Interview: I’m Not From London Records

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I’m Not From London is a Nottingham based record label and promotions company famed for putting on wild party nights across Nottingham in the past few years. We spoke to director Will Robinson about all things music, artists and the identity of music in Notts.

Can you give us a snapshot of what I’m Not From London is in a sentence or two?

(I’m Not From London (INFL) are a live band promotions and events management company and a record label. We play hard and fair and have a good time doing it.

So what possessed you to begin running such a thing?

I’d moved from Watford to Mansfield with my parents and left to settle in Nottingham, the only people I knew being a band Punish The Atom and their friends who were all in bands. Nottingham’s music scene took me in and moving here was probably my best decision to date.

At school, I’d been promoting pubs without knowing it bringing groups of friends to the places I thought we could get in without ID through prior organisation, my mum’s phone and word of mouth. When I moved to Nottingham I noticed these people, or “promoters” were putting on the nights and not playing – I’d always assumed the bands put the nights on themselves or just got booked by the venue. I really liked the independent identity these nights and promoters had.

The first job I got in Notts was working for See Tickets selling nationwide tickets for gigs, it was a good basis for knowledge in the industry but on another level it was kind of another form of education and camaraderie with the people there. Everyone was in a band or an artist or promoter of some type as the job itself was pretty repetitive though flexible. The bands all there knew the local promoters and although I got to know a lot of musicians there, the scene already had it’s own established promoters so it was hard for me to get them to play a new night that I wanted to set up.

So when was the realisation that you wanted to do this kind of thing yourself?

I noticed that the bands had no problem getting local gigs but struggled to get them out of town. One day a club owner from Blackpool phoned the centre wanting to speak to See’s head of promotions, as he wanted bands to play his club. We didn’t have anyone for that sort of thing so I just pretended that was me and got chatting to him, I dropped a few names of some of the bands I knew that were doing well from Nottingham at the time Amusement Parks on Fire and Punish The Atom, I went up to Blackpool for a meeting with him and he gave me a regular slot in his club which included a room for the bands to stay at. The bands really liked it as did the locals, so on the basis of giving some of the bigger bands in Notts gigs out of town, they got to know me and in return I began to get some of the bigger bands to play for me in my home town.

Punish The Atom’s manager was Anton Lockwood who ran the events at The Rescue Rooms, I emailed him and he let me put my first gig on there with the bands I knew from See Tickets and I had a really busy gig and made some money. In hindsight it would have been a far more realistic lifestyle option if I had lost money on that but it got me hooked on putting on gigs, I’m still hooked.

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So does INFL’s name stem from putting on gigs for artists in these different places?

The name mainly comes from a line from my favourite film Withnail and I. It’s also as when I moved up my Watford accent often provoked the question “Are you from London?” from people in the midlands.

The other reason was noticing that a lot of the musicians from Nottingham felt they had to move down to the big smoke to get national recognition or to make it big, I wanted to make a statement that musicians from the city could get behind if they ever did make it big, a civic pride sort of thing. Ironically enough, some of our best events where when ended up bringing coachloads of Notts bands down to Dalston with half of them being bands that had moved down to London, half London and half Notts. There was something kind of punky about having a rammed out gig in East end with a big banner above the stage with “I’m Not From London” emblazoned across it. It’s music though, we’re all hypocrites!

You talk about there being a whole community feel among the creative scene in Nottingham, but is there any sort of hint of competition about it? Do bands really want to be better than other bands or is it a case of really helping each other out?

I would say there’s always going to be a sense of – “What are they doing over there? I’d like some of that”from the guys not doing so well and the guys doing better but due to the scene being quite diverse it wouldn’t make much sense –  Baby Godzilla are never going to be the next Jake Bugg and nor would they ever want to be though the singer songwriters of Nottingham now know there is an option of mainstream success thanks to the likes of Bugg. Younger hard core/rock bands can aspire to the touring success of Baby Godzilla and can see that by working incredibly hard that there is the chance that they can increase their fanbase and attain better gigs. The bar has been raised so competition in this sense is very healthy.

When I first started putting gigs on there was a sense of despondency where bands were frustrated thinking they could quite easily play, play and play and never get anywhere. There’s now a sense of confidence, local media organisations and radio stations like NUSIC, Trent sounds, Confetti, BBC Introducing, Leftlion, Trentsounds, Nottingham Live and the soon to be introduced Notts TV  who are all forging links with one another and regularly hosting conferences and showcases of the musical talent the city has. Nottingham’s biggest venue/promotion organisation, DHP, who run Rock City, Bodega and Rescue Rooms give regular support slots for local bands and even manage a couple of local acts like Dog Is Dead and Indiana etc.

