XMR Skiffle - Bands In Your House Part I

Oxygen Thief takes America!


Skiffle? What's that then? Well, it's a type of music using homemade instruments, or playing anything that happens to be lying around. It was best associated with jazz musician Lonnie Donegan. But the Oxford English Dictionary (via Wikipedia) has another root from which the genre got its name.

The term ‘skiffle’ was one of many slang phrases for a rent party, a social event with a small charge designed to pay rent on a house.
— The Oxford English Dictionary

So that's interesting and that, but perhaps we should hand you over to Street Team captain Valerie Gritsch for the full origin story of XMR Skiffle.

Valerie Gritsch, of XMR. Organizer / street team manager / fangirl / etc

In June, the idea for a Skiffle tour was born with the question: What if we could do our own Xtra Mile house shows, facilitated through the street team? From there, ideas were bounced back and forth, through emails, in taxi cabs, backstage at festivals, outside pubs. It took shape, and started to grow. Fans were into the idea, artists seemed intrigued. And that’s how I found myself chasing Oxygen Thief down a hill at 2000 Trees Festival in July saying “Wait! You need to come to America before the end of the year to play in peoples’ houses!” A strange thing to have shouted at you, I’m sure. But I gave him the basics of it all - rocking up to the homes of Xtra Mile fans and supporters, playing acoustic shows for them and their friends, road trips, singalongs, all that good stuff. Oxygen Thief was into it as well, as he had never toured in America before but was a big fan of it.
 
After I returned home from the magic bubble of Trees, I got to work plotting the first ever Skiffle tour with the help of some amazing Xtra Mile fans. Without them, this tour never would have happened. Kelly came down from Canada (!!!) and volunteered to be the driver of the tour. Traci and Samlin helped set us up with a cool Boston location to play in. Julia, Mike, Brendan, and Cherie volunteered their living rooms and back yards for loud acoustic sets. Hindi and Nicola volunteered their apartment not only for a gig, but to be base camp throughout it all. Their friends came out to support and enjoy a night of music. Other XMR fans helped, simply by spreading the word for us. It was truly a team effort, and luckily for me I had a great street team behind me to get it done.

The shows themselves were so fun. I’ll never get tired of Oxygen Thief’s sets because along with playing exceptionally good music, the man is funny and charming as well. We’d have little chats between songs and laugh and before you know it he’s covering a song from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The fans who turned out were great captive (but captivated) audiences, and I’m so happy to say we made new fans, and friends, at each Skiffle. That’s what makes these really special - the music community we enjoy online becomes real and fleshed out, and your gig buddy list expands for next time after a night of singalongs in someones home.

The street team hopes to have many more Skiffle tours in the future. We hope to see you at one, whether you’re hosting it (find out how below!) or attending it. Don’t miss out on such a rewarding opportunity!

And this is how Xtra Mile Skiffle was born. A sketch of an idea - let's get our artists to play in people's houses to further break down the walls between audience and performer, plus it'll be fun! - given form. Then, like all the best ideas, reality. Pencil drawing into living colour, squirming into life.

Oxygen Thief - aka Barry Dolan - was the first of what, we hope, will be a long-running gift to our loyal fans, and music fans in general; sending our artists out to play in your living rooms, filled with a bunch of your friends, family, strangers - whomever you allow into your den. Barry grabbed his acoustic guitar and flew over to the US for a two week road trip around people's houses, playing songs from his excellent new album The Half-Life of Facts, as well as a bunch of other songs and a few fun covers. Everyone enjoyed it. Don't just believe us though - even with our trustworthy and really pretty faces. Instead, you can read how everyone who hosted, attended and were involved in putting it all together felt about it all (and thank you all for being such sports, and lovely ones at that). 

Here's a video of the events that took place in September 2014. Watch, enjoy, think how much you want this to happen in your place, then let us know below.

SO YOU WANT TO HOST YOUR OWN SKIFFLE DO YOU?

To host your own Skiffle, you don’t need to be part of the street team - but you do need to be an Xtra Mile Recordings fan (duh!). All you need to do is email in, volunteer your space, and the next time we’re planning a tour in your area we will reach out to you about it. No matter where you live, you can volunteer! UK, Europe, America, Canada, Australia; you want XMR artists in your home, and we would love to put them there. So let’s work together to try and make it happen!

Send an email to xtramilestreetteam[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject line “Skiffle Host” to volunteer. Be sure to include:

  • your name
  • location (town, city, country, etc)
  • how many people you think would fit in your space (don't want health and safety tracking us down)
  • your top 5 XMR bands that you’d want to see! 

