Big Scary Monsters talk Jamie Lenmann and the health of the UK's independent rock scene

Big Scary Monsters talk Jamie Lenmann and the health of the UK's independent rock scene

Big Scary Monsters owner Kev Douch and artist manager Simon Barbour-Brown have spoken to Music Week about their hopes for the more “mainstream” new record from Jamie Lenman, and opened up about life on the frontlines of independent rock music in 2022.

From his revered work with cult band Reuben to his varied solo career – his 2013 debut Muscle Memory was comprised of two discs, one extremely heavy, the other acoustic – Lenman has cut a chameleonic presence over the years. And all, it should be stressed, while writing candid lyrics that have often cut to the very heart of the experiences of artists in the music industry (for example, Reuben’s Return Of The Jedi featuring the line: ‘It's fifty grand to make a fucking video!’). 

Here, BSM’s Kev Douch and manager Si Barbour-Brown of Sharper Group explain how they hope one of the unsung heroes of British rock music is about to get his flowers with the release of his fifth album, The Atheist, and open up about the challenges and opportunities for independent rock music in the UK… 


Both as a solo act and in Reuben, Jamie Lenman has been an underground legend for a long time now, with the likes of Frank Turner and many more being avowed fans. What do you think he represents to the UK alternative scene? 

Kev Douch: “I think there's something about the way Jamie writes which really resonates with people. The cult army of fans Reuben still possess after so many years is testament to that. He has a real grasp of hooks, lyrics which seem to connect, and an energy which is hard to capture or explain but I find really infectious. His brain just works differently to everyone else I've ever met!”

Si Barbour-Brown: “I came to the Reuben/Jamie Lenman party a little late but I hope this allowed me to have a slightly different viewpoint on it all. Also, as a manager commenting on their own act, any positivity and support can sound contrived, but looking at everything—from Reuben to when Jamie first went solo, up to now – there's a definite tone of relevance and very high level of songwriting creativity throughout everything that I think is extremely enigmatic and unique to Jamie. It's this originality and individualism that I think is really important in what Jamie brings to the UK alternative scene.”

The campaign build up has been suggesting that Jamie is heading towards a more “mainstream leaning sound” on this record. What do you think this new album can do to help put him in front of more people? 

KD: “It's definitely Jamie's most mainstream leaning album as a solo artist, probably including his previous bands too, in fact. The hope is we can continue to grow his existing, loyal fanbase and open even more people up to ‘The Wonderful World Of Jamie Lenman’. For a musician with such an eclectic back catalogue it's about finding the right entry point for fans and this record, more than any previous, has such a wide door. We want to catch people with the poppy hooks, reel them in with the contagious choruses and, before they know it, they're knee-deep in his 2019 covers record wondering how they ended up listening to the Taxi Driver theme tune!”

SB-B: “I believe Jamie's always wanted to experiment and test the boundaries of music, for himself and his listeners. The mainstream and more melody driven work was always on the list, and there's some interesting projects still to come. The loyal Reuben fans are incredible and we know they love a sing-along as well as a mosh, so with this record we just really hope it expands those circles of fans into new areas. Through radio, press, digital, live, and then those fans will have a huge amount of fun exploring and digging through such a spectrum of Jamie's previous records and work.” 

What’s the plan to help him cut through on streaming? 

KD: “Jamie’s fanbase are definitely a physical crowd, including CDs. In fact, he’s the only artist we’ve pressed on that format this year! As for streaming, we’re working closely with The Orchard to try and get him in front of new people. His previous, heavier records landed well on the rockier playlists but with the sonic shift of The Atheist we’re pitching for more indie lists and trying to reposition him a little. Jamie’s also joined TikTok – no mean feat at 40 years old! – and has been producing some brilliantly unique content, in the way only he could. Jamie’s a multi-talented man and creates a lot of assets himself for all of his campaigns, so if you spot any clever little video clips or animations online, they’re almost certainly his handiwork. Honestly, it’s a label’s dream to have an artist with such a wide range of skills and gives us some very useful tools for the challenge of breaking through in a crowded digital space.”

