Backstage with Anton Lockwood

Anton Lockwood

It’s been a long old time without being blessed with the magic that is live music. But with restrictions lifted and vaccinations in full flow, artists and bands across the UK are taking to the stage and performing to eager audiences desperate for the return of the much-anticipated gig experience.

An award-winning festival with a reputation for bringing the best in underground and emerging talent is returning to Bristol in September — and wow, we’re excited! While the event line-up doesn’t include any jaw-dropping household names, Dot To Dot has been famed for showcasing artists on the cusp of greatness, including the likes of Lewis Capaldi, Wolf Alice and IDLES.

As the festival’s artist booker, Anton Lockwood, explained to us: “I always say every Dot To Dot line up is the worst one you’ve ever seen because you look at it and go, who are all these people?”. Keep reading as we go backstage with Anton, finding out everything from the artists from this year’s line-up he predicts will go on to become big, to advice to emerging artists on how to get discovered.

What inspired you to get involved in the live music scene?

I’ve always been into music. Back in 1984, I was at Nottingham University and I chose it because of Rock City. There weren’t many venues like that around at that time, or very few! I went to a lot of gigs and met a lot of people who worked there, and then in 1991 there were a lot of new bands coming through that weren’t playing in Nottingham, so a friend and I decided to start to fix that basically. We started putting on shows as a hobby and then eventually in 2002, I got made redundant from my day job in IT and at that point we were starting to put on people like The Strokes and White Stripes and the guys that owned Rock City phoned me and asked me if I wanted the job. And I was like “Oh. I’ve just been made redundant and you’re asking me if I want to do my hobby as a job?!”

It also came from basically not wanting to travel to other cities to see bands I wanted to see. People always ask, “how do you become a promoter?” and I say “you find a room, you book a band, and you promote it. That’s how you become a promoter.”

If you could, what advice would you offer a younger Anton Lockwood when starting out a career in live events?

I don’t think I’d tell myself anything different. Maybe to keep an eye on the money side of it a bit better, perhaps because as first I was doing it as a hobby, so we didn’t really analyse numbers too much because we were just having fun, which is good in a way but you do need to keep on top of that. But the main advice I’d give to somebody wanting to do it is to just do it. You learn by doing. You’ll find your own way of doing things and then get on with it.

The difference now to when I started out, is social media, Spotify, etc, and it’s so much easier to find out about artists. When I started out you went to a local cool record shop every Saturday trying to listen to what was new and good, trying to figure out what you wanted to put on. So, I think it is harder in some ways today, as everyone these days jump of new artists so quickly now and it’s kind of harder to find your own niche, but you know, at the end of the day it’s just about finding a room in a pub or wherever you want to do it and just do it. 

What do you look for when booking artists? And following this, what advice would you give to artists wanting to get their name out there? 

One side of it is the music, as it’s got to be something that’s interesting and exciting and there’s stuff I personally like that I’d go after. Like you know, you look at Lewis Capaldi, he’s not necessarily the type of music I listen to at home, but I got sent his first track and I listened to it and I went “oh right, ok. This is great.” Then we booked him at Dot To Dot at two weeks’ notice, and we never ever do that. He played to 30 people at Hy-Brazil in Bristol and that was just because I heard the track and it was incredible, even though it’s not the kind of thing I’d seek out, but I knew something was special about it.

The other side of it is the real practical things, somebody who is going to turn up on time, and not take the mick. Especially if you’re doing something like Dot To Dot, it’s got to be organised. There are so many artists out there that you get bombarded with so many things that I’ll probably go “ok well this looks quite promising”. Then I’ll probably ask a couple of people I know who are in bands if they’ve heard of them and what they think of their music, someone who’s a radio DJ too maybe.

And I always say if you’re a new artist, you want to build relationships and try to find the people to guide you to the right people.

Lewis Capaldi
Lewis Capaldi. Photo credit: Dot To Dot Festival.

We love Dot To Dot's ethos of giving emerging and alternative music a platform to shine from the start. Why is supporting artists from the very start of their journey so important? 

