FEATURE: Promoter Focus | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image above: Moss – Inverted Grim Mill gig @ The Cluny by Graeme J Baty, May 2015

It goes without saying that Tyneside has a thriving underground live scene, especially for the noisier, doomier end of things. But having stood at any number of gigs watching great bands play to sparse audiences, promoting gigs looks like a thankless task. I thought it was time two unsung heroes of said scene got, well, sung. John Michael Hedley promotes gigs as Leave Me Here with his sister Kitty, as well as being a host of excellent bands like Blown Out and Khock (ne Khünnt). Jonas Halsall promotes as Inverted Grim Mill as well as being screenprinter to the stars. They both seem like men who simply can’t help themselves in spite of everything.

Obviously, the first question is what was your initial impetus to start putting on gigs, and can you remember what your first was?

Jonas Halsall (JH): The first gig I put on was for a post-rock band called Flies Are Spies From Hell, who played in Sunderland to a small and seemingly disinterested crowd in 2010. Support came from Khuda, Sona Di and Dressed In Wires. I only ran it because I’d been asked if I could help them out with a tour date in the North East and I didn’t know anyone else who would do it. It was a complete shambles on my part, but just about went OK and we all had a good time afterwards. I moved to Newcastle for work that same year, but continued holding events in Sunderland for a little while, but wasn’t really finding enough fans of weird music to make these gigs feasible there. I set up my ‘record label’ in 2011 and started to promote shows in Newcastle in 2012. Nothing much has changed from that first gig… I still get asked to help people out, and if I can then I do. I don’t really go out of my own way to book headline acts, I tend to get asked by bands needing a gig between Scotland and Yorkshire and then add some of my favourite vaguely suitable local acts to fill up the support slots. Having a good time afterwards is still usually a highlight of most shows.

John Michael Hedley (JMH): It all started for us in 2010. Kitty and I teamed up to put on a music festival in the countryside, everything was going smoothly (well I say smoothly… we both nearly had nervous breakdowns due to the immense pressure of arranging such an event) everything was booked, tickets were shifting, the designated area for corpses had been assigned etc… but then a week before the festival was due to happen, a gentleman by the name of Dr. Death got in touch and said the festival couldn’t go ahead due to it being on church grounds. We’d arranged everything to go ahead on that land months before, but Dr Death put a stop to it… Gutted. As a result, we decided to put on one-off events in Newcastle to try and make up for it. We still want to put a festival on one day. Our first proper LMH show in Newcastle was for Zun Zun Egui, Dextro + Scrap Value at the Star & Shadow. That’s when the full on addiction began…

Johnny & kitty __1447669564_128.65.101.133

Kitty and John Michael Hedley (Leave Me Here)


Do you find that the Newcastle / Tyneside scene is supportive on the whole – obviously you two are buddies but does it ever get cut-throat or tricky with anybody else?

JH: There’s a lot of great stuff going on all the time. Clashes are unavoidable – we’ve gone up against each other on a couple of occasions too! It can be frustrating seeing something else announced on a night you’ve already got booked up, especially if it appeals to a similar crowd, as you know you’re going to lose some people to that… and probably end up out of pocket when it comes to paying the bands. Missing the “rival” gig is also annoying when it features someone you want to see. These things are inevitable, and more often than not you’re stuck with a tour date you can’t swap, but thankfully most clashes aren’t a major issue. I haven’t had any direct issues with other promoters, but sometimes all my posters mysteriously disappear in advance of shows, which could be foul play or eager fans, I’m yet to find out. I try to be as supportive as I can be in that I’ll turn up to as many things as I possibly can that appeal to me, and I do like a lot of stuff… but no one can get to everything. I’ve had this chat with other promoters on several occasions, even when we’ve never been to each other’s shows there’s always a level of mutual respect for doing this sort of thing. There are a few people out there spreading the word of all the events going on, inviting friends and sharing the information about in appropriate circles and so on, for which I am very grateful.

JMH: On a whole people are very supportive. I think there’s a level of mutual respect amongst the promoters in this scene, probably because you’d have to be insane to want to consistently put on events that lose you money and sanity. As a result, I think people are very supportive because they know the crack. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. That’s the northern way.


Jonas Halsall, Inverted Grim Mill

Any horror stories you’d care to share (with names if you like, or just “this shower of bastards from Barnsley” or something)?

JH: I’ve been very fortunate in terms of avoiding ‘rock star’ egos from band members. I’ve had some ridiculous rider requests (salted almonds, acacia honey, avocados, individually wrapped Werther’s originals, etc) but these things usually come from a booking agent rather than the band. One Dutch band I spoke to directly (Monomyth) asked for a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter between 6 of them, so I guess it all balances out. There has been one instance of a lighting / sound tech guy on tour with a band somewhat spoiling a show with his attitude, and one deeply frustrating incident when a venue double booking issue saw potentially our heaviest gig ever (Primitive Man, Sea Bastard & Ommadon) moved to a completely unsuitable space where the manager really didn’t want us there and insisted that we turn the volume down several times during the show. There was also a gig about a week before Christmas last year, which is a terrible time to tour as people are too skint at that time. Needless to say that was a big loser. I still think I’ve been pretty lucky so far.

