Local heroes to national success

An early challenge that artists and bands face is building a reputation and a following at a local level. After that, the challenge becomes how to progress from a local to national level, which can mean changing from being a big fish in a small pond to becoming a minnow in a much larger one, until you grow and adapt to your new surroundings!

To get first-hand advice on how to first build local success, we’ll be interviewing Patrick Marsden of Brighton-based Lout Promotions and Will Moore (venue manager and band booker for The Albert, in Brighton) to get the promoter’s and booker’s perspectives.

Then, to get advice from the artist’s side on both building local followings and on how to move onward and upward to national scale, we’ll be looking at the career and rise of the mighty feel-good rockers Massive Wagons and interviewing them to get their tips and advice.

Building a local base – expert advice

First off, we’re going to look at how bands can establish themselves in their local scene and build followings. To get advice on this from the promoters’ perspective at the coalface, we’re lucky enough to be interviewing Patrick Marsden, of Lout Promotions. Lout Promotions is a Brighton-based concert promoter and event producer, which promotes hundreds of gigs in Brighton every year with artists from all over the world as well. Every May, Lout also produce The Great Escape Festival, Europe’s leading new music festival.

Interview with Patrick Marsden of Lout Promotions

Q    Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in Lout and what you do?

A    I am the co-owner and head promoter for Lout Promotions. We promote gigs in Brighton and produce The Great Escape Festival with Live Nation.

Q    On average, how many band submissions do you get a week?

A    Approximately 10 per day.

Q    How do you find local bands and go about booking them?

A    Often on recommendations from others or from the emails we get to the office.

Q    How important is their social activity and does this have an impact on your decision to book them?

A    I would say social activity has much less importance than the quality of the demo. We don’t expect local bands to have lots of likes/huge presence online so it’s the music that is best for grabbing our attention.

Q    How important is their social activity and does this have an impact on your decision to book them?

A    I would say social activity has much less importance than the quality of the demo. We don’t expect local bands to have lots of likes/huge presence online so it’s the music that is best for grabbing our attention.

Q    What do you look for in a local band?

A    Great demo. Great image. Great attitude.

Q    What advice would you have for bands just starting out and wanting to find local gigs?

A    Rehearse as much as possible. Get a well-recorded demo.

Q    When is the right time for a new band to contact you looking for shows?

A    As soon as they have got both of the above sorted!

Q   How does a band stand out and what gives them that edge that might make you want to trust them to support a bigger out-of-town band?

A    Again I would say – great demo. Great image. Great attitude.

Q   Can you give us some dos and don’ts when contacting you?

A    Do make your email specific to the company you are emailing. Do try and make your email relevant to a specific gig when possible, rather than just a generic ‘can we have a gig’. Don’t send huge files as attachments. Don’t put lots of different promoters on the same email thread.

Q   What would your advice be to new bands on building that local following?

A    I would recommend not playing more than 1 show a month in your hometown and try your best to make it feel like an event rather just 3 bands playing a show. Hire the venue yourself, get your friends to DJ, get your friends’ bands to play and help curate the line-up, consider projections/visuals; make it feel like a monthly party not to miss!

Q   How important is local press to you?

A    Even in the digital age, local printed press as well as online is important for the success to our gigs from the previews & reviews.

Q   Can you recall any examples of a home grown local band that out grew the town and then came back to play bigger shows? And did you feel part of the growth knowing you had a hand in helping them grow?

A    So many Brighton success stories over the past decade with the likes of The Kooks, The Maccabees, Blood Red Shoes, Royal Blood, British Sea Power, The Wytches, Tigercub, Architects and so many others. British Sea Power are a band close to our hearts!


Thanks for talking to WaterBear and sharing your advice with our followers, Patrick.


The booker’s point of view

Next, we’ll be talking to Will Moore, the venue manager and booker for the legendary Brighton music venue, The Prince Albert, which lies just down the road from Brighton station, adorned by its world-famous ‘dead rock stars’ graffiti wall and Banksy artwork.


Q   Hi, Will. Thanks for talking with us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at The Albert and what you do?

A    I’m the venue manager and band booker for the Albert.

Q   How many band submissions do you get a week on average?

A    Too many to count!

Q   How do you find local bands and go about booking them?

