Going On Stage Is One Of My Favourite Things To Do by Mark Daman Thomas

I had a couple of Farm Hand gigs last weekend in Manchester and Talgarth. I must say I enjoyed them a lot. I feel like I am starting to hit my stride with it. I kind of started playing live before I was truly 'ready'. I started watching lots of solo performers on YouTube and got really into the craft of it and wanted to have a go myself. We had a Shape Records stage at Focus Wales 2016 and one of the acts we'd booked pulled out. I nervously asked the people who run Focus Wales if I could play. I had an enormous adrenalin rush when they said "Yes, ok then. Send us a biog and a press shot". I was like an overexcited teenager who had just started a band. I got more stressed about writing the biog than the music bit. The gig itself was fun but a bit odd and more people than I was expecting turned up. I was trying to be be fancy at the time and had a small mixing desk onstage mainly because I'd seen other people do that but in truth I didn't know what I was doing with the damn thing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, sounds came out of the PA and was glad of the experience. I've done 12 more gigs since then and enjoy them more and more. 

One thing I have realised is: going on stage is one of my favourite things to do. I am compelled to do it and I need it. I'm hooked, I'm a lifer. I get in a funny mood if I have too long in-between gigs. Doing Islet gigs with my bezzies is such a massive high it is hard to replicate that on my tod but I am enjoying the challenge. 

I played with Thomas Truax in Manchester and he was highly inspirational as a solo performer. His show is really honed and he was extremely entertaining and captivating. He had a 'trueness' to his performance - I felt like I could be at any point in history watching him (other than the fact that I and everyone else was filming him constantly for our essential Instagram stories). The gig in I played in Talgarth was in a chapel. Felt odd to be performing loud music in a local chapel considering I grew up being very quiet and sitting very still whilst going to Sunday School in a local chapel. Performing in those days meant singing hymns and doing recitals. 

 

A tweet I sent out whilst in the dressing room in the Castle Hotel, Manchester. I was having a lot of fun really. 

A tweet I sent out whilst in the dressing room in the Castle Hotel, Manchester. I was having a lot of fun really. 

I've got some gigs coming up:

4th November - Spillers Records, Cardiff (album launch) 
4th November - Printhaus, Cardiff (Quodega album launch)
14th November - The Social, London (Huw Stephens Presents)
6th December - The Lexington, London (supporting Sweet Baboo) 

I put a video up the other week that was kindly premiered by Gold Flake Paint here. I would like to thank them for their kind words. I was asked to do a quote for the premiere which got edited a bit (for good reason!) but nevertheless, here is some more. 

"I shot this video on my phone on the road between Glascwm and Colva in Powys. Most of it was shot by me on my own on the way back from a conversational Welsh group (I’m a new learner) in Llandrindod Wells. Then some of it (the bit with the sheep) was shot with my brother JT driving after we’d just been to see our Uncle sing in his male voice choir on the showground in Builth. Best gig I’ve been to in quite some time, I must say.

The lyrics are simply ‘Precision, Solution’. I quite often repeat the phrase ‘precision, precision, be precise’ to myself to remind myself to be more precise in my day to day decision making as I can be hugely vague and woolly. I also repeat the word ‘solution’ to remind myself to find solutions to problems instead of just ignoring them. This song is a hybrid of those two inner monologues.

The music is all from one keyboard loop. I was lucky enough to be given a loop pedal for my 33rd birthday (I’m 34 now, precision, precision be precise) by Emms. I’d never had one before and was disproportionately blown away by how useful and exciting it was. I nicknamed it ‘The Enabler’ as it enabled me to write music really quickly. This was loop #17 and it appears exactly as it was recorded on the loop pedal itself with added beef as it progresses. I really like the compressed, crushed, digitally quality of it. Each to their own, I hear you say."

Thanks for reading. Here is the vid: 

New Album & I Shot A Music Video On My Phone by Mark Daman Thomas

Headline news on this, my own website, is that I have made a Farm Hand album called 'International Dreams' which will be released on 3rd November 2017 on Shape (surprise, surprise). We are pressing 100 copies on vinyl so you could say it is 'super limited'. Or you could say it is far more than I am ever going to need if nobody buys them. And this is where you come in.  Hello there my new Bandcamp:  https://farmhand.bandcamp.com. This is my 17th blog post so I feel totally relaxed and 'chilled' (read disproportionately uncomfortable) about doing a direct sales pitch. I'm not going to mention payday or the price of a pint but just know that I could have done. 

