Numbers at rockabilly gigs really are dwindling and it's difficult to see how some clubs will survive.
Three of my local(ish) clubs have had attendances of between 30 - 50 in the past 4 weeks or so; these are gigs with bands, not just a DJ, and with bands charging anything from £350 to turn up, it doesn't take Einstein to figure out the maths. At £7 a head the club will probably make a loss at anything less than 60 punters and the guys running these clubs are just your average folks - there's no Roman Abramovic type benefactors out there propping them up!
Is there an answer? Well, from a selfish point of view, I like that there are four or five clubs within a reasonable distance of me that generally have gigs which don't clash with the others. But on the other hand, there's no way I'm going to go to all of them and I find that I'm quite picky nowadays when it comes to seeing a live band, so I pick and choose, I read the gig guides, see who's playing where and when, then make a decision of which ones are on the "must see" list and which ones I can live without.
So are there too many clubs out there? Well, yes and no!
After a while the established clubs will have a very personal "feel" about them and irrespective of what band they have playing, the atmosphere will be pretty much the same. I don't like "jivey" clubs, full of people who have learnt all the latest dance moves in a 1-2-3 sequence, but who don't have any real feel for the music they are dancing too. They usually end up doing the same moves, at the same pace, whether they are dancing to Honey Don't or Bop-A-Lena!
I'm not knocking the clubs that attract them; at the end of the day, the people running the club have to recognise what people want, or at least, what those people who show up every month want. Ain't my cup of tea, or pint of Fosters for that matter, but hey ho! Each to their own.
I prefer clubs to have an atmosphere. A bit rowdy. Clubs where people don't just sit around looking like they are in a dentist's surgery waiting to be called in.
Some clubs I'll go to even if the band isn't great, just because of the atmosphere, but it has to be said, there are quite a lot of below average bands out there, while there's also a bit too much sticking to the same circuit as well, which inevitably mean that you see the same bands playing over and over - or you just don't bother. I think what tends to happen is that you see that one of these bands are playing, but it's no big deal if you miss them this week, because they'll be at another club in the next week or so. If on the other hand the band was one I'd never seen before, I'd be much more inclined to go.
I realise that's a risky statement and I might be in the minority; I know some people will only go to see established bands on their personal favourites list and I can't say I blame them. There's a recession on and a night out is going to cost at least £25 by the time you've factored in the admission, drink and petrol.
So it all seems like a vicious circle. Can't expect the bands to play for nowt and I wouldn't begrudge the average band member £75 for a day's work (even if it's in two 45 minute sets). Even if the clubs dropped admission by a couple of £, would that make much difference? I doubt it. Most clubs charge £7 entry, which means if they were to drop it to (say) £5, they would need to get at least another 25 people through the door to make the same money - bit risky, huh?
Whatever happens, I'd be really sorry to see any of my local clubs close. Yes, even the ones I don't get along to as often as I could. I don't see it, though and it's has hard as it's ever been to get a club started and become established. That, to me, is the key - getting the club well grounded in everyone's mind, so they will always check the "what's on" guides to see who is playing and on those occasions they aren't that fussed about the band, will go along anyway. These established clubs are better able to take a few hits on low attendances as long as they get at least an equal number of bumper nights. Fledgling clubs can't sustain those losses, plus it's more difficult for them because they are less likely to have been able to book the bands who always bring a following (because those bands will have booking 12 months in advance).
Final message then, support the clubs and the people running them who give up a lot of their own time to organise them, often with little thanks and with even less profit.
And if you're in the area, or if this has inspired you to get out and about, here's my list of favourite clubs. If you go and see me there, mine a pint of Fosters!
Memphis Belles - West Farnborough Social Club, 25 St Christophers Road, Farnborough, Hants
Crondall Rock n Roll Club - Crondall Village Hall, Croft Lane, Crondall, Nr. Farnham, Surrey.
Ace Cafe - Ace Corner, North Circular Road, Stonebridge, London
Guildford Hot Fifties Club - Fairlands Hall, Fairlands Avenue, Guildford, Surrey
The Rosecroft - St Mary Cray High Street & Chelsfield Road, Orpington, Kent BR5 4AR
And finally, if none of the above take your fancy, look at the Rock n Roll gig guide for inspiration -
USE THEM OR LOSE THEM!