Punk on the Edge
Has Punk entered a new era, and if so what does it look like? We talk to two faces on the scene who have seen it all and ask if they like what they now see.
C: I’ve pretty much been involved in the music scene in Frome forever. As a teenager, I was part of a group of friends that was split between either playing in bands and putting on shows or skateboarding. We’d skate all summer and then go to a show, it’s quite a romantic idea… It wasn’t until I returned from university that I began properly getting involved in the scene with regard to putting shows on. Being away for four years I came back to Frome to discover a pretty non-existent music scene. There were no bands playing locally apart from Ghost Of The Avalanche (GOTA). I worked alongside Hit Or Miss Promotions
to try and reinvigorate the scene revolving around young bands in Frome. It involved us trying to build a roster of local musicians we could put together to try and rebuild some sort of scene.
Fellow Hit Or Miss organiser Rob Dahl has worked at the Cheese and Grain, booking bands and putting on shows for over a decade:
R: There was, without a doubt, a peak in the popularity of these nights (the Punk Nights), in the first few years you could put on any band and guarantee near sell out at the venue regardless of how big the band was, or if people had even heard of the band. People my age would just come knowing they would have a good night out. It wouldn't just be kids from Frome but all the surrounding towns as well. It's incredible to think that a band, unheard of in the area could sell 700 tickets.
This was over a decade ago and since then it's been much harder work to get people to attend these types of shows. I think there has been a clear change in why young people go to gigs, it used to be they went to shows to find their favourite new bands, now seemingly they only go to see their favourite bands.
A circle of kids and new adults forms in the centre of the room. To those at the bar who can’t see what’s in the middle of the mess, memories of school fights are quietly coming back, until the circle briefly breaks to allow a newcomer in.
He grips a low slung bass, crunching feedback with every step he takes towards his one bandmate, already pummelling chunks out of his snare and cymbals. As the circle reforms anew and the bass takes on form, the first layer of kids starts turning, it's speed increasing frantically like a newly lit Catherine wheel, a mind of its own, or without one.
The next few layers start spinning on their own, and the legs and upturned palms begin pounding each other with abandon as the rings pass and the drums and bass strings fight each other for dominance. On the far outer fringes of the circle a few cameras flash in random succession, nothing to concentrate on, just taking shots of chaos before it all inevitably falls apart.
It’s Ghost of the Avalanche night at the Grain Bar and the new EP the band is pushing already has its cover emblazoned on T-shirts being tugged almost off by hyped fans. The merch table and the band’s helpers look on with
growing delight at a job well done.
The kids are happy, the message is out. Though what exactly is that message now?
For those who were there and who remark on the event afterward, and others before and since, the message was that these nights can succeed. They can be treated with the same excitement and reverence that, say, a game release will produce. They can draw young people and punk fans together in a show of force.
This statement of intent used to be never in doubt. Ask anybody who recalls the famed Punk Nights of years gone by, and enormous turn-outs, the perfect willingness to pay to see a band and the collective joy of live music in and outside of the venue were never in doubt.
Another, newer Frome punk band, SickOnes, has followed to stake a claim for the town in the region’s punk scene. One of its members, guitarist Charlie Jones-West, has watched the scene change firsthand.
So in essence, there is nothing lacking in the music scene in the town, as such. But there is a lack of attendance among young people, at or around the drinking age. At the Hit or Miss shows at the Cheese and Grain Bar, (an apt name it can sometimes appear), free gigs with local talent interspersed with the odd treat of a touring legend are aimed primarily at the young and are advertised as such. The often minimal turnouts never seem to dent the passion and commitment of the young bands who tear around the region looking for gig space. But it can dent the support of the young audience; the scene itself.
R: Lots of bands have a small fan base but from those not many can get enough people out to shows to really fill venues out. If you look across the country so many venues that put on younger up and coming acts are closing due to the lack of support, while sales for large acts are at an all time high. This is why all festivals have the same headliners or are branching out to new styles of music because young acts just aren't breaking through in the same way, and this is unsustainable. I really hope this changes because there is so much talent coming out of the area like Ghost Of The Avalanche, Montroze, Honeymoon and the same is true right across the country.
When hundreds of youngsters will gladly pay for a punk show and their decade younger descendants aren’t switched on by the prospect of free music and moshing opportunities, it can seem a dark age for the punk scene, largely driven by youth culture as it is. Especially
seeing as Frome seemed to have such a penchant for punk bands, from BaySix and Up The Rebels to Sacrifice the Stars and Overthrow 69.
R: I am not sure Frome is somewhere up and coming bands can thrive, but it's not a bad place to cut your teeth and gain experience to take on elsewhere. Frome is a great town for supporting art but if you
look at the alternative bands from the local area who really are making it such as Blueneck, More Than Life, Landscapes, Tax The Heat, Decade, etc, they don't play Frome much if at all but they all have members who have been in bands before who played around the town and area a lot previously.
The consensus seems to hold with the artists. It is not ignored that Frome has in the past done well at funnelling talent to nearby hotspots. Though one has to form a relationship with punk first, pick up an instrument, and forge a way themselves, and fighting for that small audience can be daunting.
C: The fact that Frome is small already means fewer people are going to be into alternative music than a bigger city. Saying that I think bands from smaller places don’t take certain things for granted. Frome has two venues that host music of this style. A place like Bristol has the luxury of many venues. Musicians from Frome must work harder to break out.So you either do it yourself or nothing happens. From the get go, SickOnes pushed the idea of keeping things in-house or at least within a small group of friends. If we need logos, t-shirts, videos, photo shoots we use our friends or associates or simply do it ourselves. That way we can try and help give back to the small scene we are part of. GOTA and More Than Life are two bands that have seen popularity across the country and literally built up from a near-nonexistent scene in Frome.
Perhaps Punk itself needs to change. The changing business of music alters young peoples’ appetites; hence, surely the material must alter, adapt too. Or perhaps it is more a question of faith. Faith in friends to turn up and support, represent. Faith in promoters to give up-and-comers a chance. Above all, faith in the very notion of live music, that with determination and originality comes reward. It’s a notion that seems shakier than ever, and especially for Punk.
Article written by editor Sean Powell
Above photography by Max Macauley
Something has changed, been lost even, and it’s noticeable. People have suggested a change in youth trends. Do kids really want to pick guitars up anymore to start bands? Does it matter if they don’t? What hasn’t changed is the need for an audience and support once those kids do decide to go down a musical path.
C: The Frome scene in regard to alternative music is pretty much two bands. Hit or Miss Promotions often brings out of town musicians in to perform but as far as locals go it's minimal. I think the southwest scene is healthy, Bristol, in particular, has many bands worth listening to who have occasionally made the trip to Frome. I think if even a smaller scene such as Frome holds onto the DIY mentality, a scene could begin to form around the small nucleus of current acts. I am a big advocate of mixed bill lineups, I think putting two or three genres of music together on one show can be great. Punk and Hip Hop share similar ties and I think if we can bring those two together we can really start to build a music scene as opposed to just a group of people playing a genre. Just need a leap of faith and some like-minded people and you can build anything.