SHEFFIELD: WE BUILT THIS (STEEL) CITY ON ROCK & ROLL!
It's July 1988 and I'm laid in my bed, the top bunk, with my window open listening to BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN at Bramall Lane Stadium. I can hear almost every word and have serious chills, wishing I was there and longing for the day when I'm old enough to go. In 1993 DEF LEPPARD, THUNDER, UGLY KID JOE and TERRORVISION played to over 40 000 people at the now demolished Don Valley Stadium. That's the last big outdoor event I remember. Sadly, there hasn't been the opportunity to see someone as huge as The Boss on my doorstep, and the only real outdoor events these days are part of a festival. Influenced by the lack of big outdoor shows, given we are an area with a strong rock n roll heritage – DEF LEPPARD, SAXON, BRUCE DICKINSON and JOE COCKER to name a few - Steve Hughes decided to put on an event at Don Valley Bowl, Rockin’ The Bowl - Forged in Hell to celebrate the best in new talent.
Steve says, "I have been noticing that the new generation of hugely talented rock acts about today are often still playing venues that are (without prejudice to the venue) way beneath their talent levels. These are the future of the genre because many of the bands we know and love won't be around for very much longer, and these guys deserve the chance to play to a bigger audience." The man behind RTB aims to firmly look towards the future of hard/heavy/classic rock by showcasing the best of the new breed of British talent in this new annual event, starting this September.
Steve has a history in creating large scale, successful rock events. "The biggest challenge has been creating something that stands out from the others. It's not enough to just make it cheap with loads of bands on...there are so many festivals on the circuit today offering this....really good ones too! So what do we do that isn't being done yet? This one combines the size and atmosphere of a festival with the intimacy and togetherness of a pub gig."
Individuals with a genuine interest in and love for live rock music have been handpicked to join a group of volunteers to help organise and run the event; Steve tells me "I think it is vital that the volunteers are treated with as much respect as the bands. We need them to do the hundreds of jobs that the average gig goer doesn't even consider. My hat is well and truly taken off to them".
The line-up includes KANE’D, RYDERS CREED, TRUCKER DIABLO, and AARON BUCHANAN, but a headliner hasn't been announced yet. When asked about his dream headliner Steve has no hesitation in naming SAXON - "They are South Yorkshire born and bred. They have earned their respect and they put on such a show every time. They have a huge and loyal following and are true to their roots. A talented and highly professional band with a host of young, hungry and fun bands snapping at their heels...what more do you need for a great party?" Keep checking the website and social media for the headliner announcement.
Tickets are on sale now and at just £20 for over 14 bands it's a no-brainer. I've bought mine. 14th September 2019 Don Valley Bowl Sheffield- be there. https://rockinthebowl.co.uk/shop/
Are the emergence of events like this, and the growing number of semi-amateur promoters, symptomatic of a wider issue nationally, with venues closing left and right? Steve says "I think that Sheffield is very lucky when it comes to venues when you consider how many are closing down all across the country. We have a thriving music community and a diverse range of places to see bands from West Street to the Arena". I asked a few other folk what they thought...
Tramlines is a massive event in Sheffield, the main event based across four stages with more than 70 artists, plus comedy, a pop-up cinema, a family area and food and drink. The main event is across all genres but generally more indie and pop focused. The fringe, however, which takes over the city that weekend, is the place to be for rock.
"One thing that gives Sheffield an upper hand is the Fringe at Tramlines. With a vast amount of venues playing over 3 days, it allows bands a foot in the door and a chance to show new people what they’re about." says THE LOST DAYS frontman Adam Leigh Methven who comes from nearby Worksop. "We have always loved coming to Sheffield as it’s always been like a second home to us. We even used the Sheffield cityscape for the artwork on our first ever EP release."