A    Most bands send in links via the Prince Albert Facebook site, or I check out Brighton Bands and Musicians Facebook page.

Q   How important is their social activity and does this have an impact on your decision to book them?

A    It’s always worth checking bands’ sites to see what they’re up to, and to make sure they’re not playing too often or too close to the gig booked.

Q   What advice would you have to bands just starting out and wanting to find local gigs?

A    Send a good link, have a backline, realise you have to make an effort to get punters to gigs. If you’ve got people behind you, it makes others take notice.

Q   When is the right time for a new band to contact you looking for shows?

A    Anytime, as you never know when a handy support slot may be suitable.

Q   How does a band stand out and what gives them that edge that might make you want to trust them to support a bigger out of town band?

A    Being entertaining! Having good songs is not enough, punters want something special and memorable.

Q   Can you give us some dos and don’ts when contacting you?

A    Anytime on email/Facebook. Calling early in the morning or during a gig is not going to help!

[*WaterBear Warning* Not all bookers and promoters operate an open-door policy, or welcome contact via Facebook.]

Q   What would your advice be to new bands on building that local following?

A    Don’t play too often in the same town – it will water down the audience and will not benefit anyone. Do not play free gigs, even if you get paid it will stop punters coming to the next paid event.

Q   How important is local press to you?

A    Always helps to be in the free publications, like XYZ, etc.

Q   Can you recall any examples of a home grown local band that out grew the town and then came back to play bigger shows? And did you feel part of the growth knowing you had a hand in helping them grow?

A    The Kooks came in with their first demo. They came back last year and played a gig for us!


Thanks for your time and advice, Will!


From local to national – how to make it the Massive Wagons’ way

Now, let’s look at how a band can first build a rep and following on the local scene, then make the move to national success and beyond. As an example of this, we’re looking at Massive Wagons, who’ve risen from paying their dues in their native Lancaster to nationwide success, especially as live performers.

The Massive Wagons story

Hailing from Lancaster, Massive Wagons are Baz Mills (vocals), Adam Thistlethwaite (guitar), Stevie Holl (rhythm guitar), Adam ‘Bowz’ Bouskill (bass), and Alex Thistlethwaite (drums).

Massive Wagons began in 2009. Back then, Barry Mills and Adam Thistlethwaite were on the local live circuit as part of indie rock band Ace Face. The pair decided to strike out with their own music. They recruited Adam’s brother Alex on drums and their old schoolmate Adam Bouskill on bass. Carl Cochrane on rhythm guitar completed the original line-up.

Massive Wagons established themselves as a formidable live act, playing hundreds of shows a year. The band won the 2013 Nationwide ‘Highway To Hell’ competition and signed a multi-album contract with indie label ‘Off Yer Rocka’. They released full albums, like ‘Fight The System’ (2014) and the live/rarities album ‘The Good The Bad And The Ugly’ (2015) and ‘Welcome To The World’ (2016).

The band embarked on their first headline O2 Academy tour, and got invited to perform at festivals in the UK and Europe. They also supported The Wildhearts on a UK tour.

By 2017, Massive Wagons had built up national interest. Then, in April 2017, they released ‘Back to the Stack’ (a standalone charity single in tribute to the late Rick Parfitt, which raised money for the Teenage Cancer Trust). It proved the band’s most successful yet, and introduced Massive Wagons to a wider audience of all ages, demonstrating the band’s mainstream potential. This got the attention of larger labels. After a summer of festivals, Massive Wagons signed to Earache Records worldwide.

Late 2017 saw the band’s first line-up change, with Stevie Holl replacing Carl Cochrane on rhythm guitar. Massive Wagons recorded their third studio album ‘Full Nelson’, which recently charted and has gone on to be critically acclaimed.

Massive Wagons have played several high-profile festivals throughout 2018, as well as their biggest UK headline tour to date. Also many shows, including the prodigious London Borderline, were sold out in advance.

We’re delighted that Baz Mills (frontman of Massive Wagons) has agreed to talk with us about the band’s career and experiences, sharing their insights and advice.

The Massive Wagons interview

Hi. Thanks for talking to WaterBear.

Q   First off, congrats on your recent chart-topping album. You’re the first band in Lancaster to top the charts! Can you talk us through the very early days and how you went about booking your first-ever shows?

