Song, by Toad

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Away Game was Officially the Best Thing to Happen to Music, Ever

I just don’t understand it.  I mean, I come back from the most amazing musical weekend I think I have ever enjoyed, and instead of being interested and happy for me, when I start telling people about it they get this weird look in their eyes which looks just a little like blind homicidal rage.  Even more unusually, this look only seems to really go away when I shush and complain about the bad weather in Edinburgh this time of year.  (The weather on Eigg, by the way, was awwwwwesome!)

Anyhow, this is the epitome, in its own quiet way, of the dilemma faced by much of the music industry at the moment.  Do you make things smaller and more exclusive, and risk cutting off people who genuinely want to support you and be a part of what you are doing, or do you allow things to grow to the extent where they become unwieldy, lose their magic and you cease to actually find them rewarding yourself?

From the phrasing of the question you can probably guess on which side of that particular fence I would choose to sit, and this seems to the approach chosen by Johnny Lynch and Kenny Anderson at Fence Records.  Make things more special, more satisfying to be involved in, and in doing so bet that this is the best way to keep alive your own love for what you are doing, and hope that this transmits itself to your audience.

I’ve had some alarming conversations with King Creosote over the last year or so, where the fun really seemed to have gone out of music for him, and so to see him bouncing around the stage on Saturday night announcing that ‘this is what it’s all about’ was a great thing to see.  I have loved so much of his music over the years that it seemed almost to be my fault if the process of making it had drained the enjoyment from him to the extent it appeared to have a couple of years back.

Along with their recent decision to go vinyl only (one I personally disagree with, I must confess, but the precise details are still a little up in the air I think), this micro-festival seemed like another step down a very deliberate route for Fence Records.  A fuck me it was fun.

Eigg is an island in the Inner Hebrides which has been bought out by its residents, and so the feeling of the place is a little unusual to begin with.  Even the drive through Glen Coe up to Arisaig to take the tiny Sheerwater ferry across to the island was utterly stunning, giving the whole silly adventure a hint of magic before anything really happened.  The crossing itself was entertaining to say the least, so choppy that certain individuals chundered all over the place, others went very worrying shades of green, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride, and the captain seriously considered cancelling the final journey in case he lost someone overboard.

The weather was a little blustery, but the sky was generally blue, and the setting sun and the beauty of the island itself (as well as a square meal and a cup of emergency tea) seemed to settle most stomachs quite quickly.  We greeted the third ferry (and another group of very queasy-looking travellers) and pottered up to the island’s Ceilidh Hall, in the grounds of which a marquee had been constructed, with bands staggered on both the indoor and outdoor stages so you didn’t have to miss anything.

I’ll be honest, much of the music was a blur.  I remember bellowing over the top of (well, I thought I was singing along, but in retrospect probably not) Withered Hand’s set (as did most of the audience), I remember FOUND and Silver Columns being awesome, and I remember trying to get back to the tents about three times before finding the right way, and very little else.

The following morning started with an early and excellent performance by Sweet Baboo – my first chance to see someone I’ve heard so much about on Manchester podcast Cloud Sounds, which I highly recommend – and then… well, then there was loads more drinking, great performances from the likes of Johnny Flynn, The Oates Field, Player Piano, the fantastic Slow Club, and people bursting into Happy Birthday inbetween every song in Kid Canaveral’s set.  After that it all becomes a bit of a blur, but I did finally get my hands on some stovies, I seem to recall bellowing at everyone to shut the fuck up during Adem’s set (I know, I know, it’s becoming something of a tedious tradition of mine) and er, well leaping around like a lunatic during British Sea Power (ironically enough, just about a day after I published this little rant on this very site – what a dick!).

On Sunday the first people to leave had to set off, which was rather sad.  The weather was honestly stunning: a little chilly, but bright, bright sunshine and those who stayed behind wasted most of the day sitting in the sun and drinking beer whilst gazing lazily out over the sea and talking inconsequential nonsense in the most relaxing way imaginable.

In the evening we were taken by a rather murderous tractor ride to the other side of the island, where a bonfire was being prepared on the famous Singing Sands (the beach in the picture at the bottom of this post).  Around this bonfire there was much singing, drunk people constantly on the verge of immolating themselves in the fire and a biblical amount of alcohol consumed.  There was also time for Reuben and Dylan to make that excellent picture at the top of the post.

