I had a great show last night in Saarwellingen. The crowd was amazing, sold-out in advanced sales, people were smiling, clapping, singing along, blowing bubbles, jumping, drinking, generally having a great time - and the best was: they gave me the feeling that I was mainly responsible for that. I consider myself extremely lucky. Even now, more than two and a half years after opening up for Frank Turner in September 2013, people come up to me and tell me that they saw and heard me first on that tour. And I always answer that I had the greatest time on that tour. I am eternally grateful and constantly remind myself that supporting Frank has opened doors for me, doors I never knew even existed. It changed everything. This happened mainly, I believe, for three reasons:
Reason number one is that the crowds were extremely big and even if 800 out of 1000 people don’t like you, you still get 200 new fans from a single show. So even if the odds are massively against you, you will still profit.
Reason number two is that me as a person and my music seemed to appeal to large parts of Frank Turner’s fanbase and the charming story of how I got to play these gigs seemed to also put a smile on people’s faces.
Reason number three, which is the most important reason, is that Frank’s crowds gave me a chance. When I walked on stage on that first show in Dortmund, I was so afraid that nobody would listen to me. I was afraid that my lifelong dream of playing to thousands of people would all of a sudden turn into a heart-crushing nightmare. But this wasn’t the case. In every single city, Dortmund, Bremen, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Landau, Wiesbaden and Hannover, the crowds gave me a chance to actually win them over. Without this decency and respect, I would be nowhere near where I am now. I am and I forever will be grateful for that.
Since that tour in September 2013, I have been on numerous support tours. I have played with Milow, Tim Vantol, Ben Caplan, Lucero and many others and most of the time, I was fortunate enough to find open ears. Not always, not everywhere, but most of the time. The shows with Ben Caplan in the last two weeks have been particularly amazing, probably the best “support crowds” I have played to since the Frank Turner shows. Quiet during the songs, wild and very appreciative afterwards. Simply amazing, especially when you take into consideration that the large majority people usually don’t go to a show for the support act, but for the headliner. Truth is, I envy Ben for that kind of audience. Not because I don't like my audience (haha, that would be terrible!), but because these kind of attentive and open-minded (and open-eared) crowds are a rarity these days. Not many artists are blessed with this - or at least not to this degree!
Over the last couple of months I have been to and played many shows, where people simply talked over (especially, but not only!) support acts. It happened when I toured with Sincerely K. and it also happened last night in Saarwellingen. The audience was great when I got on, but parts were downright rude and loud and talky when Ariane Zita played. Truth is, I felt extremely bad for her, I was borderline aggressive. She is great but she didn’t get a chance to show her talent to the people. Even worse, those that actually wanted to listen to her, were not given a chance either. Just to make sure, this is no general audience bashing, far from it. It's just that 10% can really spoil the party for the other 90%.
As a support act it is hard to tell audiences to be quiet, you don’t usually do it, you just passively accept that playing in front of a wall of sound and chitchat is your fate for the night. You just tell yourself that people didn’t come to see you. It hurts. It hurts like fucking hell. When you go on a stage, you open up your soul to people and to be punished with ignorance is probably among the worst things that can happen to you.
Even as a main act, it’s a fine line between being honest and coming across as bitchy when you tell audiences to shut up. I have never really done it, even though I often had the urge to do so. I’ve seen big and small acts do it and fail, I’ve seen them ruining the atmosphere completely by doing so and I am actually scared of coming across as being full of myself, which I am absolutely not. I, too, am more passive than I actually want to be, when it comes down to this “problem”.
So why do people talk over live music? Maybe it is because they are so used to having background music in their daily activities that it is just normal to talk over music? Maybe because they don’t realise that it makes life for musicians really hard? Maybe because some just don’t care? Ben Caplan said something the other day that really hit the nail on the head. People that talk during a show, no matter if it’s the support act they ignore or the main act, don’t only make the musicians miserable, they also ruin the show for those that actually want to listen, those that want to close their eyes and sink into a song, those that maybe even paid good money for the gig. They are actively destroying an experience and while they might argue that it is their good right to do so (after all there is now law that states the opposite), it is still rude.
I also understand that people go out to party and that sometimes quiet music might not always the best for that purpose, but when you go to see a show, then see the show ( and see the full show!). Don’t go for the main act only, go for everyone who is on the bill. They are usually on there for a reason! Give them a chance. Music is not bad just because you've never heard of it. And if you want to talk to your mates, if you want to laugh and chat about whatever, why go to a place that hosts a concert? Why not go to a bar where there is canned music? Musicians, no matter if they are headliners or support acts, pour all their heart and soul into their music and they deserve attention, they deserve to be heard and given a chance. If you listen to a couple of songs and don’t like them, fair enough, but you gave them an opportunity to prove themselves and that makes you a better person - at least in my point of view. It's a matter of respect and decency.
Again, I owe most of what I am now to the fact that people showed me that exact respect and decency when I was supporting other, bigger artists. Now that I am able to take other bands or singers out on tour (and I really only tour with people whose music I like!) and introduce their music to you, my own audiences, I desperately want them to make the same great experience I made. I want them to go out, enjoy the shit out of a tour or a show and go home and say that this John Allen guy has great and lovely crowds. When I sat backstage with Frank after our last show together, I wanted to thank him, but he would take none of that. He simply said: "John, as soon as you can afford to do so. Pay forward. Take other artists out on the road that people don't know and expose them to your people. Do for others what I did for you here." I'm trying to do exactly this, but it only works if we work together.
Those of you who like my music and who come to see me. Those of you who regularly sing with me and those of you to whom my songs mean something. You probably wouldn’t have heard about me if you had talked over that guy supporting Frank Turner or playing that afternoon slot at that festival. Be curious. There is great music everywhere. It just needs to be heard. And what greater feeling is there than discovering this new and unknown singer or band that you can tell all your friends about? What better stories are there than those beginning with "I saw him/her first when opening up for...". And you know what? I'd would make me super proud if, in a couple of years, you'd go to other people's concerts telling them that you saw them first when they toured with John Allen and they'd answer something like: "Yes, that was a great tour!"
Thank you for taking the time to read this and see you at the shows.