Phil Pethybridge - May 2007

Local Cambridgeshire Artist
Phil Pethybridge presents The Scene on He's part of the Hope Street Music Co-operative, and teaches media and music industry studies at Cambridge Regional College. He was terrified about talking about himself. He couldn't think of anything worse. But after a light chat we changed the focus to music, the thing that gives life a great buzz.

What's music to you?
Music to me?... as in recorded music or music generally?

Generally? It gives you that buzz, it's like if you are a football fan and your team wins.. you get a buzz and that's how music is to me. It's the score at the last minute - it gives you that buzz. I'm always out searching for new music, once I found it I get that feeling, that buzz!

You must listen to a lot that doesn't give you that buzz
(sigh!) Yes, for example, The Secret Garden Festival put on by the Living Room - we have forty slots and we had nearly 500 demos - many of the 450 were absolute rubbish.

What would you say to those people who are rubbish?
Well it's quality... It's tricky - if it's a band that ask me for my honest opinion on their music, well I will say 'that one is a bit weak' or 'that one didn't catch me'. But if it's a random band and they say 'Hi we're band X, we're from Y City and we'd like to play at your festival,' then I listen and if I think this is not so good.... I'll say 'it's not quite what we're looking for'. And it's because it's not up to me to tell a band whether or not they should be playing music and, equally, musicians can get better by their own efforts. Who would ever stop someone trying to develop themselves, their music, their sound. It's quality and practice, rehearsal and going back over it critically again and again that improves the quality. I'm happy to give my opinion if people ask for it. I wouldn't dream of doing it otherwise because people are so different and respond and react in hugely different ways. There are so many different levels of music that I work at. But giving an opinion when you are not asked - well, you can't know what they are aiming to do or the sound they want to make, so it's best to be quiet unless they ask you seriously what your opinion is.

Do you play an instrument ?
I can't play any instruments. I used to play the recorder when I was five and then I had a go at the violin, and got completely slated by the teacher. So I gave that up. But just last year I took up the harmonica - it's portable and cheap.

How are you learning it?
Teach yourself harmonica with free DVD. I've also chatted with Steve Lockwood who is an ace player and has a great website.

Musically, what catches your ear and how do you know?
Again, it's just practice - it's practice at listening. I know my place and love to dabble in other places. I don't want to keep my blinkers on. I like to try out different genres and find new music to expand my taste. When I was growing up all I had was Madness, The Beatles and Michael Jackson. Now it's the long tail effect. People have the opportunity to promote themselves. The same amount of income is being spent on music but is spread more thinly over the music world, which is great... Yeah! Some music I've been listening to a lot is beat-boxing.

What's beatboxing? (he plays some beatbox on his mobile which is just awesome)
Beatboxers use their voices to make all the sounds. Holding the mic to their mouth they imitate DJ and Clubbing sounds. One of the locally known ones is Galactica who's starting to do some solo work but he's been the live backing track for Emma York for a while - well, he is her brother! But you should watch out for Orchestric Wonders which is 35 Beatboxers all together!

What about your programme on 209?
The show is called the Scene. It specialises in guitar based local music. I find these Bands through e-mails and gigs. It gives me the chance to put them all together and badger the world about it. I started it when I was doing Student Radio for Cambridge University. I called it The Scene then, but it was originally called Something a little Bit New, a bit of a wet title, don't you think? It started from when a friend asked me to play a CD of a local band. So I said yes, because even though there's loads of music in the charts, I wanted to make it stand out. So eventually it was what can I play from around here? I became the local programme on the Cambridge University Radio. That's how the content of the programme came about on Cambridge Student Radio. When I was no longer a student at ARU, I stopped doing the student radio programme. Three months earlier I had spoken with Karl Hartland, Manager of 209radio, on The Scene grilling him about how he was going to buy the Boatrace. I told him that I was finishing with Cambridge University Radio so I hopped over to 209 and carried on. It was once a month and now it's once a week.

How long does it take you to prepare?
I spend the whole week listening to demos. They're piled high on the passenger seat of my car. So I listen as I drive along. If I like it it stays on the passenger seat, if I don't, it goes into the footwell!

What happens if you have to put on the brakes suddenly? (hoots of laughter)
Well, I have to start again, don't I? It has happened. Luckily my car has not been broken into. If they look in they'd see dozens of demos and say ‘don't know them'... ' don't know them' - bored. The demos are only worth 7pence each!

So what if you're on the train, do you listen do more listening then?
No, I find that's the place where I do a lot of reading. I go to London for events and gigs. I find that I like to have a good book to read. On the tube, if I don't, I read the adverts. I have been known to get out of one carriage and step into another, just so that I can read a new set of adverts.

And do you memorise them?
Ha ha na na - but the Insure and Go ads are quite good. Its the branding, I'm looking at how it works.

Ah - branding, that brings us on to the Shivers: how is that branding working?
They are a good band, but the problem at the moment is motivation. They've got a new bassist in so that made four. But Jody left recently because it just wasn't working. So down to three again. Then Ben broke his ankle so, if I've subtracted correctly, that leaves two. I've just cancelled about 10 gigs which was part of the single launch tour. Not surprising motivation is low. It's a pain, just unlucky, but these things happen. The idea is that the tour with a single release tied in nicely as a media format. We've been trying to expand The Shivers out of Cambridge, so we have to lay the scent. It's a cat and mouse game, you can't get known without some media coverage and you won't get the media coverage without the gigs. Hence the demo CD. I do this on the side, because it would be nice seeing a Cambridge band get somewhere. I guess I'm just helping them out as they are friends.

What other Cambridge bands are doing well at the moment?
There are a couple - The Pony Collaboration and the Rotating Leslies from Royston and there's a couple more, like Jeremy Warmsley, he was one of my first guests on the Scene. He doesn't mention Cambridge in his publicity, but if he did there'd be a bit of a following for him here. He probably doesn't mention it because there are no big names coming from Cambridge at the moment. It's not marked on the band scene like Sheffield and Manchester. It would be good to see a Cambridge band get somewhere. When the Arctic Monkeys came out of Sheffield the standard was raised immediately, and a whole load of great bands followed from there .

So we're back to this question we started with, the issue of quality in music?
Yeah. It's all very well doing gigs and demos; but it's about maintaining the quality and raising the standard of the performance. There was quite a band scene here in Cambridge, but then the musicians moved on; their lifestyle changed because they got married or got into other areas of music. The result was the quality went down. With the new talent we need to raise the standard. And we need a 350 seater venue for them. The Loft is great, but if you have a big crowd it's a squash, and the Junction is too big for bands who are trying to build a following. We need a place for bands with a mid-sized following.

What's in the future?
Dunno! Oh people move on. I'm not going to be here forever. I've started teaching at CRC, it's rewarding - it is hard work, I teach maths, radio production and presenting, and music industry. I do meet a lot of bands who don't know about things in Cambridge, and I tell them about Cambridge Bands and Moving Tone News. So it's like I'm building a youth team, reverting back to football analogies - I want to build a music youth team in Cambridge - a point of contact where you can go and meet like-minded people. It gets everyone working together, it builds resources and it uses what's out there.

Interviewer: Anne L Ryan

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