A    Likewise. Thank-you for talking to me, and thanks for the support regarding the album. It’s all been crazy lately! It’s taken nearly 9 years, but this last year has been worth the slog.

We started out completely green. I mean totally 100% green. None of us had the faintest idea about the other side of being an original band. We wobbled through writing a few songs, but had no idea what to do with them. None of us had been in a band before – Wagons is our first – so there was zero collective experience.

We didn’t even know what ‘the scene’ was, or where it was, or how to get involved. We never knew what venues were there, what a promoter was, nothing at all. Being so new to it is probably what’s driven us so far. We’ve never been ungrateful for any bean of help ever. It was almost back then like everything was a secret, so anytime we got some info we felt we’d achieved something. Haha!

Not many were too helpful. Names that stick out to me from back then: Dario from Hell To Pay gave us pages of info, and still to this day he’s involved with us here and there. Top, top fellow!

The other big name is Shad Patterson. I saw a Facebook post looking for bands to submit a song for a CD he funded. He ran a small promotion called Rock On Preston. We got talking, got on like a house on fire (big tip – be nice to people and try to get on with them; make friends because you just don’t know what’s around the corner…). He said he loved our song and said he was organising a small tour, like 8 dates around Lancashire, 3 or 4 bands on each, and would we be up for appearing at 3, I think. We snapped his hand off – 3 original gigs on a tour! We couldn’t believe our luck! This guy is a hero. He funded and organised it all through his love of Rock, Metal and the scene. We owe him a lot, and from that we started to make contacts, venues, friends, sound guys, other bands and so on. Nurture all these things and opportunities arise. Those 3 gigs were the absolute start for us.

I look at bands now and over the last 8 years it has all changed massively, now. New bands are on the ball from the word go. Photos, videos, high profile gigs, websites, merch. It’s incredible to see how it has developed. Took us 5 years to sort a website (!), but I absolutely would not change how we did things. I think purely from our limited knowledge and experience we built our own model of how best for us to succeed – faith, graft, and passion. I don’t think you’ll go far wrong with that.

Q   Was it a struggle in the early days? How did you go about looking after those fans early on and ensuring they kept coming back to shows?

A    Looking back yeah it was a struggle, but like I said it was all totally new to us. It was exciting; it was a big challenge. Goals change as time goes on. Number One goal back then was to play a place called ‘The Pub’ in Lancaster – local Heavy Rock / Metal bar. We saw loads of bands there. We really wanted to gig there. Back in the day, we did the cover thing alongside the original gigs. We met a lot of band types who turned their nose up at that, but as popularity on the cover circuit grew we started putting our own songs in the set. We were playing to packed-out venues on Friday and Saturday nights. Biker rallies, Rock discos, etc.

We managed to create this huge fan base from both sides of the live music coin. We took the largely cover fans across to original shows. It all worked. It was hard work; the cover nights are often 2 or 3 hour sets! So we really cut our teeth, covers and originals, our own PA and sound man, hard slog.

We really like to think the people have stuck with us because they believe in us, we are honest people, easy going. I like to think we write good tunes and perform to the maximum every gig. People appreciate the effort, and they want to support you. We have people supporting us as strongly now as they did 9 years ago. We are eternally grateful for that.

Q   How much did social media play a part in getting bums on seats?

A    Huge! It is a huge part of what bands do now. I think it’s a huge mistake to think that’s all you need to do. You need to cover all bases and think outside the box, but yeah it still is a huge part of it. Again we found our feet with that over time. To be honest it’s still the same vibe as it was then on our social media platforms – honest and not taking ourselves hugely seriously. You need to connect with people, can’t just keep battering them with posters, events and look-at-me type posts. You need to interact and make people aware you know who they are and you appreciate their time posting on your wall or whatever. Go that extra mile. Again, it all goes back to being a nice person and making friends, contacts. People want to help bands they like. They want to support, communicate with your fans. Social media is certainly the best tool for that job.

Q   Did you have a good relationship with local promoters? Did you reach out to them direct or go straight to the venues?

