Words & pics by Ed King – follow him @EdKing2210
“You know when someone’s been doing something for a long time… you can tell they’ve mastered what they’re doing.”
I’m asking about the recent The Jungle Brothers gig, Freestyle’s first event since moving from a regular Friday night at The Bull’s Head to more sporadic spaces on the Hare & Hounds calendar. The man I’m asking is DJ/Producer Sam Redmore, who began promoting Freestyle “to get some more DJ bookings” and is now bringing Hip Hop luminaries to perform live in Kings Heath. Freestyle’s next event is a “double headliner” with Hackney Colliery Band and DJ Format on Fri 17th October; perhaps not that sporadic then.
“They (The Jungle Brothers) hadn’t played in Birmingham for a long time,” continues Redmore, “so there were a lot of people who really wanted to see them, or who had missed the opportunity before.” And can they still pull it off? “I haven’t seen them before so I don’t know what they were previously like, but as far as a Hip Hop show goes they were on it.”
And he’s seen a couple. Sam Redmore has been promoting Freestyle since 2009, and until recently “it’s always been at The Bull’s Head.” Beginning as a free entry plug for the Gregorian holes left in the venue’s event calendar, Freestyle would pick up spares left by the regular promoters; when an awkward 5th week of the month threatened an empty room, Freestyle would fill it.
“It started when I was working behind the bar, then I realised I quite liked running a night so started doing it monthly. And then… I don’t know. I enjoyed doing it so I carried on. ” I’ve heard worse raison d’être. “Then when Freestyle went weekly and had the live music…” a look of almost nostalgia surmises four years in a sentence. “I wanted to support local artists and the music scene in general, and it (Freestyle) seemed to be helping – so that became a good reason to carry on.”
Sam Redmore came to Birmingham from Bury St Edmonds, a place “too small for any music scene to really happen,” and found shelter at Leftfoot Venues. His Freestyle events were booked with “an active effort – to constantly be seeing and finding acts that were playing in Birmingham,” and proffered a healthy, regular mix of the familiar and unknown; line ups would showcase Birmingham favourites, or those bubbling under the obvious but certainly worth a platform, alongside out of town acts that might not otherwise play in the second city. And it worked, picking up a somewhat sudden profile for both Freestyle and the man behind it. I’m surprised to learn Sam Redmore landed in Birmingham only six years ago.
“The main thing I look for when putting a line up together is that I have to like their music,” Redmore releases with a laugh of good nature, “if there’s a band that I hear and think are good, that’s the main thing. Then, once you’ve got a list of bands that you’re looking to book, you can start to fit together line ups.”
And after four years of weekly events, an endevour any promoter would wince at, are there any acts he wanted but didn’t get? “There must be some, whether the dates didn’t work or the fees were a bit beyond what I could manage…” I lose him in a brief Scrubs moment of reflection, “… but I can’t think of any that stand out. Most of the bands I wanted to put on we put on.”
We talk more about the local music scene, the constraints (or comforts) of capacity, loyalty, and the problems facing Birmingham based promoters; I fish for cautionary tales from the near half decade Freestyle was promoted weekly.
Then the focus turns to October 17th, when the second Freestyle event following its ‘summer hiatus’, and shift from weekly in Moseley to whenever in Kings Heath, will promote big brass ensemble, Hackney Colliery Band, alongside another member of the Hip Hop who’s who, DJ Format. It’s a big line up, with two credible city centre headliners performing at the suburban venue – an incongruity the Hare & Hounds has become deftly familiar with.
“I’ve of known Hackney Colliery Band for a few years,” explains Sam Redmore, “they sort of broke though a few years ago with a cover of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ and before that did quite a cheeky cover of ’Africa’ by Toto.” The thought of power ballads in big brass makes me curious, “…they’ve got a Prodigy medley too, and I think it was through those kind of things they started to catch people’s attention.”
It’s an approach/homage that’s worked well for other acts – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain jumps immediately to mind, but Hackney Colliery Band are predominantly brass. Overwhelmingly brass. Will that work at the Hare & Hounds?
“Here (at the Hare & Hounds) they’ve done really well with similar bands; they had Hot Eight Brass Band sell out earlier in the year, and they’ve had Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Young Blood Brass Band – all acts who would be inspiration for Hackney Colliery Band. They seem to do well here, there’s definitely a healthy thirst for it.”
And how about DJ Format, who’s sets manipulate music from Rock riffs to Jazz, and who arguably rose to prominence supporting Jurassic 5 and DJ Shadow – what does he feel about sharing a stage?
“When I spoke to Format about them (Hackney Colliery Band) he was like, ‘yeah wicked’. When he DJs he tends to play loads of funk, and you can tell from his productions that’s where a lot of his inspirations come from; Hackney Colliery Band are certainly on the funk spectrum.”
Will the audiences cross over, even in a venue known for an eclectic roster? “When I was putting the line up together I was pretty sure Format would be into what Hackney Colliery Band are doing, and vice versa. So to extend that, the fans of one would be into the other.” Freestyle may no longer be weekly, but it’s still a showcase.
“What I’m hoping for is that people who are there for Hackney Colliery Band will stay to see DJ Format, and people who have come for DJ Format will get down early enough to see Hackney Colliery Band as well.”
And with the pre-promotion “doing well,” (promoter’s slang for selling tickets) Sam Redmore may well get his wish; as Freestyle continues its transition from regular low key line ups to bigger, one off events. But even as he downplays the evolution, “I don’t see one as moving up from the other one,” I sense the ticking clock of ideas at least somewhere in the car.
But I guess that’s the problem with creative people, they just keep creating. Four years promoting weekly music events in a city you’ve recently moved to, and doing it well, is no mean feat; what do you do for Acts II, III & IV?
Often it’s just a matter of tenacity and patience. Or money. Or luck. Then, as with the artists Freestyle is now bringing to the city, after you’ve been doing something for a long time…
Freestyle presents… Hackney Colliery Band + DJ Format @ Hare & Hounds (Kings Heath) on Friday 17th October. For further info & tickets, visit http://hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk/event-listings/event/?eventID=10032387
For more on Hackney Colliery Band, visit http://www.hackneycollieryband.co.uk/
For more on DJ Format, visit http://www.djformat.com/
For more on Freestyle, visit https://www.facebook.com/freestylebirmingham
For further listings form the Hare & Hounds, visit http://hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk