Nick Cody: Hi this is Nick from Music for the Head and Heart and I’m very pleased to invite Hilary and Ron from The Live Room in Saltaire. And I know you guys have been promoting The Live Room for how many years?
Ron: Oh, when did we start?
Hilary: Six and a half years, I think. Isn’t it?
Hilary: Something like that.
Ron: Yeah, six and half years. Started in, was it May 2012, wasn’t it?
Nick Cody: So six and a half years, but before that I understand from talking to you Hilary that you were in deepest darkest Wales. So when did this whole promotion idea start and what got you motivated into doing it?
Hilary: Well I started a charity because there was nothing to do while we were living in Wales. And I thought to myself, “We need to have a cinema,” for instance, “We need to have something happen that we can go and see.” And it was too far to go to Aberystwyth, especially in the Winter so I thought, “Well, let’s set something up.” And I heard a broadcast on the radio about lottery funding for developing a hall and I thought, “Oh that’d be ideal, we could have our own little hall there that we can put on concerts and art shows and just everything.”
Hilary: And that’s how it started. I started a charity with a few other people as well and it went on from there. We did live music as part of that. This is where Ron came in.
Ron: Well, we started the idea, it was about 1996 wasn’t it, when we started developing, here we started developing. I was doing building work and things in there and we lived at the time in a little village called [inaudible 00:01:59] which is basically in the middle of nowhere really, 500 people.
Nick Cody: This North or South Wales?
Ron: Right in the middle, yeah about mid Wales. It was the early days of the lottery, wasn’t it. That’s when Hilary heard, they were just out, the lottery had just started. And if we remember, back in the day, the lottery was meant to fund the arts. Because government didn’t want to fund the arts anymore, did they? So they thought, the arts is a luxury.
Ron: And so they invented the lottery, was solely for the arts, wasn’t it in the first place?
Hilary: Yeah, yes,
Ron: it funds everything else now, doesn’t it? Yeah. So yeah, Hilary got that idea together and you did loads of work didn’t you?
Hilary: Yes, toured all the little halls to give my idea to people and we did fliers everywhere, delivering it. And you know, you know, this is the idea, let’s do this and try to get some people. Because it’s little tiny communities and not many people. I mean Tregaron was how many.
Ron: There’s 1000 people in Tregaron, that was the biggest local little town there. There’s less people than there is in Saltaire, you know. And then you’ve got the village where we lived, was about 500 people there, that’s three miles down the road. Eight miles in the other direction there’s another 500 people.
Ron: In fact if you headed East from there all there was was mountains for about 14 miles. So there was nothing East. And the whole population of Ceredigion, which is a county there, is about 70,000. So that’s the whole county. So it’s a really spares community there. Lovely place to live but if you’re in the activity and arts activity you have to go to Aberystwyth art centre as Hilary was saying and that was 20 miles away. If the weather was bad, Winter and things like that, nobody really wanted to do that.
Nick Cody: I’ve been to Wales. It’s rained everyday [crosstalk 00:03:59]. It’s like being in a power shower.
Ron: So yeah, that was how it started off really. Nobody really had any experience of doing stuff, we just sort of did it, didn’t we?
Hilary: No. And I didn’t know much either. I was mainly classical music wasn’t I? I didn’t know much about anything else. So it’s been a real journey of learning different music, different genres. I hated the banjo, for instance.
Ron: Yeah, I mean she loves the banjo.
Hilary: So that’s what it does to you, listen to live music, yeah.
Ron: Yeah, it’s a learning experience, isn’t it as well? You get to find new things. But that early days was interesting, wasn’t it? We started off with a little tiny festival-
Nick Cody: I was going to say, who was the first band or artist you promoted.
Ron: Well it was very local then wasn’t it, it was all just little local bands… to get started what we did is, the first place we did a fundraiser. So we organised a little Easter festival in the village there. So we had an open art exhibition, there’s lots of visual artists living there. So there’s an arts community there and certainly lots of painters and things. So we did this little festival in the village hall. Used old roof [inaudible 00:05:13] to hang paintings on. It was the typically do it yourself sort of thing.
