Dedicated to the Business of Contemporary Live Music

Brighton & Hove

City Limits
12 October 2017
Kaiser Chiefs at Splendour Cr Marcus Holdsworth Photography
Gone are the days when Quadrophenia was the soundtrack of the mods and rockers’ seafront battles of the late-‘60s in Brighton. Today it is home to an emerging music scene to rival any major city in the UK, a world-renowned festival and several ambitious independent promoters, with a host of venue options, large and small.  Allan Glen reports


From Slaves’ riotous brand of punk on a rain-lashed pier to the coming-of-age show for local buzz act The Magic Gang in the 350-capacity Horatios, this year’s multi-venue showcase festival The Great Escape proved once again that few cities do events quite like Brighton.

Most people know its musical legacy by now – Primal Scream turned acid house here, former Housemartin Norman Cook reinvented himself in its clubs, Royal Blood honed their riffs in its pubs – while folks such as Nick Cave and David Gilmour call it home. Even Adele lived there for a while.

What may be less well known, however, is the sheer number of emerging acts in Brighton – with FUR, Hake, Tigercub and Penelope Isles among those worth watching out for – while there is also a seemingly unstoppable amount of events, shows and DIY promoters across the area.

It even has its own music college, BIMM, whose patron is The Who’s Roger Daltrey.

Needless to say, all of the above are a source of pride among those working in the city.

“The Great Escape is definitely the biggest music event of the year in Brighton and has massively increased awareness of Brighton on any musical map,” says Patrick Marsden, director of Lout Promotions, which co-promotes the festival.

“We’ve seen huge growth, not just in the amount of artistes performing, but in terms of our conference offering, outdoor shows as well as huge event partners such as Spotify, YouTube and the BBC.”

As one of the main promoters in the city, alongside One Inch Badge and Melting Vinyl, Lout hosts around 100 shows a year, including Gogol Bordello and The Divine Comedy in Brighton Dome (1,880), While She Sleeps, Ash, Kate Nash and Bury Tomorrow at Concorde 2 (600), Rationale at The Haunt (350), Dinosaur Pile-Up at The Hope and Ruin (150), and Thurston Moore Group, the latter’s venue in neighbouring Hove.

With so many independent promoters working in Brighton and Hove, Marsden says being organised and having a reputation for producing high quality, well-attended events has helped Lout stand out.

“We’ve also built-up a very large online promotion reach via our database and social media accounts, so we can get the word out about our shows to a huge number of people,” he says. “In addition to this, because of the high calibre of many of the acts we’re booking, it means our on-the-ground promotion such as flyers and posters stand out and get people’s attention.”

It may be small – maximum capacity is 5,000 seated and standing – but also continually grabbing attention among local and national promoters is Brighton Centre.

One of the reasons why, according to the Centre’s revenue and commerce manager Rebecca Esteves, can be summed up in one word – intimacy.

“We’re classed as an arena but we’re the smallest on the circuit, so the acts can feel really connected to their fans,” says Esteves, who adds that the centre currently hosts up to 80 shows a year.

Artistes playing the venue include The Libertines and alt-J, both promoted by Goldenvoice, with tickets for each from £30; Kraftwerk (£45), Lorde (£32.50), The Kooks (£27.50), Caro Emerald (£22.50), Kaiser Chiefs (£19.50) – all SJM Concerts’ promotions, Donny Osmond (£40), Craig David (£35), Rag’n’Bone Man (£22.50) – all Kilimanjaro Live shows.

Others include Adam Ant (£32.50, Triple A Entertainment), James Blunt (£40, DHP Family), Liam Gallagher (£36.50), Royal Blood (£20, both Live Nation Entertainment, LNE), Bonobo (£27.50, One Inch Badge), Bananarama (£39.50) and Gorillaz (£45, both AEG Presents).

According to Esteves, the city’s music scene is “vibrant, eclectic and exciting”.

“As a music lover, it’s a dream to live here,” she adds. “The city has its own soundtrack, everywhere you go the streets are filled with music and you have a huge variety of options every day of the week.”

