I thought I’d try something new – a newsletter type update instead of individual reviews, recommendations and so on.
I wouldn’t say traffic to my blog is low, but let’s just say I’m negotiating with the government to store all their most sensitive official secrets in my blog. It won’t even need a password, nobody will find them! It’s genius, and if some rogue state wants the nuke codes, they’ll have to read about Skating Polly first, which is such a life affirming experience that they will stop being so silly. Why start a nuclear war when you can just chill and listen to Chaos County Line?
Seriously though, (well I was being half serious) sometimes you spend hours writing about a 4 piece band and get 3 views – even the 4th member of the band isn’t interested, let alone their proud mums.
Other times you rush something out that you think nobody will be interested in, and it gets hundreds of views, even once you’ve taken the bot hits out, and I wish I’d spent a bit more time on it.
Someone was telling me once about how a band got a support slot with a really famous band after the famous band read a review about themselves and a post about the band that ended up supporting them, caught their eye in the sidebar (not in this blog, but shows sometimes these things work).
So perhaps someone might click to read about a band they like and discover a new band they also like.
Or they might catch wind that I’m not really a music writer in the traditional sense, I don’t even know what a semaphore album is 😉 and leave. Ah well, you can’t please everyone.
This is kind of like punk but in blog form, where sheer enthusiasm replaces actual music writing ability. Not sure whether lack of views reinforces my punk credibility, or just reflects the fact I’m a bit shit, but I’m going with the former, and so should you.
In a typical January there wouldn’t be much to report. I don’t usually go to many gigs in January between not much being on, money being tight after Christmas and dodgy weather.
This year was very different!
I’ve never actively chosen to see a band more than once on a tour before, but this time I saw my all-time favourite band Skating Polly on 3 of their dates in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, co-co-promoting Manchester. I do have one regret though! Read on to find out (Am I doing this clickbait thing right?)
As if that’s not enough, the night before the Manchester gig, I promoted another of my favourite bands Dlina Volny in Liverpool on their first UK tour. A wednesday night in the middle of January with a band not many people in the UK know (yet) – what could possibly go wrong?
It was quite a week! Might as well just call New Year now, nothing is going to top that!
In this roundup’s opinion piece I share my worries on how even if Music Venue Trust are able to save our grassroots venues, there’s another threat that could stop our favourite undergound bands touring, but there’s something we can do to help, if we’re prepared to make the effort.
Thoughts? Please comment on the Live Music Pix Facebook post.
Music Venue Trust are doing everything they can to keep venues open – but there’s another threat that could stop our favourite underground bands touring.
I saw Canadian artist Dan Mangan for the 3rd time back in 2022.
On the UK leg of the tour he played in Chester, Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds, London and Brighton.
As is often the case with international touring artists, he didn’t come to Liverpool – yet I was spoilt for choice as I can get to either Chester or Manchester in about an hour. I chose Manchester as it was the Friday night.
(If you think an hour to get to a gig is bad, spare a thought for the Skating Polly fan from Barcelona who had to travel to Paris on their recent European tour didn’t take in Spain this time!)
If Dan could travel all the way from Canada to entertain me, then surely can I pop along the M62 to be entertained by him!
Between songs he spoke of how his UK tours were becoming unsustainable financially.
Touring Costs (Flights, Transport, Equipment Hire etc) had risen significantly whilst due to cost of living crisis audience numbers were stagnant or dropping, and spending less on Merch.
But he proposed a solution.
He pointed out that there were about 100 people in the room who’d somehow (Summer Sundae Weekender 2012 in my case) discovered his music despite lack of airplay and media support, and enjoyed his music enough to buy a ticket for his show.
Manchester has a population of 500,000 (2.5 million if you include greater Manchester) so there must be at least another 100 people who would enjoy his music enough to come and see him if only they got a chance to hear it.
But there is no cost effective way for him to reach these people. I concur, in my limited experience promoting, sponsored posts, band in town email-runs, general advertising – it rarely sells enough additional tickets to cover the cost of the promotion at the underground level.
You can’t target people who like underground bands, you can only target people who like their influences, and a lot of these people perhaps haven’t checked out a new band and/or gone to a gig in 30 years.
