Originally published August 27th 2014:
Originally kicking off her music career in Perth, Scotland, Gemma Fox knows all about the struggles of a small town artist. However, she has also familiarised herself with the pressures of taking on the underground in the far more populous area of Manchester, England!
Performing vocal duties for metal acts Damagescape and Collibus, she is still as hard working as ever, but now, with the latter band, it seems she is getting some foothold on the slippery pole we call the music industry. Underground In Prydain sets out in this article to pry into the musical life of someone who has done the proverbial Dick Wittington, chasing their dream to the big city, and made it somewhat of a success.
UP: Hey Gemma, how are you this afternoon?
GF: Had a gig last night with some friends for a charity event, and a lot of beer was consumed! So, feeling tired and in need of coffee, but otherwise feeling pretty good!
UP: How many bands is that you’re in now?
GF: There is of course Collibus, which has been gaining a lot of attention lately, but I’m in another band called DamageScape. I also play covers from time to time for fun!
UP: Good to see you’re keeping busy!
GF: I have to or I’d otherwise go mad! And sleep a lot (more than I usually do).
UP: So, you’re from Perth originally?
GF: Yup, sort of! Grew up near Stirling, before moving to Perth for music college. I call Perth home as it’s where I grew up, but as a musician!
UP: I think that’s the case for a lot of people involved in the music scene there, because of the college.
GF: Yeah, (it’s) I where I first experienced gigging, and what it’s like to be in a band and work with other musicians. And I love that every musician I met were all unique and diverse in their playing and style, which helped shape the musician I am today.
UP: It seems to have more than its fair share of musical talent really, don’t you think?
GF: They come and go, like myself, but the answer is yes. Perth has had a tonne of talent pass through it, and I think it leaves its mark on all of us.
UP: You certainly seem to hold a sort of fondness for it still
GF: Of course, that doesn’t go away. When I was back very briefly a few months ago, it was amazing to see that nothing had changed. I met up my good friend Emma, another musician who has grown profoundly since our college days, and we ended up jamming at Grey Frier’s just for old time’s sake! It’s so easy to fit back in like you’d never left
UP: A lot of people seem to feel the same, but it has to be said that, despite that, it isn’t really a music mecca of any kind
GF: For me, as I said earlier, it’s a place to grow, but I felt I needed to move on after a while. So, after a bit of soul searching I ended down here in Manchester of all places! It was most definitely a move for the best, and I’ve achieved a lot since I’ve been here, but Perth will always be home
UP: So, that was a major influence on your decision to move south of the border?
GF: I knew I needed to do something else, something big. Manchester was really by chance. I was only meant to be here for a short visit, but I ended up joining Collibus and moving here.
UP: Sounds like a bit of a scary step into the unknown!
GF: I guess it was just something I needed to do to. Luckily, I have my dad down here and I was able to stay with him for a while, and it’s always comforting to know he’s just a short train (journey) away. So, not that scary! But it’s never easy to leave the place you call home. I did alright though!
UP: When you first made the move, right at the beginning of joining Collibus, did you notice a significant change in your musical activity?
GF: Back home, I was mostly doing the covers circuit, either on my own, in my duo with Emma, or my cover band at the time. All of which were a lot of fun, but I’d never really found an outlet for my own music. I tried joining one or two original bands, but they always ended disastrously. So coming down here, I got to experience a whole different type of music circuit. And it’s damn hard work to always keep the momentum going and very rarely getting paid, but at the end of the day, it’s still somehow more rewarding. At least the music I play is mine!
UP: Do you think the size of the Manchester scene is what has allowed you to develop your own music more successfully, then?
GF: It’s a big scene for sure, especially for rock and metal, which is why I think Manchester suits me quite well! It’s a great place for networking. Everybody knows everybody else, and the majority of the bands you come across are very supportive, so it’s very easy to make connections and friends.
UP: It seems to have opened up a lot of opportunities for you recently: playing Rock The House, meeting Brian May, the slew of festival dates this summer. Do you think these things would have been achievable if you’d stayed up in Scotland?
GF: I guess I’ll never really know for sure, but I don’t think I’d find another band like Collibus, or a guitarist that can top Stephen Platt, unless Jeff Loomis or John Petrucci themselves give me a call! With Rock the House, we won that award because we stood out from every other applicant, and that’s not me being big-headed; it’s what I’ve been told from the competition founders Mike and Niki, who liked us so much they wanted to manage us. That has opened a huge amount of doors, and I think the band CV since then now speaks for itself! (We are) hugely grateful to them, and the competition.
UP: These things just don’t seem to happen in smaller or more geographically remote regions, though. I’m a big fan of the unique (which is why I like Collibus!), but it’s easy to see great bands seeming to suffer from being distant from places like Manchester, or London or New York.
GF: I guess that’s true. Perth, for example, was very much a comfort zone for me. It wasn’t until I ventured outside it that things started to happen for me. There are a lot of really talented musos out there who rarely leave their own little towns, and that’s great if that’s what makes them happy. But there’s more out there if you care to take a look…
UP: A case of whether you’re happy to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small, aggressive one out in the big wide ocean..?
GF: Ha, yeah, something like that!!
UP: Essentially, the opportunities are there in these big places, but they are a challenge, and you have to be willing and able to conquer them.
GF: Of course it’s a challenge, and I don’t think that will ever stop, but I guess it depends how badly you want it!
UP: True, there have always been those with the drive and those without.
GF: It’s about having an ambition and a goal, and then figuring out how to achieve it. I’m still figuring it out… I’ll keep you updated!
UP: So, we’re seeing plenty of action in the public eye, but would it be wrong to assume that behind the scenes of these somewhat high-profile turns of events, there are other cogs moving in favour of the Collibus machine?
GF: The cogs are always in motion. This year has all been about building the band cv (with some great references too as a nice bonus, I might add) so that we can up our game for the next phase. With Mike as our manager, he’s very much a man with a lot up his sleeve, and doesn’t like to reveal too much until the timing is right. We just know he has big plans, and so far everything else he’s done has paid off immensely, so we shall just have to wait and see what happens next!
UP: You’ve painted a pretty solid picture of your experience for us! Thank you very much for your time! It has been much appreciated!
GF: No problem. Makes a nice change chatting about where I came from to how I got here! (I still ask myself from time to time, so I’ll be sure to read it back)
UP: One last question before you go:
GF: Go on…
UP: Any closing advice for those toying with the idea of looking to the big city in their quest for musical development?
GF: Go for it! If you’re feeling like you need something bigger than what your town can offer you, then do it. And by no means am I saying it will be easy, but you have to follow your heart. At the end of the day, wherever you call home will always be there waiting. Do you want to be there waiting with it? Or leave it behind and be able to come back from time to time and tell stories of where you’ve been and what you’ve done? And that’s not just about music. That’s about life.
UP: Spiritual words! Thank you again, and good luck with the future! From the sounds of it, you’ll make the most of what it has to offer!
GF: I shall try! Cheers!