Reviewing Opposite of Robot – Richard Turner interviewed!

Last Friday saw the final Opposite of Robot event playing itself out at Lancaster’s Yorkshire House. Founded by Richard Turner and later expanded upon by Wes Martin – both Lancaster based musicians/performers in their own right, OoR offered considered events organisation in a supportive atmosphere; showcasing some 70 bands/performers from across Europe and the UK between March 2008 and its April 2010 finale. Several events aimed to benefit local and national charities – Lancaster Homeless Action, Animal Care, Lancaster District Women’s Aid and Oxjam, whilst the remainder took a decidedly not-for-profit tact, aiming to divide up earnings between acts/performers.

In the lead-up to the finale I sent Richard some questions about OoR, its aims and intentions, its context on a local/national level; obstacles faced; its achievements and likewise any hopes its curators had for the future of live music in Lancaster. Richard was kind enough to write back fairly with the following responses. The following interview was conducted via email April 8th and 9th 2010.

Could you tell us a little about OoR’s aims at the outset?
The aim was really to bring about more music from out of town mixed with local talent. The idea was to mix up some of the different bands and age-ranges – have the older bands mixed with younger ones, cross-pollinate, and try and help create a sense of community amongst musicians. In many ways, when Wes (Martin) was trying to get the Ledge Collective off the ground, it was a similar kind of idealistic aim to get like-minded people together.

Was there any format or model for promoting that had inspired you or influenced how you went about things?
Well, I’d been putting on gigs for about 8 years anyway, just not made a thing of it particularly. When I was in the Wisemen, we did gig-swaps with out-of-town bands and made connections that way and in some ways, it was just an extension of that. However, Feedback and then LAWM and some others came along and made being a promoter sexy. I’d helped Richard Twine out with LAWM a little bit, and that was the most obvious model to follow in that sense. Also, there were some great nights in Manchester around then, things like Red Deer Club and Hedge had a big influence on the alt folk scene in particular.

When did you notice the promoter thing starting to gather momentum, any obvious shifts or developments you’d see as having led to the spot we’re currently at (i.e. where promoting is – arguably as viable as performing?)
When I settled in Lancaster in 1999, there were no promoters that I can think of. It was just bands booking there own gigs and very rarely you’d get some punk band from Blackburn or Blackpool doing a gig swap with one of the older bands. I put some gigs on and called it Morner Bros Presents, which was the name of the Wisemen’s self-release label, but it wasn’t put about much as a concept. But once Feedback happened – around 2005, it briefly became cool – more than actually being in a band for a time it seemed. Everyone and his dog seemed to have a go, but a lot of them did a handful of badly organised events and folded, or they were students that left town. Now there are some good promoters who are very professional like the Get it Loud in Libraries and the 44 Presents people and Totally Wired/Wired In, Dingo Barracks and more.

Early on I spotted a disclaimer which asked prospective bands/performers to think carefully before asking for a gig – to what extent d’you think it’s been important to have a kind of criteria for the acts you’ve put on?
Well, it’s a difficult area, but basically you have to have some sort of vague rules, in order to shape the vibe of it all. Even then, you’d get requests from people who’d be better off on X Factor or wanting to be Coldplay or something. There’s nothing wrong in that, it’s just already catered for. I wanted it to reflect the large numbers of musicians that are doing something other. Having said that, although we’re probably tagged as a folk night, there’s been quite a lot of other stuff.

How difficult was it pulling bands in from afar, in terms of the process of making contact/arranging line-ups etc?
It’s not difficult as such, just very time-consuming. There’s a lot of liaising goes on. We’ve tried to construct the bills so that the bands are somehow complimentary. As a musician, it’s pretty disheartening to find yourself playing alongside a couple of bands you have nothing in common with, so the idea was to have a loose theme.  Similarly, I used to make mix CDs for each night, for the music around the live performances that tried to reflect the bands and their influences, rather than playing something random.

