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Wide Days

defying convention (interview with Olaf Furniss)

By • May 7th, 2017 • Category: Feature

It’s April, and in a city plagued by venue closes and continual ‘discussions’ about the loclal music scene, it’s nice to have some sort of consistency.

Thus, the annual appearance of Wide Days on the Edinburgh event calendar is a welcome chance to celebrate the capital’s still-burgeoning underground as well as, just possibly, learning a thing or two.

Olaf Furniss is the main man behind the annual industry event which has been running since April 2010. Formed on the back of the monthly Born To Be Wide ‘social’ nights he founded with Broidie Smithers back in 2004, both of these now institutions have gone from strength to strength, with the conference particularly gathering momentum year-on-year.

Despite acclaim including winning Creative Edinburgh’s Anchor Award in 2014 and the title of ‘Best Networking Event’ in the same year at the Yearly Music Convention Awards, Wide Days still has something of a grass roots reputation. Something which Furniss is perhaps forced to accept.

“We have had some really complex industry stuff discussed at the event and several initiatives, including the Music Venue Trust, were launched at Wide Days,” he points out.

“So the grassroots bit is a bit of a misconception which we don’t seem to be able to shake off, but I think it is because we have a more informal approach, especially on the Saturday.”

That “informal” approach is a breath of fresh air particularly among the hardened conference-goers who are starting to mark the Edinburgh event in their calendars alongside the likes of SXSW and The Great Escape. So whisky tasting, games and lunch onstage at the Usher Hall are among the less formal activities delegates can expect – all under the expert guidance of Furniss, who is a qualified tour guide, though this understandably takes a back seat now.

“These days I would say I am the director of Scotland’s music business event company, Born To Be Wide CIC which is behind Wide Days, the Born To Be Wide evenings and the Off The Record youth music business events.”

“In November, I launched the world’s first music tourism summit to encourage closer collaboration between the two industries. Writing and guiding are now a part time activity, but I like to keep my hand in.”

So this informality perhaps stems from the social nature of the BtbW, evenings which would usually see some sort of panel discussion followed by the chance to network / drink as well as giving the guest speakers the chance to turn DJ for the night.

The term “grass roots” is perhaps overused in the world of music, but the level of financial independence may come as no surprise – until the professionalism of the event is experienced.

“We got some Creative Scotland support this year,” Furniss admits, “and PRS Foundation are supporting the showcases.” However, these are standard cash inputs for any growing business, with the team not taking local government cash. “The Usher Hall advertises in the programme, but there is no City Of Council funding,” he adds.

This year, the names on the panel will carry as much resonance with the industry types attending as the bands will to the city’s gig-goers. DF Concerts and T in the Park supremo Geoff Ellis is almost a household name, and also is Sire Records director Eric McLellan.

“We have the A&R Director of the legendary Sire Records (Madonna, The Ramones, etc),” Furniss confirms. “He came over last year and liked it so much he is coming back”.

But if the industry chat will appeal to the tastemakers and musos, anyone with a passing interest in music will want to check out the showcase gigs that take place on the first evening. After all, Wide Days has a track record for bringing the next big thing. And they’re free, you just need to sign up (before they sell out!) via Eventbrite.

“Honeyblood played their third gig at Wide Days, got signed to Fat Cat Records as a result and three years later were supporting the Foo Fighters at Murrayfield Stadium. We gave Kathryn Joseph a slot on condition she allow us to take the first proper press shots of her face – actually, Jannica did it,” Furniss enthuses.

“She won the Scottish Album of the Year Award a few weeks later,” he continues. “C Duncan was nominated for a Mercury Music prize. Be Charlotte and Elle Exxxe have been doing pretty well since playing last year.”

It’s no coincidence that some of these act are the most ‘hotly-tipped’ and similarly

“Last year when there was a lot of discussion about the lack of female artists, the majority of oure showcase acts were fronted by women most of whom have gone on to be booked for large scale events. This year, half our speakers will be women.”

Wide Days takes place on 21-22 April 2017. Full details at www.widedays.com.

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