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Matthew North

Matthew North

Matthew NorthI have know Matthew, or Matt or even “Northy” since he was a fresh faced college student at South Devon Technical College.  He was mad on music and electronics back then and had been for quite some time before I met him.  Matt was, at that time, living in Bovey Tracey, a typical sleepy Devon village – his father having a very interesting shop full of oddments in the town.  It was obvious Matt had a lot of knowledge about a lot of the stuff his Dad had accrued over the years and an encyclopaedic recall ability when it came to older bands and their instruments.  I was in a band myself in those days and acquired a friend of Matts to play lead guitar for us, so he hung around quite a bit with us. His technical “savvy” was a real help many times.  Matt also worked part time in my own music shop and it was clear he was not only a gifted technician but also possessed a great pool of knowledge about the instruments.  Having grown up in one, he knew how to run a shop.  At this time I knew he dabbled in guitar playing but I had no idea of his thirst for live music.

Matt with Arthur Brown
Matt with Arthur Brown

I eventually left the Devon area for a sunnier climate, Matt finished his studies and the last I heard of him was that he was working for the BBC as a technician, and that was that.  Until, that was, I joined Facebook a few years ago and reconnected with Matthew through our mutual friend and guitarist Bernie. All I can say about Matt is WOW!  The things he has done and places he has played should make any musician feel proud.  He’s had a string of albums out with various bands that he has formed himself, he tours regularly, recently making the roster of the Whitby Goth Festival in 2012 having played it since 1998. He works with 60’s iconic psychedelic musician Arthur Brown, from the The Crazy World of Arthur Brown helps with his web site and engineers for him too as well as playing along side him occasionally as is evident in the photo above.

Matthew North
Matthew North

He has recently supported the fabulous progressive rock band It Bites and pops up regularly on a late night BBC radio program as guest presenter. He records, engineers, produces and organises for both of his bands, (Secrets for September, below, and All Living Fear) He produces their albums and merchandise and gets all of their gigs.  And all of this he does whilst STILL holding down his full time job as a BBC News technician. On top of all of this Matt has remained the polite and well mannered boy he was brought up to be.  As you will read in the interview below, he refuses to waste a second of the day and manages to balance all of the many aspects of his life with ease.

Secrets For September
Secrets For September

I decided to talk to Matt to see what makes him tick.

Matt, How long have you been in the music business and what was the spark that started it all?

Well I have been playing properly since 1992, I had tried to join bands and was very unsuccessful in doing so in part because until 1992 I didn’t drive and was very limited with what I could do where I lived. Myself and a friend went to see The Sisters Of Mercy at Birmingham NEC and decided we wanted some of that. Since then I have had almost 20 years involving different people with the bands ‘All Living Fear’ and its spin off ‘Corrosion’.

I know you do all your own recording, mastering and distribution as well as lots promotional stuff as well, but you also hold down a full time job, and not an insignificant one either. How do you manage your time?

I try not to waste my time, I work full time in the television industry, but fortunately I live on the doorstep of where I work so I’m less than a 10 minute bike ride away. Working shifts, it can work out that you have more time for yourself to do stuff than if you were in a conventional 9-5 job. For instance you could work an early shift then have the afternoon and evening to play a gig. If the following day you work a day or late shift it means you can play a show without having to book a day off work. Its all about time management. I always do things like update the web sites and Facebook in my lunch breaks.

Have you any formal management in place or are you responsible for everything you do your self?

Nope, no manager or agents. I’ve always done it myself. It would be great to have some representation but I have never got to that level. I know other bands at a similar level to my own have “management” but I don’t want to go down that route of “vanity management”.

Are gigs for your genre hard to come by?

In the old days for Goth bands it was very easy to get gigs around the country as there was a network of genre specific promoters and venues. In the 90’s we could do two tours a year, peppered with lots of one-off shows. A lot of this has gone now. At that time it was quite tricky to get local gigs so we just didn’t play that many. The last band I founded, Secrets For September, we have a far wider reach and we also play a lot of acoustic shows. Last year I played more gigs that I have ever done in any other year and all of them in the South West. The biggest downside to any band that plays original material is you seldom ever get any money for expenses let alone getting paid, but its still better than if we were say based in London or Bristol where pay to play is king.

How do you go about getting on the bill at say, Whitby Goth Festival?  

