The Live Music Forum
How it came to be
All the time running Light From Darkness Studio I was trying to work towards a communal movement but that isn't easy. For one you have to contend with people's suspicions. With so many stories of musicians being ripped off by unscrupulous managers and producers, maybe it's no surprise.
In 1971, while in my teens, I had led a group of about twenty friends who formed an Arts group, Nothing Ever Happens Arts, and put on several concerts featuring top progressive bands of the time. like Gentle Giant. Surprisingly these were a big success, but you have a lot of energy and enthusiasm when you are young and that is definitely the time to make the most of it.
In 1993, within six months of me having to vacate the Light From Darkness Studio in Hastings, three live music venues in the town had lost their music licenses or allowed them to lapse and weren't able to re-new them. One day I was having a chat with my guitarist pal Simon Shaw, who was visiting, and somebody rang me up and asked me what I was going to do about these music venues closing. When I was off the phone I asked Simon to join me on a steering committee of a pressure group which we were about to form. With Simon signed up I asked Jazz bass guitarist Roger Carey if he would join us on the steering committee. He agreed and that was enough to get started.
Then we set about organising the first Hastings Live Music Forum.
I contacted the Tourism and Leisure Department at the local council and persuaded them to give me an appointment to see the Director, a man called Roger Dennett . As it transpired I did a lot to help the band in which his son played Bass about four years later. I put my case to him about the tragic loss of music venues etc and talked him into letting me use the Marina Pavillion, a quite smart Bar/Ballroom sort of place right on the Beach front with a great view. I explained that a handsome Bar takings would be generated by a large group of thirsty musicians coming together for an evening.
One of the first things I did after arranging the venue was to have some really smart invitations printed. They cost me £40 but they were worth it. I sent one to every town Councillor as well as the local papers and everyone I knew with an interest in Live Music. I also left them in Record shops music pubs etc. together with posters which I always put up myself. Sometimes if you just leave a poster at a venue it will get overlooked.
My name, at least was familiar with the journalist who compiled the Leisure column in the local newspaper and he did a small piece (with small photo even) in the paper the Friday before "The Forum". Other than getting out and telling as many people as I could about it I didn't have funds to do a lot more.
I had a feeling that at least a couple of dozen of the people that I knew would turn up so I had to conceive some kind of form for the proceedings to take.
They had a small P.A. there so I intended to use the stage with myself, Roger and Simon sitting at tables. I spent a couple of weeks working on a Speech if that's the word. It was more like a list of points, each condensed into a sentence with a couple of keywords in it. Can't remember what they were now but if I can locate the papers (No PC then) I will reproduce them here. Anyhow. The nearer it got the more nervous I became. Running over and over in my mind what I wanted to say.
On the night I was quite relieved to see a few people start arriving shortly after I got there. Then the tables at the front were getting taken and people were still coming in the doors. Some of them a bit unlikely looking. I asked Simon and Roger to say a few words about what they thought. They didn't seem too keen at first but most of the better known musicians were showing up and the atmosphere was building up with a real expectancy.
I had acquired a load of scrap pads and cheap biros from the printer I had used and we put a couple of these on each table.
Ten minutes before the scheduled start the Marina Pavillion was packed with all the hundred seats in front of the stage taken and the bar full. The place was buzzing and I have not experienced an atmosphere quite like it before or since.
I didn't have to talk for too long. A bit of history, what had happened recently, examples of venues and licensing problems, what needed to be done, who was responsible (The Council) and, most importantly, what a specially talented townful of musicians and artists we were lucky enough to have. Hooray! One of several rounds of applause. The joint was Rockin'. Specifically I pointed out the ridiculousness of the Licensing Laws that limited a venue to two musicians unless it had a Public Entertainments License issued by The Environmental Health Department of the local council. This issue continued and continues even now to restrict the practices of working musicians.†
My co-spiritors were more enthusiastic to speak now. Simon backed me up and offered some personal experience. Roger Carey introduced the point of wages for musicians, acknowledging that it is hard for Bar Owners/Managers to afford realistic wages for musicians from Bar takings and emphasised that we had to start thinking about where the revenue was going to come from. perhaps the public needed to be prepared to pu their hands in their pockets. Readers in USA and Canada will be familiar with the "Cover Charge", often collected on the door on behalf of the band or Bar owner. This isn't common in UK pubs.
