'daddy' for the week he recommended Fiona Soe Pang. A great curve ball as she combined ambient trip-hop with stunning visuals. I remarked that she sounded a bit like Lamb and she agreed she was a big fan. Lloyd didn't know who they were, even though they were around during his era...
We stayed for the most hyped act of the week, Rachel Sermanni;
I caught up with the very lovely Rachel after her set at both GoNorth and Rockness to have a chat.
Rachel, you are just back from playing GoNorth and Rockness. How did they go?
GoNorth was lovely. I shook the hand of Stevie Wonder's manager! Playing solo is something I enjoy a lot as I have to attempt to create an atmosphere of the songs on my own and it disciplines you a bit, I think, to do things on your own sometimes. It teaches you not to become reliant on others. However, having the band at Rockness was so wonderful. The girls played grrrreat! I have two fiddlers, Laura Wilkie and Siobhan Anderson and a pianist, Jennifer Austin. They're magnificent musicians and great friends. We had a full tent as it was raining, (thankyou bad weather). With them there's a great power in the songs.
Is it daunting for a young (Rachel is eighteen) solo artist to play in front of a festival crowd?
It wasn't too daunting. More exciting. We got a bit scared when we did our soundcheck as Danananakaroyd were playing just outside on the main stage and we couldn't hear them. They're great...by what we heard. But we were quite determined to have fun. I danced about on stage and everything. We just let loose and gave all we could give whether we could hear ourselves or not :) It was probably a little daunting as my old school friends were in the front row...and they'd only really seen me singing little cheesy numbers in the school hall...I was keen to let them hear what I've been skipping uni for and working proudly on for the past months!
You worked with Ben from Mumford and Sons, how did that come about?
I met Ben at the Loopallu Festival when they played. We went and had a magical jam with them on a beach at 3am and after that he asked if I'd like to come record down in London. BIGGEST ADVENTURE! I learnt so much. And he showed me that not all my songs have to be sweet and quiet...i could potentially make louder sounds. Since then, I have.
In one song you sing about the childlike notion of being a pirate and in another you sing about how and where your soul meets your body. How do you bridge the gap between quirky and existential?!
I don't think I'm aware of the bridges between topics in my songs...all that I write about is very important to me. I love to explore strange things. And the pirate archetype is intriguing. I suppose that quite nicely links to the idea of the soul. Apparently, every person holds, within them, different archetypes. We all have inside us the 'princess awaiting a rescue' or the 'prince in search of the pathetic damsel'...and then there are the sort of parts of us that make us want to be the goodies...but the one that usually intrigues me the most is the darker sides...baddies and pirates. One of my most recent songs is so dark i have managed to complete lose myself on what it's about..and just get scared.
You have quite a bit of hype surrounding you, is it hard to ignore it or do you embrace it?
I really don't think there's that much hype. Is there? Ha!
What is in store in 2010 for Rachel Sermanni?!
2010 sees us doing lots of Scottish festivals: Insider, Wickerman, Belladrum and Loopallu..and I'm going on a solo adventure down to Wales for the Greenman! And lots more gigs too. I'm hoping to have some recordings to sell by the end of the year too. And the rest is a misty unknown even for me. Which is terribly exciting!
After Rachel's lullabyesqe set, I was off, again, to catch the magnificent Woodenbox With A Fistful of Fivers. I caught a few of their songs, including my favourite 'Draw a Line' and then I sprinted to see the best band in Scotland; Meursault.
Tonight it was just two of them and the crowd was anything but kind. Pennycook had to endure a drunken local whaling all through 'Weather' (one of their stand-outs from sophomore effort 'All Creatures Will Make Merry') and even with his foghorn voice he couldn't drown the guy out. I suppose this exposed some of the downsides to events such as GoNorth as the venue was not ideal yet the sound equipment was top of the range. It seemed as if investment could have been spread about better to ensure optimum enjoyment for all those involved (bands and crowd).
Thursday night was a bit of a write-off. Copious amounts of alcohol were consumed and I offended pretty much everyone. Two things I learnt were 1) to not tell A&R people that no one likes them and 2) that Vic Galloway is an absolute champion who just lives for Scottish music. Really inspiring bloke.
Due to my massive hangover I only made one worthwhile panel, Born To Be Wide's Sync Panel. I'm not going to say too much about it as I have interview Lee Parsons from Ditto Music who was on one of the panels and he will explain sync and distribution better than I am able to (it is pretty complicated.)
In the afternoon Lloyd and I did the Toadcast with Matthew from Song, by Toad. We come across as very useless, maybe because I am useless and Lloyd was hungover.
I managed to catch the excellent Randolph's Leap in the evening. Combining humour and twee-folk via a stack of Ivor Cutler records, they brought a massive smile to my face. As did Bronto Skylift who I caught after. 'A band is only as good as its drummer', if this was the case then Bronto Skylift would be the best band in the world. Pounding away at the drums while Niall screams down the mic while playing angular hooks on his guitar. Great live band.
So that wraps up GoNorth for one year. Worth while, yet ultimately very, very messy.
Photos by Derick MacKinnon and Dom Holt of New Found Sound.