Brannon Calls For Bold Nightlife Plan

January 29, 2011

1tonyBermuda must strike the right balance between international acts and homegrown talent if the island is to revive its once-vibrant nightlife scene, says a veteran local performer and entertainment impressario.

Tony Brannon, recently appointed to Government’s Tourism Board along with fellow musician Shine Hayward, says a new task force charged with finding ways of resuscitating the moribund entertainment sector has to be bold and innovative in its approach.

Unveiled last week by Minister of Youth, Families & Community Development Glenn Blakeney, task force members include hospitality sector and entertainment industry stalwarts such as bar owner Frank Arnold and performers Gita Blakeney and Gene Steede.

Mr. Brannon, who opted not to sit on the task force because of commitments to the Tourism Board, said he hoped the working party would come up with inventive recommendations for kick starting an industry which has been in sharp decline in recent years.

“There is no doubt that entertainment for visitors, especially in the hotels remains scant and often badly presented,” said Mr. Brannon. “Most hotels do not provide proper staging, sound systems/lighting/production. Many hotels continue to use ‘aging’ musicians who play the same material, often 30 years old. I am not suggesting however, that aging entertainers do not have their place — heaven knows, I am aged myself!

“But the fact is there is little effort to embrace some of the younger upcoming Bermuda artists. And there is something of a Catch-22 in play, in that with fewer places to play/perform, locals do not get the chance to really improve their craft. Constant work and a competitive environment mean that artists get better and also keep their music fresh and current.”

 Mr. Brannon, who performs regularly at various island nightspots, began working in the entertainment sector as a teenager in the 1960s. He has emerged as a vocal critic of successive Government Tourism Ministry policies in recent years, particularly regarding the impact of falling visitor arrivals figures on live entertainment.

Mr. Brannon said with hotels and nightclubs axing live shows in recent years to reduce operating costs, the sharp drop-off in foreign acts performing here has also hurt their Bermudian counterparts by limiting local exposure to international talent.

“The interchange between foreign and local groups has long-since vanished, but at one time many a local entertainer improved their craft by learning from foreigners,” said Mr. Brannon, who ran the 40 Thieves Club nightclub on Front Street in the ’80s which showcased a variety of Bermudian and international performers.

“Great examples from the past were The Sharx at the old 40 Thieves and Jimmy O’Connors Happening BDA which worked with international acts at the Southampton Princess.”

Mr. Brannon said “xenophobic attitudes” some Bermudians harbour towards foreign entertainers is both unhealthy and, ultimately, counter-productive — stymieing local entertainers who want to hone their skills and limiting what audiences can hear .

“The interchange between local and foreign musicians/entertainers is what helps locals to grow, and there is no doubt that the local audience also wants to see and hear entertainment that is different from the homegrown variety,” he said.

Mr. Brannon said since the cost of hiring live entertainment has risen over the years just like everything else, Bermuda needs to be smart about striking the correct balance between presenting locals on stage together with foreigners.

“Resort casinos would make a big difference for the tourist market in that entertainment could be an integral part of the complexes and therefore subsidised by gaming,” he said. “But in the absence of such an option, to simply demand that every bar or club has to hire a local band in order for a foreign band to work does not make economic sense and is indeed totally unaffordable.

“The work permit restriction on expatriates with musical talents is also unfair and stifles the artistic exchange that people can bring to the table. Whilst Bermudians should always be promoted and hired that, in my view, does not mean just because you are a Bermudian you have a right to work. My point here is it is all about quality and what the public will support.

“Great Bermuda talent needs to be nourished and presented, but what amounts to protectionism and policing the public taste is totally the wrong approach. Basically it comes down to if an artist is good, the public will support him. If not, then they will simply not patronise an establishment, be it locals or foreigners on stage.”

