On Saturday (23 February) I have the honour of supporting Richard Hawley on the London leg of his tour at The Troxy, Limehouse. It's something I'm looking forward to with great excitement but also some trepidation - the opportunity to play to upwards of 3,000 people, most of whom will not have seen me play live before, but also the knowledge that they are not there to see me, not 'my crowd', and that I'm going to have to work damn hard to pull them into my musical world, at least for the half hour before the main event starts.
A cursory look at an online dictionary gives the meaning of "support" as to "hold up" or "a thing that bears the weight of something", but these are definitions that clearly don't apply in the context of the support slot, when the gig, and ticket sales, are held up pretty obviously by the headliner.
Most musicians are notoriously nervous of playing support gigs, as how the crowd will respond is such a huge unknown. It's pretty important that the headliner and support are matched musically in a way that at least suggests that they might have listened to one or two of the same records. That way of course you hope there's also more chance of finding genuine long term fans in that crowd. I wouldn't want to be transported on stage just before Justin Bieber, and be confronted by thousands of furious and bloodthirsty 10 year olds. I'm hoping the Hawley crowd will give me a little more of a chance.
Playing support shows is a tried and tested way (in theory at least) of finding more fans. Not everyone's going to like what you do (just as long as they're not indifferent to what you do), but the key is to give people the opportunity at least to see and hear you so they can makes their own minds up, and hope that at the end of it you've picked up a few who will stick with you and come to your own shows. Promoters also like support acts as it gives a little more value for the ticket money, and if you've done your bit in the right way then you've warmed the crowd up for the headliner while they've had a couple of beers. Everyone's a winner, right?! Let's hope so...