The nice thing about having such a lot of talented musicians around is of course that instead of a handful of painful renditions of Kumbaya and American Pie we were serenaded by some of our favourite pop songs of recent years.  Everyone carrying on with ‘you’ve got the light of the sun in your eyes’ long after The Pictish Trail had finished Winter Home Disco was just amazing.  I even sang along – yes, me!  With my voice!  I must have been fucking smashed.

Anyhow, I remember getting back to the campsite in the back of the Milnes’ van (bless their amazingly nice socks), starting another campfire, laying into a bottle of Schnapps (like, proper Austrian Schnapps, none of this sickly sweet, piss-weak shit you get in Britain) and umm… and… well.. that’s about it actually.  The next thing I was aware of was my massive Monday morning hangover.

In fact most of us looked like total shit on Monday.  We got our tents down, scarfed bacon and egg rolls at the caff by the harbour and just waited it out until the final ferry appeared at three that afternoon.  The crossing back was the absolute antithesis of the one over, with the sea like glass and the mood of excited anticipation replaced by one of contented comedown.  And, just as one last hurrah, as if the weekend hadn’t been perfect enough, we were treated to the sight of a Minke whale and some porpoises as well.

And so this weekend, like a few experiences I’ve had since I became more and more involved in music – the opening of the Bowery, seeing my favourite bands record sessions in our living room, watching bands’ giddy faces at album launches we helped make happen, hanging out with Matt from Bladen County Records in Portland – has become yet another memory which reinforces the rather obvious fact that the more you put into music the more you will get out of it.

So I may quibble with Kenny about the label going vinyl-only, and I may wonder a little at how cliquey the whole thing looks from the outside*, or perhaps even have doubts about how sustainable it is in the long run to tailor your work towards too narrow a group of people. But Fence are doing a few things so very right it’s almost funny to watch less successful labels or communities play catch-up.  They are focusing their efforts on the people who put the most back in, making everything more special for everyone involved.  They are eschewing quantity at the expense of quality.  And they are providing a lot more than just music so they make people feel like they are a part of something; like just by enjoying it we are participating rather than just consuming, and and that even as someone who runs an ostensibly rival record label, there is a little bit of Fence which is mine too.

The Pictish Trail – Winter Home Disco

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Johnny Flynn – Tickle Me Pink

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Withered Hand – Cornflake (possibly my personal musical highlight of the whole weekend)

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*I absolutely guarantee you, it is not cliquey.  Yes, most folk are friends and everyone knows someone who used to know someone who used to sing in a band, but I have yet to meet a more welcoming group of people if you take the time to get to know them, so there’s nothing exclusive about any of it.

38 witty ripostes to Away Game was Officially the Best Thing to Happen to Music, Ever

  1. avatar

    Sounds awesome!

    Have been trying to get some of the 17 Seconds acts involved in some of the stuff for next year. Hopefully people will grasp how good the Last Battle and Chris Bradley albums are, and they’ll get to do more festivals next year.

    Kenny Creosote is a sound guy -met him again the other week at Independents’ Day at St. Andrew’s and he’s a very genuine feller. I too prefer things smaller, there’s a chance of getting involved. Haven’t been to T in six years or Glasto in ten; I feel they’re almost a victim of their own success.

    And as ever, I guess the mssage is: If you can’t join ‘em, BEAT THEM!

  2. avatar

    Well quite. I have no idea how people get involved though – I think they just choose bands they like and phone up and ask them. They happen to like Meursault, which is great, but they’ve yet to show any interest in our other bands.

    But then I guess I haven’t really pushed it either, which may have a little to do with it. And it’s not like I’ve reviewed many of their recent releases either. I just didn’t get into the Rozi Plain or Francois albums for whatever reason, so I guess I don’t have to love everything they do to love the way they tend to go about doing it.

  3. avatar
    rampant chutney consumerism

    Vinyl only is a rocking idea……

    ….sounds like Away Game was some weird abstract reinvention of The 70’s movie The Wickerman.

  4. avatar

    Except no-one got burned alive. It was a close-run thing for much of Sunday night though.

    And as for vinyl, well I personally will love it, certainly, I just worry that there are lots of passionate music fans out there who for whatever reason might not have record players who might feel rather justifiably snubbed by the whole thing.

