“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” Danny went to speak to someone who thinks the new boss doesn’t have to be the same as the old boss, it can be a democratically elected representative of an autonomous collective.
There is a spectre haunting this interview – the spectre of Birmingham Promoters.
A few years ago, when most people at gigs had never washed their hands, Birmingham Promoters had a near monopoly of smaller gigs in some of our best venues.
Then came the Brum music scene’s rejection of the man running it; called out publicly for misogyny and sexual assault back in 2021, after the rumours and whispered warnings from victims and friends to other women finally got heard. Since then, Birmingham Promoters has scrubbed its presence off the internet, its not clear they or the company (BPL Events LTD) has been doing or whether they actually received the £115,759 granted to them by the Cultural Recovery Fund. Birmingham Promoters seems to be more gone than the R-rate.
Now that we’re pretending the pandemic is over and the music scene in Birmingham begins to brush itself off, get its hands dirty, and get back to its feet, you have to wonder who will fill the gap. Mark Roberts says he has part of the solution.
Seeing advertisements for Birmingham Co-Operative Promoters and their inaugural event The Fully Automated Luxury Space Communism Party I knew I had to speak to him. Mark arrives on time and instantly buys me a drink. Tall and slender he suits the vintage vibe he gives off, the maroon leather jacket matching his deep red Dr Martens, despite looking like a hippy, he politely asserts his turn at the bar when the bartender asks ‘who’s next’ in a situation many would demurely acquiesce.
During the interview he is animated and eloquent and sometimes leans down towards the recorder when he wants to talk to you, the reader directly.
Danny – Who Is Mark Roberts?
Mark – I was born and bred in Birmingham. I grew up in Sutton. It’s middle class Birmingham. I accept that. I’ve been doing music since I was very young – I’ve been playing guitar for 17 years and I’ve been on the scene for about eight years. I was in a band called Mother Earth Experiment. That disbanded in 2018 and since then I started a new band called Doxa who are playing the Fully Automated Luxury Space Communism Party on 9 April at the Hare & Hounds.
The reason I wanted to become a promoter? Well truth be told I didn’t, but I was fed up with the taking advantage of people that has gone on; not paying people properly, pay to play, ticket related fees annoy me as well, although they are a little less bogus. Along with the revelations that happened last year about what happened on the scene. I won’t go too much into it because victims of sexual assault shouldn’t have their stuff aired for no reason, but everyone knows who I’m talking about. So with those revelations last year I wanted to make a promoter that could be held accountable, so the idea is that every role in the promoter is voted for by the membership, you can become a member. We’re not sure exactly how that is going to work yet.
Danny – So you are a musician and you’ve seen all these things that are wrong, but that’s just the way it works right?
Mark – Yeah, absolutely. I think because of how the power works on the scene you sort of have to sell your soul, you have to give up your free time and all this stuff, and frankly it’s just wrong.
Danny – You identified some of them but what are the main issues on the scene at the moment? Specifically the Birmingham music scene.
Mark – So I’m going to talk about promoters themselves from a promoters perspective. There is a real issue with promoters not promoting properly – so we’re seeing the average promoter putting up one instagram post for small acts, doesn’t bother with flyers, doesn’t bother posters, doesn’t bother trying to get interviews, doesn’t bother in general, and these are classic promoter things. It isn’t just Birmingham, it’s a systemic thing with the music industry as a whole taking advantage of smaller artists.
Danny – So you’ve been around for about eight years, has this changed? Was it better?
Mark – No, you know what, I’m going to say it. It has always been the way. I remember a promoter back in 2010 walking out of a gig I did with a band before me and them telling us they couldn’t pay us what they said because of X,Y, and Z reasons . It’s an unacceptable position , this isn’t how it works, you should have contracts, you have guaranteed pay, or at very least guarantees for promotion and ticket related pay. It’s abhorrent and still happens today.
