The last time I got to see the Small Fakers was earlier this year in March at the 229 Club in London for their annual anniversary concert that normally attracts over 600 music fans.
Small Faces drummer Kenney jones was due to be their special guest, but pulled out at the last minute on medical advice and concerns by his family following the outbreak of the Corona virus. Some fans were also concerned about their own health risks and stayed away. It was still a great concert, but it turned out to be the last live gig for the band for some time.
"We were really lucky to get that one in before everything locked down." Matt said.
The band have pre-booked the 229 club for March 2021, but Matt is cautious about whether it will go ahead as regulations for live music during the pandemic are changing all the time. I ask if they have any special guests planned at this stage.
"I think if it goes ahead we'll just be celebrating that it's a gig. Our promotional theme will probably be 'we've got a gig come and be one of the 600 people coming to it." he laughs
Live gigs for many bands have been few and far between, but Matt remains positive.
"After Christmas I'm going to start booking gigs from May onwards. We have a few before then, but realistically things are likely to pick up around the May/June time."
He added "Even though other parts of the hospitality industry will open up, music venues will possibly be the last to do that."
Matt feels the vaccine will be crucial in things turning around and live music getting back to any normality.
"Some festivals booking for next year are starting to stipulate that you will have to prove vaccination before you'll be able to enter."
Authorities say it needs at least 70% of the population for it to be effective, but some Polls suggest 40% of the population won't have it, leaving the live music industry in a quandary. Matt is happy to have the vaccination and adds thoughtfully "I'll probably just stay away from those who don't have it."
Reflecting on this year he says:
"I've been really lucky and had no symptoms or even a cold this year when normally I would have a few sniffles."
He puts this down to no mingling.
"Normally I'm in a sweaty room with 200 people" he laughs
Whilst the lack of social contact with large crowds has been a bonus, the down side to national lockdown for the band meant that live gigs came to an abrupt halt. A real blow for the Small Fakers as they have been hugely popular and touring regularly since they first formed in 2007. Like most bands they had to look at other ways to be able to perform and provide live music for their fans.
"After a few months in lockdown we were emailed by the studio that we use for rehearsals, informing us they were now being allowed to open, but limiting the numbers so that social distancing could take place. They also mentioned they were piloting a new streaming service. Obviously they were looking at ways to generate income."
Matt and the band jumped at the chance to be their guinea pig band and were keen to get in early to try it and help them out.
"We went a few times to test the technology and help by being one of the first live streams. If we had been a 5 piece band the studio wouldn't have been big enough to accommodate us. We were able to distance ourselves with Dan at the back, Neil and Jon in the middle to the left and right, then with me at the front."
Matt said it was a technical challenge as they had never done this before and for those viewing for the first time on laptops at home it was also a challenge and new for everyone, just like Zoom was.
"We had loads of texts and messages on the first night from people asking how do they do this and we tried hard to keep on top of that just half an hour before starting the gig. There was not a lot more we could do, but it worked well for a lot of people and not so well for others. Some were happy to view the recorded version the next day, and just a handful had refunds."
They do plan to do more and were going to do a Christmas special as a thank you, but some bands members have had family bereavements so they will look at doing something in January now.
Matt adds "We've got a pre-recorded live stream already done and being edited. So even when we're in lockdown in January, that's the only thing that will be going out."
Although the band haven't been able to get together as much as they were doing before lockdown, they are still in touch most days.
"We are all writing individually. A lot of ideas come from one person then everyone pitches in. The writing is something that can be done remotely. We have had some rehearsals, but less than we were before."
These days of course much of their new music production is around their own band 'The Veras'.
"The plan is to have The Veras first album out during the second half of next year (2021) with a single out the earlier part of the year. We've got a recording session booked for February and we've also done some recording this year, so there's stuff in the can already for the album."
The studio the band use is in the Newbury area, as Neil lives in Portsmouth and the other band members around Maidenhead, so it's a central location for them all.
"We spend a few days down there when we can, although we haven't been there for a while, but will be back in February."
The band has already had a few releases 'Seven & Nines' EP CD and 'Papercup Telephones' 7" Orange Vinyl (www.theveras.co.uk)
"We've got a fun Christmas single out at the moment."
Matt points out that it wasn't originally written as a Christmas song .
"Jon had come up with a verse and some lyrics for a song, then I stuck the chorus on the end. Then we thought it was similar to something we'd done previously so wondered if we should include it. But it was quite a good song, so rather than bin it, we thought why not change a few lyrics and make it a Christmas song. Then we recorded a tongue in cheek 70's style video, which can now be viewed on YouTube."
(The Veras - Have a Merry Christmas Time! - YouTube)
This is the third video they've produced, all of them to a highly professional standard. Matt revealed the tech wizz behind them all is their own multi talented band member Jon Gray (well 95% is Jon, the others did have some involvement too!).
Matt points out that Jon is into photography and videography, which, aside from performing in the band, has been part of his day job and background anyway.
"The Christmas video was all a bit of fun and over the top on purpose as well as coinciding with 'growing a moustache month'. Jon does all the camera work and the editing, plus he's in the video and wrote the song!"
The conversation now moves into talking about Matt's legendary Friday night gigs on Facebook. Matt is the only full time musician in the band, so when everything shut down he was at a real loss with no work and no income, apart from government aid that was on offer to self-employed people.
"When it all started I thought oh my God! So I contacted a few other musicians and said what do we do now?"
One of them was a little ahead of the game and said he was doing a live online gig on Facebook and that Matt should check it out.
