Friday, 30 December 2016

Meet the People Behind the Bands: NEIL HARGREAVES & AARON PROCTER ~ New Year Special Pt. II

Sheffield is a real fulcrum of the music scene at the moment; it's home to a number of incredible bands that I absolutely adore... Polkadodge, Julia, The SSS... the list goes on... and with so many brilliant and intimate venues in the city centre and it's surrounding areas, it's definitely become one of my absolute favourite places to attend gigs. One of the highlights of my year, and I am sure so many of you feel exactly the same, is Tramlines- the three day inner city music festival extravaganza which takes place annually in the Summer. I've attended for the last three years, and never once felt the need to set foot anywhere near the main stage, or any of the paid stages for that matter; my time at the festival is always spent flitting between the free entry, smaller (and generally free entry) venues... those that mostly play host to up and coming, unsigned acts; over the years I've discovered so many of my now favourite bands there... The SSS in 2014, Black Honey in 2015, and then this years festival I was able to see Atlanta House, Kassassin Street and The Rook for the very first time. Tramlines is very much a celebration of all things music, and what I've noticed about Sheffield in general is that not only is the music scene flourishing at the moment, it's an incredibly friendly place to be and is full to the brim with pure talent... and that's not just from the bands themselves...

Two people in particular have had a huge impact upon my time spent in Sheffield over the years, and in one way or another, they've probably had an impact on yours too. Neil Hargreaves and Aaron Procter are familiar and much loved faces in and around Sheffield- and as I found out when I took them both aside to ask them a few questions about their experiences in music, they have many an interesting story to tell... 

Neil is responsible in many ways for inspiring me to want to write about music in the first place, after having approached me back in 2015 to run a group on Facebook for a band that I'm sure many of you are familiar with, but at the time were just starting out... October Drift. He was thus one of the first people I met in the industry; that was almost 4 years ago now, when I was only really just starting to properly appreciate music and attend gigs. He has provided me with incalculable levels of support, advice and fortification over the years, for which I'll always be grateful to him.

Black Honey

How and when did you first get involved in working in the music industry?
It was always going to happen but the way it happened was mad. I kinda fell into into naturally I guess! I started off more as a photographer and videographer, doing live shots, creating music videos for bands, before a band asked if I’d help them out in a few ways and manage them. They were a classic rock band so quite far out of my comfort zone initially but I soon found my feet and we had a lot of fun! I then went onto putting shows on, and then onto festival stages, tours etc and it’s gone from there really. I’ve done everything from managing and touring with bands, worked booking bands for venues, and promoting shows which gives me a good insight into what everyone needs from both a band and promoters perspective which really helps.

What would you say has been the proudest moment of your career to date?
Well to date I’ve worked with too many cool bands to mention from Reverend and the Makers, Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Struts, etc but from a personal angle it’s gotta be putting Heaven 17 into Plug main room in Sheffield which was an absolute blast. Back in the day (showing my age here by the way) Martyn Ware of Heaven 17 was the reason I fell in love with music, as he’d founded Sheffield band The Human League and accidentally saw them on Granada TV when I was like 6 or 7 years old. There was this terrifying shot of a golden buddha accompanied by their futuristic electronic squidgy sounds and Martyn was right there on my TV playing 'em. It literally changed my life as there and then I decided to just get through school then do what wanted but I knew it was going to be music related. I bought synthesisers as soon as I could, and in the meantime Martyn Ware went on to form Heaven 17, and then went on to produce Terence Trent D’Darby’s ‘introducing the hardline’ album which is one of my all time favourite albums. I didn’t realise he’d produced that until years later. Anyway to cut a long story short I decided to ask Martyn if Heaven 17 would play Plug for me and after consulting with Glenn Gregory, he came back to me and said yeah let’s do it! Sheffield packed the room out and we had a brilliant time, made all the more special by the band and Martyn specifically being the reason I’m in music in the first place.

You must get hundreds of bands applying to play for you... When organising shows, how do you go about choosing which bands to put on and where when?
Firstly I don’t really work like promoters out there who book regularly and in huge volume. I don’t really like doing that as it takes a lot of the love out of it. I try and only put bands on I believe in and love (The Lapelles was a great example of that last year where nobody had heard of them in Sheffield but I loved them, booked them, and we had a packed out house thanks to the hard work of Adelphi and Sheafs who helped put a great crowd in front of them). There’s nothing more rewarding than putting crowd in front of bands I believe in long before others catch onto them. It’s the opposite of what many promoters do as they look at the cash/profit side of things first, but I just can’t help myself when it comes to finding new bands. That’s the aspect of music I love the most. (ps RIP Gary Watson who passed away shortly after our show.) Every day I wake up I get faced with applications from bands who want to work with me and I’ll have a listen to them all, and I always then check out their live stuff on YouTube and see if they’re everything they claim to be in their bio. If so then I’m interested and from there it’s trying to find a venue they’d best suit. I’m currently putting bands into Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, London, Glasgow and of course Sheffield where I’m based.