Below are REAL comments and feedback from REAL people who embarked on our REAL Skiffle tour in the US September 2014. They say nice things. Don't you want to be a bit like these people? Get ready for some new Skiffle announcements coming soon and you could be these people, having fun and making new friends for life and maybe even meeting some of us Xtra Mile people, who are great and special really. Read on DEAR READERS.

Hindi Kornbluth, NYC host

The hardest part about being a fan of XMR artists in the US is the scarcity of gigs on our shores. Sure, we get the occasional Frank Turner or Beans on Toast tour (oh my heart BLEEDS - sincerely, Japan) , but for many of the artists on the label, the only way to ensure seeing them live is to purchase a (rather expensive) plane ticket to the UK. Last summer, I had the immense pleasure of seeing The Retrospective Soundtrack Players, Ben Marwood, and Oxygen Thief at a pub in Bristol, and ever since I’ve been raving to anybody who would listen about how talented they all are. After a few months, most of my friends kept prodding me for information about when any of their next tours would be. I, of course, didn’t know how to answer them for the words would be sad. What can you even say to that? “Oh sorry I made you fall in love with this music but no they never come to America NOW YOU KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE!”

So when I heard that the XMR Street Team was trying to organize an XMR Skiffle tour for Oxygen Thief, I jumped at the chance to host. I offered my living room to act as the “home base” for Barry while he was here, and my kitchen to host the first Skiffle of the tour. I invited EVERYONE I could think of. It was a Tuesday night in NYC, so our turnout of about 20 guests felt pretty impressive. I ordered some pizza pies (because what would a Manhattan house show be without pizza?), and a few bottles of wine. The wine ended up being an excellent choice, because the chilled Moscato provided an excellent reprieve from what ended up being one of the hottest nights of the summer.

After starting the night out in my kitchen, with the windows open and two fans on, we eventually all concluded that it would be smart to take a hydration intermission and then move the rest of the party into my bedroom, where there was an air conditioner. During the move, I whispered to Valerie if we could ask Barry to play “Hey Ya!” in my walk-in closet, an homage to the 2009 Youtube video from the !@*# tour. She laughed, and asked him, and he agreed! The look on all of the guests faces as they, one by one, recognized the song being played was amazing. By the end everyone was dancing and singing along. The set ended with one of my favorite songs from Oxygen Thief’s first album, called 'All Done Bye Bye'. It was also the last song from the set I saw last summer in Bristol, so it just really felt like the perfect way to close out the show. Everyone sung the last few lines - my favorite part of the song - that go “I stayed still and nobody got hurt.”

After the show a bunch of my friends bought albums and went up to tell me that, while they had been listening to his music for a while, nothing could have prepared them for how amazing he was, live. I’m so happy I got to play a part in bringing that to them, and I can’t wait to help out with the next Skiffle tour!

Nicola, Barry and Hindi

Nicola, Barry and Hindi

Nicola Hassapis, NYC co-host

Oxygen Thief kicked off the first date of the Skiffle Party house show tour at the apartment I share with my flatmate, Hindi, in upper Manhattan. The evening got off to a strong start with enormous pizza slices courtesy of local establishment Koronet and some sweet Italian wine, the latter of which seemed to go down particularly well with the crowd judging by the speed of imbibing. 

Barry opened his set in our kitchen with 'Badge of Dishonour', an engaging choice that soon had the roughly 20 attendees confident enough to sing along with the catchy 'One Day This Will All Be Fields'. He went on to regale the crowd with 'Modesty Is Dead', 'Mestle & Portar', and 'Trial & Improvement' before getting everyone involved once again - this time to clap along with 'Too Many Trees'. 

Due to rising temperatures, the group decamped to Hindi's room after a brief intermission. Barry performed a cover of Outkast's 'Hey Ya' in Hindi's walk-in wardrobe (??), then emerged to round out his set with 'Co(extra)ordinates' and 'Disaster Plan'. We all pitched in on backing vocals for his appropriate closing selection of 'All Done Bye Bye', ending the night on a high note.

Brendan Schaller, Philadelphia host

Brandon and Barry

Brandon and Barry

I'm really glad I got to be a part of the first Xtra Mile Skiffle tour. Not only did I get to show Barry around the city and do a few touristy things, but we also got to have a fun little show in my living room. I appreciate getting the chance to be an opening act, and although the crowd was small, everyone had a great time. Editor's note: Brendan Schaller has some music. Listen to his music.

Jackie Aubel, NYC host

When I found out that XMR was planning a series of US Skiffle shows, I immediately volunteered my teeny tiny New York City apartment as a potential host venue. While I didn't know who would be performing on my sectional, I knew that if it was an artist backed by XMR, they were gonna be fantastic- and I was right!

