Smalltown Café Tour

Andrew Ferris, founder of Smalltown America independent record label, on teaming up with Caffè Nero for live gig series

Smalltown America has just announced a touring partnership with the coffee shop chain, Caffè Nero. How did the partnership come about?

We're always trying to do new things and make the music we work with really accessible. We were aware of Caffè Nero's live music work, so we just gave them a call and we're delighted to bring the tour to Northern Ireland for the first time.

It's rock and roll, but not as we know it – have you sold your souls to the commercial overlords, or should we consider this a marketing master stroke?

Our mantra since setting up shop in 2001 has always been 'Good Music Needs To Be Heard'. As we've settled into doing business in Northern Ireland, we've learned that there are lots of new ways we can get our music to fans. Not just through record stores, blogs, radio stations, but also in places where people shop and relax.

Our roster has developed over that time too. We've always tried to be eclectic with the artists we've signed, and some of our recent signings are perfect for the coffee shop environment.

Why a coffee shop chain? Why not perform in libraries, hospitals, schools or the like?

We're delighted to promote our artists in lots of esoteric venues, as well as the mainstream ones. If you're reading this and would like to arrange something cool, get in touch. I think the hospital idea is a great one, although Cahir O'Doherty's riffs (Jetplane Landing) might not be a good fit in the Coronary Care Unit at Altnagelvin...

Little Bear recently played a show in St, Mary's College in Derry, which was great for the band and the students. Have a look at recent videos made by Sullivan & Gold – no venue is too out of the ordinary for those guys.

Who will be performing as part of the tour?

Alana Henderson, Little Bear, Our Krypton Son and Sullivan & Gold.

Are they all Smalltown acts?

Yes. All these artists are published by Smalltown America Music. They reflect the depth of talent in Northern Ireland right now – they all boast lyrical imagination, great songwriting and wonderful arrangements. Most importantly they all have a wonderful, welcoming stage manner. Come along to one of these shows. Film it, tweet it, love it.

Tell us a little about each act.

Alana Henderson, for fans of Regina Spektor, Laura Marling. Follow @lanihendy. Our Krypton Son, for fans of Tom Waits, Richard Hawley. Follow @Our_Krypton_Son. Sullivan & Gold, for fans of Bombay Bicycle Club, Fleet Foxes. Follow @SullivanAndGold. And Little Bear, for fans of Villagers, Local Natives. Follow @LittleBearMusic.

All of the acts will be playing two or three gigs each day of the tour, flitting from one cafe to the other in Belfast, Derry~Londonderry and elsewhere. Are the gigs free?

All of the gigs – almost 30 in total – in the cafes are free. The Bangor dates are also part of the Open House Beach House Sessions and cost £10, featuring other supporting artists.

The music industry is not the same as it was ten years ago – marketing, management, distribution, format types, promotion – everything has changed. Is traditional touring bound to undergo a similar transformation?

I think that touring is probably one of the few things that will remain the same. If a band wants to reach new people, they need to put in thousands of miles. The nice thing now is that one can reach as many (if not many more) people with a beautifully shot, clever video as they can with a well put together run of shows.

Finally, what do you hope to get out of the tour?

Simply to get this great music heard and connect with more casual music fans who perhaps wouldn't normally buy a ticket for one of these bands. A hot chocolate with marshmallows would be nice too (hold the whipped cream).

The Smalltown America/Caffè Nero tour begins April 3, with Alana Henderson performing Belfast, and ends April 24, with Sullivan & Gold performing in Derry~Londonderry. See all tour dates on the Across the Line website.