THANK YOU to everyone who has ordered one so far, I appreciate it way more than I probably even should (lots of heart emojis). I should warn everyone else that they are selling like lukewarm cakes at the moment so do not hesitate for one second to order one! Oh hey https://farmhand.bandcamp.com

Thank you to Emma Daman Thomas for doing the artwork and also for being fantastically supportive about me doing this album / project. I don't know I'm born or whatever the saying is. 

Thank you to Emma Daman Thomas for doing the artwork and also for being fantastically supportive about me doing this album / project. I don't know I'm born or whatever the saying is. 

Anyways, just for context here are the quotes I put on the press release (yes, we did a press release, I'm sorry) to go with the video / single news: 

Quote on International Dreams, the song: 

As with many of my musical inventions, this started life as a ukulele riff. I use the uke to mess about on quite a bit as it is easy to leave lying around and play for a couple of mins whilst in-between doing other crucial things like refreshing Twitter. Anyway, I transferred the riff to keys and then made up a melody and then took the keys away again so now you can't even hear the riff I am talking about. The lyrics are about my continued desire (now in it's 34th year) and preparedness to play international football for Wales. 

Quote on the International Dreams Video: 

I shot this video by myself on my phone. I upgraded recently and the salesman in the shop did an absolute number on me as I ended up having taken a contract twice as big as I budgeted for. The new phone has a HD camera and in order to get my monies worth I thought I would try and make some music videos using it. It was just meant to be a video of my hand pointing at aeroplanes (cos of my dreams to go international) but my brother (JT) lent me a phone camera tripod and I set that up and started doing some free form dancing. The dancing made the cut! I edited it on iMovie which involved a lot of Google searching things like "how to make iMovie videos look cool". Turns out Google didn't have the answer this time. Nevertheless, please enjoy. 

I've got some live dates to look forward to and here they are: 

4th November - Spillers Records, Cardiff (album launch) 
14th November - The Social, London (Huw Stephens Presents)

In The Can. by Mark Daman Thomas

I have finished my Farm Hand record. Hurrah!

Naturally I have been listening to it a lot and I feel highly enthused by it. I have never made a solo album before so it is new and exciting territory for me. I plan do a super-limited vinyl run for it and have been getting some quotes together over the last few days. I was about to place an order today when I realised something… I have been listening to it solid for 6 days and only today did I notice an entire track was missing. True story! 

This oversight kind of gives you an indication of what I am like as a music maker. I have found out I am very instinctual and don’t like to agonise over decisions or want to tweak drum sounds for hours. I have always sort of felt guilty about it - like music is meant to take absolutely ages and needs to be painfully agonised over to make it 'proper'. I’m sure everyone reading this is thinking, "yeah mate, well that might help to make it sound better" but, it isn’t how I work. I have enjoyed the process and have learnt that I am the very opposite of a perfectionist, uber tweaker and maybe it will show - but I'm fine with that and you can decide for yourselves soon.

I was listening to a great podcast interview with John Grant recently (here - Sodajerker on songwriting) and he was talking about the need to just relax when recording and to trust yourself to come up with the goods when you are in that space. It was a useful thing for me to hear and I am currently feeling highly content with the fact that I can trust myself to go into a studio and come out with some recorded music. Dream big!

I even ended up playing guitar on the album. That wasn't part of the plan. I'm so zany! 

I even ended up playing guitar on the album. That wasn't part of the plan. I'm so zany! 

Anyway, looking back, the missing track thing is a result of Rob (who produced the album) and I kicking back and both having 3 or 4 premium Aldi stubbies. Everything is now under control and Rob has confirmed he will be wiring the track over to me soon. I hugely enjoyed working with Rob, he is a phenomenal producer and has bought this record to life in ways I wasn't expecting. We did 5 days together punctuated by long chats about how best to use an Aeropress coffee maker (Rob does some upside down thing), productivity hacks and being a dad. Check him out on Instagram here: @beatsbybob. 

Rob in his as yet unnamed home studio in Kinvere, West Midlands. 

