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Bad luck

When you’re in a band like ours getting gigs is usually a bit of a slog. We really started to play in public in earnest* around the time Stephen joined the band, and we’d do literally anything we could find – battles-of-the-bands, afternoon shows to disinterested students during rag week, those multi-band nights where everyone has to sell X tickets in advance and then turn the money over to the promoter.

John’s tolerance for humiliation is lower than mine or Stephen’s, so when he put the foot down and refused to do the really crappy gigs I’d slyly spend hours on my work phone calling up proper venues saying “It’s Cormac from Stoat again, could I speak to Dermot? Not there? Could you just tell him I called wondering if he’d listened to our tape yet? Thanks, bye”. One smart-ass had a message on his answering machine that went something like “Hello, this is about the gig yeah? … yeah … ok … grand … right well I’ll talk to you soon bye”. Took me longer than it should have to figure that one out :/ I’d make lists of acts that were playing in Whelan’s, then trawl the Hot Press yearbook looking for their numbers (this was before bands were easily contactable via the internet), and then call them, get their address, send a tape, call back, call back again, call back AGAIN, etc. That’s actually how we got our first gig as a 3-piece – with The Mary Janes, Mic Christopher’s old band.

Things got a little easier as time went on. We started to get to know the bands from the underground scene (through thumped.com) and would play with other bands like ourselves or touring punk acts in upstairs rooms in pubs on a Wednesday or Thursday night. We even played with Explosions in the Sky once, in a room in a pub in Limerick with no seats, so everyone had to sit on the dirtiest and stickiest pub carpet I have ever seen in my life. Invariably 80% of the audience were other people in bands. The aforementioned Dermot was tickled by my persistence and we ended up playing our own shows in his place (Eamonn Doran’s, right in the centre of Temple Bar) a dozen times. Started getting a few of our own shows in Whelan’s too, maybe on a Wednesday, or a Sunday afternoon.

And so it went, playing someplace every few weeks, always hoping that someone we didn’t know would be in the audience (usually in vain (and we’d always talk to strangers after the gigs anyway, so the next time they wouldn’t count as “someone we don’t know” anymore)). Mostly on weeknights, unless we were doing a supporting slot or a multi-band scene night like The Ballroom of Romance. Weekend headline slots were reserved for bands with a lower musician/normal-person ratio in the audience.

After disappearing off the live circuit for a few years, things were kinda back to square one when we started preparing to gig the new album. Most of our old scene buddies had aged out, and we were back to calling into venues with CDs or mailing people soundcloud links.

For the album launch we managed to book our first ever Saturday night headliner at The Underground, a sufficiently tiny venue that we could hope wouldn’t look too empty, and much to our surprise we filled it right up and they had to turn people away.

And then something magical happened. The Underground wanted us back on another Saturday night. Gugai from The Róisín Dubh in Galway got in touch and wanted us to play a Friday night headliner. The lads in Salty Dog in Drogheda did the same. All one weekend after another. All of a sudden we seemed to be in demand … in a very minor way, you understand, but in the 20 years the 3 of us have been playing together (or even the 30 me and John have been playing together) we had NEVER had 3 weekend headliners in a row. We were all feeling pretty good about it …

… but …

(yes, there’s a ‘but’ – we are that kind of band, alas)

John fell over and cracked his head on the ground when playing with his kids, sustained a concussion, and we had to cancel all the gigs. And then the Salty Dog closed down before the last one was due to happen anyway 🙁

(sighs)

If it wasn’t for bad luck we’d have no luck at all

Update had to cancel all our summer festival slots too 🙁

* Gigs for older versions of the band were intermittent, except for a run of Tuesday nights in the early 90s where me and John and our drum machine would play covers in a pub in Ringsend in exchange for pints**

** Funny enough these days I play bass in a fairly informal covers band in my local pub (Boyle’s in Slane) on a Wednesday and get free pints too … the difference being that the Boyle’s gigs are a load of fun, where playing ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ and ‘Stand By Your Man’ to 2 alcoholics and a barman in Ringsend was mostly pretty depressing

–Cormac

Rejection

Ok, so the “series of blogs” John was planning to do to coincide with our 2017 releases has turned out to be a very short series indeed (so far at least). I (encouraged by Stephen, who thought it was a bit weird to have ‘FAILURE’ on the front page of our website) thought I’d share something about the day-to-day life of a band like ours while we’re waiting for the next installment.

These days when you’re releasing something, a large part of the audience you’re trying to reach hears about new music from music blogs, so we typically contact a load of blogs hoping they’ll feature our tune. Blogs, as you might expect, get floods of new music all the time and most of them are run by hobbyists who struggle to listen to it all. A website called submithub attempts to help bloggers deal with the flood – artists pay a dollar per submission, and the blogger gets a cut if they listen to a track and provide a little bit of feedback (and if not you get your money back). Most tracks are rejected, but as an artist it’s nice to know someone has at least listened to what you sent, rather than just pouring stuff out into the ether and never hearing anything back at all.

The downside is the flood of rejection you get, which … well, we’ve been doing this a long time, but by christ it still stings. A sample from the feedback from “Don’t play no game” (bear in mind that the vocals in this are mine (in the verse, it’s John in the chorus))

we did not really enjoy the singing here

I wasn’t into the vocals

Not a fan of the vocal

vocal style did not grab me

not feeling the vocals here

the overall style of the vocals simply wasn’t for me

didn’t dig the vocals much

Ouch 🙁 🙁 🙁

What makes it even worse is I was a bit on the fence about the vocals myself, but my wife says “that’s what your voice really sounds like” so it’s not just the performance nobody likes, it’s my actual real voice.