By the time we three had finished all I had to do for the rest evening was keep order. People were chomping at the bit to speak from the floor. I told people to use the pads to write questions or comments or their names if they wanted to come up to the stage and address the attendance.†
There was already someone with their hand up.
The first couple of people were supportive of what we had been saying then singer John Ballard spoke up and expanded on the problems and inconsistency of the licensing laws. It might have been myself who then threw in the idea of trying to do something to change the laws restricting live music. Straight away there was a man in a shirt and tie on his feet with his hand in the air. I invited him to speak and he said that if we petitioned for a relaxation in the laws, then his department would press for all performance of live music to be licensed. He turned out to be the assistant to the head of Hastings Council Environmental Health Department (the guy actually responsible for the control of the entertainment licenses for all the venues in the area).
The gauntlet had been thrown down and there was a bit of a pause as it sunk in. The atmosphere was absolute energy. In response there was a bit of venom from a couple of individuals but it soon passed and there was a general feel of excitement and that we were at the beginning of something new.
Through the evening I had been reminding people that there were pens and pads on the table and that they could use these to give us their names and addresses if they wanted to be put on a mailing list. Also to submit ideas, comments or questions. Simon Shaw and Leather Ann were running a relay to get them back to the stage and I read out ideas and comments. One idea was plain and that was that people wanted another Forum to continue what had started. I said that I would put things in motion and somebody started a whip round which raised about £40. As I closed the meeting a crowd of people surrounded my table with congratulations and demands. I remember Simon Steadman† and Johnny Wilde from The Dharmas saying "We want be involved in this".††
Later on I found out that five councillors had been there as well as two officials from the Environmental Health Department and fortunately, a reporter from the local newspaper.†There were people from the Musicians Union there and every mover and shaker in town. It seemed that over the next couple of months everyone was talking about The Hastings Live Music Forum. Dozens of people were coming up to me at gigs wanting to talk about it and I began to get phone calls from interested parties.
In The Pullbacks, the RnB group I was playing with at the time, both the Bass player, Martin Richter, and the keyboard player, Jez Gillett, were quite interested in the idea of the Forum and it was discussed during the long hours in the back of the van on the way to and from gigs. Somebody mentioned what a good idea it would be to have a little printed Gig Guide like one we had come across in one of the pubs we were playing at in far flung Kent or somewhere. Jez Gillett said that he could run a Desk Top Publishing Programme on his Amiga Computer. I said that I could write stuff to put in it and I had definite ideas about the Gig Guide and what would make it work.†
In a different vein, I had agreed to organise a second Forum so that the thing could be carried forward and it had become accepted that some kind of election would be the best way to form a panel to speak 'on behalf of the people'. Martin Richter was an active Trade Unionist and I sought his advice on the essential components of a managing committee. He said, "Youv'e got to have a secretary and a treasurer". Along with a Chairman and a Vice Chairman that made four. I am a firm believer in a strong group so decided on five. That is a committee of five people to run The Hastings Live Music Forum which would be elected by members of the general public who were interested in Live Music.
I then arranged with Roger Dennett to have the Marina Pavillion again on a Monday in September. Then I did the usual thing with a phone call to the local reporter and a bit of stuff in the post to her. Plenty of posters and fliers handed out at gigs. Jez Gillett also played keyboards in the town's most popular band of the time, The Lost Boys, so it helped to have support from that direction, although most factions were prepared to support something demanding 'More Music'. A couple of weeks prior to the date a couple of students from Hastings College phoned me up and asked if they could film the proceedings with Broadcast Quality equipment. Naturally I agreed.
