Plymouth has many of the makings of a city that really could be a ‘City of Culture’, and in many ways, it is on it’s way there. Recently locals have witnessed the opening of Ocean Studios, the Plymouth Art Weekender and even MTV Crashes* taking over the Hoe for the best part of three days. (*I think this is an incredible opportunity for the city, it really is, I was just many let down by the underwhelming lineup/s of Simon Cowell’s corp-children.) The Bread & Roses is pivotal in consistently bringing a diverse range of artists of all kinds to the display of the local public and Factory nightclub has magically managed to recapture a true element of the long-lost 90’s dance scene that had for so long become the thing of legend.
But, the live music scene? What live music scene?
Ever since I have been going out (4 years legally, about 8 honestly) the scene has not been too dissimilar to the images Dylan conjures up in “desolation row”. Fortnightly, the unlikely beacon of hope that was the Pavilions would sometimes bring a famous act to the city that country-mouse locals would gawk at. The closest things to large gigs outside of big touring bands were seeing X-Factor rejects such as Jedward waltz around like laboratory-produced, acid pixies during the Christmas lights turn-on.
When I first got into playing music aged 16 my brother sneakily signed me up to an open mic night at Cuba(!) and I soon met a sum of other young songwriters like myself who wanted to pursue performing. Calvin Thomas, Jack Cookson, Bess Barker, Elani Evangelou, Jonquil Lawrence… we were all caught up on a kind of drug that Plymouth had forgotten to stop supplying. I think I can speak for us all when I say that it soon became very obvious that, irrelevant of the quality of your work, Plymouth bars were only interested in booking you if you spewed out a two hour long set of unique Oasis covers for the viewing pleasure of drunken football hooligans. We all pushed but now, in 2015, two of us live in Bristol, two of us up in Brighton and one in London. I, however, stay in Plymouth, faced with the notion that to get shit done, you kinda have to leave.
Just over six months ago I finished making my debut album in Sheffield. The whole amazing experience took 18 months and I fell startlingly in love with the city. I have a lot of time for the north of England and have had the pleasure of making friends and playing in a number of cities. However, it wasn’t just the cliched, but true, realisation that northerners tend to be really friendly and the fact that the architecture is beautiful that helped me fall in love. It wasn’t even all the food I managed to funnel down my neck in that time.
It was impossible not to love the locals there, because they cared. They don’t only pipe up when a massive band is in town – they love that in their city – but even when someone just like them is producing their own new incredible music and, oh, what a thing to be part of. See, these are the clever people. They have foresight. They don’t base their favourite artists on what they’re told is big and successful, or what their hipsters mates tell them they’re allowed to like. They enjoy going out to listen, with their fucking ears, and recognising their own talent. Further, these are the legends at the pub in twenty years who can say “Oh…… I was there at their first gig.” And that is the closest thing anybody will ever get in the eternal quest for cool. There is indeed a north/south divide in a whole new sense, down in the South, down here in Plymouth, nobody is caring enough to pay a few quid to see a local band over buying another Krypto on a Saturday night and it’s really sad.
I wonder whether part of this is the all-too-Plymouthian runaway syndrome. It’s as if a generation have grown up without hope for such a scene and left, expectations lowered, tail between legs, to flee to Bristol or London where the scenes are already existent and people care. Have we grown apathetic? Is Plymouth really no more than a laughing stock? Are we going to continue to be known as the punch line of Frankie Boyle’s jokes, Tom Daley’s birthplace and the inaccurately-located Mayflower Steps?
There is a change happening. If you’re quiet enough you can hear the rumble of young entrepreneurs rebuilding parts of the city the way they want. The Eb St Zine, if you can grab one quick enough from most venues and shops on Ebrington St, is really the hot ticket for identifying and attending the most interesting happenings in the city. Ocean Studios means we have a plethora of talent working and creating on our door step and I think It is important that we remember to apply the same hope and enthusiasm to the music scene.
We need to encourage new music, and let the good stuff really prosper. Nobody realises the significance of one extra person attending a gig. I try to keep that in mind now in attending all I can. The difference stretches over various levels. The musician/s are complimented, new potential artists are encouraged and bars are reassured that in order to showcase new music they won’t necessarily have to take a loss in profit. I really believe there is a time and a place for all performers. Cover songs can be incredible if changed and reworked and sometimes, unchanged, they are just what an audience need. Tribute bands, though not my cup of tea, undoubtedly fill many peoples nights with enjoyment, and that alone is a brilliant thing.
But we must, as a city, try to care and try to go out and risk maybe seeing the worst band you’ve ever seen just on the off chance that they might be the best. Sheffield had Pulp, The Arctic Monkeys, The Human League, Richard Hawley… isn’t it time we had our bands?
Recently, Plymouth has done well in the dance music scene. Factory nightclub has changed the game. Recently, they had their first live band show and it was brilliant. Value Bastard played to a really upforit crowd and they were different, loud, cool and even better, they were local. I hold hope that clubs like the Factory can do what they have done for dance music in the city with live music, but the ball game is completely different. We are dealing with curators vs creators. The risk is even bigger for a paying audience and a venue betting on doing well that night. But Plymouth is a beautiful city, with so much history and still so many hidden talents waiting to be unveiled.
But we are not some talent-destitute anomaly. Our houses are filled with the scientists, teachers, politicians and artists of the future; we just need to beckon them out.
Words by Harriet Jones
Photos by Jordan Mortlock