The Sound of the Crowdfund

In which The Author buys a very small share in a music video

Catrin Southall and I have been friends for so long that I can’t even remember where and when we first met. It was probably in the Cambrian Inn in Aberdare, and more than likely on a Wednesday night. That was quiz night, and by virtue of our all-round general knowledge, good looks and native charm, our regular team often managed to attract a decent number of attractive young women.
I do know that Cat and I were friends by the time the 2001 Census rolled around. The date has stuck in my mind for a very good reason. On the last Sunday in April everyone in the UK was expected to complete the census return, giving full details of everyone in a particular property that night. I’d filled my form in some days earlier, confident that nothing would change on the crucial night.
On that particular Sunday, we were in the Market Tavern in Aberdare. When I spotted Cat and her sister Delyth at the bar, I also saw the opportunity for some mischief. As soon as Del wandered off, I sidled up to Cat.
‘Catrin, would you like to come back to my house when this place closes?’ I asked, with a sly wink.
Cat looked quite shocked, and it was a few moments before she could answer.
‘I can’t,’ she gasped eventually, ‘I’ve got work in the morning.’
‘So have I,’ I replied. ‘I don’t want sex – I just want to fuck up the census results!’
My prank would have been even more effective because (unlike me) Cat would have been able to fill in the Welsh language form.
Like a lot of my younger friends, Catrin and Delyth had gone to a Welsh-medium school. In common with a number of other Welsh speakers I know, Cat had gravitated towards the performing arts. After winning the prestigious John Tree Award for Young Musicians, she studied Theatre, Music and Media at Trinity College, Carmarthen, during which time she spent an exchange year in the United States.
After university, Cat became a backing vocalist for the Welsh broadcaster S4C, singing alongside stars such as Tom Jones, Cerys Matthews and Bryn Terfel. She went on to front a rock band called SAL, who were well received by the critics before going their separate ways a few years ago. Since then, Cat’s solo career has continued to develop in several directions, building an impressive portfolio of live and studio performances. A couple of years ago, she appeared on Jools Holland’s BBC TV show, singing backing vocals for the Manic Street Preachers. Understandably, the cameraman and director gave her much more attention and screen time than the lads in the band. You can check out Cat’s own website for a full run-down of her career so far.
Cat’s most recent record, ‘One Day at a Time’, is available through iTunes and other online vendors, but now she’s embarking on something entirely different. She’s recently completed Call Of Distress, a concept LP about a superhero named Nancy Neuron.
To promote this, Cat’s currently working on a video – and this is (hopefully) where you come in. Video production doesn’t come cheap, and she’s decided on a suitably Third Millennium approach to the problem: crowdfunding.
You’ve probably come across this idea already, but if you haven’t, here’s a very brief outline. Crowdfunding is the vehicle of choice for artists who want to get their projects ‘out there’, while bypassing the increasingly staid and hidebound labels/publishers/film companies. It allows creative people to connect directly with their audience, by allowing individuals to buy a small stake in the project. Even best-selling authors have found this a good method to circumvent the traditional supply chain. It’s bringing artists and audiences together in a way that hasn’t been possible before.
Through a website called Indiegogo, Cat’s raising money to pay for her video project. I donated a small amount earlier today, but she’s still got quite a way to go before she hits her target. I know many of my regular readers are music fans, and I’m sure a lot of you would love to support a ‘ground-up’ project like this. As an added incentive, there are a range of ‘perks’ available, including a copy of the LP, a namecheck in the video credits, signed lyric sheets, or even a dinner date with Cat herself (in South Wales only, alas.) Handle this last one with care, as she’s – allegedly – a bit of a party animal!
If you’d like to learn more, why not check out Cat’s crowdfunding page and see what else she’s got on offer?
It’s a great opportunity to support a young performer on a personal basis, rather than just buying gig tickets and/or t-shirts and letting promoters and manufacturers cream off the profits. Every contribution will be an important step towards bringing Nancy Neuron to vivid life.


On behalf of Cat, diolch yn fawr!

Iechyd Da!

