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Blog: Centres Of Commerce

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Today we're going to look at the entertainment provision centres where the shifting of units occurred, also known as the ROCKHOLES where I persuaded people to hand over a fiver in exchange for a CD or other merchandising item. For all these tables we're going to be looking at the top 20ish for each category - there were an incredible 135 individual venues where people handed over the readies at some point, which would make for some EXTREMELY long tables if we went through all of them every time!

With that in mind, here's the top 20-ish venues for overall shifting.

Units Shifted Overall By Venue
VenueUnits Shifted
The Midland Railway - Butterley, Derby324
University of Sheffield Students' Union, Sheffield102
Firebug, Leicester65
The Avenue, Manchester34
The Brook Inn, Cleator Moor34
The Portland Arms, Cambridge31
The Adelphi, Hull30
The King & Queen, London21
The Grapes, Sheffield19
Rutland Arms, Sheffield19
The Criterion, Leicester19
The Spitz, London18
The Blue Shell, Cologne18
Bunkers Hill Inn, Nottingham18
The Wilmington Arms, London16
The Captain's Rest, Glasgow15
Carpe Diem, Leeds15
The 12 Bar Club, London15
The Red House, Sheffield13
The Victory, Leicester13
Bull & Gate, London13

Way way WAY out in front here is The Midland Railway because this was where INDIETRACKS used to happen. MAN ALIVE we used to sell a LOT of merch then, it was AMAZING. As discussed yesterday, if you like Actual Proper Indie-style INDIE Music then hasn't always been that easy to track down Physical Merchandise, and so at Indietracks people would often come prepared with HUGE WADS of CA$H to take the opportunity to buy MERCH from the Actual Proper Indie-Style INDIE acts themselves all gathered in one place at the same time. I particularly remember one year The Spanish Contingent rolling into the Merch Tent and buying TONNES of stuff, just because it was their one chance of the year to actually ACCESS it.

I also have blissful memories of one year where we set up a post-gig Validators Production Line to DEAL with all of the SALES ACTIVITY, with me at Front Of House (Captain Peacock), Frankie and Tim (Mr Humphries and Mrs Slocombe) manning the TILLS, and The Tiger (Mr Rumbold) overseeing the accounting. I think I'd been there on my own the year before and witnessed the International Commerce going on first-hand, so DELIGHTED in watching their ASTONISHED faces as we were MOBBED by customers, and then us all very proudly showing the PILES of CA$H to Miss Brahms later when she came back with BOOZE.

A little further down in the table we can see some MOST peculiar entries, with me having to look up The Avenue and The Brook Inn to see where they were. It turned out that these were the sites for two gigs that figure HIGHLY in our Mythos, remembered for what happened rather than the venue name. The first was the venue for Retrovision, a convention we played in 2005 where we got MILLIONS (approx) of Hey Hey 16K t-shirts made especially and sold LOADS of them. Over the years we have had several attempts to branch out into Alternative Merch, and the success of THIS venture was why we spent so much time and money failing to do it again over the next decade or so! The Brook Inn, meanwhile, was the birthplace of The Cleator Moor Validators, as discussed earlier, where everybody (including us) was VERY DRUNK INDEED and thus very willing to purchase PRODUCT!

I should say at this point, that all this capitalistic DELIGHT is not particularly based in joy at financial reward - almost everything we ever released cost WAY more to produce than we ever got back (I don't think ANY Validators album has recouped its recording costs, for instance) - but rather the sheer EXCITEMENT of anybody actually wanting to OWN something we'd done. As anyone who's ever experienced my unique approach to LIVE SALES will know, I tend to be so pleased when somebody WANTS one of my or our CDs that I will immediatlely foist MORE on them for free!

We should consider the possibility that the table above could be SKEWED, in that some venues may simply have ACCRUED a greater yield of sales over time. It might be that I played the same place 15 times and sold a UNIT each time, thus bumping that venue up the tables compared to somewhere I played twice and sold 7 items both times, so let's see what it looks like if instead we look at AVERAGE units sold per gig, by venue.

Average Units Shifted By Venue
VenueOverall UnitsGigsAverage per gig
The Avenue, Manchester34134
The Midland Railway - Butterley, Derby3241129.45
The Spitz, London18118
The Blue Shell, Cologn18118
The Brook Inn, Cleator Moor34217
The Red House, Sheffield13113
Green Man Festival, Brecon Beacons11111
Portland Works, Sheffield10110
Bunkers Hill Inn, Nottingham1829
Beatnik, Manchester919
Marie-Antoinette, Berlin919
The Vandella, London919
NOTE that this is showing the sales divided by the number of gigs done since 2003, rather than gigs overall, as that's when the data begins.

Looking at averages like this MASSIVELY favours the one-off gigs we've done, with another Retro Computing convention (and more Hey Hey 16K t-shirts!) at The Spitz, two trips ABROAD (where we were taking the RARE MERCH to Europe, rather than Europe coming to us at Indietracks) and sets at various Festivals and All-Dayers where a) you tend to get people who haven't seen you before and so don't already have everything and b) you tend to get people who are more DRUNK than usual, having been there all day, and so are much more likely to think "What I most want in the world is 17 Hibbett CDs for the price of 2 and, if possible, 28 free badges". With that in mind, let's FILTER this slightly and look instead at the same data but ONLY for places where I've played three or more times.

Average Units Shifted By Venues Visted 3+ Times
VenueOverall UnitsGigsAverage per gig
The Midland Railway - Butterley, Derby3241129.45
University of Sheffield Students' Union, Sheffield102156.8
The Grapes, Sheffield1936.33
The Portland Arms, Cambridge3165.17
The Adelphi, Hull3065
Rutland Arms, Sheffield1944.75
Firebug, Leicester65154.33
Carpe Diem, Leeds1553
Bull & Gate, London1352.6
The 12 Bar Club, London1562.5
The Wilmington Arms, London1682

There we go then, Indietracks is far and away the WINNER for this sort of thing - it really was a BEAUTIFUL place, even aside from the mounds of sweaty notes shoved our way! Second though is University of Sheffield Students' Union, where I played MANY times for Fuzztival, thanks to the very wonderful Ms P Blackham who kept on booking me, and indeed has continued to do so for other all-dayers ever since!

My FAVOURITE memory of those days in Sheffield is the time I played in the smaller hall to a LARGE audience, after which TV And Radio's Steve Lamacq came over to say hello and was SHOVED BODILY to one side by a group of women who wanted to buy CDs. He was very nice about it, and so were they! The loveliest thing of all about those gigs though was that YEARS LATER I still get people turning up at gigs who say they first saw me there, and bought a CD - there were some people at GIG ONE THOUSAND the other week, for instance, who told me they were still listening to the copy of This Is Not A Library they bought then.

I'm surprised to see The Portland Arms doing so well here, as I've never really though of that as a particularly SALES HEAVY place, and the same goes for Firebug and Carpe Diem. That, I guess, is the great advantage of looking at a massive pile of DATA this way, as it gives the FACTS rather than basing it on very vague memories of long ago. When I wrap this up next week I'm going to try and identify an IDEAL GIG based on all of this, so I can try and do it AGANE!

We'll also have a look at all of this by CITIES. As you can see above, there seems to be a whole lot of Sheffield and London in this list, but is that a true reflection of what actually happened? Were there, for instances, other cities where I sold loads of stuff but did so across a wider range of venues? We'll find out - NEXT TIME!

posted 17/2/2023 by MJ Hibbett

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