Rob in his as yet unnamed home studio in Kinvere, West Midlands. 

Any previous readers will note that I’ve mentioned nearly finishing the album quite a few times on this blog. Full disclosure - it took a bit longer to get over the line than I was expecting. Things got in the way a bit and invaded my headspace. Things like; I applied for a job as a Music Business Lecturer at University of Gloucestershire and very pleasingly, I got it. Well actually, I got half of it and am sharing it so will be doing it for two days a week starting in September. I'm excited to have a work anchor and share and develop my knowledge.

We also ran a From Now On event in late May which was wonderful. Thanks to everyone who performed, attended or worked on it. Thanks to Will Steen in Buzz Magazine for this 5 ***** review. It ends with the line "You could trust From Now On with your PIN number”. That made us smile.

I’m going to aim to publish a blog every week. I am writing that in public to try and make me do it (I believe this is referred to as ‘Accountability’ by proper bloggers). Writing this blog helps clear my head and hopefully gives people some value.

Livestreaming by Mark Daman Thomas

I recently upgraded my phone and decided to ‘go big or go home’ and got a Google Pixel. The salesperson in the shop did an absolute number on me and I left having taken on a contract twice as big as I had budgeted for. I was taken in by the promise of unlimited storage and a HD camera. Deep down, I think I wanted to be sold something bang up to date as I wanted to enjoy my phone and get more involved in social media. I have a few friends who pride themselves by having old phones with no access to the internet, no ability to take photos etc. I used to be caught up in that nostalgic and old fashioned anti-tech romance as I felt wary of having too much screen time and perhaps I was a bit scared by social media and oversharing. I guess I wanted people to think I’m too cool to bother with it. I’m from the hills of Mid Wales so rushing around and being super up-to date with tech has never really been in my locker… Nevertheless my head has been turned and am now embracing and enjoying it.

So much so that my latest interest (obsession) is live streaming. After I got back from my gig in Machynlleth Comedy Festival on Saturday I wanted to zone out in front of TV. What did I watch? Seeing as I’m consciously uncoupling from watching football (it’s hard for me), I went on my phone and watched weird and wonderful Live Streams.

I didn’t plan on it but an unconscious check of Twitter (you know the type I mean — when you find yourself on Twitter but you can’t even remember clicking on it) and noticed funny man Limmy say he was doing an improv storytelling live stream to promote his new book. I tuned in. It was marvellously funny and I loved it. There were a huge amount of people chatting in the live feed and he was reacting to it. It felt very now and very exciting. People were also constantly commenting that they had ordered his book so I guess it was working as intended.

Limmy Live improv storytelling on YouTube on Saturday 

Limmy Live improv storytelling on YouTube on Saturday 

When it finished I had a notification to tell me “On Par have started an Instagram Live video” (On Par being a Cardiff based production company). They were out on the street live streaming a pavement performance by Boy Azooga — I think related to the Save Womanby Street march (thank you all for marching). I ended up watching it all, enjoying it and feeling kind of like I was there… I was hyped but I very much I wasn’t there. I was very much in bed, in pyjamas with a cup of Pukka Night Time tea (5 star, highly recommended).

As I’ve mentioned previously, Emma has been in ‘Enough Is Enough’ a play created by ‘Be Aware Productions’ (created by a group of exiled Turkish artists — see this blog post for more info). It is fair to say they have embraced live streaming. They constantly live stream. They live stream the rehearsals, the sound check, everything. I thought I would find it annoying but I find the approach refreshing and compelling. I have always thought that being mysterious and cool was the best way to be, but times are changing and I want in.

Saturday night was the moment I realised that live streaming is unstoppable. With Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are all investing heavily in Live, I think Livestreaming is without a doubt going to be a major thing in the music business within the next 12 months. Perhaps it’ll become something some musicians enjoy doing but if not, it is certainly something their record labels will want them to do and it’ll become central to marketing campaigns.

I love gigs, I live in the middle of nowhere and have superfast broadband so I am the right market. I want to watch your live streams! I want to do live streams. Let’s all go e-gig crazy.