These include everything from major events at the Brighton Dome, home to three spaces, to smaller shows at the dozens of venues that are spread across Brighton and Hove.

As custodians of the Grade I listed 200-year-old Dome, originally constructed as the Prince Regent’s stables, operator Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival is also a major contributor to music in the city.

A registered charity, it programmes the Dome’s 1,880-capacity concert hall,  Corn Exchange (1,200) and Studio Theatre (350), the latter two are closed for redevelopment works, and due to reopen in 2018.

“This is part of an ambitious project, working with Brighton & Hove City Council, to restore and reunite the Royal Pavilion Estate buildings and gardens,” says Emma Robertson, head of PR for Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival.

“This will benefit Brighton Dome’s long-term sustainability, improve working conditions and facilities, including better audience experience and orientation.”

Acts playing the concert hall include Magnetic Fields, GoGo Penguin, Koyaanisqatsi, Warpaint (all in-house promotions), The Flaming Lips (DHP), The Pretenders (Kilimanjaro), Metronomy (SJM) and Wolf Alice (Goldenvoice).

The charity is also responsible for producing the annual Brighton Festival, hailed as the largest mixed arts festival in England. This year’s event attracted just under 180,000 people, and was guest directed by recording artiste, poet, playwright and novelist Kate Tempest. As well as the concert hall, other venues used for the festival include Komedia and The Old Market.

Supersonic venue

On the other side of the city is Concorde 2, the only 600-capacity venue in Brighton, hosting shows by artistes such as Mr Jukes (LNE), Whitney (DHP), Spoon, Pond (SJM), The Skints, The Afghan Whigs (Lout), Indigo Girls (Crosstown Concerts) and The Strypes (Goldenvoice).

As owner Russell Haynes points out, the market for live music shows little sign of abating.

“We average 180 live shows per annum plus club events,” he says. “The diary looks very good for 2018 and we expect another positive increase in the number of live shows.

“As 95 per cent of these are led by headline artistes, sales of course vary. However, we rarely see sales drop below 50 per cent of the house and more often than not we are operating anywhere between 70-100 per cent sold.”


Badge of honour

Programming at the venue is handled by One Inch Badge (OIB), whose shows there include Royal Blood, Declan McKenna, Manchester Orchestra and two nights with DJ Shadow.

OIB presents around 600 shows a year, including 400 at a range of venues it programmes. These include The Haunt (350), Bau Wow (150), St Bartholomew’s Church (350) and All Saints Church (1,000) in Hove.

Acts OIB is working with include Father John Misty, Future Islands and Nils Frahm at Brighton Dome, while its events include two-day festival Together The People (5,000) at Preston Park, which has featured acts such as Suede and The Levellers, and multi-venue city event Mutations (1,000), which uses The Haunt, Concorde 2 and The Hope and Ruin, among others.

“Sales in Brighton fluctuate dramatically depending on the season, and always have done, but the city does really well,” says OIB’s James Mckeown. “There are some really fantastic new acts coming out of Brighton at the moment, so it’s also thriving on a DIY level.”

Ensuring quality shows and embedding itself in the local music community has helped OIB stay ahead of the game in a competitive market, adds the promoter.

“We have also delivered several years’ worth of successful large-scale open air outdoor events in the market now, as well as having close ties with both universities and [music college] BIMM,” he adds.

The Old Market – Exterior

Located in the heart of the North Laine and Cultural Quarter, Komedia (400,150) is instantly recognisable thanks to its eye-popping neon sign frontage, while programme coordinator Tom Brain believes much of the city’s energy comes from the long list of independent promoters putting on shows every night of the week.

“There are so many promoters putting their heart and soul into what makes Brighton so great,” he says. “As long as they continue to do so, long may it thrive.”

Acts playing Komedia include Six Organs Of Admittance, Haley Bonar, Moses Sumney (all Melting Vinyl), Michael Chapman (Dictionary Pudding), Pale Waves (Kilimanjaro and Roddy Woomble (The MJR Group).


