Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

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Here comes 1st Annual Hastings Music Month

Hull may have scooped ‘City of Culture’ for 2017, but Hastings and Rother don’t care – because now we’re a self-styled ‘Music City’ and nobody is going to take that title away after a year: this is for keeps. John Bownas writes with undisguised enthusiasm about his discovery of the Music City concept and why he – and others – believe it’s an ideal opportunity for economic regeneration and growth.

That’s because, in a very real sense, nothing has changed. We’re not stepping up a gear. We’re not putting on any new events or opening new venues. We don’t have to. That’s the point.

We’ve already got scores of places putting on live music, loads of regular nights, literally hundreds of top-quality bands and musicians, professional songwriters, recording studios, festivals… The list goes on.

I asked Andy Gunton, editor of ‘The Stinger’, what justifies Hastings and Rother calling itself a Music City? “We felt that we had all the elements here in the Hastings area to go down the Music City route, as outlined in the ‘Mastering of a Music City’ report, even though we’re ‘just’ a town.

“The music scene in this area is amazing, right across the board, with just about every musical genre catered for somewhere. And then there are the multiple local festivals, during which music usually plays a major part.

“The people of Hastings and Rother love their music; it’s an integral part of what makes the area tick. That’s just one reason why there are so many gigs going on every night of the week. Something I suspect many other towns are very, very jealous of.”

Andy’s right. On pretty much any measure you care to choose, this is a town that has punched far above its weight, musically speaking, for many years.

The established and the new

We’re talking young, original new bands like Skinny Lister or Kid Kapichi. We’re talking straight-up cover singers (of whom the list is endless) and we’re talking Liane Carroll, Dr Savage and Blair. We’re talking open mic nights, sea shanty nights, blues nights and ukulele sessions. We’re talking classical music, The Frat Cave and youth orchestras. And, of course, we’re talking Fat Tuesday, Jack in the Green and a host of other festivals of every shape and size. If it’s a musical genre or style, it’s found a home somewhere in Hastings.

And if you are raising an eyebrow at the ‘city’ brand, this is just another symptom of our powerhouse status when it comes to spawning musicians and staging gigs.

What do I know?

Well, I’m a festival-head. I have been for over twenty years. I’ve written about them, filmed them, photographed them, booked them and run them. I currently edit Virtual Festivals and helped set up the UK Festival Awards. So I’ve been spoilt for choice when it comes to seeing great live bands over two amazing decades.

Reignited passion

And I’ve (unashamedly) lived in London for most of that time – so yes, I’ve been lucky enough to go to plenty of fantastic gigs there, both big and small.

But it was all getting a bit tired (and tiring). So here I am in Hastings – and all of a sudden, my passion for live music has been reignited: in the pubs of Old Town and further afield, on the pier, and in the bars and funky spaces of St Leonards on Sea.

I’m delighting in the quality of open mic nights and free afternoon sessions, and I’m snapping up tickets to Grammy award winning artists playing to packed audiences of 150 people on a Sunday night.

What I’ve also found is a community of equally passionate music lovers, in, of all places, the town hall.

Town hall support and belief

Working hand-in-hand with venues, promoters, and other musical enthusiasts, there are elected councillors and council officers who believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that music is one of the keys to Hastings’ future.

Speaking again to Andy Gunton, I asked him what brought everyone together and what exactly is the objective? “Myself and the Hastings Fat Tuesday team have been exploring ways to promote, encourage and nurture the local music scene for some years now. When I came across the Music City idea, I felt it could work in Hastings, and Adam and Bob agreed with me. We then approached Hastings Borough Council and they saw the potential and possibilities for the area straight away.

“Having the local musical community working in partnership with the local authorities means we should be able to get things done that might not have been possible when working separately. Hopefully we can pool our knowledge, skills, enthusiasm and love for our area to help make it a better place, especially where music is involved.

“We’d like Hastings and Rother to become a music destination of choice, a place that music lovers visit – and spend their money, to experience our amazing local music scene and the rich musical heritage too”

Ah – money!

It’s not just about quality of life and having a pleasant time listening to some tunes on a night out. It’s about the hard currency of cash and the power of music to fuel an economy and drive investment. Remembering, of course, that a Music City isn’t just about the front line of the music business.

Hastings wants to encourage the backroom people as well: the writers, photographers, video makers, roadies, promoters, recording studios, sound tech and lighting people, managers, agents, legal bods…

When these people start moving into the neighbourhood, the whole zeitgeist starts to change and the local economy shifts up a gear.

This isn’t something we’ve just made up

‘Music Cities’ is already a global movement – a network of places across the planet that think the same way we now do.

I was at the first Music Cities conference a few years ago in Brighton and having heard the big players talk about their experiences and successes with using music to fuel economic regeneration and growth, I asked why it shouldn’t be possible for our town to do the same.

The answer is: no reason at all.

Musically sophisticated

The only difference is one of scale. We are working with a population that is only a fraction of places like Adelaide or Liverpool, but when that population has been scientifically identified in academic research as the most musically sophisticated in the UK, this has to be a good starting point.

And although we may not provide spaces for the bigger touring acts to regularly play, what we do have is a wealth of appetite for the grass roots end of the market and our doors are open to established artists who want to play to appreciative crowds in interesting and welcoming spaces. In fact it is perhaps the intimacy offered by small venues that makes the Hastings scene so special.

14 February to 17 March

So here comes Music Month – something that is set to be an annual fixture in the town’s live calendar from Valentine’s Day to St Patrick’s Day.

This is a month to explore venues you may never have tried – even if you’ve lived here all your life. It’s a month to buy a ticket or two, even if you normally stick to the free gigs. It’s a month to invite friends down to show them what we’ve got to offer.

And most importantly, it’s a month to reflect on the fact that Hastings and live music go together like fish and chips. Inseparable.

Click on this link for Listings for Hastings Music Month.

The email address for those who may want to submit a gig listing for Music Month is:

This article was first published in The Flyer:

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Posted 12:19 Wednesday, Feb 8, 2017 In: Music & Sound

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