Michael McDonagh chatted to one of the country’s biggest Irish country music distributors, Martin Butterworth, about how in a changing market there are still some who want CDs and DVDs
So Martin, where you are from?
“I’m from Birmingham originally but have been in Altrincham for the last 10 years and I used to sell stuff on the markets. We had a stall and did markets and shows like the Ideal Home Exhibition and Agricultural Shows then we got established here first on the markets and then with a warehouse.
“Altrincham Market has changed beyond recognition now and is really popular.
“It is very up market now with a very nice dining area and it had gone through a bad time but the problem is that people around Altrincham, and there are lots with plenty of money, don’t go to the shops in Altrincham but they now seem to have done some good deals to get the empty shops full at last.
“That means that instead of two hairdressers there are now ten and instead of three cafes there are now 33. Of course, that is what happened with the Irish music venues here.
“It is hard now as the demographic of the Irish has changed from the days when so many Irish came over and they all went to the Galtymore and those ballrooms but when the Galtymore closed and they all complained but it was because nobody was actually going there. They had all moved on from areas like Cricklewood and Camden to places like Maidenhead.”
You have seen a lot of changes in the record scene over the last years but you are doing well and seem to have found a niche market?
“Yes, there is a lot of people who have come and gone, there are not many shops any more and many of the wholesalers have gone.
“We are big into mail order and we send a lot to Australia but I suppose here our main audience for Irish music is the English and Scottish people. Irish country music is very popular in Scotland and it would obviously be older people – but they are not all old.
“We don’t ask, but we know that probably a lot of our customers don’t get out much. They are older and perhaps less mobile and some do live in old people’s homes but they like the music and have the money to buy what they like. They have a few quid and they do not mind spending it on music they enjoy.
“This age group don’t download anything digital, they still like a physical CD or DVD and if you buy something for someone as a present you don’t buy them a download.
“If you buy a new car now it has a stick thing in it which I think is crazy as I like to be able to play a CD when driving, they have the amp there and the speakers but it is crazy you can’t play a CD in your new car.”
You sell a lot of different Irish music but what are the main things you sell?
“Our stuff is mainly Country & Irish with artistes like Nathan Carter and Cliona Hagan but we also do people like Charlie Landsborough and Shaun Loughrey. Charlie is still very big in Ireland and sold out his last Irish tour in two days.”
Who’s big coming up?
“It is very hard to tell or to make a prediction, Owen Mac seems to be very popular and he is only 14, from around Coleraine. Cliona Hagan is doing all right but it seems very hard for women and for them to put a band together to keep it on the road.”
How many times can these Irish Country singers all keep going around the same few venues?
“It is not doing very well in Ireland, the numbers going out is down, and the numbers of venues is less than it was even artistes like Nathan, who are at the top find it hard.It was the same for Dominic Kirwan a few years ago, a local van hire company here put a lot of money into him and he was very popular with a live audience especially in Scotland – when he had his youth – but his record label missed the boat as they should have broken him out of the Country and Irish thing as he was doing something more macho.
“With Daniel O’Donnell, who was huge, the last few DVDs have been concerts shot in America but the problem with a concert is that maybe you have 20 or thirty songs and when you then do another concert there is a big overlap and a repeat of some songs so people don’t want to buy the same thing again.
“Back when Daniel started Woolworths would take huge quantities and display them coming up to Christmas, but those days have gone.
“Because there are not enough venues and gigs to go around in Ireland all the artistes do try to break out and tour over here but it is tough here now.
So in this digital age you think the world has changed?
“It hasn’t half changed! There is no Woolworths, No WH Smiths, as it was, and we even used to get stuff into HMV but there is definitely a niche market and we have picked that.
“For the record companies that were big there is no money in it as the numbers are no longer there. If they spend money producing an album it may only end up doing a few thousand over a couple of months but that is not enough to recoup the risk.
“We have our own record label but are very cautious about what we do but have now got over 100 releases, mainly Country & Irish but we have just bought six albums by the Scottish accordion player Jimmy Shand which we will re-issue.
“We also sell Sean Wilson, he never changes and you could never imagine him having a bad word about anybody and is always popular.
“The Phil Mack Country TV is really important now for promoting the artists and we have our own regular show on that channel, that’s the future.”
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