Mark Tutton is the ‘recovering punk’ who’s revitalising Southampton’s live prog scene.
“You have got to work for an audience. Venues are shutting weekly and we’ve all got to do our bit. You’ve got to sell your product. Don’t rely on one person. Get the wellies on, get in there and get going.”
As booking manager for Southampton venue The Talking Heads, Mark Tutton knows about the squeeze caused by dwindling audiences at gig spots across the country. He also has some idea of how to attract increasingly apathetic punters, thanks to a three-punch counter-attack: work hard (the venue is open 363 days a year), get equally industrious bands on the bill and “put something on for everyone”.
Tutton might be a self-confessed recovering punk, but his work ethic is pure prog. He works long hours and is committed to sticking Southampton on the map for touring bands, even if it means getting them to drop their price. “We work with bands who’ve never played [here],” he explains. “So we say to them, ‘Instead of asking for a lot of money, why don’t we lower the guarantee and work on a percentage and then top it up?’”
It’s started to pay off. Since he started working with The Talking Heads two years ago, Tutton has locked in dates with Nik Turner, Lifesigns, Soft Machine and, those near-recluses from the live circuit, Gryphon. Booking them is his proudest moment. “When the gig finished, there was a mixture of people coming past me saying, ‘I can’t thank you enough. That was an incredible night.’”
The Talking Heads’ recent push for prog, which started because the owner is a “fanatic”, has snowballed as word got around that the venue – and its audience – is not only prog-friendly, but also offers the complete package. “We work on everything from the welcoming to the great sound,” he says.
Business might be strong – TTH is circling the acquisition of another location in town – but with venues closing across the country, Tutton is reservedly optimistic. “Nearly two years down the line and we’re still going, so I must be doing something right!”
Since this article was published in the print magazine, TTH have announced they will be moving to 16-22 The Polygon, Southampton, SO15 2BN (known as The Maple Leaf) as of February 2016.
Listings for The Talking Heads can be found at talkingheads.vticket.co.uk.