So near but so far - big breaks for Bard of Ely that didn't happen
So very close to success
As a writer, singer-songwriter and creative artist I have for many years been searching in vain for that elusive big break, the one that launches you out of the poverty trap and means that at last you are getting financial reward for your efforts.
There are billions of us on the planet, all hoping to becomes stars in the world of entertainment, all searching for our lucky break. But only a minority ever achieve it and see their dream come true!
Some moments of being nearly a big success
Law of Attraction
It is so frustrating to get so close but not close enough or to get the contacts or the deal you are after but for something unforeseen to still go horribly wrong. Eventually it is possible to get used to it and the disappointment doesn't hit you so much. It is even possible to look back and see the funny side of things at times.
I have for many years been hoping and praying to get my break in many different fields. I would have been and still would be happy to be a TV celebrity, a film star, a signed musician, a singer-songwriter with a publishing contract, a successful author, a newspaper columnist for a publication that pays well, or a radio presenter.
I have had my taste of all of it but never landed the job that established me as an artist who gets a decent and regular income.
I thought I'd share some of my experiences of how so often I have thought at last this is going to be it, and then for it all to go crashing down.
I can assure fans of the Law of Attraction it has nothing to do with any of that. I have visualised what I wanted, I have believed I have got it, I have had promises made, I have even seen actual products with my name to them made but then usually some unforseen disaster happens or some other person messes it all up and you are back to being a struggling artist again struggling!
I first thought I was really getting somewhere back in 1989 when I had my song Jungle Love included on Meltdown The Album compilation on vinyl of local acts from South Wales. It was really exciting at the time to see that my song was picked out as a "highlight" by Paul Davies of Q magazine, who further added that it was what he would call "swamp rock".
It was brilliant getting a full page feature on me in the South Wales Echo and getting airplay on local radio as well as being invited on as Steve Johnson's guest in Red Dragon FM, Valleys Radio, Radio Wales and Bridge FM. It was fantastic to hear my song Kingfisher blasting out from a chip shop in Cardiff's Caroline Street one evening when it was being played on Steve's radio show.
These were early moments when I thought real success must be happening soon but it never did.
In 1992 I had a taste of being in a film that was going on general release when I had two roles as an extra in Karl Francis' Rebecca's Daughters. I was a gypsy and also one of Rebecca's daughters, who were Welsh rioters who blacked up their faces and dressed as women as a disguise in Dylan Thomas' story.
It was great fun and I got to meet some of the big stars including Joely Richardson and Keith Allen. Keith took the picture of me included in the photos here and there is another of me pictured with Joely. Director Karl Francis said I really looked the part, which I took as a great compliment.
Newport Film School
I remember thinking the first day on the set that this is what I ought to be doing. A year or so after I was the Warlock in a Newport Film School production by Alison Thompson of Bloduewedd and also got a small part playing an alien henchman in Dave Jones' Sci-fi short Red Dragon for the HTV Wales series of Shotgun Slideshow. It was all great experience but hardly the big time.
Very Good Records
In the mid-90s, I had two limited edition vinyl releases I felt excited about at the time, both on German labels. The first was an LP called Sound of One on Very Good Records. The deal was that the owner of the label was supposed to send half of the 500 copies over to me and he would keep the others.
This never happened - he sent me the first 100 plus a lot of extra sleeves for the others which were on their way but the rest never got sent and after a while I never heard from him again.
I spent loads on sending copies out as promo. I also found out that because the release was on vinyl that local radio wouldn't play it because it was all CDs now. I put some in Spillers Record shop but they were very slow to sell when in competition with all the stuff on big labels with big publicity.
I heard that Thomas the guy who owned the label went bust and never had the money to send over the rest of my records. When I moved here after hanging on for years to empty sleeves I very sadly ended up throwing them away. I wonder where the other records ended up?
The original record is probably now very collectible as will be Mask, my EP on plum-coloured vinyl on Pink Lemon Records. Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals told me he would buy a copy and he did, and he has both my vinyl releases in his record collection.
Ralf the owner of Pink Lemon wanted to do a limited edition boxed set of Beatles cover songs and invited me to be one of the acts contributing. I thought this would be great publicity if nothing else and ended up paying for studio time to get Let It Be and John Lennon's Working Class Hero recorded. I sent them in but after the years went by it appeared that this was yet another project started with the best of intentions that came to nothing!
I had played on smaller stages at Glastonbury Festival by then and the one year I was approached by a famous British photographer called Peter McDiarmid who wanted to take some pictures of me because I looked "interesting."
Being a self-confessed "media tart" I was pleased to pose for his camera, but after the festival I forgot all about it until Ruth, who was the girlfriend of a musican friend of mine called Andre, said that she had seen me in an exhibition in the Tate Gallery in London. Ruth showed me a postcard from the show and it had an address for Peter so I got in touch with him hoping that just maybe there were postcards of me too. There weren't but he sent me a print of my photo that was on display and said it was OK for me to use for personal publicity purposes.
In 1998, following passing a BTEC Diploma in Media at a local college I was spotted by one of the lecturers as being good as a TV presenter. He pulled some strings and very soon I was co-presenting in a magazine series called In Full View that went out on BBC Choice, the new digital channel.
We were filming short pieces of me out and about in the countryside telling the viewers about what I found there. It gave me a chance to be a TV naturalist and botanist. It was a small taste of being a new David Attenborough or David Bellamy. And the pay was good too for a change!
