Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne are the two London-based musicians behind the increasingly popular original and improvised music night, LUME. Alison Beck interviewed them:
Alison Beck: What gave you the idea for LUME in the first place?
Dee Byrne: From January 2012 I felt like I wanted to run a night. So I started doing it in various different venues. And one thing I found is that it’s very hard to do it on your own. Also, venues seem to close down on me!
Cath Roberts: We’d already met a few years before in 2006. And then we re-met because I hit Dee up for a gig at her Jazz at the Waterline night, and then I suddenly realised who it was that I was emailing. And we talked about doing a double bill with our bands. I’d also been thinking about doing a night.
AB: Why did you create this particular type of night, for original and improvised music?
CR: One reason is that I was thinking it would be nice to have a place where I could experiment with my own new work, because it’s very hard getting gigs,Also, I thought that to be able to give all my friends’ bands a gig would be amazing. The idea of being able to go to people and say, “Oh, do you fancy playing at our thing?” So it was a double-header of selfishness and altruism.
DB: I just liked the idea of putting on gigs, the feeling of creating something. It’s a satisfying feeling. You feel like you’re contributing to the scene, feeling part of it.
CR: you’re doing your bit for the scene I suppose, and the music you like. It’s a community service type vibe, you know [laughs].
AB: So how do you pick acts to perform? Is it quite random?
CR: People do email us now; that didn’t happen at first, but they do now. Our interests are in composition, and fully improvised music. The criteria are really just our taste; what we like to listen to, what we like to make ourselves. Composer-led bands are a big focus for us. Then we have listening sessions!
AB: LUME’s been going for a year now. Has there been a particular highlight, or an unforgettable moment?
DB: Well, what’s always nice is when you get loads of people come down. Paulo [Dias Duarte]’s gig at our old venue, it was packed.
CR: It was amazing. People were coming in and sitting on the floor. It was a great atmosphere. But that was the same night we found out we’d lost the venue! So it was a massive high, and a massive low.
AB: How's the venue you’re at now, Long White Cloud?
CR: The owners, Tannaz and Mehmet, they’re simultaneously very enthusiastic, but very hands-off. They’re really into the music and they’re always asking how it’s going, but they don’t want to have an input into the music – and they made us a pie with “LUME” written on it once!
DB: What I really like about Long White Cloud is that it’s a café, and the food and drink area is also where the music is. It’s more casual – you don’t have to come into a different room to hear the music.
CR: I like that it’s a café rather than a pub – they’ve got teas and coffee and cake, or you can have dinner. They have art on the walls too – it’s also an art gallery. Oh, and it’s very easy to get to on the overground to Hoxton, then it’s a two minute walk – it’s very near the Premises.
AB: What has been your biggest challenge so far in the last year?
DB: Losing venues. It’s really tough. It’s something that happens to a lot of nights; it’s the economic climate.
CR: You’ve got to find a venue that has the same goals as you. Pubs want to sell beers, they want bums on seats. We just want somewhere that’s stable but we can’t guarantee audience numbers. So it’s a process of finding somewhere that fits.
AB: Should we in the jazz community be reaching out to people who’ve never heard this kind of music before?
CR: Definitely. I think that’s definitely what we should be doing, but it’s very hard to know how to do that. I would love it if we could get ‘randoms’ – people who aren’t musicians - to come and check out what’s going on, that would be amazing. But it’s just very hard to know how could reach those people.
DB: We have had people come in who heard about it from the café, so there are people who come and check us out regularly.
CR: And we’ve had some really nice tweets from people that we don’t know, tweeting about having come to the gig maybe by accident, or they were in the café meeting a friend and they really enjoyed the music.
AB: Can you give me an example of a recent LUME gig that was particularly enjoyable?
Cath: Last week’s gig by Shatner’s Bassoon was really good. They’re a fantastic band. They’re from Leeds, and there are six of them: two drummers. No bassoons! The music’s really free, but the stuff that’s composed is so tight. Definitely check them out, they’re amazing. Their label is called Wasp Millionaire Records.
AB: What’s your long-term vision for LUME?
DB: It would be nice to have our own venue, wouldn’t it?
