Today’s topic may resonate with many of you. I certainly hope so, anyway. It’s all about being a music fan outside of any of the big metropolis’ and the challenges this can present.
Ok, so I don’t exactly live in the middle of nowhere, but I may as well do. I reside in Ipswich, the County Town of Suffolk in East Anglia. If you’re not sure where that is, just look at a map of the UK, and my town can be found in what looks like the big fat bottom of the Island, near the east coast.
It isn’t the worst place to live. As a town, Ipswich is rather average at best, although there are some positive aspects, such as some of the historic architecture.
By UK standards, the pace of life is relatively relaxed and the countryside can be very beautiful. This is a rural part of England with an abundance of farmland and scattered within, plenty of small, picturesque towns and villages. Have you ever seen a landscape painting by John Constable? If so, you should get the general idea.
Musically speaking though, Ipswich and Suffolk sucks.
In the 1980s, Ipswich played host to all the big names – hell, even Iron Maiden rolled into town on their gargantuan ‘Live After Death’ tour. Since I’ve been going to gigs in the mid-late 90s though, barely anyone has visited. We had Def Leppard a few years back and In Flames supported Motorhead on a night when I was out of town for work. @!*##!*~’. Oh and the Red Hot Chili Peppers played at the football ground. The rest is pure mainstream nonsense or simply put, tumbleweed territory. Only a few pubs offer live music of any description and these bands tend to be tribute acts in the main. Big rock and metal names? Forget it.
The other problem, as discussed in previous posts, is a paucity of decent record shops. When I first started buying music, there were six outlets that I could offer my custom. These days, there are two – a second-hand shop which is pretty decent if you visit infrequently and allow the stock to replenish. The other outlet is HMV, so that doesn’t count.
In recent years, the staff at HMV have been told to ask customers whether we were able to find everything we were looking for. Bearing in mind the metal section is about 4 shelves big, hidden away on the first floor, the answer is invariably a big fat ‘no’. They look at me all bemused. I bite. ‘Well’, I begin, ‘if you’re really interested, I was looking for the latest album by Cynic or Insomnium’s most recent offering, but to no avail’. ‘But we can order those in for you’, they reply full of indignation. If the experience of my parents is anything to go by when they tried to order the latest Haken disc for me for Christmas last year (by February they had apologetically given up), I very much doubt that they could order them for me after all. I give up and reluctantly log onto the Internet instead.
So, I’m left without anywhere tangible to buy music locally and I’m starved of live entertainment also. This means that I am forced to resort to the Internet far more than I want to and I must travel. Colchester, a town in north Essex, about 20 miles away is getting better. They have no decent record shops either, but at least they have the Arts Centre. A deconsecrated Church, it has played host to the likes of Dimmu Borgir, Lacuna Coil and Paradise Lost in recent years. It is a start.
If Colchester fails, it is to London that I invariably have to go. I am lucky that it is only about 70 miles away (that’s about 112 kilometres if you prefer the metric system) but it is 70 miles down one of the worst roads in the UK, the notorious A12.
From my front door to the car park on the outskirts of the city, it is about an hour and a half drive but only if there is minimal traffic and no accidents. Then, I have the London Underground to negotiate. If I’m at the venue within two-and-a-half hours, I’m doing very well indeed.
Admittedly, this is nothing when compared to the journeys undertaken in America for instance, or even if you happen to live in the wilds of Scotland or Scandinavia. However, occasionally, it would be nice to go to a show without having to travel. The trains are worse than useless, with a pitifully early ‘last train’ home. And so, if I want to stay to the end of a gig, I have no alternative but to take the car. Invariably, the gigs are during the week and so, with a full-time office job, I have to try to leave work early to make the trip. That usually means travelling around London at rush hour and, with a full day staring at a computer screen looming the following day, a two hour journey home in the small hours of the morning is not always massively appealing. Occasionally, I hanker after a flat in London, anything to make concert-going more easy.
And then, all of the major festivals seem to take place in the midlands, which is an even longer journey. I undertake it of course because who can afford to miss Bloodstock for example. I can’t, that’s for sure.
It is the same story when I’m asked to go abroad to cover a new album release for Powerplay Magazine. The record label will email me to arrange the flights but when I ask whether there’s a flight from my nearest airport, Stansted, the reply is invariably negative. The result? A 2am alarm call to travel over two hours to get to Heathrow or Gatwick for an early morning flight. Oh the deep joy!
But, when all is said and done, for all my whinging, I’d not do anything differently. I absolutely love rock and metal music and would travel to the ends of the Earth if the need arose. The scene has remained in place for several decades, resolutely standing firm. However, it has rarely thrived, merely surviving, refusing to go quietly into the night. The scene therefore needs to be supported. Unlike vast swathes of the vacuous pop world, the musicians in metal actually have talent or have at least worked for years to get where they are. They love their music and so do we. They need our support. Petrol costs may be at an all-time high, but it’s a price worth paying to ensure that the likes of Iced Earth, Dark Tranquillity, Marillion, Katatonia and Evergrey survive and continue to write and perform music. Without it, the world would be a much poorer place.