Interview: Olaf Furniss, founder of Born To Be Wide
The man behind the Scottish music biz get-together and gig night talks about his pet hates, banned songs and Joe Mangel
For those who don’t know, what is Born To Be Wide?
Born To Be Wide was started as a way of bringing together everyone involved in the Edinburgh music scene. We would invite musicians, promoters, record shop staff and famous people with a connection to music, to come and play their favourite records. Everything was allowed – except for The Smiths and Joy Division.
In 2009 a friend of mine called Martin Atkins, who was the drummer in Killing Joke, PiL and Pigface, asked if he could do a talk on touring before his DJ set. This proved so popular, we decided to begin each night with a seminar, then get the speakers to play their favourite tunes afterwards.
We have hosted over 100 panels, bringing speakers to Edinburgh from Germany, Norway, the US and over the UK. Quite a few were filmed and can be watched on our YouTube channel.
What should a first-timer expect from the night?
Expect to be educated, entertained, hear DJs playing a completely random selection of tracks and to meet a diverse range of musicians, promoters, journalists, label owners and managers. Don’t expect to hear The Smiths, Morrissey or Joy Division.
What did you have in mind when you launched it, ten years ago?
We wanted to do something to bring together the disparate parts of Edinburgh’s scene and have a focus for what was happening in the city. These days the night attracts people from all over the country, and we have regulars who travel from Glasgow, Skye, Fife, Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee.
And how have things turned out, ten years on?
In 2012 we became a Community Interest Company, which is an official acknowledgement of our not-for-profit status. Now we also run Wide Days, Scotland’s only music convention; the Off The Record youth events; and in August, the annual Born To Be Wide Edinburgh Night. It features ten acts performing during the Fringe, each playing ten-minute sets, with DJs playing their favourite tracks by Edinburgh acts in between.
What’s the biggest perk of your job?
I’ve made a lot of friends through Born To Be Wide and it’s a great feeling to know the night has helped so many people get ahead with their music or in the music industry. I’ve always been fascinated about how the different areas of the business work, so chairing the panels is a great opportunity to ask the questions I’ve always wanted to ask. And I still love being surprised by what people chose to play when you invite them to DJ.
Any major drawbacks?
My pet hate is musician and manager friends getting in touch to ‘pick my brains’, invariably on a subject we have recently covered on a Born To Be Wide panel they couldn’t be arsed attending! That, and doing radio interviews where they use Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’ as a soundbed.
Who have been the best panellists over the years?
I am selective about who I invite, so our panels tend to feature very good speakers. The best tend to be the ones who don’t pull any punches, name names and tell you the figures. Off the top of my head, Matthew Young (Song By Toad Records), Alison Fielding (head of art at the Beggars Group), Sandy McLean (Love Music record shop), booking agent Lisa Whytock and photographer Kevin Cummins, spring to mind.
What were the most memorable nights from the past decade?
There are many. On one of the first nights we were told that Franz Ferdinand would come and DJ after their gig. Lots of people showed up, but the band didn’t. Fortunately one of the other DJs was a journalist who had a side parting and wore a shirt and tie, so most people were none the wiser.
We were invited to programme the DJs in the Cooler at the Venue closing party and I got to play the last record in a place where I had misspent a lot of my youth. The German Night, where the Consul General did a full vinyl DJ set, wearing a Born To Be Wide hoodie over his shirt and tie, was also pretty special.
One August we invited Irvine Welsh, Kristin Hersh and the drummers from Dodgy and The Love Affair to DJ. It started pissing it down outside so everybody stayed in the venue and Irvine began his set with ‘It’s Raining Men’ by the Weather Girls. I don’t remember too much more, but Kristin’s husband later told me he had never been so drunk in his life. On another August night the actor/comedian Mark Little, who played Joe Mangel in Neighbours, got into an altercation with Ziggy from the band FOUND. When the venue owner intervened and mistakenly called him Joe, he stomped off in a rage, but returned briefly to shout ‘Olaf, you’re a c*nt!’
What has running BTBW taught you?
That there are some amazing, interesting people working in music, and lots of them hate The Smiths as well.
Born To Be Wide 10th Birthday Party, Thu 6 Feb, The Electric Circus, Edinburgh, £5, £3.50 [MU members]
Past speakers/DJs email Michael@widedays.com for guest list
1910 Doors open
1930–2015 Vic Galloway interviews the BTBW team
2030–2115 Dave Corbet [DF Concerts] and David Balfour [Record Of The Day] look back over the past decade in the music business
2115–late Past DJs play their favourite three Scottish tracks from the past decade