Grace Allen is London-based promoter Grandma. Having just celebrated one year of being Grandma, putting on the likes of Ellie Bleach and Martha Skye, Grace had plenty to tell me about her first year as a promoter when I met her for pizza in a South London pub garden.
The name Grandma comes from Grace’s initials (G.M.A). Although being a typical Grandma is perhaps the complete opposite to her job as a music promoter, Grace is amused by the idea of being a maternal figure to the artists she puts on, especially as most of them are older than her.
An avid gig-goer, Grace was going to shows most weekends between the ages of 15 and 17. At 18, Grace became interested in promotion after helping a friend put on some shows.
“My friend took me under his wing. He showed me the ropes, which was incredibly valuable and gave me my first insight into putting on shows. It’s extremely gratifying seeing people enjoy an event that you’ve put together.”
Despite deciding to study History at University, Grace’s brief experience of promotion left her wanting more and she left her degree to explore working in music. She started putting on shows just a month after leaving her course and was churning out an event every week at that point.
But she didn’t just put on shows, Grace fully invested herself in trying to work in music during this time out, finding time to manage two artists and completing two internships at record labels. She’s now come full circle, returning to her degree this term, with a part-time job as A&R at Slowdance Records.
A vital part of promotion is curating the line ups for shows. A benefit of working alone is that all of Grandma’s shows are authentic to her taste, though Grace can’t deny the endless list of things she must consider.
“I think about which bands would do well in certain venues, because some bands have more support within certain pockets of London. With the other bands on the line up, sometimes it works if each band is different and it’s a showcase of different music, but sometimes it’s better if similar bands are put together, so that the support artists are more likely to gain fans. I’m also more likely to break even if people come to a show because the whole thing looks good!”
While most promotion companies have a team of people to put on their events, Grace reveals the massive task of putting on a show as a one-woman team.
“I’ll book an artist I like for a specific venue and date. Then I have to find the support and organise what kit will be at the venue. I even make all the artwork! I send out advances to make sure everyone knows what time to come and what to bring. On the night I have to make sure someone is on the door and make sure I actually pay the artists. Ultimately, I have to hope people will come and do whatever I can to make sure it’s a great event.”
Grandma’s success undoubtedly comes from her careful consideration of every aspect of her shows, as she explains the importance of all her events being safe spaces.
“I try to make sure that I support the right kind of people and that I don’t give a platform to people who don’t share my ethos, which is hard as sometimes you don’t realise things about an artist, you just enjoy their music. There is definitely a lot of weight on your shoulders, a lot of responsibility.”
Grandma’s ethos is one of inclusivity, which makes having diverse line ups a priority. Coming from a rock background, Grace admits that a lot of the gigs she went to growing up were very similar looking and sounding, a trend she aims to break.
When Grace started she was adamant that a certain number of female artists needed to be present in each line up, but she soon realised that this was an easy task..
“After a while I realised that I don’t have to fill a quota. There are loads of talented artists who are female or non-binary and it’s really great that there actually isn’t that much pressure to seek them out. There are so many amazing female artists that I’ve put on and that I’m really intrigued and excited by, regardless of feeling the need to like them.”
Grace is truly passionate about showcasing good music, which makes curating inclusive shows easy, as no gender or genre is off limits.
“I’m not sure if I’m specifically giving girls a platform, more than just giving good music a platform and recognising that good music is not limited to just four white boys playing guitar. A lot of music is different and doesn’t fit that stereotype, which is what I’m interested in.”
Although she doesn’t feel she’s been treated any differently and says she has never been the victim of any overt sexism, Grace does notice how male dominated the industry is on a daily basis.
“I recently had an interesting interaction with a guy in a band I was putting on, he said he’d never had a female sound engineer. and a female promoter for a show. There is this constant conversation about female musicians, but they’re probably the most visible women in music. It’s important to recognise women in all aspects of the industry.”
Grace tells me about a fictional book she is reading, in which the music industry is made up completely of men and female artists are taken advantage of, a reality the industry has thankfully mostly moved on from. Grace confirms that the problem today is not that there are no women working in the music industry, but that women are a minority that need representation.
“The majority of my friends who work in music are women. It’s great because we have formed a very supportive network.Women are much more supportive of each other recently, and the people who have helped me and given me a leg up have been other girls, which has made my experience easier than it could’ve been.”
A year on from her first gig, Grace feels justified in organising fewer shows, as she takes more time to curate each event she creates.
“At the beginning, I felt I had to do all these shows in order to prove myself. I did four or five events a month at the start and I wasn’t putting in as much consideration as I do now. Now I do one or two shows a month and every artist I promote is someone that I’m really obsessed with. I’d like to go back to doing more shows, but hopefully with the same consideration I take now.”
Being Grandma has taken on new meaning, and has fulfilled Grace’s desire to work in the music industry more than she imagined it would.
“Trying to work in music was hard to define. I had to ask myself if I was only putting on shows in order to get another job. Initially, I thought putting on these shows would be a great stepping stone. Now, I just really enjoy it and I feel fulfilled, so if another opportunity came along I’d think about it, but it’s not the reason I do what I do.”
WORDS: Luka Kenyon
PICTURES: Matt Merriman