It’s perhaps fair to say that live music may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing Lincoln, but when acts such as Elton John, Little Mix and Lionel Richie start rolling into town, you know something’s up.
In the past few years this historic East Midlands city has been steadily manoeuvring itself into the view of national event organisers and booking agents, with a growing number of promoters bringing in a range of eclectic shows and a series of high-profile events taking place in the city and surrounding area.
This includes concerts over the past three years at Lincolnshire Showground (cap. 20,000), such as Marshall Arts-promoted Lionel Richie, with tickets from £45; Little Mix, Rak-Su and Germain Sisters (tickets at £45) and Elton John (£40).
While venue operators admit that agents may not instantly think of Lincoln when routing tours – there are only a handful of venues actively promoting music in the city and no regular independent promoter – most remain positive for the future.
“We may not be the biggest city but Lincolnshire is the second largest county in the UK and there is a huge audience of music lovers right on our doorstep,” says Lincolnshire Showground CEO Jayne Southall.
With the urban area of the city home to 150,000 people – more than one 10th of them students – there is clearly an untapped market for live music here.
Promoter Major Label is hoping to put on more events at the Showground, following a run of concerts recently that included Razorlight, Feeder and Reverend and the Makers (£32.50), The Human League, Marc Almond, Hue & Cry and Blancmange (£28) and Ocean Colour Scene, Shed Seven and Dodgy (£39.50).
“Both the Razorlight and The Human League shows sold very well and the outdoor nature of the shows really contributed to the atmosphere,” says Major Label director Ben Atkins.
“There’s nothing concrete in the diary at the moment, but we’re always looking to do something a little out of the box,” he says. “If anything, we will be looking to put on some interesting talent in some interesting spaces that are perhaps not considered venues in their own right.”
According to Southall, it’s only a matter of time before more national promoters and agents become aware of what Lincoln can offer.
“There’s a lot of demand for live music, both from the general public and our student population, but Lincoln isn’t recognised as a major city like Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham, so we’re perhaps not always thought of when routing tours,” she says.
However, she adds, this is beginning to change.
“Along with a number of venues locally, we have all been really encouraging music into the city in the last few years, and, at the showground, we’ve been lucky enough to host some major names which have been very well received.”
With 270 acres of flexible outdoor space, Lincolnshire Showground can accommodate concerts with capacity starting at 6,000.
“We also have a number of indoor buildings which have been used for promoters’ offices, artiste changing rooms and hospitality,” she adds. “With experience of organising and hosting hundreds of events each year, we work closely with promoters on everything from traffic management to local catering, security and media.”
Also looking to expand its music activities is Lincoln Castle (4,999), ordered to be built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and more recently graced by artistes such as Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, and Cliff Richard – both promoted by Cuffe & Taylor with tickets at £45.
Other artistes performing at the Castle, which is owned and run by Lincolnshire County Council’s Heritage Service, include Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers and the Magic of Motown – all staged by Live Promotions, with tickets at £39.95, £29.95 and £35.
“It is truly magnificent, especially when the sun sets and you see the silhouette of the medieval wall walk as a backdrop,” says the Castle’s general manager Castle Kimberley Vickers.
“We would be happy to look at staging more events if the demand was there.”
The University of Lincoln’s student union-owned venue The Engine Shed (1,800, 320) reopened in 2006 following a £1 million refurbishment,
Located on campus and just five minutes from the city centre, the venue hosts approximately 50 shows a year.
Michael Redpath, head of events and marketing at the students’ union, says the mixture of the unique setting and character of The Engine Shed – a former structure for steam engines – coupled with excellent backstage facilities often surprises many acts who turn up to play.
“The crowds here can be a good mix of students and locals and so the bands often find the audiences are very engaged, because they’re not serviced with live music that often,” he adds. “So the shows we do get tend to sell very well.”
This audience engagement has not gone unnoticed among agents and promoters too, he adds.
“Probably after every other show we’ll have an act turn round and say to the promoter that The Engine Shed was their favourite date on the tour. It’s that element of surprise acts have when they come here – they think Lincoln is a sleepy back city and probably weren’t expecting such a good show.”
Another strength of the venue is its flexibility.
“Overall capacity is 1,800, with the balcony open, or 1,600 downstairs, while we can also put a curtain across the main hall and use that as a 700-capacity venue, too.”
The balcony, as Redpath adds, can also operate as its own venue called The Platform (320). He explains how this works: “Upstairs we have soundproofed sliding doors which come across the front of the balcony and we put a stage built by risers in the room. It also has its own entrance as well.”
Acts playing the main room include Suzanne Vega, Professor Green (both in-house promotions), Enter Shikari, Happy Mondays (both DHP Family), The Stranglers, Shed Seven (both SJM Concerts), From The Jam, Bad Manners (both AGMP), Turin Brakes (The MJR Group) and Don Broco (Kilimanjaro Live), while those playing The Platform include Gaz Coombes (MJR), Fickle Friends and Get Cape Wear Cape Fly (both in-house).