In an era where on the one hand it costs up to £10K for a plugger with a special relationship with the BBC (in the linked video Tom Robinson says £2K – £5K but that was in 2013, I’m told it’s closer to £10K now) who can give you a shot at being on the playlist, and on the other, I saw an artist post on Facebook last week that despite about 40K monthly listeners on Spotify alone (a fairly decent number for an underground(ish) artist), he only receives about £100 a month from all streaming platforms, you can see the challenges artists face in getting heard and expanding their audience base when there is no return on investment even if they have the money to invest in the first place.
His solution was remarkably simple – if everyone in the room came back next time and brought just 1 person with them it would double turnout and make his tour more sustainable economically.
I don’t know how many people made an effort to try and round up people to bring, I suspect very few, but it seems like it was already too late.
On his 2023 tour, he only came to Cardiff, Bath and London – missing out the North and Scotland entirely.
When I was down seeing Skating Polly at Omera in London last month, I saw he was playing there in March, and it looks like his only UK date in 2024 if no more dates are announced.
Oh, and the venue he played in Bath in 2023, Moles, closed down at the end of last year.
Even Skating Polly fans who are amongst the most loyal of any fanbase I’ve come across of any underground band – when I suggest as massive fans we should do our bit to spread the word, they tend to go very quiet.
Of course we all enjoy meeting the band at the merch stall – something that isn’t always practical in bigger venues, and I understand that, but equally if the media won’t spread the word about bands we love, and we don’t either, we can’t complain if they stop touring our city/country if the figures no longer add up.
The other reason people are reluctant is because it’s not easy to get people to take a chance on grassroots shows.
People who will batter the keyboard to spend £100+ on tickets for a stadium act, often won’t take a chance on a band unless they’ve heard them on the radio.
As a small-time hobbyist promoter who puts on shows because I love the music despite having social anxiety I’m all too well aware of how difficult it can be to drag people along to shows.
I remember years ago my best friend coming to my house with his new girlfriend and half a dozen of her mates. Being 18 and very single I thought my luck was in, until they saw my record collection and started taking the mick! “I’ve never even heard of any of these bands, if they were any good they would be in the charts” they jeered.
They started taunting me to put something on, so I thought, I’ll put on something fairly mainstream and I went for Wonderful Life by Black aka Colin Vernchrome. It was the Original Ugly Man records release 12″, which got to about 75 in the “proper” charts and Top 10 in the indie charts as I discovered it via The Chart Show Indie Week (ah the days of seeing a few seconds of a song and splurging £3.29 on the 12″ to hear the rest of it).
I put it on and they started laughing before the song even started playing “absolute shit” was the verdict.
A couple of years later he’d signed to A&M, the song was re-released and in the Top 10 and I was in the pub with the same people as it came on the video jukebox.
I was about to say “do you remember….” when one of them looked me up and down when they saw my finger tapping and said “I’m surprised you like this, you listen to shit”.
I couldn’t be bothered arguing, I just wrote to my then favourite Indie artist The Dave Howard Singers about the incident. Not quite sure why, but maybe explains why I was so single at the time! 😉
Perception seems to play a big part in people’s decisions to like what they like, and if people think you listen to “weird” music then it’s going to be an uphill struggle to convince them.
No wonder we congregate in dedicated fan groups waxing lyrical about our favourite bands in the safe space of people on the same page, rather than be trolled by halfwits.
I made the mistake of posting about a gig on the Liverpool reddit, whilst “well, I’m glad you like it dear” was at least quite funny, the person who posted “awful” and about a dozen people liked it, are obviously of limited words, taste and braincells. I was sorely tempted to reply “what your taste in music? Yes, I agree spot on”. But these things rarely end well (for all I know it could be that bloke with the flip-flops that started firing his gun in the off license and cinema), it wastes a lot of time, changes nobodies mind, and I should at least try to act professional.
But away from brain-dead internet trolls, sometimes people are more open to coming to gigs than you might expect.
My brother-in-law isn’t really into music, but he likes The Pet Shop Boys and Bronski Beat, so when family were coming up for the weekend but I’d already arranged to see Diavol Strain who are “synthy”, I sent him a couple of their videos and said do you fancy coming along – and he jumped at the chance, really enjoyed the night and still mentions it regularly as a great night out.
My best friend at school was into Dire Straits and Marillion whereas I liked good stuff 😉 so he always took the piss. When I was up in Edinburgh to see Skating Polly a couple of weeks ago I was reluctant to ask him as I take it very personally when idiots with dodgy ears slag them off, but I texted him anyway, and he couldn’t come because he was looking after his dogs as his wife was on holiday, but said they sounded great and would go next time if I’m going.
