Sign of the Times / Interview with Rhys Melhuish

Learning from 2018’s mistakes, I take the North East music scene’s godfather Rhys Melhuish to a bar WITHOUT a live DJ set happening a mere 10ft from us whilst at least three Christmas parties’ worth of middle-aged men dance. It’s amazing what being able to hear each other can do for an interview.

There’s a lot of learning been done this year and not just in my interview technique. Rhys very candidly admits although he’s proud of the achievements of Rhyme this year, he hasn’t achieved all he thought he would at the beginning of the year.

The one big lesson from running Rhyme Promotions? “That it’s really really fucking hard to do it alongside a full time job more than anything,” he says with a stilted laugh.

“When we spoke last year I’ve just finished uni, needed a big boy job to pay big boy bills and I’d just started on that. Since then I’ve not done anywhere the number of gigs I thought I’d do in 2019 as I thought I’d do this time last year.” He counts off the gigs Rhyme has done this year on his hands.

“It’s hard finding the balance. It’s not just the promotion and the work. It’s the band as well, or the two bands I’m in now I’m in Holly’s band. It’s finding time for your family, finding time for your girlfriend, it’s all of that.”

There’s a short pause before Rhys adds that as fun as gigs are and as good as the feeling is when the bands put on a good show, the crowd is busy and there’s enough money to give the bands a fair amount for the show they put on, the lead up is the furthest from fun.

He wakes up a cold sweat wondering if he tweeted enough or if one more Instagram story would’ve sold those last five tickets. “You get home and as much as promotion isn’t work like ‘work’ is work, it’s still work and sometimes you want to switch everything off.”

“There were a lot of times like that when I’d just say I’ll do it on Thursday when I’m not at work. It gets to Thursday and I’m so relieved to not be at work that I just want to recharge and take care of myself.”

Rhys admits that perhaps some shows suffered under the pressure he faced personally and others were saved by the bands themselves, Motel Carnation and Bigfatbig being prime examples.

Both bands had sold out debut gigs this year, put by Rhyme. They realistically could’ve sold out their shows without Rhyme assistance but chose him anyway. It’s pressure off for the band if they have a promoter, and a job on Rhys’s CV for when both bands, in his own words, inevitably blow up.

Whilst Rhys continues to sing the praises of both bands, calling ‘Westside’ a next level kind of release and boasting what’s to come for Bigfatbig after having played their debut show as their drummer, “Oh my god, there are some absolute gems in that set. I think there’s some more that are very very good, I’ll be looking forward to them coming out.”

Continuing to talk about rising talents in the North East and having half of his debut album play in the Students Union in the half an hour we’ve been here, it seems only right that we get to talking about the man himself.

Album of the year obviously goes to Sam Fender’s debut ‘Hypersonic Missiles’. In retrospect, it feels daft to even ask the question. “Everything he touches turns to gold” Rhys reckons. “You can tell everyone in the North East is just buzzing because of it and very proud of him.”

He could be referring to any of a long list of achievements for the North Tyneside native which include but aren’t limited to a number one debut album, selling out an arena tour for 2020 and winning a BRIT Award.

“Hopefully a bit more of that happens for other artists in the North East. Maybe someone else can get a Number 1 album. Maybe more people will turn their attention, people like national bookers will look to the North East because of Sam Fender. If he’s come out of North Shields, what else is waiting in North Shields?”

As of August 2019, Fender will have sold enough gig tickets in his stomping ground to equate to 10% of the population of Newcastle city. Since then he’s gone on to sell another 20,500 tickets here for 2020 tour dates.

Is there anyone that could top him? “Failing that, the emergence of Matty and Sean Longstaff as well, am I allowed to say them? I’m going to say them.” The thing these individuals have in common (other than being John Spence High School alumni) is their recent come ups.

Little Comets are my favourite band of all time and they were THEE North East band for a long time.” Rhys says looking at the decade as a whole, with the hook of ‘Dancing Song’ tattooed on his bicep.

He continues: “If we’re going for my personal moment of the decade I’ll go with the first time I ever saw Little Comets. Which was… here.” He looks around a little dumbfounded to remember he’s downstairs in the Northumbria University Students Union.

“Jesus Christ. It was Northumbria Institute on 10th December, my birthday, 2011. First time I ever saw them, supported by The 1975 and obviously look what’s happened to them since. But that gig for me, on my birthday, seeing my favourite band at the time and still now for the first time.”

He’s grinning like a schoolboy thinking back to the memory but remarkably for the man that is synonymous with local music, this wasn’t when the penny dropped for him that it was worth taking a chance on local artists.

“Honestly I probably didn’t notice Little Comets were good, local music. Little Comets were probably the glorious exception that I found quite luckily.” He found them in a local football programme.

They were talking about how Little Comets function with both Geordies and Mackems in the band. Despite knowing half the band were Mackems, Rhys heard ‘Adultery’ for the first time and the rest was history.

Rhys refocuses to clarify that it was during his Spark days that local music actually became a part of his life. Thinking as far back as his beginnings on Spark we talk about what we would bring back from this decade and take into 2020. Rhys dips WAY into the past to say he would bring back Collectors Club, a band from Middlesborough.

He heard a track called ‘First to Know’ on Spark when filling in the playlist to make up time and “from the first time I heard it, I knew it was a banger.” Unfortunately for the rest of us, the track has gone walkies from streaming sites. On the upside, Rhys also recommends their other single ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ which IS on streaming sites.

He gets back to talking about current bands and says that he feels like a lucky fan at times because Rhys started going to gigs as fans of all the bands in the North East and became friends with them through that rather than the other way around.

Whilst talking about his local loves Rhys makes a daring statement: “I’d get a Club Paradise tattoo on my arse like. They’re incredible, absolutely awesome and that song is fantastic. Knocked me for six.”