Releasing Music in 2017 by Mark Daman Thomas

As the two albums I’m working on (Farm Hand & Islet) edge closer to being finished, my thoughts are turning to what to do with them and how to do it. It goes without saying that we will ‘release’ them, but what does that mean in 2017? The landscape has changed so much over the last few years that I feel unsure on how best to do it. As in, functionally, I know how to upload the music onto the internet and how to order vinyl, but for everything else I have swirling question marks. It is most likely that the question I really need to ask is “How not be disappointed by releasing music in 2017?”

When I first started releasing music in 2006, everything came really naturally to me. It felt relatively obvious what the best thing to do was and easier to be satisfied with the outcome. With Shape, our model was pretty much always press some limited edition vinyl (sold via mail order from our website, at gigs, markets and selected shops) with worldwide digital distribution. It was ‘released’ when it was on sale. We would host a launch party to try and make as much money as possible back on the releases straight away. On the whole, it worked as a strategy. It also felt like the process lasted longer and was more relaxed.

Maybe it is just me, but now it feels different. Now, releasing feels more like when you make it publicly available to be listened to (streamed) on the internet. It begins and ends pretty quickly and unless it takes off like wildfire you are left wondering what to do next. In terms of ease of distribution, things have never been better. We can ‘access’ a global audience after a few clicks. But also it means disappointment if that global audience doesn’t tune in.

Lately, I have enjoyed people like Trust Fund and Christian Fitness releasing their albums on Bandcamp literally as soon as they are finished. I feel excited by that approach. It is modern, instinctual and unfussy. I also love the relaxed approach Grouper has had over the years (FYI - I’m pretty much just crowbarring this in because I’m addicted to listening to Grouper).

The streaming platforms continue to change everything and we need to catch up and change our approaches. It is good news that ‘UK Recorded Music Industry Grew By 5.1% in 2016’ mainly owing to streaming but I’m not sure how that translates to niche micro labels and artists at the bottom. I remain optimistic.

I’ve even recently started thinking “should things be on sale before they are even finished?”. As in, as soon as you mention it / give an indication you are making a new album by doing an ‘in the studio’ photo or whatever, giving someone the opportunity to buy it at that point as that might be the only time they consider buying during this time when attention is such a precious resource. This approach is giving me a stick to beat myself with before anything is even out. Have I already missed sales? Oops. This approach was first introduced to me by Benji Rogers from Pledge Music who talks about “...widening the timeframe for sales” by letting your audience spend money and participate right from the start. This makes sense to me but, I haven’t done it. Yet.

I don’t know what exact point I am trying to make with this blog post. For some reason, It helps me to write stuff out and make it public - I suddenly get clarity. I’m leaning towards the fact that I and others like me need to get more comfortable with promoting our music ourselves. Get our hands dirty with marketing, try stuff out and try to enjoy the process.

Save Womanby Street And Make It An Area of Outstanding Natural Noise (AONN) by Mark Daman Thomas

The live music venues on Womanby Street, Cardiff are under threat. I didn’t realise until today that we are on such thin ice here. I thought it would have been nipped in the bud really quickly owing to it being so ridiculous. But no, property developers have actually put in planning applications to build flats and hotels right next to my beloved Clwb Ifor Bach and other live music venues. This comes straight off the back of Dempseys closing (which I blogged about last month). I could pretty much copy + paste most of what I wrote there regarding any messing with Womanby Street being bad news for culture, art and music. It would also bad for the health and wellbeing of people as Womanby Street is fun as f*ck and always has been since forever. The street is full of independent, alternative venues in a city full of tedious chain bars. Once again, this feels such a Cardiffy thing to happen and it echoes the closure of The Point in Cardiff Bay in 2009. One noise complaint and boom, it’s all over.

The building on the left is the block of posh flats they are planning on building. Wtf? I've put the house on there for a laugh. 

The building on the left is the block of posh flats they are planning on building. Wtf? I've put the house on there for a laugh. 

I’m not anti ‘progress’ and this isn’t some kind of nostalgia trip from when Womanby street used to be thriving. It is thriving now, in real time. Clwb Ifor Bach is irreplaceable. I try to look at things in a balanced way but I struggle to reason with building a hotel or posh flats on a street with so many venues. Womanby Street should be designated for conservation due to its significant cultural value. Much like the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) - Womanby Street should be made an Area of Outstanding Natural Noise (AONN). Loud music is good noise, people enjoying themselves of an evening is good noise. It is appropriate to the street. Although my AONB comparison is slightly tongue in cheek, fortunately, people are actually putting pressure on The Welsh Assembly via a petition to make the street ‘an area of cultural significance for music’. Unbelievably, it isn’t the case yet that it is the responsibility of the developer to soundproof their new development, even if they move in next to a noisy night club. Apparently these already exist in London so fingers crossed Wales will see sense and do the same. Sign the petition here.  

