You know those people that just make things happen? For one thing, they’re especially good at networking – kind of like the glue that hold lots of people together. And when I say networking, I know that’s often taken to meaning they’re ‘quite often in the pub’. But most importantly, perhaps they realise that sometimes, you look around you and realise that no one else is making a move, and you’ve just got to do things yourself. Introducing then, Jim Beerman – a rock DJ and promoter in the Birmingham UK metal scene, giving the best underground UK black, pagan, thrash, death bands a platform at his annual festival ‘Beermageddon’. Jim took time off from filling the downstairs bar at Scruffies with custard cream steam from his vape pen to tell us about how he got to where he is.
Hi Jim, thanks for looking at these questions. Can we start by asking briefly who you are, and a little about your background?
I have been lucky enough to have spent a great deal of time in music, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s I sang in bands, and after taking a break in the mid 90’s for a decade or so to concentrate on raising a family I got back into going out to gigs and landed quite by chance in radio which opened up a whole new avenue to the music I loved, I dabbled a little in television doing interviews for an American cable station but radio was where my heart lay. It was from my radio shows I got into gig promotion running shows under the “Beerman Presents” banner which brought some of the new and upcoming bands I featured to the live stage, and in turn I held the second stage at the annual Sonic Rock Solstice Festival for a couple of years before it made sense to consolidate all the live shows into one weekend which led to the birth of Beermageddon. I still continue to compere shows across the UK and I have established myself as a recognised voice artist doing adverts, voiceovers and presenting for various projects both inside and out of metal, which is where I am at today, older and a little wiser than the kid who shouted down a mic in sweaty little venues 30 years ago.
I wondered if your surname is an anglicised version of the Germanic name ‘Biermann’, or is there a less exotic explanation involving drinking beer and being a man?
I wish my name did come from a long line of “Beermen” I gained the name when I was doing web work, which actually led to my career in radio, I was designing a website for a Canadian station and it seemed whenever we spoke about their needs I was having a beer, the lady who ran the station gave me the name, and it stuck.
You founded Top Rock Radio, am I right? The music promotion industry is like voodoo magic to me, I have no idea how it works. What’s the story behind that? How much time does the radio station take up, and is that how you make a living?
Top Rock is my baby, I started out on Canadian radio with a metal show that ran every Sunday (ironically when most Canadians were getting ready for church) but it really wasn’t working with their mainstream scheduling, I wanted somewhere dedicated to the heavier side of things, but back then there were very few rock and metal stations, I know because I applied to them all… Without a single reply, so I did the next best thing, I wanted a platform for my show with no rules or regulations and Top Rock was born, to this day it remains the one place I can really misbehave, I was once called by the American press as the UK’s answer to Howard Stern, which I took as a compliment, and I like to stick to those rebellious roots on Top Rock. My work in radio led to other radio stations interest, back in 2010 I joined the ranks at Switch Radio which broadcasts on FM and DAB, and in 2013 when Headline Media closed we took over the business at Switch where I am now on the board of Directors, and I also joined TotalRock (all one word) which was set up back in the day by the legend Tommy Vance and his old Friday Rock Show producer Tony Wilson, both stations I love because each provides a different challenge and listener base, but Top Rock will always be that special place where anything goes.
Can I ask you how you became a live music promoter, and what skills would you say you need for the job?
Once again live music promotion was something I managed to fall on my feet with, I was regularly going out to gigs and got to know promoters on the scene through the radio and it was with the help of Black Scorpion Promotions I managed to start putting on live gigs mainly featuring bands I had come across on the radio, the “Beerman Presents” shows ran from early 2008 to the final one in 2012 and are still remembered fondly, over the years I have put on shows in local venues, had festival stages and now Beermageddon but for me, it’s having a good team, from the very first live shows to all the festivals I have surrounded myself by good people who know their jobs and it’s just down to me to book the bands people want to see (I have a head start there with the radio side).
You’ve been running Beermageddon for eight years now. Did you have a vision for the festival, and do you think that has now been realised?
Beermageddon was a necessity, we had people coming from all over the UK to the Beerman Presents shows, paying for travel and hotels 3 or 4 times a year, so there was no real master plan involved, it was to be based on the ethos of the gigs we were all enjoying, even after a few months of announcing the festival it became apparent we would have to find a balance, our original plan of 2 days in a little 80 capacity venue was not going to work, we had sold out within a few weeks of tickets going on sale, so we added another day and moved to a bigger venue, Beermageddon 2012 was a baptism by fire, or should I say flood, it was biblical with rain, the campsite flooded, we had people having to sleep in the venue as their tents were washed away but despite all of this it was a resounding success.
