Founder member and Booking Manager - Edinburgh Blues Club
It was a Friday night and I had headed through to The Voodoo Rooms to interview Sari Schorr and catch the show. I’d never been to the venue before and I wasn’t sure where I was going but as usual the mobile helped me out.
Heading out of the bustle of Waverly Station I made my way a short distance down Princess Street to the Balmoral Hotel and crossed the road. The phone was telling me to head up what looked like a dead end but I decided to press on. The sound of the street was fading behind me and the light was starting to fail. The tarmac tuned into cobblestones which glistened a bit after the recent rain and showed the reflections of a shadowy couple up ahead having a smoke outside what looked like a busy bar, but the windows were too steamed up to see anyone. I passed the bar and kept going.
I could hear the muffled sound of a juke box up ahead and turned the corner of the cobbled street to see two guys of significant stature guarding the entrance to a dark staircase. “Good evening Sir”, one of them said as I walked between them and up the stairs. The music was getting louder. A room off to the right was home to a private party and so was the next one. I climbed upwards to a crescendo of the sound of people having a good time and Blues and there I was. The Voodoo Rooms!
Like no Blues club I have ever seen the décor is sumptuous and stately with large leather sofas, ornate wood carvings, high ceilings, huge chandeliers and a very cool clientele. This was going to be awesome!
I saw Duncan Beattie and went over to say Hi. Sari and the band were having dinner so I repaired to the bar for a short while before having the pleasure of interviewing Sari Schorr, New York Blues Hall of Fame artist, Powerhouse vocalist and gentle spirit. Read the interview here…
I then caught the support act Rain Reserve, who were a brilliant original Roots, Blues duo who I caught up with later in the bar and got a great insight into their philosophy, background and ambitions.
While we had a spare 10 minutes, Duncan and I retired to the smaller bar to chat about the success and plans for the future for The Edinburgh Blues Club…
Like no Blues Club I have ever seen...
Kirk: Hi Dunc and thanks for meeting up. I won’t keep you long as we are right in the middle of a gig. I just wanted to speak to you about the ongoing success of the Edinburgh Blues Club.
Duncan: Yes, we’ve been going for 4 years now. It was actually 4 years as of yesterday.
Kirk: This is a more professional approach than anyone else has undertaken, to my knowledge, in Scotland. When I look at the club website I can that there are 6 points of contact for various areas of the club from bookings through to charity management. To have 6 people running a non-profit Blues Club is pretty impressive.
Duncan: Yes, it’s the team that makes it work. It’s not for profit so, would you have that motivation if you had to do it all yourself? Probably not.
Kirk: Not with the amount of throughput that you guys are producing no.
Duncan: We work well as a team. One guy does the finance, someone else does the bookings, someone else does the promotion and while that’s going on the other committee members are working on other things like building contacts elsewhere
Kirk: I know people have tried in various other locations so it is quite an achievement.
Duncan: I think promotion plays a large part in the success. The website and social media is part of that obviously but we also produce printed media in the form of posters and flyers. I remember going to a show in London years ago and when I went out someone handed me a flyer and although I wasn’t going to be there to catch any of the following shows it struck me as being a great benefit to know what shows were coming next.
Kirk: Yes, there is still a lot of benefit of “Old School” marketing. I think that a lot of people get lazy with social media and assume that because it is online that everyone can see it. That’s not the case though and distribution is somewhat controlled by the social media provider. There is also such saturation that it is easy to have your event put way down on a potential customer’s feed.
Duncan: You’re right and there are people that may not be on social media or do not follow the page or even know about the club.
Kirk: One of my questions was going to be about what you attribute your success to so I guess the answer to that is that you keep an eye on technology but also invest in old school promotion as well?
Duncan: Yes, and we have also identified that there is a market in Edinburgh for what we are doing?
Kirk: How did you identify the demand?
Duncan: There is the Jazz and Blues Festival every summer and it’s incredibly successful so there are a huge number of people that will come out for those 10 days but where do they go for the rest of the year? Surely there are people that want to see good Blues gigs throughout the year? So that was one of things that we tried to tap into. We don’t have the marketing database or information packs that Jazz Scotland have but we can try and do it our won way. And of course, targeting the J&B Festival audience during the summer is a key part of our Autumn programme.
Another thing that we are careful about is that we try and book acts that are not playing anywhere near Edinburgh as part of their tour. If a band were playing in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Kinross for example then those locations are all a bit close and there is the risk that we would all lose out.
We also are very keen to promote the local talent and every headline act is supported by a local band. It’s not just Edinburgh bands, we bring in Glasgow bands as well. A lot of the guys on your website have played here.
We had Charlotte Marshall and Fraser John Lindsay on the opening night. They were a complete wildcard but they were fantastic. Melissa Kelly from Glasgow has played here as well. She is an amazing singer!
