Duncan Reid returns to Glasgow with his Big Heads this October to play a hotly anticipated gig. I say hotly anticipated as anyone who has seen the band play before will know that those with a ticket for this are in for a treat.
Last year they played in Audio with support from Heavy Drapes and The Media Whores and, in my opinion, was one of the top gig of 2016. Apologies for anyone who has read previous blog posts, I may have mentioned this several times…
Anyway, that night saw 3 sterling sets, each band was totally on form. Duncan Reid & the Big Heads provided a masterclass in entertainment – they had it all – the tunes, the songs, the banter and so much energy!
This year, the support comes from 3 Minute Heroes and, once again, Heavy Drapes.
Duncan was good enough to take some time out to answer some questions in advance of the gig. You can find this interview further down the post.
But first, the man responsible for bringing the band back to Glasgow is promoter and all round good guy, Alex “Mainy” Main. I caught up with him to find out more about his experiences in gig promotion.
Alex “Mainy” Main – Interview
You promoted last year’s Duncan Reid & the Big Heads gig (one of THE gigs of 2016 – have I ever mentioned that before?) and you are promoting their Glasgow gig this year too.
As a music fan, I love going to gigs. I would love to go to more (better hope my wife isn’t reading this) but work and family commitments don’t always allow. I like to support the effort the bands make to get their music “out there”. I’ve been to plenty of gigs that have been packed. However, I’ve also been to some (too many) that have had amazing bands playing, but only a handful of people have turned up.
I don’t know if a lot of people put much thought into the work that goes in to promoting and putting on a gig. I thought it would be interesting to get another angle on gig experiences and what it takes to make it happen for us, the punters.
thegingerquiff: How did you get into gig promotion?
Mainy: I have no idea. It feels silly saying that out loud, but I really don’t. There is no one moment that stands out as a beginning. I just drifted into it from the position of being a music fan.
One day you are doing the door for a mate in a band and the next you are the one putting the show on yourself. Then there is a point you lift your head up and five gigs are under your belt and people are calling you a promoter.
It was evolutionary in so many ways. One thing was just the catalyst for the next. Before I promoted any shows I was writing for other people’s fanzines, and then putting out my own, doing the door at gigs for friends and touring bands, sometimes doing the merch.
Then people started to get to know me and at some point someone must have approached me to put a show on and I said yes and that was it. No great mystery or entertaining rock and roll story to it. Rather mundane really.
It wasn’t a result of coming out of a college course on it all as so many seem to know, (Equally mundane) and there’s no one person that I learnt the ropes from either. (Possibly exciting)
I’m a drifter, the proverbially jack of all trades, but master of none.
tgq: Well to me it looks like you are master of several. Probably a stupid question based on what you’ve just said about things being a blur, but what was the first gig you were involved in promoting?
M: That’s a tough one as it’s all sort of lost in the mists of time. I was involved in a 4 Past Midnight gig in Nice and Sleazy (Glasgow) and that could lay claim to being the springboard I jumped from.
It wasn’t my show, but it allowed me to see the process at play. I honestly can’t recall the first solo promoted gig at all. It’s part of that drifting process. I have a dim memory of being contacted and asked for the name of Glasgow promoters and when no one was biting to put the band on I did it myself as I wanted to see them. That’s a common theme across the years. When no one else has been interested then I have done it. Not a great business philosophy.
tgq: It must be a great feeling when you sell out a gig you have been involved in promoting or hear people raving about it. What are the most memorable gigs you have promoted?
M: When people don’t just have a good time, but rave about it being the best time. Thats when a gig becomes very emotionally rewarding.
I had a show in Kilmarnock with Mike Peters (The Alarm) and there was a point when he walked into the middle of the crowd with his guitar and microphone and sang with everyone surrounding him. The atmosphere was electric and the people who were there certainly experienced something magical.
That stands out, but there are so many more. The Damned Damned Damned gig with Brian James and Rat Scabies was as raw as a gig can be, but the fire and passion from the band and the people attending made it something very special. Hurray for the Riff Raff, All the Eureka Machines gigs I have been involved in, Duncan Reid that you have mentioned.
I’m now concerned that I will miss someone out. So much water under the bridge and I know I will be thinking later about this one or that one.
tgq: I’m glad you mentioned that Duncan Reid gig and I’m sure you can be forgiven for missing someone, as you said, you’ve been involved in loads.
Thinking about any personal experiences, what is the impact on a you or promoters in general and bands when there are only a handful of people turning up?
