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Cosmic American Are Celebrating Their Twentieth Birthday

31 October 18 interview: Rachael Halaburda
illustrations: Raphael Achache

Cosmic American are some of Nottingham’s finest promoters, bringing folk, rock, blues, country, and the rest, to humble Notts. Since their twentieth-anniversary celebrations have just gone, we thought it was only right to have a good natter with head honchos Glenn Sayward and James Windsor about the last twenty years of bringing quality local and international musicians to our city’s stages...

Cosmic American started out in 1998, after James saw many bands coming over from America and only visiting London, leaving the rest of us to read about it afterwards. He knew that something needed to change: “I thought ‘There’s only one way to find out if I can make this work, and that’s doing it,’” he says.

Shortly after, he heard about three small American acts, including Ryan Adams, travelling around the UK playing intimate venues. He got down to Leicester for the gig, and that’s where he met another fella thinking along same lines.  

James spoke with the manager of one of the performing artists that night, and bagged Notts a gig. In the seven months after, Glenn and James got to work building a network of venues around the UK and sorting out a team of people to help get their vision off the ground.

“Cosmic American was something I’d always wanted to do,” says James. “My music taste was inspired by the legend Gram Parsons. Gram coined the phrase ‘Cosmic American’ to say it wasn’t just about country music, it was about all kinds of music.”

Glenn and James were invited to a lot of parties, where they met all the right people to help them make their dream happen, including Bloodshot Records, who helped them book seven UK shows. The first artist they brought over was Ryan Adams, who played to about 180 people at Cosmic American’s now-home, The Maze. Adams got signed that very night, as there were a few national agents in the audience.

Glenn and James reckon that, at the time, other agents weren’t too happy about them acting as both promoters and agents without taking ticket money, as other agents would. Slowly, the Cosmic American network began to break away, but James and Glenn stayed true to why they began promoting in the first place. Not for the money, but for honest, quality, live music.

It’s clear Glenn and James love building relationships with artists, and simply creating an enjoyable evening; listening to good music with a like-minded community. Over the years, Cosmic American have built up an unshakeable reputation, and for those who’ve still never attended one of their gigs, James and Glenn extend an invitation to give it a chance. Like their strapline says: “Great music is still out there, but sometimes we all need a little help finding it.”

Both James and Glenn balance Cosmic American with their everyday lives and jobs. When Cosmic American first began, they both worked as full-time directors for big companies. “It was very much a juggling act,” they say. Over time, as their commitments became greater, they cut down their hours to keep putting on gigs.

The challenges for music promoters have changed over time, and something the pair have found particularly difficult in today’s modern age is publishing tours; the world seems to be running more and more online, rather than with physical press publicity. There’s also the increase in Americana-based festivals which, although a great thing for the scene, means that much larger promotion companies tend to dominate. Despite the peaks and troughs, the pair have stayed true to their values: “We don’t book a show we don’t want to see. If you can’t stand behind the show, we won’t do it,” says Glenn.

Cosmic American work with both local and international artists, with local artists normally acting as support. As promoters, the pair have learned a lot about the music scene in Notts. “Nottingham isn’t the biggest music town,” says James. “But there’s a good music scene that’s quite diverse. Depending on the venue the gig is held at, a certain kind of people will gravitate towards it.”


"Gram [Parsons] coined the phrase ‘Cosmic American’ to say it wasn’t just about country music, it was about all kinds of music

Back to the present day, Cosmic American have just recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary. Their very first show was on 23 October 1998 in The Maze. “We’ve lived through them closing down and reopening,” says Glenn. “They’ve been extremely supportive of Cosmic American.”

Even though The Maze is their home, Cosmic American put on gigs in venues all around the city: “The size needs to be appropriate for the artists. Mainly, though, we want a room with a bar as far away from the stage as you can get, but square to create a more intimate atmosphere, with a core stage,” says Glenn. “At The Maze, for example, no matter where you are in the room, it sounds and looks great.”

You can also find Cosmic American at The Running Horse, Glee Club, Rock City, Rescue Rooms and the Royal Concert Hall. Glenn shares that the best part of the evening is “the after-party that goes on until four in the morning, after you’ve had a gig that could’ve been at one venue, but instead ended up at The Maze.”

Cosmic American’s advice to anyone looking into becoming part of Notts’ incredible music scene is: “You’ve got to play and play and play; to one person, to an empty room, it’s all about gaining presence on stage. It’s a show, after all.” Beyond their twentieth anniversary, Cosmic American plan to continue bringing great music to this city as they’ve been doing all these years. In their own words: “It doesn’t need to stop until we can’t do it anymore!”

Otis Gibbs + Paul McClure play The Running Horse on Sunday 4 November
Aaron Lee Tasjan Band play The Maze on Monday 5 November
Lynne Hanson and The Good Intentions play The Running Horse on Wednesday 14 November
Dan Stuart + Tom Heyman play The Running Horse on Wednesday 21 November

Cosmic American's website

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