Shepherds Bush Empire in February; the BBC Music Introducing Stage at Glastonbury in June; the Jack Rocks Stage at Reading Festival in August. 2017, as drummer Ayden Spiller says, was “the year of the bucket list” for British psychedelic-pop quartet, Palm Honey.
However, like any artist worth their musical salt, Spiller remembers where these bucket list dreams were made. “A huge part of my early teens was just going to shows in small venues,” he says from a corner of one of Shoreditch’s busiest lunch spots. “That's where it's happening; you don't just wake up and play the academy.”
“That's where it's happening; you don't just wake up and play the academy.”
Independent venues, as Spiller elaborates, have been monumental in taking the band’s sound from the bedroom to the BBC Introducing Stage - the heady energy and jangling riffs associated with a sound like that of Palm Honey isn’t just developed overnight, and Spiller is the first to admit that. “We’re still at pubs, we’re still doing that,” he says. “And I'm thankful for that because it means that we get to hone in on our skills.”
Because, let’s face it, unless they were hand-picked by one of mainstream music’s biggest moguls, or tailor-made on a reality TV show, what fledgling band can say that performing live is always plain sailing? “I think our first gig was at a place called Walkabout,” Spiller says. “We did a 15 minute set in Reading, our hometown. I was nervous - I threw up before.”
Today, though, other than some expected interview-related anxiety - after all, who does like being in front of a camera? - the artist seems to have put his nerves behind him.
“I look back at that time, and I think that it got me prepared for what's to come,” he recalls. “You need that time to mess up, you need that time to understand your own music and play together in that environment. You can rehearse all you want, but on stage it’s very different; live is very very different.”
Of course, talk of independent venues rarely requires context for any promising musician trying to make it in the Big Smoke, but Spiller’s appreciation for the smaller stage is really rooted in the simple fact that that’s where the band developed their loyal fan base.
"These aren’t just little pubs. For some people this is their community. This is a big thing for them.”
“People cotton on to who you are and what you’re about and they follow you,” he says. “That’s a really good feeling because you’ve developed together...they’re watching you play and these venues are getting bigger and bigger, and it’s like, ‘Wow, we’ve done this together.’ Without the fans you can’t do anything.”
Here’s the thing, though. The UK’s independent venues are fading fast and Spiller knows that fact all too well. “Places are closing” he says. “And these aren’t just little pubs. For some people this is their community. This is a big thing for them.”
“If grassroots venues aren’t preserved,” he continues, gesturing, “where are you going to get the artists for the academies? We’re just going to see the same circle of bands because other bands aren’t going to be able to develop and hone in on their skills. They need this. Artists need this.”
Spiller’s concerns, unfortunately, are all very real - it’s estimated that London has lost almost half of its live music venues in the last 10 years. But what’s the solution? “Larger acts should be talking about it a bit more, I think,” Spiller offers. “They kind of owe it back, you know?”
And he’s right. Saving grassroots venues will take a lot more than the continued efforts of the people who run them. Fans, music enthusiasts and artists big and small are going to have to work together to keep the UK’s nightlife alive, and if we can all take a bit of the Palm Honey drummer’s enthusiasm for the smaller stage, that task might seem like a simpler one than first thought.