(IF I’m going? We desperately need a proper catchup!)
We were having my son’s room painted and I was listening to music as I work from home, and when Skating Polly came on, the decorator got off his ladder and came through to find out who it was.
So it’s always worth a try. Don’t just assume your favourite underground band will tour the UK next year just because they tour every year – bands are struggling like never before.
Please Note: I reached out to Dan to check that I hadn’t mis-remembered anything and that my facts are straight. If he announces a 25 date UK tour that includes Liscard and Meols later today then I’ll look rather foolish (not for the first time) but he’s a busy man, so if he gets back with any clarifications I will update.
The fact remains that lots of underground bands are struggling, particularly international ones.
One final thought.
I was tempted to get tickets for Maisie Peters when she played in Liverpool, but was put off when I saw tickets were £35. Seemed a lot for an artist who’s not really that well known, I like “lost the breakup” not sure about her other songs, am curious but not enough to spend £35.
But then we went to London to see Skating Polly for my birthday. Not having a babysitter often, and not getting to the cinema together since our son was born (and he was 10 last week) we wanted to make the most of it and went to see Poor Things first thing at the Screen on the Green (Amazing movie – go see it!) tickets were £18 each. We went to The George where Shakespeare, Dickens, Madonna and Lady Gaga have drank – though probably not at the same time, couple of pints £15. We went up the shard – £30 + £15 for a glass of champagne – £45. Finally, we went to see Skating Polly £13.50.
Why is the whole reason for going to London in the first place cheaper than all the other things we did? When tickets for bands from the early 00s who had a couple of hits can cost £60 at arenas and people willingly pay it. Perhaps £35 for Maisie Peters tickets isn’t as excessive as I first thought and better reflects the cost of actually putting grassroots shows on.
Promoters won’t risk increasing prices for fear of getting even lower turnouts, but maybe if we really enjoy a show and want to see the band again, we should get in the habit of making a donation directly to the band if they have that option? Buying merch is always good, but not sure how much bands actually make once the cost of producing it is deducted (and the red tape of bringing it into the UK for international bands).
Worth thinking about.
If your favourite underground artist has cut down their tours or you have ideas on how we can help the underground bands we love to keep touring – please comment on the post on the facebook page.
New Album of the Month – Peacemaker by Vera Sola
If you like Lana Del Rey then there’s every chance you’ll enjoy this amazing 2nd album by Vera Sola. Try to catch her live when she tours the UK in April – I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.
Album: Fairweather Friend by The Umbrellas
If you like C-86 type twee Indie then this is quite possibly the best band on that particular scene today. If you’re old enough to remember C-86 you’ll be instantly transported back there!
They tour the UK in March.
Album: His Lordship by His Lordship
Debut album by artist who’s singles have been impressing me for some time. Reminiscent of early Buzzcocks, Ramones, Cramps kind of area – which is always a good thing in my book.
They play Bearded Theory in May.
Show you must attend: Awesome Friends
Night & Day, Manchester – Friday 19th April 2024
I attended last year’s Awesome Friends when Loose Articles headlined, and it was one of the best shows I attended all year.
The advantage of a show curated by legendary 6 Music DJ Chris “The Hawk” Hawkins is that he knows his stuff, and can get bands that most people wouldn’t be able to get to play in a small venue. The opening act last year Seb Lowe were playing a sold out big show the following week. It’s rare to get an opening band that good. And of course, you get a DJ set by a legendary radio DJ. At £12 + booking fee it’s an absolute bargain!
The disadvantage of course is that there may be some mad bloke, chasing after him Benny Hill style, holding a Skating Polly CD aloft “you really must play them on your show… did I tell you they are probably the only band in the world in their 20s who have 15 years experience writing, recording and performing live…” well, it’s cheaper than getting a proper plugger, just not as effective. In fact in my experience not effective in the slightest, but what can you do in a broken industry where bands with that much talent slip through the net because they don’t have the right connections?
I’ve convinced radio DJs must really love when people give them a CD to listen to, nobody ever does that 😉
Seriously though – one not to be missed!
Show you must attend: Moonfrog V
Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool
Saturday 24th February 2024
Moonfrog has been a real asset to the Liverpool music scene. A friend who lives in Wrexham told me that he usually had to go to Manchester to see the bands he wanted to see until Moonfrog started bringing them to Liverpool.