A key thing has been trying to get younger acts in as well and promote new talent. We had Eric Gales play for us last June and he was supposed to be coming with another guitar player as support but at the last moment the support pulled out. We had seen this young band playing at a jam night a few weeks before and made the decision to ask them if they would like the support slot. In fact, the guitar player had been the first guy to buy a ticket for the Eric Gales gig. He was so excited just to come and see him but when we offered him the support slot it was like a dream come true! The band were called Bourbon Street and the guitarist was called Lewis. I'm sure he would like the name check!
I think another thing that helps us reach a wider audience is the diversity that we try to attain. It’s important to realise that you can’t get the same people to come and see the same thing all the time so it’s about trying to mix it up. A mix of Straight Blues, Acoustic Blues, Blues Rock Swing, Jazz etc you know? Different people are enticed by different styles. What we find now is that Blues Rock bands are quite popular but it's important to us that we cater for other styles of blues too.
Kirk: Can you tell me a little about the Edinburgh Blues and Rock Festival that is coming up?
Duncan: The first year it ran it was very successful but the following year the numbers fell off a bit and this year, the lady that organises it wasn’t sure that she wanted to run it so we thought that it would be an ideal opportunity for us to stage a big event. Essentially, the six acts that are playing could all have played Edinburgh Blues Club. We have Charlotte Marshall and the Jensen Interceptors, both of whom you know well. We also wanted to go for the Rock angle as well with bands like Ten Years After. In this festival, we went for older more established acts, whereas most of the Edinburgh Blues Club are newer or they are coming to the UK for the 1st time.
Kirk: Talking of that, what acts have you got coming up for the rest of the year?
Duncan: We have Ruf Records Blues Caravan coming up in the Autumn. That’s Bernard Allison, Mike Zito and a young Croatian guitarist called Vanja Sky.
We’ve also got Corey Harris and Lightin Willie and The Poor Boys.
Kirk: I’ve read that you get help from your members when you are searching for acts. Can you tell me how that works?
Duncan: Yes, we did a survey of all the 130 members and asked them to choose from the list of artists that we have been approached by and asked which if those they would like to see. The Blues Caravan had 64% of the responses so we decided to get that moving straight away. The same survey chose Lightnin Willie and the Poorboys.
We also have Grainne Duffy coming back. She is an Irish singer and guitar player and Nine Below Zero will be playing here again. They rammed this place the last time they played here so we have them playing in Stramash this time. We change the venue depending on the size of the audience we think we are going to get. We never used to do that but it just gets too busy in here at times.
Reflection on the bar window of the opulent decor of the bar interior against the gritty backdrop of a city in a constant state of regeneration.
Kirk: Stramash and The Voodoo Rooms are very well-established venues and if they are working with you to host your gigs then it must be very much worth their while which is fantastic for the future of the club.
Duncan: Yes, I knew the General Manager of the Voodoo Rooms 5 years ago and asked if they would work with us. He spoke to the Directors and we managed to get a reduction for the first couple of shows and since then it has gone from strength to strength. This is a great venue! People come here and can’t help but be impressed by the surroundings, it’s pretty impressive. People want to play here because they can see from the photos that it’s a nice venue.
Kirk: Talking about the quality of the venues along with the high calibre of the acts that play here, you were nominated in Best Blues Club in the UK category in the UK Blues Awards. Voting closed a couple of days ago. Are you going to the awards ceremony down in Worthing to hear the result?
Duncan: The ceremony is on the 19th of May and there will be 4 committee members going down to attend that. That’ll be great fun!
Kirk: Have you brushed down your Tux or are you going in Blues attire with the shades and the Pork Pie hat?
Duncan: I’m actually thinking about the Kilt, you know? Putting a Scottish stamp on the proceedings.
Kirk: Fantastic, and at what point do you guys start working on the acceptance speech, or would that be too presumptuous?
Duncan: I think that may be a bit presumptuous. We shall see. The difficulty about having a club in Scotland is that we are pretty far away from the mainstream media. The clubs down South tend to be more accessible and therefore receive more publicity.
Kirk: Ian Siegal is the compare at the awards, isn’t he?
Duncan: Yes, he is and he is playing here on the 21st of April.
Kirk: I know. I’m taking him out to dinner and interviewing him while he’s here for that gig. When I asked him what he liked he said “Italian, but I also like me a haggis” so we’ll see. I believe there are Haggis pizzas to be had in the city so that may be the way to go.
Thanks so much for your hospitality tonight Dunc. I’ve had a great time; the night is still young and the joint is still jumping so I’m heading back to the party. All the best of the future and please keep up the excellent work. The club is a credit to the UK Blues scene.
Duncan: Thanks Kirk, great speaking to you. All the best.
the voodoo rooms