It’s been a pretty strange period for music in Wigan this year with gig attendances dropping, venues closing down, lack of new talent coming through and established bands splitting up or being dropped.
Things have been in decline for a couple of years now. The DIY scene that sprung up around the rise of the Libertines in 2002 created an amazing buzz around town with new gig and club nights starting up, which in turn led to musicians getting together creating bands that were reacting against the stagnant musical period of the few years previous. Things hit a peak mid 2006 and we’ve been in a steady decline ever since.
It’s the same old cycle that we last saw in the mid 90’s with Oasis. A big scene blows up but then you eventually get to the point where the type of music is so popular that everyone thinks they can do it and they form bands, regardless of if they’ve got talent or not.
As we have this time with bands such as the Kooks, The Killers, the Frattellis et al. They followed on the coat tails of the Libertines and The Strokes but managed to make that crossover to the mainstream. You then get the 3rd rate bands that follow the 2nd wave, the Twang, Reverend & The Makers etc. This leads to new young bands emulating these types and the quality really suffers, along with the live scene. The crossover of indie now is more obvious than ever. You can go down any King Street and hear indie tracks in any of the pubs or clubs, something unheard of 5 years ago. Back in the early 2000’s you’d search out your vintage leather jacket by scouring charity shops or travelling down to Camden market. Now you can pick up them up mass produced in Top Man. The indie scene is no longer ‘cool’ so the old gig goers have disappeared. All you get in the venues for most gigs nowadays are friends and family of the bands who are playing, which obviously changes from week to week meaning there are no regulars, thus a new scene can’t get off the ground.
Despite this, the live scene has still plodded along in Wigan over the past year. Yeti made their return back in January followed by The Von Bondies in February, who pulled in a good crowd. Chris Helme from the Seahorses played the Tavern in June and Rhys Ifans brought some of the Super Furry Animals with him in October to play a gig to a packed Club Nirvana. Some of the best of the upcoming indie acts from around the country have also played, to varied reactions, including Detroit Social Club, Esser, Elle S’apelle, Screaming Lights and Buen Chico. Shaun Ryder came up too for a one off DJ set in November but that shambles is probably best off forgotten!
A few local bands meanwhile have had quite a bit of success throughout the year. Ashton’s The Troubadours played support on the Enemy tour before jetting off to festivals in Japan alongside the likes of Paul Weller and the Verve. Mon Ouisch played festivals slots in the UK, whilst the Victorian Dad Band got themselves a deal. The Suzukis album release with Deltasonic was pushed back further but they headed over to New York earlier this year to record it and it’s now due early next year. Solo acts Nancy Elizabeth and John Fairhurst both gained rave reviews for their albums throughout the year and played festivals around Europe. Finally Matthew Hallsall has had great success on the Jazz scene including sessions on Giles Petersons BBC Radio 1 show.
The Tavern closed down twice, as did the Waiting Room and several other gig nights ceased to be. One new night though that has been consistent and become ever more popular is TWATS or ‘The Wonderful Arty Types Show’. Consisting of live music, film and poetry, it takes place at the Tudor on the last Thursday of every month.
2009 looks to be more promising for the local scene. A couple of clued up lads (Mike and Neil) have just taken over booking for the Collective which from next year will take place every Friday at the Tudor, with free entry. They’ve been getting some quality acts in lately and this will hopefully continue into next year. The Tavern has just reopened, now owned by the people behind Fuzzbox Recording studios. They’re all passionate about music and will hopefully restore the pub to a top quality mid sized gig venue. They’ve got Sham 69 playing in September so that should get it off to a good start. There’s the odd decent young band coming through but this will hopefully increase as more kids start to react against the bad couple of years passed. The national scene has seen some great new bands with debut albums released this year; Vampire Weekend, MGMT, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Johnny Flynn; so hopefully the local scene can follow suit.
I finish on a sad note with a mention for Rob Partridge who died last month. Rob was the manager of Wigan band Witness, as well as looking after The Verve and was truly one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet in the entire music industry. He had an amazing CV, having looked after Bob Marley, Tom Waits, Burning Spear, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and many more but always stayed completely grounded. He did a lot to help me set myself up in the business when a person in his position could have quite easily ignored me or passed me onto someone else. He always had time to return a phone call, send you an email or call you down to his office in London for a chat. In an industry which is full of self centred egotistical wankers, it was refreshing to know someone who would go out of their way to help other people rather than themselves.
For a proper obituary, check out the Guardian site: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/dec/02/obituary-rob-partridge-music-publicist