To celebrate 5 years of awesome gigs, Moonfrog Presents a mini-festival featuring some of the best bands on the circuit, headlined by the mighty The KVB. With DJs until 3am, it would be rude not to make a night of it.
On the underground scene we often say “support your local scene” – but that makes it sound like you’re doing the scene a favour, giving up your time and money on a good cause – f**k that – with this lineup at this price Moonfrog are most definitely doing you the favour – a night of pure entertainment that if you just take a chance, your sense of adventure will be well rewarded. So forget following the crowd, join the cool-folk!
Live: Dlina Volny
Kazimier Stockroom, Liverpool
Wednesday 24th January 2024
Putting on a gig in Liverpool (which tends to get lower turnouts than say London or Manchester) during January, the week before people get paid, when everyone is still recovering physically and financially from Christmas excesses, with a band from Belarus who not too many people know in the UK yet (but will do, mark my words), who I’ve never seen live as it’s their first UK tour, may sound like a recipe for disaster.
But sometimes you just have to follow your gut instincts (and hope it isn’t just indigestion).
By taking a chance, I was rewarded with a night that I couldn’t have asked to go any better, indeed when I got a photo with the singer Masha Zinevitch, the plan was to do a moody shot and then a smiley one, but I just couldn’t not smile seeing how well the gig had gone.
Although the show didn’t sell out, it was pretty busy and everyone in the room was clearly loving it. Feedback has been nothing but glowing, and you can’t ask for more than that!
Starting off with KK Verkefni they really pulled it out the bag, and even when they had technical problems (if something is going to break, it’s going to break when you’re live on stage, doing your first gig!) they skillfully got around the problems with the polish of experienced pros. Having met singer Kevin at my first Skating Polly gig, where we geeked over the minutia of Skating Polly music videos, and he then indirectly introduced me to Moonfrog through his love of Kaelan Mikla which got me back into promoting, it’s great to be a small part of his journey on a night that probably wouldn’t have happened without him. Great to finally meet his bandmate Tom Hughes too!
Jennifer Touch was amazing, I hadn’t heard of her before she was offered as tour support, but I’ve been listening to her loads, and live she was even better than I expected – even though she was still recovering from illness that stopped her performing on Sunday and Monday night, she sounded amazing. You could have gone home at her set and felt you’d more than had your money’s worth for the night! Fab stuff!
Dlina Volny what can I say? I’ve been listening to their 2nd album “Dazed” since it was released in 2021, according to Spotify it was in my Top 3 most listened to albums of last year – and yet, it still sounds fresh and lost none of it’s sparkle for all the repeated listening.
It’s an album where if you knew nothing of the band’s releases, you couldn’t immediately pick out the singles, every track could easily be a single, it’s that good.
Sometimes electronic music is a bit of a disappointment when performed live, but not Dlina Volny – live they managed to elevate the songs even further!
Here Masha Zinevitch of Dlina Volny talks of the situation in Belarus and why they currently live in exile in Lithuania.
Their label, “Italians do it better” released a compilation of Madonna covers from their roster (only fair since their label name came from her t-shirt in the Papa don’t preach video!) Dlina Volny’s contribution was “Hollywood”, and it is also on “Dazed”.
They make it their own so much that you forget it’s even a Madonna song. And seeing them perform it live, I could see that Masha has the same star quality Madonna had which took her from supporting Crispy Ambulance in small clubs, to global megastar. Amazing voice, brilliant performer, and all the band and their manager are nice people too.
I saw someone post on Facebook that Masha had come over to them after their set to say that they make a lovely couple. She is a genuinely lovely person who made an impression on everyone who was lucky enough to be in that room.
One of the most feared phrases in live music must be “here’s our new song”, it’s usually when a collective sigh goes round the room and people start looking at their phones, people want to hear the songs they know.
Not so with Dlina Volny.
They played 5 new songs, I’d heard one of them on YouTube video from Mexico but hadn’t heard any of the others – but the new songs got at least as much audience response as the “Dazed” songs – possibly even more.
Judging by these new songs, the new albums is going to blow people away.
Several of my favourite albums of recent years have been on IDIB, I obviously like the Johnny Jewel “sound” the new songs move away from that, I don’t even know if he’s been involved in the new album but it feels like a real progression from an already phenomenal album. One which will appeal both to old 4AD fans and synthpop fans alike.
