Coco and The Butterfields: from street busking to Facebook to merchandising

(from left) Micah, Rob, Dulcima, Tom, Jamie

C and The Bs are (from left) Micah Hyson, Rob Wicks, Dulcima Showan, Tom Twyman, Jamie Smith

Last night, I chatted to the band Coco and The Butterfields before their gig at The Borderline club in London and I survived the riskiest question you can ever ask a band with a name like that.

Allegedly an American record executive once talked to Pink Floyd and asked them: “So which one is Pink?” It ended up in their song Have a Cigar.

Last night, talking to Coco and The Butterfields, I asked: “So which one is Coco?”

“I suppose it’s me,” said Tom Twyman. “It was an alias I created when I joined Facebook in 2011… I didn’t want people to know I had joined because I had told people I didn’t like it but I thought I needed it to socially network. Coco Butterfield was just a name I came up with. The band didn’t have a name, we started using my Facebook page for the band, so we called ourselves Coco and The Butterfields.”

Dulcima and Tom at The Borderline last night

Dulcima & Tom on stage at The Borderline, London. last night

There are five in the band: Dulcima, Jamie, Micah, Rob and Tom but interestingly no percussion. That role is filled brilliantly by ‘beatboxer’ Jamie, whose importance to their sound wasn’t immediately obvious to me until he did a couple of extraordinary solos.

“Jamie was one of Canterbury’s pivotal buskers,” Rob told me. “You don’t get many people beatboxing on the streets of Canterbury.”

They all used to busk individually, then joined up after Tom and Dulcima met and started playing together. The five of them have what Rob calls “a diversity of musical tastes”.

The first track of theirs I heard was Warriors (there is a video on YouTube) which made me think they were a folk-based band but, in fact, with a cover of Fresh Prince of Bel Air in their repertoire, they are quite difficult to categorise. They have coined the rather unappealing name Fip Fok to try to combine Folk, Pop and Hip Hop.

“We’re an eclectic band,” Dulcima told me. “We’re a fusion band. We’re folky pop. We bring so many different elements separately and then, when we collaborate, everyone will chuck in different things.”

“Will you have to compromise to get a record deal?” I asked.

“We don’t want a record deal,” said Dulcima.

“Is that,” I asked, “to avoid corporate compromise or because of the internet?”

“Mostly,” said Dulcima, “because we have a lot of facilities and a lot of resources, just through people we know. The people we know have skills and are more help than a record label, which would just take a cut of everything we do.”

“It’s a lot easier nowadays,” said Tom, “to release your own records.”

“Basically,” said Micah, “we don’t want people poking their noses in.”

Coco and The Butterfields busking in Durham

Street wise – Coco and The Butterfields busking in Durham

“That’s always best,” I said. “So how are you going to make your millions? Are you going to do it online?”

“The aim,” said Rob, “is to play to as many people as humanly possible.”

“Really, we are a festival band,” said Dulcima.

“I think that’s our natural state of being,” agreed Rob.

“But you won’t necessarily succeed just playing live will you?” I asked.

“Of course,” said Rob, “to a certain extent, you do have to turn yourself into a business. The band is a business and that’s how we treat it.”

“Bands these days,” said Dulcima, “are not like in the past where you could make money with records. You make a bit but it’s all downloads and people buying at gigs.”

“Basically, the main income is live shows and merchandising,” explained Rob.

One of the merchandising webpages

Some C & The Butterfields merchandising

I did not spot it myself but one page of their website, my eternally-un-named friend spotted, is advertising one EP and two teeshirts. So they have shrewdly realised that merchandising is at least as important as music sales.

Dulcima makes her own on-stage clothes and had a choice of either going into a career making textiles or joining the band. Obviously, she chose the band. But soon her clothes are going to be sold on the band’s website.

She told me: “There will be the option to buy skirts, waistcoats, children’s waistcoats, little girls’ dresses. They’re all patchwork and they will all be very different to each other.”

“That’s very interesting,” I said. “So, in order to do what you want to do creatively – which is make music – you’re going to partly finance it – quite rightly – by merchandising.”

“It’s kind of a twin project, really,” Dulcima corrected me.

“And your first tour is coming up,” I said, “at the end of April/beginning of May.”

“What’s really fun is gigging a lot,” said Dulcima.

They were slightly concerned at only having a 45-minute slot at The Borderline last night. They prefer 90-minute performances. But they need not have worried. Their pacing and – ooh err, missus – climaxing last night were perfect. They are a superb live band.

Their performance at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury

Previous biggest show at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury

On 28th June, they will be performing their biggest gig so far – to 2,400 at the Margate Winter Gardens; their previous biggest gig was to 1,200.

“Why perform music at all?” I asked last night.

“Well,” said Micah, “Speaking personally, there’s only a certain amount of things I’m alright at. Music, rock-climbing, growing a beard and listing things.”

“Listing things?” I asked. “What sort of things?”

“Music, rock-climbing, growing a beard and listing things,” he replied.

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