Archive for June, 2011

Libertine – One who acts without moral restraint; a dissolute person. One who defies established religious precepts; a freethinker.

Today Scottish and Newcastle Pub Company closed the doors on a venue that has become popular with Ayr’s musicians. During its short lifespan, The Libertine had become a sort of home away from home for a close-knit group of local bands and artists.

The venue had already failed as a business venture once when the most recent staff took charge of it but, evidently, they thought that their ‘Libertine vision’ could succeed where the previous one had fallen flat. Sadly, it would appear that this was not the case.

It is, however, a testament to the popularity and significance of the venue that the regulars and performers have embarked upon a campaign to attempt to undo the second demise of what had come to be their social and creative hub. Petitions, free gigs and peaceful protests have abounded, capturing the attention of the local media and the hearts and minds of Ayr’s music lovers.

With that in mind, this feature is not to be taken as another facet of the rescue campaign. The aim here is simply to take a retrospective look at the positives and negatives of the venue and the way it was operated the second time around.

So, what was good about The Libertine?

For one thing, The Libertine staff were clearly committed to ensuring the place lived up to the expectations set by its name. Fairly shabby and makeshift in appearance, this was a place with a definite ‘anything goes’ vibe. The downstairs pub had a chaotic layout and music that tended toward the deafening; The upstairs venue had tatty posters of rock icons and a floor that visibly shook during performances. One or two ever-present regulars with questionable personal hygiene and behaviour called into question the existence of any sort of discretion when it came to ejecting or barring the unruly; The barstaff were so friendly and chilled out that any given night in the place felt like an unsanctioned lock-in.

Basically, whereas other spots of The Libertine’s ilk merely toy with the ideas of hedonism and organised chaos, The Libertine was closer than most to being the real deal.

Another huge plus was the scope The Libertine provided local musicians for creativity. Granted, only a select group of artists seemed to be truly taken under the venue’s wing but this appeared to be a direct result of their status as loyal customers, which is fair enough. These musicians were given frequent opportunities to organise and play gigs, filling the rest of the bill with whoever they pleased, and an open mic night took place every Wednesday (organised and hosted by Luther Hall, of Ayr’s own Sigma Logic) which allowed for the continued harvesting of fresh talent. As if this wasn’t enough, the upstairs performance area was available as a free practice space for local musicians on nights when no gigs were scheduled.

All of this goes to show that this was an establishment which was commited to making itself an integral part of the local music community.

It seems as though it should have been perfect. So, what went wrong?

The exact same things as the first time around!

The two problems that originally killed this fantastic idea were the inconvenient location of the venue and the lack of incentive to disregard this first issue.

In a relatively small town, where most everything music-related takes place in or just off of one street, The Libertine was placed just a little far out of convenient reach. When the target audience for a new venue is young musicians and music enthusiasts, it is essential that said establishment is placed within their existing social circuit.

Why expect them to go out of their way to come to you?

Unless, that is, you are smart enough to draw them in with the universal currency of the young and sociable… cheap booze and entry!

Unfortunately, as well as being awkwardly located, Libertine lacked any promotions capable of drawing in a regular clientele large enough to get the place off the ground. A savvy business mind would have looked to how the student-oriented pubs and clubs of Glasgow draw in loyal customers.

Why were there entry fees for the opening night and the early gigs!?

Where were the £1 drinks!?

Why did no one think to create a loyalty card!?

No initial concession was granted to potential customers and, as a result, the majority of these potential customers were lost from the outset.

Without a doubt, those who did make The Libertine their local fell in love with the place. It’s just a shame that no one involved took the risk of sacrificing a little more of the initial profit, in order to reel in and convert the masses.

To anyone accomplished at spotting a pattern, it would seem highly probable that someone else will try, once again, to succeed where others have failed with this venture. However, taking into account this problem of undesirable location, it may be prudent not to think of The Libertine as the building it previously inhabited but, instead, as a set of ideals which can be cultivated anywhere. In other words, take the positive aspects of the previous incarnations and develop them in a new, more convenient, location.

Certainly, every amateur music scene needs its Libertine and the potential remains for the third attempt to yield a thriving (and profitable) cultural and creative hub. It just needs to be located, as stated earlier, within the current circuit.

So… to the numerous groups of entrepreneurial friends all over Ayrshire talking about “taking it over and doing it right” …

Take heed!

Countless open mic nights take place in Ayrshire throughout every week. They all play host to talented performers and most have garnered a fair reputation. Talk to those involved in the local live music circuit and you’ll hear positive things about every one of them.

