The History of ‘Music Files’

In 1993 the Hastings Live Music Forum launched Music Files, a free live music event guide, which was published in the Hastings for five years.

Previously there had been a monthly gig listing called Southern Music News which was instantly recognisable by its bright yellow cover. By this time though it was no longer being printed.

The Live Music Forum, which produced Music Files between 1993 and 1998, came about after two popular local gigs lost their permission to put on live music. One was the Yorkshire Grey at the bottom of London Road in St Leonards.

In the 1980′s I used to come down regularly from London to play there, as did a number of other bands from the South London circuit. Hastings already had a good reputation as a centre for live music.

In 1990 I moved here and was now booking the bands at ‘The Grey’. Then one week I turned up and was told their music license had expired and that there would be no more bands at the Yorkshire Grey. That was the end of the road for the pub and within a year it had closed.

When a second venue lost their music license somebody phoned up and challenged me to do something about it, so I asked guitarist Simon Shaw and bass player Roger Carey to help me form a ‘steering committee’ until we figured out what was going to happen next.

The first Forum was on 7th June 1993.
I had some expensive invitations printed and sent one to each Hastings Borough Councillor, plus anyone else we could think of.

All of the public Forums were held at The Marina Pavilion, which is now The Azur. Hastings Borough Council’s Leisure Director, Roger Dennett, let us use the venue for free on a Monday night when it would otherwise be empty.

The Marina Pavilion was packed with local musicians and gig goers. As well as one or two Councillors, someone from the Hastings Observer and a delegation from the Environmental Services Dept, who raised objections during the meeting to our calls for de-regulation of live music.

At that time the duo law was in operation, which meant that only two musicians could play in pubs or restaurants unless the venue had an ‘entertainments license’. The whole licensing issue took a further 18 years to resolve and happily we can now say that our position prevailed.

The history of the saga is detailed at the Live Music Forum website at:

www.livemusicforum.co.uk

Even though the Licensing Officers pledged to pursue stricter licensing laws on live music and ultimately had their wish by way of the Licensing Act 2003, the majority of the attendance at the first Forum were wholeheartedly in support of more live music and a common consensus distilled into a potent energy which carried us all forward for years.

In 1993 I was playing in Joe Rytlewski’s band, The Pullbacks, which included Jez Gillett on keyboards and Martin Richter on bass.

Prior to the second Live Music Forum and after much discussion in the van on the way to and from Pullbacks gigs, Jez had made a folded A4 handout with the Pullbacks and The Lost Boys gigs which he called ‘Music Files’. It had a piece about an upcoming Songwriters contest and a bit of rant about the music scene, but no ads.

At the Forum Jez showed off Music Files as a model for a new gig guide for Hastings and got elected on the spot. Martin Richter also gave me some useful advise about the proper procedure of setting up a committee.

The second Live Music Forum in September 1993 was an election with a voting system based roughly on proportional representation. Each person attending the Forum was able to cast a ballot with a first second and third preference. There were as many people present as at the first Forum and about a hundred ballot papers were submitted. Roger Carey was elected but had to decline due to his touring commitments. So the five people elected to the Live Music Forum committee were, John Ballard, Jackie Wearn, Martin Richter, Phil Little and Jez Gillett. It was these five that produced and published Music Files from October 1993 to September 1998.

We had made the point publicly at the Forums, that access to information about what gigs were on was essential to getting people out and keeping the whole live music scene going.

Hastings has always had a lively music scene, but in times of recession attendance at pubs suffers and although people didn’t realise the extent at the time, the age of home entertainment was having a huge effect on the live music turnout.

The main purpose behind Music Files was to give people access to information about local live music events.

Compiling a gig guide can be a bit of a hit and miss affair, as can booking gigs for a single band or single venue. Things happen and details change, sometimes quite a lot.
In order to put out the magazine on time each month you have to stick to a schedule in order to meet the deadline. We knew that licensees are busy people and the details relating to events can be a bit bothersome. So, expecting a monthly phone call from twenty pubs with all their dates was a bit fanciful, to say the least.

Therefore, putting the gig guide first, we operated a system where we phoned all the venues to take the details of their next month’s gigs. When they had them available!
It was not usual to provide this service, but it helped to make the Music Files gig guide more complete and accurate. Plus the venues appreciated it.

Nowadays in the Hastings area, the majority of live music venues seem to book up six or twelve months in advance, which was unheard of back in 1993.
Most venues booked only three months ahead and some less than that. So, more gigs were settled at the last minute, sometimes making it tight, or too late to get in the next edition of the magazine.
After a few months most of the regular landlords caught on to the immutable cycle of Music Files and would have their information ready for a call about ten days before printing.

Fastprint in St Leonards gave us a very good price for printing 1000 copies of Music Files and we managed by selling fifteen eighth page adverts at £10 each.
A couple of years later we put the price up to £15 for an eighth page and were able to improve the quality of Music Files and print more copies.
When we finished in 1998 I think we were printing 2,000 copies. We were fortunate to have the co-operation and support of all the staff at Fastprint, who often pulled out all the stops to help us get the magazine into the streets in time.

To begin with it was fairly easy to get the ads, as we had so much support from everybody in Hastings and St Leonards.
Amongst the first businesses to advertise in Music Files were B & T Keyboards, The Hot Potato, The Carlisle, ASM Music, The Crypt and Phoenix Taxis. Within six months Music Files was so popular among Hastings musicians and live music fans we couldn’t satisfy the demand for copies.