A    We had a good relationship with them yeah, defo. It’s easy to have a good relationship with them. Communicate, turn up on time, don’t pull any fast ones and perform well. They want bands who are good, and easy to work with. Doing these things, it wasn’t long before we simply never contacted anyone. I’m not kidding! We were being booked left right and centre. We’ve never ever had a problem getting gig. Word probably got around we were a decent band and nice blokes – an easy choice for a promoter. They come to you. What it’s like now at that level, I don’t know. Like I say, it seems a lot has changed, but on the basics – yeah make your own friendship with these people. It can only benefit you I believe.

Q   When did you start to sell out local shows and, apart from the fact that you’re an amazing band live, what factors help spread the word?

A    Haha! You’re too kind. Things do take time. I honestly can’t remember when things were selling out – not sure we ever really sold out any of the smaller venues back then. Had some busy nights though; Preston, Manchester especially, yeah. Took a few years to find our feet and get our name around and things defo got noticeably busier. It’s only very recently that we have begun to sell out venues. It’s all hit at once really, which is what you want for maximum impact I suppose. Everything’s about timing in this game. Right things happening at the right time.

Spreading the word again – social media is a huge tool for that. You talk to people online and they spread by word of mouth, especially the older generation. It’s how it always was, and still is for the hardcore rockers – tell your mates over a beer or whatever.

Radio is another big one. Loads and loads of wonderful stations out there for new bands (especially internet), all doing their best for you. Couldn’t have done it without them. It’s taken a long time but now the guys at Planet Rock, Meridian FM, even Radio 2 recently, are playing us. It’s crazy!

Q   How important was local press to you – did this help at all?

A    To be honest, we never had any local press support up until recently. An odd event listing but nothing else. Lately, especially since the chart position, they have given us some great press, all good. Maybe we should have chased that down ourselves? If we did anything different, then yeah that would be something.

Q   Were those bigger support slots a game changer for you?

A    Certainly the Ginger Wildheart shows, but I believe that was largely down to the man himself. He’s salt of the earth and has supported us loudly ever since. But apart from that, I’d say not really. As a band early on, we always thought a support slot was the crowning glory to finally set us on our way! The Ginger tour in 9 years is the only tour support we’ve ever done; odd shows here and there, but I’d say don’t dwell on them – don’t be disheartened if they don’t come along. We used to get annoyed we got nothing while others seemed to never stop supporting. Turns out it was never a big deal anyway. Hopefully now they will come along, and now we are well-equipped to make the most of them (timing you see!) we can perform with confidence. Back then, they may have been wasted opportunities on us. Obviously if it does come along, grab it with both hands but don’t lose sleep over it.

Q   You’re a great example of a band that transitioned from local to national success. What advice can you offer new bands just starting out on building a local following?

A    Make yourself known. Play as much as possible. Work hard. Concentrate on writing great songs. Take inspiration from everywhere when writing. Be honest and confident. People want to like you absolutely. Blow off some wigs! Don’t be an idiot and before long your reputation will take you along. Be nice to people, make friends. You do these things and eventually people will come to you.

That’s great advice. Thanks for talking to us at WaterBear!


There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution to building your band’s rep and following, but there are strategies and tactics that increase your chances, as Patrick Marsden, Will Moore and Barry Mills (Massive Wagons) have explained to us:

* Create quality material

* Refining your musicianship and stagecraft

* Playing live gigs, and be memorable and entertaining

* Building a loyal fan base

* Networking

* Get exposure

* Using social and traditional media

* Make and take opportunities.

* And as ever, treat people well.


PHOTO CREDIT: Simon Dunkerley

By Brían McNamara

Brían has performed at some of the UK & Ireland’s leading festivals including Black Deer Festival, Beautiful Days Festival, Liverpool Feis, The Great Escape and Electric Picnic. An experienced live performer, he has played many leading venues across the UK & Ireland including: The Brighton Dome, The Belfast Empire, Whelans Dublin and Ronnie Scotts. With his band Warsaw Radio he has appeared on the same line-up as artists such as Van Morrison, The Lone Bellow, Frank Turner, The Levellers and The Waterboys. His songs have been featured & playlisted on BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC Northern Ireland and RTE Radio in Ireland.
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Why WaterBear?

Tardigrade (AKA Water Bear)

  • Micro-animal that is found everywhere, in all extreme climates
  • The most resilient creature known to humanity. Survives and adapts to its surroundings
  • This resilience and ability to adapt and survive inspires us in everything we do