M: The impact can’t really be measured. It ranges from the financial to the emotional.
Both my partner and I had a show that we lost over a thousand pounds on. The finger of blame couldn’t be pointed at the artist, or the venue, and of course we picked over our involvement. To be frank we did everything we could have done too. All the boxes were ticked off. It was just one of those things, but I needed bailed out to make sure everyone got their agreed fees. Then I had a few weeks of living like a hermit and existing on supermarket brand spaghetti hoops until I could get back on my knees.
I would be exaggerating to say back on my feet. I wouldn’t wish that sort of experience on my worst enemy. Well maybe the most deserving. It’s not like a month of spaghetti hoops will kill them.
That’s an extreme example of course, but often everyone is just looking to break even. Losses are common. There’s no money in it unless corners are cut and artists are being abused. Very often it is a ‘one gig to the next’ survival course and while I take my hat off to those who do it I also think we are all probably mentally ill too. It’s madness.
As for the artists, the finances are what cover getting them from one venue to another. It puts fuel in the van and food in their mouths. If only a handful of people turn up at a show then that makes their lives very difficult. Bands that are doing the circuit at club level are never ever living the high life. It’s an ongoing struggle for them.
On the emotional level it can be heartbreaking for the promoter if you are invested in the gig. The artists are people you respect and like. If it’s not purely business then it is horrible. Just indescribably horrible to look about you and count the people attending on the fingers of one hand. Especially when you know it has no reflection on the talent of the people performing.
And who knows how difficult it is emotionally for the bands and solo artists themselves. The head down and lets get on with it attitude that gets people up on a stage to entertain an audience, no matter how small, can’t be understated. They are all heroes in my book.
tgq: So there you go folks, if you want to ensure Mainy can avoid spaghetti hoops for dinner, get your finger out and buy your Duncan Reid tickets. And while you’re at it have a look and see what other gigs you can get along too.
On a more serious note thought, I know recently your posters have been going missing and re-appearing on e-bay (don’t buy these people – if you want one – contact Mainy or get one from him at the gig). This is obviously a pitfall, but what are the other pitfalls of promoting live music?
Oh, don’t get me started about that. Anyone stealing posters is a problem, as is the simply removing them to be replaced with a poster for another show.
What they are really doing is limiting the reach of the advertising. It’s all brutally cut throat. You hear people talk about unity in the music world, but there is very little of it in reality. Most of the pitfalls come down to other people and their actions. The lack of a communally supportive approach is a serious problem. Very few want to help others out. It’s a selfish business from top to bottom.
It’s not really that complicated a concept to grasp that if people want a better and more vibrant scene then help, and don’t hinder. Don’t take a poster down; don’t replace it with your own when there is space for it elsewhere.
Little things like that do matter.
So yeah, now that I have got that off my chest I suppose I could list other pitfalls, but they are so wide and varied that this would become an essay.
Some you have no control over such as a venue double booking a night. Others are unavoidable, for instance you could have a gig booked for months, a mid-level rock band. Two weeks before your date a well known band in the same genre is announced for the same night. There’s not a lot that can be done about that. You can’t forward plan to avoid things that come out of left field.
Then there are the problems that you can avoid. For those it’s just a matter of common sense being applied. Independent promoters, good ones, are probably all fantastic at problem solving on their feet. You never know what is coming next.
tgq: What advice would you give someone who was considering promoting live music?
M: It’s probably twofold. First is that if you are considering independently promoting gigs as something that will provide an income that will pay the bills then don’t. It’s that simple. Go and work for a promotion company rather than do it on your own. Or just do something else, anything else.
Maybe one day if you can secure a job with an established company then contacts will be built up to make it worthwhile, but in general it isn’t something that will keep a roof over anyone’s head. Like artist the success rate is minute and the failure rate is huge.
But if it is something that you need to do, your passion, then look about and do a bit of research and copy what works. Ditch what doesn’t, streamline what has come before.
And don’t over extend yourself (I’ve been there). Always treat people with respect of course. Always pay what you owe, and enjoy the highs as there will be lows. Oh, and start working on a thick skin too.
That thick skin is essential.
M: I gone did one of those dang interview things about promoting last night.
I missed a bit out about word of mouth promotion. You can’t buy it and it’s the best. So tell someone about the Duncan Reid gig today.
If you are attending tell anyone you think might like it too. If you’re not coming along that’s fine, but be that proactive lover of ye oldie good times and do tell someone who you think would love it, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t?