Such market saturation is always going to create a breeding ground for healthy competition. Naturally, the purveyors of each of these occasions are going to want their night to be the most talked about and revered.

For a night to achieve this status, there are several criteria which have to be met: A loyal following, dedication, a charismatic public face and a unique aspect that sets the evening apart from the rest.

With this in mind, let’s look at the extent to which the Su Casa Acoustic Night is managing to fulfil these requirements and, in turn, ascertain whether or not it’s worthy of five of your hard earned pounds each week.

The owners, Lucas and Ben, clearly realised from the outset that a loyal following is built and maintained almost exclusively through good people skills and positive public perception. If Su Casa can make its guests feel welcome, they’ll keep coming back and if they enjoy themselves, they’ll tell their friends about it. With this in mind, Su Casa’s creators appear to have decided to ensure that each person who attends their acoustic night receives a warm greeting from one or both of them. After a bit of friendly banter to get the positive vibes flowing, you are given a stamp and offered glasses for any beverages you may have brought with you.

Once upstairs, you’re left to your own devices for the most part, allowing the feeling that Su Casa Thursdays are about you doing what you want to do. True to the translation of the name (“your house”), all in attendance are allowed to feel at home. The only time the owners really intervene in the evening’s proceedings is halfway through the evening, when they dish out slices of pizza to the utmost delight of everyone present.

When you’re leaving the venue, one of the guys will once again be on hand to personally bid you goodnight and let you know what’s happening next Thursday.

Add to this the proprietors’ eagerness to immerse themselves in the local community, having manned a stall at the Burns an a’ that festival, their attendance at other local music gigs and willingness to display posters and flyers for such events and it’s clear they’re working hard to gain a loyal following.

What about the question of dedication and commitment then?

Well, because Su Casa is primarily a coffee house and this acoustic night is about a passion for supporting local music, Ben and Lucas have decided not to make a monetary return from it. Your entry fee covers all of their outlays, but their profit will be the profile boost for the business itself, thus linking back to the idea of positive public perception.

Any such positive press is undoubtedly a pleasing prospect for the owners, given the sheer amount of hard graft that has gone into creating Su Casa. They have essentially managed to turn what was originally a fairly small local bakery into a modern coffee house and arts venue with a genuinely warm and welcoming atmosphere. Their DIY ethos is visible in the decor itself, with an as-yet-to-be-completed handpainted mural of a tree (aptly illustrating the place’s potential for further growth) on one wall and LPs and pictures of local musicians adorning the others.

As you can see, dedication and commitment are also covered.

The public face for the acoustic night is none other than Ayr’s own Jamie McGeechan, a.k.a Little Fire, who was cemented as the evening’s weekly host back in its early days. Since then, Little Fire’s music career and popularity have exploded and the benefits of this are two-fold. For one thing, his presence as host and regular performer is enough to draw a crowd in itself and, in addition to this, his high level of involvement and wealth of contacts in the Ayrshire music scene allow him to handpick a fantastic variety of performers. Charismatic public face? Sorted!

There are also several elements that combine to make the evening unique. First of all, inkeeping with the idea of the efforts not being for monetary profit, a policy is in operation which permits attendees the freedom to bring along their own wine, beer or cider. This is obviously an enticing prospect for those who find Friday and Saturday nights out hard enough to pay for, without throwing a bar bill for Thursday into the mix.

Su Casa also puts a spin on the traditional format of the open mic night in that, while anyone is welcome to play, acts must sign up in advance. This does, of course, beg the question whether this truly is an open mic night, but it is not without its advantages. As well as ensuring the enthusiasm and commitment of performers, it also means there is a dialogue running between owners, host and local musicians throughout the week and not just for the duration of the event itself. This, it could be argued, goes to show the positive influence Su Casa has on the local music community.

Finally, there is the insistence that all songs performed are the original work of the artist playing. This cements Su Casa as a hive of creativity and ensures the audience experience something a little different than the same tired cover versions heard in so many other places.

So, there you go! On paper, it looks as though Su Casa is on track for that much coveted status we spoke of earlier. However, the only real way to decide is to try it out for yourself and see how the vibe sits with you. So, if you fancy it, a fiver’s entry fee affords you an evening of music, pizza, friendly vibes and a tipple of your own choosing. What better way to start your weekend?

Official Website

Elgato on Facebook (For live video performances from Su Casa)

Little Fire on Facebook