Where did 50 Years of Fender come from?
The story is a fairly long one - but interesting. Back in 2015, 2 things happened simultaneously - I took my Dad to see a see a very disappointing Dire Straits tribute band at the Brook in Southampton; and I made the decision to leave a job that drove me into depression to make my living from music.
The career plan at that point was a three pronged attack - to work as an agent putting musicians on Cruise Ships; to run a Function Band; and to run a ticket based theatre Tribute band to Dire Straits that would be a respectful tribute to Mark's wonderful band.
It didn't quite go to plan.
These days, at music colleges across the world, we're taught that Function bands - playing Weddings, parties, etc - are a primary way for musicians to earn an income. However, we quickly observed that, in 2016, there are so many function bands operating (many as a hobby), the market is over saturated with 'products'. And most of them younger and sexier than us, which - you can't deny - is a factor! Surf through any one of the huge number of "agent' websites, and you'll see it's like an entire Yellow Pages of bands of all levels.
We just didn't want to spend our time competing.
Cruise Agenting - what an awful job! I started the job really enthusiastic to be helping people get regular work. But I soon learned that the business is a seedy one, with layers of agents between the artist and the ship, eroding the fee for the artist for one thing but they were so badly treated by other agents in the chain and the ships themselves that it quickly became a soul sucking nightmare.
However, our work with the Dire Straits tribute band was starting to gain some traction. We were given some wonderful opportunities by a couple of promotors, theatres and hotels and we'd prepared a show that we were really proud of.
But, as working full time musicians, we need a regular income that people in full time work take for granted - If we're not playing, we're not earning and you'd be surprised how many musicians literally live to (and/or just below) the breadline!! - and we were finding it difficult to book in enough shows across the country to give us a fighting chance at earning a full time income.
A little insight into the world of theatre booking - you're allowed to bring your show into a theatre if (and discounting whether your marketing is good):
• The manager likes the original band, or something to do with your band ("I love Dire Straits", or "I love my Fender Guitar, I'm curious…")
• The manager is happy for you to bring your show in and there isn't a rival or similar show already booked into their theatre.
The result - it's extremely hard to book a show into a theatre! We write to over 450 theatre programmers regularly every year - we have around 35 shows booked For DSUK and 7 booked for 50 Years of Fender. The shows are terrific, well commented on, well reviewed and our websites/marketing look terrific!
If a theatre doesn't reply or doesn't act on our emails, we rarely know why. (Some to write back and give us a reason, but not many)
So our only option, if we wanted to play more shows, was to create another show to offer.
(To cut a long story short - we built a show called Genesis Legacy, which struggled due to so many other Genesis branded bands, and thus morphed into Seriously Collins - which is now incredibly popular.)
50 Years of Fender actually came out of needing to perform solo shows, and wanting to offer solo shows that were different to every other vocalist that's out there working today. Most solo artists just sing to backing tracks; and maybe they'll play an instrument; but they're all the same. I wanted to put together a show that did the same thing, but was also a bit different and interesting.
The show was built around the fascinating history of my favourite guitar - each of the songs and the artists have a part to play in the instrument's success, and the songs would we songs for regular audiences to dance and sing along to.
The solo gigs went really well. The feedback was that it was a really interesting and different take on a solo performance.
So I formatted it into a live show to put it into theatres, doing something a little different to what ever other show does. And, similar to before, it gives us another option for the theatres to bring in. And some of our theatre partners see the value in the three shows and programme all three of them in a year.
These three shows give us a few things, and this is largely why we run three shows:
• Between the three shows, every Friday and Saturday in 2023 and 2024 is now booked.
• For the musicians that work in each of the three shows, this allows us to have some guarantee of our income over a long period of time
• For the sonund engineers that we employ, they have a guarantee of income.
• Each week is slightly different, so we have a wonderful variety in our work.
• Each of these shows - Dire Straits, Phil Collins/Genesis and Fender - are a passion for us. They are largely why we started playing in the first place!
Of course, the majority of our income is based on ticket sales so we do have to work very hard behind the scenes to market the shows successfully, which takes a lot of time and money, and ensure that the shows are always getting better and proving themselves worthy of our audiences' time and money every week. So we're open to a lot of risk - if they shows don't sell very well, we don't make anything!! But this just motivates us to work harder!
50 Years of Fender, like my other shows, is a passion project and a desire to do something a little differently to everyone else. It seems harder to convince people compared to running a tribute band…. But we live in hope that it'll grow and develop a reputation for being a good quality watch.
So there we go - we often get asked about our shows. I hope this was an interesting insight for you.