Back then there wasn’t really any huge plan for a second year, but we knew it had to happen, we raised capacity again to the 499 licence we have now and moved to our current home in Stoke Prior, it was perfect, I had a longing for the old school festivals like the ones I played at in bands back in the 80’s and 90’s and I wasn’t sure if we could achieve it in this age of modern festivals being purely driven by profits over the music itself, but that old school heart lives in all of us, and Beermageddon has proven that together we can recreate those glory days, and long may it last. Since 2013 Beermageddon has been exactly how I want it to be, so it will not be changing, one thing people find surprising is I do not make a penny from the festival, and I have no desire to, the only motivation to grow things or change things is greed, the desire to make more money, that is not even in the equation with me so I have no need to tinker with perfection.
What were the highest and lowest points of the festival over the years?
I am very lucky in I have not really had any low points, yes, we have blown the power to an entire village, we’ve had torrential rains, but I have never had my head in my hands questioning my sanity, and the highs have been so many it’s hard to even think about them all, the one pleasure I have taken over all the years is the little special moments we have orchestrated, from weddings (I am an ordained minister and have conducted a few handfastings at the festival over the years), to special moments for bands, we managed to get the full live linup together for Martin Walkyier to do Skyclad one last time, and Venom Inc’s first UK show was surreal as I didn’t tell anyone they were playing until I introduced them on stage. We have had a few bands come to Beermageddon to play their debut shows, working with studio projects I have heard through the radio as they put the live lineup together and take the stage for the first time at Beermageddon. But I think the biggest high that I get again and again has to be our anthem, the Beer, Beer, Beermageddon theme song written and performed by Razorblade Smile, every time that blasts out we know where we are and to see everyone singing along is pretty amazing!
Can I just say the burger stall at the festival serves the nicest and most decently priced food I’ve ever had at such an event. The beer and staff in the venue is excellent also. Not only do you get a weekend of solid quality music, it all adds up to an experience where you feel valued as a patron, rather than being shafted!
This is really important to me, it goes back to the old school ethos, there’s nothing I hate more than going to a festival and paying a fortune for a lukewarm, pitiful excuse of a burger or silly prices for a flat (just as lukewarm) beer, festivals should be affordable for the majority of people, not just the rich, I want somewhere that people can bring their families, be able to eat and drink well, and healthily, (including soft drinks for the kids), and it not cost the earth, we keep ticket prices as low as we can, we do not charge extortionate pitch fees for the traders, the venue know they can keep prices low and still make their money, and everyone goes home happy, the rip off mentality we see these days is inexcusable, purely corporate attitudes of buy cheap and sell high, and music fans deserve so much more than being treated so shabbily. You may be able to tell I feel strongly about this, it’s a rot that needs to be stopped.
Have you noticed how good the younger bands are in terms of musicianship these days? It seems you rarely see a bad band anymore, or one that can hardly play. I wonder if it is partly down to the government in the 2000’s pushing music education in schools. Or maybe it’s just the internet socialising learning? Perhaps you have a theory?
I have a few theories on this, and you are right, the quality of bands emerging over the last few years has been of the highest calibre, all the shows I go to now are in grass roots venues, again I deplore the corporate attitudes of the O2 venues and the big arena shows (see above regarding music fans getting ripped off) so the vast majority of bands I see are the upcoming acts that I do believe are the future of the music we love. The entire music industry is a different beast to that of 30 years ago, I can only go by my experience in Birmingham, but back in the 80’s there was a choice of gigs to go to 7 days a week, live music was the normal night out, punk, metal, rock we had it all in venues across the city, and whilst there are still some great venues here, there is much less choice, different factors mean less live shows so there are much fewer places for bands to appear. Add to this the internet where bands are available to promoters across the UK, even the ease of recording, with bands being able to put out a quality sound from their own bedroom has meant quality control is extremely high, before a promoter even considers a band for a live show now he (or she) has listened to them, seen video of them on YouTube, gauged fans reaction to them on social media, a band has an uphill struggle before they have even picked up an instrument these days, but this quality control has meant the cream shining through and getting shows up and down the country, those not getting the shows have to go back to the rehearsal rooms and work harder until they make the needed impact and get the shows, the downside to this is nobody is challenging themselves any more, musicians are making music promoters want to book, promoters are booking what they think crowds want to hear, some of the best music started out as the worst music on a stage in front of no-one then honed to something new and exciting, picked up as an opening act somewhere, and turning into a phenomenon, music needs the experimenters, the surreal, and the outright lunatics to progress, and promoters need to start taking chances again.
If you were transported to another city tomorrow and knew no one, how long do you think it would take you to get promoting again?
A long time, a very long time, every now and again I get the urge to resurrect the Beerman Presents, but I soon change my mind, I am much happier enjoying others hard work these days.
I’m not asking for names, but what percentage of bands / artists you work with are a PITA?
