Despite the many obvious flaws to the logic behind it, it’s still considered cool to be in a band. The attractions are obvious – playing in front of crowds of people, who are all desperate to hear you strum a guitar, bash some drums, tap at a keyboard or sing bland platitudes, that feeling of being a star condensed into 45 minute sets and spread out over several months on a European tour. But whilst teenage boys and girls listening to their first indie pop album dream of taking to the stage to people chanting their name, there are probably very few who spend their sleeping hours imagining putting on gigs with a capacity of about 80 people on sodden Sunday nights. Thankfully, there must be a few at the very least, and this series of interviews is intended to shine a light on the people behind the scenes that make things happen – the bedroom, boutique labels, the independent promoters, the tastemaking clubnights – essentially, the people who make all that is good at nightlife in Manchester at the moment possible.
In terms of starting, it’d be difficult to find anyone more suitable than Perry and Laetitia, who together have carved their own niche in the city’s culture as Comfortable on a Tightrope. Putting on some of the most memorable gigs of the past 6 years, the duo have put on what are now some of the biggest names in the alternative scene in some of the most intimate settings imaginable. They thrive on lo-fi, fuzzy garage rock and hazy melodies, and have become as influential as many great acts they have put on. Not happy with booking sounds of the future, they’ve since moved on to putting out records under their own imprint. Perry graciously agreed to answer some questions to throw some light on the highs and lows of being one of the best promoters in the rainy city.
For those who don’t know about Comfortable on a Tightrope, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
We are two people form Manchester who’ve put on about 60 shows, put out 5 tapes, one record and two zines in the last 6 years.
There are lots of people who want to put on their own gigs, but there are few that make the jump. What inspired you to start putting on concerts?
One of our all-time favourite singer-songwriters called Simon Joyner was playing in London and but not in Manchester and one of our friends who worked on the John Peel show had an email address for him. Our friend Jon Collin (who now runs the winebox press, wherein he makes the most amazing, beautiful elaborate tape cases from a found, large, wooden object. The run is determined by how many he can make from said object. Examples being a door, some stepladders and the wineboxes that give their name to the label) had set up a few shows and we set about doing it together. He’d used the name ‘comfortable promotions’ to promote his shows and we, myself and Laetitia, are pretty much obsessed with the idea of ‘the Tightrope’, like the metaphor of it so we named it comfortable on a tightrope. It became a total self-fulfilling prophecy as for example, that first show: we broke down on the motorway bringing Simon Joyner to Manchester after already missing his performance in London, the venue we’d booked cancelled on us less than a week before the show. And but everything turned out okay. Somebody else we know was looking for a show for enablers who are from San Francisco and are amazing so we all went in together and it was a really special night. Lucy Jones and David Bailey made amazing posters, we made the flyers with letraset and a photocopier. The die was cast.
For most of us, the process of putting on a show seems like something massively mysterious. What’s your process for booking a show?
Most often it’s as simple as liking a band and emailing them and then just finding a venue and making posters. Sometimes it’s more protracted if they have agents and then there’re negotiations etc but it’s still basically the same.
And is there a certain criteria that you aim for?
The only criteria we have is that we both LOVE the music and care about bringing it to Manchester.
You’ve put on a lot of (what are now) big names, but what’s been the show that you’re most proud of?
This is hard- i think anyone that was at the MIKA MIKO/ NO AGE show in 2007 would probably say it was pretty special- it was really exciting and kind of semi-heralded the renaissance of the Do-It-Yourself culture or something. Like here were two bands with absolute integrity that the world at large seemed to care about.
The first time THANKSGIVING came was amazing too. Again the venue cancelled and we had to find a new one on the afternoon of the show. There was a small procession between where the show was supposed to be and where it ended up and the Thanksgiving band was just on fire, most of the people there had never even heard them before and yet there were singalongs and an intense scramble at the merch table by the end of the night.
The Cass Mccombs show for our fourth anniversary was pretty special too, it was a lot of work to make it happen and it kept seeming as though it wasn’t going to happen and then it did and it was amazing. We persuaded one of our favourite bands from Manchester called Nursing Home out of retirement and Mike Bones played and Former Bullies played and our friend Roxanne (who now plays in Veronica Falls) came from Glasgow to play records. Mark E. Smith was there. It was pretty much perfect.
The second HEAR HERE all day thing we did is probably the stand-out though. SIC ALPS, Anni Rossi and Rollin Hunt all played, we showed the Arthur Russell film ‘Wild Combination’, There was an exhibition of the work Lucy Jones made for ‘THE REALEST’ which we’d just put out and which is the thing in my life that i’m most proud of and we made amazing food for everyone that was there. So if we were to allow ourselves to feel proud of something it would be for that day. We worked really hard on many fronts and nothing really went wrong.
Along the way, there must’ve been a few flops – any particularly memorable? And have you ever considered quitting?
There was a tour we set up for David Dondero that was one of the worst weeks of our lives- He was just in a really bad emotional space and shouldn’t really have been touring. It was dark and probably the less said in the pubic sphere the better. Although even that had a kind of narrative peak at the end. Also one of the Diane Cluck shows we did was at Cafe Saki and there was an afro-caribbean christening party downstairs for which the family had brought there own personal sound system in TWO transit vans. The floor was shaking upstairs and it was difficult to hear anything and well Diane’s songs contain a lot of space and nuance and we were getting really worried about what we could do when it was decided she’d go and play outside in whitworth park and it was probably the best possible place she could’ve played.
