For singer-songwriters wanting to get on the first step of the ladder to pop stardom Edinburgh has a thriving open mic scene. Edinburgh songwriters have clubbed together to produce a number of their own compilation CDs, as well as occasional solo efforts.
Johnny Dredd, a grungey version of the younger David Bowie crossed with early Eighties punk, is part of a core of committed Edinburgh songwriters. Dredd has dabbled in a number of jobs.
He worked in the City of London and started up his own delicatessen. He now gets by and plays guitar wherever and whenever. In this cheese-free interview, he shares his experience playing the Edinburgh circuit for the last six years and speculates on how the web will fit in with his music.
EdinburghGuide What do you do?
Johnny Dredd I'm a Folk Junk allstar. I take the piss.
EdinburghGuide How long have you been playing music?
Johnny Dredd About 12 years. As a kid I would steal into peoples' rooms and play their guitars whenever I knew noone was around, but I didn't get one until I left home.
EdinburghGuide What kind of music do you play?
Johnny Dredd Folk Junk. Wow! How to put the next wave into words: pop, folk, reggae, flamenco all base their tunes on a simple three chord matrix, I take that and an acoustic guitar out busking on the street and shout things that people aren't entirely comfortable with. I havn't been hit yet, but there are people holding their breath for it.
EdinburghGuide How do you find the music scene in Edinburgh? Is it easy or tough? Is it barren or fertile?
Johnny Dredd The scene in Edinburgh is unique - people travelling through are always commenting on the levels of co-operation. It is not just the quality, it's the togetherness. There's no bitching or jealousy; if someone finds a gig that suits someone else, then they give it away because it would be better that way. It is difficult to talk about quality because I'm part of it, but I think it is magic. The Jason Pillays, Dan Mutch, Graeme Mearns, Polly Phillips, Roz McGlone, Holly Tomas, the unique Freeloading Frank, Amy Duncan these are people, I happily sit and dribble over and that is only a few of them. I consider myself really lucky to be here at this time to be a part of what is going on.
EdinburghGuide What's the hardest part of what you do?
Johnny Dredd Being original.
EdinburghGuide What's the best part of what you do?
Johnny Dredd Flirt.
EdinburghGuide Have you got groupies yet?
Johnny Dredd This is so difficult to talk about: they will read this. They exist. They are all sexes and ages. I guess there are about 20 of them. There is one really scary bloke of about 40 who keeps kissing my hands. Also, a couple of months back this 14-year-old was going round her school telling everybody that she had shagged me. This was teen bullshit and luckily everyone, especially Hazel, understood it to be that. It could have been really upsetting if it had got out of hand, apart from the Gary Glitter angle. In the main it means, people buy me drinks when I'm good and tell me I'm shit when I'm bad.
EdinburghGuide What have been your biggest breaks?
Johnny Dredd Difficult to say I'm exercising a plan that involves a lot of leg work. I have on three occasions had alcoholics saying "You stick with me lad, I'll make you a star." They are always Forty, shaking drunk and boring, unable to listen and I wouldn't trust any of them to run me a bath let alone my professional career.
A couple of weeks ago this guy asked me to do two bits of music for television. He lands in the usual bracket of 40 and pissed, but he went a bit further and he managed to not really piss me off, we are waiting for the projects to get greenlighted. If they do then I could have my big break. If they don't, then I will continue business as usual.
EdinburghGuide How much do you use the net?
Johnny Dredd Not as much as I will, I have internet access @ work, but not at home. By the end of the summer, I intend to be musicly online, but that will require an investment of about £2000 and I also want a holiday, so we will have to see how to work it out.
EdinburghGuide Do you listen to other bands on the web?
Johnny Dredd Not often: again it is my hard drive I'm choking up with stuff so I tend to shy away from heavy files. Also, the guy who looks after the computer is anal in the extreme and my downloading of any exe file freaks him out.
EdinburghGuide What do you think of the revolution that's taking place in musical distribution using MP3s?
Johnny Dredd The technology has a way to go, but it won't be long, before it is totally fixed. My plan is to promote and sell over the web. The theory is the same as the trad market: get youself noticed and people will look. Now that looking involves the home terminal, whether you are Johnny Dredd or the Beatles, and all you need is a modem and a search engine.
I think the net is going to violently split the commercial from the art - it will be good. I'd also say that what is happening on the web is an evolution not a revolution: the evil corporate companies are not going to be knocked out by it and rest assured they are investing millions in the best web designers and online sales packages. People will shop on their sites because the sites are easy to use, whereas college bands' sites will more-than-likely be difficult to use and therefore get less interest.
EdinburghGuide What Edinburgh acts should we look out for in the future?
Johnny Dredd I look round that room at The Caz and know that only 5% of us are going to make anything of it. I have my personal prejudice, I gave it earlier on in this interview, but in truth I don't have a fucking scooby and I defy anyone else to have a better idea.
Edinburgh Singer-Songwriter Nights
Edinburgh Songwriters Showcase
The Caz Rock (the Pubic Triangle) West Port, just off the Grassmarket
The mother of open mics kicks off at 9 o'clock. This is the hub of my circuit, the showcase incepted six years ago in what was a pub called Oblomov's (then Misty's then The Carwash). The venue changed to the Tron Tavern after a year and this new millennium moved to the Caz. I like the Caz, it's a bit more edgy than the Tron, you get drunk hecklers and a bunch of pool players who don't give a toss about the music. Pulling them is hard work, but when you do, you are really playing. The Tron didn't have that challenge. It was a bit cosy.
The Wednesday Music Club
The Cannonsgait, Cannongate, the Royal Mile.
Been running for about two years, very noisy and lots of fun. This is an open band night, run by a bloke called Andy Turner, turn up chat to some people, form a band, get up and play. Good bands hang out there and take the piss out of each other. I don't have a band at the moment, but I do have a girl. Going out regularly on Wednesday would probably change both those states.
Folk @ The Tique
The Antiquary St Stephen street Stockbridge.
Thursday, 9pm till midnight
Diddly session in my local. It took a long time to believe I was good enough to play in a session. Now I do, I think that a lot of guitar players don't take enough time to learn how to play their instrument. It can be quite frustrating for the fiddles to cope with a bunch of drunk strummers who have no knowledge of the music they are playing. When the session kicks it burns, but recently it hasn't had the thing.
Lanachan Blackfriars Street, the Holly Tomas Experience.
The amount of time Holly has spent encouraging others to perform, is uncountable. Lanachan is tight, small, packed, with great fresh organic juices and killer coffee. It is the night of the great acoustic moments, no PA to worry about, just get on and do it. So people do. For quiet quality this is the night.
The Fiscal and Firkin, Hunter Square (top of the Mound, just off the High Street)
Sunday's 8:30 pm
Bad sound at this the newest open mic night. Trying for the Cannonsgait experience, but failing so far.