More people wanted to advertise, but some wanted larger adverts at a reduced rate which is the norm in the publishing world. However, it means you have to increase the number of pages and hence the printing costs.
Also the gig guide and content were growing dramatically as word spread and we were being notified of more events. Eventually the back page became a regular full page ad and that pulled in a bit of cash which helped to pay for four extra pages.

In the first couple of issues we included a rather badly drawn cartoon that I had come up with called “Dave The Bass”. Nobody ever said, but I don’t think they thought it was very good. I, however, still think it a great idea and have been trying to make it into a movie in Flash for years.
Anyway, John Ballard was an accomplished artist and our front cover was soon reserved for his humorous depictions of characters in the Hastings music scene. These cartoons were always immensely popular and it is high time John compiled them into a book for the sake of posterity, at least.

Another key area of operating a gig guide is distribution and being late wasn’t an option. Often we would arrive to drop the magazines off on the first day of the month, or before if possible and would hear “Thank God they’re here, I have had people calling in for them since 9 ‘o clock”.

However, people didn’t realise the torture of getting Music Files printed and out each month.

When we started, Jez Gillet used to do all of the desktop publishing on an Amiga. You can probably imagine how clunky that was.

The printing of a copy to give to Fastprint could take many hours, keeping him up until 3am and later. Then Fastprint had to combine that with a hand drawn cartoon by John Ballard and print and staple the magazine, all of which could take a couple of days.
Every month it would be the same, with me pestering each person in the process until Music Files was finished and we could finally take it out to the pubs, cafes and shops.

In the early days Mike Carrington was a big help in delivering Music Files, but gradually the task was taken up by Jackie Wearn who collected the ad fees, kept the books and kept all the customers happy. Without Jackie and Jez, Music Files wouldn’t have run so long, or at all really. Especially when I went off traveling for two years, Jackie’s energy kept Music Files going and growing.

In 1996, I returned to the fold and at the end of the year there were sufficient funds to celebrate with a Music Files Christmas Party at The Crypt for all our readers and advertisers. It was packed out and a great success, with music by Pass the Cat featuring Jack Peach on drums.
The Wilkes Bothers, who ran The Street and The Crypt, were consistent supporters of Music Files and we also enjoyed a good relationship with all the main venues in the area that presented live music.

We also ran some demo-tape competitions, with donated studio time as a prize. Richard Moore at B & T Keyboards was a big help and provided a lot of support and gift vouchers as competition prizes.

The reason Music Files worked so well was because it involved a wider group than the five people on the Live Music Forum committee. It represented the whole of the Hastings live music community, giving a voice to anyone who went to the trouble of writing in .

On many occasions issues were raised with one or other of the committee members at their gigs. Because each member was either in a local band, or married to someone who was. The web of contacts was extensive and in the days before the Internet was invented, let alone Facebook, that was a very useful resource. Over the years we employed a variety of methods to help stimulate the music scene.

In April 1997 we carried an ‘Election Special’ with responses from the General Election candidates to questions we put to them about live music and entertainments licensing.
Labour candidate Michael Foster came out looking by far the best and was elected to become Hastings MP for the next ten years. The outgoing Conservative MP did not even bother to reply to our letter. The Liberal Democrat gave a respectable reply and Raving Monster Loony Party candidate, Lord Tiverton, said  “Don’t see any problem as of now, I can find live music seven nights a week without leaving the Old Town!”.

In 1998 we negotiated with Hastings Borough Council Environmental Services Dept to present some live music on the seafront near to the Crazy Golf on Saturday afternoons.
A couple of days were rained off, but the others went well. Liane Carroll and Roger Carey were fantastic and attracted people from all along the seafront to listen.

The Environmental Services Dept were extremely helpful with advice on satisfying the various safety requirements. These gigs couldn’t have happened without the advice and help from licensing officer Richard Holmwood, who is now head of the Dept.

As far as the content of Music Files went, much of it was written by myself and Martin Richter. We both wrote local gossip and rant columns under pseudonyms and each month I wrote a semi-political piece on licensing or other issues which affected live music.

We always tried to include at least two reviews and from the start I made a point of limiting my reviews to positive comments wherever possible. I seem to remember once when a reader put in a review which slaughtered a young band, I was the one that got collared for it at the Black Horse Festival a few weeks later.
We also included letters we received and tried out crosswords. Several of the local music fans submitted regular columns for a while and these contributions were much appreciated.

As mentioned earlier, the whole point of Music Files was to give people access to information about local live music events.

In 1998, after several other gig guides had set up in Hastings doing essentially the same thing, we decided to stop printing Music Files. There seemed little sense in competing with others for the privilege of duplicating the information.

It had been an interesting ride but it was plainly over. So, in September 1998 the last edition of Music Files hit the streets of Hastings and St Leonards.

I suppose nowadays it would be wise to think carefully about the commercial sense of launching such a venture, but I have still to see an enduring online gig guide which matches the reach and performance of Music Files.

For somebody with a passion for live music and the massive amount of time and energy to dedicate to publishing a magazine, it could be possible to build a business out of it.
But, don’t expect it to make you rich!

Phil Little
November 2012
www.littledrum.co.uk

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