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THIS week’s column is all about the glories of DIY. No, not putting up shelves or mending stuff — I know nothing of that. My very occasional, thoroughly reluctant and totally useless attempts mean that my wife now interprets that acronym as Destroy It Yourself.
I’m talking about DIY culture, as practised by people in the arts world who, for all kinds of reasons, don’t work with commercial mainstream agents, promoters, publishers or venues but organise their own gigs and events and release and distribute their own material.
It’s a movement that undoubtedly has its roots in the punk explosion of 1977 and one of which I have been a part for 40 years. It has become an increasingly easier modus operandi since the late 1990s, when email and the internet were born.
Mailing lists, once endless stamp-licking and envelope addressing, now happen at the press of a button, email replaces endless hours on the phone and social media promotion means freezing nights furtively postering while dodging the cops are more or less a thing of the past.
And, despite the baleful activities of property developers doing their best to close down much-loved venues and replace them with luxury flats, the DIY live music scene is alive and well and new gig spaces are emerging all the time, often in unlikely locations.
I was in the West Country and Wales last week and performed in three such places — two well-established and one very new indeed.
Dave Macdonald has been running The Thunderbolt in Bristol as a purpose-built venue for a while now and has the combination of great real ale and a lively and varied programme of events absolutely right. Local rapper Clayton Blizzard did the support and I had a wonderful time.
The following night I was at Cardiff Bus Social Club, which has just become a DIY music venue, has decor as old school as you can get, fine, and no real ale, not fine but we got round it.
Last Saturday, I ventured into rural Wales for a storming night at the Victoria Hall in Lampeter alongside the hilarious Hattie Hatstar, the feisty Muddy Summers and the Dirty Field Whores. Three great gigs, happening thanks to the creativity and determination of local organisers stepping outside the mainstream.
And, of course, the same thing is taking place in the world of record, book and film production, aided enormously by the new internet phenomenon of crowdfunding.
Bands, writers and film-makers can now appeal directly to their audiences and ask for financial assistance in realising projects without the help of mainstream producers. One such project relates to the Newtown Neurotics, one of the great pioneering political punk bands of the early 1980s.
They didn’t just earn the respect of their peers, but along with cultural comrades such as The Redskins are seen by many in the new generation of musical activists as a huge influence.
Young film-maker Luke Baker has launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding project with the aim of making a full length documentary about the band and its history. It will feature fellow travellers such as Billy Bragg, Phill Jupitus, Steve Lamacq and yours truly.
Many readers of this column will be familiar with the Neurotics’ long and proud history and I urge you to check out the project page at kickstarter.com/projects/1308400141/kick-out-the-newtown-neurotics-documentary. Even if you haven’t heard of them, have a look at the trailer for the film and I think you may be inspired to lend your support as well.
A big day for me next Thursday, a warm-up gig in my local pub, the Duke of Wellington in Shoreham. It marks the launch of a project I’ve wanted to do since the seventies — combine early music and punk in songs and instrumentals centred around the English Revolution of 1649. Not just one or two, as Barnstormer have always done, but a whole set’s worth.
Come if you can. Thirty further gigs including some major festivals already booked, announcing soon. Listen at
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