Mr. Brannon said in recent years the island had grown increasingly neglectful of spotlighting local talent to visitors — a far cry from tourism’s hey-dey in the 1960s and ’70s when Bermudian acts such as Hubert Smith & The Coral Islanders and the Talbot Brothers were promoted as ambassadors of song by the hospitality sector.

“There is no promotion of local talent in the bus stations, airport arrivals hall or indeed in most hotels,” he said. “Everyone from taxi drivers, hotel front desk personnel or indeed the man on the street is hard pressed when asked by a tourist where they can see local entertainment.”

Mr. Brannon said with visitor air arrivals continuing to dip and local hotels facing increasingly serious financial problems, most simply cannot afford to stage live entertainment.

“Either the hotels have no entertainment at all or they opt to hire the cheapest and present it poorly,” he said. “These days the sad fact of the matter is there’s not one hotel in Bermuda which has a proper stage for entertainment.

“The Bermuda Government has spent countless tens of millions over the years promoting a music festival in the fall — really out of season for Bermuda tourism — and the number of tourists who came to Bermuda to attend has in no way met the intended goal of increasing visitor arrivals in a meaningful way. It has simply become a festival for locals.

“When we can spend millions on a three-day event, once a year, and our visitors complain there is no real nightly entertainment in the hotels, then something is wrong.”

Mr. Brannon suggested the Bermuda Music Festival’s allotted budget instead be used to establish and support nightly entertainment especially in the summer season, with a reduced schedule in the winter.

“Establish a local entertainment czar, who pulls together a production team and entertainers to rotate seven nights a week at various venues,” he said. “To spice things up we should hire two foreign bands and five local bands and rotate the entertainment at the venues.

“With standardised production, the quality will be consistent at each venue. By having two great foreign bands for the season we will provide exciting entertainment to also pull locals out at night and thereby mix and mingle with our visitors.”

Mr. Brannon said the island should also be exploring other, creative approaches to stimulating not just Bermuda’s entertainment scene but the local economy as a whole by way of the performing arts. 

“I propose we make Bermuda a tax free zone for the arts in much the same the Republic of Ireland did in the 1960s,” he said. “Bermuda could become an island home to international movie stars/singers/bands/actors etc, if we simply allowed them to buy a home in Bermuda tax free and encouraged them to set up their worldwide earnings via their own offshore company.

“Indeed, we could also offer all these benefits in return for an annual performance in Bermuda! The idea is out of the box, but it would generate amazing buzz for the island! I would be more than happy to put myself up as the person who pulls this altogether and I look forward to talking details and solutions.”

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Comments (13)

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  1. Terry says:

    It’s all the UBP’s fault.

  2. small biz says:

    I hope and pray the govt listens to u Mr. Brannon.

  3. REAL says:

    the nightlife in bda is HORRIBLE! we need more fun things to to. not just for those of age but to keep the youth off the streets. like a chucky cheese or some type of deal. we need something!

  4. Terry says:

    “When we spend milions on a three-day event”.

    There is irony here.

    Top performers require large payments as with support et al. You can bring in all the top acts you want. Who/whom is going to pay for it.

    Knowone is comming. Just drips and drabs and the ones that can afford it. Hamilton is dying, St George is dead. The cruise ship scheduals speak for themselves.

    Things are tough but just because millionares want to make more is not an answer to the plight of those that have worked hard and to others who will ‘sign up’ to make a quick buck.

    “International movie stars”……..

    Mr. Brannon, they are welcome and can get anything they want, at half the price. And we end up with the Hollywood Walk of fame genere……big deal. They buy carrotts and local produce whilst the Hotels and ( well rentals are empty) lie empty.

    The product is there. It has been mismanaged and ‘build it they will come’ is just a venture of the greedy.

    Times are tough everywhere and Bermuda should be more concerned with stability than……. Fill in the blank space.

  5. laughing says:

    is this is the same man who branded all local musicians drug addicts and alcholics.

