by Alex Coates
Manchester’s Wall Market Racketeers have always dreamed of playing some of their city’s iconic venues. On Tuesday May 26 2015, they got the chance to do just that. Singer Alex Coates issues gritty dispatches from their rise, along with some tips for all struggling UK indie bands.
It’s 9:15pm on a sunny summer Tuesday evening in Manchester. This is a city of working class heroes, where homegrown bands preach their lairy gospel to excitable crowds in historic and well-aged haunts.
Tonight’s venue is the Night & Day, and we’re tonight’s headliners.
As a band, we’ve always done things a little differently, and the tale of how we got to this point – headlining our favourite hometown venue – is testament to this.
Our band was formed in Manchester in November 2013. We initially came together to play an online gig in aid of Desert Bus 5, a US charity-drive for Child’s’ Play.
Since those early days spent huddled around webcams in cramped inner city practice rooms, the band has gone on to play shows across Manchester. We’ve played the likes of The Factory (Fac251), The Castle, and Manchester Academy 3. But tonight’s venue holds a special place in all of our hearts.
Despite being a Manchester band, there are no Mancunians in Wall Market Racketeers. Instead, we’re from Kent, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, the West Midlands, and North West Lancashire. Despite this, we as a band have always dreamed of playing Night and Day. After all, we were formed on Oldham Street, just 50 metres or so from the venue.
Drummer Thom Hamper recalls his first time at Night & Day. A guy from the forum for a band called My Computer offered him a ticket to John Peel Day 2005 in exchange for roadie duties. Elbow headlined that day, as they would eventually headline every Manchester institution. Indeed, it could be argued that a venue cannot be referred to as a “Manchester institution” until it’s played host to an Elbow set.
For me, my first time at the Night and Day coincided with my first night in the city. I’d seen the words “Night and Day” on so many tour flyers for bands I followed back in Leeds. On a whim I decided to check the place out. The show that night was a sold-out co-headline affair featuring The View and The Holloways, and the doorman was good enough to sneak me in.
I was alone in a strange new city. But just like that, I was home.
All five members of the band have experienced unforgettable gigs at Night and Day, amongst them Supergrass, who performed as The Hot Rats; The Stills; Manic Street Preachers; The Electric Soft Parade, and Komakino.
These were the names we had to live up to.
But where do you begin if you want to headline your favourite venue?
It was actually pretty straightforward. I sent an email to Night and Day promoter Gareth Butterworth. Having just headlined a stage at the Sounds From The Other City festival, I told him that we were keen to play our favourite venue again. In exchange for a headline slot, we offered to treat the night as a single-launch event.
It just so happened that Gareth was in the process of putting together a lineup of post-rock bands, and he saw fit to place us at the top of it.
This, like many of our gigs, only happened because we took the initiative to approach the promoters ourselves. We’ve hosted shows, we’ve been propped up by friends’ bands, we’ve supported US touring artists, and we once made a racket in a stationary shop. It takes all sorts to play a show, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes.
Along the way we’ve had some bad times, but we’ve had some good times too. I’ve no doubt that it’s exactly the same for all bands who’re just starting out, no matter where they’re based.
Life in a band is tough. Even if you’ve got the songs, the talent, and the fans, you’ll still encounter difficulties.
To begin with, you’ll find it difficult to find time to practice in between jobs and commitments, especially if you’re working in a crowded music scene. Our first practice room was covered in bird feces. We eventually found a headless pigeon inside an amp cab.
Since then, we’ve tried out a few more rooms, but there’s simply too many bands currently operating in Manchester, and not nearly enough quality practice space to accommodate them all.
Then there’s the issue of promotion. It’s all very well to encourage self-promotion, but because everyone’s doing it, it’s much more important that you make an effort to stand out.
Then there’s the thorny issue of finances. It might come as a surprise that the most money we’ve ever taken from a show came from selling CDs. In this digital age, people still seek out music on physical formats – particularly when they’re looking for a memento from a gig. There’s a few bands we play regularly with, and they all agree that the CD still has a place in today’s musical climate.
Occasionally, you might catch the attention of somebody with a voice. In August 2014, Dave Brown reviewed our EP on the EvenTheStars blog. Dave continues to be a supporter of the band, and he was even responsible for getting us our first national radio airplay. We featured on Shell Zenner’s Amazing Radio show.
It’s always flattering to read the words of someone who has taken the time to listen to your music, and to understand what you’re trying to achieve. When people want to find out who you are, these are the pages you hope they’ll find, and the words you hope they’ll read.
But most of the time, even the humblest of blogs and publications don’t give you the time of day, no matter how “relevant” or “right-on” you believe your music to be.
Regardless, you push on. You do all you can, and no matter how hard it gets, you never stop. And then, one day, you find yourself playing on exactly the stage on which you’ve always dreamed of playing.
It’s now 10:15pm, and the band wait by the side of the stage. We’re nervous. Even our lead guitarist, the ever-cool Mr Simpson, responds to the question “are we ready?” with a simple muttered “yup”. “I’m a bit hungry,” says Thom, but by then it’s too late. The lights dim…
We open with Saturnine, our latest single. We felt it was just the song we needed to get the crowd going. It came at a cost though, with Mr. Simpson snapping his high E guitar string. He’s never done this before.
After unpacking the spare guitar, we play Novella, our previous single, followed by a couple of EP tracks, FireSale and Cognitive Dissonance. To a reassuringly warm reception, we tested a reworked version of an older track, The Insiders, The Outsiders and Me.
We like to play a new cover at every gig. Tonight, we choose The Red, The White, The Black, The Blue by Hope of the States. They’re a band who graced this very stage, 11 years ago this month. We feel we’re in good company.
But unfortunately, the night’s over-running. The call comes over the PA that there’s only time for one more. Without hesitating, we launch into fan-favourite, Weltschmerz. We like to close our shows with a small riot.
So what was it like to headline our favourite venue in the city that made us? Well, mistakes were made: there were technical errors, bum notes, fluffed notes, the lot. But on the whole, we felt that we put on a good show, and the crowd left happy. That’s pretty much all you can ask from any show in any venue.
What’s next for Wall Market Racketeers? The next month or so will be a quiet period for the band, with no shows scheduled. This is probably the biggest issue faced by small and independent bands across the country: consistency.
For a band headlining a decent sized venue in a vibrant music scene, branching out to other cities is the next logical step. But it can be hard to keep the momentum going. In order to survive, you need to consistently build your audience whilst kindling that vital word-of-mouth reputation. This can prove difficult when you haven’t got a steady schedule of gigs lined up.
But you keep at it, and you never, ever stop. Because there’s really no such thing as an “overnight success”. Every band you’ve ever heard of is a product of hundreds of set-backs, thousands of challenges, and near ceaseless fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
All this means, though, is that every band you’ve ever heard of is only doing this because they really want to do this.
Support your local post-rock band, kids.