Vinyl appeal

Another major local promoter is Anna Moulson of Melting Vinyl (MV), which promotes up to 60 shows a year in the city, most of which sell at least two-thirds of the house and often sell out.

“The chemistry is right here for a constant flux of creative projects and artistes ready to tour,” she says. “And that’s because of the mix of venues, rehearsal spaces, record shops, cool places to advertise shows, active and interesting social media and general vibe of Brighton, as well as switched-on music audiences.”

Although she considers herself a niche promoter, Moulson also promotes bigger commercial artistes. “What all our shows tend to have in common is a strong creative element that is viable for audiences,” she adds. MV shows include Death and Vanilla at Rialto (100), Michael Nau at The Greys (60), Pompoko and Aquaserge at The Prince Albert (100), Lord Huron at Concorde 2, Martha Wainwright and C Duncan at Komedia and God Speed You! Black Emperor at Brighton Dome.

“The city has its own soundtrack, everywhere you go the streets are filled with music”

Rebecca Esteves

Hove too

At smaller club level, two of the most active venues are The Hope and Ruin and Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, both booked by creative director Sally Oakenfold, with DZ Deathrays (Lout) and Mike Watt (Dictionary Pudding) playing in the former, and Murlocs (OIB) and Turbowolf (Lout) in the latter.

“The Hope And Ruin is the perfect size for small gigs while Sticky Mike’s has a slightly different vibe,” says Oakenfold, who points to Skinny Milk, Hake and Sick Joy as local acts to watch. “At the latter we put on a lot of local acts as well as late-night collectives like Bitch Craft, which is run by a local girl gang who showcase as many up-and-coming female artistes as possible.”

Also regularly using the venues is Acid Box, whose shows at The Hope and Ruin include The Babe Rainbow, The Blind Shake, Snapped Ankles and Naxatras, with New Candys and LA Witch in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar and Yassassin at The Prince Albert.

“Brighton has one of the best scenes going, it’s thriving with new local bands, plus so many fantastic touring acts,” says Acid Box’s Polly Miles, who is also one of the promoters behind Bitch Craft. “The downside to this means it can be tricky selling tickets as you’re always competing with so many other great shows, but it just means you have to work harder on making your show stand out.”

While genteel Hove is less well-served with venues, it is home to The Old Market, which hosts around 50 shows a year, and to Tobi Blackman of Dictionary Pudding, one of the most active promoters working at emerging act level.

Ticket sales for both venue and promoter remain strong, and while relatively small – The Old Market’s seated capacity is 300 – it too attracts a wide range of acts and promoters, including Jacob Collier (OIB),  Thurston Moore, Lucy Rose (Lout), Perfume Genius, Staves (MV), Jagwar Ma (Goldenvoice), Ladyhawke (Kilimanjaro) and Songhoy Blues (Metropolis Music).

“We are an intimate venue with a big sound and team of staff who really genuinely care about our artistes and audiences,” says programmer Helen Jewell.


Just desserts

Although a relative newcomer to the Brighton music scene, Blackman, of Dictionary Pudding, which started trading in 2014, promotes around 80 shows with a further 20-plus around the country.

“The Dictionary Pudding aesthetic is a strong one,” he says. “You can’t go to a DP show without realising it’s a DP show. Everything is branded, from our wristbands given to every customer, to a beautiful banner which sits in pride of place on the stage at every show.”

Given his first break by The Fall’s Mark E Smith, who asked Blackman to promote some of his solo gigs after the pair “had a few pints together”, Dictionary Pudding’s shows include Richard Dawson at The Old Market, Los Campesinos! and Downtown Boys at The Haunt, King Ayisoba at Komedia and Dub Pistols at Concorde 2.

For anyone wondering where Dictionary Pudding got its name, Blackman explains, “It was actually my gran who used to say it. Whenever I used any long words, she always used to say, ‘Have you been eating dictionary pudding?’.”

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