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Backstage Stars – Andy Shearer

Backstage Stars
18 March 2019

A freelance music programmer, Andy Shearer has also been the creative director at Horsecross Arts, which runs Perth Concert Hall (cap. 1,650 with standing) and Perth Theatre (485) since 2004. A well-known figure to agents and promoters, he established his own booking agency, Noble Savage, three years ago, representing artistes such as Yola, Amythyst Kiah, Lucas & King, Meaghan Blanchard and The McCrary Sisters.

What are your first live music memories?

“Growing up fairly poor in the country, my brothers and I were expected to contribute to family finances, so we were packed-off to my Granny’s in Blairgowrie in the summer to pick raspberries, then tatties in the October holidays, before I graduated to deerstalking ghillie for my Dad at the height of the stag season.

“I also helped out at sheep dippings and clippings, and as a beater for grouse and pheasant shoots.

“There was next to no radio reception where we lived, so while I voraciously read the music press, the only way of actually hearing music was through records or tapes, as we couldn’t get Radio 1 to listen to John Peel.

“My Dad played the bagpipes as did many people in our family, and in the Breadalbane area of Perthshire, where we lived. So my first experience of organised live performance would be the monthly Piping Society sessions in the Palace Hotel in Aberfeldy, in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s.

“The Clash at the Caird Hall in Dundee [January 1980] was my first proper live show. It had an incredible impact on 13-year-old me, and I wish I could go back and properly appreciate it.

“The band were mesmerising and, coming from the mountain fastness of Glenlyon, where my Dad worked, the sight of so many punks in their finery was something to behold.

“Siouxsie and The Banshees in Perth City Hall [August 1981] also had a huge impact. They didn’t have the same eagerness to connect with the audience as The Clash or Stiff Little Fingers – my second gig at the Caird Hall – and there was a cool distance to them.

“U2 at the Caird in early 1983 was another unforgettable show and I think War had gone in at No 1 in the album charts on that very day.”

How did you get into the music industry?

“When I was at Edinburgh University studying politics, and worked in Fishers industrial laundry in Aberfeldy and on building sites to raise some money, I also played bass in bands, wrote music reviews for the student paper and figured out I wanted to do something in the music business.

““I knew I probably needed to do some sort of course and found a Diploma in Arts Administration at University College Dublin [UCD}, which appealed to me as I had a huge interest in Irish traditional music.

“The final part of the UCD diploma was placement and I managed to get a couple that were great learning experiences and involved responsibility for some fairly large projects,”

How did your career develop?

“I joined the team launching The Lemon Tree [550] in Aberdeen in spring 1992, and what started as an admin role grew to include programming most of the music and comedy. I was pretty much self-taught, but Geoff Ellis who was booking King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut [300] in Glasgow at the time, was a huge help, as was Dave McGeachan when he joined DF Concerts, and also Mark Mackie at Regular Music.

“What we achieved at The Lemon Tree was something extraordinary. At that time, no venue was combining traditional arts centre programming – theatre, dance, comedy, jazz, world, roots and traditional music – alongside the full gamut of rock ’n’ roll, although it’s more common these days.”

What were your greatest low and high points?

“In 1999 I moved back to Dublin to work for [promoter] MCD, but that didn’t turn out to be a good fit for me at that stage in my career, which was unfortunate. But it was a massive learning experience, we still work together on Yola and I retain huge respect for [MCD founder] Denis Desmond.

“As for high points, putting together the opening show for Perth Concert Hall, which we titled Pearls of the Tay, in Sep 2005 was a huge privilege and pleasur on a number of levels.

“Just recently, we staged what is possibly the most powerful and moving of all the big set-piece events I’ve directed, a show called No Man’s Land, commemorating 100 years since the end of WW1, featuring Karine Polwart, Blue Rose Code, Kris Drever, Declan O’Rourke, Raghu Dixit and Eska.

“The agency has been great fun too and in particular, helping Yola Carter build her career over the last three years has been immensely fulfilling.”

How do you unwind?

“I’ve been married to Peggy since 2007, after we met at [Texas conference and showcase] SXSW in 2005. She’s a Miami Hatian archaeologist, lecturer and food historian who also puts together our acclaimed soul food menu for [Perth’s country blues festival] Southern Fried, alongside our catering team.

“We have an 11-year-old son, Ruben, who is determined to have a career as a dancer/actor, so we spend a lot of our time taking him to Scottish Ballet, drama and dance classes.

“I’m a bit of a foodie, so love getting time to cook as well as eat out. My weekly games of 5s and squash help keep me sane and semi-fit and we like to try and get away to the sun a couple of times a year, when possible.”

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