There’ve also been times where we’ve almost stopped just because of a lack of money (we’ve lost quite a bit over the years) and free time (we have other things we want to do too) but there’s always some new amazing band that pulls you back in.
Also we’ve been really fortunate in that almost everyone that has ever come and played have been really excellent people, i think if we put in a lot of work for people and they were arrogant jerks we’d probably not do it anymore
Perry got in touch a couple of days later with this, too:
also i feel like i should’ve acknowledged a few people who’ve
encouraged us not to stop: Ruth Peacey and Jack Cooper from the Deaf
Institute, Bernie Phillips, Mark Carlin at Islington Mill (SFTOC),
Dave and Lucy (Mount Pleasant).
To a lot of the mainstream, there’s still this image of getting in the music industry as being a quick route to riches. I’m guessing that you haven’t found it to be like this? Aside from music, what else do you do?
Well for money we both work in Oklahoma cafe (along with Dylan from Irma Vep/Klaus Kinski, Jess who does MUSEUMS
zines and plays in NO WOMB with Miriam and Katy who also work there, Joe from waiters/sir yes sir, Lucy who does all our posters and loads of other nice people) and we play records in bars. Laetitia will not like me saying this but she’s really amazing at painting which not a lot of people get to see and which she doesn’t have enough time to do enough of. In one of the ‘Winebox Press’ releases ‘Solo Guitar’ (an amazing triple tape compilation of six guitar players in a hinged wooden box) there is a painting each from Lucy Jones, David Bailey and Laetitia. She also painted the cover of a zine containing a story that i wrote called ‘Scars of the Nineteen-Nineties Or There Is No Us but There is A Very Definite Them’ which is out now and worth getting just for the cover, which also features lettering by Lucy Jones. I think if we didn’t put on shows we’d both have a way bigger portfolio of work but you can only do so much in a day, a week, a year.
Anyway, you’ve also got a load of other stuff going on apart from booking great bands – was it a natural progression to start putting out records from booking?
I don’t know, it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time but it feels kind of separate or at least very different. Making something which actually exists in space, permanently rather than working towards something ephemeral that happens in time. We actually get the first records back on thursday which is really exiting. Actual records! It’s a split 7″ with Former Bullies and Waiters, two songs
each. Lucy Jones did the artwork for the former bullies side and Kate Hall (from Dunes/ MIka Miko) did the Waiters side. Lucy, Laetitia and myself did the labels. I’m so excited to see it in real life rather than on the computer screen.
What are your thoughts on Manchester at the moment? Given you’ve been around for about 6 years, is it getting better in your opinion?
Well there are more people putting on shows which is good, when we first started there was the academy, night and day and the post-hardcore D.I.Y kids and that was about it. Now there’s the Deaf Institute, Islington MIll and loads of promoters so there’s always a million things happening.
Also I feel that a community has developed over this time which it’s an honour to be a part of. A community of people doing things for themselves because they need to or want to rather than for any other reason. And plus there is Good Grief! now which is just about the best shop in Manchester ever and is the perfect inspiration to make a zine or a tape or a record or something just to have it on their shelves.
So anyway, you always seem to be putting on the best bands – what have you got coming up in the next couple of months?
The next few shows we have are GUN OUTFIT from Olympia, Washington who have records on PPM and just make classic alternative rock. They play on sunday October 24th at Trof NQ. The very next night NISENNENMONDAI,who are seriously one of the best bands on the planet-three women from Tokyo who play Bass, Drums and Guitar in a totally unparalleled way. Hypnotic, grooving, abrasive, danceable music that has to be seen to be fully enjoyed, to be believed even. That’s at the soup kitchen. We’re doing a 7″ for them too which is exciting. Then in November we’re working with now wave and the deaf institute to bring Veronica Falls and Cloud Nothings to Manchester on November 9th. Veronica Falls have previously played in Manchester with Vivian Girls and with Nisennenmondai/Marnie Stern. This will be there first ‘headline’ show.
Are there any up and coming acts that you’re particularly excited about? Are there any other promoters you particularly admire?
Woah! So many! Everyone on the ‘MUSEUMS’ compilation tape that we made: Assassins 88, Beachniks, Dunes, Former Bullies, Girls Nam
es, Golden Grrls, Irma Vep, La La Vasquez, Mazes, Nisennenmondai, Picastro, Piece War, Reading Rainbow, Rollin Hunt, Sad Horse, Sic Alps, Silk Flowers, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Veronica Falls, Waiters and Yellow Fever. Just because we asked all our favourite bands for songs for that.
Than there’s our friends Dinner Party, who you know about. A band called Neonates from california who i think have a record coming on sex is disgusting. Nite Jewel are a band that i think they should bring back Top Of the Pops for, i think they’re better than Prince. Really like German Measles. Heavy Hawaii who had a tape on Cass/Flick and now have records coming out on Art Fag and Wild World. Way Through which is Chris and Claire from Upset the Rhythm who are total heroes. Puro Instinct who used to be called Pearl Harbor and just had a record on Gloriette. Brilliant Colors and Grass Widow who’ve both played shows for us this year and who we can’t wait for them to come back.
Here’s a sample of what OAT put out – the ever brilliant ‘Waiters’ side of a split with Former Bullies.
Waiters – Breezy