Danny – It is disgusting really, just exploitation at that point
Mark – Another one is backline not being sorted by the promoter is another huge one that keeps happening, I’ve heard of people being threatened with having their shows taken down because they weren’t told in advance they needed to bring a kit and they are expected to hire one. That unacceptable as well.
Danny – Anything else?
Mark – Lack of communication, huge problem in the scene, and I’ll say this. This goes for a lot of different areas. You email a promoter about stuff, and they just won’t get back to you. It can happen the other way round as well, but it’s so important, getting stuff like tech specs down, do they have the equipment at the venue? That sort of thing.
Danny – So you plan to be a non profit organisation, so why do it? Why are you going to bother to set this up at all?
Mark – So by non-profit we mean in the sense that in charities, for example Oxfam, you know that Oxfam workers are getting paid. I’m not doing this for free, I will get paid (Although with the gig I’m getting none of that money it’s all going towards setting this up). So what happens in a capitalist system is that the owner will be taking the lion’s share of money away from everything, in this system it’s going to be a fair pay system and this will be voted for as well. People will get decide how much everyone is paid and how much is going back into the business
Danny – And that will be completely transparent?
Mark – Absolutely everyone will know everyones pay, I would like, and obviously I don’t get to decide because it’s a democratic system. I would like it to be Novara media, where everybody gets paid the same, but that’s not certain. And that’s the thing about a democratic thing we don’t know because everybody else gets a say. Also my jobs up for grabs if anyone wants it
Danny -Talk about numbers, how may? Who does what that sort of thing
Mark – Membership is unlimited, you have just as much say as I do in that regard. And when we talk about that we’re talking about the sort of thing that will definitely be decided by voting are things like, you know, how much were earning out of what were being paid, what’s going back in, the sort of events were doing, the sort of people we work with and stuff like that. Fundamentally anyone that wants to be part of Birmingham CoOp Promoters, in terms of working for, will have to be voted in, they’ll have to do a campaign and be voted in, myself included. That will be happening.
But we’ve got to get this thing off the ground first, get it to a stable position, I don’t know when that’s going to be, the members can decide that, I’m just going to give recommendations on where I think we are. So you get to vote for the workers, you get to vote for the pay structure and how that works, and significant events you’ll get to have your say on that.
Danny – So how often will the meetings be?
Mark – I can’t say for exactly now but they’ll be at least once a month, they’ll be a AGM every year. But the thing is right now it’s about building a constitution and I’ve got to build that with a democratic backing otherwise it’s illegitimate. I can’t just come out and tell everyone what it’s going to be and have people vote on it. So we go through that and we build on it this year. I feel we can build a proper cooperative that is working correctly and it’s about that transition of power.
Danny – Its sounds like your role at the moment is just to get a lot of people in a room and teach them how it could work, and how it should work and let them take over.
Mark – To a certain degree, yes, I mean like, don’t get me wrong, I’ve started this role. I wouldn’t mind staying in it at this point, but if someone thinks they can do a better job, and they do? By all means take it over. The point of the thing is that once it’s out there it’s the scene’s, it’s not mine. It’s not like other promoters, it’s meant to be for everyone. So to a certain degree I want to teach people how socialism and cooperatives work, in fact I don’t know if teaching is the right word. It’s more about exploring with people what we can do, because I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know all the answers – I don’t. Some people are going to have better ideas than me and I want to hear them.
Danny – Why hasn’t anyone done anything like this before?
Mark – I couldn’t tell you for definite if no one has done this before, but I haven’t found any yet. I think generally because promoters are a small business with a few employees but a potential to make a lot of money and a lot of people want money. I also think that democracy is seen as a problem to business. I don’t think it necessarily is, people see it as slowing everything down, but if that is the case then why are our states built in that way? Why is it that we uphold democracy as this vital part of our society when it comes to government, but when it comes to where we work, democracy is gone and dictatorship rules?
