Read and Shout: part 1

Today’s guest blog comes from Matthew Stead

Organising Read and Shout 2011 was one of the best and worst experiences of my life! Bringing together 10 bands and 300 people in one space to celebrate libraries and protest against the government’s singeing cuts seemed like a relatively simple thing to do when I first had the idea.

So how did it all start? Well, I’ve been a librarian in various forms all my adult life. At 31, that’s not that long an adult life, but it seems it. I love what libraries stand for. That’s the reason I do what I do (no librarian in their right mind would do it for the pay – it’s just not there.) Libraries are magical places. I remember the first time my Mum took me into Tewkesbury Library in Gloucestershire, when I was 6. The smell of the books and wooden shelving was intoxicating, but what really got me was that there were all these amazing books filled with stories and dinosaurs and fairy tales and knights and castles that we could borrow for free. Now I’m older I can see that the magic doesn’t end there – there are the free computers so people can communicate with their distant relatives, there is lifelong learning, courses on citizenship, storytimes and bounce and rhymes, there are evening classes, book groups, places to sit in the warm, friendly faces when the world is all too much, there is community.

And now it seems that this government are intent on destroying this amazing free public library service that has built up over 150 years. I don’t understand it and it makes me angry. Sure, we’ve got to make cuts in this age, but there are some things too precious to destroy. Not only that, but the library service costs relatively little to run compared to other government expenditure. In fact, as a Nation we spend more on chocolate than the cost of running the entire UK library service. There are currently over 500 planned closures across the country and this may rise to thousands over the next three years. Not just that, but the government are hoping to abolish the Act of Parliament that ensures that they provide a comprehensive library service. Library professionals, who offer expert advice, reader development, stock buying and who run sessions such as storytimes and job hunting classes, are being made redundant up and down the country. In Lambeth, the Council’s planned restructure involved the deletion of nearly every Librarian post in the Borough. For a complete picture have a look at Voices for the Library’s closure map:

So there you have it – pretty bleak reading I know. But people are starting to fight back. Save Our Services campaigns have already forced some Councils to rethink library closures. Public anger is building all the time, but we need to spread the message further and wider. That’s how the whole Read and Shout idea came about. I was sat in work at my library wondering how I could use my own skills to start to spread the word about fighting these cuts. I’m in an indiepop band called A Fine Day for Sailing. Most of my friends are musicians in various indiepop bands. People into indiepop music quite often like reading, quite often care about libraries. Indiepop + library campaign = fun way to get publicity. Well, I’m sure it was more complicated than that, but that was the basic thought process I had. We have this lovely hall above our library with a stage and lighting and the idea of an indiepop festival hit me. I knew that if we got enough great bands who really supported the cause, we could drum up a load of publicity for a Save Libraries Campaign. Furthermore, if the 300 people attending learned about what’s happening to the library service up and down the country, they might start campaigning themselves. I know it sounds a bit contrived – indie kids and specs and cardigans, but it worked in my head.

So that was the premise. Next I had to find the bands. I had the dilemma of going for a wide mix of different types of music, or go for a cohesive indiepop line-up. I went for the latter, as I thought it would work better as a concert that way, and because I knew people from that background and needed to get this thing going as soon as possible (most of these library closures are scheduled within this year.) I approached loads of bands (the one’s I loved and the one’s I knew were good and would support us for selfless reasons.) Most were really excited by the opportunity to play and I was inundated by requests. I had the problem of well known bands completely ignoring my every approach and a couple of well known bands (I mention no names – you know who you are!) that were only interested in making money out of the whole thing and doing it on their own terms. This was quite frustrating! Then, one of the artists I approached got back to me to say, yes, he’d like to get involved. This was Jens Lekman. My jaw dropped a bit as I confirmed details with himself and his tour manager. I’m in love with Jens’ music and I know that he has turned down some really great offers to put him on, by some major promoters. What’s more Jens has completely waved his fee for playing Read and Shout. He is a true gentleman and I am so grateful.

Once I’d confirmed the line-up, I got the website up and running and interest amongst fans, musicians and the press started to build immediately. It was all quite overwhelming, but exciting at the same time. I decided to advertise in advance a specific time when tickets would go on sale online, so everyone would have a chance to get them. I had no idea that they would sell out quite so quickly – 40 seconds!! I even had people turning up at the library. Thankfully, I’d kept a small amount of physical tickets aside for them and the local community, so the intrepid fans didn’t go away disappointed. My only regret is that we couldn’t fit more people in. Our returns list was longer than the M25.

After that it was all go; non-stop press, promotion and organising. Thankfully I managed to recruit a team of volunteers to help out on the day. The couple of weeks leading up to the event were stressful to say the least. I had reams of red tape to work through, equipment hire pulling out at the last minute, logistical plans that would give rocket scientists a headache.

Read the rest of this post in part 2

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and their views and opinions are their own.

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