By Adam Humphreys
Meet Will Robinson, the man behind a company called I’m Not From London. This record label, filmmaking outfit and events promotion organiser started back in 2005, where Robinson banded together a network of promoters and bands.
With over ten years of experience in the industry, Robinson has not only acquired a massive following but has also been lucky enough to work with rising talents such as Stacey McMullen and Jack Peachy (who’s is better known by his stage-name Gallery 47). Over the years Will and his dedicated team have nurtured Nottingham’s music scene, helping it change and grow over the years to what it has become now.
This year his band, the Witch of the East, have embarked on a tour of UK and Europe. Robinson has also worked with Frank Benbini, the drummer from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals as well as sixty other artists on album which explores Mental Health and was featured on BBC’s Inside Out programme. Aside from his other duties he will joining with other music promoters, labels and managements for the city-wide music event, Hockley Hustle.
So, Will, you’ve been involved in the Nottingham music scene now for over a decade, how much has it changed in that time?
> I dipped my toe in about 2005 and back then the scene was a lot more disparate. As many promoters and bands didn’t seem to work together so much though that was always a common observation when talking to people then so the onus was on making that happen. People like Tom Whalley from Not in Nottingham who went on to work for BBC East Midlands and now BBC6, Tommy Farmward and Mark Del were just starting out and very much championing new music. Rescue Rooms had just been open a couple of years and I had been inspired to get into promoting and running a label from promoters like, Why Can’t We All Get Along, Pete Superniight, Gringo Records and Damn You, Ricky Haley from Liars Club, Anton Lockwood from DHP and formerly The Night With No Name.
I think the city always had a vibrant nightlife music wise, it just wasn’t talked about that much or noticed in other big cities though we did have quite formidable bands like Pitchshifter, Six By Seven and Spiritualised though again I think there was a bit of a divide between them and the small bands playing the smaller venues. Certainly, in the last 5-10 years the whole local industry has been strengthened by the growth of that industry now. Big gigs and festivals like The Hockley Hustle unified a lot of promoters and bands which I think led to a generally more supporting atmosphere for new local bands, promoters and labels.
Musicians and people starting out now are now promoters for the bigger venues and the local bands are now respected for their music and their following and are getting great support slots and headline shows as a result. Confetti College is now part of the University and we have the world-class Metronome studios and event space training up generations of music industrials with every year. We’ve a great underground independent scene too with Stuck on A Name and JT Soar still going strong with regular recordings and gigs taking place. The scene is good and it’s a testament to the people within it though it’s not all roses we’ve just lost an institution, “The Maze” as they couldn’t afford to run a bar with the rates and overheads. That was a solid base, a hub that really nurtured new bands and promoters. Nottingham is already a less vibrant city with its closure. If Nottingham does care about its culture, it really needs to actively protect and support these grass roots places more.
You run a management and promotion group called I’m Not from London, how did that come about?
> We’ve never been managers really but the nature of working with small bands starting out meant that they needed the direction and development a manager might give, at least for the duration of the release. I was promoting at a place called Loggerheads when one of the barmen Jay introduced me to a band his mate Ali was in called Hot Japanese Girl who had designed a banner for me and played a gig as a solo musician before at one of our gigs there. He’d written a few tracks and was putting a band together with Jay and his mate Dave and it ticked all the boxes for me. It made me want to turn the night into a label so I put the idea to the three sound technicians I had been working with since I started (Danny Clarke, Mat Thomas and Phil Booth) who were all setting up a studio in their house. They became my first partners in I’m Not from London Records and while we were recording Hot Japanese Girl there, we overlapped on a recording with Captain Dangerous who I also knew from promoting them. They ended up being INFL’s first release and by that time I really knew that what I was doing was all I wanted to do and I enjoyed it more than anything I’d done previously… So, I carried on doing it.
What I find most intriguing is the name, I’m Not from London, how you decide on that?
I’ve always liked championing the underdog which is kind of what inspired the name. The bands doing well when I moved here were all moving (or talking about moving) to London to progress. It was a real shame to hear as this was the city where they met and wrote their tunes. Other cities like Manchester and Sheffield were fiercely proud of what they were doing and had the attitude ‘London can come to me’. I liked that approach and although I was born in Sutton In Ashfield, I had been brought up in Watford but after moving to Mansfield in my early 20’s and then to Nottingham; Notts was certainly home for me. My accent at the time, the London centric nature of the industry lead and the fact that the phrase was one from my favourite film of all time “Withnail and I” who’s main character I later discovered was based on a man (Vivian Mackerral) from Nottingham lead to the “I’m Not From London” name we all know and love!