Absolutely ZERO, I am very lucky, the majority of the bands I book are bands I have seen live, I speak to them and get a a bit of a connection with them, that’s when I think about the festival, I think the days of a bowl of blue M&M’s is a thing of the past, people do not want to book diva’s so it comes back to quality control, if a band gets a name for being needy they soon find bookings dry up. Either that or I am really good at booking ha ha.
My favourite job ( before having responsibilities ) was warehousing. I could just daydream about music, and lift things onto pallets. Would you rather use your mind for a living, or your muscles? Have you done many / any different jobs over the years?
I enjoy most jobs when I left school I was only 14 (I did go back to do my exams, which I passed) but while my pals were on YTS schemes I was doing the building, which kept me going for a good few years, then in the early to mid 90’s as the family came along I needed more money and moved into sales, which it turned out I was really good at, by 1998 I ran one of the biggest sales offices in Birmingham with over a hundred staff, it was the “yuppie” era so my long hair in a ponytail worked with the image, but things were to change, my wife pregnant with our daughter went into hospital for a couple of months and I had to become a stay at home dad to our two boys, it made me realise I had been in a hugely stressful job and when my wife and daughter came home, it was back on the building game, and I spent my time plastering until a few years ago when I had to stop due to ill health, and I concentrated solely on radio, and music
I’m sure you like other music styles, but would you say the heaver stuff is your preference? I got into metal from the punk end of things, how about yourself? What have been your absolute favourite gigs over the years?
I was exactly the same, punk was my thing and I progressed into the NWOBHM in the early 80’s though punk has always stayed with me, for many years I was quite blinkered, I even dubbed thrash as bastardised punk (I suppose in many ways I was right) but my tastes broadened and now I love most music on the heavier side, even grunge on occasion, though that is very rare. Over the years I have seen thousands upon thousands of bands but the one gig I always think of as perfect was actually an arena show, Alice Cooper, Motorhead and Joan Jett at the NEC back in about 2007, it was sublime
Do you have a desert island disc list? How about five albums from your favourite genre(s)?
I think I am the only DJ ever who cannot even put together a top 10 albums of the year, never mind a top 5 of all time, to be honest my mind switches so much even beginning to make a list it changes within seconds, no bad thing in my opinion, I think it helps with what I do, I treat music as a journey so I would start with one album and meander though so many releases I can spend weeks just going through my favourite albums before starting again with a completely different album for a whole new journey.
What is wisdom in your view?
Knowing the difference between their, there and they’re… Seriously though wisdom for me can only be gained by experience, try everything and learn from it, whether the outcome is good or bad you will learn nothing from not trying something at least once.
They say that youth is wasted on the young, but paradoxically the naivety and ( sometimes undeserved ) self belief we have when young does sometimes pay off. Do you suspend your good judgement sometimes and take reckless risks, for old times sake? If so, when was the last time?
I would love to say yes to this, I think we all like to believe that spark of youth lives on somewhere deep down but these days the biggest risk I take is a fart after a dozen bottles of Hobgoblin… Then I think back to last weekend at Onboard The Craft when I was convinced I could ride a clown sized micro bike, for those who haven’t guessed the outcome, I couldn’t.
What is your involvement with On Board The Craft Festival these days since going your own way?
Me and Martyn are best pals – I help him out where I can 🙂
I wonder how much you think fatherhood has affected, positively or negatively, your impact in life? Has it all gone to plan?
I think I have done more with my life since the kids came along than before, I’ve taken them to their first gigs, their first festivals, and let’s be honest if it wasn’t for kids us adults could not justify going to Cadburyworld!!! Our kids are pretty cool so they don’t mind hanging out with us and vice versa, and it always makes me smile when their friends say they wish their dads were like me.
Do you have any particular philosophy in life, or religion?
Be excellent to each other… (OK I stole that from Bill & Ted but it’s a great philosophy)
Do you have any other pastimes other than the obvious music related ones?( apologies if you’ve already answered this earlier)
Not really to be honest, which makes me sound a little one dimensional, but the radio and such does occupy much of my time so on my off hours I tend to chill out in front of the telly or read a book (horror mainly).
If you have daughters, have they ever accused you of ‘mansplaining’?
My daughter has to mansplain things to me especially when it comes to technology, and most of the time I still have no clue what she is talking about!
Do you have any advice for the youth of today?
Buckle up and enjoy the ride, experience everything, and regret nothing.
Lastly, what are your plans for the future?
Just to live every day as I have been, I had a pretty bad heart attack just under a year ago (back to good form again now) so every day is a bonus, while I can keep loving what I do I will do so, so see you at a show somewhere soon, cheers n beers xx
Thanks again to Jim for taking the time to answer these questions.