In a music scene where it costs up to £10K for a plugger to stick your record under a 6 Music DJs nose, when 6 Music doesn’t even have that big an audience compared to Radio 1 back in the day when John Peel could fill a 300 capacity venue in Edinburgh with a single play of a band’s single, it’s so difficult for artists to break through. Success is never assured no matter how good you are.
But the ace up Dlina Volny’s sleeve is that whilst people generally have to hear a song a few times to get into it, their music is catchy and accessible enough to get into it on first listen, whilst having the depth to keep you coming back to listen again and again, even if you are a picky bugger like me.
I feel that if they can break through the industry bullshit and get heard by a wider audience, there will genuinely be no stopping them!
I don’t say bands are amazing because I’m promoting their show, I only promote their show if they are genuinely amazing.
Not blowing my own trumpet, the magic of the event was the bands, the sound engineer and most importantly the audience who took time to come out in January a week before payday.
I genuinely think that this could be a gig that in years to come thousands of people will claim to have attended, but I have the ticket list so will know if they are lying. “But you sent me a message saying you were binge watching Manifest..”. Without going off too much of a tangent, people tell me Manifest is worth watching for the ending, but it’s been a very hard slog, it better be good, haha.
I really hope we can tempt Dlina Volny back to Liverpool on the next UK tour. Be great if we could get Jennifer Touch sometime too. And I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from KK Verkefni in these parts, they already have some shows and festivals lined up that you should definitely check out.
If you were at the show, please tell everyone about it! These shows can only work if people come. If you weren’t, don’t miss the next one if we’re fortunate enough to bring them back!
Live: Skating Polly
Omeara London (20th Jan)
Fac251 Manchester (25th Jan)
Mash House Edinburgh (27th Jan)
My name is John and I’m a Pollyholic.
Ok, so I shouldn’t really joke about addiction, it’s not a laughing matter, but this is one addiction that is a life-enriching, positive one that I’ve no intention of trying to give up.
I’ve tried and failed many times to understand what it is that makes so many of us so addicted to this band. Why have I never felt this way about any band I’ve seen before?
I tried to rationalise it with the fact that they are probably the only band in the world who are in their 20s yet have about 15 years experience writing, recording and performing live since they started when they were just 9 and 14, and yet managed to be good even then, and just keep getting better and better.
Whilst that explains why they are such competent musicians, it doesn’t explain the magic. I mean there are lots of bands who are clearly experienced musicians and yet I’d still rather have a root canal than watch them 😉
I saw The Rolling Stones at Glastonbury and they’ve been playing together for so long, I think Noah booked them as the house band on his ark in the days when they played for £50 and a couple of pints of mild. They were good, but just not Skating Polly good. I’d never leave a Skating Polly set half way through to catch Public Enemy like we did with the Stones, even though PE were amazing.
I’ve seen some amazing bands over the years, and yet never been tempted to catch another date on the same tour. Travel miles to see the same set when I could go and see a band I haven’t seen before? What a mad idea!
And yet, Skating Polly have me wistfully wishing I was in Birmingham. And when was the last time anybody wished they were in Birmingham? (Only kiddin’ Brummie friends, though I suspect some of you may agree!)
A few suggest it’s a mid-life crisis, but who pays any attention to simpletons who think the only thing young women can offer the world is how they look?
It’s a bit like Glastonbury – before I went, I didn’t really get it. Even though I listened to XFM and 6 Music at the time, when they were new music stations, and most of the playlist were playing at Glastonbury, the whole thing of watching bands in an often muddy field at the mercy of the British weather, didn’t really appeal.
And the guy who goes every year yet never sees a band, and consumes nothing stronger than Coffee seemed a bit mad.
And yet my first time there, as I turned the corner and saw the vastness of the site, and these laylines started working their magic (something that sounded like hippy BS before)… suddenly that guy, and indeed everyone who bangs on about the festival, starts to make complete sense, and I started to become a glastobore myself!
Likewise with Skating Polly, the only band better than my best Glastonbury, I’d listened to them a lot before I saw them live, and loved their music – but I still thought they would be “just” another band, I was seeing loads of bands in 2019, and having seen them on the Monday I had photo passes for gigs lined up on the Friday and Saturday that I was also really looking fwd to – and yet after seeing Skating Polly I was just like “these bands are ok, but they aren’t Skating Polly good, wish I was seeing them, and why is this band playing a 2,000 cap venue when Skating Polly were in a 100 cap (sold out at least, but still)”.
