Colin Greenwood

We quiz Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood on Independent Venue Week, the health of live music and his most memorable gigs…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 28 Jan 2014
  • min read
As bassist in Radiohead, one of the world’s most popular bands, Colin Greenwood is well aware of the importance of playing live to budding musicians and groups.

Not only does it allow them to polish their musical skills but it’s a crucial step in a band developing a fanbase and increasing the support which can help them make the transition from hobbyists to full time music makers.

Colin is ambassador for Independent Venue Week which begins today (28 January) and aims to highlight the importance of small venues in sustaining music at grassroots in the UK.

We quizzed the bass player about his first gigging experiences, the importance of touring to Radiohead’s songwriting process and what he thinks about Spotify…

How did you get involved in Independent Venue Week (IVW)?

My friend Sybil Bell, who's organising the campaign, asked me because she knew I love gigs and had some time to spend exploring and celebrating the current scene across the country.

Do you remember the first gig you went to?

I think the first gig was when I bunked off from Oxford to go see the Fall at the Lyceum in London. I think it was with Flux of Pink Indians and some industrial noise group from Australia called SPK. I also remember the vodka lemon jelly shots. Yum!

There were lots and lots of gigs I went to in Oxford. Separately, New Order and Cocteau Twins in ‘84 at the Apollo were memorable. We were spoilt with the Jericho, and, later, the Zodiac, in the late 1980s. Local bands like 530, Ride, Swervedriver and the Jennifers (who later became Supergrass) were all you could ask for. The fabulous Candyskins were enormously supportive too, selling us gear and offering support slots. It was a nurturing, creative scene that every town deserves to have today.

How important was playing live in the career of Radiohead?

Playing live removes a lot of the second guessing of being in a studio - you have to commit yourself in the moment and have no time to endlessly revise.

We loved touring at the start of our career and we've really enjoyed it recently too, particularly on the last King of Limbs tour. It's been a vital space to try out new stuff in front of critical but supportive audiences. We worked out a lot of OK Computer playing it while supporting Alanis Morrisette in the 90s. We also toured while we recorded In Rainbows too. Stages can have the best acoustics to try out new songs at soundchecks.

So touring done right can feed the endless curiosity and privilege of playing different places live.

What’s the most memorable gig you’ve played

I remember the shows that went well - Kansas City on the last tour was great, with Clive Deamer (he played drums with Phil [Selway - Radiohead's drummer]) giving us a musical history lesson of all Kansas' jazz greats - Count Basie, Lester Young, Charlie Parker.

One of the most electric shows was probably Glastonbury in 1997 on the Pyramid Stage. We lost monitors and some lights froze on Thom, it was very scary. Listening back, though, it gave the music a locked down power, because we all had our heads bowed, trying to keep it together.

What are your views on the music industry in general at the moment?

I don't have one opinion about such a fragmented, catholic world that music is in. I miss being told what to buy from more mainstream taste curators such as record labels, music press, shops and radio shows. They all still exist, but feel more scattered and specialist.

An argument that's been put to me about touring and local gigs is that the decline of traditional record company tour support has led to fewer bands travelling so much, and more focusing on building up a local following at their local independent music venue. If that's true, then it's even more important that the industry supports these gigs, as they offer the most viable way to school local artists.

What are your thoughts on new technologies such as Spotify surrounding the consumption of music? Do you think these new platforms are good for artists?  

They're certainly good for record companies, Google and to a much lesser extent Spotify have been writing royalty payments that are saving them. How much of that black box money is reaching the artist, is another question. The new technologies might be very good for building a profile, but the social and digital media sample size is much larger now than the old HMV/music magazine tie-ins and chart promotions. There's less financial support so it can be harder to stand out. That's why playing live is so precious, because it hasn't fallen prey to the free, mechanical reproduction of music in a digital age.

Should we expect new material from Radiohead any time soon?

We are taking some time off, but fingers crossed we'll get together later in the year.

Which new musical acts are you currently excited by? 

BBC Oxford introducing local music are having a Jericho gig to celebrate IVW with Glass Animals, with support from We Aeronauts, Salvation Bill and Charlie Cunnningham on 1 Feb.

Have you any advice or words of wisdom for aspiring songwriters/musicians?

Support your local venue!

Check out our interview with Carrie Davies from the Half Moon in Putney on IVW and the importance of live music.

Visit the IVW website to pick up tickets for the gig and the other shows taking place.