On a humid Friday night at the end of May in Birmingham, I attended the Hollywood Club Open Mic event in Kingsbury Road. I was greeted by the usual mixture of acoustic acts that played enthusiastically to the half empty room, as what appeared to be regulars to these nights played on a solitary pool table to the rear. There was the customary forgettable cover version played with drunken execution and spontaneous jams, as performers invited people to join them on stage to assist with those good old karaoke favorites like Hey Jude by The Beatles. Fortunately I was sat in a darkened area of the room and my presence went unnoticed and my services weren't required.
As I sat with my friend my attention span was quickly diminishing until in the second half of the night a guy walked to the microphone and exclaimed "I had to borrow this acoustic for tonight and the guy likes crazy tuning, so if you can bear with me a couple of minutes I'll tune up! He introduced himself as Dave Griffiths from 'Gasfoodlodging', a Sutton Coldfield based alternative band.I guessed he was in his early to mid 30's which was a fair bit younger than many of the participants in attendance tonight.
He began with a gloriously catchy punk pop song called 'Corporate Disease' which after only a few bars grabbed the attention of the pool players who stood to watch as they leaned on their cues. At last, here was somebody who knew how to write and deliver a bloody good original song!
He then moved on to a great slice of country rock with a song he called 'We've done alright' that bounced around in melody like some fusion between Tom Petty and Lou Reed. He finished his all too brief set with a wonderful ballad called 'Wherever' which appeared to be about lost love. The guy with the borrowed acoustic deservedly received the greatest audience response of the night from the pool players and others in attendance including myself.
As a former Music Journalist for over 8 years during the 1990's, I was curious to find out more about this guy who had grabbed my attention and decided to introduce myself. A few days later he agreed to do an interview for my upcoming new blog 'Planet Sound' where I will be sharing a collection of other interviews from people currently involved in the West Midlands alternative and indie music scene. To get a genuine accurate representation, I will be talking to people on both sides of the musical fence from the promoters and venues through to the artists and music listeners themselves.
I would like to thank David Griffiths once again for taking part and what follows is our discussion together:
Do you often borrow a strangely tuned acoustic guitar and play open mic events? I was very impressed.
"Thanks. I've done quite a few in the past but this is the first time for a while. I'm getting out and about again to promote the new songs of mine that will feature on my band's next recording project. Promo for the band more than anything else.."
How do you find the local music scene in Birmingham these days? Do you find venues are accommodating for singer/songwriters of original material?
"Well it's not easy in many places. The bigger venues and more popular pubs tend to have tribute acts more often than not because it's more healthier for their revenue to do so. Especially on weekends which is a sucker punch for bands and artists who play original material seeing as that's the time that most people go out to pubs and clubs. It's obviously the best chance to get heard by a greater number of people. Open Mic nights serve a positive purpose and they give songwriters an opportunity, but it depends on who turns up and how they are run. Some are badly organised."
What do you mean by badly organised, the acts they let play?
"There's some Open Mic nights where you have to phone up to reserve a place, but in my experience most of them rely on advertising via social media or a poster placed here and there on the street and simply hope people turn up on the night. That's all fine and well on both accounts, but problems can arise if a load of musicians turn up at once. Performance slots can get mixed up and even forgotten about if the person organising them is lousy at organisation themselves. I've been to a few like that"
Didn't you tell me you once ran an Open Mic night yourself with members of your band?
"Yeah, my previous bass player and I ran one for a while at a pub in Lichfield but it was supposed to be a 'Blues Jam' night not an Open Mic. So you know, people were supposed to come down like harmonica players, guitarists, singers and jam out some blues songs. The trouble was the pub was restricted to what days we could run it due to other entertainment they had going on throughout the week. So we had to make do with a Tuesday night slot which worked out terrible, hardly anybody came down. People just don't go out to pubs during the week in the UK like they used to do. So we used to rehearse our Gasfoodlodging setlist in the empty room until we heard or saw someone coming down the corridor then we'd quickly stop and start playing some blues song instead, Haha"
Do you find local promoters are continually pushing for original acts?
"There are some that do their best but because they have to make their events financially worthwhile for themselves they operate a strategy based around ticket sales that you need to sell yourself as the band. So basically, if you can get a load of people to come and see you at a gig you'll get a better chance of a future gig. The unfortunate catch 22 scenario with this strategy means that if you're a band or artist starting out or struggling to get gigs then there's no way you're going to have a decent fan base. Equally, if you haven't got heaps of friends or a large family that you can invite down to see you play, you're screwed too. I haven't got a big family myself and over recent years due to close friends moving out the area to different parts of the country or growing apart issues, my personal friends list isn't a huge one either. But if you're a college or university band where potentially bucket loads of people could come from your campus to support you then you'll get on with the certain promoters just fine. As long as you get a good turn out of people up at your gigs"
That doesn't sound a great situation for newly formed bands?