If you take the case of Jake Bugg, he had over 3 years of playing on the local scene to hone his talent before he was signed. The venues had been letting him play since he turned 14 so by the time Universal signed him he’d had a pretty good few years to get to the standard of an act worth signing. In many cities he wouldn’t have had a chance to do that until he was old enough to drink, which means his saleability from the major label’s point of view would have been a lot less. As it was, he secured a four release signing, virtually unheard of in his position. I think that shows how supportive the city has been in terms of nurturing new talent and now the singer songwriter scene in Nottingham is over flowing. The promoters are friends with the acts especially in the singer-songwriter mould and the acts are friends with each other, they put each other forward for gigs when they can’t play them. One of our promoters Kim Winter who runs Under The Tree has even hosted a night ” Cover from Another Brother” where the Nottingham acts cover another Nottingham act’s song. This was massively successful and the musicians all loved it.

From my point of view, the promoters I started out with at The Maze and The Hockley Hustle are all doing their own thing really well. As everyone has been working hard, we all know there’s no excuses for slacking off, we also collaborate on loads of projects – so the tallest poppy syndrome isn’t really as prevalent. I think the bands have adopted the same attitude. Also you have to remember that not every musician or bands wants the world, some just want to make good music at their own pace and there’s also absolutely nothing wrong with that either but it’s genuinely nice to see the support and friendships grow from musicians playing with each other regularly.

So is Nottingham the right size to help one another out? Does it have a bit of a Goldilocks effect to it?

I think so yes, it’s small enough that if you meet someone and like their band or get on with them, you’ll probably see them again and in that way it’s good for starting off projects with different people. There are lots of people in bands that are also in other bands with other people. Collaborations and joint projects between different groups of people are quite common in Notts. In the same way, a bad attitude is soon picked up on too so people I think are generally a bit more polite than in other cities where you can get away with being an arse as you’re never gonna see that band/venue/promoter/fan again.

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What can you tell us about the acts on your label?

Well, we have our latest signing to Wire & Wool, the folkier, acoustic label under the I’m Not From London banner, Ryan Thomas. He’s a blues man with a voice and writing ability way beyond his years, he’s a kind, hard working, unassuming young gentleman who genuinely enjoys gambling, whisky and women to their full potential.

Also, The Most Ugly Child, a fresh yet accomplished country band with some amazing songs, natural classics. We’ve spent a few years and a lot of late nights with Ryan and The Most Ugly Child as stalwarts of our Kim’s Under The Tree nights and we’re all working together on making theirs and Wire and Wool’s first releases something very special.

I’m Not From London’s Captain Dangerous are a band teeming with talent and ability from the song writing to the multi instrumental members. Adam Clarkson (the lead singer) is so gifted with his songwriting ability and the band have been together since I started, Miles the guitarist produces a lot of their work and is now one of my partners in INFL Ltd along with our head of business affairs “Pat “the hat” Cannon.

Miles also now produces some of the Practical Lovers’ stuff, a two piece a post punk synth pop band releasing a single in March and album on I’m Not From London later this year after they embark on their tour of Japan.

I’m Not From London put out the first two releases for what the Guardian recently described in their round up of the year as “currently the most exciting new heavy band in the country”, Baby Godzilla! They are a live band every sense of the word “live”, to watch them is to become part of them, they are all about into tearing down the barriers between the band and the audience both figuratively and in most cases literally!

They have an extremely defined sense of identity and direction as well as being very humble and polite when off stage, their energy, onstage presence and DIY attitude is what got me hooked on them in the first place and that same energy is what made me start up the label with their “older brothers”, the incredibly chaotic and self destructive Hot Japanese Girl who broke up within a week of releasing their album that took us all over just two years to make. An amazing band none the less!

The talented Dave Lankester, the bassist from Hot Japanese Girl filmed and directed Captain Dangerous’ Forgive Us We’re British video as well as Practical Lovers’ Textbook Romance and all of Baby Godzilla’s videos to date.

Dave and HJG’s drummer Jay Evans linked up with Practical Lovers’ Mark Connell and recruited Tim Bond on guitar from Nottingham post punk band Luxury Stranger to form Deaf Bridges, a party punk rock band in the vein of Reuben, Future of The Left and The Beastie Boys. They are launching their single A for Adventure with I’m Not From London Records in Spring 2014, their message to the world – “Be more Awesome!”.

Sounds busy. So, all in all, how would you describe INFL’s identity?

In brief, all the acts we have on our roster are quality musicians and decent people with a genuine love of creating good music and playing gigs. As you might have picked up, the label is a very family based one; we will spend a lot of time together with the label team and band talking about the various idiosyncrasies of a release, the art work, schedule and ideas for the future. We’re all about making our acts feel valued and supported and we want them to be comfortable in telling us what they want or whether they agree with a decision or not, as it’s their music they’ve let us represent and that’s a big honour for us. We all play to our strengths and it’s all very organic. It’s a nice place to be!

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