SongSmith is 10
Back in 2007 I had rediscovered my musical mojo and encouraged by a handful of friends started to play and write again. Having previously plied the venues of London I thought things couldn't get any harder. It often felt that I was wrong. Things didn't seem to have moved on much. The paying gigs were paying the same as more than 10 years previously and although Bristol had (has) plenty of venues the competition for gigs, particularly band gigs, was (is) fierce and irritatingly talented. Promoters were not responsive and not very interested in my brand of spiky pop covers and originals. I got fed up with not getting answers from promoters and so started to investigate putting on gigs for myself .... and other grass roots struggling musicians.
Although I had plied the multifarious open mics around the city and met many interesting and talented musicians I really wanted the opportunity to play longer sets. Amongst the people I met were Helen Ditchburn and James Gale who had been running an annual event called Bristol Acoustic Roots Singer Songwriter Festival (BARSS Fest) and had a company called High Note Music Management which run some gigs around Bristol including the open mic at the Sommerville Club (still running today) and showcase gigs at, amongst other places, St Bonaventures, famous for its roots and country gigs and top US touring artists.
Having volunteered at one BARSS Fest helping with sound and promotion and with James wanting to take a step back to concentrate on his own music and writing when Helen was invited by Mr Wolf's to come and pitch for their Monday night I found my spiritual home of music in Bristol. They accepted our proposal to set up a singer / songwriter night and having had several goes themselves at making Mondays work gladly handed it over to us with a brief to make it work within 12-18 months .... without telling us what work really meant. They gave us a budget and promised noodles, band beers and payment for the bands based on the number of guests each act bought it. And so SongSmith and Jumping Joint were born ....
They wanted us to start straightaway so with no time to book any acts we set up a sort of open mic with both Helen and I hosting and playing .... to be honest I don't recall much about it - maybe Helen does. Regardless my accounting spreadsheet records that we had 3 bona fida guests and some 'blow ins'. Our first booked week was Ella Moray (a band I played bass in at the time and featured Ben Woodward of Artist Studios) plus Jetfly and attracted 8 guests ... Those first weeks featured several names that were to re-occur and move onto 'better things' and some degree of success even. And one I am still working with today ... Doc Satori who I write, play and run The Real King(s) of Spain with.
Ten years later here we still are so I guess whatever works means we managed it. Helen worked with us for another 2-3 years but having done 10 years of her own she took a step back seeing us through the creation of the Songs of Katrina project, two more BARSS fests, which then was rebranded SongSmith Festival and ran for a whole week at various venues concluding at the Louisiana with a storming Saturday and a less storming Sunday which near bankrupted us ... but still managed to raise some funds for National Association of Alcoholics. We put on at gigs at St Bonaventures, the now defunct Two Magpies and Mayors Arms as well as Que Ce's and an excursion into Bath which was quite short lived due to venue and host issues. After Helen moved on there were a succession of 'assistants' as like a unsuccessful non-reincarnating Dr Who I failed to save the universe.
In recent years there have been fund raisers for several charities with mixed success but we have raised a few quid along the way for Mind Your Music, Mind, NACOA (at least twice), Tipatinas Foundation (via Songs of Katrina), Help! Counselling and have put on gigs at The Thunderbolt, Louisiana, Three Sugar Loaves, and even the Colston Hall 2 (Lantern).
We are older, likely no wiser and still loving it just as much. Mr Wolf's, who are still a delight to work with, is the main focus these days with occasional side projects. Much is the same, we still feature 3 acts, the noodles are still provided (after a pause when the venue moved and doubled in size) and are delicious. And the assistant is the impressive and reliable Will .... who helps with promotion, bookings, design and the social media techie stuff that occasionally baffles and bewilders. The band beers have been expanded to include band ciders. Not sure we'll make another 10 years but for now ... we intend to carry on till they carry us kicking and screaming from the building. and this promoter ALWAYS answers when I call .... xx