Prior to hosting my Skiffle, I wasn't too familiar with Barry or his music, but his performance in my 90 degree living room was awesome. His energy was infectious, successfully capturing the undivided attention of 15 strangers, which in my opinion, is what music is suppose to do.

Hosting the Skiffle was- honestly- such an awesome opportunity for someone like me who has such a deep-rooted passion for music, but unfortunately, has little musical skill of her own. I would 100% do it again and hope to see XMR (and other labels) do more of them! It's really a tremendous way to connect artists with fans. 

Ali, Barry and Jackie (sounds like a really bad - or really good - US sitcom)

Ali, Barry and Jackie (sounds like a really bad - or really good - US sitcom)

Traci Ann Dis, Boston host

Traci, Barry and Samlin

Traci, Barry and Samlin

Traci, co-host for the Boston skiffle, reporting. So, the Boston Skiffle almost didn't happen and there was much sadness. Emerson Housing put the kibosh on Samlin hosting a Skiffle in the commons room and I doubted anyone would want to travel to EBF Central Mass on a Monday night. We tried thinking of alternatives, such as busking in the public gardens, but didn't want to let Mother Nature ruin our plans. Then I had the (brilliant) idea of renting a rehearsal space for a couple of hours and the show was back on. We got a lovely room at Jam Spot in Somerville, full of sound equipment and couches and we could get as loud as we wanted without any neighbors complaining. As an added bonus, local boy Kenny Chambers opened the show with a short, mellow set, gearing us up for the raucous and energetic stylings of Mr. Barry Dolan, aka Oxygen Thief.
And Barry killed it, of course. And there was much happiness in Boston that night.

Maribel, fan

Maribel and Barry, in a great t-shirt

Maribel and Barry, in a great t-shirt

I’m a relatively recent convert to Xtra Mile recordings and its artists. My affection began with Frank Turner (of course) and grown to include other artists who are equally genre-defying and uplifting.
Earlier this year, I decided that 2014 would be my year of living musically - more music, more concerts, more new people to share this journey with. Half way through the year and I’d been to numerous gigs in various NYC venues, as well as festivals in Indio and London, but never a gig in a home...until Xtra Mile’s Skiffle came to town.

Oxygen Thief was coming to NYC, said the tweet, Facebook post and Instagram picture - RSVP for your spot! Hmmmm…shows in someone’s apartment, that’s quite generous of the host, isn't it? Strangers eating your pizza, cooling beers in your fridge, and I can probably bring my camera problem-free! Why not? This is after all my year of living musically!

So off I went rushing uptown after work on a Tuesday to hear Oxygen Thief in a NYC apartment with strangers and a shared enthusiasm for live music in all its forms. How was Oxygen Thief? He was fantastic! And the Skiffle: exactly what a home gig should be. Loud, hot, and with enthusiastic singalongs. Where else can you meet the artist, get to know new people with shared musical interests, buy some merch, and plan for the next Xtra Mile band coming to a stage near you? I loved it so much, I went back for more on that Friday. This time in an apartment on the east side. Canapés and beers were had. We talked about Burning Man and listened to Barry and Valerie’s adventures traveling around to Skiffles in other cities. A great way to kick-off the weekend, enjoy the last days of summer and revel in another singalong.

Peter Gritsch, fan

Peter and Barry, in "the men's room". Pointing. Yesterday.

Peter and Barry, in "the men's room". Pointing. Yesterday.

I attended three of the skiffle shows. I haven’t been to any house shoes prior to this, so I was not exactly sure what to expect. I surely was not expecting to almost die of heat stroke in a kitchen, in a living room, or a basement, all in one week! However, if I’m being honest these shows were worth my near-death, since all of them went wonderfully and I had a whale of a time.

There were many spontaneous events during each show. During the first one I attended, before Barry went on to do his thing, he and I took refuge in Hindi and Nicola’s living room, where nobody else was hanging out. This was appropriately named ‘The Men’s Room’ - No girls allowed! Halfway through his set there, we had to change location since everyone was uncomfortably hot standing in the kitchen with about 20 other people. During the second show I attended, which was in Jackie’s cozy living room (meant to hold 5 or 6, and there were maybe 15 of us in there) I almost got a chunk taken out of my head by Barry’s intense guitar playing. Talk about 3D! And at the basement show, many of the artists including Barry had broken their guitar strings. In an attempt to keep his set held together, Barry held a short Q&A session while restringing. I asked him what his favorite soup was! I came out of that show a different person, after learning about Heinz cream of tomato soup.

