An Interview with Mark Badger for S.L.T.A. zine by Rich Lard of Punk Shit Fanzine written in 2000.
1. Howdy Mark, firstly where the hell do you originate from? I was born in Reading, have lived in Berkshire, Hampshire, Devon, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, London, Coventry, and now Birmingham. Does that make any difference?
How long you been in Birmingham? I lived in Birmingham 1990-1994 then moved to London. I moved back to Birmingham in May 1996 and been here since then.
And what brought you here? I wanted to move to Birmingham as years ago I used to tape trade with people all over the place, most of the live tapes I got hold of were from bands that had played The Mermaid and Barrel organ. When I had the chance I moved to Birmingham.
2. Can you give SLTA readers an insight into
a) Badger Promotions: I’ve been playing in bands since I was about 14years old. I was finding it really hard to get gigs without National press or a Demo tape so I started booking venues myself as I soon realised it was easier to hire a venue as a promoter, than get a gig in the same venue as a band. I had the idea of a fictional promotions company called “Badger Promotions” as a sort of disguise to make it look like I was a company rather than the bloke who played guitar badly in this hopeless band. At the time, my only friends were those who were struggling with their own band projects. None of us had any money to record Demo tapes, we had all suffered at the hands of rip-off promoters, nobody seemed interested in promoting Punk/Hardcore/weird music in Birmingham unless you had a record contract, some of my friends in other bands were even considering giving up altogether because no one was willing to offer any opportunities to play. Having started Badger Promotions, me and these other few bands started booking and playing our own shows on a regular basis, sharing the tasks of organisation, promotion and performance. We decided to book the venue ourselves, organise effective promotion ourselves, operate the door and mailing lists ourselves, and any money that we made was shared between us to cover costs of band practice and promotional literature for the next gig.
9 Years on: I’m the only one left from the original group of three or four bands. I’ve made plenty of new friends since then, and Badger Promotions continues as a cover, behind which, all of us continue to operate.
At the moment “Badger Promotions” organises gigs every Tuesday and Wednesday at The Old Railway, Digbeth, and maintains its own database of contacts, information, promotional techniques and useful advice for new bands (thanks to all the volunteers helping me type the stuff up) and Badger Promotions has recently mutated to form a record label called Iron Man Records.
b) Iron Man Records. This is the logical progression of Badger Promotions. Having solved the problems of getting gigs for new bands, promotion, information and contacts… a record label was the next plan. I managed to get some funding from a local sponsor to start the label up and have made a real effort to work with the underground press as first priority (without them everything would fall apart and to be honest Fanzines are the only press I read) and have also worked non-stop to get the label into a position where it is taken seriously by the big-hair-rock press too (who up to now have largely ignored the underground scene and the Birmingham music scene in general.) Ideally I would like to help every band that comes through The Old Railway but I don’t have enough money for that just yet. I have tried to focus the label on a couple of local bands and a couple of bands from out of town that are trying to do it for themselves, hoping between us all we can generate enough money to invest in more new bands that need help both locally and from other locations.
Commercial versus not-for-profit? The label is run as if it were a not-for-profit organisation but it is a commercial label really. Yes, I am trying to generate money in the form of a sustainable income but that money is not taken as profit, it is to be re-invested in more bands that need help. In addition to that anyone who needs help with their band but isn’t directly involved with the label can still benefit. If you can get me on the phone or by email I will do my best to help out in terms of contacts, info etc. If you look at the website I have published all the label databases and contacts for bands to use to help themselves.
c) The Hot Tortoise and your new band? “The Hot Tortoise” was the band I was in for three years up to September 2000. The band played sort of post-hardcore weird stuff and split in Sept 2000. We played about 80 gigs, drove each other nuts and recorded four songs which anyone can have on cdr if you write to The Hot Tortoise, PO BOX 9121, Birmingham, B13 8AU.
The new band is called “Last under the Sun” and has a website at http://www.lastunderthesun.co.uk This time round its more melodic punk influenced post hardcore. The band has so far included members of Stepback (Birmingham based youth crew hardcore) Eastfield (those train spotting punk rockers) and Eggraid (forest dwelling grindcore nutcases that now live in Stoke, amazing!). Recent additions to the band include members of Pigfish and Damn Dirty Apes. I’ve put together a book of poems that you can get from the website for free and some recordings will be available soon.
3. What do you think are the good points and bad points about being a Birmingham Underground Promoter?
On the good points: you get to meet people who are trying to do something positive in the face of near disaster. Bands and audiences included! You get to see bands, that really deserve it, play to an appreciative audience. The Birmingham music scene is a healthy one so it keeps you alive when people show up, make new friends and enjoy themselves. In the past it has been a struggle to get people to support the gigs but the result of small audience numbers has forced bands to play for themselves rather than for their audience and the result of this has been the evolution of good songwriting and a rich and diverse music scene. Every band has developed its own unique style and approach to their music and none of them need their egos massaging……..they’ll play as hard for one person as 500 and this can only be a good thing.