Ron: We had some local bands that came and played over the weekend. And that raised some money in the first place. So we got some money in the bank, got a little bit organised, got a committee together and the usual way any little charity starts, which is where that began. That was 1997, wasn’t it?
Hilary: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ron: At least 1997. And then the following year we didn’t really do anything else that year did we? We did a few little bits, a few little things.
Hilary: Little fundraisers, yeah.
Ron: Yeah, little fundraising events and things. But then the following year we kicked off in Tregaron
Ron: So we moved and the first name we had, was 1998 wasn’t it?
Ron: And that was Labi Siffre.
Nick Cody: Wow I remember Labi. Something Inside So Strong.
Ron: Yeah, so we went from nothing local bands to somebody who was really quite a household name at the time. But luckily he lived as he did, in Wales. As far as I know he still does, I don’t know. But he lived in Crickhowell which is not that many miles away, about an hours journey away.
Ron: And he’s also, really, he’s a writer and a poet. So he came along and did a show, he did a poetry workshop. Did a great performance [crosstalk 00:06:43] and poetry and music, wonderful voice, fantastic fellow. Amazing energy. And that really encouraged us after that. And then we started to-
Hilary: A monthly gig, wasn’t it?
Ron: Yeah it was a monthly gig and we had bands like The Trojans from London,
Ron: Yeah so we started doing things, just bands off the circuit didn’t we really? But we got some support then from the arts council. The arts council of Wales started to give us some regular support. And that was how we did it there because it was early days so we could do really cheap ticket prices, subsidised prices.
Nick Cody: So what would you charge back then?
Ron: It was five, six, quid, eight quid. I think 10 quid was the dearest price we did, wasn’t it?
Hilary: Yeah, I mean that programme there is quite late on and there was, oh I can’t remember now, but there was something for nine pounds was the top price. The Jaipur band. That was nine pounds, that was quite an expensive one.
Ron: Yeah, it was a Rajasthan band. A marching band really but a circus thing as well, also had music and magic and there was all sorts of things.
Hilary: Yeah, yeah, we had another memorable gig was Paul Young’s band.
Ron: Yeah, Los Pacaminos.
Hilary: That created such a stir that we had Paul Young
Ron: Yeah yeah, because obviously he was a huge star of the 80s. But what a lot of people didn’t know was that nearly all that time, when he was in his height as a pop star, he used to run, as a relaxation, a bit of a lad’s night off. He used to run this Tex Mex band, which is a music that he loved. And a lot of his fellow musicians loved. And so they used to run this little Tex Mex band called Los Pacaminos, they called themselves.
Nick Cody: I can’t imagine Paul Young in a Tex Mex band. Isn’t that strange?
Ron: Yeah, and he came along. They’re still going now, they’ve been going for 30 odd years. And actually we had [inaudible 00:09:01] as well back in the early days as well and four part harmonies, great musicians. He’s nominally the lead singer, the leader of the band, obviously he’s the best known name there. But it really is a band. There are [inaudible 00:09:17] session guys and some great singers, great musicians. So they share lead vocals and what have you.
Ron: So they came along and the Talbot, the hotel in Tregaron, which was where we kicked off, it all started, it was about two thirds the size of The Live Room, wasn’t it?
Hilary: Yeah, yeah.
Ron: And the capacity was 200 there. And I don’t know whether we should say this, probably, but a couple of times we had 300 in there and that was one of them there and that was a chaotic night that was. It was great fun, really great fun.
Ron: So yeah, we did some great shows down there over 10 years, didn’t we?
Nick Cody: And you brought some fliers with you, are some of them from?
Ron: Yeah, yeah.
Nick Cody: Let’s have a look at some of these
Ron: Yeah, yeah we’ve got some
Nick Cody: It’s always fascinating to see-
Ron: Well it’s got the early days here from, we’ve got our old black and white one where you used to just use coloured paper and just photocopy these things there you go, Hamilton’s played for us two or three times in the live room there. Tia McGrath, find country singer songwriter. Freshly Ground, actually they’re a South African band. When the world cup took place in South Africa, they opened the programme there. So they performed there. Oh Susanna who’s played there before. Hamilton again. Sam Carter.