Throughout the Skiffles, Barry performed a few cover songs and these were a pleasant surprise. At Hindi’s, he performed Outkast’s 'Hey Ya!' in a closet. During Jackie’s, he did Andrew WK’s 'Party Hard', Queen’s 'Great Pretender', and MIA’s 'Paper Planes'. Along with the covers, his original stuff was pleasant as well. The songs he played that stuck with me were 'Badge of Dishonour' and 'Modesty is Dead'. I never listened to him much before these shows, but after seeing him I bought some CDs and a funky t-shirt. I look forward to seeing him again one day! I went from no house shows to going to three in a week. I hope Xtra Mile Recordings do more of these in the future.

Roe Gallo, Xtra Mile Recordings

I’m here today to talk about the first #XMRskiffle - aka Barry from Oxygen Thief's US tour (and by US Tour I mean NY, NJ, Boston, New Hampshire). Tuesday, Sept 2 saw the very first #XMRskiffle show. About 20 people, mostly ladies, gathered at the home of Hindi and Nicola on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For the readers in the US, you know that NYC has seen the coolest summer on record in 2014 - that is until September 2, 2014. This was the HOTTEST day of the summer. If you’re privy to NYC real estate, you would know that most apartment buildings do not have central air conditioning. It is up to the tenant to install their own window units. On particularly hot and humid days, a NYC apartment can feel like the inside of a brick pizza oven. Add 20 people in the kitchen with the windows closed (so not to disturb the neighbors), pepper in Barry singing and playing his heart out in the middle of it all, and you have #XMRskiffle show #1.

After a brief set in the kitchen, we decided on a change of venue aka Hindi’s bedroom.  With a small AC unit and a fan to keep us cool, we all gathered on the bed or the floor to listen to Barry play again. He reprised his version of Outkasts’ 'Hey Ya' by singing it in Hindi’s walk in closet (see Oxygen Thief - Hey Ya !@*# Under the Stairs Video on Youtube for reference).  There was crowd participation, a lot of laughs, interesting stories and of course, great music.  

There is nothing like the intimacy of a house show.  Being within arms reach of the artist is really a music fans’ dream come true.  Talk about breaking the fourth wall - you’re not just watching, you’re experiencing the music in its truest form. The artist feeds off your interest and energy, and the audience pays rapt attention to the artist. #XMRskiffle #1 was a success.  I hope the rest of the shows were just as fun and intimate. The support each person gave by coming out, giving a suggested donation, buying merch and by singing along, means more to the artist (and the hosts) than you could ever imagine.

And if you have a chance to experience an #XMRskiffle, GO! The fan in you deserves it.

Kelly Holman, driver

Barry, Val and Kelly - yay friends!

Barry, Val and Kelly - yay friends!

I started hearing rumours in July that Oxygen Thief would be coming over to the States for some solo acoustic shows. Basically, this meant that I would be attending said shows, because come on now. We North Americans have been begging XMRtists to come over and see us for a while now, and what kind of person would I be if I didn’t come along?

…a shitty person, is the answer. Plus, Toronto to NYC is only an 8 hour drive (except when it’s 12, due to road construction and a dwindling outer ear infection. But that’s neither here nor there).

As plans evolved, I accidentally ended up becoming the tour SUV driver! Which, I’m sure scared the bejesus out of Barry at first, considering we had only met in passing twice before. Canadians are overbearing to Brits anyway, because we have built-in enthusiasm for mindless crap. Even by Canadian standards, I am ENTHUSIASTIC. He probably wanted to hide. But he was brave, and showed up anyway. I commend your courage, Mr. Dolan.

I can honestly say that as much as I had great expectations for this tour, they were far exceeded. All of the Skiffle hosts were the loveliest people (even when we decided to rename their cat…sorry, Brendan). Val and Barry were the best road trip companions I could have hoped for (not even ONE “are we there yet”, and I didn’t even have to threaten to turn the car around). And, most notably, Oxygen Thief was mind-blowingly good. I thought I understood how talented he was before (especially having seen him in both solo and Roxygen Thief, power-trio formats), but to be able to perform that flawlessly, in varied venues that were not visited in advance…to say I was extremely impressed would be a massive understatement. I didn’t want to be a pain in the ass and tell him every night, so I’ll do it now and publicly: BARRY DOLAN, YOU ARE A ROCKSTAR.

