Whenever I tell anyone that I live in south east London, the response is always the same: a sharp intake of breath and a grimace followed by a sympathetic enquiry as whether I’ve ever been stabbed, mugged or murdered.
Once I reassure the listener that any injuries I’ve sustained in the vicinity were all as a result of my own bumbling clumsiness, their next question is bewildered wonderment at how I spend my evenings and weekends in what they assume to be a barren wasteland. And although I usually bristle at these preconceptions, the sad truth is that they’re not entirely untrue. But whilst Lewisham might not be renowned for its cultural diversity or hedonistic nightlife scene, there is one events promoter determined to make a difference.
TwoBob put on the best unsigned bands, acoustic nights and a whole host of other shindigs, mainly at the Fox on Lewisham High Street. In between DJing, booking bands and putting on parties aplenty, TwoBob’s chief commander, Carl, found time to tell me all about it:
So, first of all, why south east London?
‘Because it’s where we live. When it started, we used to put on the occasional party above a pub, with our friends’ bands playing and everyone taking turns to DJ. So it began from that, but a big part of it was that we got fed up with trekking all the way to Camden or Kentish Town and paying a fortune to see the unsigned bands that we loved, when there was no reason we couldn’t do it ourselves much closer to home. Why can’t SE London have cool venues and good music? It’s got a terrible reputation, but it’s actually a great place to live.’
There’s been a lot of media speculation lately about arts and music in south London, especially with the ever-increasing popularity of the arts scenes in places like Deptford and Peckham. But are the SE postcodes really becoming more chic?
‘I’m not sure that that’s true. Even though it’s taken a long time for Time Out to notice us and occasionally shine their spotlight on us, there’s always been bands around here, there’s always been people putting events on. New Cross and Lewisham have a long and rich history of performances by bands as famous as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. It’s just that over the past 30 years or so, the focus has shifted elsewhere. All the media have done is take what’s always been happening here and labelled that shift of focus back towards the South as a new trend.’
You’re constantly being contacted by bands sending you their music. But what differentiating characteristics do they need in order to stand out from the herd?
‘Something I’ve never heard before. Let Our Enemies Beware, Baby Gravy, William, or Popular Workshop; those types of bands are doing something different. And when you listen to as much music as me, to hear something new and interesting is exciting, and keeps us passionate about putting those bands on.’
Listening to exciting new music and putting on your favourite bands sounds like a dream job. Surely there must be some downsides?
‘Music’s a harsh industry. It’s frustrating to witness the bands that should have been world-famous split up because they can’t take the pace of touring and holding down day jobs at the same time. There’s a long list of amazing bands that have been lost because they gigged so hard and ended up sick of it.
‘An amazing band that split recently is Blah Blah Blah. They played to everybody; they held down day jobs whilst gigging, doing two gigs every night, using all their holiday time to travel and tour abroad, and giving away thousands of CDs on the tube and everywhere they went. And it worked; in the end people were offering them record deals but by then they were just too physically exhausted to continue It’s a real shame, and they’re very much missed!’
The advent of social media has made it much easier for unsigned bands to promote themselves. Has the industry changed as a result?
‘Music’s a lot more available to a lot more people now, but the same promoters, publishers and PR people that have been running music for years are still the ones in power. Unless you’re lucky enough to be the next Artic Monkeys, and you manage to push it to enough new audiences, and to gig so much and build up such a buzz that the major labels almost have no choice but to sign you. But they’re the exception rather than the rule. Camden still runs the UK music scene, and that seems sad when there’s so much going on elsewhere.’
So what does TwoBob do differently from all the other events promoters in London?
‘The whole ethos at TwoBob is that the customer gets a better quality of experience for less money. Whenever we can, we try to keep the gigs we organise free, or at least no more than a fiver entry fee. It might sound like the wrong way round, but from a live perspective the audience is more important than the musicians. A band might be awesome, but without an audience, we’re screwed. And if the gig’s good, it’s the audience that will go away, download the single, buy the T-shirt and make sure they come back next time they play.
So we keep the costs as low as we can, and keep the quality high. From the sound quality, the engineers, and the lighting; we want everything to be just right. And if we can do it, there’s no reason why everyone else can’t do the same.’