Monday, 26 April 2010

At The Crossroads: The State of the BoB Nation

I’ve been feeling for the last few days that this is a good point to set out the state of play of Bucketfull Of Brains; whatever exactly it now is. I’m heading towards May Day with an incredible amount of optimism and excitement about the future of this now hydra-headed enterprise. May Day 2008, I realised with something of a jolt, was probably the beginning of what has been the most eventful, emotional, and changed-packed two years of my recent life. And it is something of a pleasant surprise to find us where we now are, with the prospects we now have.

In May 2008 I didn’t believe Bucketfull Of Brains had any future as a print magazine. For much of the decade we’d been losing exporters and distributors on a regular basis; people went bust, people stopped handling magazines, people were taken over by larger concerns who weren’t interested in small magazines and in truth seemed actively opposed to them. Many advertisers voted with their feet, and you couldn’t blame them. And as ever in the music business payment of invoices was optional and invariably delayed. There are still a whole bunch of people who owe us money from back in the day but I can’t even remember who they are now.

May 2008 was almost exactly thirteen years after Joss Hutton told me he was considering taking over Bucketfull Of Brains and did I want to be involved. At that point the idea of having anything again to do with the music business was oceans away from my thinking but the writing itch remained strong and thus I jumped. I didn’t anticipate at that point that I’d end up the publisher and co-editor, or that Joss (and Joe Presedo) wouldn’t always be involved but what is life if not change and surprise. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to them for what they started me off on, and of course to Terry Hermon who remains the secret hero of Bucketfull Of Brains and without whom...

The mag then appeared gone. We’d produced an issue in September 2007 (#71 – The Only Ones) and used the last of the money we had left to pay for it. In the late autumn Piers Miller and Dave Jackson, then running Turning Worm together invited me to programme an afternoon and I got James Walbourne, Kelly’s Heels, and Semion to play. In consequence they then asked me to do a monthly afternoon which over the next year showcased people like Tony Thewlis, Jeremy Gluck, Chris Wilson, Darrell Bath, Gary Lammin, Mary Epworth, and more. It kept the name going, and at that point the fantasy that we would return.

But the world of gig promoting is not my natural habitat, plus there were external pressures taking up a lot of my time, often at very short notice, and also working an extremely negative effect on my health. So I stopped this at the end of 2008 and have only returned to that world once since, and that as an unintended consequence.

Thus 2009 I was casting around for something to do. I had a reviewing gig of sorts with Rock’n’Reel, I was doing an import reissue column for Pop Culture Press in Austin, and wondering what else to do. I had this blog, a Twitter account that I’d opened a year earlier and never done anything with, and a few ideas about doing things online. But still being at heart a Zigzag kid I couldn’t shake the idea of a print magazine. So Terry did the rounds of print companies and we got some amazing quotes. What was clear was the recession had hit printers as badly as everyone else and there were great deals to be had. So that was why we did #72 in Spring 2009 it was partly to test the water again, partly to get the Steve Wynn and Robert Fisher pieces out in the world, and partly out of sheer cussedness. Having Jesse on the cover was us saying we’re beholden to no-one and we’re doing it our way, for our people.

Reducing the price to £2 was inspired. Less than the cost of a pint, I soon discovered you could run round gigs and sell 20 copies in about 15 minutes. I don’t much care for the Socialist Worker model but I find it rather reassuring that a magazine that gets sent to subscribers in places as far away as Uruguay and Brazil can also be sold to folk in that way. We didn’t initially restart subscriptions and that was just as well as my health collapsed last summer and I was utterly unproductive for the best part of three months, and I shudder to think where I would be now without my brilliant GP.

So it was November before we could publish #73 (Lucky Soul cover). In the run-up to publication I relaunched subscriptions – three issues at £8.50 for the UK – and plugged them relentlessly online. Within a week we’d had enough coming in to pay for the printing of that issue, and set us up well for the next one. Although there hadn’t been many adverts, on sending out the issue we immediately had a number of people in touch asking to advertise in the next, and although the odd one didn’t come through in the end it was satisfactory. And it gave us the impetus to get #74 out fast, featuring the scoop that none of us wanted. In March I went to the USA for two weeks. I took a suitcase full of mags and sold them all. Made, or remade, great contacts. Talked on the radio about Bucketfull, Danny And The Champs, Ben Folke Thomas, Tapestry, Jesse Hector, and more. #74 has shifted so fast that we have to reprint; I can’t believe I’m saying that about Bucketfull Of Brains again! There are few of this print run left though some of those need to be held for the Camden Crawl.

So you can gather from this (if you’ve stayed this long) that things are looking good. #75 remains on schedule to publish during June. We’ll be announcing contents gradually over the next few weeks though you may get a clue from Mick Dillingham’s blog. And then there’s the record label...

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