You may have heard of the ‘Canterbury Sound’ – bands like Soft Machine, Caravan and Gong once defined Canterbury’s music scene in the 60’s and 70’s, putting the city on the map for progressive rock and psychedelia. The ‘sound’ itself meandered from folk to jazz to hard-rock like the many twists and tributaries of the Stour, with playful, seditiously witty tones that struck out against the Conservatism of the sixties. It was a music scene that sent ripples that could be felt through milestone albums, social protests and a new dawn of music festivals – and it was a scene now so firmly ingrained in the identity of the city that it has established itself as a topic of conferences. At last year’s Canterbury Festival, for example, artists and cultural academics were brought together to discuss the significance of the movement in the context of global popular culture. But what’s the conversation about today’s musicians?
The creative momentum of the movement has lingered in the city; fast forward fifty or so years and you only have to walk along the High Street on a sunny day to see that there is a dedicated base of buskers, bands, and musicians who hone their craft on the city streets. Many singer-songwriters often meet and collaborate through street busking; Coco and the Butterfields being one of Canterbury’s most established and well-known successes. But one thing that many people agree upon is that it’s difficult to find places (indoors) to play – and it’s no wonder, considering that in the last 10 years over 40% of small venues have closed in London and the South East.
George Neighbour, who has played with Phoebe Warden and other local bands in Canterbury, told us that ‘There used to be the Farmhouse, which was a great music venue. Then it closed – The Penny Theatre has tried to revitalise the live music scene, although they do go down more of the tribute acts route. There are a ton of open mics around the city, but once you’ve been to one, you’ve basically been to them all. I was unaware of the gigs at UCA until I played one with Hot House a few weeks ago – I thought it was a great venue, and was well attended. However, I think what Canterbury needs is a proper venue dedicated to live music that isn’t in a college or uni-studenty place – its needs to be its own stand-alone place.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – Danny Kitchener, Dan James Elliot and Aaron Kitchener from newly formed studio Roswell Recordings have been making ripples in the music scene through gigs at UCA bar. Through their studio space and the friendships and relationships that they’ve cultivated, they injected some new life into live music in the city.
Dan and Aaron are both in bands themselves (Tokyo Tea Room and Godaughter, respectively), and brothers Danny and Aaron also operate a DIY record label alongside Sam Bradford: Easter Island Records. The record label complements the Roswell studio work through release shows – as Danny says, the partnership began because ‘there has been a lot of crossover – a lot of the bands that we were putting out through Easter Island – Spanish Infanta, Harry Hayes – Dan was recording in the basement. It was a natural process’.
The boys have been supporting and releasing local bands, working with local artists and businesses to build a scene which has gradually been gaining more and more momentum through regular gigs and shows.
Speaking about the process, Danny said ‘we want to showcase the bands that come through our studio – but we’re really recording the bands that come through and trying to give them an aspect of growth and a platform. I guess the producing speaks for itself – not in an arrogant way – but we’ve put money in when we didn’t have money, and it’s helped. We’ve invested in people – not just equipment.
We’re thinking of doing festivals and one-day events. That’s how it’s going to grow, I think’.
Remarking upon the scene in the city, Dan says ‘I’d like a good working relationship with a regular venue. UCA is cool, but it would be great to have a venue that is more central, in the middle of town’.
Danny continues, ‘Bramley’s only want to do mid-week gigs, so that’s when we started doing gigs at UCA bar. Although – and this always seems to happen – we move to a venue and we start doing gigs, but then all of a sudden every other promoter wants to do a night there!
We are really happy about the UCA revival going on though, and being able to watch it grow since our first shows in January. It’s a great space to support, and Trish who runs the bar is such a good person, so anything that anyone can do to support the space is a plus.
It’s a really nice preservance of music at the moment.”
‘If you look in Ramsgate, Ramsgate Music Hall gets such good gigs, but it’s only a 100-person venue. There’s a limit to what they can do. UCA bar is a solid 200-person venue and you can get those bands that you get in Margate or Ramsgate – but you need the right promoters. We’re not really promoters, but we try and put on gigs with the bands that we work with.’
Looking closer to home, Dan (Tokyo Tea Room) says ‘every musician in Canterbury wants Chromos to be a music venue. Everyone was so excited about Chromos – but it needs the right vision. The crew need to reach out and ask the community for advice I think, in order to build the scene there.
I think maybe in the not so distant future, it will be alright, but we’ll have to see. I’m ready to make it a decent music venue. I’m so ready. I’m ready to get touring bands here. It’s got great potential, it just needs some love and some nurturing.
What Folkestone is doing with the Creative Quarter, or even what Sammy Clarke is doing with the Tom Thumb Theatre – we need that here’.
Another great aspect about the work of Roswell Recordings and Easter Island records is their collaboration with small, community-orientated local businesses, such as Lily’s Bistro and Vinylstore Jr., a local record store.
‘Lily’s Bistro are beautiful people and we want to support them and record the live set there from Harry Hayes’, says Danny. ‘But that’s just an Easter Island thing – with Easter Island, we want to do shows and releases, and with Roswell Recordings it’s more about bringing through emerging talent’.
Aaron adds, ‘Through Roswell, the idea is to give some bands that have less exposure and experience the chance to work on something seasoned and professional. Vinylstore Jr. we also have a good relationship with – we put records in their store and albums that have been recorded at Roswell. Every release we do an in-store show – Tokyo Tea Room and Dreamweaver have both done shows there. A lot of people like Nick, and Nick loves watching bands, so being able to get bands to come into the store is a win-win situation’.
The last few months have been an exciting time for the Canterbury music scene, and if the community keeps growing and the public support keeps swelling, there will always be a demand for gigs and local shows in the city. With increasing support from the council for large-scale events in the Dane John Gardens like City Sound Project in the Park and Pride, the public mood appears to be gradually warming towards events that bring people together to hear and play music.
Rachel Arkell, who works at the Gulbenkian, says ‘I think going to see gigs is so important in helping build communities – because it’s fostering a shared interest. Watching live music is such a visceral thing and can evoke so many emotions, coming from the musicians to the audience. And to share that with people who are enjoying it just as much as you are is a really special thing. If you’re going to a gig that you’re super excited about, that excitement can be felt in the venue because most people are on the same page, and it just adds to the experience. It’s such a joyful thing.’
On Friday 8 June, Easter Island records will be releasing the self-titled Lake Chad EP. The night will be a culture clash of different genres, truly celebrates the local music and DIY scene. The House of the Rising Funk will be spinning vinyl in-between sets and providing beats for SounderBroke. The night is £5 in with a copy of the EP or £3 without.