All aboard the magic bus
- Allan Valente
- 17 June 2009
Allan Valente spent the day on a double decker bus with five fierce new local rock gods in waiting. The Britbus, however, was less weird an idea than that sounds.
OAP’s covered their ears in horror, young kids pointed excitedly, and tourists got their camera’s out quicker than a paparazzi waiting for Britney to emerge from a limo. So what was all the fuss about?
That, ladies and gentlemen, was the sound of rock n’ roll moving very, very slowly through Edinburgh’s historic streets. The Britbus tour hit the nation’s capital on 9 June showcasing up and coming Scottish bands by letting them play on an open top bus to a curious public. Edinburgh was just one leg on the tour, where the bus has traveled all over the UK taking in cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. The following day the bus rolled on to Glasgow before a stint up at Rock Ness and further showcases in London and Cardiff.
For event organiser James Craven, all this excitement is just in a typical day’s work. Craven is the Chief Executive of All Trade Entertainment, the company which owns the Britbus, that has its roots in both tragedy and inspiration.
‘This all started five years ago and it was founded by a lady called Julia Jones,’ says Craven. ‘She was at her father’s combined retirement and 65th birthday party and he died at that party, very suddenly of a heart attack. She decided that life was too short and being a singer-songwriter, she decided to go and follow her dreams. So she sold everything; car, house, the lot and moved across the States, found an old London bus and along with a couple of other singer-songwriters did a gig across the US. That’s how it started.’
Jones’ idea of a constantly touring bus seemed to appeal to sponsors and investors who were desperate to get involved after the tour was a hit in the US. The tour rolled on until All Trade Entertainment took over a year ago, which signalled the beginning of even more opportunities for emerging talent up and down the UK.
‘We suggested opening it up to get more people involved and to create more opportunities for emerging artists,’ enthuses Craven. ‘So the first thing to do was to get the bus on the road across the UK to see bands perform and find ways in which we could help them. This is the first ever UK tour.’
The UK is just the beginning however. Each band involved throughout Britain has a chance to take part in the Britbus tours of the US, India, Australia and Japan which commence in America at the end of the year.
And what of the bands themselves? On the Edinburgh jaunt today the Britbus takes in Our Lunar Activities, The Daze, The Beatnic Prestige and local boys The Strands and The Debuts. After coming through a rigorous selection process in which over 3000 entries were whittled down to 72 throughout the UK, the bands have every reason to feel proud at being a part of the day.
‘All these guys are great, and I mean that genuinely,’ says Craven in a grave tone. ‘It’s all about hard work and the ones that work hard promote themselves. Some bands perhaps expect it a bit too much on a plate. It doesn’t work like that, you have to go out and get it.’
The bands were equally enthusiastic about the venture. Members of The Daze was quick to sing Britbus’ praises. ‘This is the first time we have got to play in front of industry people, people that can put you all over the world. It's just a great opportunity.’
‘It’s been pretty wicked,’ explained a member of The Debuts. ‘A bizarre experience, especially on a Tuesday afternoon, but the streets seemed to be loving it.’
The bands are not the only ones working hard however. A great deal of time and effort is put into band selection. Music business students at partner universities throughout the world listen to the entries as part of their course and provide feedback for the Britbus crew who then start to whittle the bands down based on this information.
And those bands selected for the Edinburgh performances claim that the fact that the day was not culminating in a battle of the bands scenario was key in wanting to play. Craven is also quick to point out that there is no competitive element involved and that the bus simply promotes the bands.
‘We accept applications so we can see as many new bands as possible. We don’t charge the bands anything to apply. The only thing we charge is a small door entry at our gigs and that’s it. The public don’t stand and raise hands, there is none of that, it’s a talent A&R process, and there’s no competition in any shape or form.’
And so, to the streets! The driver, Steve, preps each band with a stringent health and safety warning about where to stand whilst playing. And it’s just as well. As the bus navigates winding streets there are almost a few casualties, and only good co-ordination and Steve’s earlier warnings prevent some of Scotland’s freshest talent joining their public on the streets.
Top deck occupants of city tour buses are taken by surprise as they are treated to some high-volume entertainment at traffic lights, before shuffling to the sides of their bus for photo and dancing opportunities. While some of the more mature Edinburgh citizens find the noise a bit too much to handle, the majority on the streets below greet the bus with intrigue and enthusiasm. Even the workies take a break from their duties to admire the bus as it trundles back to base at the end of the day.
The bus tours throughout the city may be over but there is still much to look forward to. Later in the evening The Bongo Club allows the bands a more comfortable environment in which to showcase their material to familiar fans and new ones gained during the day.
So what’s next for the Britbus tour? ‘There will be double the number of applicants next year,’ predicts Craven. ‘We want to keep the bus on the road. We’re talking to more sponsors now actually. If people like [current supporters] Guitar Hero and other partners can keep helping us, we’ll keep the bus on the road.’