Hilary: Yes, if you look at the inside, this is the old design that we had. This is what we don’t need to do anymore. So we had the programme there but there we had in great detail all about the individual artists that we used to put in the flier. So now of course we put it on the internet don’t we? On the website.
Nick Cody: Yes the thing called the internet that we now have. Which I remember thinking, what is it? I don’t understand. You click this button. So how did you get from Wales to being down the road from here in Saltaire? What prompted the change?
Ron: Oh it’s a long complicated story really. But the main reason Hilary moved up here was because your mum-
Hilary: My mother lived up here and she wasn’t very well, she had dementia and I decided to move up here to be near her and my sister also lives here. So that reason I moved up here and Ron followed.
Ron: Well Hilary was born up here, Hilary was born in Bingley actually.
Nick Cody: Okay, just down the road.
Ron: But hadn’t lived there since you were a kid would you, because your parents moved away, you’d moved South and what have you. But as I was born, you can probably tell by my accent, I was born in East London so we met in Wales when I moved to Wales so that’s another long story
Ron: But yeah. Then I moved up afterwards. And I suppose largely it was Kelleth Cumbria Arts, the charity there. We’d wound then, hadn’t we, then? It had sort of run its course really. For all sorts of reasons, people were leaving and what have you.
Ron: And then I was looking to get back to doing some live music again for promotion. And things had dried up for me in that part of Wales, things move on. I came up here to see Hilary and it coincided with a conversation that one of us had had with William at the Beehive in Bradford. And the fact that he was trying to get live music going again. So I just threw a load of stuff in the back of the van and moved to Bradford.
Ron: And The Live Room really started in the Beehive in Bradford. Which coincided with me finding the job that I now do which is managing a mental health charity in Bradford.
Nick Cody: There’s a lot of people who aligned into mental health kind of stuff and music. It’s really interesting, there’s a number of people on this platform who fall into that category.
Ron: Yeah, yeah. Well they’re linked really. The thing that got me the job was my experience of helping to run the charity in Wales. Because they wanted somebody who was more into project development and understood the way charities worked and management of funding, all these sorts of things.
Ron: So I started that job and it coincided the same weekend as I started The Live Room in the Beehive and the charity was struggling at the time. So I just had to let The Live Room go. And that was back in 2009. So I spent a couple of years, two and a half years really putting the charity back together again.
Ron: And then Hilary and I were just talking one day and Hilary said, “Do you fancy perhaps getting some live music thing back together again?” Hilary’s always the catalyst for this. She’s always the one who drives the ideas. She drove the idea of Cambria arts and then got me thinking about getting the music going again.
Nick Cody: Well you got a lot more people here than in the middle of Wales.
Ron: It is and-
Hilary: It’s a lot easier.
Ron: Yeah. And that coincided, serendipity has a lot to answer for. And it sort of coincided with me just sitting in, I don’t know, I think I was sitting in Fanny’s in Saltaire one evening and I was just reading one of the local real ale magazines while I was having a pint quietly in the corner there. And I just saw a little article in the bottom. And it just said “Caroline Club.” And it was a tiny little article, Caroline Social Club are looking to try to… get more music going on in the club there.
Ron: And there was no phone number, nothing there. The internet was great, again, so I went home, spent an hour trying to find who to talk to at the Caroline Club because it’s only open in evenings. And I finally tracked down a number and it was Paul who they’d employed as a business manager development officer, part time. Because that club was, like a lot of social clubs, it was failing, it was on its last legs and he was quite close to going under.
Ron: But anyway, they’d taken Paul on and so he started to put the word out and putting feelers out to try and get that function room used. And I managed to get through to him and we met Paul, didn’t we, in the club. In the lounge, the front lounge there, back in, well that would’ve been 2011 probably. That year.
Hilary: Yeah, because it took us a while.
