John Helps

"I just love the collective experience of watching a really magical performance and feeling the buzz that you get when you’re a small part of executing that"

What do you do?

I do a whole bunch of things, though not necessarily very well. All of them revolve around music or the arts in some way or another I guess, and I’m kinda proud I’ve managed to hammer out an existence doing that, which is all I could ask really.

I play guitar in a band called Maybeshewill who have been on a break for the last three or four years, but had intended to reform this year. We put out four albums and had the privilege of playing everywhere from New York to Sydney via Moscow and Beijing whilst simultaneously managing to be nowhere near as glamorous as that sounds.

I put on events in Leicester under the name The Robot Needs Home Collective. Usually that’s gigs, but we also do the odd club night, festivals (we’re part of the team behind Handmade and have just started a new event called Forgotten Futures) and very occasionally comedy. We also release records from acts we work with intermittently.

I am a tour manager for a large part of the year, looking after a small roster of acts when they’re on the road. Again, nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds.

I also used to run Great Central Arts and Culture Newspaper while that was a thing.

How did you get to where you are?

I’d started putting gigs on when I was in sixth form at Worcester Marrs Bar (a highlight of which was my band at the time playing a set of ill-advised Placebo covers) but really got into music once I came to Leicester.

I studied Music Technology and Innovation at DMU which introduced me to a lot of more esoteric influences, both as part of the course and through hanging out with the people I met there – most importantly Robin Southby who I went on to form Maybeshewill with. That band basically took over my twenties as we toured for months at least a couple of times a year for a decade while I worked the bar at Firebug, but it introduced me to a tonne of other people both in Leicester and beyond who become my network of contacts for doing almost everything else I do – bands, managers, agents, other tour managers…

It also really broadened my horizons to what was possible in other cities and I took a lot of inspirations from events like Brainwash Festival in Leeds, Damnation Festival, 2000 Trees and pulled those ideas together when doing stuff like Handmade.

That’s kind of the journey I’ve taken, anyway… None of it would have been possible without a million other people being in to some of the stupid ideas we’ve come up with over the years and wanting to help execute them.

Why do you love what you do?

I constantly joke that I hate gigs, but that doesn’t stop me being at around 150-200 a year at busy times. While I have pretended that I am a musician several times in this interview already, I have never really considered myself that and am absolutely in awe of people who are. I like being around people who are musical and I generally just love music of all kinds – I unironically love pop music, metal, weird electronica, modern classical music and basically everything in between.

I guess I just love the collective experience of watching a really magical performance and feeling the buzz that you get when you’re a small part of executing that. It doesn’t necessarily matter in what role honestly. When I’ve bought some really unusual acts to Leicester and put them on in a church or a library or somewhere weird for just like… a handful of people and as the audience leaves someone stops to thank me and tell me it was one of the best performances they’ve ever seen – that’s what I live for, however little responsibility I can actually take for that.

Why are you based in Leicester?

I got stuck here after uni. I spent 10 years thinking I’d be leaving the city the next year, but there was always something else for the band to be doing or working towards and so it just never happened. Slowly I realised that most of the people I knew that had moved to London to do music had either moved back or were having a horrible time so I kinda wussed out and stayed here instead. If I went anywhere else I would be a very small fish in a big pond, but in Leicester I think I can see the ripples of some of the things I’ve done over the years and I’m proud of that. If you work at it here you can stamp your name on something, to an extent.

What next?

Fuck – nothing at the moment. The pandemic has really decimated my industry and I don’t really expect to work again this year. In May 2021 we’re launching Forgotten Futures (rescheduled from this May) at Attenborough Arts Centre. It’s an audio-visual event bringing together a really diverse programme of music alongside visual elements, talks and conversations. I'm really excited about it.

We’re also trying to programme a bunch of online content through the remainder of the year.

We’re working with Grace Petrie on some online shows, doing online versions of our Homage à Trois and PLUG nights, and generally trying to help people around us to do more online stuff and (occasionally) monetise that for themselves or for charity.

It’s a pretty weird time at the moment, but I’m excited for what comes after all this.

Social media accounts to follow:

Facebook: /robotneedshome

Twitter: @robotneedshome

Instagram: @robotneedshome