Did you have to turn anybody away?
There were a few bands we would have had on but didn’t due to a conflict in date availability or just busy schedules. Wes wanted Jasmina Machina, and I wanted a few people like Men Diamler, Homelife, Denis Jones, Euros Childs, the Rose Bay Willow Band, Good Noise bad Noise and more, but you can’t have them all… I tried to respond to all requests, though I might have missed a couple for which I apologise! There were some occasions where a band was getting radio and press and a profile, but I just thought they were terrible, so couldn’t bring myself to do it!

Trolling blogspot.com I came across a number of guidelines for putting on successful DIY shows – they cover everything from what food to prepare the acts to legal fly-posting spots! Could you kindly share some reflections on what’s made for a successful OoR gig?
Crikey, I should have read that first! Er, it’s hard to say really. I mean, you have to do a local press release 2 weeks in advance, national gig listings need 4 weeks advance, tell all local radio stations, do the usual Facebook/Myspace/Twitter groups, have a mailing list, text people on the day, physical posters and flyers, and so on… And sometimes it works, and other times it doesn’t.

What would you describe as the major obstacles to achieving your aims/goals?
Time and money, and the recession hasn’t helped. I know a lot of people that stay in and watch DVD’s instead of coming out. And sometimes apathy – there have been gigs where the downstairs of the pub is rammed, but upstairs is quiet! I’m afraid to say that a lot of the musicians have only turned up to the ones they’re playing at, which has been a disappointment.

One thing I noticed about OoR – and LAWM specifically, was how both outfits managed to foster dependable links with local press – from web-blogs to local newspapers – as a means of signposting their nights. How important has it been to build these links and how effective?
Well, it’s hard to say how effective it is. I mean, sometimes loads of people tell you they’ve seen the night advertised in the paper, but they don’t necessarily turn up. It’s got to be done though, and it does mean people outside your immediate friends know what’s going on.

What, if anything, could you tell us about the relationship between social networking sites and live music events on a local level?
I think that the whole thing is about to change/implode/end. I think it was seen as exciting/useful initially but people are increasingly switching off from it. It is still useful to a degree though, but it seems it’s musicians looking at each other rather than the wider public being involved.

Any guesses as to where it’s headed?
I’ve no idea! It’s a strange time for music, the industry as we’ve known it for the last 50 years has pretty much crumbled, and even in the last 3 years, there have been massive changes. Personally, I’m just going to go all out for artistic expression from now on, and if I end up totally awash of the rest of the world’s music, so be it.

What would you see as being the value of drawing out-of-town acts/performers?
Well, as talented a town as Lancaster is, it’s always essential to take a wider view, I mean we don’t want to be considered parochial and small-town-minded do we?

If you were holidaying in Iran or something and someone asked you what things were like for music in Lancaster – what d’you think your response would be?
When you put it in that context, we’re incredibly lucky to all be able to express ourselves so freely and easily, and we do take our freedoms for granted sometimes.

Anything you’d like to see happening locally that isn’t already?
I’d like to see more people enjoying live music, I’d like to see things like OoR have funds made available to them to help bring more music to more people. And I’d like to see bands and musicians being paid more. The council hinder live music by threatening legal action by postering derelict buildings.

Who designed the flyers?
I designed most of the flyers and posters. Wes did one, and a couple (Miserable Rich and the last Last Harbour) were generic tour posters that I’ve just adapted with local details. I’m really interested in design generally and particularly graphic design, so I’m ashamed to say that most of the posters were knocked up pretty hastily! Pre-OoR, I used to do photocopied stuff, and get interesting effects from generations of copied logos and images, but I used Photoshop and various images for ease of use to upload onto Photobucket for the purposes of social networking sites. So it’s interesting how the present culture directly affects the means of poster/flyer production, eh?

Are there any poster designs locally or otherwise that you’ve enjoyed and/or admired?
Slow Riot Records posters are the best.