Obviously not everyone gets it, some people go and see them and say “yup, they are alright” but then there are lots of people in Liverpool who hate The Beatles for example.
A lot of us become massive fans though.
When you discover a band that you love that much, you just want to tell the world about them.
My cunning plan for this tour, a plan so cunning that even Baldrick would approve, we’d booked the Manchester Club Academy as Academy 3 was already booked, and it has a 2am license and DJ decks.
So I spoke to BBC 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq’s agent about booking him to DJ after the bands.
Purely because having seen him run around Glastonbury checking out new bands playing in small tents, I’m convinced if he was in the building he would watch Skating Polly play, and if he gets them like I think he would, like I’ve seen countless people do, perhaps he would play them on his 6 Music show in one of his free-choice slots, and tell people about them – unlike me, he carries a lot of influence.
If it sounds like a convoluted way to get his attention, well when pluggers with a relationship with the BBC charge £10K per single with no guarantee of airplay, it’s one of the cheaper ways of getting his attention, and as I say, it tends to be when people see the band live that they are properly blown away, amazing as the albums are, it would be much better for him to see the band.
Of course I sent him a copy of the album on vinyl, but someone I was speaking to recently who used to work at a regional BBC Radio station said they had boxes and boxes of vinyl and CDs that nobody ever looked at, so the national DJs really must get loads.
To be honest, I knew that in my heart of heart anyways, but it’s like doing the lottery – you know you aren’t going to win anything life-changing, but when you get that vague email telling you you’ve won but not how much – you can dream for a few moments of what you could do.
(If I said my plan for this week’s euromillions winnings, at least until they turned out to be £4.40 was to put on a festival with Skating Polly and Dlina Volny headlining, with a big TV, Radio and Magazine campaign to put the bands on people’s radars – would you fall off your seat? Nah, thought not!)
It was all going so well, until a chain of events meant that we had to change venue, and it has a strict 10pm curfew for their own club night, so the idea was dead in the water.
But we say in Scotland, what’s for you won’t roll by you. Not quite sure what that means, but as it turns out, Steve Lamacq semi-retired from 6 Music not long afterwards, at least from his daily show, so doesn’t have many free slots anymore, and not being able to book him, directly opened up another potential opportunity so watch this space! I’m not out of mad ideas quite yet!
This is the first UK/Europe tour since the release of “Chaos County Line” the band’s 6th studio album, an 18 track double no less, and IMHO their very best to date – which is really saying something since the others have also been truly amazing.
If you’re new to the band I’d recommend that you start with The Big Fit or Make it All Show, as there’s so much going on in Chaos County Line which is brimming with creativity, from ballads to heavy rock and everything in-between, it’s a joyous kaleidoscope of music but in an unconventional running order that means it takes a while to fully get your head around it and start to fully appreciate it’s genius.
As I’ve said before, it’s very much a desert island disk – if you’re stuck on a desert island (or even a dessert island if you prefer cakes) and can only take one album with you – this is the one.
Mind you, if the desert island has a more flexible policy then I’d recommend bringing all 6 Skating Polly albums, and if you can squeeze in Dazed by Dlina Volny then you won’t regret it.
But if you can only take one, then Chaos County Line has all the music you will ever need.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with true greatness, the release of this album hasn’t always run smoothly.
Kelli announced the album on 2nd January 2020, I remember the date clearly as we were in London after dropping my daughter off at the Eurostar to go back to her mum’s in France after Christmas.
I got up, and without being too graphic, passed a lot of blood.
Naturally, I was in shock as it had come out of the blue (not that I have a blue arse you understand, I’m not a fly), and my own mortality was in sharp focus.
I went back to bed, grabbed my phone, and the first post I saw on Instagram was Kelli announcing the new album would be out that year.
Obviously it didn’t completely take my mind off the situation, but it certainly helped me get through the following couple of weeks until I was told it was just piles, just as well as with first the pandemic, and then Kelli’s vocal surgery the album was delayed until Summer 2023.
But that’s the power of the very best music – even the thought of it can get you through life’s biggest, most challenging struggles.
Unfortunately, whilst it was released on streaming services on time (which from what I can gather from other artists with similar listener numbers, pays pennies) delays on both the CD and the Vinyl meant that neither was available on launch, and IIRC the band had a US tour where I suspect the album would have sold like hot cakes, but none were available.
I had hoped that this album would be their long awaited breakthrough to the wider market.