I really thought that at last I might get seen by someone higher up in the TV network and taken on as full time presenter. I thought my career was about to blossom and that I was about to become a television celebrity. The only trouble was that not many people had digital in those days and the series finished.
I never even saw all the episodes I was in because I couldn't watch it at home and I was never given videos of all of my parts. The VHS videos I did get are in a cupboard in my dad's house in Wales as part of my archives in my quest for stardom.
Buy music by Young Marble Giants
Manic Street Preachers
Then I was back to the world of music with my next big chance at success. It was the end of 1999 and the Manic Street Preachers were seeing in the New Year with a concert at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
It was advertised as having cheap drinks prices and I saw Nicky Wire from the band on TV doing a bit of pre-show publicity. The message was going out that the Millennium Stadium was going to be the biggest pub in Cardiff and that the prices were going to be "normal" ones and not inflated because of the occasion.
I like a lot of what the Manics had done and bought my ticket. But on the night, along with all the thousands of other fans I was to have a big shock - there were hardly any bars in the stadium actually open and the prices were extortionate.
People were forced to queue for hours with no guarantee they would be served because the bars were sometimes closed even though there were masses of people waiting. I suppose they had run out of drink to sell but that's no excuse! And if you did get served the prices were nowhere near "normal" - it was six pounds for a Red Bull and single Vodka.
I was horrified and really annoyed by this. I hoped the Manics would at least maybe make a public apology to their fans and point out that they had entered the agreement with the venue in good faith, but the band said nothing.
This catering fiasco was complained about in the postbag of the South Wales Echo for many weeks after. I made up my mind at the event that I was going to write a song called You're a Liar, Nicky Wire about it all and told my friend Sid Stovold of the now defunct band Inter.
"You are on to a definite winner there, Steve," my friend said.
Young Marble Giants
To cut a long story short, and it is a long one, my song finally got recorded with the help of Cardiff musical entrepeneur Jah Scouse and featured the production of Phil Moxham of the legendary Young Marble Giants. After being banned from a local record shop before it was even released the song got a rave review in the NME music paper, featured on the new bands section of the BBC R1 website and, most importantly, Rhys Mwyn signed it to Crai Records.
You're a Liar, Nicky Wire was to front the Taffia EP and Crai is the leading label in Wales and was responsible for launching Catatonia's career. It was all looking good.
Unfortunately the DAT master that Phil gave in to the record company had something wrong with it and it had to go back to him to be redone and resent. By the time that it was finally released after all the delay, nearly two years had passed.
Promo copies went out and a letter was received from one of the heads of radio at the BBC saying that sadly the song was now well past its newsworthyness so they wouldn't be playing it again. This was a valid point and there wasn't anything that could be done.
Green Man Festival
I had a stroke of luck getting to be compere and performer at the first and second Green Man Festivals in 2003 and 2004 but then I moved over to Tenerife and although Jo and Danny who run it wanted me to take part in the next one I couldn't take part because it was too far for me to travel now. The Green Man Festival has now become one of the most successful events in the UK.
Herbs of the Northern Shaman
Besides the acting and the music I tried my hand as an author. Knowing a lot about botany and herbalism as well as having experimented with various mind-altering plants in my past I decided to write a book on the subject, which was finally published in 2000 by Loompanics in America as Herbs of the Northern Shaman .
Before that I wasted nearly two years passing it around potential publishers in London. At one point my hopes were really raised when I got an interview to meet with Louise McNamara, who was an editor at Thorson's at the time. We got on very well and she loved my work and said leave it with me and I'll do my best to get this taken on.
You can imagine my excitement thinking that I was about to become an author for a big London book publisher. But sadly a week or so later Louise wrote to me saying that despite her best efforts her colleagues were unwilling to publish it. So I got turned down by all the London publishing houses just like JK Rowling!
After that I thought I will try abroad and within two weeks not years, Loompanics said they would take it. They gave me $1,000 advance and sent me a box of the books, and once again I was thinking at last I've done it!
Unfortunately I then got to find out about distributors and bookshop chains and the cost of shipping books from the US to the UK. It wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.
The book got some great reviews and sold well at events if I was booked as quest speaker and at one point, best-selling author turned DJ Howard Marks aka Mr Nice, sent me a postcard saying he thought it was "excellent" and was prepared to help by selling it alongside his own books on his ongoing tours.
This was a fantastic opportunity but not having the sort of money it would take to ship the books over in quantities that would make it feasible I had to miss out on his very kind offer. I could hardly say thanks so much, Howard, but I wonder could you loan me the money to pay for me to get my books from America?
A year or so later Loompanics had to close down and that meant my book was out-of-print. I have seen it selling for crazy, and I mean crazy prices on eBay and Amazon!
After putting it on lulu.com I managed to find a proper publisher again. Herbs of the Northern Shaman was accepted for publication by O-Books.
It came out again in the autumn of 2010, completely repackaged with all new photos by Katrinia Rindsberg.
I am keeping on at it all because I don't give in easily and in the words of the Bachman Turner Overdrive hit "you ain't seen nothing yet!"
Links of interest:
Katrinia Rindsberg's amazing photos:http://www.photographybypolly.co.uk/home.html
My book on Moon-Books: http://www.o-books.com/book/detail/758/Herbs-of-the-Northern-Shaman
© 2008 Steve Andrews
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