I had to devise some kind of electoral system and I figured if the attendance was about the same, ie. 100 people app., and you needed to reduce ten candidates to five elected then if everyone cast three or four votes it should be pretty fair. Don't ask me how I arrived there but that's what happened. Anybody was allowed to put themselves forward as a candidate but I don't think anybody put themselves forward. I counted myself Jez Gillett and Martin Richter because they seemed to be getting quite excited by it all and had gotten involved. I counted the two members of the initial 'Steering Committee', Simon Shaw and Roger Carey.† There was a blues singer called John Ballard who was very popular with many people so I asked him and he agreed. I counted in Johnny Wilde because he said he "wanted to be involved" and Simon Shaw suggested a Woman called Jackie Pentecost because he thought she would be dead good at it. Jackie was the wife of the keyboard player in Simon's band, The Bolivian Brothers, who John Ballard sang with. That made eight candidates. I had a couple of hundred ballot Papers printed up and we were ready to go.
On the night Simon Shaw was there early to help me set it out and we arranged to hand each person a Ballot Paper as they arrived. I set tables and chairs out on the stage so that four or five people could be seated and share a couple of microphones. The Marina filled up nice and early again and there must have been just about a hundred people there, because when we counted up the votes there were 98 completed Ballot Papers or something like that.
I opened the Forum and introduced Martin Richter who ranted a bit and then Jez Gillett who waved about a copy of a trial Gig Guide called Music Files. We discussed that being one of the things that the HLMF could take on. I spoke a little bit about all the candidates, for people who didn't know the names and we set the thing in motion. It must have been one of the quickest elections because within an hour we had all the ballot papers handed in and the votes counted. Simon Shaw took charge of a little party to do the counting and from out of nowhere there appeared a couple of Bikers for security. Then we had some of the usual suspects hold a world class jam session.
It was Simon Shaw, again, who announced the results. the people with the most votes counted were, myself, John Ballard, Roger Carey, Jez Gillett and Martin Richter. Unfortunately, with a heavy touring schedule, Roger Carey felt he could not fill the post and the next person with the biggest number of votes was Jackie Pentecost so she stepped in to take his place. This photo was taken a few months later at one of the monthly production meetings
The Elected Committee of The Hastings Live Music Forum
Back Row, Left to Right - Phil Little, Jez Gillett
Front Row, Left to Right - Jackie Pentecost, John Ballard, Martin Richter
The Hastings Live Music Forum was official and it had an agenda with a mandate from the music loving public of Hastings and the surrounding district. We agreed to meet the following week and get ourselves underway.
At the first meeting it was decided to have a revolving chair on a six monthly basis. The others voted me in as the first Chairman. I said that the Gig Guide element of our Gig Guide was the vital part and that we should obviously make the gig listing free but we should also phone the venues for the information. I know only too well how poor some landlords are at doing that kind of thing on time and this way we stand a better chance of collecting accurate information to publish. On reflection I believe that this was probably one of the biggest factors contributing to the success of Music Files. After a few issues we had the contacts ready and waiting for our call once a month to get all their dates. After only two or three issues people were carrying Music Files everywhere with them and using it to select where to go. You can't keep this kind of thing secret and pretty soon everyone wanted one. In all my time we never managed to print enough copies to satisfy all the demand.†
John Ballard was a very good artist and he came up with the logo shown at the top of the page. He also drew cartoons which went on the front cover of Music Files and proved very popular with the readers. Jez's job was going to be the compiling and preparing of† a master that we could take to the printers. I got a very reasonable quote from a friendly printers called Fastprint which worked out at about £200 for a thousand magazines of twelve pages (A5 size) folded and stapled. That meant that we had to get twenty ads at £10 each to cover the costs. We had agreed at the very beginning to support all the costs that we incurred ourselves so that there were no draws on the† cash flow of Music Files except for the printing of copies to be distributed. This proved expensive for some of the committee but was surely another element that made the plan work. Jackie Pentecost agreed to help me with getting in advertising and the distribution once a month. She covered some miles in the distribution of mags I can vouch. Martin Richter agreed to write a couple of columns and he and I wrote the first three or four magazines between us practically. He did the Laddish 'Great Gig I had about fourteen pints' sort of gags and I did the serious protest against the system stuff and three or four reviews every month. Curiously "More Reviews" was always the call from our readers. After about four months we started to get some contributions from readers and a few letters of support which are always printable. We offered free lineage ad space to bands and musicians but it was never really taken up.