    Just because they (and I) prefer it doesn’t make it right for everyone, and it sounds a bit like me assuming all right-minded music fans read blogs about music all the time.

  5. avatar
    rampant chutney consumerism

    well i would assume that there would be an MP3 download with each vinyl purchase.

  6. avatar

    Not necessarily, apparently, but do I think they are giving it serious consideration. I am not sure how much has been finally decided yet though, and it’s easy enough to change your mind if these things don’t work out, so I’m sure it’s no big deal.

  7. avatar
    rampant chutney consumerism

    well thats what i would advocate……

    ….Vinyl only is a nice ideology and one i would endorse….so KC/PT if you’re watching/listening….it gets my vote.

  8. avatar

    I love vinyl, and personally prefer it over CDs. And yeah, I would go for vinyl over CD most of the time.

    However, vinyl can work out more expensive as both a customer and running a label. For example, the latest Edwyn Collins album is £10 on CD and £20 on vinyl; (for financial reasons I opted for the CD).

    Also, there are many people who don’t have a record player, which means that sales at gigs (I’m guessing this is a significant sales opportunity for many other record companies, not just me and 17 Seconds) can be affected. And whilst I’m aware you can tell people to go and buy it on download, they won’t necessarily do that, or the momentum can be lost by the time they get home.

  9. avatar

    Well I’d agree, but I think Fence have a more devoted fanbase than most other labels out there, so if anyone can do it I reckon they might be a good bet.

    It’ll be interesting to see anyway – I’ll certainly be doing my bit!

  10. avatar

    I’m pretty sure Neil is singing a Meursault song in that video of the tractor ride.

    Golly gosh it sounds incredible. Hopefully it will be returning next year! That and Homegame of course, it’s about time I visited Anstruther…

  11. avatar
    Ian (HF@D)

    Glad you had a good time, Matthew! I can never imagine you singing, or dancing.

    As for the vinyl issue; I don’t think many people outside Fence agree with it but I don’t think they really fucking care. It is their work, afterall, and I 100% respect them for putting it out how they see fit. It will be financial suicide, though. What is the reasoning behind it?

  12. avatar

    I’m led to believe that the Fence vinyl-only plan is led, at least in part, by Kenny’s dislike of sharing digital music files over the internet.

    If that does turn out to be the case, they’re unlikely to include MP3 download codes or CD-ROMs in with the vinyl albums.

  13. avatar

    …which in turn leads me to think they might make it worse. Making things vinyl-only pretty much guarantees they’ll be pirated digitally, I think. I mean, if people have no legitimate way to purchase and enjoy the music then I would have thought that makes them more likely to nick it, not less.

    Ian’s right though, it’s their work and they can and should release it how they want. I only fear for the financial viability of that kind of plan because I like the label so much. And let’s be honest, if I could afford it I would love to release more vinyl myself, but I have neither the cash nor the storage space.

    (Oh, and I am unsure anyone else would actually recognise it as either singing or dancing old chap, but that’s definitely what it was in my head at the time.)

  14. avatar
    Ian (HF@D)

    That’s what I thought, Dylan.

    You can get a fairly high quality Denon turnable which changes tracks to MP3 for about £160 these days. I agree with Matthew that it will make people download it illegally a lot more. I mean, I am the only 21 year old I know who still buys vinyl. A certain demographic goes out the window. I also know avid music fans who don’t own a turntable. It is a tricky one.

    I feel this vinyl chat is detracting from the awesomeness that is Away Game. Is there going to be one for next year and when do tickets go on sale? :)

  15. avatar

    They are specifically blocking your IP address from ordering any.

  16. avatar
    Ian (HF@D)

    I HAVE FEELINGS, MATTHEW.

  17. avatar

    I HELPED WRITE ‘AWAY GAME’ IN THE SKY!!!

    That’s how awesome Away Game was.

  18. avatar
    rampant chutney consumerism

    yawn

  19. avatar

    I never get jealous….. But that sounds like an awesome experience and BSP do seem to get to play the very best of venues and gigs.

    They are playing Man of Arran in Salford Church this Sunday. And the other question is ; is it worth a KT Tunstall ticket to see Slow Club support?

  20. avatar

    I wouldn’t pay to see KT Tunstall irrespective of what other inducements were on offer, but that’s just me.

    Is that Man of Arran show part of Unconvention, by any chance?