Any personal highlights from OoR?
There have been many high points, too many to mention, but off the top of my head, Mikey Kenney’s solo set was awesome, Trembling Bells were great, Homemade Lemonade’s journey has been great to watch, the Adventures of Loki/3D Tanx/Joyeux night was a good do…Lovely Eggs at the Animal Care night was ace…Little Pebble…

Little Pebble was great. Joyeux too. Interesting you mentioned Trembling Bells – any guesses as to what’s allowed Glasgow’s ‘New Weird folk’ scene so much interest and press beyond its locale?
Well, Alex Nielson and Alasdair Roberts have both worked with Will Oldham, so that immediately pricks the ears of any music journalist, and members of Nalle worked with a Hawk & A Hacksaw with similar results. Plus, David Keenan (Wire writer, musician and owner of esoteric music shop Volcanic Tongue) lives in Glasgow, and has also been in groups with Nielson and bigged him up. Which isn’t to say that their praise is undeserved of course, they’re very talented, but they’ve had some people on their side which has helped.

Anything you’re looking forward to in the future?
I’m looking forward to being more focussed as a musician again, and having a rest as a promoter. Hopefully, there’ll be some new blood to give us all a boost. I know Richard Davis has plans and maybe Richard Twine will come out of promoter-retirement? Or maybe it’s time for someone not called Richard?

Finally, how important do you think a sense of community is to creating opportunities for musicians/performers etc. on any level?
It’s a thorny issue really, because people obviously gravitate towards other people that share similar views/interests etc, yet can be accused (and indeed sometimes be guilty of) being cliquey. We’ve always invited people to contribute in whatever way they want, and tried to have a degree of diversity. In some respects, although we’ve had some great nights of music, and have fostered some new talent and brought some new things to new people, OoR has largely failed in its attempt to bring about more of a community aspect and strengthen the local scene. It will be interesting to look back at this period in hindsight, and whether this is of itself or part of a wider cultural shift in the way people view and value music.

Richard Turner plays as Goldmundo, in Dan Haywood’s New Hawks, Starless & Bible Black and The Little Hero Band.

Wes Martin is an artist and banjo player in indie-folk act The Low Countries and The Existence of Harvey Lord.
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5 Responses

  1. Richard Turner did a great job with OOR. Much respect!
    I also think he has given a very clear headed overview here, of how things go down in Lancaster.
    From my own point of view I tend to go to gigs where I have heard something in the music previews online, that makes me want to go and see it live. Not every OOR night was to my personal taste so I didn’t go to all of them, but that was OORs strength (as well as LAWMs) that there was so much variety. The label “Folk night” was very lazy labelling and Richard is right to say OOR became much more than that.
    Getting people to come to gigs is a struggle. Except when you have a well known name. Those gigs fill. John Bramwell filled the Yorkie last November at £10 per head!
    John Renbourn too in 2008.
    The audience really is a fickle beast, and I guess that will never change….
    Follow your muse Richard 🙂
    Peace & Music
    Stuart Anthony

  2. Re: LAWM making promoting sexy— promoters have always been a bit sexy.

    Think back to P.T .Barnum, Bill Graham and Ian Marchant.

    But it was the raunchy Richards (first Twine, then Turner, then Davis) who took it to the next level.

    Phwoar!

  3. I’d like to thank Goldmundo and Wes for the years and labour that they put in to what can sometimes be a thankless, stressful and under-appreciated task. Attending as many Oors (and LAWM) as I could possibly get to, I never failed to be impressed by at least one of the artists/bands that were on offer that I had not yet heard of or seen, along with connecting me with quite a few locally who I came to end up working with. I always came away feeling that I had had my horizons widened by the mountain coming to me, as it were.
    Good luck with everything, and I hope not permanently goodbye. I, for one, as with LAWM, will miss it being on my calender.

  4. Cheers Paul, it’s comments like yours that make me think it wasn’t all in vain!

  5. Yay, I feel there may be one or two OoR reprise events for special occasions. Thanks again Richard for letting me get involved, its been fun, met some ace people, played some lovely gigs with Low Countries and The Existence, and I’ll see you soon,,,,,all of you.x

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