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Tony Moore: music man with a plan

Tony Moore has been promoting free music across London for more than 15 years; and now he's looking to do the same across the pond. Moore talks candidly to Paul Watson about his remarkable musical life so far and his statestide masterplan...

Tony Moore has been promoting free music across London for more than 15 years. He pioneered the now legendary Kashmir Klub in the late 90s; injected brand new musical life into The Bedford in Balham in 2003; then opened The Regal Room in Hammersmith in late 2006. What next? America, apparently. Moore talks to Paul Watson about his plans to take The Bedford brand stateside; and reveals that he’s always had something up his sleeve – literally… You haven’t always been a promoter, have you? TM: No. I am a musician; and like all musicians my career has been a mixture of some success and far more obscurity. When you choose a life of music and entertainment, you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to pay the rent, pay the bills and eat; and I have always had a diverse interest in all areas of entertainment. How diverse exactly? When I was very young I was a magician. When I was 16, I did two summer seasons in Blackpool selling magic tricks and doing magic shows, and used that money to buy keyboards. Then I went to Canada in ‘76 and spent three months there working and doing magic. When I came back to the UK I decided I really wanted a career in music, so I came to London, answered an advert in Melody Maker and joined a band. They wanted a keyboard player that had a synth, which was what I had; I loved the guys but I didn’t really get the music – it wasn’t my thing. As a keyboard player I was into The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Elton John and David Bowie but this stuff was far heavier and riff-orientated. Anyway, we did one gig that was a real disaster, and after that I thought ‘this isn’t right’ so I left the band – and that band ended up being Iron Maiden… Oops… [laughs] Then I joined another band with Brian James from The Damned. We got a lot of press doing gigs with Black Sabbath and Blondie and The Stranglers; and we made one single and did a John Peel session, which was very exciting. Then I left that band, did some other things and ran out of money so I got a job as a court jester. Did that period of your life have any bearing on what you do now? Yes. Interestingly enough, the technique that I use now for hosting shows is based very much on what I learned as a magician: entertainment is all entertainment; if it’s an audience and a show, having someone there to make the most of what’s going on and feel cohesive is what I think is very important. Then you joined Cutting Crew? Yes, I was with them for two years. We toured on the back of the hit single Died in your arms – we had a lot of success. I then left the band and had a solo record that didn’t do much. By the mid 90s I had done all of these things and I realised most of all that I love to write songs and I love songwriters; and in an age where all the music was either Stone Roses or Oasis or either indie baggy rock or dance music, there was nowhere to be a songwriter. I had some friends that used to go to Nashville a lot and they told me about the Bluebird Café – it was like the songwriter’s home in Nashville; and they explained how respectful it was there and how people didn’t talk through the music and that it was this wonderful place for songwriters, so in my head I created this image of perfection: a little grand piano on stage, velvet seating – a gem of a place. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to have that in the UK even if it was just for my friends?’ A light bulb moment… so this is how the Kashmir Klub was born? Yes, this was in 1996. I spent a year looking for a suitable location to do this in and one Sunday night I was asked to play piano at The Tuscan in Holland park, so I brought my little keyboard along and a little PA and it was really nice, but I could see the place going out of business. I was getting £60 and a meal, so I thought ‘why don’t I do The Kashmir Klub here?’ So, I suggested that we do one Tuesday a week – and they agreed. Then, I called all my friends in pro audio world. The first call I made was to Soundcraft – and Chris Gooddie gave me an LX7; then I spoke to Celestion, and they gave me speakers; the guys at Shure gave me some mics; and Korg lent me a piano. Not a bad result from a few phone calls… Yeah – and the big idea was to make the music free: ‘it’s not for money; it’s for art and for music and for songwriters’. I put on the first night, booked the acts, set the PA up, mixed the sound; and introduced the artists – I was amazed because the first night we were rammed and the next week we were rammed again; suddenly I had hooked into this little movement of audiences really wanting to be entertained and all these songwriters were descending on me that had been hiding behind rocks and suddenly had a place to play. We eventually moved it to Marylebone, which became its home. And it went on to be hugely successful, with artists such as Sheryl Crow and Damien Rice playing shows… Yes, it was an amazing success. Everyone wanted to play there; and that’s what we’ve been creating at The Bedford. And funny enough, a lot of the jokes I use now are from the jester days – just in a different format! But I always noted that a hosted show really does make an evening feel connected; the audience feel part of the show and pay attention and makes artists feel good when they’re introduced. I see The Regal Room as a mini-Bedford: a more intimate setting, but tailored just to the singer songwriters. Was that the thinking behind it? Yes, The Regal Room has benefited from being directly affiliated to The Bedford: people want to play there; and it’s smaller, so it’s more limited to the singer songwriters. The Bedford as a brand has been growing and growing; and you’ve already started making moves in the States… Yes. We’re now in year three at South by Southwest, which is probably the world’s biggest music conference and festival. It’s held in Austin, Texas every March over 4 days and there are in excess of eighteen-hundred bands playing, with around eighteen-thousand delegates coming to town – an incredible event. We take over the Hilton Garden Inn and we dress it and set it up just like The Bedford. I bring my own production team, my own sound engineers; and we work closely with Harman to replicate the equipment we have in the UK. What kind of shows are they; and what gear do you use exactly? We work with the hotel to put on food and have tables and chairs at the front, theatre seating in the middle and standing room at the back. So if you only come to see one act and stand, that’s great; if you want to stay for the whole night, you can sit down and relax; and if you’re hungry, you don’t have to leave the building! We host the shows and we webcast the shows – it’s a little slice of The Bedford in America. Over the last two years we have had some massively successful shows; we had The Proclaimers headlining in 2008, Athlete headlining last year; and now we are planning 2011.We have a JBL VerTec line array system, a number of JBL wedges – which are nice and loud; and a Soundcraft Si3 console. And it doesn’t end in Texas does it? No, we’ll be taking The Bedford to the Folk Music Alliance in February 2011, which takes place every year in Memphis; and we’ll be doing ‘The Bedford presents’ as part of the Cutting Edge conference in New Orleans later this year. Cutting Edge is like a smaller, more focused South by Southwest; we’ll be taking over the Hard Rock Café for three nights of songwriters – a blend from Britain and the USA; acts must have either appeared at the Bedford or played in a show associated with the Bedford. What do you see as the end game with regard to the States? We’re trying to plant small seeds around the world, but in places where there’s a high profile. People know about the Bedford and the ripples move outwards, so people in the industry see and hear what I do and hopefully we can eventually build an international exchange scheme with America; it’s really to try and stimulate creativity.