Interview: Richard Watson, 360 Club Leeds

Independent Venue Week

Independent Venue Week bannerSmall venues and promoters are undoubtedly at the heart of the UK’s music scene.

It’s down to them and their tireless work to put on gigs and live performances that the pool of musical talent is bubbling over with great new acts and artists. However, with cuts in funding and legislation around live music tightening, running such a venue can be a thankless task.

From 28 January – 2 February, the PRS for Music supported Independent Venue Week is doing its best to shine a spotlight on this live music infrastructure and celebrate the bands and the staff who dedicate themselves to giving emerging acts a leg up in their musical careers.

M quizzed Leeds promoter Richard Watson on his 360 Club and the health of the city’s live music scene…

Can you tell us a little bit about the 360 Club and what it does?

We are in a beautiful old Victorian Library in Leeds. The venue is stunning and has an awesome PA. Our sound is up there with the best, especially with the wonderful engineers I use. Most bands comment that it is the best sound they‘ve had.

The 360 Club showcases the finest emerging live acts in Yorkshire, playing host to different acts every week and showcasing a variety of genres and styles. Each gig is themed so that the bands and sounds fit together and have a good musical flow.

Behind the scenes it’s all about helping the bands out and teaching them the things I’ve learnt from the industry over the years. I want to be an industry person they can turn to without any hidden agenda.

What were your motivations for setting up the 360 Club?

I’ve been in the industry over 20 years, putting on gigs at grassroots to high profile shows throughout the UK and overseas. Because of this, I got asked to sit on industry panels, take part in workshops and provide advice to bands.

I met many artists through these activities and found that nobody seemed to be trying to work with the bands and develop them. A lot of promoters were just relying on bands selling tickets for them.

I thought I’d take the work I do through my education company, which delivers music, film, TV masterclasses and talks, and put it together in a night.

How did you get so closely involved with the Leeds venue?

360 Club was originally at the well respected Hi Fi Club in Leeds. I was aware there was the odd gig at The Library but not very often. I went to have a nosey and was blown away by the beautiful venue and acoustics. I was amazed it was not being used properly, so I spoke with the manager and told him what I was doing and the ethos of the night, how I wanted to build the reputation of the 360 Club in The Library.

How would you describe the local music scene in your area?

Very strong and healthy. There are a lot of great bands coming out of Leeds and Yorkshire across many genres. But there’s a fair bit a crap too, like any big city.

Do you remember the first gig you went to?

I have kept this to myself for many years but I shouldn’t be embarrassed as I was 11 years old.

I went to see Toyah in Halifax. My parents took me and dropped me off. I am amazed they even did it when I look back, as I went on my own. There was a real weird smell down at the front when I pushed my way through. I ended up a bit out of it and didn’t know what was happening, I did learn a little later in life that it was amyl nitrate that everyone was passing around.

Why did you sign up to become a part of Independent Venue Week?

Brilliant event and concept for the music scene … simple as that!

How important is playing live in the career of a band?

Essential.

What’s the most memorable gig to take place at the venue?

Either Alt J or Vessels. I put on some of the very first gigs from Alt J. They were a standout act and it was obvious there was something about them. I promoted most of their shows until they were signed.

Which new musical talents to have played at your venue are you tipping to succeed in 2014?

I hate this question. I work with an awful lot of very good acts and many of them could easily take off given the right breaks. I would hate any of them to read this and not see their name! But acts like Allusondrugs, Forever Cult, Jacobean Ruff, Arthur Rigby & the Baskervylles, Two Trick Horse, Fold, The Sailmakers, Down Radio, Treason Kings, The Magnets (from France), Carnabells, Otherpeopleslives and Vessels to name a few!

360 Club will take place at the Library in Leeds as party of IVW on 31 January. Allusondrugs. Forever Cult, Fizzler and Perfect Crimes are playing at the event.

Visit the IVW website to pick up tickets for the gig and the other shows taking place.

Check out our recent interviews with project ambassador Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood, Manchester band Bernard + Edith, Stuart Bailie, from Belfast’s Oh Yeah Music Centre and Carrie Davies from the Half Moon in Putney.