Ending 2019 with a huge run of tour dates, Little Comets have toured five albums and keen to start work on their sixth. They are a band notorious for their live performances, and unique shows in the past such as performing in lecture halls. After forming their own label, ‘The Smallest Label’ Little Comets have stuck to their roots and kept their shows small and connected. I spoke to Matt Hall to understand why these venues are so important to Little Comets.
When playing venues over the years as Little Comets, are you conscious of bands that have graced these venues before?
Yeah, for me personally there’s plenty of times when you walk through the dressing room to the stage, there’s a venue in Ireland called the Olympia. This is the first one off my head but there’s pictures of Bowie, pictures of absolute legends, bands like The Cure, bands who you expect to headline arenas or Glastonbury, they’ve all played there. It does hit you, and it feels a spiritual sense about it, when you look at more recent places like The Leadmill in Sheffield, the Arctic Monkeys used to ram this place, its shit but like, it’s brilliant shit. It sounds weird, but you get a sense of this place has seen some things.
The PRS for Music plaque is outside the Leadmill now for Pulp?
Yeah there’s quite a few places stating ‘this band started here’, mainly british bands. I remember in Newcastle, they kept remembering when the Arctic Monkeys played the Head of Steam. Its a downstairs venue, very low ceiling. It’s a proper, toilet tour venue, you would go in and go ‘aye, its a bit of dump, but you’ve gotta play it’.
I remember the stories that came out of it, it didn’t have any security staff, it was a cheap and cheerful kind of place. I think some of the audience members had to form a linked barrier in front of the stage as there was no barrier there. Cus people were going bat crackers for the monkeys, when they were like no-one. Like practice room-style records, before any record deal. It was like, this is mental, this is crackers, what is going on in here.
If it wasn’t for these venues, then they wouldn’t have these touchpoint to build this.
Yes completely, these venues are so accessible to people. They are not high ticket prices which is great, to get into that it was probably 5/6 quid, thats a couple of pints.
The amount of incredible bands you discover by going to cheap or free shows is incredible.
Yeah you would never see a gig, say at the Academy venues under £15, because the overheads are so high. To have smaller venues, to cut your teeth, I know its a bit of a cliché, but if you’ve never played a gig in front of someone who can literally touch you, you’ve missed something. To grow as a musician. That sounds awfully deep, but one of the things we started with, was crashing house parties. We’d make sure we’d play a houseparty near a tour by searching Facebook. We must have played where someone was holding onto the mic stand, hanging off of the PA that we rocked up with. It all helps with your craft as a musician and your connection to an audience. It’s when you play your bigger gigs like Brixton, you’ve formed that connection.
Are there any venues that stood out for you as benchmarks for Little Comets?
Its a strange one that, we did so many tours early doors, playing like Fibbers in York, it wasn’t a benchmark, some bands probably think like that cus they’re up their own arses, but for us we were more bothered about how many people were in the room. Like if that room was completely rammed, its the best venue in the world. I think when we first headlined Scala, because we had supported bands there. When we headlined it 6/7 years ago, it was like ‘this is pretty cool’. Some of the best gigs we’ve ever had, were never monumental, there was a venue in Hull called the Lamp. I will never forget that night, that would beat a Leeds or Reading playing a packed out tent any day. There were queues along, no barriers, the audience were at our peddle board, you had to walk through the crowd to get to the venue, I love that sort of craic.
Rob used to use the analogy of Football players back in the day used to go for pints in random pubs, have a bit of craic, that’s what we love in a venue. It felt like the ceiling was dripping with sweat. There was so much energy, from the audience and the room of everyone on top of eachother.
The Cluny in Newcastle, its not the sound system it’s the building that’s amazing, its one you think who’ve played there. The Futureheads, Maximo Park. Sam Fender played the Surf Café in Tynemouth and busked.
Every city has its own venue, Leeds has The Brudenell for example, its insane, the bands who have come through that. It’s the larger venues who rip off the success of ‘this band played this city’ But its the smaller venues that have built this and don’t have the voice or money to shout about it.
‘Shit tip of a venue, shit tip of a PA but the nights that have been on in there were tremendous.‘
Jumpin’ Jacks above the Dog and Parrot, that used to be bangin’. That was the place to see bands. Shit tip of a venue, shit tip of a PA but the nights that have been on in there were tremendous. There was a massive sense of community. We would have played that venue if we weren’t from Newcastle.
Throughout Little Comets’ history, you’ve played notorious gigs such as storming lecture theatres and playing the M&S in Newcastle, how do you feel this formed fan connections?
There are still people now who say ‘I was in that Durham lecture’ i’m like ‘that was 11 years ago man, cheers for sticking with us!’ We still have these connections to those fans. It’s weird when we go for drinks afterwards, we have a beer with someone who was dancing in your face an hour ago. One of the things that stopped was when you couldn’t smoke inside that was minging, but everyone was outside having a tab in their own world.
In terms of Music scenes, do you think Little Comets are reminiscent of your era of music, and the surroundings when recording?
Definitely, in the van we found an old local magazine, NARC, that takes us back to our old mates, we were like ‘do you remember playing the Cluny, getting ready to play with these’. There was always little scenes within the city. It was all being influenced by each other and the music out at the time. There was practice rooms opposite, something like 40 bands rehearsed here at any one time, and I remember walking the corridor, hearing every genre of music. Then there’s so many venues that take you back to an era, to a time.
Do you feel Newcastle influenced how Little Comets sound, if you were part of a wider scene would you have been influenced differently?
Definitely, you can hear Northumbrian folk music, Dire Straights and Sting in our work. You can hear regional musicalities. If we formed in Manchester, we’d be much louder. I remember, when in Jumpin Jacks, there was these metal nights, all packing it out, doing gig swaps. I don’t think any of this would happened if not for the spaces that were there.
People these days, have a certain amount of money to go to gigs, they can go and see a band at the arena for like £60, and see 5/6 gigs at smaller venues and discover new music. People spend all their money on one ticket, through rising costs of arena and academy gigs. That’s one of the reasons why try and keep our tickets cheap, so people don’t miss out.
In terms of the loyalty of your fan base, would you put this down to playing intimate venues, or more modern connections such as social media?
Our fan base grew out of playing lots of gigs in lots of towns, we didn’t have the extent of social media, we had the opportunity to put things in NME, but we tried to play as many shows as possible. The small shows with the connection to the audience, those fans are still there now. Since we started our own label we put things out on social media to boost knowledge we have new material. I think social media can build a fan base, but without the venues it’s meaningless. Without playing and connecting to that audience in the first base. If I put out a tweet now and asked our fans opinion, they’d always say the best gig they saw of us, was at a small and dingy venue. People remember that stuff, it creates memories. The energy, the feel, the people, you’re not getting charged £8 for a pint, people are having a great time.
What part do you feel merchandise has in people’s memories of the show?
We’ve always done our own merch, it’s all personal, we are always at the merch stand and try and sell it ourselves. We’ve never put tours on the back of t-shirts but I say people buy the shirt with the date to build that memory.
If you were to walk into an empty venue, what would you see as signifiers of the energy that these shows had?
I’d say the Cockpit in Leeds, with the tickets pasted over the walls, there’s always venues where there’s holes in the ceiling or smashed bar stalls. There are so many venues, where bands have got lary and they’ve been like ‘wye-aye, smash something up’. If that happens its because its been a great gig, its not them being dickheads, its because they’ve got too excited. All the writing in the dressing rooms, there’s always a dick on the wall, but the scrawlings, the sharpies, it’s something that bands do and mark their history.