FEATURE: Pay For The Piano 10th Anniversary gig @ Westgarth Social Club | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Dylan Cartlidge

Get ready to heap praise upon Middlesbrough’s Pay For The Piano, aka Henry Carden, as he celebrates 10 years of “occasionally breaking even” with a typically cracking gig at Westgarth Social Club on Friday 8th December.

The line-up goes some way in proving why PFTP has continued to do well as a promotions outfit, with just enough ‘finger on the pulse’ discoveries married with well-established and much-loved acts. Headlining is fast-rising Teesside hip-hop artist Dylan Cartlidge, who’s more used to hanging out with Jamie T than in a social club in ‘Boro these days. Punks The Dauntless Elite and dream-pop purveyors Colour of Spring head up from Leeds, plus there’s avant-garde songsmithery from Keith Burton.

We caught up with Henry to find out more about his tenure as one of the best promoters in the region.

Why have you chosen this particular line-up to celebrate your 10th anniversary?

I’ve tried to go with kind a ‘past, present & future’ angle for it. I’m really excited about Dylan Cartlidge – he was ace at Twisterella and has so much incredible stuff going on behind the scenes, so he represents the future aspect. For the present, I’ve got Colour Of Spring from Leeds. I’ve put them on a few times before and they’re always a great live act. For the past, I’ve got The Dauntless Elite who are celebrating their 15th anniversary in tandem with the PFTP 10th anniversary. They split up a few years ago but are getting back together for a couple of gigs – I used to put their old band on in Guisborough when I was a naive, clueless teenager first putting on gigs and they kindly repaid the favour by putting my old band on in Leeds. We’ve stayed in touch ever since and I think it’s a close call between The Dauntless Elite and Brontide (RIP) for the band that I’ve put on the most. To complement the past, present and future angle, I’ve got Keith Burton, a man who transcends time…

What made you start putting on shows?

Although I’ve been using the Pay For The Piano moniker for gigs since 2007, I actually started putting on gigs in around 2002. Like a lot of promoters, I initially started putting on gigs as a way for my own band(s) to play live. It all started as a bit of a gig swap type set-up with bands in Leeds, Sunderland and Newcastle returning the favour. Pay For The Piano was born out of those roots, but with more of a focus on bringing bands that I love to Teesside, rather than using it as a platform to put on my own band! 

Which gigs have been your favourite?

The first venue I regularly promoted at as PFTP was Doc Browns in Middlesbrough. It was a tiny room upstairs above the pub and some of the gigs in there were incredible – it helped that you only needed about 15 people there and it looked busy! But gigs from bands like Meet Me In St Louis, Mutiny On The Bounty, Stapleton and Beezewax are still some of my favourite gigs. More recently, Westgarth Social Club has pretty much become my spiritual home for all things Pay For The Piano and highlights there have included Wolf Alice, Eliza and the Bear, VANT, Dry The River, Drenge and Temples co-headliner and American punks Dogs On Acid who had Doe supporting. The DOA/Doe gig was a matinee and probably the worst attended gig I’d put on for years, but both bands were incredible and were genuinely happy to have played to 20 people in a new town on a Sunday afternoon.

How do you feel the music scene in the region has changed over the last 10 years?

Off the back of putting on people like Alt-J, Frank Turner, The 1975 and many more when they were starting out, that put me on a lot of booking agent’s radars and as a result, for a period of time, I was getting offered far more gigs than I could possibly book. I’m not a business, I haven’t got a financial backer or a big team in place. It’s just me. And if I break even, I consider that a success! With that in mind, I’m not in a position to say yes to every gig I get offered.

When I started, the gigs were very much DIY affairs and the idea of being sent tech specs and specific rider requests was pretty alien. That side of things has, in my opinion, got out of control in recent years. Nowadays, you get bands who’ve never toured before asking for a rider which costs more than my household monthly ‘big shop’ and demanding a mixing desk which costs three times more to hire than the band are getting paid. It doesn’t need to be like that and it’s made me put on considerably fewer gigs over the past couple of years. Thankfully, there’s people like The Kids Are Solid Gold, Into Tomorrow and Whirling Dervish who’ve filled the gap that I’ve left! It’s still nice to do a handful of gigs each year so that I can keep my ear to the ground for Twisterella (the festival I co-promote with TKASG) bookings.

With regards to local bands, it’s been really enjoyable for me to see bands like Cattle & Cane, Cape Cub, Tom Joshua, Avalanche Party and Plaza, to name but a few, step up and become headline acts. I gave them all support slots in their early days, and then recently, they’ve all done sold-out headline shows and that’s a great feeling. For me, the quality of the bands on Teesside right now is better than it’s ever been. 

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