The best five gigs I’ve promoted

So in the interests of balance, after yesterday’s list of blunders, dickheads and lost cash, here’s today’s list of heroes, packed nights and amazing bands. I hope tonight’s show knocks one of them out of the top five.

The top five OxfordBands.com gigs I promoted

5. The Edmund Fitzgerald + Geisha + Hunting Lodge, The Wheatsheaf

Just for three different, equally brilliant kinds of noise-makers. Hunting Lodge were like the Birthday Party meets the Jesus Lizard, playing on the floor and flailing into the audience, and amusingly having to summon their drunk singer from the bar as they were starting and he was ordering another double whisky. Geisha, from Bristol, are one of the loudest, most aggressive bands I’ve put on (and I’ve put on Part Chimp, Todd and Sextodecimo), and just perfect in that half the room left, and the other half loved it. A great sign in my book. And The Edmund Fitzgerald (who went on to become Foals) were AMAZING – they played something like three long, incredibly complicated pieces of jazzy art-rock then disappeared into the night.

4. Taurpis Tula + Hertta Lussu Assa + Virgin Eye Blood Brothers + The Thumb Quintet, Port Mahon

I put on quite a few nights at the tiny Port Mahon, which were to show off bizarre experimental bands from all over the place. This tour was organised by David Keenan from The Wire, and he brought Finland’s number one all-girl experimental improv troupe with him, who in turn brought in every single Finn in Oxford, to create a weird hub of a dozen people muttering excitedly to each other in Finnish, alongside the usual beard-strokers and indie kids. This was great because only about 30-40 people showed up, but they loved every second of it, assaulted the merch stand and wiped it clear of luxuriously-packed CD-R recordings of god-knows-what, and hung on every note of every one of the abstruse, sometimes-inaccessible music presented to them. And my abiding memory of the night was Hertta Lussu Assa asleep in our lounge, three tiny, tiny Finnish girls all lined up in a row in matching sleeping bags like peas in a pod. Aw.

3. The Young Knives & Ivory Springer, The Wheatsheaf

For being the pinnacle of what the OxfordBands shows were about. Established local band headlined, packed the venue out, brilliant out of town band not known by many people gets to wow a big crowd. This was TYK at the height of their powers for me, spending soundcheck making enormous paper aeroplanes with ‘oxfordbands’ written on them and hanging them from the ceiling, then flinging them out into the crowd throughout their set. They were hilarious, entertaining, quick-witted and full of brilliant songs, and it was one of those ‘I saw that’ gigs, as perhaps our Foals gig was, had I been there to see it.

2. Damo Suzuki & friends, The Cellar

We’d already promoted Can singer and krautrock legend Damo Suzuki at Audioscope the previous year, and been blown away by his improvised set, but this was even better, for two reasons.

i) I had to form a band. As the promoter, I needed to find a set of ‘sound carriers’, local musicians who would play together for the first and only time and back Damo on the evening. I saw this as an opportunity to form my ideal Oxford band. And all of my first choices came through, as the standard response to ‘do you want to play an improvised set with Damo Suzuki from Can’ is ‘where do I sign?’. So working my way through the band, we had James Sedwards from Nought, one of my favourite guitarists from a band I’ve loved for years; Loz Colbert from Ride on drums (enough said, the man’s a legend in his own right, and now playing with the Jesus & Mary Chain); Nigel Powell from Dive Dive/Unbelievable Truth also on drums (bands with two drumkits SLAY, and Nigel’s one of the most inventive drummers in town); Ben Ulph from eeebleee/Thumb Quintet on guitar, whose guitar stylings I’ve admired for a long time and who is a good friend; and Phil Oakley (Sexy Breakfast/The Evenings) on bass, who is the most ridiculously natural and prodigiously-gifted bass player I’ve played with, and who makes me feel ashamed for trying to pick up a bass guitar. The band gelled wonderfully, Phil and I made some home-made Damo Suzuki stage banners out of what I strongly suspect were his mum’s bedsheets, and the whole thing was incredible.

ii) I PLAYED WITH DAMO SUZUKI. I thought my band might as well open, as it’d be a good show for us to do and an honour to support Damo. So I chanced it again and asked Damo if he’d be up for improvising some vocals over a few of my band’s songs, and he agreed. So halfway through our set I was able to say ‘please welcome Damo Suzuki to the stage’ and have him sing on three Sunnyvale tunes. And come up with these amazing little vocal hooks that fitted perfectly and lifted the songs above themselves. It was only playing with him that I realised what an impact he makes on the musicians he improvises with. He MAKES YOU PLAY BETTER, and he dictates with his vocals where the track needs to go next, without any signals, eye contact or any of that. You just know what you need to play next. Amazing, and a total honour that I will always treasure.