SB-B: “That's true, and his fanbase is great when we're releasing LPs and EPs as well as special editions and re-releases of previous Reuben records. However, we're hyper aware of not overdoing this and try to ensure every release is done properly and taking the fans – and socio-economic situations – into consideration, of course. Due to the slight genre change, it's a little tougher than we'd hoped in getting Jamie into those poppier playlists, but he is very present across social media and excellent at creating a range of assets to help keep all platforms busy and active. This may not change things overnight but it's incredible to have to hand and a real bonus when trying to get people's attention.”

We hope to continue to open even more people up to 'The Wonderful World Of Jamie Lenman' with this record

Kev Douch, Big Scary Monsters


In his lyrics throughout the years, Jamie has been very open and honest about the music industry and even his scepticism of it. Why has the relationship between Big Scary Monsters endured? And how important a release is it for Big Scary Monsters?

KD: “We have a very honest and open relationship. If Jamie feels something isn’t working he’ll tell us, and vice versa. He’s an extremely creative individual and I’d like to think we are as a team, too, so are always open to his ideas and try to bring as many of our own to the table as possible. It was an honour to start working with Jamie back in 2017 as a longtime fan and I still get a buzz from that. I must admit I even enjoy it when fans beg him to reform Reuben and he’s very polite in his response but you can sense the smoke coming out of his ears. It's just cool to see the passion his fans hold for his music, which at the end of the day is why we all got into this.”

SB-B: “Jamie has a healthy scepticism about most things and most definitely the music industry. He'll be very clear and blunt about what he thinks and expects but I feel it's always from a place of logic and or experience.The team at BSM understand this intrinsically and have been excellent over the last few years and records at not only listening to Jamie, incorporating his ideas and thoughts into releases and campaigns but also being very proactive and creative in their own approach and what they think should happen and can be achieved. It may sound relatively simple but it's not only something I think BSM are rare as a label at doing but also very good at, Jamie appreciates and respects it a huge amount.”

We’re seeing, very clearly, the impact the cost of living is having on touring and independent artists and venues at the moment. What’s the live plan like for this record? As an independent act/label, how do you plan on making sure you can all get through these choppy waters?

KD: “It’s certainly been a very tough time for everyone and we’re seeing that right across the industry. Jamie organises his own Lenmania festival, of which the third edition takes place on December 18 in Manchester, following previous events in London and at 2000 Trees festival. It’s two stages of brilliant music, curated by Jamie with him kicking the day off solo and then closing the main stage with a full band show. Beyond that he’ll be touring with the band in the spring before a host of summer festival appearances. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed that things are a little more stable by then but Jamie's in a fortunate position of being able to tour solo or with a band so there's some budgetary flexibility to help make things work.”

SBB: “From the side of management and artist we just feel we have to push forward as best and normal as we can for this release and playing live, the only alternative perhaps being less shows which doesn't help anyone. We're being more vigilant and aware of costs, to Jamie's audience as well as Jamie himself of course. We're trying to ensure everyone is looked after, from Jamie's own band mates, the venues/crews and the other bands playing at his shows. This is reflected in the set-up for Lenmania III in Manchester this December, Jamie's own festival where he's picked the acts and is very involved in how things are arranged and laid out. Otherwise for Jamie, there are some headline dates in Nov, hopefully many more in the spring and as many festivals as we can figure out in 2023.”

Rock's not dead, but we do need more labels investing to help strengthen and give a solid foundation to it in 2023 and further

Simon Barbour-Brown

The media landscape has changed so much in recent years, the bigger “press looks” are harder to get than ever for even big bands. Recently Craig Jennings spoke to Music Week citing how strange it is that a band as big as Bring Me The Horizon haven’t even appeared on Jools Holland. Do you think the industry is doing enough to support and nurture underground UK talent, like Jamie and many more, or are the big media outlets too risk averse? 

