Frederick Ingram
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Frederick Ingram

Band Alternative Singer/Songwriter

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"Clearing the air about smoking"

In the late 1990s, after watching a close friend and my boss’s mother die of lung cancer in one year, I decided I would only play nonsmoking venues. This pretty much ended my career as a rock musician.

I had played in some good bands. I was the original bassist for Loch Ness Johnny, and I sat in with Robins Cradle a few times. I know the energy and exhilaration that comes from making rollicking music with a frenzied crowd.

I also know what it means to steep yourself in nicotine fumes night after night, to come home reeking like an ashtray whether you lit up or not.

By boycotting smoky bars, I closed the door to 95 percent of live music venues. I got some suspicious looks when I revealed my plans to others. Do you know any rock musicians who play nonsmoking venues only? Stars can (and do) demand this treatment, but someone trying to grow an audience will find it all but impossible.

Along with sex and drugs and fuzz guitars, smoking has been one of the more persistent rock ’n’ roll cliches. Part of it is the rebel pose, part of it is the economics. Clubs can’t afford to pay bands with the markup on a cup of coffee, and selling alcohol seems to open the door to other vices. The difference is, I’m not going to get cirrhosis from my neighbor drinking scotch.

Some of the best rock music I’ve heard has been in smoky dives. However, secondhand smoke has also ruined many musical moments for me. The quantity of fumes at some of these shows is staggering. One reggae singer told me there were so many people smoking at one of his concerts, he could see his own breath. When I played bass for Mike Cappel, a fairly popular local who performed under the regrettable name “Sex Chicken,” part of our regular stage equipment was a big fan to blow smoke away from us.

For the people who work in bars and restaurants, it is not just a matter of involuntarily ingesting the smoke from a couple of cigarettes here and there. It’s dozens of cigarettes a day — literally thousands a year. The danger created by that exposure hit home for me yet again when I found out that Chris Conner, a local musician who died from lung cancer in November, shared my birthday.

Many restaurant owners don’t like smoking all that much either, and ventilation is a serious and expensive problem. But they fear that banning smoking themselves would drive off business in an industry with notoriously thin margins.

I have been seeing signs of hope recently. Smoke used to be as much a given as the air we breathe. Now, there is actually a group called “Musicians for a Smoke-Free South Carolina.”

One of the hippest venues in the South, Asheville’s Orange Peel, is smoke-free inside. My local Bojangles’ went nonsmoking years ago. Charleston and other cities have passed ordinances banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Even Ireland has banned smoking in bars. Ireland!

Now it’s Columbia’s turn. City Council will decide on Wednesday whether to ban smoking in restaurants, in restaurants and bars — or nowhere. This is more important than parking meters. This is the council’s chance to bring Columbia into the future, safeguard our children and protect all the working musicians, waiters, bartenders and restaurant owners.

Some say we have a choice whether to perform or not, whether to work at a restaurant or not. That’s not realistic. Musicians can’t afford to not play these places any more than those in the service industry can suddenly get mall jobs en masse. It’s simply not fair to force musicians to trash their health in order to play. Most don’t even have health insurance.

Although my one-man boycott of smoky bars has limited my performances to the occasional festival or songwriters’ circle, I do feel like I did the right thing by drawing a line in the air so many years ago. Now City Council needs to draw that line to protect everybody else. [They did.] - The State


Discography

Demos for Hawaii Pacific College Soundwave choral ensemble, 1987-1989.
Koshka, self-produced LP cassette, c. 1992.
Fearful Symmetry, self-produced LP cassette, c. 1994.
Demos for Sex Chicken, c. 1996-1998.
Demos for Loch Ness Johnny, c. 1997-1998.
"In the Middle of the Day," Columbia Musicians Association Compilation, 1998.
"Divide," Columbia Musicians Association Compilation 1999.
"Snake Girl," self-produced CD single, 2003.
Wilderness, full-length CD, 2008.
Several tracks are on Last.fm and Myspace.com.

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Bio

I grew up on British pop, but transitioned to solo acoustic performances. Since then I have been bringing more effects into my arrangements. I strive to sound different from all the other folk singers out there.

I have been compared to Neil Young (in a good way as well as a bad way), David Bowie, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Sufjan Stevens. Influences include many New Wave bands, Ellis Paul, Rupert Hine, Duncan Sheik, Dido, groove acts like Thievery Corporation, and contemporary Celtic. I am listening to a lot of Al Stewart and Nelly Furtado these days. Favorite singers include Kate Bush, Noa, Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), and Steve Perry.

I have played more than a hundred open mics, dozens of little coffeehouses, some legendary halls (including a showcase at the original Grey Eagle in Black Mountain, NC and some lunchtime gigs at Salt Lake City's Gallivan Center), and festivals including Provo's Festival di Regazzi and the Iris Festival, which is one of the largest in South Carolina (attendance 100,000+). I have also performed live on college radio (WUSC 90.5 FM) and television (Newberry College).

Since the late 1990s, I have adopted a policy of not playing venues that allow indoor smoking. (Columbia, SC only banned smoking indoors in 2008, and neighboring West Columbia and Lexington still haven't.)