  21. avatar

    It does indeed sound amazing, and I’m kicking myself for not going.

    I’d prefer it though if Fence alternated Homegame and Awaygame on consecutive years, that would mean I could much more easily afford to go to both (for afford read ‘persuade the missus’)

    But clearly more than enough people are willing to go to both, so what do I know!

    Also I wish Kenny would do a big 3 hour full band Edinburgh show, the crowd were loving it at the Roxy gig a few months back but it was cut short before it really got going.

    As for vinyl only, have to admit as much as I love slavering over a new piece of shiny vinyl, for practical reasons I listen to music mostly on my headphones when I’m out and about so I’d be sorry if I could only listen to the new Pictish Trail album at home..

  22. avatar

    Yes it’s part of Unconvention and I’m really looking forward to the weekend now. And I get to see the Mumford boys Saturday on account of my elder child having discovered Laura Marling about 4 months ago.

    As for KT

    Its a free lift into town and Mrs C has offered to buy my beer all night and Slow Club. I think I’m more easily swayed than you Matthew.

  23. avatar

    Milo, well they can’t get 100% of their audience out to everything, so a bit of a spread presumably makes it likely that most people can manage at least one event. And yes, I miss the big Fence Club pish-ups at the Caves too.

    Cogstar – WEAK! Although… Slow Club really are rather good!

  24. avatar

    Fair point , I’ll hang my head in shame while drinking the free beer

  25. avatar

    Sounds fantastic, but it was on a tiny island in the hebrides, miles from anywhere, so if youre not (and Im not) in the club, youre not going. And that, is exclusivity. And the fact that it sounds marvellous makes me a little irked.

    but thats the way it is.

    I do love the hebrides. Reading a full page of this ‘Didnt we have a lovely time the day we went to..Eigg’ doesnt help matters.

    I spoke to Kenny Anderson last year about the going vinyl thing (apologies for the name drop) and think fair play to them, but theres a bit of the ‘Its my ball and Im off to Eigg’ about it.

    Music seems to be going in two main directions now. One is massively corporate pop, and the other is experimental/ new sounds/ new art.

    I am, and have never been particularly into either.

    We may not have the joy of another decent band getting big if this trend continues.

    feel free to disagree.

  26. avatar

    “Sounds fantastic, but it was on a tiny island in the hebrides, miles from anywhere, so if youre not (and Im not) in the club, youre not going. And that, is exclusivity.”

    Well it’s harder to get tickets for Glastonbury and geographically harder for me to get to Bestival, so presumably they’re just as exclusive. I’ve met new people at every Fence event I’ve been to, although I meet lots I already know, and I’ve met people I know randomly at Glastonbury too so I really don’t get your point about being in the club.

    To be in the club all you had to do was care enough to know when it was on and make a point of being available when the tickets went on sale because they went fast. It was advertised far enough in advance that much interest in the label should mean you knew it was on, and the tickets selling fast is as much a nuisance to hardcore Fencers as it is to newbies.

    Even from the very first Fence event Mrs. Toad and I went to people were really nice to us, so if it’s a clique it’s a remarkably open and welcoming one – the only real requirement I can think of is that you really like Fence stuff, but then if you don’t then why would you want to go in the first place?

    I certainly do know what you mean about the fracturing of the middle ground between the micro-indies and the mainstream though. What causes that is the sheer number of channels to the audience though surely, but I think those will consolidate over the next few years and we’ll soon see the fragmentation we’re now bemoaning/enjoying reduce quite sharply.

    And this bit: “I spoke to Kenny Anderson last year about the going vinyl thing (apologies for the name drop) and think fair play to them, but theres a bit of the ‘Its my ball and Im off to Eigg’ about it.” I do agree with. But if the capacity to reach a big audience is as diminished as you say (and I agree), and bashing your head against a brick wall trying to reach them is fucking your life up, then trying to connect more strongly with smaller numbers of people makes sense, surely.

    Now, for reasons I’ve hinted at above, I don’t really agree with them on the vinyl issue, but I have sympathy for the motivations. Even if you’re being a cynical businessman, that approach is similar to every boutique brand surely – the lo-fi equivalent of charging £100k for a car and having a five-year waiting list.

  27. avatar

    If youre not (and Im not) in the club, youre not going.

    Referring only to my own relatively short experience with the Fence community, the decision to not join ‘the club’ is yours alone.