You’ve got to go out and perform to an audience. The thing with Dot To Dot, it’s quite often bringing artists to their first big show as they’re breaking through and giving them that experience. The idea of Dot To Dot is it is a discovery festival. I always say every Dot To Dot line up is the worst one you’ve ever seen because you look at it and go “who are all these people?” and then you look back at previous years and go “Oh Lewis Capaldi! Oh, the XX! Oh, Mumford and Sons! Oh, Ed Sheeran!”. It gives a chance for artists to be discovered by a larger audience. The ethos of Dot To Dot is very much about the fans, not the industry. The industry are very welcome but it’s about giving fans that experience of picking someone out and finding the next exciting artist.


Sundara Karma
Sundara Karma. Photo credit: Dot To Dot Festival.

What makes Bristol's music venues so special? Why was the city chosen as a host for the event? 

The reason Bristol was on the radar was in 2006 we took over the Thekla and started Dot To Dot in Nottingham. We did a couple of years there and then thought, well we have the Thekla in Bristol and there’s loads of great venues around the city. There’s obviously a very vibrant scene in Bristol and actually we find now that Bristol sells tickets quicker than Nottingham because people in Bristol are just very on point and want to check out new music. There are classic venues like the Louisiana and the Fleece, O2 Academy, SWX, and proper independent places like the Exchange. A really great selection of venues and a high level of creativity in Bristol!

Dot To Dot is arguably one of the best UK festival for discovering artists before any of your mates. Are there any particular bands or artists that featured in a previous line-up who have gone on to make it big? 

A lot! Dua Lipa played at SWX. Lewis Capaldi played to 30 people in a bar. The XX played at the Thekla. Years and Years. Bristol artists like IDLES. We do try and bring artists through from the city. And then you never know, maybe they’ll go on to play the YTL Arena someday!

Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa. Photo credit: Dot To Dot Festival.
Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran. Photo credit: Dot To Dot Festival.

Do you have any predictions for future global starts from this year's line-up that might go on to become the next Dua Lipa or Lewis Capaldi?

That’s always a good question! Billie Marten is doing really well. Do Nothing from Nottingham are great. Jerub is pretty special. Aaron Smith was actually from the same sort of team originally as Lewis Capaldi and he’s great. But everyone should come and find out for themselves! 

First gig, last gig, favourite gig?

First gig that’s easy! It was The Specials and it was a free gig at Rotherham Herringthorpe playing fields and there was a riot! The Rotherham skinheads and the Sheffield skinheads! I went there when I was 15 or 16 with my brother. 

Favourite ever is always a really difficult one as I’ve been to hundreds and thousands of gigs. I suppose the favourite gig I’ve been involved in was getting Frank Turner to play his 2000th show at Rock City. That was a really special one!

The last gig before lockdown was actually Lewis Capaldi at Cardiff arena. We have been doing a few things over the summer, some outdoor shows and whatever but Lewis Capaldi was the last proper indoor show. And I always to say he’s the last person I hugged before lockdown!

My next proper indoor gig will be Sam Fender at the O2 Academy! It’s been many times postponed so it will be good to finally get there!

Rag and Bone Man
Rag and Bone Man. Photo credit: Dot To Dot Festival.

Can you name a song that can instantly boost your mood? (and why?)

Rescue by Echo and the Bunnymen. I named our new venue in Nottingham after it!

Which artist/band/performer would you like to see perform at YTL Arena Bristol and why?

That’s a good question! Probably Sam Fender as I’ve been promoting him in Bristol for a while and there’s been various lockdowns and whatever and now we’ve finally got round to doing the O2 Academy show so I think he owes Bristol a few shows so it’ll be nice to bring him back to do a nice big one!

And finally, can you share an all-time favourite song/a song that means a lot to you so we can add it to our YTL Arena Backstage Pass playlist?

Wide open road by The Triffids. Just one of the greatest songs ever really!

Find out more about Dot To Dot here:

To listen to our Backstage Playlist on Spotify, click here. For exciting updates at YTL Arena Bristol, follow @ytlarenabristol on social media or sign up to our newsletter here.