Kevin Harrington and Josaka
On the eve of local music site Josaka turning eight, founder Kevin Harrington is a man who’s taken a simple online resource and turned it into a not-for-profit mini empire. With a label and a gig night added to the Josaka brand, what’s his secret?
Cue: mystical Eastern gong – the grand master of the Berkshire music scene has entered the building.
Kevin Harrington deserves an entry such as this, albeit a mythical one (we sadly don’t have gongs at the BBC). His towering paternal nature and love of music spawned a music resource website set up solely to support the local scene. It’s a non-profit and non-commercial labour of love, and it’s been so for almost eight years, without a hint of being over-shadowed by larger music websites, which simply can’t grab the grassroots qualities Josaka has.
“On stage it’s not music being perfect that makes a difference to me it’s the excitement of the delivery.” Kevin’s seen hundreds of unsigned bands perform “It’s great helping people and seeing them be successful,” explains Kevin, a father of five (indeed Josaka is named after three of them, JOanna, SAmantha and KAtherine), “it’s good for everyone if we see bands disappear off on world tours from the locality, it’ll give other people enthusiasm to start their own music careers hopefully.”
And done so they have – a plethora of local bands are now embarking on glittering musical careers, the obvious ones being The Race, Six Nation State and My Luminaries, with others not trailing far behind.
“A lot of people have rather nicely said it’s the things that Josaka has done and to an extent what other local media organisations, including BBC Berkshire, have done that has helped the scene grow,” says Kevin. And he’s right.
For eight years Josaka.com has been a virtual meeting place for bands to read classifieds, discuss gigs, find out about gigs and new bands, read reviews and pour over music-related articles and advice. The thriving Berkshire Live forum currently has more than 2000 topics posted.
Not bad for a website that “started by mistake” and has “stumbled from successful accident to successful accident.”
Last year saw the Josaka brand expand into the three-dimensional world of gig promoting, currently staging monthly music nights at Bracknell’s South Hill Park.
It also launched a record label.
“This time last year we were about to organise the seventh birthday party (for Josaka) at South Street arts centre and from that we created a record label because we decided we wanted to give away a single to everyone that came.”
He signed one of Reading’s most revered bands Wire Jesus and delivered the sterling single The Intruder (Make It Better).
Kevin and his compadre Jim Bowes – compere, comedian and manager of Rebus – are also organising a one-day festival at South Hill Park in September, taking over each nook and cranny in the building for a ten-hour music extravaganza.
And despite having a full-time day job as a marketing consultant (“most people don’t realise I actually work to earn a living!”), he still finds time on top of all this to support and attend unsigned gigs and even dish out advice.
“There’s a lot of bands locally who have phoned up or emailed and said ‘can you help us with this’,” says Kevin. “I’ve ended up sitting down for a couple of hours over a cup of coffee and looking at contracts they want to sign and giving an opinion and so forth.”
Though chances are slim he’d lend one of his seven or eight guitars he still keeps at home, branding himself as a “failed musician” who likes dabbling in ragtime, contemporary and classical. “The world’s a luckier place these days because I don’t perform publically!”
If only the sensitive artistes with delusions of grandeur were as modest when they rant on Berkshire Live.
“What really puts me off is bands that think venues and promoters owe them something but the truth of the matter is that we all need each other,” says Kevin.
Regarding the qualities he does seek in bands it’s all about the live performance. “On stage it’s not music being perfect that makes a difference to me it’s the excitement of the delivery.”
So now with Josaka’s eighth birthday bash coming up, which is being held at South Street arts centre on Friday 23 February, what is the secret behind the website’s longevity?
“It’s stuck to what it does” is the simple answer. “There’s many a website in the UK that’s started off local and thought they were successful and believed their own hype and have started extending the area they cover, but that’s not what Josaka does – it’s consistently been about live music in Reading and the entire Berkshire area.
“It has a life of it’s own.”