For me the big top down hierarchies are inherently the issue, it’s not just capitalism its authoritarianism its totalitarianism . For me it’s about spreading power as widely as possible. So the co-operative movement and stuff like that. I generally don’t favour planned markets though I do favour some nationalisation especially with natural monopolies like utilities and infrastructure and things like that
Danny – So seeing as you’re against totalitarianism and authoritarianism, isn’t having the hammer and sickle on you poster a little problematic?
Mark – what I want to say is that the hammer and sickle is the international symbol for communism, and communism is defined by Marx as a stateless classless society. And I think we can all agree that the USSR, China, Cuba, all these other places are authoritarian regimes. There is definitely a state, it is very big, and it definitely has a class system and I’d argue that these classes are even more separate than certain capitalist countries, some are not. But it was once again the elite and everyone else. So I don’t endorse those countries whatsoever. The hammer and sickle is about classless and stateless society, however it’s also sort of a big prod at every right wing boomer that thinks the future the kids want is a totalitarian regime and anything to the left of Genghis Khan seems to be labeled as communist anyway. So why not give the middle finger to them and make them afraid of it coming back.
Danny – So in view of the gig name, and please take this question in the vein that people are going to want to know more about you and not necessarily get the reference. Would you describe yourself as a communist?
Mark – I’m not a communist, I would say I’m a democratic socialist. The communist part of the event name is tongue in cheek .
Danny – It’s from the meme right?
Mark – Yep the fully automated gay space communist party meme, I dropped the ‘gay’ from the original meme because I was working with a queer person as an organiser at the time and we came up with the event. They decided to leave the event, and being a straight man I didn’t want to take someone else’s identity and use it as a brand. I think there’s a lot to be said about how brands can use LGBTQ culture and how abhorrent that can be. It’s a difficult line to tread because it might look like I’m erasing LGBTQ representation.
Danny – Are there enough small venues in Birmingham to start this? Even the ones that exist are threatened at the moment
Mark – Yes they are, I’m really glad the Flapper has stayed around, I really miss the Yardbird – it’s been like 10 years but I really miss it. It’s important to retain these venues but it’s also a good opportunity to retain independence. I think the chains are coming in, taking over venues. I think chains bring with them a lack of care and a lack of community. If we can keep chains away from things and open up more independent venues we can have more people doing things for good reasons.
Danny – Apart from a few small blogs and some great zines. There is little to no major music journalism in Birmingham, how important is music journalism to a scene?
Mark – I think music journalism is incredibly important to a scene, you go look at Manchester – and yes I constantly refer to Manchester because frankly, in terms of music, Manchester is the second city, Birmingham it’s not even third unfortunately and that’s not due to a lack of talent. That’s due to a lack of spectacle, lack of notoriety, lack of knowledge of things that are going on here, and a lack of talking about the things that are going on here – Music journalism would make a supreme difference to the scene here. I’m really glad Birmingham Review is coming back. I know they have a new editor, I really supported Ed King when he was doing it and I think Jasmine will make a really great editor as well.
We need more people who are good at getting stuff out, who are professional, writing about this scene because there is so much going on that isn’t being talked about. A gig guide would be an amazing thing to have around Birmingham, a one stop shop so you can look through. You would get more people turning up to more gigs that they know are going to be great.
Danny – One last thing I did want to ask. The name of Birmingham Cooperative Promoters is very close to Birmingham Promoters
Mark – Yeeeah it is
Danny – Is that on purpose?
Mark – Yes it is. If he comes back I want to be able to sue him for taking the name back. For me, taking the name Birmingham Promoters, that establishment was able to define themselves as being very important to the city. It’s easy to see how a name like Birmingham Promoters can establish someone as being the promoter for Birmingham . Truth be told I was very close to calling myself No Nonce-Sense Promotions but I was told that that would be highly unprofessional, so instead I did take Birmingham Co-operative Promoters in essence as a big ‘fuck you’.
The Fully Automated Luxury Space Communist Party at the Hare & Hounds on Saturday, April 9th tickets Here