Another benefit for The Engine Shed is the lack of good transport facilities out of the city.
“You can’t easily go to a show in Sheffield and get back unless you drive. That means we can actually pull in a good crowd because audiences can’t easily go to shows in neighbouring cities.
“Things are definitely improving across Lincoln and we are getting a lot more shows,” he says. “When I was at The Great Escape [in Brighton] this year and talking to agents, there is a lot more recognition for the venue.”
Here’s the Drill …
With a musical history that stretches back to the 1960s, The Drill Hall (550) is also an important destination, offering a wide range of folk, pop and rock, with music making up around one fifth of the venue’s 300 annual events.
Among acts playing are Fairport Convention (Dotted Line), Showaddywaddy (Handshake), Clare Teal (Clare Teal Productions), Adam Holmes (Gogar Records) and The Bluejays (Bluejays Bookings), while artistes who’ve performed at the venue over the years include Lloyd Cole, Midge Ure, Madness, Eddi Reader and The Proclaimers.
Also performing at the venue are two Lincolnshire-born artistes now resident in the US and making home-coming visits – Jack Broadbent, hailed by Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival as ‘the new master of the slide guitar”, and Callaghan who has made a name for herself in through recordings and house concerts.
Broadbent’s show is a co-promotion with US booking agency The Kurland Agency, with the venue handling production and marketing, and Callaghan’s is a similar arrangement between the venue and London-based International Talent Booking.
“My perception is that the choice of music events for people in our city is better than it has ever been, and has grown hugely in the 15 years I’ve worked in the city,” says Drill Hall chief executive Chris Kirkwood.
“Most recently there has been the development of much larger scale outdoor concerts from international stars such as Elton John, adding a whole new level of offer to the city.
The range of spaces, from small intimate to huge outdoor means that Lincoln is becoming more and more a music city, he believes.
“With that offer comes the need for ever greater collaboration and
communication to ensure that all the promoters and venues maximise audiences for the work presented.”
Green shoots for grassroots
This is something that is currently taking place at emerging act level, with venues including The Jolly Brewer (200), which hosts at least two events a week, and promoter Playing Aloud regularly promoting at the venue.
However, a route for local emerging acts to reach the next level is the biggest stumbling block in developing the local scene, according to The Jolly Brewer’s Mark Siddy.
“Artistes have for many years had a problem taking the next step once established in the town,” he says. “Some of the artistes that are part of a scene based around their style have managed to network with like-minded acts and spread to other cities playing weekends far and wide, but this doesn’t seem to lead to bigger and better opportunities, which is a shame.
“The bigger venues in town do not support grassroots artistes enough by adding them to bills, which is short-sighted, as the exposure of a local act breaking through would be good for all of us.”
Acts playing the venue include Dave Sharp, The Lurkers, Thee Telepaths, Funke & The Two Tone Baby, I Am Aquitaine, House of Ghosts, Jez Davis, Jump Boys, Manipulators, Matt ‘Tango’ Ellerby, Chemical Friends, Jack Kendricks (all in-house promotions), Tiger Warsaw, Phoenician, Buffalode, Ritual King and Regulus (all Playing Aloud).
Based in North Hykeham in Lincoln, Playing Aloud is a music studio run by Scott Nairn and Martyn Bewick, and offers a range of music services, including rehearsal spaces, recording studio, PA and equipment hire, sound engineering and tuition. All Playing Aloud shows are free-entry.
“On the whole, the local scene is on the up, with several local promoters flying the flag for local music, while, for cover bands, the circuit seems to be pretty healthy from what we see,” says Nairn.
Around 80 per cent of the artistes Playing Aloud promotes at venues such as The Jolly Boatman, are acts they have built a relationship with through recording at the studio.
“Some of the bands we put on have played for us numerous times, others are newly formed, those we try to give a platform to get their music out there.”
With a focus on rock, punk and hardcore, promoters Mud & Bones Live (M&B) run the annual Badlands festival at The Jolly Brewer and Alleykat Rock Bar (180).
This year’s event, which takes place this month, features Crazy Arm, The Human Project, Ghouls, Miss Vincent and more, while other M&B shows include Matt Wood and the Natural Disasters and Flatfoot 56 at the Tap and Spile (100), The Frontline and Quiet Man at Liquor (110), and River Jumpers, Harker, Guts, Carry the Crown and Brawlers at Kind (200).
M&B’s Lee Byrne says that while there are a lack of mid-level venues, the city’s music scene is improving.
“There did seem to be a bit of a dip here a few years ago, though it has picked up greatly in the past few years.”
The Engine Shed’s Michael Redpath speaks for many when he sums up by saying it’s only a matter of time before agents and promoters wake up to what Lincoln can offer.
“Before acts come here they think it’s going to be a sleepy little city, that nothing much goes on here,” he says.
“Then when they get here they realise the audiences are great and there is a lot to see … I think Lincoln is starting to put itself on the map.”