A Twinkle In Swiftie's Eye - R. Kowalski

Lisa Kowalski has four big passions in life, singing and playing guitar (that’s one, they go together), dogs, being a vegan and Taylor Swift. While a lot of girls will perform the odd Swift song in their set, Lisa has about three hours of non-stop, back to back Taylor material – from album tracks from her debut album to the well-known hits of Red and 1989. After hours of listening to these songs during busking sessions, growing to love some of them and wanting a break from others, Lisa’s Mum/ Momager suggested she put her knowledge and love of Taylor’s discography to good use. By putting on a Taylor Swift night, she could showcase one of the things that defines and differentiates her in the busy and multi-talented Glasgow youth music scene, while at the same time tapping into her Swiftie fandom connections to gather a decent sized and hugely enthusiastic crowd.

Gathering momentum

A bit of on line research spurred them on, with the discovery that Vancouver, Canada was the only place that had run a similar event before, with a variety of local artists of differentgenres coming together to perform Taylor’s songs. The fact the first event was an unexpected sell out was encouraging.

“What band could possibly provoke Vancouverites to sell-out the Biltmore Cabaret on a Wednesday night? The answer could be ‘a bunch of local bands‘, but we have to face the fact that, despite these great local bands, a big reason for the sell-out was none other than pop country artist Taylor Swift.” http://www.viesmag.com/2015/11/20/taylor-swift-tribute-night-at-biltmore-cabaret/.

Lisa hesitated for a while, having faced a little ridicule and scorn over the years for being a Swiftie. She also wished to develop her own song writing, widen her repertoire and keep up the busking in order to save up for musical travels once school is out. 

A chance conversation then came about early in 2016 with local music man Tommy McGrory of Loud and Proud. One wet Saturday on Paisley High Street when Lisa was glad to pack up busking and get out of the rain, we had a chat with Tommy in his High Street base and told him about the idea.  Tommy agreed it had mileage and agreed to come on board and help with the areas in which Lisa and her Mum had no knowledge or experience. And thus, with the tenth anniversary of Taylor’s first single falling in June 2016, Ten Years of Taylor Swift was born.

What happened next?

Over many meetings, phone calls and Facebook group chats, a date and venue were decide.  Artists were carefully selected and invited to take part, songs chosen and allocated, a band put together and tasked with learning a bunch of Taylor songs in a very short period of time and the great promotion campaign of 2016 was launched.

Choosing songs from five albums was easy, with many tracks other than the singles being great tunes and huge fan favourites. The hard part was selling tickets. An initial flurry of interest on Facebook was promising, with hugely excited fans booking tickets to fly up from England and a lot of people registering interest in the event. But as the weeks passed, we wondered where the 13,000 Swifties who flocked to the 1989 tour at the SSE Hydro had got to. We worked long into the night sharing the event on social media, trying to track down as many Swifties, pop and country fans as we could. We got some good press coverage, a wonderful new Swiftie friend built us a web site and there was a lot of support from local music support groups, not least the NHC.

Nevertheless, ticket sales remained a trickle rather than a flood. Frustratingly, it seemed a Saturday night in August, rather than being the sweet spot we thought, was proving to be bad timing. Many people were really keen to come but were either away, working or watching the Proclaimers at Party in the Palace!

Momager K was however determined to share what we knew was going to be a great night with as many people as possible and to secure that key ingredient, an audience who would sing along to every word. So she sent her daughters out on to the streets of Glasgow leafleting all and sundry and spent her lunch breaks circuiting city centre hotel receptionists, sweet talking them into promoting the event to guests. Nevertheless, it was with bated breath we stood in the Classic Grand at 6 o clock on Saturday night. Eight super talented and super excited young artists, a well-rehearsed band and a brilliant video back drop created by our Swiftie light engineer Neil Smith – all wondering just how many folk were coming through the doors to be part of this special night.

T-time – 19 00 hours 13 August 2016

And how many came?  Enough to cover costs and pay our wonderful young talent, enough to fill the seats and the dance floor, enough to create the Swift and Swiftie celebration we always wanted, to sing along with and cheer every song, enough to justify all the hard work and ticket-sales tension and enough to give all the artists one of the performing highlights of their young careers. Enough even to give birth to Ten Years of Taylor Two, hopefully coming soon to an Edinburgh venue.

And the main thing all along, a good time was had by all. Lisa didn’t just sing, she performed like a superstar, worked the crowd and stage managed like a pro. Long standing friendships were almost forgotten if anyone messed up their lyrics or timing. On the other hand, new friendships were forged as all the acts realised they had shared and contributed to something pretty special.

Lisa says of the event:

“It was incredible to see the night play out how I hoped right before my eyes. Every person, every word being sang and every dance move was such a huge deal to me because that's what I wanted to see on the night”

“I'm so incredibly happy with it. Everyone in the room was just so enthusiastic and joyous and you could really feel such a vibrant atmosphere when you were performing. I can't even describe how good it felt knowing we were making the crowd so happy by doing something that made us happy too! The night was an absolute dream from start to finish and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

Tommy, Loud and Proud, our co-organiser also thinks the event was a big success:

“We set out to do 4 things

1) To help Lisa achieve something she was so passionate about.

