On a soggy Monday morning I entered the ginormous Waterloo Music Venue in South Blackpool. I wanted to find out how the notable music venue has coped with lockdown and what is on the cards for them as restrictions relax. With pubs set to open on the 4th July, manager Ian Fletcher tells us that Super Saturday for them means hosting Blackpool Music Festival – Covid-style
Ian: They travel from all over the country to come here. People all over the world get in touch to play, well until Covid. You know, you could have a band that plays the Apollo in Manchester and is quite happy to play here. We started getting taking seriously around three years ago, I think we started getting popular when Bad Manners played here.
We didn’t think it would be as serious as it was. At first it was like, do we trudge along? Then the bands started to get worried, especially international acts. The hardest thing for us is the government giving no indication for arts and music venues if there was hope it would be different. Is it going to be next year? You can’t push forward with restrictions like no loud music – only 26 people are allowed in a gig here. That is the hardest thing – sustaining the income to pay the bills. We are on a lease, luckily we have a good landlord and we look after each other but it can’t go on forever.
The whole of Blackpool is built on entertainment. There is a lot of thinking to be done. We do have the Music Venue Trust on our side and we get updates on a daily basis but it’s a massive industry and that income could be going back into the revenue of the country. We are hosting Blackpool Music Festival from here as live streams this weekend – bands gigging from the bedrooms, talks from folks in the music industry like Peter Hook, and acts will be playing here but two metres away from each other and heavily restricted, monitored with no general public access to make sure its safe.
It’s hard – in the end, what do you do? We have gone out of our way to sell merchandise and the support we have had is amazing. But it can’t go on forever, people can only chip in for so long – it’s about generating income and the awful thing is we need the bar open. We have done well, we have booked bands and it shows that live music is not dead. On the upside we might be able to get some bigger bands after lockdown, just because they want to play and, as restrictions ease, we might get two nights out of those acts and generate more income.
At the moment those bands can’t generate income either. It’s important to get up and running asap. I mean 400 people here on a Saturday night, I compare it to Asda where 400 people could be passing through. I know music venues are described as unnecessary but it’s just bizarre how restrictions compare in different businesses.
I am not knocking the government – how can you do really well, when you don’t know what you are doing? I have given up reading newspapers, it encourages fear and there is always two sides the story, people believe what they want to believe. When people do start going out again there will still be distance and worry for people. If and when we put a live band on, will people come? We can’t never have live music again – there is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just knowing how many steps there are to take. We have a big venue and we could put gazebos up outside, but it’s extra cost. We are bigger than some pubs and having new set ups in place makes harder to sustain because it’s a massive building anyway.
John Bamborough Blackpool Music Festival organiser has organised it as a live stream this year, with The Waterloo being the home of the festival. Acts will play from their homes and bands that play here will enter through one door and exit through another. So sound, light and acts all have separate rooms. It is tricky as we have got to change and sterilise microphones – it’s the best we can do to put it on the internet with donations going to Crisis, Streetlife and Musicians against Homelessness. It should go well as long as long as technology keeps working. Some of the acts scheduled to play and broadcast include Dave Haslam, Charlie Chuck, Pete Bentham, Millie Manders, The Beast Decoys and Peter Hook. When something like this happens you all come together, doesn’t matter what music genre – you support each other. [See the full line up]
We want to be an iconic place – gone are the old venues like The Marquee and CBGBs and if we got to that status you have a chance of being a place for shooting a live video for a new band and those bands will put you on the map. In a way, Covid has helped us – we have been able to put up memorabilia that people have given us, but now we are coming to the end of renovations we want to get back to where we were. Be on the map as a place people might want to go there for a burger or a drink – it’s a step towards the Hard Rock Cafe but with music and family ran. We have a massive derelict hotel above here and we want to make it in to a place that bands can stay and further accommodation for guests.
I have to look twice if it is the real deal when we get some bookings. Tom Keifer from Cinderella was booked to play here at the end of July – he sold out in four hours, we have had Butcher who tour with Guns and Roses and they sold out in an hour. Phil Campbell from Motorhead came here with his band. And we have further acts that we have booked for next year who we know will sell out. Locals who are aware of our gigs get a £5 taxi rather than a £30 train ticket. Then we are attracting people from further afield who are booking in to guest houses and contributing to small business in Blackpool, you can guarantee that if people are making a trip here they want to make a weekend of it. I think next summer after all if this Blackpool will start to thrive again.
I never say this is my place – it’s a community place. As soon as we open the door and you enter the building, you are part of the family. People call me by my name or Mr Waterloo but at the end of the day I have not done it on my own without the people and audiences, staff, bands, agents – I always want to thank everyone else. On an evening I stand at the back just smiling when the place is rocking, I love seeing people walk out with smiles on their faces. This time last year I was stood on the bar when Terrorvision played, handing out water. It was the hottest night of the year – you can’t beat it. People talk about their favourite night and that goes down as one of them. Everyone who has ever played here comes out and says hello to the crowd, so you might get a chance for a photograph or a autograph. One of my biggest buzzes is having a drink with the bands and hearing stories about tours after shows, we have a piano in the front room that the keyboardists might play and it’s such a special experience after hours.
You can watch the live stream, starting at 6.30pm 3rd July, and stay up to date with Waterloo Music Venue here https://www.facebook.com/blackpoolmusicfestival1/
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