First published in The Herald on 18 November, 2014
Fielding Hope is a gentle, easy-going kind of chap: meet him on the street and you’d never guess he’s a major driving force behind Glasgow’s DIY music scene. Under the moniker Cry Parrot he has produced ear-bending nights of indie, punk, noise, electronic, experimental jazz, free improve, those misfits categories of ‘alternative’ and ‘underground’. His annual Music Language festival gave a platform to artists who usually operate below or beyond the commercial radar and introduced a substantially youthful audience to a slew of experimental sounds. As music booker at Nice’n’Sleazy he presented a roster of intriguing, artistically ambitious acts at the grimy Sauchiehall Street venue. As co-curator of Counterflows he helped bring some of the leading international acts in avant-garde music to Glasgow. His programming is like the best kind of music collection: if it’s interesting, it’s worth hearing. Inevitably some genres get less attention than others (straight-up folk isn’t really his thing and contemporary classical doesn’t get a look in) but still, the range is impressive.
Now Glasgow is losing Cry Parrot as Hope heads south to become music producer at London’s Cafe Oto. “For years I’ve said that only one job would take me away from Glasgow and that is Oto,” he tells me, gulping down a coffee and explaining why he’s just a wee bit stressed trying to finding a flat in London for anywhere near the same rent as his current Woodlands pad (“aye right”). Tucked away in a sidestreet in Dalston, Cafe Oto has made a permanent space for adventurous music in London. “I like that it is constantly evolving and constantly bringing in grass-roots artists and raising their profile,” Hope says. “We think in similar ways. When the job came up I had to go for it.”
Hope grew up in Motherwell and came to Glasgow eight years ago to study TV and communications. He’s been here since he was 18 and feels a definite sense that it’s time to spread his wings beyond the city gates. But there’s another factor at play, to do with his experience of funding support for live music in Glasgow. He has become weary, he says, of flying the flag for underground artists and having to foot the bill from his own pocket. Music Language twice had applications turned down by the national arts funding body Creative Scotland. “For the first few years of the festival we still broke even – just – by paying each band £50, cutting corners with promotion, getting reduced rates on venues. I’m fine about those last two points, but I wasn’t happy paying the musicians so badly. And it wasn’t great that I often couldn’t pay myself at all.”
He talks about the ethos of the so-called DIY scene: artists who tend to operate outwith formal funding routes, whose work thrives on a rough-and-ready aesthetic but who ultimately still need to pay the bills. “The image of DIY might suggest a lack of professionalism,” he says, “like it’s just a bunch of dudes hanging out. Actually most of these people are incredibly hard-working and phenomenally talented. They play to audiences of all types – all ages, all backgrounds, not particularly trendy. Glasgow really cashes in on its global reputation for grass-roots music, and of course the big bands that go on to become major Scottish exports could never have happened if they didn’t grow out of a healthy DIY scene. Surely this is exactly the stuff Creative Scotland should be supporting.”
So after a couple of years pondering how to continue – “do I print only black and white posters? Do I book only the very cheapest venues in Glasgow?” – Hope has decided to go. Inevitably there’s been a bittersweet reaction around the music community: artists and audiences are happy to see their boy done good but sorry to be losing such a key champion of all things interesting. Alasdair Campbell, Hope’s professional mentor and co-curator of Counterflows, describes the Cry Parrot influence as ‘remarkable’. “Fielding has managed to introduce whole genres of music to a new generation. Just look at who turned out to hear Joe McPhee and Chris Corsano last month: a bunch of indie kids listening to far-out free jazz. Brilliant. He has a personal warmth that gets everyone involved and that’s rare. He’s a true collaborator; it’s definitely not all about him.”
For his part, Hope isn’t worried about Glasgow. “There are loads of people programming loads of good stuff here. Mono, Stereo, 13th note, the Old Hairdressers, Sleazy’s – we’re pretty spoiled compared to most other UK cities.” Besides, he’ll be back. He continues to co-curate Counterflows, whose next edition is in the spring, and before that there’s the small matter of his leaving party at Stereo on December 19. Expect, yep, the unexpected.