The bad points: local press don’t take the underground scene very seriously, they have column inches and advertising budgets to worry about. In fact there is no effective local music press other than Rhythm and Booze Fanzine. I defy any music Journalist to turn up and prove me wrong! Having spoken to a lot of bands over the years, it is still a strange thing that many bands think that because I don’t phone them up and invite them to play that I must somehow have no interest in them. With a database of some 2,000 bands, trying to pick a band to call up for a gig is a nightmare. The way I work it is whoever calls, persists or harasses me gets a gig…..So anyone reading this, don’t sit there pick up the phone and get yourself a gig. A lot of Birmingham bands don’t look any further than their own city for gigs. They swim round and round the goldfish bowl never thinking to try and get gigs in other parts of the Country. I’ve put a Venue database on the website so any band can book a tour if they can be bothered to do it for themselves.
I wish more people came to the gigs. Its really frustrating when you see people walking down the street with Slipknot or Korn or Slayer t-shirts on doing the alternative thing…and when you give them a flyer they still don’t turn up cos its not advertised on mtv or vh1. The Music Underground doesn’t start on TV………it starts with a badly copied flyer for a gig on a rainy night at the local boozer featuring three bands you never heard of………take a chance, go out for a night of live music……….stop waiting for something you already know.
4. What advise would you give somebody thinking of starting up an independent label? Do it but don’t be surprised when you are crawling on all fours, dribbling from the mouth and laughing hysterically at 3am. If you get stuck on anything give me a call, I’m no expert but I have a phonebook of numbers of others who reckon they are.
5. You recently put a plea on the Discordian discussion group for people to start attending the midweek gigs or lose them, how serious is the problem? It is a very serious issue. The Sound engineer tries to fight me if no one turns up to see a really good band. The Old Railway gives me the venue for free and pays the engineer to work the gigs. If the venue bar doesn’t take £120 the pub loses money on the gig. A lot of gigs have failed to even make half that money as a lot of punters turn up with cans in their pockets or drink water all night. If all this continues the venue will close And that will be that. Sadly venues are closing all over the country at the moment due to poor audience attendence.
I put listings in local press, national press, over the internet, fanzines, send out 3-4,000 flyers each month to shops and bands who help distribute the info. I also pay a couple of people to hand out flyers in town on Saturdays but still it is hard work getting people to the gigs.
I think the bands are always good but people tend to go for what they already know, they don’t like coming to the venue to see what’s going on by chance. If they’ve heard a band they’ll turn up, there are only a very few people who will turn up no matter who is on the bill. I wish that for once people would take a chance and go out for a night of live music, rather than to see a specific band and then leave as soon as they have played.
And how do you think it could be sorted out cause the midweek gigs are excellent for bands who struggle to get gigs and you seem to give bands no matter how crap they are a chance to play? I don’t think it’s a case of giving bands a chance no matter how crap they are, but more one of giving bands a chance that are trying hard to do it for themselves. In the end it’s the ones that are trying hardest that will be welcomed back to play again and again.
Please tell the readers about Discordian
Discordian is an internet based discussion group for all things music based in the west midlands. It was originally set up by Magick Temple of Discordian Promotions (another front for more sinister activities, http://www.discordian.co.uk) and Badger Promotions so everyone (at the time about 30 people) could argue about the bands that had either played or where due to play at the two venues we were both involved with at the time. It was also set up to try and “bring people together on the internet, giving them a good reason to meet up at the gigs and talk to each other in person about latest developments” on the list. The list is open to anyone so if you want to talk to a bunch of music obsessed lunatics then find us all at discordian at yahoogroups.com (go to www.yahoogroups.com, get a login and password, then find list called discordian, sign up its free, join the discussions or tell everyone about your band or what you do. If you are a weirdo feel free to lurk and make sarcastic self-righteous comments every now and then.)
6. You told me in the past that you would never put a tribute or covers band on, I admire that as I hate them and see them as a threat to real bands, what exactly is your problem with them? The main issue is that I used to play in a covers band years ago and I know what its like…..most people who play in covers/tribute bands these days are really talented musicians who feel that they are more likely to make money playing covers than playing their own stuff. They spend hours and hours rehearsing other peoples songs afraid that they could never make it doing their own stuff. I left the covers band I was in and thought fuck it, do or die time, I’d rather starve than play someone elses music as if it was my own. I’ve been in bands for 16 years now and I can’t count the number of people who quit the band to join a covers bands in search of easier money. It’s like a sort of cowardice. Whenever covers bands phone me up I tell them straight that I can’t give them a gig but I always, always offer them a gig if they will play their own stuff instead. A few of them have been willing to take me up on the offer of a gig and some have even stopped playing the covers altogether. If all the covers bands started playing their own stuff tomorrow, the return to live music would have to follow. I think the growth in covers and tributes is merely a reflection at how conservative peoples tastes have become, people are lazy and going for a night out to watch a covers band is easier than trying to find anything new……… Not wishing to start a war with some of your readers in covers bands………if you are a good covers band and want a gig call Steve at Moby Music on 01384 212661 and he’ll sort you a gig.