Advertising was not a problem either. For the first issue we had to rely on loyal friends in the business like Richard Moore at B & T Keyboards who advertised all the way through and never let us down with raffle prizes either, and we just made the 'quota', But once word had spread about the popularity of the magazine every venue wanted to advertise and a couple of alternative eateries, record store, taxi firm etc. Shops or pubs that didn't really do a lot of music would ring up and ask to have some copies of Music Files. I used to tell them that it was so popular we could only distribute copies through our advertisers and most times got a regular advert from them.†
After a couple of years some distributors told us on several occasions that people would be in their shop or pub first thing on the first day of the month and going frantic to get hold of the thing. If it was late they would get hassled unbearably, hence we got the complaints. Unfortunately there were a few months when the magazine was more than a day late, especially after we introduced photos, which was easier said than done. Poor old Jez Gillett was holding down his day job, rehearsing and gigging at least three bands and in his spare time producing the layout for Music Files two weeks out of four. He did a great job especially with the number of late additions and changes he was asked to accomodate, but it was difficult to get the master into the printers in enough time to guarantee delivery on the first of the month all the time. Jackie too. She had to drop everything as soon as the mags were ready and then start driving all over 1066 country to feed the masses. The Gig Guide had grown too and Jackie had to help me with that. After Music Files had been established a while she tackled an interview and realised that she could write as well as anybody else.
After my six months as Chairman was completed in April 1994, I went off to do a bit of travelling as I get the bug from time to time. I had complete faith that the other four were capable of managing the whole show themselves and indeed they grew Music Files creditably. I tried sending in a few reports from the road but these proved none too popular as people wanted all local stuff and still more reviews.
Just over two years later I returned to Hastings with my soon to be wife, Julia. It was great to meet up with the remaining members of the Hastings Live Music Forum committee, which was really the Music Files committee. While I had been away Martin Richter had dropped out of circulation and Jackie Pentecost was doing all of the adverts, the gig guide and the distribution by herself. Jez was keeping even later nights as they tried to keep up with the monthly cycle of production.
I went along to one of their meetings and they asked me if I was coming back. I was so relieved, I could have kissed them. A few months later Julia joined us and helped with the gig guide. We organised a Christmas Party in a club and tghat went down well. There were great bands on and the club was packed.
I spent hundreds of hours preparing applications for grant funding which were all turned down. Nobody denied that we were doing irreplacable work but each authority found a reason to say no, including the lottery. We held a demo tape contest which seemed to generate quite a bit of interest but we only had about nine or ten entries. We repeated it the next year with fewer entries. Our Treasurer Jackie agreed sanctioned the funds to stage a series of free out door gigs on Hastings Seafront and I extracted permission from Hastings Borough Council to let these bands play all types of music on a grass verge next to the Crazy Golf. It was one of the best things we ever did. For six Saturday afternoons in the Summer the day trippers were treated to a feast of culture absolutely free. We paid the bands between £60/£70 and took round a 'jug' for a collection, which sometimes produced another £40/£50 for the band.
Several of these Seafront Gigs attracted quite healthy crowds and everyone would drift toward the sound anyway. I can still see some of the blissed out faces listening to top Jazz singer, Lianne Carroll, giving a world class performance in the sunshine. I had cause to sweat a bit about my minimalist security a couple of times after the word had got out about the gigs and some of Hastings infamous 'street drinkers' were getting a bit 'lairy'. But all in all they went well, although the following year we didn't enjoy the same kind of weather and it was a struggle to see the gigs through.