CR: Definitely. We’ve got a few medium-term things coming up too. We’ve got a Vortex residency coming up, and one goal is to make that successful. Long-term we’d like to do more of that: taking LUME to other venues and doing “LUME presents…”. Oh, and LUME is going to be part of the official London Jazz Festival programme again in November, which is going to take us to another audience: all those people that read the festival brochure.
DB: We’re planning a LUME Festival eventually, too. But the foundation is the weekly gigs, and everything else is an offshoot of that.
CR: And we want to make it sustainable as well; to build audience numbers, get some funding from here and there, to make sure that the pay for the artists can increase. It’s a door money gig, so the more help we can get, the better.
DB: We won the Jazz Promoters Award recently from Jazz Services and the PRS Foundation. That’s going to help us a lot, because we do so many gigs.
CR: Next year we should be able to subsidise the door takings a bit for the musicians. Also, we’ll be able to help bands who come from outside of London with their travel expenses. We’ll be able to cover our costs on promotion as well, because we spend quite a lot on printing. We’re skint, basically. So sustainability has got to be the long-term goal really.
AB: If you woke up tomorrow and there’d been a miracle, what would LUME be like?
DB: Ha! Well, we’d be paid to run LUME. Six figure salaries.
CR: Someone would have given us a random venue space, totally rent-free. It’s horrible to say that the miracle would be money –
DB: - but the money would enable us to make it sustainable, and we could pay the bands a really good wage. And we’d have enough money for good promotion. That would be nice…
AB: Tell me about your Vortex residency that’s coming up.
CR: We didn’t plan it at all. We just got an email from the Vortex saying did we want to do it! They had a regular Sunday night slot they wanted to fill. It’s great because we can book bands that are physically bigger, because they’ll fit on the bigger stage, and there’s a piano. It’ll be the first Sunday of the month, for five months starting in August. So we’re really excited.
AB: Jazz is pretty much a man’s world, and you’re both women . Has that ever been an issue?
DB: I don’t think it’s ever been an issue in LUME because we control who we book.
CR: It’s actually really nice being two women working together in this scene, because there aren’t that many of us, and so there is a feeling of solidarity. We have a shared perspective.
DB: You can’t help but have a feeling of solidarity if you’re both in a minority. There’s an instant connection. The industry is male-dominated, and I guess it’s nice to know the few women that are around, be friends with them, and work with them.
CR: It’s great when we have female bandleaders coming to LUME, and we encourage that.
DB: We’ve got Julie Kjaer and Emma Jean Thackray coming up; we’ve had Lauren Kinsella, Hannah Marshall, Rachel Musson. AB: Any advice for people thinking of setting up their own night? CR: Make sure you’re on the same page musically. DB: You’ve got to be a bit mad to do it, I think.
CR: Be ready to put hours and hours of admin in. And list your night in every free listing website going. It seems like a massive faff, but at least then you’ve done everything you possibly can do.
DB: You’ve got to be ready to put your own cash into it, too. We’ve had to.
AB: What do you each do outside of LUME?
DB: I’m a saxophonist and I play in various original projects. I’ve got my own band, Entropi, and we just recorded our debut album, and I’m very happy that we managed to get funding from the Recording Support Scheme from Jazz Services. It’s going to be released on the F-iRE record label. And I’m project manager for the National Youth Jazz Collective too. I’m also in a duo called Deemer with a sound artist called Merijn Royaards from Holland; it’s quite experimental, we use some very strange electronics.
Cath Roberts: I’m a sax player too, and I’ve got my band, Quadraceratops, which has been going for three years. I write the music for that, and it’s releasing its first album with Efpi Records in October. I’ve got a duo as well, called Ripsaw Catfish, which is a free improv duo with guitarist Anton Hunter. We’re doing a collaborative touring project in the autumn with Sound and Music, called ‘Shoaling’, which I’m excited about!
LUME takes place every Thursday night at Long White Cloud in Hoxton. Check out their website for upcoming gig listings.
LUME presents… at the Vortex begins on Sunday 3rd August, and continues on the first Sunday of the month for the rest of 2014.
Cath and Dee are also working on a new project called ‘Saxoctopus’: an all-saxophone octet. Catch them at LUME presents… in December.