7. From what I can see you put an awful lot of your time into promoting music with very little comeback, what I mean is you put a lot more into the scene than you get out, what drives you on to do this?
We’re all consumers whether we like it or not, you can’t easily avoid it unless you become a windfall fruitarian living in a handwoven tent sitting in the apple orchard of life all day, playing your recycled driftwood guitar, watching and waiting for fruit to fall from the tree. I try to make an effort in my own everyday activities to try to be creative and to open opportunities for others to do the same in a blind attempt to try and balance it all out. Anyone can tell you that when you try to be creative, the work you do and, the return for your hard work is never fair. You always have to work 50 times harder to get just one small step along the way. You have to make your own fun if you want to have any real fun in this life. As far as I’m concerned the hard work is always worth it.
8. Do you ever get the feeling that you just can’t be arsed anymore, but then think if you gave it up how would you pass your time?
No. or at least, haven’t reached that stage just yet!
9. What happened to your old band The Hot Tortoise and what’s your new band called? The bass player left so I decided to call it a day and take the opportunity to start a new band instead. The New band is called “Last Under The Sun” its sort of post hardcore crossed with punk with a bit of weird-so-no-one-will-like-it sort of stuff and we’re out gigging at the moment but in disguise as another band altogether.
10. You have put on hundreds of bands at The Old Railway over the years, which bands do you enjoy putting on and which bands would you rather not put on again?
Bands I enjoy putting on: The bands that say hello when they arrive, make friends with the other bands, watch the other bands play their set, give 110% during their set regardless of number of people watching and say thanks when they leave are the best. Those sort of people usually last as a band as there’s no ego bullshit to deal with, and they can usually manage themselves and their band without much effort because they know how to deal with themselves and others around them.
Bands I do not enjoy putting on: The ones that bring managers, roadies, record label a&r, stupid egos, wear sunglasses in the pub or on their head and bands with Parents who think they can manage them. Bands who whinge about money when there is none or think they’re better than and more deserving than the other bands. Any Bands that leave the venue before the other bands have played and Bands who play covers instead of their own stuff and think people want to hear it are the worst.
Here’s what I say to bands starting out on their own, in the hope they don’t fall into the second category.
Look up the Badger Promotions website, all the info you need is there, You don’t need a manager, manage yourself, book your own gigs, make your own decisions, never play covers. Play for yourself, don’t play to your audience. You don’t need a record label, do it yourself, make your own merchandise, sell your own stuff, do your own website, look after your own finances. You don’t need a roadie or a driver. Load your own gear in and out, drive yourselves to gigs, represent your own interests don’t leave it to others to sort out. If you need to make money on gigs, go for smaller venues that will cover their costs sooner on the numbers through the door. You will get paid more money from a small venue that’s full of people, than a huge venue half empty. Enjoy yourself and do you best to make sure others around you do to. Is that really so difficult?
11. What are your favorite 5 bands, 5 records? You bastard, you can’t ask that one. I’m dangerously obsessed with music so I don’t think I have a favourite 5, it changes all the time. My favourites this week are Dufus (from New York) I just helped them put their first European Tour together and I think they are incredible. Herman Dune from Paris (Hail Satan!). Four Letter Word as Welly writes amazing lyrics. I like Happy Anger (from france and have disappeared, anyone know where they are???) and then the usual suspects like Black Sabbath, Stupids, Sink, Nomeansno, M.D.C, Fugazi, Rollins, Jello Biafra, Chuck D and Public Enemy, Bloody Sods, Brezhnev, Eggraid, Buggers, Sist, Redshift, Southport, June of 44, Slint, AOS3, Citizen Fish, Inner Terrestrials. I have loads vinyl and cassettes and loads of cds so if I was to list these properly, fuck knows what I’d be writing. I like all the bands on the label which is why I’m working with them, the list is endless.
12. Finally Mark please tell the readers how to get Iron Man Records releases and other stuff you distro
http://www.ironmanrecords.co.uk or write to: Iron Man Records PO BOX 9121 Birmingham B13 8AU UK
Pete Ashton interviews Mark Badger from Iron Man Records, Badger Promotions and The Music Network on Created in Birmingham Blog