It is energising to see people are rallying together and I have huge respect & appreciation to whoever is behind the @savewomanbyst campaign on Twitter & Facebook. 

I've got a Farm Hand gig on 22nd April (celebrating Record Store Day)  in Outpost - a new coffee & vinyl venture in Castle Emporium on Womanby Street. Come along and get fired up with me. 

Flying Solo by Mark Daman Thomas

The week before last I did two days recording for a Farm Hand album. This is the first time I’ve ever attempted to make a ‘solo’ record. Every aspect of the music being my decision is liberating and and kind of overwhelming. Music is so much about decision making. Is that the take? Is that the tone? Is that the tempo? So many questions to answer. So many mistakes to make.

When I started Farm Hand, I decided to embrace the limitations. Seeing as it is just me, I decided I should only use a keyboard, a drum machine and some assorted pedals. My main aim was to be able to do gigs with just one suitcase. Playing in Islet I am used to having a lot of gear. For the first two years we used two full drums kits onstage next to each other. The bit when we were onstage was lots of fun but having to talk nicely to sound engineers who didn’t understand the point was, wasn’t. Using two drum kits was very enjoyable though - look at Emms & JT bashing the shit out of them at our first ever Islet gig in Clwb Ifor Bach in 2009: 

Anyway, I want the Farm Hand recording process to be relatively quick and don't want to worry about the Universe Of Sounds I could potentially use. Keep it minimal fuss and easy to make decisions. Well, that was out of the window within about 2 hours of starting. I got overexcited and was recording live drums over the drum machines and flicking through the billions of keyboard sound options on MIDI. Ooops.

I got this drum machine at a car boot for approx. 50p. When I started Farm Hand I decided I would write one song per beat on it (there are 10).  I've done that now so album recording has commenced. 'Cha Cha' is my fav beat. 

I got this drum machine at a car boot for approx. 50p. When I started Farm Hand I decided I would write one song per beat on it (there are 10).  I've done that now so album recording has commenced. 'Cha Cha' is my fav beat. 

Fortunately, I am recording it with a patient and musically talented man from the West Midlands called Rob Jones. Rob uses Ableton Live and is passionate about his preferred DAW. I’ve never recorded with anyone using that software but after watching him speed around on it for two days, I think it is a good one. My brother, JT (who is recording the Islet album we're also working on atm) is equally as passionate about his preferred software: Logic. They don’t really know each other yet so I can’t wait to get them in a room together head to head to discuss functionality, interface design and colour palettes. Oof, imagine the scenes. I will be sure to chip in with stuff about the Monster voice effect on Garageband. For the record, it is unlikely I will start doing DAW reviews on this blog, but it remains an option.

I don’t really like singing into posh vocal mics or anything like that as it feels like those are for people with posh voices and proper songs. Luckily, Rob guessed I'd be like that and bought a selection of more tantalising mics to use. My fav is 'The Chief' as it makes me feel like a trucker. 

The chief is going to all over the recording as it makes me feel like I'm talking on a CB radio. 

The chief is going to all over the recording as it makes me feel like I'm talking on a CB radio. 

Anyways, it is fun and going well and we're recording again next week. Islet wise, we are now 68% of the way there. Mega excited about that one as well. I will do a blog about it at some point.

I have started a 'Live' page on this website to post when I am making a live appearance, be it a gig, a talk or whatever. Spoiler alert, this is what I have got coming up: 

Farm Hand - 29/4/17 - Machynlleth Comedy Festival 

Islet  - 13/5/17 - Focus Wales, Wrexham

More to come! Thanks for reading.  

