Raising money for the venue and Music Venue Trust, Ash are set to perform a one-off, intimate show at Sneaky Pete’s as part of the MVT Passport: Back to Our Roots project. This will be a gig ‘proper’, to be held when circumstances allow live shows to happen safely; not live-streamed from an empty room or under ‘social distancing’ conditions. Definitely something to look forward to.
You can enter the draw to win passes to this exclusive gig for you and a friend by donating £5 to the Music Venue Trust on this link.
We caught up with drummer, Rick McMurray, to talk about how coronavirus affected the band’s 2020 tour, the importance of small grassroots music venues, and looking forward to that special gig.
How are you getting on?
Alright, I could be doing with playing a gig right now, but I can’t complain.
When was the last time the band played a gig?
It was some time before March 17th. We were actually on tour in Europe when the shit hit the fan with the pandemic. We’d been out since mid-February doing a few promo bits: in-stores and stuff like that. We were supposed to be on a run of about seven weeks but that got curtailed down to about three with cancellations, due to the virus. It was a bit of a weird tour.
I guess you didn’t know from one day to the next whether a gig was going ahead as the news developed?
Yeah, we’d a schedule which started to go a bit awry. We’d a bit of a nervous one in Switzerland where we did do the gig but we thought we were going to get cancelled. Then we were heading away from what was, at that point, the danger zone, north to Germany, thinking ok, maybe we can beat this and get home to the UK before anything worse goes down.
On our second day in Norway it was announced that it was worldwide pandemic. We managed to do the Norway gigs and then everything after that got cancelled. It was just a scramble to get home.
That was back in March and as lockdown hit and sustained it has developed into a really tough time for the live music industry. It’s going to be a struggle for many institutions to survive.
Absolutely, it’s going to be a struggle out there and venues are in a terrible position at the minute. Do they risk opening? There are so many venues out there that can’t afford to half open and are just going to have to wait for a full return.
One thing that it has taught us is that everyone’s position is completely different, from one neighbour, from one friend to the next. Tim [from the band] got stuck at his mum’s house for what he was hoping would be a few weeks. It turned out to be about four months. Whereas, since we cancelled the tour, I’ve been home since March. So, it’s been a struggle for everyone, but just differently.
The gig at Sneaky Pete’s is a bit of a hometown event for you.
Well I’ve two kids so I don’t get out as much as I normally do, but it’s a great place to go see live bands. It’s been on my radar since I moved to Edinburgh 15 years ago. I’ve seen loads of bands and I know Nick [Sneaky Pete’s owner and founder] reasonably well to say hi to. He’s been a big champion of Northern Irish bands and of local bands as well. It’s a great little, really well run venue.
What do you think is the short term answer for grassroots music venues?
It’s hard to tell. I know that Sneaky Pete’s is now open for drinks and pizza – they’re doing something to keep themselves afloat. But much more is going to be needed until there’s a safe return. You’d probably have to ask the venues. I think it’s such an important part of the industry, every single gig from Sneaky Pete’s upward – it all comes from places like that.
At the biggest festival, everyone [who is playing] starts off at places like there, at your local venue playing to a handful of people. That’s where you learn your craft and that’s where you become a great band, by learning from your mistakes, playing small venues and getting better and better. Everything is built on that. That’s why they are vital.
Do you think the music industry is doing enough to support the venues?
I think the government could be doing more right across the board. If you look abroad to countries like France or Germany where people are furloughed for 24 months; the arts and venues are being really well supported there. I think in France artists are being subsidised for two years.
There’s a lot more scope [for things to be done] but we’re stuck with an appalling government at the moment. So, it’s down to people in the industry to do what they can.
There is stuff out there: live crew is being supported by Live Nation at the minute. My brother has been a crew member for many years and he’s got a few quid from them. I’m not entirely sure what the industry can do when none of the industry is making money.
If you look around the world, other governments are doing much more to support the arts.
Where did the band get its first gigs?
When we started out, we played at a bar called The Penny Farthing in Northern Ireland. That was just a few mates in other bands who hired a PA and put shows on.
We were still 15 or 16, in the backroom of a bar in a dodgy area of Belfast. We were kids running for the last bus home at 10 o’clock, so we were on early. But beyond that, when it came to doing shows in proper venues, it was places like The Limelight in Belfast which had a local band night, we always played at that. That was the goal: If you got to play at The Limelight then that was such a huge deal.
What did the band get from playing The Limelight, for example?
We got support, we ended up getting to know the people who run it. Once we played there we felt that we could go and ask for support gigs for bands coming through, bands like Ride and stuff like that. It was definitely a vital part of connecting with other bands, getting gigs with other people you meet at a local venue.
Do you have any hopes for changes that might occur when we do eventually get back to live gigs again?
It’s just a case of getting back. But, yeah, I hope that more people get out and support their local venue and realise it’s a valuable resource, that bands don’t just appear out of nowhere, headlining their own shows; they start at these local venues as a support act or a local band night and that’s what the industry is built on.
Your gig at Sneaky Pete’s is going to be special and something to look forward to, particularly considering its 100 person capacity.
Yeah, we are doing it when there’s the full return so there will be 100 people in there. I know that there’ll be a lot of people in difficult positions but, the chance to go and see a band for a fiver and support a local venue, it’s definitely worth it.
When was the last time you played at a venue that size?
I was maybe about 10 years ago when we did the A to Z tour of the UK, we did a gig in this tiny place called Zennor in Cornwall. It was about a 60 capacity or something like that. It’s always really good fun doing those tiny shows when you have the audience that close to you, it’s such an exciting thing – it feels like anything could happen.
Support the Music Venue Trust (and by extension UK Grassroots Music Venues). Enter the prize draw for passes to this exclusive gig here.
Entry to this first prize draw will run until 10am Monday August 31st.