Porchlight friends and fans,
This week, I'd like to throw the spotlight on Norwich, UK based innovator Simon Middleton. As a fan of the music from where I grew up, Simon's story is particularly fascinating and I think you will find it inspiring too.
Simon is the Founder and Managing Director of Banjos Direct, "The Web's Favourite Banjo and Acoustic Store". Simon wasn't always into being a banjo retailer. In fact, his background is in Marketing and Branding. It is from here that Simon wrote a book called Build a Brand in 30 Days, which became so popular in the UK that fans actually challenged Simon to put his methods in motion. Being a singer and rhythm guitarist of roots and Americana style music, Simon was always drawn to the acoustic instruments we all know and love. Simon, however is left-handed player. Thus Left Hand Bear was created to serve as a tiny online niche left handed instrument retailer.
Customers loved the sounds of the instrument Simon was bringing to the UK and they began to request the right handed versions of them. So with demand, Simon created the supply and Banjos Direct was born. They now are the No.1 Gold Tone dealer in the UK and Europe. Being a retailer is just the first step with Simon's plan. His goal of becoming a manufacturer is apparently his real feat as nobody has designed, manufactured and assembled banjos in the UK on the production scale for more than 60 years. All other banjos with British names are actually made in China.
After creating the successful but high-end banjo called the Islander Ash Leaf (3 of 12 remain), Simon suddenly realized it was time to create The Shackleton, which will be first British-made banjo for the people.
After hearing about this Kickstarter presale effort, I reached out to Simon to get the inside scoop. Here is what he had to share.
AS: What is your dream with this Kickstarter project?
SM: The Dream with KS is simply to get us a financial base camp from which we can complete the prototyping of the Shackleton and produce the first batch of instruments. We need £30,000 for that. From that point we can demonstrate that our business model works and we can show investors that with economies of large scale production it is possible to build high quality instruments in Britain which are affordable and competitive with far eastern imports.
The big dream is to restart an industry which died off in a Britain more than sixty years ago. And if we can do it with banjos then we can go on to do it with guitars too.
AS: What makes the Shackleton so unique?
SM: The Shackleton is unique for a few reasons. Most significantly it is designed, manufactured and assembled in the UK. Nobody has done that on a production scale for sixty years or more.
Interestingly, and we know this will be controversial amongst purists: it is not coming from a long established banjo business.
The necks will be made by a very experienced and a claimed British electric guitar maker.
The rims will be made by one of the UK's best known drum manufacturers.
Assembly and finish will be done by our own small team at The Great British Banjo Company in Norwich.
The instrument will be a simple openback with brass hoop tone ring and maple neck.
Prototypes feel satisfying to hold and play and sound loud, sweet and lively.
The Islander Ash Leaf handmade banjo on which the new Shackleton banjo will be based.
AS: Sounds like quite an adventure! What challenges are you going to have to overcome?
SM: When we created The Great British Banjo Company a few months ago in order to deliver the Shackleton banjo project, we knew it would be a huge challenge.
And we have been attacked along the way by cynics and purists, and competitors. We are, after all, new kids on the block in a pretty conservative field.
But, we have also had fantastic support from all over the UK and across the USA too by people excited by what we are doing.
Not just banjo enthusiasts but also people who can see and understand the adventure in its own terms.
We are attempting something that is generally perceived as impossible: to start an independent manufacturing business in the UK.
We knew we could only attempt this with a platform like Kickstarter.
AS: Well as someone who knows the possibilities with Kickstarter, I can say it is a great place for like-minded people to get together, collaborate, contribute, and create. I know you will get this off the ground. Can't wait to hear one of these new banjos in person!
To learn more about the project, contribute, and to meet Simon, check out this video and visit their site at: http://kck.st/1cKodCp.
Status reports for The Porchlight Sessions are now going out through our blog: http://porchlightsessions.tumblr.com/. We are currently in the midst of creating an 85 minute version, down from the 97 minute so it can be packaged for several different distribution outlets. Schwaber Productions is currently working alongside Master Key Productions to produce new travel-based content and VFX.