Image credit: Jonny Noakes Photographer
We caught up with Jon Grant, owner of one of Newquay’s most popular music venues to chat about the future of live music, the hard work that goes into events and much more.
There’s lots of talks about events, live music and festivals going around at the moment, particularly in the UK. The Covid-19 pandemic and all its wonderful variations has caused havoc on the industry and there is a real concern that live music may not return in 2021, at the very least we may get some social distanced shows at low capacity.
We may not know when the events sector will return to its full strength but what we do know is how hard the industry works. We want to shine a light on the various roles and hard work that goes into creating, organising and running an event.
Through this article series we’ll be chatting to venue owners, booking agents, music techs, artist managers and many more. Kicking things off is Jon Grant, the owner and booker for Whiskers based in the party town Newquay, Cornwall.
Hey Jon, thanks very much for taking the time to chat with us, how have you been?
Jon: Hey Kieran, thanks for getting in touch. I’ve been missing being involved in the music scene. It’s been a great year for me personally, as I had a daughter in Oct 2019, I’ve had all the time in the world to figure out this whole being a Dad thing. Definitely a silver lining!
So, you’re the owner of one of Newquay’s most popular venues/bars, how did this happen and was it something you’ve always wanted to do?
Jon: Whiskers came about as a live music venue quite organically….literally we started as an organic wine and tapas bar which morphed into what it is today. I’ve always been obsessed with music but the idea of owning a venue wasn’t a goal until our original Manager James Luck AKA Lucky arranged the initial gig.
How did you go about putting on your first show and do you remember how it went?
Jon: Cosmo Jarvis was in the area and the bar was empty so he asked if they could jam inside, 10 minutes later the bar was buzzing! Lucky is quite a lovable persuasive chap and got Cosmo to agree to a proper gig the next night. The town was buzzing with the news and the gig was a hot, sweaty banger.
Can you explain to us the process of booking and running a show?
Jon: It’s a relentless task of sifting through the 100’s of band emails asking if they can come and play Celine Dion covers to find that original diamond of a band…like Mother Vulture. Then comes the 10-20 email replies regarding agreeing a date, fee, food, accommodation, and gigs in the days around the booking to make it worth their while to come all the way to Cornwall, when most bands stop at Bristol. Then we attempt to coordinate a series of social media posts with links to the event page to drive interest to an original band night with music they’ve never heard before. Once the promotions have run their course, then comes the big gig night when we hope all the band members turn up and play their agreed 2 x 45 min sets plus a 30 min break. More often than not a group of super talented musicians gets booked and give epic performances leaving the crowd begging me to stay open past my licence for more music! (Which sadly I decline!)
What is your main goal when drafting up events for Whiskers?
Jon: In the past we’ve always tried to keep as many events free entry, so I’d look for smaller bands (so everyone gets a decent chunk of the fee) who get the crowd whipped into a frenzy and put a good chunk over the bar. Going forward in 2021 with the government imposed social distancing and reduced capacity I’ll be expanding the genres as gigs will need to be ticketed to account for the loss in bar revenue due to reduced capacity. It will be hard to stay seated with a band like The Big Sets but we will find a way to make it work and still be fun.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced whilst working in the industry?
Jon: Definitely difficult to get ticketed gigs packed as we’ve often been viewed as more a bar then venue, some premadonna green room lists and the geographic location of Newquay making it out of the way if the tour doesn’t get several Cornish gigs.
Do you have a memorable show or one that stands out?
Jon: Newton Faulkner is a stand out for sure! I remember reading the email from SW1 promotions and couldn’t believe we’d have the opportunity to host! It was a free entry special and people were queueing at the door 6 hrs before opening to get a space inside, it was insane!
Obviously the pandemic has affected the live music and events industries in a negative way but how is it specifically affected you?
Jon: As a grassroots venue we have had the most support from the government through their cultural recovery fund, I feel most for the musicians, sound engineers and stage hands who many have fallen through the cracks. As we lean into the spring and summer season it’s looking less likely that large scale events and festivals will be going ahead.
How optimistic are you for live music and events returning on a smaller scale?
Jon: I feel fairly certain reduced capacity events will go ahead this Summer. I followed the virus patterns very closely, especially considering Newquay was at capacity last Summer and there were near zero cases. I think we can expect a similar pattern to the cold and flu season, leaving us free to enjoy music again this Summer.
“As we lean into the spring and summer season it’s looking less likely that large scale events and festivals will be going ahead”Jon Grant – Whiskers
Will Brexit affect your events and if so how and why?
Jon: Although I’m completely against the ridiculous, avoidable visa situation for Europe, this will likely encourage bands to develop their domestic audiences and may prove beneficial for a small Cornish venue like Whiskers.
How do you feel the Government has treated this sector and what could the Government do to support you?
Jon: The Cultural Recovery Fund put together by the gov’t has been exceptional for us and we are in the process of using our grant to completely overhaul the venue to have a much larger stage, epic sound system, better toilets and a longer bar. That said I really feel for the promoters, agents, musicians, and stage hands who haven’t had any support and many told to go on universal income. I can’t wait to help get them working again as soon as we can.
Do you think the live music industry can bounce back from this?
Jon: Definitely! People will always crave the social bond of enjoying live music together. It unites people in such a positive way! Now it’s up to us to control its rebirth into sustainable careers for all those who make an event for a touring band possible.
Lastly, what can people do in the meantime to support the live music and events industry?
Jon: Buy merchandise! Buy records. Follow, like, tag and share your favourite grassroots bands! And most importantly when venues reopen, spend! Buy tickets, buy drinks, buy merchandise! Then share how incredible the gig was on all your socials!