24th June 2018

Blackwater Conspiracy: “You get a lot of attention at Ramblin’ Man that you don’t get at other festivals”

For many of you in the Ramblin’ Man crowd, the Rising Stage is a big draw. It’s there that you can get to hear some of the finest new sounds around – some you’re already familiar with, some you’re being introduced to for the first time.

Last year, Blackwater Conspiracy were one of the Rising Stage’s big success stories. The Northern Ireland five-piece’s rootsy, low-slung rock’n’roll lit up Sunday’s late afternoon slot, and they went on to release their acclaimed debut album, Shootin’ The Breeze, a few months later.

Twelve months on, Blackwater Conspiracy frontman >looks back on the band’s day in the sun at Rising Man…

What do you remember about your set on the Rising Stage at last year’s Ramblin Man?

Phil Conalane: There’s lots of things I remember. But one thing I do really remember is that it was a really good crowd. I spent a lot of the weekend at the Rising Stage, just cos I wanted to be there.
The crowd for us was great. Maybe it was just the perspective I had from being on the stage, but there seemed to be a huge crowd when we played and we got a really, really good response. And there seemed to be quite a few people who knew our songs in the audience, which always makes it extra special. But it was one of those shows that was so good it was over in the blink of an eye. It was so. We really enjoyed it – we made a lot of new friends at it. Everything about Ramblin’ Man makes it a great festival.

Was it a significant stepping-stone for the band?

PC: Stepping stone maybe isn’t the right word, but just to get to play it is enough. If it leads on to other things, fantastic – that’s brilliant. But you look at some of the other big festivals where there’s, like, a hundred bands on, you just get lost in the whole noise. Whereas at Ramblin’ Man, especially for us last year, we felt like you got a lot of attention you don’t get at other festivals. But then there was a lot of attention put on the Rising Stage anyway. People were coming to check out the bands on that stage. Everybody knew who Extreme and all these big bands on the Main Stage were anyway before they even went to the festival, but no one knew who we were, probably didn’t know who Kris Barras was, probably didn’t know much about the other bands. People wanted to go and check them out – that’s why a lot of the bands got a lot of recognition. Something happened to every band afterwards, which made the Rising Stage a fantastic platform in that respect.

It’s interesting you say that, given that so many people are saying rock is in trouble right now. It seems like there’s still a big appetite for new music…

PC: There is. But that’s why the Rising Stage works. There isn’t usually a lot of attention put into bands who are at an early stage in their career, maybe a year or two into what they’re doing, and sometimes they get lost because there are other things going on. The Temperance Movement are probably one of the biggest British rock bands around at the minute and they’re getting a lot of attention – and rightly so, cos they’re absolutely phenomenal. But there’s been very few bands who have come along after The Temperance Movement who have been getting any attention as far as British rock bands go, so the Rising Stage was the perfect opportunity for a band like us, or Trucker Diablo or Kris Barras. All those bands who played that stage that day have gone on to do more, but that would never have happened at any other festival, because Ramblin’ Man gives those bands the platform to do that, and made it very clear that these are the next bands that are coming through.

You put out your first album, Shootin’ The Breeze, a couple of months after you played Ramblin’ Man. How have things changed for Blackwater Conspiracy since then?

PC: It’s changed noticeably. We’d lived with those songs for quite a while, we though there was going to be bit of a ripple, but the attention we got and the reviews and where it charted and how many copies it sold physically, it was like, ‘Hold on here, what is going on? We didn’t expect this reaction at all.’ A lot of it is down to hard work with our management and stuff like that, but at the end of the day you’ve gotta have a few decent songs and we believe we do. And I think it’s proved it because a lot of people have latched onto these songs, which is fantastic.

Have you found things getting easier, or is it still a struggle being in a band at your level?

PC: Here’s the thing: it’s only a struggle if you let it be a struggle. It’s only a struggle if you don’t love what you’re doing. We love what we’re doing. The five of us guys would be playing music together even if we hadn’t got a record out, even if we weren’t getting shows and tours, cos we enjoy the music we play. We’ve never really considered it a struggle.
Yes, in practical terms, it probably is a struggle, because we’re not touring as much as people might want us to tour because it does cost a little bit of money to do these kind of things, so we’ve got to save up a bit of money to do them. It’s a vicious circle.

So how do you make that money? Is it from the gigs you play?

PC: I support myself with a day job, and some of the guys do. But every gig we play, whatever money we get for that, it goes into the band bank account. And when we have a little bit of money, we go, ‘Well, let’s make a few T-shirts.’ People buy the T-shirts, another little bit of money goes into the account. And this rolls over and keeps going. Sometimes you sell a lot of CDs or T-shirts and a lot of money comes in quickly, which leaves in a position where when something does come along, you can actually do it. Let’s be honest, unless you’re selling a million CDs these days, you’re not going to make a lot of money. And no one buys CDs these days anyway.

How easy is it to get gigs?

PC: I’m not gonna lie, it can be difficult. But our manager, Dave Thorne, he’s stuck with us through and through, and he knows a lot of people, he’s always championing our cause, and more often than not people will look at us because of the respect he’s got. And then people do like us, and we get the opportunities to go on tour with other bands. Sometimes we do a little bit of hustling ourselves – we’ll email agents and bands and managements. A little bit of cheekiness. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get.

What about in terms of getting people out to your gigs, is that easy?

PC: It definitely feels like we have an audience building. We played our first London headline show earlier this year. We were touring with Kris Barras, and in the middle of the tour we put on our own show in the Boston Music Room in North London. We were pretty confident that a lot of people would show up and thankfully a lot of people would did show up. We got a really good crowd and they were really responsive.
If we’re able to bring a few people into a venue in London when practically no one knows who we are, we must be doing something right. Back home in Ireland, it’s easy-peasy – everybody knows who we are and we do really well there. But when you’re coming to a different part of the UK and you’re not known that well, these kind of things take work.

You played a couple of new songs at that gig – Goodbye To Yesterday and a slow ballad called She Gets Me High. Where are things at with a new album?

PC: We just write songs all the time. I would guess at this point we’ve got 14 songs that we’re completely happy with, that we want to be on the next album. We’ve got a pile of songs that we’ve disregarded but that’s just the way it is in a band. But yeah, we’ve got about 14 songs slated for the next album.

What kind of timeframe are you looking at for it?

PC: We still want to have it finished and recorded and ready to go by the autumn. There’s a lot of things going on that mean it might not work out that way, but that’s the initial plan. If not, it will definitely be next year. But hopefully it will be before the end of this year.

So what else do you have planned?

PC: Just keep doing a few more shows at home and a few more over here in the UK, then get that album out. And then we’re gonna do a full UK tour, with as many headline shows as we can do ourselves. But I’ll be at Rambin’ Man again this year, so come over and say hello.