Music In Lockdown Interview: Angel Promotions on Balaam and the future for Gigs…

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Over the next few weeks Midlands Rocks will be exploring how different parts of the music industry are managing their way through the current crisis. With venues having had to shut their doors any thoughts of experiencing live music have been placed on pause for the time being as we all wait to see what will happen over the coming weeks and months. Clearly this is a difficult time for artists, labels, venues, road crew and promoters to name just a few of those impacted. MR Editor Dean Pedley spoke to Dean Brown and Tony Smedley of Angel Promotions to get their views on what happens next…

Hi guys and good to speak to you at what is a difficult time for all of us. Before we talk gigs, on a personal level how are you both coping with life under lockdown?

Dean: I have recently moved to Bath so settling in to a new town under lockdown is strange in the extreme, but it’s a beautiful part of the UK and I have been getting to know the neighbours with a beer over the garden wall on a regular basis !!

Tony: I’ve been safely ensconced at Angel Towers Brighton branch. Under the protective glare of my wife who, as much as she loves me I mean who wouldn’t, wishes for this to be over so I can get out from under her feet. I love these live streams bands are doing, Headsticks and Spear Of Destiny for starters. BUT IT AINT THE SAME .

Can you provide our readers with some insight into Angel Promotions, how and why you started and what else you are involved with as I know this goes beyond just putting on gigs?

Dean: I set up Angel Promotions after taking redundancy from my previous job as a Packaging Manager for Argos, having a passion for music all my life and following bands back in the 80’s, I just wanted to do something I really loved and felt passionate about. I have been friends with Tony since those days of following bands and he has a similar passion for music, particularly live music and such knowledge as well, it was an obvious choice to get Tony onboard, we work really well together.

We also Manage Balaam and the Angel and work closely with a select few other bands, We feel we are different to a lot of other promoters out there and treat the artists who play for us with the utmost respect and make them feel valued and looked after, that is important to us. Our ethos is to put on shows that showcase every band on the bill. No band that plays for us is ever a filler just for the main act, in most cases they are headliner’s in their own right, or will be one day. You should always get in early for one of our shows!

We also own Chapter 22 Records limited, the iconic Midlands label from the 80’s who had the likes of Pop Will Eat itself and the Mission as part of its roster of bands back in the day. It was Balaam and the Angel’s own Label and they have kindly passed it onto us. We released two albums last year on the label, Fallen Mafia’s debut album, Awaken and Balaam and the Angel’s first live album That’s Not The Real World. We have a further two releases planned this year. It is something we want to grow over the next few years.

Tony: Think Dean has summed that up quite nicely. For me personally I always stated I wanted no band just to make numbers. Promoters who book bands and then don’t watch them …I mean what’s that about. I like to think we make a good impression on the talent that work with us. We are knowledgeable about music and our scene, bands we book seem to like our pedigree. So we just roll with it. Record label stuff….we discuss as a team and only work again with acts we believe in. Having the Chapter 22 label is a massive boost to what we are trying to do and are extremely grateful to the clan Morris for letting us have the name.

Prior to the current situation what are some of the highlights of the past couple of years or so that you have been doing this?

Dean: There have been many highlights, we love our jobs! And have had many fantastic bands play for us. If I was to highlight a few and it’s very difficult, it would be having our first two shows with Balaam and the Angel at The O2 Academy in Birmingham last September, so memorable in many ways. The Membranes in Brighton, where Punk Icon Jordan, came on stage with John Robb and read an excerpt from her book about her time with The Sex Pistols. I have it on video as well!!  I would also say coming across new bands to us and just falling in love with them, Bands like Riskee and the Ridicule and the Bar Stool Preachers. We both love new music, it’s why we are doing this… there is some amazing talent out there.

Tony: Past 18 months phew …erm …our first show at Esquires was very special. We were extremely lucky to have found three bands that gelled so well and we have become firm friends with our opening headliners, Hung Like Hanratty .

Those shows with Balaam were extremely hard work .. months and months of it. Finding complimentary guests for a Balaam show is very difficult. But looking back a very proud moment for us both.  A massive personal highlight in terms of musical surprises where our two shows with Bar Stool Preachers … just two amazing nights of new punk and ska talent with an amazing cast of guests, Spring Park, First Wave, Headsticks and this year Riskee & the Ridicule and Kid Klumsy just five amazing bands who always deliver. Blown away!

Promoting gigs without losing money can be a challenge even under normal circumstances. What lessons have you learnt along the way / what would you have done differently?

Dean: Our first few shows we learnt so much and lost a lot of money, we paid too much for artists and also took it for granted that because they were relatively big names people would come out and see them. Never presume anything…we learnt quickly and started to understand how things work, negotiated better and started working with bands that we believed in and deserved a platform. One of the main things is sticking with the genre’s we knew and were passionate about…Punk, post punk, alternative scene. We have also built up a following of people who come to our shows. We are now into year 2 of Angel Promotions and we work to a criteria when we book shows, it’s a bit of a formula that we hope means we at least break even on a show or if we lose money it is for the right reasons, sometimes you have to invest in a band if you truly believe in them and hopefully if they become bigger, they offer you a show that pays all that money back!!!

The Balaam weekender in Birmingham was clearly well received and you also managed to persuade Dawn After Dark to reform after 30 years, how did that all come about? Speaking as a big fan of DAD back in the late 80’s I was delighted to see them back and it went so well…

Dean: I’ll let Tony talk about how he got Dawn after Dark to come back ……

Tony: I asked and offered first with H (singer Howard Johnson) then Tony Henderson (drummer). They were extremely nervous and the first few months I wasn’t sure it would happen but then they roped in Felix (Tony’s son) on bass and a mate of his and they were gung ho… I couldn’t stop ‘em if I tried. Thirty years and a sad ending takes a healing hand and a gentle shove…luckily I managed it. It is another massive personal highlight cos they absolutely nailed it last September.  All credit to those lads for being gullible enough to believe my assertion that they should give it one last whirl.

