After taking a year off, Oxford’s feast of live music, the Punt is back. Tim Hughes speaks to organiser Ronan Munro.
TWENTY acts playing five venues in one night. Yes, it can only mean one thing. It’s time for the city’s greatest showcase of talent – the Oxford Punt.
Formed 17 years ago by Ronan Munro, this six-hour riot of new music has become a key date in the city’s musical calendar.
This year’s spectacular takes place on Wednesday and marks the return of the event.
Due to a lack of willing venues, last year’s Punt didn’t happen – something which has only happened twice in its history. But it means this year’s will be better than ever, as Ronan, whose job it is to sift through the mountains of demos sent in by bands eager to play, explains.
“Because it wasn’t on last year, I’ve had twice the number of people wanting to play it.
“It has been absolutely crazy. I pick the 20 best, but could easily have picked another 20.
“The quality of most of it is really good, but I don’t like putting on more than 20 bands in a night as it can get overloaded.”
There’s another rule that governs the selection process: bands can only play it once.
Ronan, who is the editor of monthly local music magazine Nightshift, said: “In the past, we have said you can’t play it if you’ve played the previous year. But because there are so many good bands springing up, we now say you can only play it once. You do get members of bands who have played before coming back with new groups, however, so some people crop up again.”
This year’s Punt takes place at its traditional haunts of The Cellar, Purple Turtle and The Wheatsheaf. But aficionados will notice two new venues – The Duke’s Cut, run by music lover and Punt supporter James Knox, and The Junction.
Acts include the usual blend of the familiar and the new, and include The Long Insiders, The Cellar Family, Gunning for Tamar, Tamara Parsons-Baker, Secret Rivals, Jess Hall, Deer Chicago, Half Decent and Manacles of Acid.
Ronan is diplomatic when asked to share his tips on who to catch. After a bit of pushing, he concedes: “I’m looking forward to seeing Half Decent at The Junction, and Undersmile, who I love, but are going to terrify a lot of people.”
Being selected to play the Punt remains a big deal for any band with ambition, and many of its graduates have moved on to bigger things. Previous ‘Puntees’ include members of Foals, Fixers, Jonquil and Stornoway.
“Many have gone on to big things since. This is a great chance to catch the next big bands to come out of Oxford, before they make it.”
Among the highlights of this year’s Punt are alternative rock four-piece Gunning for Tamar, who are this week touring Europe. Speaking before a gig in Cologne, the band’s Dan Pollard said: “When you are in a band in Oxford, the Punt is one of those things everyone wants to get to do. It will be cool to finally play.
“We play alternative rock but keep things interesting – as much for us as for everyone else,” he says. “We like being noisy but making sure melody is involved and creating an atmosphere.”
This year’s Punt follows another landmark for Ronan: the publication of the 200th issue of Nightshift, a truly noble achievement worthy of a sharp and respectful salute.
“I had no idea it would still be going this long,” he admits.
“I guess I am institutionalised now. I wouldn’t know what else I could do.
“Our finances are never more than three months ahead, but it’s a labour of love; I do it for the music, not the glory – like the Punt. But it’s lots of fun as well.”
* The Purple Turtle 7.00 pm: Tamara Parsons-Baker, top left 8.00 pm: Undersmile 9.00 pm: Gunning For Tamar, bottom right 10.00 pm: Mutagenocide The Cellar 7.30 pm: Secret Rivals, top right 8.15 pm: The Cellar Family 9.00 pm: Von Braun 10.00 pm: Tiger Mendoza The Wheatsheaf 8.15 pm: Jess Hall 9.00 pm: Zaos 9.45 pm: Kill Murray 10.30 pm: Leftouterjoin The Duke’s Cut 8.15 pm: Deer Chicago 9.00 pm: ToLiesel 9.45 pm: The Old Grinding Young 10.30 pm: Dallas Don’t The Junction 9.00 pm: Band Of Hope 10.00 pm: The Long Insiders, bottom left 11.00 pm: Half Decent 12.00 am: Manacles Of Acid * All-venue passes for entry into everything cost £8 from the Truck Store, in Cowley Road, or from oxfordmusic.net But hurry – there are only 100 of them. Entry to individual venues is £5 for each, except for The Duke’s Cut, which is free.