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Announcing our #IVW21 Ambassador for Scotland – Amy Macdonald

INDEPENDENT VENUE WEEK 2021 ANNOUNCES AMY MACDONALD AS NATIONAL AMBASSADOR FOR SCOTLAND

She joins Arlo Parks, Gruff Rhys & Jordan Adetunji to complete the lineup of representatives for the UK’s biggest celebration of independent venues and their communities

IVW 2021 AMBASSADOR FOR SCOTLAND: AMY MACDONALD

For the first time in its eight-year history, Independent Venue Week will this year be represented by four ambassadors – one for each of the Home Nations – who will lead the way in championing independent venues across their respective countries in the build-up to IVW 2021. Amy Macdonald will be Independent Venue Week 2021’s official ambassador for Scotland and will be joining the already announced Arlo Parks, Gruff Rhys (Wales), Jordan Adetunji (Northern Ireland) to complete the lineup, which takes place from Monday 25 January to Sunday 31 January 2021. For more information, visit Independentvenueweek.com.

Since her platinum-selling debut album, This Is the Life, topped the UK Albums Chart in 2007, Scottish superstar, singer-songwriter and guitarist, Amy Macdonald, has gone onto release five acclaimed albums, and this year received the coveted ‘Women in Music’ award at the Scottish Music Awards. 

Speaking of her appointment as IVW 2021’s ambassador for Scotland, Amy Macdonald says:

“Small and independent venues are so important to developing new music in the UK, and I say this with experience: without the places for me to cut my teeth as a performer starting out, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Additionally, they are places where local young people can learn their trades as sound engineers, lighting technicians, promoters, poster designers etc etc, giving them careers for life. I am super proud to be Scotland’s ambassador for Independent Venue Week 2021, at a time when venues across the country find themselves in a perilous position, and we need to remember everything they offer so we do what we can to keep them going for both the future of British music, and the communities in which they exist.”

“It’s really about everybody else who works behind the scenes in terms of live music. All the people that can make sure to show goes ahead” – Amy Macdonald, IVW Ambassador for Scotland 2021

Ahead of #IVW21 Amy chatted to broadcaster & friend of Independent Venue Week Paul Stokes about her recent album, how grassroots venues have helped to shape her and the importance of the crew behind the scenes.

How was your 2020?

It’s been just the same for me as everyone else, doing a lot of stuff over the laptop and spending all my waking hours at home, basically. So it’s not been as exciting as previous years in my life. I have to say but I can’t complain, I’ve got a roof over my head.

Despite being locked in you released a record, The Human Demands, which must have been a very different experience than previous ones?

It’s been a bit weird. Everything in this year has been weird, but putting an album out has been even more weird. It’s usually such a nerve-wracking process anyway,  but I had to add a pandemic to that so it just sent the anxiety levels shooting up. It’s something that I hope I don’t have to do again. My initial plan, my plan before the pandemic  was bring the album in the summer at some point, and then kind of do all the festivals and gigs around that. But the album wasn’t finished when we went into lockdown. I was about halfway through. So then we had to stop for four months and then get back to it, which was really strange because we were on such a roll with it. We were in a really good place, so having to down tools was a bit weird. Thankfully, for us, just getting back to having purpose again was amazing and it gave us that extra little push when we got back in the studio.

Normally, as time is of essence in a studio, you don’t get a chance to pause and look back, did the break help at all?

I think we just wanted to get it finished. I mean, the pause meant that we were no longer under any sort of time constraints, because we didn’t even know when it was going to be released. So there was a bit more a laid back feel to making it. We didn’t decide to put it out until after it was all finished. We thought we may as well just go for it.

