Monday, 2 May 2016

Dear Bands: PLEASE STOP IGNORING THE SOUTH WEST!

James Dean Bradfield, from the Manic Street Preachers.


Music, as the song goes, was my first love.  And, seeing as terminal singledom has apparently set in, I strongly suspect it'll be my last.

For me, music has never been just a passive experience.  It's not a case of simply pressing "play" and having a song on in the background.  Music is something I practically bathe in.  If I love a song, I want to listen to it through headphones, in the dark, turned up really loud.  I want to play tunes in the car and sing along, without caring who hears as I drive past.  There are songs that soundtrack certain times in my life.  Songs that have such deep meaning to me that they can reduce me to tears.  I even have lyrics tattooed on my skin.

When you love music - when a band has come into your life and changed the way you think, or when you share such a deep love of a band with someone that it strengthens your friendship and becomes part of the relationship you have - it's only natural that you might want to listen to it on more than just your iPod or car stereo.  You might want to hear it played live.

From the Manics to Boyzone.  Nobody can say I'm not eclectic.

The trouble is, I live in Cornwall.  Yes, we have music venues (The Hall For Cornwall, for example), but they're not places you'll find on most band's tour schedules.  If you live down here, you have to adjust to the idea of travelling out of the county in order to see live music.

That never used to be much of a problem.  Plymouth is only an hour's drive away and some big bands visit Plymouth Pavilions when they tour the UK (I've seen the Manics and Blur there, for example).  But, as time goes by, far too many bands seem to be bypassing the South West altogether.

Alex James from Blur.

In recent years, I've gotten used to travelling to see bands live.  In just under a fortnight, I'm off to Birmingham to see the Manics and I'm heading to London at the end of the month to see Busted.  But it's recently hit home that having to travel such a long way to see a band I like is a bit of a slog and, frankly, not always an option, financially speaking.

For a start, if you're heading to somewhere like London from Cornwall, you're looking at easily £100 just on petrol for the round trip.  Factor in a hotel, congestion charging, food en route etc and suddenly you're talking about a much bigger sum.  And that's if you can even go in the first place; personally, I currently work term-time, meaning that if I want to travel up country to see a band who are playing at any time other than the school holidays, I have to do it at the weekend (I can maybe wangle a Friday off, but if I do that too often, I'm pushing my luck).  If there are no weekend dates that are within an affordable distance, then that's it.  No gig for me.  

Some will say "oh well, get over it."  But I can't express how important music is in my life.  I can't tell you how ecstatic I've felt, hand in hand with a friend who means the world to me, singing our hearts out, together.  And I can't tell you how devastated I am right now, that a tour I've waited a year for and which I'd been quietly planning outfits and banners etc for, has happened at a time when there are no weekend dates near enough for me to get there and I just can't justify the cost of travelling hundreds of miles to the other end of the country.  I've literally sobbed, feeling left out and fed up.  I still could.

It's not a 911 gig.  In case you were wondering.

In the grand scheme of things, a missed concert isn't the worst thing in the world.  I know that.  But it doesn't stop me feeling sad.  And like I said, it's not just about music.  It's about sharing experiences with people you love.  It's about that feeling of losing yourself and forgetting the outside world for a few hours.  It's about having something to look forward to and to reminisce over.  The band I'm missing is the one I had the most fun at ever, of any concert I've been to.  The memories made the last time I saw them (admittedly in a slightly different form) are some of the ones I treasure the most.  There was never any question of me not going to see them when they toured again.  Yet, here I am, finally knowing that a tour is happening, yet also knowing that I won't be there.  I'm gutted.

And yes, there are other things in life to look forward to and other memories to be made.  But like I said, sometimes knowing that isn't enough to stop you feeling sad.  I've been beating myself up for being so upset about it, but I've finally realised that I shouldn't have to.  It's okay to be angry, frustrated and upset when you miss out on something you've been looking forward to for so long, especially something that meant more to you than just seeing a gig.  So, yes, I'm upset.  But there's something of a sense of injustice, too.  After all, it's not just me who misses out on seeing bands live because of where I live.  

Manchester, Cardiff, London, Birmingham and Glasgow.  They're the places I see on lists of tour dates over and over again.  If there's anywhere in the South West, it's usually Bristol (and sometimes, even that gets overlooked); Devon and especially Cornwall get forgotten about, time after time.