1. Mark Eitzel, Port Mahon

If you ever find yourself stuck in a pub with me, DO NOT ask me about this gig. You will be there all night listening to my pathetic gushings about the lyrical modifications to ‘Another Morning’.

So this is how gig promotions go in the Faber & Faber Big Book of Small Time Promoters’ Dreams – from fanboy email to fully-fledged live show. I thought I’d MySpace the fabulous Mr Mark Eitzel saying ‘hello, fanboyfanboy, gushgushgush, loveyoouuuuuu’, and chance my arm with an ‘if you’re ever in the UK and want to play Oxford, drop me a line’. To my astonishment, not only did he reply, but also said that he’d love to play Oxford and was touring soon. To take it even further, he said he wanted to play in a small venue, not a big cavern with a bar in it and people chatting. Again chancing it, I put forward the Port Mahon – for those of you not familiar with the toilet venues of the verdant university city of Oxford, the Port is our smallest venue, a room above a pub that basically fits about 50 people in it. ‘Sounds ideal!’, says Mark. And so it was on.

Bear in mind also that Mark Eitzel is the singer in American Music Club, one of my all-time favourite bands, and his Songs of Love (live) album is peerless – really spellbinding, moving acoustic performances of AMC songs, and you’ll have an idea of how excited I was. This was compounded by not needing to worry about sales, as advance tickets went in a flash, and it was a case of how tightly we could pack the chairs in to fit as many people as possible in.

Soundcheck came around, and not only had we got everything on Mark’s rider (including spare 9V batteries for his guitar), we’d made him biscuits in the shape of the letters AMC, which he took a photo of.

Mark: “You know, I used to have crazy shit like 9V batteries on my rider, and some people would actually even get them for me – unbelievable.”
Me: “Here are your 9V batteries, Mark.”

I’d like to say the friendship of a lifetime was struck up, but the story doesn’t end that way. But I shared a glass of fine wine (by fine, I mean it cost me NINE QUID) with Mark and he’s a lovely, engaging man with lots to say for himself and a cuttingly self-deprecating sense of humour. And it’s brilliant to meet a musical hero and to find out that they’re not a dick.

The show itself – I could go on for hours, but it was incredible, and we got a crystal-clear live recording of it. I have never seen a single grown man cry at a gig, but I saw FOUR crying men at this show, such was Mark’s performance. All the AMC classics, sparkling, self-effacing wit between the songs, and an audience that was silent and mesmerised for the duration. It was all we could do afterwards to sit downstairs, share a whisky and mutter things like ‘blimey, that was all right.’

Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty in giving up these gigs after all…

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7 Comments

  1. Ha, I totally knew the top 2 even before scrolling down.

    I’m hopefully going to go and see AMC next week – this has whetted my appettite

  2. Oh, cool. Do you want to meet up with me & Catherine for a beer first?

  3. Hi

    Found your blog, and this post in particular, as I have a google alert with Eitzel’s name in it. Got to say I loved your post and so glad Mark made top spot. I can’t say I’ve met him much apart from buying CDs at the back of his gigs, but he does come across as a lovely bloke with that self-deprecating, sharp intelligence to the fore. I’ve seen him dozens of times now as I’ve been following him since 1988 and he (or AMC) probably take up 6 of my top 10 gigs. Sounds like you put on a cracker, so well done. As for grown men weeping, been there, done that.

    Seeing him on Sept 11th in London (I wonder if Windows On The World will be special). I keep meaning to go to Oxford to see him as well as it’s not a long trip (I’m in London) but never seem to sort it out… maybe soon.

  4. Thanks for dropping in and commenting… I’ll be at the show on the 11th so might see you there! Happy to bring you a copy of the Oxford gig if you want one.

    Windows on the World was pretty awesome at the last London show in February.

  5. Thanks for dropping in and commenting… I’ll be at the show on the 11th so might see you there! Happy to bring you a copy of the Oxford gig if you want one.

    Windows on the World was pretty awesome at the last London show in February.

  6. If you are going to the Bush Hall show, then definitely

  7. […] – Mostly amazing. The first time I’d seen the full band, having put on a Mark Eitzel solo show before which you can read about here. […]


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