Mike Smith drew almost every band he ever watched, and now his pictures have been collected in their own volume.
You can spot the industry executives at gigs – they’re the ones lost in concentration, brains computing an artist’s potential commercial value, while they sharpen their pencils and start sketching. OK, so maybe that last bit only applies to Mike Smith, the managing director of Columbia Records, who has spent the past two decades drawing almost all of the bands he’s watched.
Whether at dingy indie venues outlining anonymous support acts, or at enormodomes sketching Eminem, Smith’s pencil has certainly done the rounds. Now a collection of his line drawings – from Elastica to the E Street Band – is to be released as a book, Artist & Repertoire, while an exhibition at Somerset House in London runs until September.
Doesn’t he get some weird reactions from audience members? “Not really,” he laughs. “Most people just think I’m a journalist taking notes, but if they see I’m drawing they normally respond really positively.”
Smith started sketching at 16 when his dad moved jobs and he was forced to relocate from Liverpool to Bristol. “It was a way to make friends in a new environment,” he recalls. “I’d draw people and it would intrigue them. It was a good way to start a conversation, especially with girls!”
He had always been fascinated by music, but Smith soon realised that his bass-playing skills weren’t all that, and drawing became his main creative release. Despite an eye for talent that has helped him sign Blur, the White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys, Smith finds it hard to watch a band without sketching them.
“I do worry that I might miss things because I’m concentrating on drawing the guitarist while the singer’s doing something brilliant elsewhere,” he admits. “But I hate not drawing.”
Smith cites David Hockney’s line drawings as an influence and says that most artists are pleasantly surprised when they discover his hobby. “It’s not what they expect the head of label to be doing, I think it shows I have some degree of sympathy for the creative temperament.”
His favourite drawings include one of Damon Albarn during the Parklife sessions, surrounded by champagne bottles, although it’s not all about star power – he’s especially fond of one that depicts “three scousers at a Beta Band gig in Liverpool, clutching beers and watching the band . . . it captures a sweet moment in time.”
On a more musical tip, Smith’s currently looking forward to the Mercury prize awards. Because his artist Katy B is nominated? Yes. But also because it’s “a great chance to draw 12 acts in a night”.
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