You always seem to be extremely busy, and have your fingers in so many pies! What does a typical day in the life of Neil Hargreaves consist of?
Wake up between 7 and 10am. Have Alpen or toast. Turn laptop on, and catch up on emails. Get Soundcloud loaded up and listen to the bands who’ve been in touch. Get YouTube on and check out their live stuff. I talk a lot to venues and other promoters to see what the bands were like to work with, how well they did on stage, how many tickets they sold vs what they claim they could sell, and how professionally they acted (did they turn up on time? did they behave themselves?)
Most of my day currently is spent working on October Drift and now Beware Of Echoes has come along I’m also getting stuck into that project which is another exciting one. Just when I’m starting to wind down about 8pm and think about chilling out, that’s when most bands and musicians get in touch, so that means I carry on till about 1am / 2am before going to bed and listening to podcasts.

What can you tell us about your plans for Crystal Stage of Tramlines 2017 at the moment?
Nothing really. It’s all very much under wraps. That’s not because I’m being all cool and mysterious, but that we’ve got a couple of things planned that should shock everyone (in a good way). I’ve pulled in a couple of favours to land one of the biggest bands we’ve ever booked. One thing that we’ll do more of this year is to bring a couple of bigger, more established bands in, we’ll be changing the sound system out as last year we really weren’t happy with the sound so we’re going bigger on that one, and we’re going to be upping the stakes on the production side of it (the lighting will be bigger than ever - we want the maddest, biggest lighting setup of the whole festival!) Bands wise I’ve booked a few more bands already and am working on the rest as we speak. I’m looking for bands that put on a show visually as well as sound great, as we like to have an energetic lineup that keep the crowds buzzing all day and night.

Finally... which bands have seriously impressed you this year?
This year I’ve managed to tour the country managing October Drift so I’ve got to see some class bands whilst out and about. The obvious one is The Slow Readers Club who I’ve seen grow at a rapid rate. I really hope they continue pushing on next year as their music deserves to be heard. They’re a class outfit but I’m guessing everyone reading this already know that right? There’s a band in Plymouth who are like 17 years old who are like this mad mix between The Smiths and Pulp, and the lead singer is going to be a megastar (no doubt about it), but I’m not going to name them as they are on my hitlist of bands to nick. I also saw a few bands whilst at various industry events this year and around the festivals, and I'd recommend checking out Fatherson, Idles, Desperate Journalist, Avalanche Party, and apparently there’s this Liverpool based band called Cabezudos who someone I know has been battering me about ha ha!!

I've often wondered to myself how on Earth Aaron manages to eat, sleep and breathe as he is seemingly always hard at work... not only as promoter and director at AMP Live, but working tirelessly as a tour manager and being part of This Feeling. It's only very recently that I've gotten to know Aaron, but I've always had a huge amount of respect for him and the incredible work that he does. Through his shows, I've been introduced to the likes of I Kept The Wolves Away, Kashmere and most recently The Wholls... who completely blew me away, and are undoubtedly one of the best live bands I have ever seen. This year alone, Aaron has organised over 40 gigs and I think it's safe to say that he has a real eye for talent.

The Wholls

How and when did you first start working in the music industry?
Music is something that I've always been around since been very young, so it was a bit of a progression into the industry from being a fan and dabbling in playing instruments at a younger age. I started helping other bands out such as The Violet May, Tivoli and Elephant Keys at a number of gigs from being in my late teens as well as doing bits at Frog & Parrot for Nick Simmonite and then one of the first proper projects I got to work on was RE:Mixed In Sheffield with Liam O'Shea. We got Sheffield DJ's to remix Sheffield bands, created an album and then made a crazy night of it bringing both aspects together in places such as Yellow Arch Studios. From there I went on to promote a couple of shows at The Stockroom and then Frog & Parrot where I held a two year residency, which really helped kick start AMP Live properly.

What's your earliest memory of music?
Probably one of my earliest memories of music is my parents getting me '(What's The Story) Morning Glory?' by Oasis on cassette as well as listening to the likes of Talking Heads, The Beautiful South and Red Hot Chilli Peppers when in the car as a youngster.

You always seem to be busy...whether that's putting on your own shows, or on the road with bands; what does a usual day in your life consist of?
Emails, emails, phone calls, more emails and phone calls. I think that covers it. To be honest every day is different, yeah it does involve a million emails and phone calls per day but it's exciting as you never know if there's gonna be that one email from a band or manager or agent where you can listen to the first verse and you think 'Yep, get them booked!'. Then there's going to gigs in the evening, it's always different and that's whats great about being in this line of work, be that a normal office type of day or being on the road or an AMP Live gig day itself.

AMP Festival was a huge success this year and I know it's happening again in 2017... what can you tell us about that at the moment?
So as a bit of an exclusive, the 'May 2017' banner I put on the AMP Festival page is a bit of a tease as the next one is 28th, 29th & 30th April, which is actually May Day Bank Holiday. We shall be back at The Rocking Chair but with an extra day of bands. That is all for now, but the first announcement isn't far away at all.....

Finally... which bands have seriously blown you away in 2016? 
1. Glass Caves
2. Cabbage
3. Vryll Society
4. The Shimmer Band
5. I Kept The Wolves Away
6. Broken Witt Rebels
7. The Wholls
8. Judas
9. Tangerines
10. Paves

Plus..... Yonaka, Delamere, Clay, The Ruby Blues, Hello Operator, Ekkah, The Strawberries, Bang Bang Romeo, Fronteers and Sheafs. I could probably name another 10 or more but those are the ones off the top of my head. It's been a pleasure to work with every single band and person that I have done this year, so here's to 2017 I guess!

Keep an eye out for Part III of my 'End of Year Special', where in I'll be writing about the Doncaster music scene, and three very special people who are at the very heart of it all...

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