Well I have a long association with that festival as in my All Living Fear days we played the first one.  That festival is actually very open to new bands in the genre so if you’re Goth and you’re good there is a very high chance you will get on the bill.  It’s a genre specific festival without there being that many bands in the genre around. More mainstream festivals are much harder work sending out press packs, CDs and sending lots of emails.

How has the business changed from your perspective since you began?

Two things. The obvious really – firstly CD sales are a fraction of what they were but that’s really how all CD sales have gone, and downloads don’t make up the shortfall in my opinion.  The other is that venues and gigs just don’t want to pay. 15 years ago you could hire small club venues for say 50-100 quid (pounds sterling) and take all of the door money, or sometimes just do a split.  Now so many small venues at the grass roots operate a pay to play policy.  I think they are very sneaky  – they get bands to play an all day bill – say 8 bands each getting a half hour set. The band has to bring 20 people or they won’t get paid.  What they do get paid is a pittance. Getting support slots with bigger bands is a lot harder than it was because some venues and agents insist on tour supports that pay for the privilege. And a recent thing that’s a double edged sword is the rise of open mic / acoustic nights. While they are good for artists to practice in front of an audience it also means that pub landlords get acts to play for free. Some pubs have open mic nights twice a week when a few years ago they would have bands playing that they would have to pay for.

What has been your best stage moment with your own band? Tell me about some of the big names you have worked with.  How did you meet them?

There have been many and some stand out more than others. I have been honoured to share the bill with bands like The DamnedHawkwindIt BitesSpear of Destiny to name a few, but I guess when we played Whitby with ALF in 1998 that was a very special gig, as was 2007. We also had some amazing gigs at the Camden Underworld and the Borderline in London. With gigs like The Damned, It Bites, Hawkwind, All About Eve etc.  I found out about the gigs and contacted the promoter and talked my way onto the bill, the exception was All About Eve where I went direct to Julianne Regan herself. Some bands we have played with I have got to know because I was a fan first and then got to know the artists. For example Balaam and the Angel, Claytown Troupe and Nik Turners Space Rituial. Then there is Arthur Brown with whom I have had a close involvement for a long time being his web-master   I also look after his archive as well as his Facebook and YouTube channels and sometimes have tour management duties.

Do they offer advice freely?

Many do, yes. Most musicians are just normal people and, like myself they are also dealing with the downs as well as the ups of the music biz.

Do you watch the young upcoming bands?  Who are the best of the new bands to watch out for in your genre?

I do see a lot of bands. I sometimes judge the Exeter Cavern battle of the bands. When you say “in my genre” well, I don’t have one. I used to be in a Gothic band and now play in a melodic rock band with Folk and Progressive influences, so not that specific in genre. But  I have seen many good new acts though can never always remember their names!! Locally the folk duo Philip Henry and Hannah Martin are great as is the blues guitarist Jay Tamkin from Exeter whom in saw in Twickenham recently supporting The Yardbirds.

Any advice for people just starting out in this game?

Join the PRS, PPL and MU

Do you have a strategy in place before you embark on a new project, or do you play it by ear?

I did with ‘Secrets for September’ yes.  It was to release a single, build up a Facebook fan-base and then get a live band together to release a couple of singles and play live as often as possible. Then, give it a couple of years and put out a couple EPs. Then when the fan-base has built up, I will go for the biggie and make an album. Also with “Secrets” we’re not playing just any old gigs. We are going for big festivals and supports with name bands – even if its old acts still on the road. It means there will be an audience there. I didn’t want to repeat some of the many mistakes I made with All Living Fear.

What’s your next project going to be?

It’s ongoing with Secrets for September, though I’m also doing more with my solo electronics stuff as well as occasional acoustic shows. We did release an All Living Fear album last year and I may do the odd gig maybe once every couple of years.

While you were reading this Matt probably wrote a song, re-wired a guitar and got himself on the bill at Knebworth.  I hope Matt inspires you to not waste a second of your time and to push forward all of the time.  Hard work reaps rewards, and Matt is testament to that.  His various websites and contact details are below.

 

www.matthewnorth.com
www.secretsforseptember.co.uk
www.alllivingfear.co.uk
facebook.com/matthewnorthmusic
@matthew_north

Matt on stage
Matt on stage

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