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As far as first gigs with a new band go, taking to the stage in front of 80,000 people is pretty much the ultimate acid test. But given everything that had gone before in Elliott Williams’ career, from touring across Europe in a windowless, doorless Post Office van to character building, rain drenched misadventures in Poland, the self proclaimed ‘DJ and party starter’ and ‘part time musician, full time magician’ was more than ready to take on all comers when he joined Editors 10 years ago.

Elliott, who also goes by the stage name Elliott Lion, can be found filling dance floors as a DJ when he’s not filling festival spaces as one sixth of Birmingham’s premiere post-punk outfit. But while he came on board as Editors’ keyboardist three albums in - with a litany of successes already amassed under their belts - Elliott has taken the last dozen years in his stride.

Sequestered in the back corner of the iconic Mulligan’s Pub, located just off the main stretch of Manchester’s Deansgate, perfectly poured Guinness in hand, Elliott regales GigPig with pre-Editors stories that are hilarious as they are anarchic. Those early touring days, beginning as a fledgling 16-year-old, shaped and prepared Elliott for an industry that has challenged every step of the way and continues to do so for countless aspiring artists.

The problems faced by Elliott over almost two decades in the business either still exist or have evolved into something different entirely, but are still problems all the same. Whether they boil down to dodgy label and venue owners and opportunistic booking practices, minuscule pay offs and wider issues regarding streaming and the future of live venues in general.

Yet here Elliott sits, surviving and thriving (sounds a TINY bit Linkedin that, doesn’t it? Sod it, we move) while passionately explaining the pitfalls faced by jobbing musicians and how his own career has evolved along the way, from those freezing cold drives across the continent to worldwide euphoria and the intimate joy (steady on) derived from his own DJ sets.

Soundtracked by the ever reliable playlist of non-stop bangers on the Mulligan’s speakers (a big fat yes for REM into Madness into The Police into The Waterboys. Forever and always), Elliott put the world to rights over our hour long chat, so here’s what he had to say about the journey so far.

GIGPIG: When you first started gigging, how difficult was it to get booked? What were the biggest hurdles you faced and do you believe those problems still exist today?

ELLIOTT LION: I was in a band when I was 16, we were based out of Manchester, called Airship. And it was incredibly hard. And it was incredibly corrupt, because the way you got a lot of gigs then was you’d have local promoters who would get you a gig on the basis of how many tickets you sold. So at college that was fairly easy to go and sell, say, 50 tickets. But you never saw any of the money from the promoters or anything. It was like pay to play, really. In Manchester that seemed to be how everyone started. And not all promoters are bad like that, but when you’re young and you want to become a musician so badly you’ll do anything to get there. A lot of promoters really preyed on that. I’m sure that still happens now.

GP: You joined Editors after their third album came out. How different was it being in a band as successful and well known as them compared to being in aspiring groups trying to make a name for yourself?

EL: It was pretty crazy. The band that I’d been in before, we’d got to a pretty decent level. We’d released an album and toured with bands like Biffy Clyro and Editors as well. So the transition was obviously very different but it was also a world that I was semi-aware of. Being on those tours made it a bit easier. But yeah, one of the first gigs I ever played we headlined a festival to 80,000 people, so I’m not sure if anything can ever prepare you for that level of intensity. But yeah, it’s been a good 10 years now and we’ve made four records together, so it’s been good.

GP: Where are some of your favourite cities and venues to play in across the UK? And the rest of the world, for that matter?

EL: In the UK I grew up in Manchester so it’s always going to be a soft spot for me and it’s been particularly good for Editors. Glasgow, man, it’s got a vibe. The Barrowlands, we always play there. It’s a legendary place. It’s not changed in forever and it always feels like you’re doing a proper gig. It’s got that aura that places like the o2 places don’t have.

Across Europe they have so many independent venues that treat you so well and their infrastructure is so much better, especially in terms of catering. They really look after the bands. They try and sort out their backstages whereas a lot of the UK venues are pretty soulless and pretty horrible. I mean obviously there are still plenty of brilliant indie venues but on a much smaller level like the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is fantastic and then here in Manchester, the Deaf Institute has always been amazing, then there’s Night and Day and a few others.

GP: What advice would you give to any aspiring artists and bands looking at getting into the industry today?