The Infernal Sea - Inverted Grim Mill gig @ Northumberland Arms by Paul Wilson, May 2015__1447669601_128.65.101.133

The Infernal Sea – Inverted Grim Mill gig @ Northumberland Arms by Paul Wilson, May 2015

JMH: The only horror stories from me would be from losing a shit ton of money from a gig. It’s happened a few times… But hey, it’s a funny old game. We just like putting on events that we know (some) people, including ourselves, will fucking love. There’s nothing more important in life than doing things that make you happy and if you can make others happy along the way then… It makes it all worth it! Losing a few quid isn’t going to ruin your life on the long run.

And have you ever thought about jacking it in? HAVE you ever jacked it in?

JH: All the time. It can be a very unrewarding experience when you’ve worked really hard and done all you can to promote an event and it ends up costing you a load of money when no one turns up. But usually the kind of bands I’ve had play in Newcastle are happy to compromise if needs be. If I did stop, I know a great many of the bands I host would skip Newcastle altogether so that can be a bit of a driving force to continue.

JMH: Yes, well, we often go through periods when we announce that we won’t be hosting any shows for a few months. Then a few days later we accidentally book three in close succession. Putting on gigs is like a drug, man.

What’s been your proudest moment as a promoter?

JH: The fact that I’ve managed to run over twenty events featuring eighty or so acts in total this year is the thing I’m most proud of – I did about half as many as that over the last three years combined, so this has been a serious upping of the game. I have enjoyed collaborating with fellow promoters (Leave Me Here / Bro (UK) / Disgrace To The Scene) and record label types (Cruel Nature / Distraction / Omega Warfare) on various events this year too. Being asked to help bands that I already enjoy is always good – bands like Necro Deathmort, Sly & The Family Drone, Bad Guys, Art of Burning Water, Moss, Primitive Man and 11Paranoias, all headliners who I was a fan of in advance of being asked to book them. I’d have to say I’m also proud that my main venue of choice, Northumberland Arms, fitted a stage based on the success of the shows a few of us have been running there. And while it hasn’t happened yet, I imagine I’ll be proud of this year’s Byker Grave too – after all, Fleshpress and A Forest of Stars are two of my favourites, and there’s a few returning acts on the bill too.

JMH: I suppose for us hosting Goat’s 2nd ever show was our proudest moment. Their fee was very low and they showed up to the Star And Shadow in a hire car and the show was completely rammed. Next time they played Newcastle they had a huge tour bus. Still a little bit sad we didn’t host their return. Ah well. The bass player did say that the breakfast I made him was the best he’d ever had. I laughed of course, but he replied with “No, seriously” He really meant it. Actually, that’s my proudest moment. I also introduced them to Bovril. They. Loved. It.

And finally, what advice do you have for anyone who wants to start doing it themselves?

JH: Be prepared to lose money.  There is no science for figuring out how busy a gig will be until it happens.

JMH: Don’t expect to make any money. Do it for the love.

It seemed fitting, after hearing stories from battle-scarred veterans like Jonas and John, to hear from a new kid on the block. Surely going to as many gigs as he does – and he goes to a LOT of gigs – NARC. writer Mark Corcoran-Lettice must know the risks and yet he’s promoting regular Endless Window nights at the Cumberland. So, Mark – why?

Mark Corcoran-Lettice: Endless Window started to try and fill a gap in local music. The North East has always been great for bands and audiences alike crossing between genres, trying new things and keeping an open mind. The idea of the night is to bring together a wide range of great talent and make bills you might not normally see elsewhere. We’re attracting a fairly eclectic audience that like the fact you might see an experimental folk act like Offred alongside Life Model, or indie like Baker Island on the same night as the outsider hip-hop of Outside Your House. We always have a disco at the end of the night too, which again is about doing something more eclectic, more accessible and just more fun that the normal. For me, it’s been great fun to bring new people together, to give some exposure to some really amazing artists and to give people something to dance to at the end of the night.”

(I plan to revisit this piece with Mark in a couple of years and see how he feels then.)

The next Inverted Grim Mill gig – and the last of the year – will be Khost, Gloomweaver, xazzaz at Northumberland Arms, Newcastle on Friday 11th December. £6 entry.

Leave Me Here Presents finish up 2015 with The Leave Me Here Christ-Smash Do featuring KHOCK + Friends (Big Fail, The Newcastle upon Tyne Speed Donk Experience + Lovely Wife) @ The Tyne Bar on Sunday 20th December. Free.

Endless Window will be be back in February with an exciting bill they can’t reveal yet




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