Joe Hanson of local band STEAL THE CITY, appearing at Rockin’ The Bowl this year, thinks the range of venues in Sheffield is good; "there are plenty of venues to choose from which I think is crucial to say how diverse the music scene is in Sheffield. If I wanted to check out some local Indie or grungy kinda bands, then I would head to Cafe Totem. If I wanted to check out some heavy metal bands, I'd head to either The Mulberry or the RS Bar. If I fancied a mixed bag of genres then West Street Live is where it's at!" LIBERATOR’s Mike Bower says he never struggles to find a gig in Sheffield; "the variety in Sheffield is good as there are so many to choose from hosting different events".
But for some the closure of older venues has hit home; "the Boardwalk, Soyo Live and The Grapes have left a big hole" says Andy Davison from THE BLACK THUNDER REVUE.
This is echoed by long-time local musician Steve Baranovich - "we miss the classic venues such as the Boardwalk, where bands wanted to play because the venue was so professionally set up, amazing stage, sound and lights, plus they had a backstage area that bands could get ready in."
Fellow 'veteran' David Gotteri makes a valid point though, "whilst it would be great to have more venues, getting people to come out also seems to be difficult, and without footfall you're never going to increase your choice of venues." It goes back to the old adage that only we are responsible for empty music venues.
FEAR LIES’ bass player Dan Eades says "The range is good, there’s something for all bands from newbies to veterans You can choose between a small intimate gig to a full, all-out show and the size of the venues has remained constant but there seem to be less venues to choose from. It’s become a smaller, closer community circle. Unfortunately venues closing seems to be a sign of the times".
My next question is can venues help out in increasing ticket sales and attendance? Claire from local band CRIMSON N CLOVER says venues shouldn't be afraid to try something new; "[they] should give newcomers a chance instead of booking the same bands 4 or 5 times a year, I understand they draw in the crowds but how are other bands ever going to start and get a following, and you never know what the new bands can bring to the table". The way venues treat bands and customers is obviously key to success and a fundamental most people look at when booking a venue; STEAL THE CITY's Joe says "I'm not booking a gig just to play a show, I'm also there to make friends and have a great time." Gig goer and photographer Anne-Marie Wyer adds "promote the gig well, get good supports and get them promoting it too. Keep your venue clean and your sound and lighting good. Make sure your staff are friendly and respectful to the artists, photographers and fans."
A popular venue with local artists and wider, RS Bar (Royal Standard), as described by Manager Jo Lene Grey, "was an old traditional community pub then it had a refurb about 12 years ago with new decor to attract students and a younger clientele, as most families had moved out of the area and some properties demolished." As a promoter herself, Jo knows the value of getting people through the door and they work hard to increase footfall "by being diverse on genres. We also make gigs free entry as much as we can and also discount drinks".
The Dove and Rainbow has been open as a 'Rock, Real Ale and Live Music Pub' for the last 12 years but have started to focus on one-off charity events and tramlines rather than regular live music slots. "We usually get bands approaching us, rather than the other way round, and often it is bands who have played here before and want to be involved next time we have something happening. It's mainly local bands, and we don't pay."
Tyler Savage of newcomers CROSSFIRE EAGLES has a fresh view as a new and upcoming band just starting to get more paid gigs; "Each venue has its own unique atmosphere and this is a big positive! Over time local bands will develop a liking to some venues over others. This is a completely normal thing to do and the good thing is that there is never a right or wrong answer.
Andy Dove (EVADE ESCAPE) says he loves visiting Sheffield on the occasion he has chance, given the distance and the lack of numbers at midweek gigs; "Sheffield from my experience has a lot more to offer, pubs and venues that support live music. A lot of what determines how much I like a venue can be down to location, how well the show was ran, how decent the sound was, storage space for equipment, how well the promotion has been done and the overall feeling and attendance on the night."