"It looked fairly simple to set up and I'm used to sitting there with an acoustic guitar and performing. So I thought, great, its not a brand new thing for me to do. I just needed to work out the technology a little bit. I found the less you do the better it is. I literally put my phone on like I am doing now with you on Zoom, instead it's Facebook live."
There are no extra mics, no sound desk and the guitars are not plugged in.
"I've seen people do that, but the sound isn't so good. The first few weeks were ridiculously popular with hundreds and hundreds of people watching. This is when we were in complete lockdown. No one could go anywhere apart from food shopping. People were thinking what were they going to do on a weekend night? So I had about 600 hundred people tuning in the first few weeks! It's plateaued out a bit now, but still around 100 to 150"
It's now become a regular event on a Friday at 9pm. Sometimes a request night or perhaps a themed night. The last one was a Christmas special and Matt will be back on the 1st January.
"There is interactive chat and my set lasts about an hour. People can put money in the hat, whether its 10p or £10 or nothing at all. Luckily it has been working for me. Otherwise I may have to get a real job!" he laughs
"I talk with the band almost daily really as there's always something to sort out. We've just been discussing the plan for next year for when the album is likely to come out. We're looking at recording a single and because of Covid all those companies in the different areas of music production business have a backlog of work because staff are off or furloughed. So the company we use to press the vinyl at the moment takes about 3 months whereas it was normally only a month or so."
So that means Matt and the band are having to plan ahead right into next year.
"Come January we've got to know which single we're doing and get it off the pressing company otherwise we don't get it until 3 months later!
Our chats also cover gigs we've done and hope to do, plus deciding when we want to get back to normal and start booking gigs again."
The band have been fortunate enough to do a few live gigs when restrictions were lifted to allow venues to hold events again, although with much smaller audiences and everyone social distanced. The sights are now on booking gigs for next year in advance.
"It's hard to judge because if we wait until things get back to normal, say by May/June, that means we won't start gigging until about September as the venues, promoters and ourselves need to know a few months in advance to allow for selling tickets and promoting the gigs. So we're probably looking to start booking in January for May/June gigs. Also if we leave it too late venues may already be booked and we lose work."
Venues have been hit hard this year and many are now looking at ways they can help bring back audiences safely. It was announced recently that the 100 Club has agreed to be part of a trial for a new ventilation unit that will help filter out Covid. This is crucial for clubs like the 100 Club which is located in a basement. (NME + 100 Club)
The Small Fakers were fortunate to do a few live gigs recently. One at Norden Farm and then the Half Moon Putney. I ask him if it's hard for them to get back into performing again when they have such a long break.
"Not in terms of playing or remembering the songs, but it's the stamina and energy needed. We did those two gigs close together. Not back to back, but when we did the second one it was knackering. I realised I should've been going out for a run to keep my fitness up. It wiped me out the next day. I needed to lie in and rest! It's the jumping around on stage for two hours took it out of me. Plus carting the gear in and out is also physical stuff."
Matt points out though he actually loves driving to gigs and setting up the gear and packing up at the end is not a problem.
"A gig is normally a 12 hour shift from leaving home to getting back, unless we're staying over somewhere. You normally have to get to the venue about 4-5pm to set up, then do a sound check and eat as well. I can't complain though as I'd much rather be doing that than anything else. It's certainly not just turn up, plug in guitar and go home again. Then there's the office work, with promotion and selling tickets. Which is fine if you're a massive band and have people doing that for you, but when you're at this level the band has to do the lot!"
The Covid outbreak has been a huge blow for the Small Fakers as they are now established and hugely popular. They've been constantly gigging since they formed in 2007. Although Matt admits it sometimes took its toll, when the band had a short break, usually during the summer holidays, he is always eager to return. Then Covid hit and he was forced to stop work. For many it has been a chance to rethink and recharge and perhaps do things in a different way. For Matt one of the positives is that he could spend more time with his two young sons Albert and Edward.
"We had a great summer weather wise didn't we, so I was in the garden with the boys. I also did home schooling which I quite enjoyed. There was the odd time of being stuck indoors and wishing they were back at school just for one day to do something different. But it has given me something to do and focus on. If I did have a spare moment I could pick up the guitar anyway. I've written a few songs this year, so it's been productive in terms of writing stuff, but not in terms of gigging which we need to do to promote The Veras stuff."
The band's popularity as the Small Fakers has given them a healthy fan base and I wondered if that has helped with promoting The Veras stuff.
Having supportive fans is a starting point, but not everyone will like what we do. With any band you have to start at grass roots and push your way up slowly. That's why we have to push our material and try to sell it, with vinyls, having merch stands, downloads and CDs.
Matt adds "We've had some plays on the radio and a few nice write ups in magazines. I've always wanted to do my own stuff so it would be great if The Veras really took off. I've been performing since my late teens in bands, but never with any great success. At this stage The Veras would be a bit of a vanity project." Matt laughs and adds
"None of us are spring chickens, although we're not old either, but we'd like to get an album together that we all want to be proud of and if it gets picked up and noticed that's great, but we'll see what happens."
As we come to the end of our chat we reflect on the sad loss of Small Faces original keyboard player Jimmy Winston who died on September 26th. Jimmy performed with the Small Fakers numerous times over the years, the first time being at the Ruskin Arms, Jimmy's family home and where the Small Faces rehearsed in the early days.
He was a big advocate for the Small Fakers doing their own material.
Go check out The Veras new Christmas single. It will bring a smile to your face and....
Have a Merry Christmas Time