Music Files was still in a pretty healthy state and had plenty of advertising still at the old rate of £10 for a box. It was my belief that we need ed to generate more cash to print more copies and maybe liven up our act. So, I persuaded Jackie to agree to a hike in the price to £15. Regrettably I was less than efficient in notifying the regular advertisers of our plans and Jackie received a pretty poor reception on the distribution round one month. It was still a pretty good deal as far as ads go and most people were okay with it after a while. Except for two. The management of one club wanted a full page at half price and when I resisted they walked and a second-hand record dealer was so incensed he threw us out and started his own gig guide more or less duplicating our format.
One month I was doing the rounds of advertisers and distributors and everyone was complaining to me about some woman who was going round talking about an event guide and hassling, rather rudely, for advertising. I promptly slagged them off in my next column and within four hours of Music Files being put out there was some Australian bloke on the phone threatening a libel action. I said "I don't own anything mate" and he replied, "You should have acquainted yourself with the libel laws before going into the publishing business. All of the people responsible for the production of the magazine, including the printer, is liable". So, I them promptly collected all of the delivered magazines and placed stickers over the offending paragraphs. The following month I had to include the most grovelling apology, but, at least, nobody lost their house or anything.
Whatever we did people followed and we had to view being copied as a tribute. That wasn't always too easy. One month I was on the rounds when some of the advertisers cancelled and started taking digs at Music Files."It's smaller than it was last month". "No,", I replied "We changed to a better quality paper which is actually thinner" (100gm2 uncoated to 80gm2 coated), "Oh well" he replied, but, there was something else bothering him. When this happened in about three pubs or shops I knew there was something going on. I had taken a few personal digs during my time in Hastings but this was different. Then I discovered a new brightly coloured gig guide in a couple of our patrons establishments and it became plain that someone was employing a dirty tricks campaign in order to try to steal our advertisers. The real world strikes again.
The next month another gig guide came out in the town (population about 70,000 and only twenty venues maximum). Then I was approached by the local Arts Officer who, on behalf of the local council, was implementing another new event guide in the town and would I write for them. Then the disgruntled second hand record salesman brought out his new Gig Guide.
We produced Music Files every month for five years and then we stopped. In September 1998 there were five different Gig Guides publishing in Hastings. All competing for the same small amount of available advertising. At this point we decided to take a well earned rest.
As I said when asked about it a year or two later on local radio station Hastings Rock, "We started out with the objective of making information about live music available to the public. Now every gig is well covered and publicised. There is no sense in, or, desire to compete with anybody else to duplicate that service.".
Any of the other members of the committee of the Hastings Live Music Forum will tell you, we had the greatest of times, doing something positive in our own town and 99% of the music going public cheering us on. At times it was a great feeling with very few disagreements and a lot of love.
John Ballard is still singing and recording his own music. Jackie Pentecost has a new career and home in London. Jez Gillett is still doing three bands and staying up till four in the morning. Also, he still has the Music Files website up and, who knows, maybe one day it will return in print. Last seen, Martin Richter was making a happy home with Lyn.
The Public Entertainments Licensing Issue
Almost from the first month in October 1993, I was writing leader comments which highlighted the PEL situation often referred to then as the "Two In A Bar" rule. I took the local council to task and the Government on a monthly basis.
In February and March 1997 I conducted a 'live music' survey amongst the prospective parliamentary candidates for Hastings. The Labour, Michael Foster, and Liberal Democrat, Monroe Palmer,candidates took the interviews seriously but the Conservative, Jacqie Lait, didn't even bother to reply.
Michael Foster recognised the value of music in our community and vowed, if elected, to do something to ease the restrictions on live music which maintained the two in a bar rule. This was evident in his answers and up to ten thousand people had read his interview and about his positive attitude to live music up to a monthe before Polling Day on May 1st.
Michael Foster became an MP for the first time in the largest swing constituency of the 1997 General Election.
E-mail : email@example.com