Ciaron Elm, performer and promoter stresses "I'd say the first thing I look for is always a respectful venue. Somewhere that either myself or my artist is going to be treated with a positive, welcoming attitude and feel safe to perform. Artists are more likely to promote your venue and bring people down if they're playing somewhere that they feel happy and welcome! And don't be afraid of paying artists. It can seem like a bit of a gamble, especially with lesser known or up and coming acts, but the reputation that it gives to the venue is priceless in terms of getting bigger name artists in." Melanie Lampro of local band BRAVER THAN FICTION agrees; "there do seem to be more non-paying venues and limited opportunities for bands to get paid gigs".
All of the venues mentioned so far are smaller 'grass roots' venues, so are we missing larger venues? CAPTAIN JACK AVERY thinks so; "promoters are working hard to keep live music alive and thriving in this city from across genres...the festivals are next level in this town! Lantern Carnival, Peace in the Park, Sharrow Festival, RiteTrax, Heeley City Farm Fest…. One thing I would like to see though is a decent, non-corporate bigger venue to attract out of town bands on tour". We have Corp (with 3 rooms 180, 300, 900 capacity), The Leadmill (200 or 900 capacity room) and O2 Academy (2,350 capacity) but is this enough? Gig fanatic Gary Laird says "there are places I really like, there’s the Musician in Leicester which is a really cool intimate venue and I enjoy the Black Heart in Camden. The Corporation measures up pretty well but if I was to give some constructive criticism it would be to lower the stage a bit in the small room". And for the real big hitters we have the Arena, where I saw Def Leppard in December 2018. Sheffield is often left off major tour posters though...
HRH use the O2 for a lot of weekend festivals, including Sleaze, Doom Vs Stoner and Crows. They also hold their annual battle of the bands competition here, 'Highway to Hell'. The O2 is perfect for the events like this, the sound carrying from the main stage to wherever you are in the auditorium and the smaller room upstairs as a second stage. Ciaron Elm says it's all about the "hidden gems" rather than the bigger venues though, "there's a lot of demand for the 'A-list' venues as there's such a strong scene here at the moment, with so much going on. But there's so many hidden gems as well, like The Three Tuns in the Cathedral Quarter for example, who have free entry live music every Friday and Saturday night".
It comes back to getting people through the door. And this is the responsibility of bands, promoters, venues and the average person. As DTFM has such a great platform on social media, it frustrates the hell out of me when bands or promoters say they "don't do" social media. I'm sorry to tell you that if that's the case you're missing a trick. People who hear your music, who see you at a gig, who bump into you and ask for a selfie, all these people tend to share their experience on social media. Tyler Savage (CROSSFIRE EAGLES) explains; "When people share something online the name travels from one person to the next creating a domino effect. This means that the person sharing the content will automatically share the post to potentially hundreds of other people who won't know who the band are. If you do this consistently over time people who see the shared posts will often start to take more and more notice of who the band are and what they are all about." Reviews are also shared on social media, directing you to websites from Facebook and Twitter. Personally, I like to use the 'events' function on Facebook to let my gig-buddies know where I'm going to be and catch up with them where I can.
Venues also play a big part and can often be criticised for not seeming to advertise gigs very widely. In addition, a couple of people I spoke to said they'd experienced, or knew people who had, venues not responding to enquiries. This must be so frustrating but as Dan Eades says, as in all walks of life, "there is a lot of competition out there, sometimes it’s more who you know than what you play". Tyler suggests "in the build up to a live event [venues] should play the band's music on a playlist". Sounds easy enough to try it. He also says literally knocking on venues' doors has worked for them in getting gigs.
I don't suppose there is a right or wrong answer, and no one person or group is responsible for keeping the live music scene thriving, each thinking the other could do more. To venues I would say be more proactive, try something new, promote well and always treat artists with the respect they deserve. Bands and promoters, share the hell out of every event you book, work together with other bands, and make 'influential' friends or contacts where you can. My advice to the people who go to live gigs is try something new. Arrive early and catch the support act. Go on recommendations from mates. You might discover the band of your dreams. It's no secret that I adore Stone Broken and Bigfoot and I discovered both of those as supports. You've paid for the ticket, arranged the sitter, why not make the most of it and get there early, see the whole show.