  6. Ringo ... says:

    Even if we were able to rescusitate our entertainment scene back into a vibrant nightlife with lots of talent and variety on tap it might help our trouble plagued tourism industry (and entertainment for them is just one of many problems) but would the more mature crowd with disposable income and different tastes than the ‘youngsters’ still be encouraged to leave their homes after dark ?

    Unlike the days when Tony’s dad ran the hugely successful 40 Thieves Club , people have all sorts of in home entertainment options to keep them in for the night without having to worry about violence at nightclubs from all these socially misadjusted ‘youth’ or drunk/drugged road users that make the journey there and back a safety risk.

    • Triangle Drifter says:

      In my years of being on the front line of tourism, I can’t say that I often had a call for ‘Island’ entertainment, which is not to say that there should not be some. Yes there should. What was asked about often was the availability of live entertainment, contemporary music or, since this IS a British Colony, live pub type entertainment like The Hog Penny, The Horse & Buggy, Robin Hood, Henry V111 & Pub on the Square had years ago. The entertainers back then quickly learned a few calypso songs to fill in their repitoire.

      Face it, once you see a local act…well… you have seen that local act. It will be the same next week, next month, next year. Why go back? Currently the Island has a few musicians & next to no entertainers at all. There is a big difference between the two.

      The boom in home entertainment has put the hurt on all kinds of entertainment which required leaving the house. People behaving badly is another reason to stay at home. Violence does not even make news any more. There was an incident just last night which required the BPS paddy wagon to attend a late night eatery in Hamilton. No mention of it.

      • alfie says:

        Are we talking about entertaining locals or tourists?

        I couldnt agree more with Triangle Drifter, however my experience was that In the 80′s there was an almost 6 week rotation, I dont know why or when they switched to keeping the same acts all the time. Most recently was Pickled Onion, Hog Penny and Swizzle inn(the last ones to have solo entertainers) they have had the same people for years. i think this was because it was easier to get the permits and accomodation.

        There is no real answer to this problem, a bar cant pay out loads of cash on entertainment without being certain of returns, so which comes first, the chicken or the egg? What will make them come. It is very hard to stop a snowball the size of this from rolling downhill further, let alone reversing it!

  7. Terry says:

    The chicken.

  8. outkasted says:

    Hmmmmm…. I tell you what. You want a jump start on this. All the Mp’s and musicians alike may need to take a page out of Chewstick’s book. Before Bermuda can return to the ‘Old Days’ we need to learn how to walk again before we can run. We are spending millions on advertising etc. and we are getting nowhere. BERMUDA NEEDS TO CREATE a ‘BUZZ’. There are still a few opportunities to increase the ‘BUZZ’. Does CUPMATCH ring a bell? Yeah I know its a local holiday and all but it is the one of the few event opportunities that can be used to maximize awareness of the Tourism product. In August 2010 over 7000 people descended on Horshoebay Beach. This event grew to this size in less than 3 years on a shoestring budget. Why you may ask? Because Chewstick has a VIBE and has created a BUZZ amongst the YOUNG and OLD. BOTH LOCAL and FOREIGN. Don’t believe me well here is a link to this growing phenomena
    http://bermynet.com/photo_albums/preview/1191/268944/page:298
    http://bermynet.com/photo_albums/preview/1191/268944/page:298
    (you may have to sign into Bermynet first to see these images)

    This year is going to be bigger! As a Bermudian and a photographer I’ve watched as certain events have grown. Its time Government really support the entrepreneurial spirit of the local talent we already have.

  9. outkasted says:

    …Furthermore you want FREE advertising to bring about this product? Start gathering all the local pictures and video from various BIG events from last year such as CUPMATCH, Non-Mariners (this is going to be a HUGE event this year too), Beach Fest 2010, Music Festivals and other various events, Create a Commercial that shows our PEOPLE at their BEST at these events. Once you have gathered the various media needed, HIT up all the SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES…Let it all out and create the BUZZZ We need to stimulate our local product. Let’s DO THIS!!