Dedicated to the Business of Contemporary Live Music

Backstage Stars – Alison Young

Backstage Stars
30 January 2018
The Stables Theatre - Alison Young
From working as a classical singer performing across Europe and on national radio, Alison Young found her way into programming and venue management. She is currently head of programming and producing at The Stables Theatre in Milton Keynes, promoting shows by acts including Gregory Porter, Alison Moyet and The Shires.


What are your first live music memories?

“I grew up in the far north of Scotland. There was a thriving local and traditional music scene but major touring bands at that time, in the late 70s and early 80s, seemed few and far between and most artistes only got as far as Edinburgh or Glasgow. The show that had the biggest wow factor for me at that time was Eurythmics who played Eden Court Theatre, Inverness around 1983, when I was sixteen.

“Though London seemed very far away the Sex Pistols and whole punk scene colliding with the Queens Silver Jubilee also made an impact. Bands being banned by the BBC always encouraged me to go out and buy the records. I still have a 12-inch copy of Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.”


How did you get into the music industry?

“I spent a number of years as a professional classical singer performing throughout the UK and Europe and on Classic FM, BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 3. However the precarious financial position of a freelance musician meant that I always had various irons in the fire, teaching music and working casual box office and front of house hours at my local venue, and feeding my eclectic musical tastes.

“I applied for an assistant manager post at the Old Town Hall in Hemel Hempstead, a brilliant alternative venue with a 120-cap theatre and 80-cap subterranean cellar bar with the obligatory sticky floor and zero ventilation, where we promoted rock, jazz and comedy nights. It was a great grounding in dealing with everything from working directly with artistes and customers to running bars, catering franchise to unblocking toilets and overseeing building maintenance contractors.”


How has your career developed?

“I then moved to specialise in central programming for HST Theatres [now HQ Theatres] looking after the Wycombe Swan Theatre and Town Hall and the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon, and that gave me my first experience of working with major producers and national promoters on a larger scale.

“From HST I moved to my current role as head of programming and producing at The Stables. It is a dedicated music venue and in-house we promote around 400 gigs annually across two spaces – Jim Marshall Auditorium [398] and Stage 2 [cap. 80]. We also have an extensive learning and participation programme of workshops, outreach and residencies and organise the annual National Youth Music Camps which take place in the venue and surrounding green spaces.

“The Stables promotes around 95 per cent of its programme so I’ve directly scheduled and promoted over 4,000 shows since I arrived, working with artistes as diverse as Uriah Heep, Gregory Porter, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Rhiannon Giddens, The Shires, Joan Armatrading, Steve Earle and Alison Moyet.”


What have been your greatest highs and lows?

“Touch wood I have been blessed with a pretty rewarding career to date – there are the usual stresses and strains working in a live and dynamic industry but no insurmountable problems.

“In terms of highlights, in 2010 The Stables established IF: Milton Keynes International Festival and now produces this 10-day event throughout the city using outdoor spaces and unusual temporary venues and found places. Our 5th edition is now in planning stages for 2018. It’s a multi- arts festival with sound and music at its heart and we produce a lot of new work and commissions.”


Do you have any observations about the way the industry is moving?

“I think the appetite for the live music experience will never diminish but it’s important for the whole industry to recognise, support and celebrate the work and ambitions of smaller venues as we are often responsible for giving artistes a platform at the beginning of their career and a safe place for established artistes to try out new material.”


How do you unwind?         

“I live with my partner of 30 years and a feisty black cat called Merlot in a house with a garden that is too big – it takes two hours to mow the grass.

“I spend a lot of time at gigs and festivals, which is often work and pleasure combined. I love walking, particularly in Scotland and am working my way around bits of the Fife Coastal Path. I like a challenge so trekked to Machu Picchu in 2004 and learned to horse ride for my 40th birthday so I could go dude ranching in New Mexico.

“I’d like to continue to travel and explore the world and its cultures. I have an opportunity to go to the Jodphur RIFF festival this year and I haven’t yet travelled to India so that would be awesome.”

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