With teamwork (especially when parallel parking in wee spots or passing through EVERY TOLL BOOTH IN EXISTENCE SEVERAL TIMES), a GPS with hilarious enunciation habits, pirate metal, and a lot of songs made up about reversing, going over bridges, and merging, we made it safely to visit EIGHT STATES (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island). And though we failed in our quest for proper spicy chicken wings, we made up for it with our trivia (enthusiastic shout-outs to Brad, Barry, Hindi, Mischa and Alex! I have typed this out using Garamond - font type injokes are for total WINNERS) and touring skills. Oh. And milkshakes.

Thank you SO MUCH to Hindi, Nicola and Brendan (for hosting, taking us around AND letting us stay with you), Julia and Mike, Samlin and Traci, Jackie, Cherie, Vickie and Taking Back Queens for hosting shows! And to Peter, for being Peter! This was such an incredible experience, and it could not have happened without you guys. Thanks to Val for being the hardworking, incredible superwoman that she is, and to Barry for coming ALLLLLL the way over here to play for us. He crossed an ocean, you guys. An entire ocean.
If you attended the Skiffle shows, you know of the glory! If you DIDN’T, you missed out. It’s that easy. It’s okay, though…now you know. We’ll forgive you if you come along for the next tour. Huzzah!! 

Brad Barrett, Xtra Mile HUB/News/other things, writer and that

After a year of not doing much, after doing quite a lot, I decided I never wanted to do not much again. So I began this new period of not not doing much by doing quite a bit. In four days.

I flew to New York for the first time, having applied for my ESTA a mere two days before (daredevil, me) and asking for time off work at the same time, and was off to see Mineral (of whom I wrote a bit about recently for Already Heard) play 3 gigs. They hadn't played together for 17 years so this was a HUGE deal and well worth my plane fare.

But I wanted to fill in a Friday-shaped gap in my schedule. So, it turned out I would be JUST IN TIME for an Oxygen Thief show at Jackie's NYC apartment. I'd get to finally meet the legend that is Val, plus Kelly - a social media friend with good taste in music (ie. Xtra Mile bands) and videogames and a sense of humour that fits in with some of my favourites ie. it's funny, read her entry it's the best one - and a whole bunch of new people. I brought my good friend Mischa along to fend off any weirdos (he's tall and basically wouldn't hurt a fly, so good choice me).

Barry, Brad and Val - XMR reprezent boiiiiiii!

Barry, Brad and Val - XMR reprezent boiiiiiii!

We were welcomed like Englishmen in New York (very very well as it happens), offered beers (that's a YES - again, Englishmen), and joined a living room of people talking about how weird Burning Man is. Also Barry (he of the noble family of Oxygen Thief) came to have a chat too and everything was....well actually really hot. Stifling. But that's summer in the city for you. Oh, there was also a massive NYC pizza which would've fed a living room full of people, which is lucky because that's what we were and where we were, at the time.

Barry then did his thing: unplugged, loud, chanty, and with an interlude of handclaps thrown in at least once. He also made sure to ease in some covers for the less familiar among us (not me - I've been a fan since before the split EP with Ben Marwood and Austin Lucas, and featured Barry in an unsigned section in a magazine I was editing and writing for because I'm totally scene). They were great covers too - 'Paper Planes' by MIA being particularly good and getting everybody to do the chorus through virtue of us all knowing the words.

How did I feel about all this? Well, I found it initially surprising that everyone - after that initial "I'm in a stranger's house" awkwardness - really just fell into conversation (being friendly Americans and a trio of semi-drunk Brits probably helped) and that it turned out everyone liked Barry's music. It helps that Barry is ace and his acoustic playing is enviably on-a-dime laser accurate - so it's hard not to be impressed - but it was probably also helped by a camaraderie (however temporary) that was built upon a whole heap of great people of all different backgrounds and stories, somehow uniting because of a bearded 30-something with a guitar. It probably happens all over the place all the time, but there was none of that gig-going scenester rubbish, or groups of friends sticking to groups of friends to feel safe. You are exposed and not in a bad or illegal way. You have to mingle quickly or be forced to join in whatever your shyness level. It's good for you, seriously. A small group of people became a larger group of people just by exchanging thoughts, laughs and - yes - food and drink. 

I kinda wish these kinds of things always happened all the time, that we wouldn't have to worry about noise nuisance rules (within reason - like just stop playing and singing, at a convenient and nice time for everyone, sometime in the early evening for example), that people wouldn't just go to places to be seen, to be part of something, and that we can all unite over things we love instead. Community is sorely lacking outside of the internet, so to be able to cross the pond, meet people I've only ever spoken to on the internet and have a great time seems like a revolution. So, perhaps join it with us? XMR Skiffle: could be the best time you never thought you'd have. And it's way better than not doing much.