 

Dempseys Was Crucial by Mark Daman Thomas

In case you didn’t know, the news in Wales is: Gareth Bale (alongside Brains) is opening a ‘Premium Sports Bar’ in Dempseys, Cardiff. Now, before I begin, yes, I’m aware I ran away to the hills so I don’t get to have a big opinion on this as I don’t live in Cardiff anymore. Also, yes, there are much worse things happening in the country for me to get hysterical about. Nevertheless, here goes. 

According to Wales Online “There was anger over the closure of Dempseys, until now” (now being when Gareth Bale announced his news). Well, I’ve got news for you, Wales’ premier news site. I’m a bit angry and annoyed about it and here is why. 

This photo taken yesterday by my friend, @TomosMonpot, who I likely met in Dempseys really hit home. No more Music & Live Bands in Dempseys.   

This photo taken yesterday by my friend, @TomosMonpot, who I likely met in Dempseys really hit home. No more Music & Live Bands in Dempseys.   

This is bad news for culture, art and music. Dempseys as a music venue and meeting place was crucial. From my experience there has always been a concern amongst Welsh music biz types about the lack of ‘midsize’ venues in Cardiff. The 300 - 1000 type of thing. Problem is, there is now a bigger problem with a lack of grassroots, micro-gig sized venues. The entry level 80 - 200 cap is where I have pretty much always put on gigs and played gigs. Dempseys was the type of place people, budding promoters and bands could take a risk and put on a night in the centre of town. I think it was about £90 all in to hire. It was a the perfect place to put on a small gig. 

As Shape, we put on the likes of experimental harpist Rhodri Davies, Bahrain-via-London psychonauts Flamingods and did an album launch for the Mowbird LP we released in there. We played an Islet show there at the Shape showcase at SWN 2009. It was all good fun and an ideal place to put on these art focussed, niche gigs. It’ll be much harder to find places for these type of gigs in Cardiff now. 

I wrote on Emma's back for the poster for the Shape gig at SWN09. Please note the spelling of Dempseys. Well, we could hardly photoshop it out could we. 

I wrote on Emma's back for the poster for the Shape gig at SWN09. Please note the spelling of Dempseys. Well, we could hardly photoshop it out could we. 

The venue closing is sad, but what makes it worse is the blandness of what is to follow. Gone is the folk, jazz, avant rock, pop and Twisted By Design. No more performances or invention. No longer a hub of the music scene where like minded souls met, formed bands, exchanged ideas and collaborated. The focus will now be on absorbing Sky Sports, over priced food and consumerism. A soulless, corporate place where they want zombies to have a 'banter' about the football, not thinking or having any ideas. Get in line. No one expressing anything other than frustration at referees and punching the air for goal celebrations. 

This is such a Cardiffy thing to happen. Anything to water down culture and identity for sports and big brands. I saw someone on Facebook refer to it as 'cultural vandalism', sounds about right to me. For context, I do actually like football. I’m addicted to the never-ending soap opera. It is junk food for my hungry mind, I know football has no real nutritional value and always results in disappointment but I love watching it. I watched pretty much all home internationals when I lived in South Wales for 13 years. I first saw Gareth Bale play live when he was 17, dominating the left flank for Wales v Cyprus in 2009 alongside about 5000 other people in a ghost town Millennium Stadium. But I love music more and I’m worried about the knock on effect of this latest closure. 

I don’t want to hate on Gareth for this too much for this but the lack of imagination on show here is overwhelming. I appreciate he is excellent at kicking a football around on the grass but he did go into full stereotypical footballer mode in the inane promo vid… “We hope to have the best burger in Cardiff”. Flipping heck, really? (Good luck with that though as the guys at Uncle Sams on Crwys Rd won’t give that trophy up without a fight). Maybe it will be a place where people go and have an above average time. I hope so but it has got big shoes to fill.

Of course Gareth doesn't care about the upstairs function room with its little gigs. Gareth & Brains care about money, not creativity or community. This is a commercial investment. I don't know anything about the economics of Dempseys, maybe Brains was losing considerable amounts of money a month so it had to make a change. I’m feeling quite negative but I know these things ebb and flow and fingers crossed something will pop up soon to replace the gig space, but there was something about Dempseys. We’ve lost a highly valuable live music venue and in it’s place, a super rich footballer’s vanity project. So long, Dempseys. Thanks for the fun.

Anyway, we're doing Islet recording right now so I best get back to listen to the drum take. Thanks for reading.