Sometimes I’d like to pretend just for a moment that there was some faceless administrator running this website rather than me. Then I could post some third person news story about being nominated for an award and then quote myself giving an endearingly surprised statement about what an unexpected honour it is (and it is both unexpected and an honour).
But everyone knows it’s me because this is clearly a wordpress do-it-yourself site and any suggestions to the contrary would be preposterous. And besides, I’m supposed to be DIY anyway.
I have never been overly fond of awards ceremonies as a phenomenon or the associated back-patting that goes with them but I am pretty thrilled to be part of this one. Why have I suddenly changed my tune? Why am I getting my suit dry cleaned? Why am I polishing up my wedding shoes? Is it just a simple case of hypocrisy?
Perhaps. I admit it’s the first time I’ve been nominated for anything since getting the drama prize at school and, like most people, I am by no means immune to the satisfaction that recognition generates. Indeed, even after thousands of live shows I still do not take applause for granted.
But the main reason I am happy about this is that it some how retrospectively redeems a past that to many eyes looks like a lot of messing about. I spent my entire 20s playing in bands, shrugging off what probably could have been quite a promising academic career (I had a scholarship to study in the USA but when I got there I mostly haunted the underground music scene and jammed with anyone who’d put up with me, the busy nightlife meant I often struggled to stay awake during classes). It’s not that I suddenly yearn to be respectable (anyone who has seen me perform will know there is scant chance of that!) but getting the occasional nod from “the industry” does bolster one’s fortitude during those occasional (but unavoidable) moments of hesitation.
For in the independent sector the most difficult thing is maintaining one’s drive. Keeping up a momentum that is mostly fuelled by sheer stubborn faith (or maybe ego) can some mornings seem an incalculable ordeal. I am not for a moment trying to suggest I don’t live an absolutely charmed life – playing music for a living, traveling to lots of interesting places and being applauded when I get there is probably more than anyone has a right to expect from their life. And yet, attempting to still those tremors of doubt that course through every human spine seems to be more than I can reasonably expect of myself.
And that’s the reason Biff and Dan and I set up Debt Records. Because we knew too many artists who had given up after struggling with personal doubt. Because it made us so sad to see talented people being defeated like that. And even sadder that when those people had disappeared from the live circuit there was often nothing left behind, no footprint, no legacy. Barely an echo. We thought that if we started a label where collaboration was a central directive, where everyone would be a part of everyone else’s records, share material and generally cross-polinate creatively then we’d all lessen our chances of oblivion. A good friend of mine retired from music a few years ago but he still receives performance royalties because one of his songs is a regular in Bedlam Six shows. I like that kind of continuity.
Of course the internet is very efficient when it comes to archiving things. But context is key. And that’s what a label is – context. It’s why so many labels exist even though musicians no longer really need them to make their songs available to the public. People still want filters, middlemen, organizations, officialdom. Such barriers are strangely comforting, perversely so. But more importantly people want stories. A band on a label is part of a wider narrative. So we’re trying to compose a narrative that one day we hope will go on to write itself without our influence.
But Debt is nowhere near where we want it to be yet. Next month we have two releases scheduled that, finally, mean everyone on the roster will have put out at least one product. That was our aim for the end of 2010. We’re a bit late. We’re getting there though. Learning the business as we go along has always been one of the main objectives and we’re doing that. It is fascinating, it really is.
So I’m looking forward to attending the awards ceremony, being in that big room having dinner with the people responsible for some of my favourite records of the last few decades, people whose experience of the creative economy could not be further from mine. If we were to take a break between courses and draw a venn diagram of how we all measured success, I suspect my circle would barely touch some of theirs – indeed it would probably have to be on a separate sheet of paper – but I’m sure everyone in that room, regardless of money earned and lost in subsequent years, entered the creative sector because of a deep love of music and I’m looking forward to spending time in their company.
I’m also hoping I get put on the same table as Madness. They were the first band I loved and they’re up for a couple of AIM awards this year. Here’s a biographical titbit for you: When I was ten years old I danced so hard to “Baggy Trousers” that my bedroom ceiling collapsed. As far as I’m concerned, getting to be in a room with the band that inspired that kind of destruction means I’m already a winner.
One day, I hope that something I write helps to demolish a child’s bedroom.