You are clearly big fans of Balaam, what has it been like to have gone from being fans of the band to actually working with the guys and getting them back out on stage again?

Dean:  I first saw Balaam back in 1985 and from that first time at The Screen on the Green in Portobello Road, London I was hooked. I became one of the people that kit bagged around the country seeing them at every opportunity I could, doing that for all of their 10 years at their peak. I obviously became friends with the band and kept in touch. They never really packed it in and played every few years. When the guys heard I had set up a promotions company they were very interested in what Tony and I had planned. We met up with Mark and Des in Cannock one night and the rest is history. We love them to bits and being three brothers it can be a bit feisty at times, but they are all consummate professionals and I think we work well together. We have big plans for them ….

Tony: A Balaam fan…. I’m not really sure I was am or ever want to be. First became aware of the band very late ‘85 a few friends had seen them. I went May ‘86 wasn’t a fan. Went back 6 months later knew a few more faces really had a good night. Decided to hitch to Newcastle next day and was greeted by Mark who ushered me in I felt at home, with likeminded souls. So I’ve never really thought of myself as a fan. I’ve never really bought shirts or merch, never bought much vinyl. I just went to see the band every time they played for around five years. Got married had kids. They now come to shows and are often spotted on my shoulders with smiles. Balaam gigs are happy friendly places, it’s a home away from home.

Every business has had to react to the pandemic in some way, tell us about some of the actions you have taken since venues were closed down and we had to adapt to social distancing.

Dean: We have had a number of tours planned and gigs booked which we have rescheduled for October onwards. The thing is, will people want to come out to shows if things are relaxed? You cannot have social distancing at a gig, so it is going to be a while before things really get back to normal. Bands will have to be mindful of their fees as promoters need to not lose money; it’s going to be a fine balancing act for a while

Obviously it’s very difficult for all of us to make firm plans at the moment and there is a real danger that some venues may not be able to reopen when all of this is over as they are no longer financially viable. Is this a concern and do you think there has been enough help for the industry?

Dean: There are going to be a number of venues close for sure, we use Bedford Esquires as one of our main venues and Gareth Barber (owner) has done great things there but even they are worries about the impact. The government and industry have done very little to help anyone…don’t get me started on the government …..

Tony: Politics and the entertainment industry I could rant all day…easily. I lean to left politically so I don’t have much to say in support of our last decade’s leaders. I shall refrain and hope to whatever higher power that we as an industry can continue after this abomination has passed us. I echo Deans sentiments about independent venues. As you can maybe tell we aren’t interested in corporate bullshit. We are I hope genuine lovers of independent music and venues we try to use intimate venues wherever possible. Gareth and his magnificent team and venue are one of the best in the country narrowly missing out a very worthy accolade last year. We have been very fortunate to be able to use the venue.

 

Going to gigs is a pastime for some people but for others it’s a way of life, how do think attitudes might change when we are out of lockdown? I think it’s probably fair to say things will not simply be “just the same”.

Dean: As I said earlier, I believe there will be a drop off in attendance at first but I pray people will just want to start going out again and seeing live music, there is nothing like live music….

Tony:  I think there will be some trepidation on the part of the all-powerful punter, however we will continue to do what we do and hopefully within a short period our fantastic bills will bring the crowds back in. We make a point of doing our door so we greet everyone in with a smile. A bit of banter about a dodgy haircut or poor choice of shirt always sits well with the all-powerful punter…without whom!  I will continue to go to shows as we did before even if it’s not my show. Love live music! It is a way of life and long may it continue.

All things being equal tell us about some of the shows you have lined up for later in the year…

Dean: We have another Balaam and the Angel / Dawn After Dark show in November at Bedford Esquires, celebrating the venues 30th Anniversary. We have 4 dates on the Hands Off Gretel in October and December, brilliant band and we love working with them.

We also have 4 dates of the Lips can Kill tour 2 in October, a brilliant 4 band bill (Tokyo Taboo, Your Mum, Healthy Junkies and Polly Pikpocketz)

We are also planning our first weekend festival for Spring 2021 at the Victoria Bikers Pub in Coalville. So there are lots of exciting things ahead.

Tony: The return of the excellent Blackballed ( Marshall Gill from NMA ) ,a hopeful Dawn After Dark show in September at the Hope and Anchor with the excellent Yur Mum as guests who are another band to watch out for, virus willing, and the Victoria weekender is very exciting for next year .

And finally was there anything you wanted to add, whether that be about Angel Promotions, your passion for putting on live music or anything else at all!

Dean: We would like to thank Gareth Barber at Bedford Esquires for giving us the opportunity to do what we love doing and also Ian Kemp (Milky) one of the other promoter’s at Esquires who has been very supportive of us.

I would like to add a thank you to All of the brilliant bands that have played for Angel Promotions,  I can safely say I have met some wonderful people this past 18 months and heard some fantastic music and finally thank you to the punters that turn up to the shows. There are some passionate people who support live music out there and we have loved seeing them at our shows…

Tony: Just add my thanks to the Esquires team again  for giving us the opportunity, the esteemed Morris men for the massive opportunity and just everyone who’s played,danced, sang and given us their hard earned cash bless you all your all gods to me. Cheers my friends. X

Many thanks to Dean and Tony for taking the time to answer our questions and give us a real feel for their passion for live music. We all look forward to a time when we can get to a club and enjoy the live experience once again and it sounds like Angel Promotions have some great shows lined up for the end of 2020 and beyond. We wish them well.