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Backstage Stars – Gary Lulham

Features
24 July 2019

Starting as a bar manager in 2007, securing a promotion and weathering a couple of ownership changes, Gary Lulham found himself taking over Swansea’s 700-capacity Sin City in 20155 to save it from closure. He is now MD of the city-centre venue, and describes his role “a labour of love”. Acts playing the club include Pete Doherty, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Skindred and Goldie Lookin Chain.

What are your first live music memories?

“I grew up in a souterly suburb and so my live music experience didn’t extend much beyond the local pub gig or learning to play the recorder in school. It wasn’t until university that I really became a fan of live music

“The first big gig that blew me away was Craig David at Wembley Arena in 2000. It was almost Oasis at Knebworth, but I was a bit young and not allowed to go, despite several protests. That was the first time that I remember being in awe, not just of the artiste, but of the show itself and started thinking about all of the moving parts that must go into bringing a show like that to life.

“I eventually got to see Oasis at Reading festival in 2000.”

“I was lucky enough to attend university in Swansea before the days of ridiculous fees, although I needed a job, not just for the extra cash, but as something to keep me busy, I’ve never suffered boredom well.”

How did you get into the entertainment industry?

“I managed to blag an interview at the biggest nightclub in town, Time & Envy [cap. 2,500] and fortunately the process wasn’t too much of an ordeal, lasting all of about two minutes. Then I was given a T-shirt and thrust out onto the floor.

“Over the next three years I developed a fascination with the operation of late-night venues and wanted to learn how to do everything. So I’d loiter around and bug DJ’s, lightjocks and crew until they gave me something to do. Then I’d hang around even longer, until they felt so guilty they’d start paying me.

“Gigs I went to around that time include Snow Patrol at Divas [300] aand Bullet for My Valentine at the Students’ Union pub Woody’s [300].

“Then, fresh out of university, I was contacted by the Students’ Union which had become involved as a partner in Sin City and wanted a bars manager who had some experience. I couldn’t wait to get started.”

How did your career path develop?

“After three years there, I put myself forward for general manager when the venue was fully taken-over by the Students’ Union in 2010. That was a huge step – you think your walking into something fully aware of what’s involved, because you’ve been doing it for so long, and then you realise there’s a vast amount of stuff you had no idea about.

“We had some great shows pass through, including Public Service Broadcasting, Chase & Status, Black Stone Cherry and a sell-out in the top room [250] with Ed Sheeran in 2011, just as 18 was released – I could have sold-out three times over.”

“Then in 2015, the Union restructured and one of the casualties of that was going to be Sin City. I remember being given the news and feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach – I couldn’t let something that the team and I had worked so hard to build over nearly a decade, just close.

“So after a couple of weeks involving various negotiations and calling in every favour I’d ever earned, we managed to keep the venue open and I was effectively MD of the new business.”

What were your greatest low and high points?

“Rather annoyingly, having taken over the venue in September, a fire ripped through the top room at the venue early one January morning, and caused huge damage to the rest of the building.

“If at that point I had any idea of the year of stress that was to come, I honestly think I might have walked away, I’ve never experienced anything quite so demanding as that year.

“On the upside, the feeling of relief at making it through our first year and knowing that we were going to get the opportunity of a second, was one of the best feelings in the world.

“In terms of events, our first show after the fire was with Stormzy and the thrill of watching the crowd go off as the lights came up and he walked on stage will be very hard to beat.”

How do you unwind?

“I’m not married, and the bulk of my family live in Lincolnshire, so it’s always a treat to get back and see them.

“I have a motorbike that I don’t ride anywhere near enough, Swansea, for all of it’s benefits, gets more than its fair share of rain.

“Ironically, when you run a live music venue, no one tells you that you don’t get to see as many gigs as you would like – so I always consider it a treat to be able to catch a show at another venue.

“Aside from that, I love reading and getting away from the hustle and bustle, so living so close to The Gower is perfect for a few hours with the phone off.

“I missed out on travelling when I was younger and it’s one of my bigger regrets, that I haven’t seen more of the world. So, at some point, I’d like to take the opportunity to see, well … absolutely everything.”

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