The first 3 albums are arguably more for fans, but to my mind The Big Fit, Make it All Show and Chaos County Line should all have been massive global hits, if the masses just got a chance to hear them.
Problem is, reviewers with a stack of albums to review aren’t going to have enough time to really get to grips with an album like Chaos County Line, so whilst the reviews weren’t bad per-se, they made it sound quite average.
One magazine for example gave it the same rating as the new Shaking Stevens album. No offence to Shaky and his fans but it’s not even on the same planet let alone ballpark.
Some felt the songs were great, but the running order was wrong. Maybe, maybe not, I certainly found it a bit challenging at first, but is that such a big deal in the age of spotify playlists where you can order tracks any way you like? How many bands have songs THAT good? Surely, that’s what’s important?
An otherwise good review claimed that one song sounded like a famous song (google it if you’re interested, I’m not going to repeat it here) I moved to London when the famous song was in the charts, so Capital FM played it to death and it’s fully ingrained in my brain, and yet having listened several times a day to Chaos County Line, I never once thought that the songs were alike. Still don’t.
I don’t know anything about music theory, so perhaps to the trained ear there’s a chord-bridge structure of something (whatever that is) that is similar, but for someone who just enjoys music, nah, not buying it!
One review seemed a little negative, and yet speaking to the writer privately beforehand, they are just really frustrated, not with the band but with the industry for letting such an amazing talent slip through the cracks. Even as an anti-corporate old school punk they said “I never thought I’d ever say this, but I almost wish a major would sign them so they can have some hits”.
The band have been quiet on social media lately, not posting on their Discord and so on, so I was starting to get the uneasy feeling that they might be ready to give up, and this could be the last tour.
The show at Omera in London put my mind at rest, at least for a little while.
I’ve never seen the band look so happy – a sold out venue, lively mosh pit and the whole room singing back Little Girl Blue and The Battle Envy – causing Kelli and particularly Peyton to cry happy tears. Surely they can never give this up!
If you can watch this video to the end without a tear or two you probably have no soul!
The love in that room was palpable and these are the only reviews that really count.
It’s not like it’s 1995 and people are still reading reviews to influence their buying decisions anyway.
Something that gives me hope that they will one day reach their true potential, is that another underground band, Beach Bunny sold out London’s Kentish Town Forum (2,200 cap) and O2 Ritz Academy Manchester (1,500 cap) on their first UK tour despite no UK airplay and most people I suspect still not having any idea who they are to this day. Purely because of a big spend on some very clever TikTok promotion. I suspect “Mom+Pop Records” aren’t quite as Indie as the name implies! I’m still not convinced that Bob Odenkirk (Jimmy/Saul from Better Call Saul) spends his spare time at Grassroots gigs and enjoyed their show so much he asked to be in their music video – call me cynical.
Thing is, it proves that even in these harsh times for underground bands, that bands can still be successful without having to compromise their sound, if they can just get the right industry people behind them, so that they get heard beyond the grassroots music circuit.
I love Beach Bunny, but they are a little 1 dimensional compared to the depth of Skating Polly, and Skating Polly are at least as catchy to the casual listener.
When we put Skating Polly on at O2 Academy2 Liverpool, I did a sponsored post with the video flyer and it got very few plays so no tickets sold, but when the venue did identical post from their official account, identical budget, geo-targetting, interest targetting, presumably down to their trusted brand, lots of people listened and they sold 15 tickets (despite their sister company, Ticketmaster’s fees being nearly a fiver, making tickets £19.80 – as my dad used to say “at least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask!”).
The path from hearing a band for the first time to buying tickets to see them is usually a long one, so the fact that so many people were so impressed by the short video clips that they immediately bought tickets gives a small taste of what could happen if they just managed to get some decent radio play on a station with more than 5 listeners that isn’t in the outer Hebrides. Lucrative though that market is.
I firmly believe that all Skating Polly need is someone who believes in them as much as I do, who won’t tamper with the magic formula, but who has money and connections to get them heard by a much wider audience.
Then, all that will be needed is a bigger box of Kleenex for Peyton when they play a sold out show at the 20,000 capacity O2 (Millennium Dome) and the audience are singing their lyrics back to them!
I truly believe it will happen.
That said, my spidey-senses were still tingling though.