Ron: Yeah it took us months to get these things together as you know. So we showed him some of our old fliers from the Cambria arts and he went, “Oh they’re fantastic,”, did all this sort of stuff. And we were sitting in the lounge and we were thinking, it’s probably not very big there because it looks quite small from the outside, the club. And then he said, “Oh I’ll go and show you the music room now.” And me and Hilary, we looked at one other, music room?
Ron: And we walked in, he took us in and we walked into the main doors of the function room there and as soon as we walked in we looked at it and we thought, “This is perfect.” I wonder how the mixing desk is going to fit. And I even paced out, while I was talking to him, I paced out the multi-core that we use,
Nick Cody: Wow, must be meant to be.
Ron: Yeah so it fitted exactly-
Nick Cody: And capacity is?
Ron: Capacity there is, if it’s all standing it’s up to 300 actually, you can stand 300 in there. But then you can seat about 150, 160 [crosstalk 00:17:25]-
Nick Cody: See it’s almost exactly the same as my favourite venue Village Vanguard which is 125. And it’s like, you’re not in some giant cavern and it’s great sound and great visuals. So from going from darkest Wales to Yorkshire, if you look back at lessons learnt, what are your top things where you go, those are the things that are absolutely essential if you want to do a good job as a promoter and make it viable?
Ron: Well your communication has got to be good there.
Hilary: Don’t rely on funding.
Ron: Don’t rely on funding, no. If that funding disappears you’re stuffed because you’re working to a level and that level can’t stay there.
Hilary: It’s the fact they put on loads of obstacles as well with funding. We didn’t want to have that, we didn’t want to have to be restrained.
Ron: When we came here we didn’t want to have to send in massive reports to lottery funders or whatever anymore, we just wanted to do it under our own bat.
Ron: The venue’s important, you got to have a decent layout at the venue there. But I think one of the things that we’ve discovered, really, is creating that community of music lovers.
Hilary: Yes, we we had it in Tregaron, it was just really hard because in those days we had to do old fashioned mailings.
Ron: There was no broadband, very little internet. We didn’t have internet at all.
Hilary: No, so it was communication. Oh and we had to work really hard didn’t we to get the word out and use the local newspapers, didn’t we? But here, it was a lot easier to put out the word.
Ron: Yeah yeah, it was a bigger population. Saltaire’s a popular place anyway to go to.
Nick Cody: Yeah, and up and coming as well, very much.
Ron: It’s got the right vibes, so it’s got that artsy thing going on anyway.
Ron: But also, we don’t really see ourselves as promoters in the traditional sense really. It’s funny there’s a musician who raised this who’s just moved to Saltaire, a guy called Jon Gomm.
Nick Cody: Jon is on my list.
Ron: Ah well there you go. Well as you know, Jon’s a fantastic guitar player.
Nick Cody: It’s just you watch him play and it’s one of those, a bit like Martin Simpson, as a musician, well I say musician, you just sit there and go, “I don’t know what to say.”
Ron: Yeah, it’s jaw dropping, yeah. Well he comes over to the occasional show and what have you, he’s a big admirer of Chris Wood and people like that. And he came to a show a while back and said, “You’re not really promoting here are you,” he said, “You’re curating.” And I thought… I said to Hilary what Jon had said and I thought, “Yeah you’re probably right.” Because what we’re doing is essentially we’re putting on stuff that we like. And creating an audience for that music.
Ron: So like John Keenan for instance who we’ve talked about in the past. He does something different, he’s a way more eclectic mix and he likes putting on stuff in different venues. He’s done these amazing shows and development work with world stars now. But a huge range of music, where ours is, I suppose we’d be seen as narrower, it’s a folk roots Americana You don’t want to get stuck in a genre because even that’s very broad, but it’s essentially that, putting on stuff that we like, isn’t it really? Vast majority of stuff that we like are the-
Hilary: Sort of discovering things as well.
Nick Cody: And you have a subscription model for people who are watching this.