EL: I think the rules have kind of changed a bit with streaming and obviously touring’s become a lot harder due to Brexit. Back when I was like 17 or 18, we could get offered a gig in Belgium or the Netherlands for £250 and we’d jump in a van and go and play it. Whereas now I don’t think you’d cover your petrol with that, let alone the fee you’d have to pay to get through the border. I think that’s very sad.

Costs have risen massively across the entire industry. You can see this in ticket prices. These major arena shows, some of the ticket prices are astronomical. And I get that there is a push on artists and the bottom line has got tighter, but there is a certain amount of greed going around. This especially makes it harder for younger artists because their fees haven’t really changed to help cover these costs.

Advice for anyone now is to try and build your own kind of cult following and community around your music and you’ve got more ways to do that now than I did when I was younger. There used to be so many middlemen involved to get you onto the radio or the right places or whatever. Whereas now you can just put something out and have a moment, but it’s about engaging with your audience and maintaining that audience and hoping that they’ll go on a journey with you. So just be true to who you are and build your own following off the back of that

GP: What’s the biggest evolution you’ve seen in the business during your years as a musician?

EL: Streaming, massively. By a million miles. What it’s done is it’s made it really hard to have collective, communal moments any more. When I was growing up a band would connect with you on the radio and it would be a cross section from young people to old people. There would be these mass communal moments but now these moments get slightly further apart. Lewis Capaldi’s been good at doing it recently but there’s not many more I can think of who have that sort of cross generational pull.

I can’t really see where the next Oasis is coming from any more. People seem to be big but big within their own cult without everyone knowing about them. So you can headline your own arena tours but then you get to a festival and only half the people there have heard of you. Which is kinda mad and must make festival booking a lot trickier because you look at a line up and you don’t know who a lot of the acts are, but that’s because people are listening to their own specific playlists and not albums any more.

The listening space used to be much more public, like the radio or MTV or something. It would be something the majority of people were tuned into. Now it’s much more of an individual thing rather than a collaborative effort.

GP: When you’re on your own DJ’ing, how do you prepare for a gig as opposed to what you would do as part of Editors where there’s six of you on stage?

EL: They’re two very different concepts. The band is much more of a show where you know precisely what you’re going to do every night. Some things change between each night but it’s always Editors songs. But DJ’ing I play across a lot of genres and create more of a narrative with my set. Especially playing for a long time, like a six hour set, you can really take people on a journey through your musical brain. And throw in a lot of curve balls.

GP: What’s the weirdest song you’ve ever played?

EL: Oh, I’ve played loads of weird stuff. I did a really long set one time where I threw some M People in there and it totally went off. But I’ve always loved DJ’s who do stuff like that where they build towards one thing, but then go in a different direction and it feels like such a release of euphoria because no one saw it coming.

GP: What makes a perfect venue for you?

EL: The people. Good people. People who work in the venues, especially when you’re starting out, looking after you. Across Europe you get a lot of venues who do really good catering and when you don’t have a lot of cash and can’t properly afford to eat, it does really make your day. This is something the UK has missed the boat on for years, but when you have hospitality like that it makes all the hard stuff kinda worth it.

Good staff and good set ups with attention to sound and to details, is always appreciated, especially if the backstage is nice and the staff give you free booze, that’s always great.

GP: With so many independent venues struggling to stay above water at the minute, what do you think can be done to help them out?

EL: I think it’s tough for everyone at the moment. It’s so hard out there. I think venues can try to help themselves by putting together great bills and having great bands on to help get people through the door. In turn I think that will be reciprocated by the public who will want to go and see great music. There’s no doubt it’s not easy for anyone. But like I said before I think this is also a top down problem where you’ve got major artists charging £250 a ticket to go to their massive stadium show and you’re buying two tickets, a hotel for the night, travel, food, drink and everything else. You’re probably looking at around a grand in expenses. That’s like a holiday for a lot of people.

This takes money out of the middle market and the lower market because everyone wants to go and see the major artist. There’s a one upmanship of everyone trying to make the biggest show possible, the most fireworks and I kinda think, if you’re an artist you should be able to perform just as you and in reality that will make your concert ticket a lot cheaper and it’ll be better for everyone.

Ticketmaster and these other ticket companies have set up this ticket pricing structure that just baffles me. They’ve been able to erase some of the nature of touting by creating this mad ticket market where you can pay thousands of pounds to see Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen or Beyonce. To me it’s madness. Either you’re so wealthy it doesn’t matter or you’re so desperate and such a big fan of the artist that you’ll pay anything to see them and I just feel both of those things are morally wrong.

