At The Cellars At Eastney, there are people at the bar and others talking to each other in small groups. There’s a hum in the air as they talk and laugh.
But these aren’t just customers enjoying a pint and a chat. They’re all musicians and between them they’ve performed at national and local festivals, had songs performed by well-known names, toured across the country and had their tracks played on radio and TV.
One of them is 25-year-old Becky Jerams, who’s been working as a solo artist for the past decade.
‘I’ve grown up in the local music scene in Portsmouth,’ says Becky, who lives in North End, Portsmouth.
‘When I first started I had no idea what I was doing. I started out playing at The Barn, Milton, and I met a lot of people from there. It was a nice vibe and everyone just wanted to take part in music.’
Becky is employed by a publishing company and has co-written songs for an international musician and had her songs played in film trailers and TV. She’s also releasing an EP next month and plays at the Victorious Festival at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard this August.
Becky reckons there’s a lot of musical diversity in the city.
‘There are so many different genres of music. Everyone comes together too. I just hope I can carry on performing and doing what I love.’
Steve Pitt is the programme director at The Cellars and chairman of the Cultural Partnership in the city. As well as putting on and managing local artists, Steve helps run the annual Songwriters’ Competition.
The 44-year-old, who lives in Eastney, says: ‘There is quality music in Portsmouth that deserves more attention than it gets. There’s really good music but it’s difficult with venues. If we had more venues, we would have more people competing to play at the best gigs.’
Some well-known musicians in the area include Luke Ferre, Bear Cavalry, Andrew Foster, Blackfoot Circle and Kassassin Street. Meanwhile Laurel Cullen, from Fareham, has recently joined the record label Turn First, which looks after artists including Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora.
The Cellars and The Wedgewood Rooms are two of the best-known music venues in the city and regularly play host to local artists, but music in Portsmouth goes back to the 1960s.
Steve says: ‘There was The Birdcage club and then in the 1970s there was Joe Jackson, but since then there hasn’t been a big breakthrough act from the city. We haven’t had a lucky break but at some point someone will do well, and the music scene locally will explode. People will realise how much there is here.’
He also believes it’s time that music was taken out of the venues and put on more non-traditional stages.
‘It’s more important than ever that we make sure we bring the music out to more people, not just the venues. That’s why a lot of acts perform at places such as the Southsea Food Festival, where The Cellars has an acoustic stage.’
Steve adds: ‘The Victorious Festival in August will also be a great platform for local artists to perform.’
But to get more attention from outside organisations, and to give artists the best platform, he believes that venues need to help them.
Steve says: ‘I think what needs to happen, and it’s important that it does, is that all the venues work closely together.
‘We’re not in competition with each other, we’re working in partnership through education programmes or little mini festivals. I’d like to see that grow and work towards the City of Culture bid.’
Portsmouth and Southampton have put in a bid to become the joint City Of Culture for 2017. Rob Da Bank, the organiser of Bestival on the Isle Of Wight, has also come on board as an advisor.
If the bid wins, it will turn the nation’s spotlight on the area’s arts, theatre and music.
Steve adds: ‘It doesn’t matter if we’re not successful, it’s about doing the work and bringing national organisations into the city. Music is a part of the arts in general and we need to bring all the different kinds of artists together.
‘There’s a reason that festivals don’t just have music and some old bands play in theatres – it’s all about the arts.’
But it’s not just about highlighting what’s there, as the musicians themselves need to make sure they are the best they can possibly be.
Steve explains: ‘People need to learn to be professional by going through professional experiences. If someone in London is looking for a band and there are 1,000 to choose from, they will ask for the ones that have the best biography and photographs. It’s why it’s called the music business.’
He adds: ‘Portsmouth is a major city with a thriving scene, not a backwater town, and it’s important to change’s people’s perceptions.’
Geoff Priestley, general manager of the Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea, believes that Portsmouth has a vibrant and eclectic scene. His venue has run a showcase for local bands for the past two decades – the Wedge Summer Showcase.
Any band or solo artist of any age or genre is welcome to apply and music industry judges provide feedback for artists. The favourites go on to perform further shows.
Geoff says: ‘There is not currently one genre that is sweeping the city, there are pockets of different kinds of bands making very different kinds of music.
‘There are some good local bands that are even venturing out of the city and playing to wider audiences, such as Bear Cavalry, Kassassin Street and Kodiak Jack.’
He adds: ‘All of these bands are very different but are all doing very well within their genres. There is also a strong underground metal/punk scene and a good selection of acoustic-based artists.’
The city has always had a strong musical heritage, and with the City of Culture bid coming up local music could have an even bigger platform to showcase itself.
Geoff explains: ‘There are some great shows taking place in various venues throughout the city, but there are also some good local bands who just need to keep plugging away.’
The News has teamed up with Portsmouth Festivities to help aspiring singers and bands with a great competition for young musicians.
The Singer And The Song is open to groups and solo artists of any genre providing they are aged between 17 and 25. They need to live in The News circulation area, be unsigned and have at least three tracks of their own material.
To enter, simply upload a video or sound file to YouTube and e-mail the link to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with name, address, age and a daytime contact number by midnight on May 17, 2013.
The top eight acts, chosen by our readers and a panel of expert judges, will perform at a live final at the Wedgewood Rooms on June 23 and the overall winner will receive a fantastic prize package including a day in a recording studio, a photoshoot with Blitz photography, their song played on Wave 105 and a trophy.
DAY OF THE RABBLEMENT
Day Of The Rabblement – made up of Khaleda Brophy, Oliver Alsford, Danny Harmer, Caitlin Burchett and Tom McGibben – range in age from 24 to 27 and all live in Southsea.
Having worked as this line-up for the past 18 months, they think there are plenty of good local bands. Although sometimes it’s difficult for them to get the attention they deserve in the city.
Danny says: ‘Bands struggle to become well-known outside of Portsmouth. When you go to see bands in places like Brighton, they have a following outside of the city, but we don’t get the same kind of thing here.’
Having performed at The Cellars and the Wedgewood Rooms in the past, the band also have an album out soon – Nightime Rallies.
Khaleda says: ‘Sometimes it can be hard for musicians to get into venues to play. But we hope we can continue performing music, and play inside and outside the city for a long time yet.’