    Reading a full page of this ‘Didnt we have a lovely time the day we went to..Eigg’ doesnt help matters.

    That sounds awfully chippy. Would it help if I apolgised in person to you for getting off my arse, taking time off work to make sure I was online during the six minutes the tickets were available, taking more time off work to travel a couple of hundred miles up country to get on a stupid little fishing boat and sail across a particularly choppy stretch of the North Atlantic in order to hang out with some good friends and listen to some great bands? Or do you prefer having the opportunity to pout and whinge like a spoilt six-year-old?

    Grow up.

  28. avatar

    Fair points raised Matthew and Dylan, my comment was unreservedly chippy and thats how it was meant.

    Dylan it would not help if you apologised for being organised, so no dramas. Your loyalty is admirable. But I do reserve the right to have a whinge on here.

    Music Blogs are supposed to be about healthy discussion, rather than a full on endorsement of your friends old and new.

    Independent music is about making a statement, not about opting out of the challenge.

    I reckon that Matthews point is on blance right in terms of not bashing your head against a brick wall trying to reach an audience. But thats a head over heart, ‘grown up’, decision. And I just dont believe it. Its heart and courage and the will to be different and be seen to be different, not to hide away in a cloisered environment with two fingers to everyone else that will keep people interested in being in any way alternative.

    I guess I didnt head to away game because I dont play home game. I have been, and it was quality, but if youre not part of the crowd, youre not getting on the boat.

    And now gentlemen,

    if you’ll excuse,

    its way past my bedtime.

  29. avatar

    I also have to disagree with the comment on exclusivity – I went with one person, the only person I knew there at the start of the weekend. But I’ve never met a more welcoming bunch of people. Beside the music and the setting, they made my weekend what it was. My friend went to bed after the music stopped every night while I stayed up having fun with people I’d only just met. I never once got the feeling of not being “in the club”, or even that there was one.

    Also, Matthew, it was rather impressive the way you were laying into that shnapps.. that stuff was rocket fuel.

  30. avatar

    TCB – I really wasn’t trying to have a go – the music world is a lot like being back at high school with all the little clubs and whatnot.

    Basically it all is quite cliquey in terms of people all knowing one another and so on – I’m just saying that’s a natural part of life when you inevitably tend to hang around people specifically because you have music taste in common.

    But for all there has been some world class moaning about it from time to time (and I genuinely am not talking about you), I really do think that if anyone really wanted to be part of these perceived groups, even if only from time to time when it suited them, then they would find it all less hostile that it might appear from the outside.

  31. avatar

    Where’s the next one going to be?…

    “Gliese 581g”?

    Bit of science humour there.

  32. avatar

    You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Madcow?

  33. avatar

    It would be really good.

  34. avatar

    Hi, no problem.

    High School?

    From memory there were 3 groups. Nerdy groups, popular crowd, and people who didnt subscribe to either camp, stuck out and were usually into playing music.

    Those were the ones who I liked.

    And thats what disappears when you grow up, mores the pity.

    I do appreciate Im not being very positive here.

    But then the weathers pish.

    Have a good weekend. Im off to a gig.

  35. avatar

    I strongly agree with Matthew & Dylan & Lisa here, I was at awaygame with my wife & apart from being able to nod a hello to a few faces I recognised, I knew no-one. Not for one minute did I feel that I was on the outside of a clique, quite the reverse. Purely because I made the effort to get tickets & travel to the gig, I automatically became part of the Fence/Homegame/Awaygame family. More labels/promoters could learn a few things from these guys.

  36. avatar

    [...] * Song, By Toad: http://songbytoad.com/2010/09/away-game-was-officially-the-best-thing-to-happen-to-music-ever/ [...]

  37. avatar

    great post on away game – you’ve captured the spirit of it, and Eigg, really nicely. you’re right about the friendliness – every one, artists included, was very welcoming and up for a chat and a drink.

    the bonfire on the sunday night was beautiful. started to sink in then how lucky we were to be part of an amazing weekend. (btw… singing sands is the beach further up from the one we were at on sunday night. not that i can remember the name of that beach…)

  38. avatar

    [...] for those who have no idea what I'm talking about, my review of Away Game is here.] tweetmeme_url = 'http://songbytoad.com/2010/10/away-game-yes-again/'; [...]

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