In which The Author devises a business plan

A number of years ago I read a proof copy of a humorous travel book called McCarthy’s Bar, by a guy named Pete McCarthy. It grew out of a simple but effective idea, as these humorous travel books often do. Being of Irish descent, but never having visited the Old Country, Mr McCarthy decided to explore the whole island, and have a pint in every McCarthy’s Bar he could find.
It was a deservedly popular book, and a couple of years later he wrote a sequel called The Road to McCarthy. This went to the next level – Mr McCarthy travelled the world in search of Irish pubs. He found them in some bizarre places, including one in Japan which was situated in a large office block. He perfectly describes his feeling of bafflement at being surrounded by smartly-dressed business types, then opening a door and being transformed to the other side of the world and a few decades back in time as well.
I was telling a friend of mine about this book last week, and it brought to mind an idea which I had nearly twenty years ago.
In the summer of 1996, Sam H. and I had a week’s holiday in Ireland, staying in her family’s cottage on the north side of the Dingle Peninsula. The village (actually, describing it as a ‘village’ is stretching it a bit) was called Fahamore. The Spar supermarket-cum-Post Office was four miles away; we were twelve miles from the nearest bus stop, and some twenty miles from the railhead/coach terminus at Tralee. The next piece of land directly to the west was somewhere in Canada. If Bedlinog is the geographical centre of Nowhere, Fahamore must be somewhere on the western edge.
In my postcard home, I joked that Fahamore got its name because it was ‘far more remote than either of us had thought possible. It was just about marked on my Reader’s Digest Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland. (You can now find it on Google Earth and Google Streetview, unsurprisingly.)
Fahamore itself consisted of a couple of dozen scattered houses, a small fishing harbour, a phone box, and a bar/restaurant called Spillane’s. We spent our evenings in Spillane’s, partly because the meals were cheap and substantial, and partly because there was bugger all else to do. It was well-known for miles around, too. All we had to do when we got in the taxi at Tralee was to ask the driver to take us to Spillane’s. It was popular with trendy youngsters, drawn to the dramatic Atlantic coastline by the promise of waves to ride.
By the way, I know that it was a four-mile walk to the Spar at Castlegregory, because I did it (there and back again) on our first morning in the cottage. Apart from (bizarrely) several tins of tomatoes and a jar of Mellow Bird’s coffee, there was no food at all in the house. The night before, we’d eaten in Spillane’s, where Sam had fallen foul of one of the small but important differences between the two countries: in the UK, a standard measure of spirits was 25ml; in Ireland, it was 35.5ml. Every double vodka she’d bought was nearly a treble by our standards.
Unsurprisingly, Sam was in no fit state to undertake an eight-mile round trip the following morning. We needed bread, milk, eggs, and other perishables, so I set off on foot to explore. It was a beautiful way to blow away a hangover, mind you. I walked along the narrow unspoilt beach for a while, watching the sea birds rummaging in the white sand. At one point I passed the primary school; groups of kids were skipping, or playing soccer and hopscotch, and their teacher kept an eye on them while reading his paper and smoking his pipe. It was almost like stepping back in time.
At Castlegregory, I stocked up with as much as I could carry, and had a look around for a while before heading back again. When I reached Spillane’s I called in and ordered a pint. Then I nipped over the cottage, filled up the fridge, told Sam I had a pint getting warm over the road, and left her to it.
On the Thursday afternoon, we decided to walk across the narrow headland to Kilshannig, the other ‘village’ at the northern extent of our little headland. Sam’s uncle, who had been born and raised in that area, and her aunt (who was Welsh) had told us all about the pub there – O’Connell’s Green Room. It was another famous place. There’d been a fire there one night a few years earlier, but that didn’t make any difference to the locals. By the following lunchtime, the owners had rigged up a temporary bar in a nearby barn. It sounded like the sort of place that Pete McCarthy would have found in profusion during his tour of the Emerald Isle. By all accounts people came from miles around for their live music jams, and the whole place always had a party atmosphere.
When we arrived there, it was mid-afternoon. I don’t think the interior had seen a paintbrush since the establishment of the Irish Free State. The walls and ceiling had a thick patina of nicotine smoke. There were two old boys nursing pints of Guinness and reading the racing paper. It wasn’t the bouncing place we’d expected.
Weirdly, one half of the building was the pub and the other was the village shop. We were able to buy a round of drinks, a loaf of bread and a packet of firelighters in a single transaction. We stayed there for a couple of drinks before heading back to the vibrant city culture of Fahamore.