Kelli said from the stage that they didn’t have t-shirts to sell at the Merch stand because the band had run out of money to get them printed. And I don’t think she was joking when she said “please buy merch we’re skint” or words to that effect. And now Kurtis has joined another band, Ponty’s Revenge – who are really good, but hopefully just a side-project…
Every time I’ve asked the band when they hope to return to the UK, they always say 6 months, and they do try, but the pandemic, world cup and all sorts of things have conspired to prevent them from ever doing so. This time when someone at the London show asked, Kelli gave a vague “sometime next year, maybe”. Hopefully, simply because they know every time they say 6 months it doesn’t happen. But that “maybe” worries me.
The band obviously love touring – They make so many sacrifices!
Kelli very nearly had her 21st on tour away from her family, a couple of days after our Liverpool show IIRC until it was postponed due to lockdown (thankfully I believe she had it at home with her family and friends in the end).
I suspect they don’t see their partners or dogs for an entire month when they do a European tour. That can’t be easy.
With cost of flights etc, underground bands get very few days off, maybe 2 or 3 on a month long tour, seeing Peyton cry in the biopic Skating Polly: Ugly Pop when she saw Van Gogh Sunflowers – it’s such a shame for example they played Paris on the Friday night and London on the Saturday with barely time to pop out for a selfie by the Eifel Tower / Tower Bridge let alone have time to really enjoy what these cities have to offer having travelled so far from their American homeland.
Indeed they posted a pic of Kelli in Berlin, threading bracelets to sell on the Merch stall. I love their creativity and ingenuity, but it’s so heartbreaking to see her working so hard to make ends meet when they should be out enjoying Berlin, even if only for an hour or so! I just wish they’d hurry up and get their big break, it’s long overdue.
Just as an intense Glastonbury leaves you with the post-glasto rollercoaster where you have a couple of weeks of highs and lows where you reflect on all the amazing things you experienced and people you met, but also start to panic in case you don’t get tickets next year, I currently have the post-polly rollercoaster when one minute I’m on a high where I think they will finally fulfill the promise of their debut album title and “take over the world” (they couldn’t do a worse job than the current crop of world leaders, and at least we’d have some great music!), and the next I’m worried in case they give up music to become professional basket-weavers because it pays better, and never experience the delight of catching them live again. 🙁
The London show was a pure delight and it was unsurprisingly well worth the trip to London.
Here’s a review from God is in the TV. by an actual music writer.
The support band, Half Happy from Cardiff were new to me, but really impressive too
In Manchester I was co-co-promoting the show (mainly making sandwiches to be fair!) and whilst turnout’s in the north are never as high as London, it was still decent especially when considering it was the night before most people get paid, and given that it’s January when most people are poorer than a church mouse’s poorer country relative after Christmas.
In London they decided to be spontaneous and play “Not Going Back Again” without having rehearsed it. After 2 attempts they gave up concluding that you shouldn’t try to be spontaneous.
So it was nice to see them pull it off in Manchester. I did video it from the back of the room (watching out of corner of my eye for people trying to sneak in, haha) if nobody else uploads it.
Support in Manchester came from The Red Stains who I’ve been meaning to see for some time, and they didn’t disappoint.
Finally I saw Skating Polly in Edinburgh where I grew up.
I hadn’t been to The Mash House before, there is some debate on what it was in my day, but whatever it was then I never went.
The venue had just got a new sound system a few days before, and it showed – if London had the best atmosphere of the week, then Edinburgh easily had the best sound of the week.
It was the first time the band had played Edinburgh since supporting Kate Nash in 2018, venue was nice and busy, and atmosphere was great.
Plus, had a great night with a fellow pollyholic over a few beers – it doesn’t get better than that. Pollyholics are the BEST people, perhaps a little eccentric in my case 😉
Support was from TEOSE
I really enjoyed their set, but I was a bit pre-occupied knowing it’s my last night of seeing Skating Polly at least for this year.
So was it worth seeing 3 shows in the one tour? Absolutely! It still left me wanting more though, and my only regret that I couldn’t catch them one final time on the UK tour in Glasgow, and indeed pop over to Germany where Peyton performed “Charlie’s Brother” live.
I’m a classic overthinker and worrier, hopefully I’m worrying for nothing, surely a band this amazing with so much talent and dedication HAVE to keep going until they enevitably break through. Nevertheless if the band are struggling to make ends meet on their European tours, then we really need to do what we can to spread the word and help the Pollyless discover the magic, at least until someone in the industry finally wakes up to how amazing they are.
I know I’ll be doing my best…
Until next time…
That’s it for this newsletter up, until the next time, take care!