What types of artists have you worked with?
> All sorts, at our peak in the summer we can be involved in up to 20 events a month and they’re all very diverse. Indie, rock and folk artists/singer songwriters probably make up the bulk of the gigs though we’ve been working with a lot more hip hop and electronic artists recently and anything different and experimental is always appealing. We recently held a sell-out show at the Spiegel Tent, a new concept that we had been working on for a while with a visual and graphic artist Maximillion. It was a lot of fun and we had a twelve piece powerfolk band “the Destroyers” headline plus a very surreal Canadian names Thomas Truax support who makes his own Heath Robinson inspired instruments , we also had clowns and dancers while Maximillion projected his art behind them and we built a twelve foot moth that one of our performers wore, we imaginatively named him moth man.
And of those how many came from Nottingham?
> Our publishing roster’s bands come from lots of different places and on the label most of the bands have come from Nottingham apart from No Nothings and Chambers who were from Hull/Leeds and Arrows of Love from that London though the nights are quite different and the line-up though mainly local usually consist or a band from elsewhere as we like to introduce our crowds to new things.
For those who weren’t from Nottingham did you help them find a footing in the city?
> I’d normally start working with them on a gig swap basis. If they can help our bands get gigs elsewhere, I’ll do the same for them here. This would start with small gigs and as their reputation grew, I’d give them bigger slots and introduce them to other people who could help them out.
Apart from Nottingham have been active in other regions such as Leeds, Blackpool, Sheffield and London etc?
> Yes, Nottingham’s great but it’s nice to get out the ‘shire when you can. Viva la difference.
Are you still active in those areas?
>Despite the name we have at least one or two gigs in London a year, the same as Leeds although we do a few more things there as Aeris from our band Chambers/Witch Of The East lives and works there mostly though we haven’t done as much in Sheffield or Blackpool recently but I think that’s just been due to having so much on logistically.
We have been building strong links with Hull, a city I see a lot of Nottingham in. We’ve signed a few of our There’s a great guy called Paul Sarel who lives in on site at The Adelphi. We met his band “Bunkerpop” at amazing music festival there called The Humber Sesh and Paul runs a festival called Fast and Bulbous at The Adelphi. I got him on a gig at The Angel first followed by a slot supporting The Invisible Orchestra at The Metronome and last month he played our Nottingham Waterfront Festival. In turn he’s been helping me promote INFL gigs at The Adelphi, we had Stacey McMullen play our first who also just played their Fast & Bulbous fest and Whisky Stain are going up next. We’re working really well together and The Adelphi is almost an exact replica of The Maze (RIP). There’s a great industry festival that we spoke at a couple of years ago called 53 degrees north which is really worth visiting, it’s ran by The Warren Youth Project up there who are doing magnificent things for Hull.
INFL started back in 2005, how do you and your team feel about what you’ve achieved in 13 years?
We all really proud of all we’ve achieved not only on the band side of things which is all a lot of people see but from the team’s point of view, many of the intern’s and promoters that did a year volunteering with us (and usually longer) have gone on do some amazing things. Our apprentice Darren Blair is now off crewing on all sorts of big productions around the world and works festivals like Boomtown when he’s off. Sam Allison is now assistant manager at Rough Trade. Sam Russel works for Kilimanjaro in London. Kayla Bell’s working in production for Rock City and our original first intern Kim now works in events for the all of Notts parks the Council. A lot of the people were not too sure what they wanted to go into when they started but the work we do is so varied that people start finding out what they’re good at and as we’re such a small team it’s not long before they end up being responsible for a lot which I think gives them a lot of confidence for the future.
A lot of the bigger 20 band gigs we did in the early days made us feel we were ready to put on festivals like the Waterfront Festival and Outstanding that sort of thing lead us and our peers and HH founders Tommy Farmyard and Left lion’s Ash to feel ready to relaunch The Hockley Hustle after it’s hiatus. The success of that sort of multi venue inner city charity festival inspired the likes of Beat The Streets and other charitable music events to take place and lead to INFL having stage on other festivals where we’ve give platforms to new talent so the fact that we’ve been part of something positive in the city for such a long time that a lot of us did off our own back and without any funding has certainly snowballed and meant a lot of other great things have happened. We’ve managed to stay afloat without debt in an industry that is very unstable and unsecure. We’ve also been the first promoters to pay a lot of the bands that have played in Notts and I think that gives them a good sense of their own worth in terms of (I should be paid for this), that’s a nice feeling. A lot of the sound tech’s, graphic artists, writers, videographers, photographers and free lancers have started out with jobs for us that has kickstarted their careers. That’s given us a lot of pride and it makes you and those around you feel like things that can sometimes seem impossible are actually very possible with hard work, a good attitude and with a clear vision in sight.