Hilary: Well we have a membership scheme and we’ve got about 365 members at the moment. It costs £15 and for that you get £2 off every gig and you get to reserve a seat. We have a limit of 50 so it’s not being unfair to people who have just arrived and never been before. So we have that limit of 50. And it encourages people to come to more gigs as well which is great. And everyone starts to get to know each other as well so it’s a real, real music community.
Ron: A loyalty scheme I suppose really as much as anything really, is a membership thing, a membership of a loyalty type scheme. And yeah, right-
Hilary: It does get a bit complicated sometimes with the reserved seating.
Hilary: I have to get to know where everybody likes to sit and I have to get to know who they’re coming with and have to get to know partners. If they’ve got different names. Sometimes it’s complicated.
Ron: But even that’s fun though, isn’t it? In some ways. Because, again, you’re getting to really know your audience.
Hilary: Before we had the membership scheme we didn’t know anybody did we? We didn’t know anybody by name. I knew the faces, I know they’ve been before. But once we’d started that, we get to know everybody, we really know a lot of people.
Ron: Well that was an idea of Hilary’s again, from the Cambria Arts days because it was an arts association with a membership thing and it was a similar thing, it was to give discounts to the members for show.s
Nick Cody: But who have been some of your, I mean I’ve seen some amazing shows at your place. Martin Simpson was one. As I said before, The Secret Sisters, I nearly keeled over when I saw you were playing. Who have been some of your most memorable concerts either at The Live Room or when you’re at Wales?
Ron: Oh wow.
Hilary: Gary US Bonds in Tregaron.
Ron: Yeah Gary US Bonds In Tregaron, yeah. Can’t believe we had Gary US Bonds coming and playing in a little tiny in a middle of a one horse town in Wales. But what made that even more memorable as well is he brought his whole US band with him as well, which included his wife and his daughter. So that was an eight piece band on a tiny stage not much bigger than this kitchen really. Brass section, the whole bit.
Hilary: Yeah, and he had to take his T-shirt off for some reason.
Ron: Somebody gave him a Welsh T-shirt.
Hilary: And he took off his T-shirt, he had this massive scar because he’d had a triple heart-
Ron: Bypass. Still out playing. Did a fantastic show.
Hilary: Oh it was amazing, that’s really a memorable gig for me. All the African bands that we had there as well, they stand out in my mind.
Ron: A band from Cuba. They came and played for us a couple of times there. We could tell you some after show , it’s not the same in The Live Room there. When you’re out in the middle of the sticks there, things tend to happen and also the bar used to stay open, virtually all night then.
Ron: We used to have some unbelievable-
Hilary: After gig.
Ron: … after gig parties and things going on there as well as a [inaudible 00:25:11] with some great band, sort of gypsy swing band I suppose really from all parts of Europe and the UK. Chip Taylor who we’ve already had at The Live Room, he came and played
Hilary: We also had Amy Wadge didn’t we, for a couple of gigs. Right in her early days.
Ron: Yeah, Amy is one who co-wrote Ed Sheeran’s big first album.
Nick Cody: Oh wow, okay.
Ron: So she comes from Cardiff, in fact I think she’s just going out on tour again now-
Hilary: Yeah, she’s playing London, isn’t she?
Ron: Yeah she’s getting a proper tour together.
Nick Cody: So if people want to hear, check out The Live Room, what’s the website address?
Ron: Is www.theliveroom.info.
Nick Cody: Excellent.
Ron: But if you just Google The Live Room at Saltaire it pops straight up there.
Nick Cody: I am a massive fan of live music and the whole purpose of this platform is to talk to people like you who are promoting great live music. May there be more of us, I think, and I’d like to thank you very much for coming and chatting to us about your experiences and I highly recommend people check out The Live Room. The list of artists I’ve seen there has been excellent and it’s a great space. It’s got great acoustics, easy to park, it’s just a great space. So all power to you.
Hilary: Thank you, thanks very much.
Nick Cody: Hi this is Nick from Music for the Head and Heart and I’m very pleased to invite Hilary and Ron from The Live Room in Saltaire. And I know you guys have been promoting The Live Room for how many years?