GP: What’s a story that sums up life on the road for you?

EL: Before I was in Editors, I was in one of my old bands and we had an old Post Office van that we managed to scrape enough money together to buy. And this allowed us, if we were ever offered a gig in Europe, to just hop in the van and head off to the gig. We’d live off a packet sandwich between five of us and sleep in the van to save money.

We played a gig in Amsterdam. We finished the gig, loaded the van up and then went back into the venue to get the money. When we came out somebody had tried to break into the van but they’d done a botched job. They’d put the front window through and smashed the lock in and the back lock in, so they didn’t get in. So we had a door that was just open and a broken window and we had a show in Germany the next day.

So we decided that we were gonna try and do the show so we got someone from the venue to get a saw and we sawed through the front of the splitter to the back so we could get through to the back door to get the gear out. And instead of going to the hotel, because we couldn’t leave the van as it was unlocked, we just drove all the way to Germany through the night. Bless Tom, he was the only one not drinking so he had to drive the whole way with the window open. I did wake up in the morning and he was asleep on the hard shoulder.

We played the festival and then had to drive all the way back from Germany to the UK, without being able to stop anywhere because we couldn’t leave anything in the van.

Another time in the same van it was leaking water and we were in Poland. We had to stop every 15 minutes to top it up and it was pissing down. It was a nightmare. It broke down in Poland on a tour with Biffy Clyro but we had to get back to the UK to record our album. So we did our tour, flew home and then drew straws to see who would fly over to drive it back. It was Tom again. Unfortunately that van caused many a headache. But that was such an experience growing up and just being able to go and explore the world like that when you’re 18, 19. It’s hugely character building.

GP: What’s the weirdest venue you’ve played?

EL: I’ve played lots of weird places. I guess the weirdest one with Editors, which had a very dark history, was in Germany, in an old Nazi ammunition factory. It was this sort of crumbling ruin that all these weapons were made to commit horrific crimes. There was something incredibly gothic and odd about it.

We’ve played on ramshackle stages in Sicily where you wonder if everything’s going to collapse in on you. Lots of strange festival stages where they’re themed like pirate ships and things like that. Strange basements at house parties.

We have a big goth following in Germany and we played a festival called AMPHIfest. Everyone should go, it’s incredible. It’s very much a goth, EBM, industrial festival. Everyone is there in full gear. Leather chaps, the works. The full regalia. And there’s a beach there as well. It’s amazing seeing loads of goths with their umbrellas and leather chaps on the sand. We did the gig and it was brilliant. The crowd have these dance moves that they do that’s like combat fighting and this one guy got on stage, for quite a while actually. We didn’t quite know what to do with him. He had buttless chaps, a leather waistcoat and he was riding a hobby horse with a cowboy hat on. He galloped around for a very long time.

We’ve also had these people come to shows where they caress their partner’s breasts in full view of the band, but in a really weird way so they’re positioned where only the band can see and they’re looking right at us, never breaking eye contact. Now that is an odd fetish. They come to a lot of shows and we’re like ‘oh they’re back again’. I presume they got off on us seeing them do that to their partner. Each to their own.

GP: Finally, you can choose your ultimate five songs for a DJ set. What are you dropping in there?

EL: There’s a disco track that I like to play, but it’s a bit slow so I don’t always get the chance to play it. But it’s by Dennis Parker, called ‘Like an Eagle’, that would be my number one. Second would be ‘Dingbat’ by Shit Robot, then ‘Passion’ by Gat Decor, a classic ‘90s house tune. ‘When You Love Someone’ by Daphne and then ‘A Mighty Joy’ by The Patchouli Brothers.

Elliott departs, rather cinematically, as ‘The Whole of the Moon’ by The Waterboys crescendoes, out into manic Manchester traffic caused by humongous gigs either side of the city centre, with Elton John playing one of his final ever dates at the AO Arena and Coldplay embarking on the first night of three at the Etihad Stadium. Tickets for both no doubt setting you back a rent or mortgage payment or two.

For Elliott, another hectic summer awaits, with a Glastonbury slot with Editors one of the many highlights. No word yet on if any leather clad, combat hobby horse fighting or secretive breast rubbing will be included.