Nope, it's not. I don't blame the promoters, everybody has to make a living and make the effort worthwhile for themselves, but nevertheless that's the unfortunate reality for bands who don't have a good number of people that they can get to come out to support them.
Do you think that unsigned bands are still hopeful that they'll be signed one day in this present climate. Are you?
"No, I'm a realist and the chances are slimmer than Kate Moss these days to make a living from full time music especially if you're trying to push original material. I think most level headed unsigned artists and bands accept that's the case too. The record industry changed forever once the internet exploded and music was more accessible and illegally free.
Let's face it, there are also many mediocre bands who even though they got a record deal when it was more easier to do so twenty years ago and beyond wouldn't have a prayer of getting one these days and they know it too. They must be thinking "Thank fuck we were around and making music when we were!".
Do you think TV shows such as 'The X factor' and 'Britian's Got Talent' have proved a benefit to unsigned acts over recent years?
They've definitely given a platform for vocalists with huge vocal ranges and the area of manufactured pop music but those shows are obviously too one dimensional. There are loads of good singers around who can belt out a popular song but for music to progress there's got to be new songs that get written which in turn become popular themselves. Otherwise popular music just comes to an abrupt halt and we simply sing along to the hits of yesterday forever!"
Do you think we've reached that point already, where not enough high quality new songs are filtering through in popular music?
"I think so for sure. We still get dictated to by the music business to what they consider is cool and hip. This involves some terrible song being continually force fed to you through the media to the point where you can wind up singing along to the shit yourself eventually. It's just mind control like with TV commercials. For me personally, it's the music that's going on below the surface in non-mainstream circles these days that has the most credibility. It's not like I always choose to support the underdog or obscure bands, but the truth is, in those circles it's where some genuine and great talent can be found"
Who do you admire yourself in the music world?
"There's many people, I can come across somebody at a gig or open mic night here in Birmingham that hit my musical spot so to speak. There's many people out there playing music in flats and houses all around the country that are hugely talented but you won't see them on TV or hear them on Radio anytime soon. YouTube is obviously a good source for seeking unknown talented songwriters and musicians but the trouble is there's that many people on there it would be impossible to come across everyone! As for professional recording artists, members of the former American band called 'Green on Red' are my personal heroes, even though I don't like to use that term. Chuck Prophet and Dan Stuart are like my Keith Richards and Mick Jagger to Rolling Stones fans. I'm sure many people won't have heard of "Green On Red" but if you like Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and like great punky alt country songs with exceptional guitar playing thrown in for good measure, then there's a good chance you will like them. Both Chuck and Dan went onto form solo careers with Chuck especially managing to gain a wider audience with his own great songwriting partnership involving Kurt Klipschutz. In fact I had the pleasure of conducting 2 interviews with Dan Stuart myself over the past couple of years which were featured by the renowned Americana 'No Depression' website and are also published on this site's blog archive. I'd like to interview Chuck one day too, but he's always on the road and touring here there and everywhere, he's a busy guy with his band the Mission Express. Chuck let me join him on stage at a gig in here in Birmingham in 2013 which was a memorable event for me. He really is a demon of the fretboard and the guitarist that pleases my ears the most. Both Dan and Chuck are really great guys off stage as well and will always make the effort to mingle with their fans at gigs unlike some artists who would quickly pack up their gear and fuck off back to their hotel or whatever in a hasty getaway"
Can you tell me some more about the next Gasfoodlodging recording?
"It will be called "Blue Collar Rain" and will consist of all my original songs which I'm really pleased about. Hopefully we will sell a few copies at future gigs and online via bandcamp and similar sites. That's the best we can hope for. I don't do music for financial gain, it's a good job too! This time around it's been nice, I've had some good feedback from my home demos for Corporate Disease that I've been recording before we head into the studio which have included thumbs up from Dan Stuart himself and also Kurt Klipshutz who is Chuck Prophet's co-songwriter. If I can impress these guys then I figure I must be doing something right.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and views. One final question, what is your favorite song you've written so far yourself as a songwriter?
"At present I would probably say a song called 'Under the Texas Sun' that will also feature on the new band recording "Blue Collar Rain". It was influenced by watching a film called "Blood Simple" and the following morning listening to a Chuck Prophet song called 'Dyin' all Young', I kind of mixed the two sources of inspiration together and then I wrote it really quickly".
For further information on David Griffiths and his band Gasfoodlodging please use the links below:
Gasfoodlodging website: www.gasfoodlodging.co.uk
Heather Andrews. ©2016