I decided to put on The Vines debut album Highly Evolved earlier and it took me back to the music industry of old. A time when bands were allowed to enjoy growing from an unknown act to a festival headlining, multi-platinum selling, Grammy Award winning band without any rush. Fans could watch them evolve and feel like they played a part in their move from playing pub gigs to arenas for example. This was a time when up and coming bands would play at a Virgin Megastore and do a signing afterwards and you didn’t even have to buy a ticket to get in.
I used to regularly go to a humble little venue in Cambridge called The Boat Race. Now this venue is long gone now, I believe it is a wine bar these days in fact but when I went it was a dingy gig venue with a capacity that I can’t believe was more than 150 people. Sweat dripped off the ceiling and the crowd spilled onto the stage making every gig intimate and very high in energy. You’d hang out with the band afterwards getting to know the people behind the music as it were, and then chances are a couple of weeks later they would pop up in the NME as the ‘next big thing’.
Now I am not saying that every band I saw play there became huge - far from it in fact, but I should think that 90% of them went onto play bigger venues such as The Forum and The Astoria (RIP) in London maybe. But there were one or two that had good careers - The Datsuns went on to play main stage festival slots, I believe they are on their fifth album now and still going strong. However when I saw them for the first time I had the drummer come up to me afterwards to apologise for throwing a drum stick at my head. The Libertines became pretty huge (bit of an understatement), and I can say that I was a part of the beginning of their career as I watched Carl Barât and Pete Doherty fighting outside The Boat Race as I was thinking to myself “wow they are a rubbish band” (I take it back now I’d like to add).
These days the music industry doesn’t allow bands or music fans to have these moments. Most of the time the only acts you see at small venues are unsigned, and if they’re not then they are either simply terrible or the tickets are so exclusive the venue is only full of industry bods. As soon as an artist/ act begins to make a name for themselves they are put on some kind of NME Unsigned Extravaganza Tour with huge amounts of press and big venues like the Brixton Academy. They are kept well away from fans of the music and treated like superstars when they probably haven’t even finished writing their first album yet. I’m not saying that seeing unsigned bands is a bad thing, in fact I believe it is great for the industry and even better for the music but the odds of a band making it now are so slim that chances are your favourite unsigned act will always stay exactly that.
Feeling like I was there at the beginning of a bands career as I watched them grow was, and still is a great feeling. Listening back to albums such as Highly Evolved reminds how the music industry used to be much less money grabbing and intrusive. A band could go at their own pace and enjoy every moment of it and in turn probably appreciated it more as they got more attention. I can only hope that one day the the record labels and the likes of the NME will take a step back and allow bands to grow naturally - for the fans sake if no-one else.