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Support Bands: More Music For Your Money But Are You Interested?

One thing is for sure – support bands divide opinion. We’ve weighed up the pros and cons, and give our view on an essential part of the live music scene.

Source: Kayla Elliott

One thing is for sure – support bands divide opinion. There’s no denying that, in order to succeed, a band must bide their time as a support act. Unless you have bypassed hardwork by impressing Simon Cowell, you don’t headline Brixton Academy without first playing to a million quarter-filled clubs, on and off the pitiful excuse for a stage before the sun has even set. It seems to be a journey that most artists are willing to take, but some spectators aren’t willing to embrace.

I’ve been to plenty of shows in my time, stood in a number of empty rooms watching fairly decent bands desperately attempt to conjure up a 3-man circle pit. Yet, when the poster boys arrive post-9pm, the venue is heaving, and I’m being caught in the face for simply standing at the back. Poor organisation from the venue’s operations team may be partly to blame, but for a large majority of cases, people just don’t turn up for doors, and I don’t really get why. If you booked a table in a nice restaurant, and were offered a free starter or two for simply turning up earlier, would you say no? Unlikely.

There’s no financial incentive. The ticket isn’t any cheaper if you consume half the entertainment. I even know people who go to a near-by pub, pay the same amount for the same poor quality lager, yet end up spending more by repeatedly selecting Slipknot’s ‘Duality‘ on the jukebox at 50p a shot. Fairly illogical, if you ask me.

I’ve seen some established support acts: Biffy Clyro two or three times, even heard the now-fucking-annoying ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ from Journey, all of which would have probably cost me well over £30 if I had gone to their own tours. I’ve also seen plenty of fresh support acts. I remember one time, 36 Crazyfists (remember them?) played the Zodiac in Oxford (before 02 and AMG franchised the British live music scene), and a little known band called Twelve Tribes were up first. Nobody had heard of them, but every earlybird digged their set. The room exploded for 40 minutes. Shame nothing ever came of them, but that was one support set I will never forget; and plenty of people missed it, despite paying for it. Can’t remember 36CF’s set, though, so that says a lot.

So far, I’ve not really tried to disguise my view point on support bands. Clearly, I like them, but I am beginning to feel like they are having a detrimental effect on the headliner. Five years ago, most shows had two support bands. Each played 30-40 minutes, and the headline got 90 minutes. That’s pretty good value for money. Now, three, even four support bands is the norm. Each now play 20 minutes, and the headliner gets 60. Effectively, to squeeze another name on the bill, the main attraction gets their set time shaved by 33%. I have no idea whether their fee takes a similar hit as a result – I’m neither a promoter, nor a professional musician – but I can’t imagine a businessman/woman will fork out more money for an additional band if they don’t have to. So, something else, other than set times, surely has to be sacrificed.

I won’t name names but, last year, I saw two bands – both dubbed “the future of Metalcore” – share the stage for a co-headline tour. There were two supports, too, so four bands in total. The two “headliners” played five songs, totalling 25 minute each. Call me greedy, but that’s not a headline set. I could barely make it to the toilet and back in that time. I travelled 90 miles to be there – not to mention the day of annual leave I booked off – to see a band play less time than an episode of Eastenders. Not good enough.

So there you have it, some positives and some negatives about support bands. I used 390 words to promote them and 252 to highlight the drawbacks, and I’d say that 60:40 split in word count perfectly reflects the weighting of my view point. Personally, I say go out and support the supports. You could well spot the next big thing, setting up and packing down their own gear; and, if or when they break, you’ll never get the chance to see them so stripped-back and exposed again. Why wait until you have to pay £40 a ticket to catch them? I certainly don’t.

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