(sighs)

One or two people actually liked the vocal, would you believe, which made me feel (slightly) better

Powerful vocal and lyrics

you have wonderful voice

😮

So, the exact opposite of what the others thought … actually we’ve found this kind of diversity of opinion is pretty common, check this out

its a standard pop track for me

cool alternative rock song Stoat but a little too weird

Both rejections – one lads it cos it’s too straightforward, one because it’s too weird.

Despite the different opinions, most bloggers (though thankfully not quite all) agree on one thing – they don’t want our music on their blog. For the latest single, the one I was saving til the end cos I thought most people would like it, we got 46 rejections in 48 hours, so approx one rejection per hour for 2 days straight. Even when you’re used to them they’re like nettle stings – you can be tough about the first few, but after a bit you’re grinding your teeth, and you’d want to be in an emotionally stable place to be bringing this upon yourself

 

–Cormac

Failure

This is the first of a series of blogs that I’m hoping to do to accompany Stoat’s suite of 2017 releases, which has so far included 3 singles. There’ll probably be one more, plus the album itself – which is called ‘Try not to think about it’. Same name as the current single.

The first thing I want to talk about is failure. Commercial failure, specifically. Something we in Stoat have wallowed in right from the beginning. No record deal, no album sales, no acclaim of any magnitude.

I would classify our efforts as almost completely unsuccessful.

The almost is there to signify the handful of small achievements – a fair few successful gigs, some nice reviews. What else? There’s probably a TV appearance in there too, an interview or two, a bit of radio play. These things are insignificant commercially but at a certain point in time, taken together, they might have suggested that there was the slight possibility of a hope of a suggestion of something more than total failure.

I guess too I need to make the point that by other measures we have been pretty damn successful. We have written songs that a small group of people love. When we get together, we have a great deal of fun, which explains in part why we’ve been together for the bones of twenty years. Longer probably, than most of your favourite bands.

Part of the reason – I think – that we have been so successful in these other areas is that we failed so completely in that key one.

Success would have been great, yes – but to have been of any use, it would have had to have been total success (though I guess I would have settled for almost total success). Anything other than that would probably have lead to a great deal of misery.

To illustrate this point, I’m going to tell you a story, about a band called ‘Six. By Seven’.

Back in 1998, NME described their debut single ‘European Me’ as one of the greatest debut singles of all time. In the magazine’s end of year poll, the album it came from, ‘The Things We Make’ came in at number 13.

In the six years that followed this release, the band did the kinds of things that anyone who’s ever been in a band dreams about. They released four albums to huge critical acclaim. They recorded four sessions with John Peel, including the first ever session broadcast live on Radio 1. They toured with Manic Street Preachers, the Dandy Warhols, Placebo and Ash. They performed on the Jules Holland show twice, playing alongside Blondie, Eliot Smith and Massive Attack.

I interviewed the band’s lead singer, Chris Olley a few years ago. He cites the Jules Holland performances as particularly special.

“While we were sound-checking, Blondie came in to do their sound-check. We finished our song and there was this explosion of applause from the other side of the room. Blondie were standing there shouting ‘You guys are fucking brilliant!’ And then Massive Attack came in later, and we played a tune and they came over. ‘The way that you played was great, guys…We’re thinking of doing a similar thing on our next album, we’re going to rock out a bit more…’”

As they stood on the set of Jules Holland that day, receiving the adulation of two of the biggest names in popular music, they were not to know that this was as good as it would get. Despite the immensity of this beginning, Six. By Seven never made it. The album sales didn’t come. The band simply never generated enough revenue to break them into the big time.

But forget that for a moment. Forget about conventional definitions of success and what we understand about ‘making it.’

Here was a young band at the early stages of its career, basking in tremendous critical acclaim. Here was a group of young men actually getting paid to do something that they loved doing. They got to make four albums that mattered deeply to a small but loyal fanbase. They got to travel the world playing their music. What was that like?

“It was fucking miserable.” Says Olley. “It was one continuous stream of misery.”

“There was constant infighting, there was no money. We signed a $250,000 deal with Interscope records in America for the first album, the following week were dropped because Seagram bought Universal Studios and they decided they were going to get rid of the new roster. Island signed us, Island dropped us, then we signed a deal with BMG, then Island decided we made the second record too soon, so they took us to court. We were touring the second album, we got 9/10 on the NME, the whole music press were like, ‘This album is amazing!’ And I couldn’t even pay the rent. I was drinking Mountain Dew and eating beans and none of us had any money and we were fucked. It was awful.”

This pattern was repeated over and over again in the years ahead. The live shows got dazzling reviews, the albums were feted in the press, but none of it converted into sales. As the band slogged from tour bus to studio and back, Chris Olley’s bandmates began to lose their faith.

“I kept on pushing everyone around me like a lunatic.” He says. “I was like ‘Come on, we gotta keep going, come on…’ Because it was my dream and no one was going to bloody stop me.”

Eventually the guitar player decided he couldn’t endure the slog any longer and the five piece became a four piece. Shortly afterwards, Six. by Seven were back touring, not in a bus this time but in a transit van kitted out with sofas rescued from a junkyard. The bassplayer walked out after a gig in Spain. Eventually it was just Olley and the drummer. Then it was just Olley.

When I talked to him, which was about three years ago now, he had a variety of solo projects on the go, and there was a new Six. by Seven album in the pipeline. I checked back recently and he’s still trucking. Still playing, still releasing stuff.

He’s also just brought out a documentary about his band called ‘The Dream is Sweeter than the Taste’. Great title. Reminds me of this poem

“Live large, man, and dream small”

–John