Reflections on a Libertine

Posted: 20/06/2011 in Local Music
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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!

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