2) To give her some experience and understanding of promoting and organising a gig.

3) To give young people a first time opportunity of playing in a live band.

4) To give everyone who turned up a great time.

I think all four were achieved. The Kowalski team did a great job promoting the gig and getting together some amazing young talent.”

Not just the Taylor Swift and not even the Lisa Kowalski show

One of the sweetest things about the Ten Years of Taylor experience was getting to know and work with some amazing young people and their hugely supportive families. As Lisa says:

“The acts were brilliant. Not all of them were necessarily the biggest Taylor Swift fans but they did a brilliant job at recognizing the beauty and magic in her songs and putting their own twist on them”

We would really like to take this time to pay tribute to our performers in turn:

First up was Aidan Smith picked for his golden voice and for being a great mentor and inspiration to Lisa since her very first Open Mic. Slightly rocky start, but the moment the crowd heard his vocals, they were 100% won over.

Rachel McFadyen and Lauren McColgan, Lisa’s school mates and rising musical theatre stars were picked to do vocal harmonies. They brought an original and creative twist to each of their songs.

Oliva Haggarty, snapped up by Lisa because she combined a passion for Taylor songs with breath-taking vocals, was mesmerising, one audience member was heard to say “she should sing the whole set”.

Matthew Gibb picked for his reputation as one of the most popular and successful young buskers in Glasgow, was all we expected and more. As entertaining back stage as he was on the stage, he saved the day during the crowd led impromptu performance of Bad Blood for the encore. Lisa whispered the chords in his ear and his electric guitar playing accompanied a unique crowd led rendition of this much covered song. Matthew has this to say about the gig:

“Great camaraderie. I mostly perform solo so it was something different to front with a band behind me.  It was great to meet other musicians and everyone was very supportive of each other.  Highlight for me was the audience singing along to EVERYTHING! And watching them really, really enjoying them.  Looking forward to doing it all over again.”

Beth Swan, our youngest singer, delivered the professional performance we always knew she would. Although fronting a full band and such a hungry crowd for the first time, she rose to the occasion, showing everyone how it was done.

Beth says of her Ten Years of Taylor experience:

“I think the gig was a huge success, especially for its first time! The venue was brilliant, the sound/ lighting were great, the band was fantastic and the audience were an absolute dream. All the performers are so talented too! They each brought something different to the night, making it even more special. I can’t thank Lisa enough for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a special night. There were so many great memories, but I'd say the highlight for me was performing "New Romantics" and the entire crowd joined in. They all sung the intro and it was just mind blowing! I don't think I've ever performed at a gig when the crowed were so up for joining in.”

Ashleigh Burns, asked to perform because her voice is truly unique and totally beautiful, took on the challenge of the big hits such as I knew you were trouble and Shake it off and had everyone up on their feet. Ashleigh’s huge talent is only accentuated by her incredible modesty. She sums up her experience of the night as follows;

“My highlight of the night was definitely when the crowd sang the chorus of 'Shake it off'. What a feeling! The whole night from start to finish had such an amazing atmosphere. Everyone was having a brilliant time and enjoying live music. Can’t wait for the next one!"

And we mustn’t forget the band. Keyboards - Robbie Noble, Lead Guitar - Stephen Maxwell, Bass Guitar - Lewis Shaw, Drums - Lloyd Griffiths - all brilliant individually and collectively and great to work with. These guys have been gigging for a while but said of this even:

“The crowd loved it and were very responsive. The event seemed to go off without a hitch, and it was good fun as musicians to work with such a range of talented young singers”

Finally, the Swiftie audience themselves were always going to be one of the performers at a Taylor Swift night. Paisley Swiftie Emma Raeburn said:

"The whole night was a massive success, it was really well put together and all the acts did an amazing job. They were all so professional about it and had a great stage presence. It was an amazing night out and a great way to celebrate TS!"

Lisa Price, who flew up from Stoke together with her husband Wayne, said of the event:

"What an amazing night the performances were outstanding it was so good. Hearing people take Taylor's songs and making them their own was outstanding. Thank you for an amazing event can't wait for the next one.” 

Wayne and Lisa flew round the world to see multiple shows on the 1989 tour and run a Taylor fan web site so they really know their Swiftie onions!

Edinburgh, January 2017, Ten Years of Taylor 2

A second gig in Edinburgh could be just as hard to push as the first, with less local friends and family to bring along. The risk of not breaking even is one we are aware of. But with Lisa saying that the Classic Grand gig was one of the best nights of her life and the other performers raring to go, how can we not do it again?

We have some new marketing and promotion ideas, a slightly different format and a refreshed set list for the night. Most of the perfumers from the first night definitely want to take part again and will be welcomed with open arms but there will also be opportunity for a couple of new acts to come in.

While life after Ten Years of Taylor Swift is a little less hectic and more varied, it also seems a little bit dull and we can’t wait for our next Swift fix. Ever since 13 year old Lisa performed Mean at her first ever gig and came home hyper and thrilled at the positive audience reaction, we just knew Taylor Swift that you were trouble, trouble, trouble!

Lisa Kowalski on Facebook, and some more links below;