[A digression: I hadn’t been prepared for the extent to which the Roman Catholic faith still dominated the Republic. It was strange to hear the Angelus bell on television and radio before the evening news, accompanied by a picture of a stained-glass window or painted altar piece. On our way to Kilshannig, Sam and I found a roadside shrine to the Blessed Virgin at the junction of two very minor roads. At this same road junction, we were able to send the postcards which I’d bought on our first morning at this same junction. On my return, I had the photos developed, and gave my cousin/godfather Denis a copy of St Mary of the Postbox.]
On our (eventual) return to Aberdare – and that’s a story for another day – we complained bitterly to Sam’s aunt and uncle about the lack of goings-on in O’Connell’s Green Room.
‘When did you go there?’ he asked us.
We told him that we’d been there in the afternoon.
He nodded sagely. ‘Oh, it doesn’t get going till about midnight!’
Anyway, thinking about this again last week brought back to mind a business idea I had after our holiday. Reading Pete McCarthy’s books may have had something to do with it as well. I’ve never looked into it seriously, but here’s the essence of it:
A Welsh theme pub.
You see, there are two kinds of Irish pubs in the world: real Irish pubs, like Mulligan’s/Kitty Flynn’s in Cardiff used to be (see A Letter to the Editor 6); and terrible gimmicky ‘Oirish’ pubs, like the ubiquitous O’Neill’s chain. For some perverse reason, it’s the ersatz ones which seem to be really popular.
Well, my plan is to recreate the authentic Welsh pub experience in cities throughout the UK, and eventually further afield. We’ll initially be aiming at the ex-pat market, but the growth of the Oirish pub phenomenon proves that you don’t need Irish roots to part with your money. I haven’t made a detailed business plan yet, but I’ll outline the scheme here.
First of all, we need to acquire the right property. This won’t be easy, because ‘pubs of two halves’ are a dying species, even within the Valleys. Ideally we need a building where the same door leads into a narrow passageway, with doors at either side. One door will lead into the bar, and the other into the lounge.
It’s vital that we maintain the gender segregation which has been a time-honoured tradition in Valleys communities for generations. Only men will be allowed into the bar; women will have to make their way into the lounge. If at all possible, a small hatch for ‘off sales’ should also be incorporated into this entrance vestibule.
Once customers are in the bar, they’ll be confronted by a feeble selection of draught drinks: Carling Black Label and/or Skol, Allbright bitter, Worthington’s, Strongbow, and another lager which nobody’s ever heard of. Guinness will be available, but they’ll have to wait while the electric surger breathes life into the canned variety. As well as famous brands of spirits, we’ll offer cheap-ish ‘house doubles’ of vodka and gin which we bought from the local supermarket.
Customers should never make the mistake of trying to order food in our Welsh theme pub. The best they can hope for usually is a packet of crisps, some nuts, or pork scratchings. However, if they come in during an afternoon when Wales are playing a rugby international, they’ll be offered a complimentary dish of cawl or some faggots and peas at half-time.
The interior décor should be as drab and uninviting as possible. Ideally, we’d like to acquire a building which hasn’t been decorated since the smoking ban took effect, so that the walls and soft furnishings retain that special stale tobacco odour. (If the carpet stinks of stale beer as well, so much the better!)
We’d obviously need to source suitable pictures of coal mines, rugby players and male voice choirs to ‘brighten the place up.’ Framed Gren caricatures of the 1976 Wales Grand Slam squad would do the job admirably. The space above the bar will be filled with old brown and green bottles advertising long-vanished breweries, and the lounge walls will be decorated with love spoons and pictures of sheep.
We’ll have a jukebox in the lounge, of course, but its hard drive will be taken up almost exclusively with fifty or so Top 20 hits from no later than 1968. (The sole exceptions to this rule will be some of Max Boyce’s comedy songs and the first LP by Stereophonics.)
In spite of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, non-white people will be actively dissuaded from coming through the doors. To this end, the regulars will be encouraged to rant at length about ‘immigrants’, ‘asylum seekers’, ‘UKIP’ and so forth. Gay and lesbian couples will also be forced to leave under a hail of abuse. To this end, copies of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Star will be scattered around the tables. This should help to make the atmosphere intolerable as well as intolerant.
Old-style Welsh licensing hours will be strictly observed. We won’t open until midday, and last orders will be at 4pm. After a two-hour interval, we’ll reopen and serve until exactly 11pm, when ‘Time’ will be called. Once the occasional customers have drunk up and left, the regulars will be allowed to stay on until we all get bored. Sunday hours will be more limited. In fact, we might choose not to open at all on Sundays, depending on just how authentic a Welsh experience we intend to deliver.
If anyone else wants to come in with me on this, please feel free to put your ideas forward.