Confessions of a band manager: Jamie Webster, Instinctive Racoon

BY HANNAH CURRIE

Jamie Webster: Photo by David Gourley

“ It’s a difficult bloody thing, managing bands,” says Jamie Webster, the boss of Glasgow indie label Instinctive Racoon, almost as soon as he sits down. Immediately I’m suspicious. Firstly, because managing a record label is to music lovers what cake testing is to gluttons -a dream come true. Secondly, because the tour diary I’d read in preparation for this interview is somewhat at odds with his solemnity: “The party went on into the small hours and a couple of the boys managed to snuggle up to some smoking hot babes,” The rest of the diary is chock-full with fun times and debauchery, plus unspeakable antics which apparently he can’t print “for legal reasons”. (Though, given Charlie Sheen’s recent transgressions, I’d suggest doing so might boost his popularity ten-fold).

The tour to which Webster is referring was with Three Blind Wolves during their support slot for Frightened Rabbit. Webster has nurtured the act from its early days as a solo project by Glasgow singer-songwriter Ross Clark – whom he spotted at an open mic night – to its current success as the latest signing by Communion, the coveted label founded by Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons. The bands also won Best Live Act at the recent Scottish Alternative Music Awards and are currently on an extensive tour of the UK. It all sounds pretty positive- so why the long face?

“The first time we toured Three Blind Wolves in the UK we probably had one good show out of seven. We weren’t getting paid, it was costing us a lot of money, and the band were going out onstage and playing to a small handful of people. It can be soul-destroying”. Ah, fair enough then.

Even on the considerably more successful jaunt with the Rabbits, the band often travelled home to save money, and survived on crisps and supermarket sandwiches for most of the tour. It’s a far cry from the backstage banquets and fluffy dressing gowns demanded by the likes of Fleetwood Mac. “It can be difficult sometimes, wondering where I’m going to find the money to do what we need to do,” admits Webster.

Fortunately, he’s become a dab hand at economical touring:  “We’ve developed a model that works for us. All of the money that we make from shows gets fed straight back into the label. Quite often we’ll do a show in Glasgow or Edinburgh first because we have a big fan base. The money from that will help fund the rest of the tour. A mini tour in Scotland can pay for a much bigger tour across the rest of the UK.”

How can you guarantee an audience in places where the band is not well-established? “You can’t, you’re emailing people in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle who don’t know the band, trying to encourage them to book them for a fee. Promoting virally is important, and the social network is amazing because its free and lets you reach your target audience easily.”

Financial and promotional issues aside, there’s the additional task of taming the untameable. “When I first met Ross, he was prone to running off stage and standing on people’s tables, kicking their drinks over and singing in their face if they weren’t listening to him. I’ve tried to calm him down and make him more crowd-friendly. He’s definitely getting better, although sometimes you still see that side of him when he’s had too much Irn Bru!” So what was it about Ross – apart from the outlandish behaviour – that caught Webster’s eye? “His songwriting. All of the bands I’ve worked with have grabbed me with their songwriting: as long as that element is there, you can work on the rest.”

Bands on the Instinctive Racoon roster have included Washington Irving, French Wives and Bear Bones, each of whom are rapidly moving towards deals with bigger labels. “They’re all phenomenal, and they are beginning to get the recognition they deserve,” says Webster, a hint of pride in his voice. “We’ve put out some great releases for them, but for us it’s always been about being a feeder to bigger labels”.

With his popular Thankyou Frankley club nights, formerly held at the Research Club and now in Stereo, Webster has created the opportunity to do just that. The lure of cheap entry, a line-up of Instinctive Racoon favourites and DJ slots by friends of the label such as We Were Promised Jetpacks, has made the nights popular for Glasgow music-lovers. Webster is set to take over the Communion nights when they launch in Glasgow next month.

And his biggest achievement so far? “The most rewarding thing was having three of our bands [Three Blind Wolves, French Wives and Washington Irving] play on the T Break stage at T in the Park last year. BBC Radio phoned me up and said, ‘Jamie, this is amazing – this has never happened before’. “Thousands of bands apply, so to have three from the same label is really something special.”

From the depressing lows to the dizzying highs, it is clear that Webster revels in the trials and tribulations of music management. “It’s always worth it. Right now, there’s an over-saturated market: there are so many venues and so many bands. It’s a boom time for music and I’m glad to be involved.” And when the going gets tough? “What keeps me going? “Total faith in the bands.” I wonder whether those honeys on tour have something to do with it, too…

Communion Glasgow launches on 28th April at Stereo with Ben Howard, Washington Irving and Kitty the Lion. The Three Blind Wolves E.P. ‘Sound of the Storm’ will be released on Communion Records on 20th March, and the band are currently touring. Visit www.communionmusic.co.uk for more information.

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