KD: “From my perspective the media landscape is in a bit of a state of flux right now, which is making it difficult for everyone; labels, PRs, journalists and artists alike. It does feel as though there are less opportunities to find right now, perhaps in part from bigger outlets being risk adverse. I think we all understand why that is, they have units to sell/hosting bills to pay, but for me perhaps the larger thing we’re currently missing is the underground. It just feels like there are less people starting zines, blogs or podcasts, getting out there and screaming from the rooftops about their favourite music. The kind of infectious passion which wins people over one by one and builds communities of excited, open minded fans looking to devour more and more new music. Social media has given everyone a mini platform now so maybe there’s less need to start these publications but in my opinion that’s starting to leave a gap and it’s a shame. And I say that not just as a record label owner who wants his artists to take over the world but as a fellow music lover who misses those trusted, enthused taste makers pointing me towards my next great love.”

SB-B: “Everyone has a different marker of success for their acts but ultimately we always need festivals, press and other key factors of the industry to really help introduce and support new, underground and indie acts. Due to recent years and magazines changing formats – leaving print for purely online – and releases/events being put on hold there's definitely a surge of activity that's now being pushed through smaller/lesser channels. I think it's a combination of literal space/time for bands to be featured and also the worry to take risks and chances on smaller acts due to the economic climate. Two abnormal situations that the music/entertainment industry is trying to deal with at once and getting very little support from the government and other establishments that it's, historically, contributed a huge amount to. It does definitely feel harder to know where to go for new music, even online no social media platform has successfully set itself up for the exploration and discovery element of this.”

In 2017, Jamie said to Music Week: “I don’t really know what ‘rock is dead’ means, I think it’s just a cool-sounding phrase for idiots, right?” – what is your take on where rock and the alternative scene is in the UK music industry in 2022? 

KD: “Just this week I actually had a conversation with someone where we both agreed the UK rock scene is producing a lot of very exciting bands right now. So musically and creatively I think we’re in good shape, but I do worry about the support structure to help those artists grow. Rock music is notoriously under-represented on streaming playlists, with many of them not being frequently updated or placements being given to bigger artists. For bands to break we need clear paths to success and ways for fans to discover them anywhere from an early stage right through to superstardom. The cost of living crisis is making touring harder (both from the musicians point of view with mounting costs but also from the fan’s, with essential bills understandably being prioritised over nights out) so with that outlet facing uncertain times it would be great to see others step up. Streaming platforms have hundreds of millions of users and all the data in the world, could they not make more opportunities available to help connect eager listeners with their new favourite band? At the end of the day, being the platform which helped breed that partnership will only lead to more streams, bigger artists and returning listeners looking for their next discovery. Feels like a win for everyone.”

SB-B: “I think I've heard the ‘Rock is dead’ phrase every year for a very long time, it's definitely not dead, it could be made illegal and still not die. I'd agree it's just a bait-y phrase though to perhaps encourage a relevant conversation that maybe needs more focus and resolution. Through labels like BSM and festivals such as 2,000 Trees and others, there is a concerted effort to introduce and support new and established alternative acts, but we do need more throughout the live scene and labels investing to help strengthen and give a solid foundation to rock in 2023 and further. Touring and merch used to be a larger income for bands and now even that is harder logistically and financially for acts. This needs to be addressed and really shaken down properly; ticketing sites treating acts and fans fairly, venues not taking a cut of merch, visas and other travel permissions made cheaper and easier is just the tip of the iceberg. A huge amount of entertainers make a varying degree of money online and from streaming services, aside from streaming services giving more time, placement and consideration to smaller labels and acts it'd be incredible to see them finally figure out a revenue share that could really give back to the musicians and talent that gave them the inspiration and actual material to enables their platform in the first place. These guys really could hold the key to funding music and creativity in the near and distant future, if it is indeed the music that they're genuinely all about.”

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