1/3/2013 - If there’s live music in a Manchester nightclub, there’s a distinct possibility that Paul Costley had something to do with it. He may be sitting at the drum kit or tapping on the congas — the 37-year music veteran plays in two regular bands and sits in with a few others — but Costley has an even bigger role as an agent, booking a list of bands nearly as large as the music scene itself, big New Hampshire names like Mama Kicks, Eric Grant Band, Tore Down House, Groove Alliance and Gazpacho.
Last New Year’s Eve, no fewer than 15 area nightclubs featured acts booked by Notso Costley Productions, an agency marking its 25th year in 2013. But the enterprise began almost by accident. Costley was a Lakes Region restaurateur in the early to mid-1970s at places like Beggar’s Banquet in Moultonborough.
When Costley left the food business, his old friends still sought him out.
“I was known for having good entertainment in my lounge,” he said. “When I sold my restaurant, people kept calling me, asking ‘Can you get this band, can you get that band?’ After a while, I decided, why not turn this into a business?”
It began gradually, with Costley simultaneously working on other projects, but eventually booking entertainment and playing music became a full-time career. These days, his client list runs the gamut, with bands, comedians, DJs, classical artists — even kid’s performers like Mo the Clown.
Costley built his expansive roster through networking and relationships.
“In the course of playing and booking, I’d hear about a band or a friend would tell me to check someone out. If I liked them, I’d start booking them,” he said. “I think if I tried to start an agency today, I couldn’t.”
Costley also performs in Hot Tamales, a five-piece rock combo, and in a trio with Josh Logan and Nate Comp. But he’s up for most anything, even on his night off.
A couple of weeks ago, he drove to British Beer Co. in Framingham, Mass. and sat in with Jim Devlin’s band. He and singer/guitarist Paul Luff have played off and on for over 30 years.
The local live music scene has changed significantly since Costley’s teenage days. There is less original music – “Which is too bad, there are a lot of really good bands but not a lot of venues for them to play” – with more solo and duo acts. But Costley remains encouraged.
“In the summer, I have 60 to 80 bands playing somewhere every week,” he said. “That’s a lot of music.”
The community is strong, an important factor as musicians cobble together livings as teachers and technicians. Many performers work at Manchester Music Mill; the local business played a critical role when Daddy’s Junky Music suddenly closed in October 2011.
Clubs like Milly’s Tavern and Mad Bob’s keep the door open for original music, and Strange Brew does a great job booking blues acts, he said. When one place cuts back or switches to DJs – “kids like the hip-hop,” Costley laments – others, like Wild Rover and recently opened Social 24, provide support for live music. Outdoor decks at Murphy’s Taproom, The Derryfield and other locations are also a boon.
When the ebb and flow gets challenging, Costley stays positive.
“I look back at Manchester 15-20 years ago, and there was nowhere nearly as many options for entertainment as there are now,” he said. “In Portsmouth, you could always park in the garage and find something to do – you can actually do that in Manchester now.”
For toiling musicians, having a guy like Costley in their corner is huge, he said.
“Dates get changed and you’ve got to stay top of things — my forte is I’m very organized,” he said. “Musicians can be calling clubs all the time, and I’m kind of the buffer for that. There are good guys and bad guys, but the guys that work for me are responsible musicians. When people book a band from me they’re pretty much assured they’ll show up and do what they’re supposed to do.”