Since you started you’ve worked with an array of musical that Nottingham’s had to offer so far such as Stacey McMullen and Gallery 47, how do you feel about how they’ve since evolved?
I’m loving Gallery 47’s new album Chaos Ensued, it’s a new direction and I can see shades of seventies rock in there which I’m a big fan of and to me his song writing seems more concise. His signing to BMG Publishers certainly seems to made him more open to working with other musicians and which can only be a good thing for the future.
Stacey’s come on leaps and bounds since I first caught the young street urchin trying unsuccessfully to pick my pocket in Barnet High Street. I’ve since moulded him under my careful tutelage where he is now a fully-fledged music hustler out in the big wide world making his mark. Working with Stacey was a long game type affair as despite being a very talented folk musician, he hadn’t really had much experience of playing his own music at gigs until he started playing ours. We managed to get him funding through Baby People and he recorded his EP at The Old Library in Mansfield. Our team then made some videos for him and started putting him on high profile local gigs. This was with the aim of building his confidence and also so other people/institutions would take note. We then strategized his launch and helped him getting his tour sorted and a bit of help with social media and contacting other local organisations, show and press to help him with publicity. After he did his first tour of Europe, he asked me if I could recommend some band mates to make the touring less lonely and help make the sound fuller so I officially introduced him to Russ Clark who knew of Stacey from our label Wire & Wool’s other band 94 Gunships. Russ wanted to get into recording and try his hand at production and Stacey had a few more songs he was working on. Rich Grindon had just left The Invisible Orchestra and wanted another project where he could drum so I thought those three personalities would make a nice band together and also get along.
My partners during this time were Patrick Cannon and Miles Clark who worked incredibly hard during this campaign along with our videographer Fred Ourman who helped with his first I Wait video and the later along with Fiona Chaddock and Kayleigh Pickup for his Live video at JT Soar with his band. He’s working on his second release now and it’s sounding really well. He’s doing a Go Fund me campaign for it all that you can donate to here and it looks like he’s close to achieving his dreams. I think if you could have told Stacey a few years ago what he would have done in three year’s times I don’t think he would have believed it. I’m very proud of his evolution as a person and a musician. He’s also a dear friend and I’ve very much enjoyed our journey together as a label and artist.
Here’s the crunch question now; are there any musicians from Nottingham who you look at and think ‘Wished I/we could’ve worked with them’?
I think in some cases it’s more; I wish I’d have not bothered with that one ha-ha! Nottingham’s so small that I think I’ve worked with everyone I really wanted to in some capacity. There are certain bands that I’d like to have released or still release but they’re attached to other labels and I think there’s a bit of an unspoken rule in Notts to not tread on your mate’s (label’s) toes in that capacity but also I think things have a way of working themselves out. I’d have like to have worked with Sleaford Mods on a release but I don’t think either of us would have actually enjoyed it. Jake Bugg (no Nottingham interview is ever complete without mentioning JB or SM right?) had a manager that sent his tape/cd straight to Mercury and side stepped the local labels, that was exactly the right thing to do as we wouldn’t have as much clout or money as they would so in Jake’s case and with others sometimes a label isn’t what’s needed, a decent manager is. I’m an underdog champion through and through really and if there’s an unknown band/artist with talent and something special about them who have some songs but need developing a bit and also need to know how to structure a release then a label can really give them the tools to grow as an artist , if that happens sometimes the artist and label stick and grow together which can be a beautiful thing.
As a man who’s worked with lots of artists how do you think the music scene’s fairing out in terms of female representation e.g. You Want Fox, Crosslight, Indiana and Tori Sheard etc?
I certainly do. Nottingham’s great for that at the moment. There are also some great women in the industry doing their thing, FanClub promoters, Kristi Genovese the booker at The Metronome, Parisa from Ackoustickle, Hannah Larham (Waterfront Festival/Audacious Face promoter) Sumaya Mughal in the BBC, Caroline Kerr (Bras Not Bombs) with the International Women’s Day Festival, all helping younger women know that the scene isn’t one big boys club.
So, do you think that this will lead to more women being heard in the city’s music scene?
It all makes a difference. In summer, our Waterfront Festival had more bands/acts with women in than without which included the crew. That wasn’t intended nor was it done deliberately which I don’t agree with. It happened because they were the best band/person for the job. Bands I’m very much into at the moment are Babe Punch, Desensitised, Witches Mark and Marty.
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