"Most of the bands up here have got two acts, these days. It's the only way they can play their own music and still survive;" — Keith Woodcock, the man behind the Carlsbro Sound Centres.
Mansfield has been kind to its bands. Keith's been dealing with them for ten years or so through Carlsbro equipment shops in Mansfield and he's better qualified than anyone in this part of the country to talk about the Midland group scene.
"At one time there were six or seven fully pro bands in Mansfield, now I don't think there's one. The funny thing is that we're doing more business than ever before. I don't know whether we've got a better share of the market than we had before, or whether people are travelling further to get to us."
Perhaps another reason that the Carlsbro Sound Centre in Mansfield is doing great business is their vast new premises in Chesterfield Road North, which are just outside the town centre and only a couple of miles from the Chesterfield exit of the M1.
The shop moved to the new premises just about a year ago and today it's bulging with stock — the exotic beside the prosaic — that's turning over as fast as Keith and Manager Malcolm McDowell can order it.
"Most of the work round here is club-cabaret kind of stuff and the bands work up a good cabaret act. If they have that they can work all the time. But the gigs they really like doing are the dance gigs and they're few and far between. At those gigs they can play the music they write and play the sort of music they want to play. So the bands who survive usually have the two acts; the music they want to play, and the music they have to play."
The mixture of instruments and amps in the Sound Centre is as varied as can be imagined. New Gibsons and Fenders adorn one wall, old acoustics and electrics another. There's a willing and helpful attitude to part exchange deals at the shop and for this reason it's an exceptionally good place to find good secondhand instruments and amps.
The basement of the shop is currently being turned into a disco centre and there's also a lighting section, a large service centre and, most important, room to PARK.
"Getting the parking space was one of the main reasons we bought this building," says Keith, "Most of our customers are going to drive to see us — you can't really take an amp home on the bus — and it's important that they're able to park."
The Carlsbro retail operation started humbly as a small shop in Station Street Mansfield, primarily set up to sell Carlsbro sound equipment. Stuart Mercer — Carlsbro boss — naturally chose his home of Mansfield as starting point and in partnership with Keith established a shop that fulfilled the dual role or promoting the sound equipment and serving the "equipment starved" musicians of the area.
Success often follows success and the Carlsbro Sound Centre flourished as the fortunes of the "big brother" manufacturing company grew apace. The Station Street shop is still part of the Carlsbro empire, but today it's a more general music store selling instruments like trumpets, saxophones and recorders as well as group gear.
"I think that's been the biggest change of all really — the specialisation in the trade. Today bands want to go to a shop that specialises in their type of equipment. The pattern of trading has changed and the accent is very much on servicing today.
"We've got a large electronic service department that can handle almost anything a customer brings in — usually very rapidly indeed — and we also have a guitar specialist who undertakes the delicate repairs that are sometimes called for. Over the years we've developed a relationship with finance houses that allows us to arrange credit for customers with very little trouble."
The design system that has been used in the new centre is based upon the scaffolding system pioneered by the ill-fated Fender Soundhouse in Tottenham Court Road, London. This system effectively gives the shop two floors in one and the double tier system allows the most enormous amount of gear to be stocked.
"Having a large stock is really important these days. Sometimes people want the most ridiculous orders off the shelf. At our shop in Sheffield last Monday the Fantastics walked in for a complete new set of equipment; PA, amps the lot. Their gear had been stolen over the weekend and they were out buying a new van and a complete set of gear. You have to be able to reach up and take the stuff off the shelf to get that sort of sale."
Not unnaturally the biggest selling amp line in the shop is Carlsbro. But there's a tremendous variety of amps on show including Peavey, Gibson, Laney, Ampeg, Marshall, Wem, Fender, SAI, Hawk, Selmer, Eigen, Traynor, Yamaha etc. Guitar lines include almost everything you can think of and — in the second hand section — many you couldn't think of.
Part of the ground floor showroom is given over to electronic keyboards. These are strictly limited to the portable variety and the usual Farfisas, Korgs, Moogs and Gems are on show.
The drummer isn't neglected in this particular shop. There's a staggering selection of used kits and new kits available including Premier and Pearl.
"People are as anxious as ever they were to make music. Bands are constantly forming and if they're any good at all there's plenty of work for them — providing they can do the cabaret stuff. The area's very good for musicians, consequently it's good for us, but I wonder if we'll ever see the days again when bands like Ten Years After, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple call in during a tour and pick up some gear. I'd like to see more work of the type that allows the bands a chance to play what they'd like to play."
In the meantime Keith, Malcolm and the boys at Mansfield's Carlsbro Sound Centre are concentrating on making the supply end of the musician's routine as professional and trouble free as possible. All the indications are that they are succeeding.