Spread the word far and wide, shout it from the rooftops, whisper it in an ear, slide it in a note across your desk and wink at the guy from accounts at the same time, ask not what Duncan can do for you, but what you can do for Duncan.
Thats the thoughts of the promoter. What about what we can expect from the headline act?
Duncan Reid was kind enough to spare some time to answer some questions about his background in music and what we can expect from the band.
Originally a member of first wave of punk band, The Boys. Bass player Duncan “Kid” Reid along with fellow band members Matt Dangerfield, Casino Steel, Honest John Plain & Jack Black released a series of punk/power anthems in the shape of I Don’t Care, First Time (with Reid on vocals) & Brickfield Nights. The band released albums spanning the years 77 – 81.
Reid now has had 3 albums under his belt now under his own moniker. (With the 2nd and 3rd albums adding The Big Heads.)
All three albums are packed full of power pop anthems, effervescent tunes, captivating stories & thoughtful lyrics. Debut solo effort “Little Big Head” (2012) 2014’s “Difficult Second Album” (believe me it is far from difficult to listen to) and latest album “Bombs Away” (2017) featuring topical title track “Bombs Away”.
Live, the songs take on an added vibrancy and zeal. I’ve seen much younger bands with about as much get up and go as roadkill. Duncan Reid and the Big Heads ooze charisma.
tgq: So Duncan, you were there from the start of punk as a member of The Boys, what are your stand out memories from that time?
DR: So many to mention! Drinking with Joe Strummer at Dingwalls. He was so interested in everyone. In fact, most of the memories involved alcohol!
Playing in Paris for the first time to the select band of about 20 punks who lived there. It was a small club of people in the know at the time.
A general feeling of danger. Punk produced great feelings of anger in the long haired public. They were threatened and often reacted angrily.
tgq: I’d love to be able to say I had a drink with the mighty Joe Strummer. I’ll buy you a pint on the 6th then I can say I had a drink with the legend that is Duncan Reid.
How would you compare that time to the music scene now?
DR: It was a time of change.
It was new whereas now tends to be more of a nostalgia trip looking back. Then we were looking forward for the next new thing.
tgq: I mentioned earlier The Boys released some classic tracks in their time – what are your personal favourite Boys songs and why?
DR: The two ultimate classics are First Time and Brickfield Nights. Great songs.
I’m very proud to have sung First Time as it’s one of the best songs ever. I can say that as I didn’t write it!
Can’t disagree there, and it feels like a good excuse to leave this here:
tgq: Your name in The Boys was “Kid” Reid, you’ve have held on your youthful good looks – what does the picture in your attic look like?
People ask me the secret of my young looks. I say it’s down to my diet of recreational drugs and chocolate!
tgq: This is a bit of a Smash Hits question . You have very unique and suave sense of style – why the colour scheme?
DR: To be different! I like black but so does everyone else.
I like looking at people who have their own style so try to provide the same service to everyone else.
Tgq: And a great style it is too. You are a great storyteller in your songs and lyrics – where do you get your inspiration to write from?
DR: My own life and things I come across. It’s quite a common source for songwriters. After all, what do we all know the most about? Our own lives is the answer.
You and the band put everything into your live performances, last year’s gig in Audio was one of my favourite gigs of 2016, and you have a knack of drawing in and involving your audiences. It appears you are really enjoying the performances yourselves too. Tell me more about the Duncan Reid live experience.
DR: As you say it’s energetic.
We try to be the most lively, tuneful, and best looking band in existence and, of course, exceed all our targets on all fronts!
Lately we’ve been playing for hours. We play all the songs we know then start playing ones we don’t know. It gets interesting!
tgq: You’ve released 3 tremendous albums now as Duncan Reid/Duncan Reid & the Big Heads. Do you have any favourite songs across these albums?
DR: I think Bombs Away is one of the best things I’ve been involved with. It’s up there with First Time.
My favourite tends to change every day as all the songs are so brilliant!
What’s next for the band (obviously one highlight will be October 6th in Nice n Sleazy and it will be hard to beat)?
DR: Of course.
We carry on touring and are thinking of a live album which many people have asked for as we are quite different live to on record. Far more raw.
So there you have it – if you want a night with the most lively, tuneful and best looking (not to mention nattily attired) bands around today get yourselves along to a Duncan Reid & The Big Heads and don’t plan on getting home early
Make sure you are there in plenty of time on the 6th of October to catch all three bands. Show your support for live music and local bands