Set in the heart of the City in the elegant and historic Guildhall Yard, City Beerfest returns to the Square Mile for its fourth outing today.
The Worshipful Company of Brewers has attracted an impressive range of breweries, while the City Music Foundation (CMF) has arranged a varied line up of music, from jazz to folk.
This year, the festival will be raising money for the CMF, which aims to turn musical talent into professional success by providing workshops, performance opportunities and a mentoring programme that teams artists up with senior business people from City firms, and it supports the Lord Mayor’s Appeal.
Jazz musician Giacomo Smith tells City A.M. how his CMF mentor, managing director of Gensler Ian Mulcahey, helped his Hackney-based bar, Kansas Smitty’s, become a successful business.
When did you decide to audition for the CMF and why?
It’s been about two years since I was inducted. I found out about it through a friend who said that I had to try out for this thing called the CMF; it’s a very young organisation and it’s really enthusiastic about helping musicians realise their professional goals.
It was really funny because we had the first audition slot at 7:30 in the morning, and it’s very weird to play jazz at that time in the morning... So I got it, and the rigorous part is that you don’t have to just play, but you have to then go to a panel of people and explain to them why you want their support. I described the project that I wanted to do, which was found my bar and record my album, with my band, and they were cool with it.
How did you come to meet Ian Mulcahey, and how has having a mentor been helpful?
CMF introduced the mentoring scheme about a year ago, and it was like a blind date session, like ‘Oh now, you’re going to meet your mentor, here he is! Yours is really cool!’ What’s great about doing artist programmes like this where you meet other people is that you’re forced out of your bubble. When you do things like music, you kind of go further and further in on yourself and what your group is doing. And then these guys say look, get out of your bubble and speak to someone who is in another bubble.
So I met Ian, and we have some overlapping interests in that he likes jazz and he’s been to a lot of festivals like Love Supreme. He was just enough in tune to my world that we could break the ice. Then it turns out that he’s a very senior person in Gensler, which is a hugely interesting company that’s doing projects all the across the world and major cities. So we ended up keeping in touch and it was great to speak to someone who is not in my immediate circle, who has a completely outside opinion.
Giacomo Smith, left, playing with Kansas Smitty's house band
What practical advice has Ian been able to give you?
I think I met him the weeks that we were opening the bar in May last year. And he came down and gave me a lot of ideas. The advice that has been really helpful is something that I, as a manager, quote all the time, which is about negotiating fees when we get contacted for jobs.
So, for instance, somebody says they want music for something, then you quote them a price and Ian said what you can’t do is scale back on your offer and say, ‘Well if you’re only willing to pay £1,000 instead of £2,000, we’ll just play half as much music’, because that’s going to burn bridges and make you look like you’re nickel-and-diming people. You say, ‘we’ll play an hour extra, which means that the band will be there for three hours for £2,000’, and sometimes they’ll get the message and go for your offer or not. It’s just a much more graceful way of dealing with the money problem. I thought that was just great, it’s been invaluable advice.
You played City Beerfest last year; what was the atmosphere like?
City Beerfest is great, it’s like a summer festival stage in a completely weird location. People are really nice, and it’s fun to play out in the sun. We’re doing two concerts spread out for the Beerfest, which is much more than last year. We’re really excited because not only are we playing as a smaller band, Smitty’s BIg Four, but we’re bringing our much larger seven-piece band, the house band at Kansas Smitty’s.
We did the main show at Ronnie Scott’s in February and we sold it out six weeks in advance, and that was a really big deal for us because that doesn’t often happen. So that’s why we’re really happy to be doing as much as possible as the house band. And to collaborate with CMF for City Beerfest as well, who’ve helped me out so much, it’s just a really great chance to give something back.
For special offers and advance beer tokens, visit citybeerfest.org.