Page last updated at 07:28 GMT, Tuesday, 22 July 2008 08:28 UK

Busking for big bucks on Dragons' Den

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Hamfatter with Peter Jones (centre)
Businessman Peter Jones (centre) became Hamfatter's biggest fan

When British band Hamfatter wanted a shot at the big time, they turned down a record deal.

Instead, they decided to sell a slice of the band on BBC Two investment show Dragons' Den.

It was the most important gig of their careers - but their audience was not made up of music fans or talent scouts.

Hamfatter were playing to five tycoons wearing suits and stern looks, sitting behind stacks of 50 notes.

Their performance only lasted one minute, but resting on it was a 75,000 windfall and their dreams of rock stardom.

After three low-key albums, grassroots success and, bizarrely, a top three hit in Austria, the Cambridge trio had decided they were good enough to shoot for the stars.

Although almost every act in the charts is backed by an established label, Hamfatter decided to take a radical approach.

The group had been offered a record deal with the subsidiary of a major record label.

We thought it was far less likely to be successful because it was unusual, but far more likely to look cool
Eoin O'Mahony
Hamfatter singer

"But the deals they offer you are absolutely horrific," says singer Eoin O'Mahony.

"I don't understand how any band can live. You've got to sell like a million records before you've got any chance of anything.

"That was the point where me and Jamie, the manager, said we have to do this a different way. We can't go down this route.

"That was when he came up with the idea of going on Dragons' Den."

The show, which normally attracts garden shed inventors with crackpot gadgets or budding entrepreneurs with dubious business ideas, had never hosted a rock band in its five previous series.

But Hamfatter took their chances in front of the Dragons - five of Britain's most successful business figures - asking for 75,000 in return for 20% of their future earnings.

"It was clearly unusual and quite exciting because of that," O'Mahony says.


Hamfatter's appearance on Dragons' Den

The band were hoping for a bit of exposure, but did not expect to clinch the deal, he says.

"We thought it was far less likely to be successful because it was unusual, but far more likely to look cool."

The band faced the dragons for two-and-a-half hours, says guitarist James Ingham.

"We were allowed to do one minute of one song, so that went down pretty well. And then we got grilled for a long, long time."

O'Mahony explains: "For the first hour or hour and a half, we were getting dissed pretty badly by the dragons.

"But I understand that's completely standard and then they seemed to warm to us."

They took such a shine to the band that four of the dragons ended up making offers - a rare event in the den.

In the end, they decided to shake hands with mobile phone tycoon Peter Jones, who paid the 75,000 for 30% of their earnings.

We asked him to be in the music video for our new single, but he wouldn't
Eoin O'Mahony on Peter Jones

"In purely statistical terms, his offer was probably the worst offer," says Eoin. "But we just think he's a cool guy. And he's got some good contacts."

Jones has not demanded to sing backing vocals or to take 30% of the groupies, refraining from using his investment to live out his rock fantasies.

"We asked him to be in the music video for our new single, but he wouldn't," says O'Mahony.

Their single, The Girl I Love, was made available to download on Monday to take advantage of the TV exposure.

And it will not take much to earn Jones his money back, the band say.

"We'd need the new single to be playlisted on national radio for a couple of weeks and he'd already have made his money back on royalties," says O'Mahony.

"It's a good deal for him. He wouldn't even have to sell any CDs."

Hamfatter with Peter Jones (right)
The band say signing with Peter Jones is better than being with a record label

Their third album, What Part of Hamfatter Do You Not Understand?, has been remastered and will be re-released in August.

And a new album, recorded using Jones's money, is almost ready, the band say.

There are many advantages to signing with a private benefactor rather than a record label, the trio believe.

They will earn 3.50 from each album sold - more than 10 times as much as a band like Coldplay, they say.

The biggest bonus is that Jones has let them keep complete creative control.

But even with the investment, was it really necessary to give away 30% when so many other bands are going alone down the DIY route?

MySpace myths

"People have been pretending you can get famous with just a MySpace page or whatever, but it's not true," says O'Mahony.

"Although you can put good music up on MySpace, there are 100 million other bands out there and how's anyone going to find you unless you've got something special?"

Hamfatter's main aim now is to outlive the buzz from the show - and make a bit of money for themselves and their backer.

Hamfatter's single The Girl I Love is available to download in the UK now. Their album is out on 18 August.

Why Peter Jones gave band 75K
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