Of course, the song he’s referring to is ‘Closer’, the song that made Club Paradise the North East’s finest export (specifically to Mexico). Rhys recalls the first time he heard the track. “Jesus Christ. Honestly, I shit my pants listening to it for the first time.”

“I won’t lie I was on the metro home. I was a little bit drunk after a gig somewhere and should I say it? Yeah, I’ll say it. Jackson [Club Paradise’s Guitarist] leaked the song to me.” He briefly stops the rant to apologise if any other members of the band should read this and Jackson gets in trouble.

“There and then said it might be the biggest release I’ve heard from the North East this decade.”

“That guitar hook, everything about it. The production, all of it is absolutely monstrous. I went into every group chat to say about it. I think I indirectly tweeted about it. I was on the metro, with my jaw just on the floor saying ‘how can it be this good?’.”

Rhys continues, animated, talking about all the music he’s come to love from 2019. “I don’t think you can ignore any of Fever Days’ releases this year. They’re stupidly good, especially ‘Drugs’.” Third on the list is the “absolutely class” English Fiction by Ghost//Signals which he first heard at Pompous Punk at Trillians, put on by The Noise and The Naive.

Final on the list is Llovers’ ‘Do You Know?’ from their debut EP that came out just a fortnight prior to this interview. Llovers have played a bigger role in the year for Rhys than just releasing exceptional music. They offered St Buryan the opportunity to make it out of Newcastle and play Leeds together earlier in the year.

He’s obviously grateful for the opportunities that have arisen for St Buryan in 2019, especially for their biggest headliner to date in April, but the same opportunities haven’t been afforded to the band looking to 2020. “We applied for all the same stuff again this year and didn’t get any of that back, which is a bit disheartening in a way.

“We just think that when you look at next year, for example, you see the lineups for This is Tomorrow, a lot of bands are confirmed for that. Hit the North first wave, Heelapalooza, smaller ones like Twisterella all seem to be all sorted now.” It’s a hard thing to hear, especially knowing some of the behind the scenes as a promoter.

“We’ve worked on a lot of things privately, maybe once those things turn up publicly we begin to get offers again, I hope so and maybe we can turn next year into a relatively successful year in terms of festivals.”

St Buryan have had a lineup change too after bassist Eddie departed from the band. It came in unfortunate times, neither Eddie nor the rest of the band wanting him to leave. Even less did they like the thought of having to go through the process of finding a new bassist ready to take on the responsibilities of the band.

St Buryan fell on their feet though, and hopefully, their luck in finding their fifth member will be an inclination for how 2020 will go, Rhys, boasts “Jesus Christ, thank God Jacob Mallon existed for that as well.”

“He was all of those things we needed, he’s buzzing to jump into it and he’s a fantastic bass player. He picked everything up so easily and we’re all just so excited to get out.” He’s quietly hopeful it seems, that finding Jacob may be the beginning of their good luck.

With more of a smile on his face, Rhys gets into what 2020 is shaping to be for the rest of his life. Big plans are falling into place for Holly Rees in regards to touring, and Rhyme has its fingers in a canny few pies.

WMN Festival will, fingers crossed, see it’s come back in 2020 too possibly across multiple venues if the right venues can be found, Rhys says. The festival is a collaboration between Rhys and Bigfatbig/PICNIC frontwoman Robyn Walker which saw them put on 10 artists at Head of Steam in April.

Rhyme also boast their biggest gig to date in March, with Club Paradise. Club Paradise headline Cobalt Studios (tickets here) on 6th March and it’s caused a bit of a change in Rhys. “It has ignited a bit of a spark in me because I see it as a bit of a challenge to get that one sold out. It’s different to the Motel Carnation at Head of Steam one, I hardly need to do anything for that to sell out.”

“This is one where we need to graft, we need to work hard and hopefully it’ll pay off and the gig is going to be insane because they are incredible. I just need to keep up my end of it.”

There’s a determination in what he’s saying. It’s genuine. Unsurprisingly, the gig is at Cobalt Studios, one of the few venues left in Newcastle that isn’t owned by SSD Concerts. Rhys mentioned that he misses Jumpin’ Jacks and Little Buildings too.

“Some of the best gigs I’ve ever been to in the pair of them. They were absolutely class and now one of them’s getting turned into offices and the other one is a burger place.” Though he quickly adds that he’s never been one to slate a good burger.

Jumpin’ Jacks, he says, in fairness was closed mainly due to health and safety. He’s not wrong either, as good as the venue was, I still get flashbacks to that feeling I’d fall through the floor at the slightest inkling of a pit.

Even with all its dodgy flooring, you still miss it. “Think of how many places you can get a burger from in Newcastle, how many 100 or less cap city centre venues are there for local bands to play their first show.”

“You’re running out of places to have that first big gig. Our first proper headliner was there. The Pale White’s first big headliner was there. Even FEVA’s first big headliner was there.”

It’s bleak ending for the decade so we try and see if Rhys has a new party trick from last year’s discovery that he can rap along to Barenaked Ladies’ ‘Two Weeks’. He lists “an impressive impression of Rolf from Ed, Edd, and Eddie, making Holly Rees cry on command and mastering the art of contact lenses.”

Rhys settles on a big one though “I did a good goal at football the other week, a header. Backwards. From the edge of the box. I wasn’t even looking. That was unreal, I’ll never do it again. Is it a party trick if you do it once and can never do it again?” We settle that it is, in fact, a party trick.

With even more talent than last year just oozing out of him who’s telling where Rhys will be by the end of 2020 or even the end of the next decade. He could be the next Sam Fender or even the long lost third Longstaff brother but only time will tell.

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