Hopefully you can tour it soon, how much has grassroots venues shaped you as an artist

I started at the bottom. I’ve done the toilet tours, as we call them,  then getting into getting into nice little venues. I mean I’ve done gigs when there’s been hardly anyone there and I’ve done gigs where there’s been people there but hardly any were listening to you – support gigs and things like that. But I think that without these gigs, without these small venues I would never have got that experience of performing live. Even to this day that’s probably the most important advice I could give anyone starting out: get out there and play as many gigs as you possibly can. It doesn’t matter how small it is, it doesn’t matter few people are there, it’s just such an important thing to do because I put my success down to having that experience. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without all the independent venues, especially in Glasgow. Glasgow is such a great city for music. There was just so many options, so many different venues where I could get into and perform, from little pubs that would have live music and to the venues as well. There really was a bit of everything.

How do you think these early shows helped with you success?

I didn’t realise at the time just how important these little gigs were. My mates loved that I’d done them because we all had a night out around the shows and they were able to get free drinks while I was doing the gig. But it was when I got the record contract and  suddenly expected to perform as a professional all those shows counted. I’m not sure I would have been able to do that or deal with that pressure had I not had that experience of just playing all the different venues when I was kind of starting out. Without that I would have struggled.

Was there a gig or moment on stage early on when you felt, ‘yes this is for me’?

I was doing a support slot for an artist, I can’t even remember who it was now, but it was at the Barlfy in Glasgow. It was quite busy for the main band, so there was a lot of people there already. But I genuinely thought for the first time, ‘wow, there are people actually listening to me.’ I was just used to people talking over it so I remember thinking ‘this is really strange, people were actually listening’ and I was getting such a great response. That just pushes you on as a performer when you can get that connection. When you can see people enjoying it you can relax into it more and you’re excited to show them what you can do

You mentioned how difficult 2020 has been, is that why you wanted to get involved to showcase independent venues?

Obviously this year has been hell for most people, but for music it’s been just probably been the worst and there’s just not really any end in sight. I think sometimes people look at the artists and they think I will ‘they’ll be fine, why do I need to bother?’ And that’s understandable. But the point is that it isn’t about the artists, it’s really about everybody else who works behind the scenes in in terms of live music. All the people that can make sure to show goes ahead, or the people that work their arse off in the background at the  venues. Without the venues and without all the people who contribute to the whole wide ecosystem, then what have we got? We’ve got absolutely nothing. Sometimes people just think music and see massive stars, but without these small, independent venues and all these great people working behind the scenes, no one will ever have the chance to become a massive star. And I think that’s what we need to kind of highlight and show people. It’s so many different little businesses that come together and to make sure music can happen and to make sure these venues are there.

And it’s these communities of people that allow potential artists to think perhaps I can do this, isn’t it?

When I kind of started out, I was just doing open mic nights. And it was from doing those open mics that I started to get booked fair little gigs and would get paid to do them. It wasn’t much it was, like 20/30 quid, but for me as a teenager, that was amazing. 

How was the open mic experience for you? Do you look back fondly or was it more traumatic?

I absolutely loved it. It  started doing a an open mic night in a little pub called the Brunswick Sailors and Glasgow when I was only 15 and I wasn’t meant to be in the pub. But it was very, very dark and my deep, distinctive voice belied my age a little bit so I got away with it. One of my best memories was doing one late afternoon on a Saturday when Scotland played the Netherlands at [football ground] Hampden Park and unexpectedly won 1-0. As the evening went on the fans started to fill this tiny pub and it was my spot again, so I took my opportunity, thinking ‘it’s now or never’ and played [Scotland anthem] Flower Of Scotland. I think that was my first ever mass sing-a-long as a performer! [laughs] I genuinely felt I’d made it.   

You need to record it for the summer now Scotland are in the Euros…

I’ve sung that anthem countless times. And I think there’s a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon now to be the official team song, but I say to them: where were you when times are hard? [laughs]

Do you have a favourite venue?

I know it’s not a small venue but the Barrowlands in Glasgow. It’s smallish, but it’s the centre of independent venues to me. It’s exactly what we’ve discussed, the amount of people who are intertwined around that venue… It’s been there for years and it’s one of the best venues in the world. It’s one of the best places to play and to watch a gig. I always want to shout from the roof tops and say what an amazing place it is and how it should be protected through the current situation. It feels a little bit magical which is what you want from a venue.

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