Nicky from the Manics.

Even Bristol is a three hour drive away, but it's a drive I'm happy to make, providing I can afford it and I'm not going to have to haul my backside out of bed early for work the next day.  Plymouth or Exeter would be even better - and like I said, I have seen some pretty big bands in Plymouth - but what about Cornwall?

The Hall For Cornwall has a capacity of just under 1000, so it's not likely to play host to One Direction any time soon (no, that's definitely not the band I'm sad about missing), but for an intimate gig, it's amazing and I can assure you, a Cornish audience is a grateful, receptive one.  The Hall For Cornwall has staged a gig by the Manics and it was one of my favourite Manics gigs (and I've been to a lot), because I was just so thrilled to have my favourite band in the world, performing at a venue barely forty minutes drive away from my house.

The Eden Project's arena has a capacity of 6,000 and many major acts have played there.  Each year, they hold "The Eden Sessions" series of concerts, which attracts big names, but I'd love to see more live music held at Eden; not only is it a beautiful setting, but it's a great opportunity for large-scale gigs.

What we really need, however, is a purpose-built, large-scale music venue.  It's something we badly lack down here, since Cornwall Coliseum closed (that venue held 6,000 people).  The argument is always that Plymouth Pavilions took away most of the business Cornwall Coliseum needed in order to survive, with bands preferring to play there, instead.  But without a large-scale music venue in Cornwall, how can we ever entice bands back?!  We boast beautiful beaches and a busy tourist industry, but music-lovers are still, by and large, being forced to leave the county in order to see the bands they love, and we're not enticing gig-goers in to the county, because we have nowhere for them to go.  That needs to change.

I drew a stage.  Now go build it, Cornwall County Council.

I get that tours tend to be planned with a business-minded eye; it's about filling big venues and recouping the money spent on staging the shows, I know that.  And not having a major concert venue down in Cornwall is a big reason for the county being overlooked.  But Plymouth Pavilions has a capacity of around 4,000 and Exeter Westpoint Arena has a capacity of 7,500 and yet still Bristol is as far South west as a lot of bands go (if they even make it there).  

Fans in the South West are just as dedicated, just as passionate and just as keen to have gigs in our lives as fans anywhere else in the UK.  Missing a gig because of the sheer cost of having to travel to the other end of the country just to get there sucks.  So, here's a double-edged plea:

Dear bands and tour organisers: Please stop thinking that the UK ends at Bristol.  Please remember that there are venues available further south and that the fans living in the South West would dearly love to see you.

And Dear Cornwall County Council: Isn't it about time we had a new music venue in the county?!  Somewhere with the capacity to entice big names and stop music lovers from having to make the choice to either shell out hundreds of pounds to travel across the country just to see a band live, or to have to miss out entirely and deal with the sadness and frustration that that can cause.

Let's bring music back to Cornwall in a big way.






2 comments:

  1. I feel your pain and I've got a similar problem, I love my music but I feel like most of my favorite bands just won't play near me. The closest major city I can go to concerts at is Toronto and it really upsets me when bands I like, skip that city and just do US tours no matter where they're from when they come to North America. I have a passport, but I don't have a car or a license to get there and as a college student I can't really drop everything and do a 7 hour drive to the nearest show in the states. Some of the bands I like are from Europe and a few of them have NEVER come overseas to play here. There's a band I have loved for years from Finland and they're always doing European tours, especially Germany. The last time they came to NA it was all US. I get jealous the most of the people who get the opportunity to see that band live because they always come out after the show and hang out with the fans so so many of the fans are meeting them and it makes me eat my heart out and bring me to tears. Some bands just don't tour Canada enough, and some of the really big ones in America open things like restaurants, cruises and conventions if they are superstars and it's unfair to those who don't live in that country and don't have the time or money to drive down and participate. Ugh it's frustrating, but I know what it's like to go through that.

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    1. I empathise SO much!! It's so frustrating to love a band and to have to accept that you might never see them live, or that if you get the chance, it's going to cost you an arm and a leg! :( I am really lucky in that I have a car, so can drive to gig venues up country, but the cost of doing that can really creep up, so sometimes it's just not feasible. Live music is such a brilliant experience, but sometimes it feels like you're being punished for not living in an area that bands want to tour in!

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