Sounds of the City
Hey You Get Off My Pavement
Fed up wading through the mud and the crowds at major music festivals? Karin Goodwin gets the lowdown on an innovative alternative and finds there is a whole lot going on in Glasgow this summer
The sun is shining for a change in Glasgow, making the pavement outside Mono, the laid-back café bar that’s a firm favourite with the city’s arty crowd, a popular spot to hang out.
But, according to local historians, manager Paul Smith tells me, not everyone would always have been welcome here. ‘The pavements around us in the Merchant City were built by the tobacco merchants,’ he explains. ‘And they certainly didn’t do it for the public good – just for themselves. So they hired guys with canes who would thwack anyone who used their pavement.’
Hence the name of Mono’s now annual summer music event – Hey You Get Off My Pavement. It’s a fun-filled all-dayer on Sunday 5 August, featuring a mix of the hottest indie bands from across Glasgow and beyond.
And hidden in the catchy name is a nod to what makes this festival a little bit different from the hordes of others on the Scottish calendar this year. At this event there are no outside funders, certainly no sponsors, and any money that’s made after everyone involved has been paid goes to charity. Corporate rock it is not: this one’s for the people.
The idea was born just over a year ago, when Smith and fellow organiser Isla Angus decided that Mono, which is also home to independent record shop Monorail (run by musician Stephen Pastel) and hosts regular gigs, was well placed to offer a music event with a difference.
‘Everyone says their festival is “alternative” these days, so much so that it sounds like quite a boring idea,’ says Smith. ‘But I think the difference is that this is more about the community. We wanted to harness the ideas and creativity of the people that hang out at Mono, give smaller bands a chance to shine and let people see them at their best.’
Surrounded by art galleries, studios, and independent quirky shops, and boasting many artists and musicians amongst their regulars and bar staff, there seemed to be a ready-made audience for the event. But it wasn’t one that could be put on without taking a few financial risks. ‘We could have lost a lot of money,’ Smith grimaces. ‘Me and Isla were pretty stressed out the first year.’
But last year’s sell-out event, which featured bands including Arab Strap, Uncle John and Whitelock and ex-Delgados singer Emma Pollock, was a huge success. The music went down well, as did the BBQ and outdoor bars, and the warm friendly atmosphere left a fuzzy glow long after the street decorations had been cleared away.
So it’s not surprising that this time around Smith and Angus are more relaxed. They’ve got a great line-up planned too, packed full of local talent, covering a mixture of styles that they hope will suit all tastes and broaden horizons.
Included on the bill are the psychedelically-influenced The Aliens, comprised of former Beta Band members Gordon Anderson, Robin Jones and John Maclean, whose album, Astronomy for Dogs, has been praised by the critics. After a summer of UK festival appearances they will start a US tour in September.
Hot on their heels are Glasgow band the Errors, who made a splash at this year’s South by South West, and are tipped for mainstream success. So too are fellow Glaswegians The Twilight Sad, signed to Fat Cat, who, with their beautiful lyrics sung in broad Scottish accents, are attracting fans far and wide. They are joined by yet another band to come out of Glasgow School of Art, Mother and the Addicts, who have received lots of positive attention since they were first talent-spotted a few years back.
Riotous Londoners Part Chimp are also on the line-up, along with cult Glasgow guitar band Dananananaykroyd. There will be some experimental folk on offer in the guise of Daniel Padden’s Ensemble, and last but not least the baby of the pack, 19-year-old John B McKenna will be performing a lyrical acoustic set.
‘Programming is very difficult,’ admits Smith. ‘We want to make sure that we have lots of different bands and give people a really wide selection, but that sometimes means that we have to exclude some of our favourites. This year we’ve got all sorts of things including some avant garde folk, which is something really different for us. I’m looking forward to all of it.’
The line-up is indicative of Glasgow’s currently rich music scene, according to Stephen Pastel, who runs independent label Geographic as well as playing with the Pastels, the band he founded in 1982.
‘The music scene in Glasgow is really interesting just now,’ he says. ‘People are making music in all sorts of styles and that feels really healthy.
‘It’s also quite a cooperative, supportive scene, and that’s what makes it exciting. In many ways Mono is its main HQ – that dates way back to the days when it was the 13th Note. Band members have always worked behind the bar – at the moment it’s guys from the Errors and the Royal We. It really makes sense for Mono to put together an event like this.’
The bands, many of whom were particularly attracted by Mono’s non-corporate stance, agree. ‘It appeals to us because, from experience, we know that the people involved in organising it are genuinely interested in good music and are focused on the idea of putting on a festival which isn’t centred around financial gain,’ admits Steev Livingstone from The Errors, who, following the success of their single ‘Salut! France’ are currently working on their first album, due for release in January 2008.
John Maclean, drummer with the Aliens, concurs: ‘We’ve always been attracted to doing less commercial type gigs anyway – give us the Green Man any day over the V Festival type thing.’
The event suits the independent spirit of the London/Fife outfit, who are currently piecing together their second album in a house in Pittenweem. ‘It’s more like making a demo,’ says Maclean, who promises this offering will probably be a little bit ‘crazier’ than their previous studio-produced album.
These type of festivals also help give the scene a focus, according to Sam Smith, frontman of Mother and the Addicts, who describes it as a gathering of Glasgow’s ‘indie-mafia’.
‘We do know a lot of the bands; a lot of them are mates from way back and we still hang out. So it’s nice to get together and play at something like this,’ he admits. ‘I was there last year and it was great, a really nice friendly event.’
For younger artists like John B McKenna it’s also a great chance to get the exposure that comes with playing with more established acts.
‘When I heard that bands like The Errors and Twilight Sad were playing I was definitely excited about it,’ he says. ‘These are bands seriously on the up. I didn’t expect to be playing with these types of people until I’d got a lot further forward.
‘I think that’s what’s nice about this type of event – the organisers are putting on well known and unknown bands side by side and it feels like that will really help propel me forward.’
All also agree that, with just 1000 tickets on sale, the event’s relatively intimate feel is a big draw. And while that’s also a bonus for the people who manage to get tickets in time, it inevitably means some will miss out.
That’s one of the reasons that Andrew Back and Magnus Lawrie, who offer new media services for Glasgow artists’ hang-out The Chateau, decided to get in on the act. The duo are hoping to stream a webcast from the event, as well as offering demonstrations of free open-source software on the day.
‘The idea is that this lets us take it to a wider audience while still keeping the underground community feel,’ explains Back.
And it is that underground spirit that gives Hey You Get Off My Pavement its unique selling point, according to John Williamson, manager of Belle and Sebastian. He praises the event for helping to address a growing gap in a scene that’s less willing than ever to take risks.
‘These days there is a lot of emphasis on the bottom line,’ he says. ‘Bands are booked who will offer a guaranteed return and the result is that you have less and less inspiring shows. Often there’s a homogeneous feel.’
The Mono events, along with others such as Indian Summer, which was held in the city’s Victoria Park last month, are a useful reminder that it is possible for festivals to break out of the mould.
‘There is a more adventurous spirit at these festivals,’ says Williamson. ‘And it’s not just about the money.’
Hey You Get Off My Pavement, Mono, Kings Court, Glasgow, Sun 5 Aug, 12.30–10.30pm, £17.50. Tickets are available from Monorail or Ticket Scotland. See www.heyyougetoffmypavement.com