Rick Palin runs Skyfire Promotions and is organising another Cancer On The Rocks festival later this year on the 23 and 24 November at the Bush Hall, London. He gives us the lowdown on Cancer On The Rocks, why Gene Simmons is wrong and the current state of the live music scene in the UK…
1. How did you become involved in the music business.
In a very strange way. As a career I am an ex Psychology lecturer and accidentally fell into radio because Americans just love a British accent. Long story short, the credit crunch hit 11 years ago and I unceremoniously got my ass kicked out of the US when my visa got canned. When I arrived back I set the plans in motion to build Firebrand Radio.
2. How Did Skyfire PR come about?
Skyfire was created as an offshoot to Firebrand. Their has always been an almost mystical approach to the term PR. Essentially PR is a bit of a misleading use of terminology, what they should call it is what it really is, Sales & Marketing. At the end of the day you are looking to “sell” a product to a certain target market as in music to DJ’s and magazines so a very strong background in sales and marketing is virtually a pre-requisite for this job.
3. Skyfire also has its own record label. What do you look for when deciding to sign a band/artist? What releases has the record label got coming up in the next 12 months?
Now this is a lengthy explanation. Skyfire Records and Skyfire Vintage are two entirely different labels than most things seen out there at the moment. For starters both labels have full global physical and digital distribution through our partners. But the essential reason Skyfire Records was created was down to the fact that I work with a lot of up and coming bands as well as established ones and with the artist approaching distribution direct they are generally told to jog on. So as a pr client of Skyfire’s we offer distribution as part of the package, However, this is where is gets interesting we do not take a cut all the money from sales through distribution 100% of it goes directly back to the artist.
Skyfire Vintage on the other hand has been created to re-release albums that may have been passed over first time around because of either bad pr or dodgy record labels, so in essence it is a chance to relaunch albums that may have been missed first time around. Again, Vintage operates on the same prinicpals as Skyfire Records.
With regards to what we have coming in the next 12 months. There are various projects of which I cannot discuss at present but Skyfire Vintage launches with part of The Mustangs back catalogue, a rare Adam Norsworthy album from 20 years ago and a couple more tricks up our sleeves.
4. Does streaming help newer bands get known more, despite the fact any financial returns are minimal?
Tricky question to answer really as I am still trying to hide from the Spotify assassins. Essentially NO they don’t help bands get known more. Allow me to explain. Having your tracks up on all these channels is great but like most things in life its absolutely useless people know it is there. This is where bands need to understand that they are a business and must promote their products and their links as widely as possible. If you build it, they will come (said in a rather bad James Earl Jones voice). There is realistically no point in putting it on any of these platforms unless you are willing to spend the time to promote it through social media properly. Bear in mind that Spotify gets 10’s of thousands of uploads each and every week so trying to find a particular bands tracks unless you know its there is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, in a field of haystacks, in an area the size of the UK made up entirely of haystacks!
5. This years Cancer On The Rocks is based in London for the first time. Does this improve the chance of a bigger audience and the chance to get bigger names involved?
You seriously are making me answer controversial questions here lol. When I set up COTR I always envisaged it being in London as the event grew and the reason is simply this. Basing it in the north of England where it was in Cheshire was an absolute nightmare basically because the tribute band scene (really do not get me started on this) is so rife that people expect to get their music for free, its just background noise for them to get pissed to in the local pubs so I made the decision to move it to London for that reason. All artists on the bill get paid a fee for coming and the line up this year is just special to me. One of the bands I have wanted to get on COTR since the original event has been a favourite of mine for a long time and to get them with the added bonus of being their only London show is a bit of a dream come true for me and that is the fabulous Romeo’s Daughter. Also our second headliner the son of a bonafide legend in the shape of Rick Parfitt Jr and his band, then add into the mix the amazing Collateral, Piston, Superfecta, Found Missing, Joanovarc, Wily Bo Walker, Lol Goodman, Asif Outlaws it really is a dream line up that I could not wish better for.
6. How do you go about organising an event like Cancer On The Rocks (COTR)? For example with the bands do you have a wishlist or do bands approach you asking to play based on previous COTR?
Obviously, yes I have a wish list and I already have in mind who I want for next year (no leaks yet). Having been a rock and blues DJ since the dawn of time I have a very good ear for what may go down well at an event but there are of course other factors that come into play. For example I need to know the bands are capable of pulling a crowd so the social media element comes into play here as with any event it does not matter how fabulous the band is if they can’t help pull people to an event (So this is a lesson to bands to work on their social media skills. Get Pro-active!)
And then on the flip side of the coin there are bands that you have seen before live that you simply must have. And for this year that has to be Collateral, such an amazing live band with such a very promising future.
7. Is Gene Simmons right when he said rock music is dead?
Honestly, When Gene came out with that comment my first though was he had been sniffing a tube of his make up. The music scene out there is vibrant and alive with so much fresh and amazing talent out there. Admittedly it is more difficult to get noticed and that is down to the fact that music is so much easier to get out there than it was 25 years and therein lies the problem, market saturation. You have to deliver something special and even if you do there is no guarantee. One of the bands I have worked with off and on over the last few years has been a band from Reading called The Room. I would say as much that they are one of the most promising bands in recent years with three very successful albums a great live event following amongst festival goers. They deserve to be playing further up the foodchain than they currently are with their level of musicianship and professionalism but like too many others its about getting that break and as long as that apathy with the public is out there towards music it will be a tough uphill battle as it will be for the hundreds of thousands of other muso’s.
8. Is the live music scene in the UK still in a good shape? Is there still a good network of small to medium venues for bands to play and grow their fanbase?
And here is another question that is most likely to get me chased out of the village by flaming pitchforks, but, you know what, I don’t care! Allow me to explain there are some amazing venues out there that go out of their way to promote artists playing at their venue a great case in point is my local venue in Raynes Park (just Outside of London) called The Cavern. They know what they are doing, they actively promote and do their best to get the crowds in and that’s what a good venue should be. On the other side of the coin in the venues that believe because they have a name they don’t need to promote and in this day and age that is a wrong attitude. A venue still wants to sell beet which is why they bring the entertainment in the first place so they need to promote the fact, they need to be getting their act in order and enticing their customers in and not just relying on the band and the bookers to do it. These days with finance being tight for everyone its about a joint effort to make these things work. Sometimes when I hear the sad news of a venue closing down I have no sympathy because at the end of the day they did it to themselves.
9. How do you see the live scene developing in the next 5-10 years when many of the big rock and metal bands will have retired for good?
Simple, I see it thriving. Like certain magazines in this industry they have both feet placed in the past and quite frankly I don’t care what Pink Floyd had for breakfast in July in 1975. Seeing all the greats on tour is cool but as you mentioned Gene Simmons before I will use him as a case in point. They have recently done the end of the road tour (yet another one) and when they run out of money they will no doubt be out there doing it again on zimmer frames but its time for the phenomenal new blood to be taking their place. Bands like Halestorm, Shinedown, Eclipse all these new bands that make Rock exciting again. The only person I would hate to see stop touring is Alice Cooper but I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon.
Many thanks for asking me to do this Jason it really has been a pleasure and an honour to do this. Here below are a few links to what we do and also to our special Cancer On The Rocks raffle where you can stand the chance of winning a Fican Tornado Guitar valued at just under £2,000.00. Go on take a punt buy a ticket and know that its raising money for a very worthwhile cause.
Or alternatively come and take part in this years event at Bush Hall in London on the 23rd and 24th of November.
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 22 September 2020.
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