Behind the Scenes at County – “Live at the Oak”

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The stress per brain levels at County Bar Diner must always rank amongst the highest on campus (if not all of Northern England). Lecturer after lecturer from the PPR department files through the back door, looking to pick up their slice of morning toast before going off to try and teach Hobbes to undergraduates who haven’t done the reading. Lonely essay writers sit hunched over their overheating laptops, their tears splashing softly into their sixth cup of very reasonably priced coffee. And today, two more of these unfortunate stressed out souls find themselves slumped in County Bar. They are Jonathan Doyle and Conor Scrivener, and they do the best they can to split their time between their physics degrees, their band and their newest venture – Live at The Oak.

Driven by campus’ glorious musical past and the current dearth of live music on campus, Live at the Oak is an attempt by Scrivener and Doyle to bring Lancaster back to prominence as a touring city for major bands. It also comes as another part in what seems to mini-renaissance Lancaster’s music scene is undergoing right now, with dependable venues in town like The Yorkshire House and the Robert Gillow upping their game, and new venues like The Hall (the new coffee shop recently opened by Atkinsons) starting to put on gigs of their own.

So first of all… how do you cope?

JD: Haha, we don’t! I’ve lost a lot of degree hours to this…

CS: I’m in University 9-5 today, tomorrow, and every day…  I do enjoy it though – mainly because over the past three years we’ve seen an overall decline of gigs on campus, but it’s strange because when there are gigs they’re always of good quality and are well attended, like the Battle of the Bands. I love it quite frankly… it’s hard work but once everything is set up, you can have a pint, enjoy the music and say ‘we have done all of this’ and it’s an amazing feeling.

You research and book the bands yourselves – how do you go about deciding who will be playing?

JD: We’ll try and cater for everyone, because we’ve found that certain kinds of music somehow don’t work on campus. So we try to mix up the genres – if we have a pop punk band then we’ll just have one pop punk band, and then we’ll try and get an indie rock band or a straight up rock band, and then play some heavier stuff to separate them.

You’ve mentioned before that you see yourselves as helping to carry on the great tradition that campus has for live music (dating back to the huge Great Hall gigs in the 70s and 80s). That scene has all but disappeared now though, why do you think that is?

CS: Bands started to play bigger venues, and so Lancaster’s Great Hall, which is a relatively good venue but quite mid-sized, got forgotten about as gigs moved to Manchester, Preston and Liverpool. I don’t think University management in the past have helped either – I heard a story from an old member of staff that The Rolling Stones offered to play the Great Hall in the 1980s, but they were turned down because the tour was in the middle of the exam period! It’d be great if gigs were put on in the Great Hall again, and that’s the dream, that’s the ambition, to put on gigs that big.

You’re very heavy on rock content. I imagine this is to do with the kind of music you guys like, as well as your contacts, but do you think you could open up LatO to other genres?

JD: Exactly, it’s kind of how it fell, really, simply because of our contacts and because we find rock music is generally a really dependable genre when it comes to drawing people in.

CS:  I want to put on a folk night, but it’s a bit more difficult to find a folk band that will be good live, that people can get involved with. We would definitely be open to exploring more niche genres, and again, we would mix up the genres on a certain night. It’s just difficult to know what sort of genres will get a very good reception amongst a more general audience.

Do you see this expanding in the future?

I don’t think that it’s something that would expand into other colleges, and not something we would necessarily want to expand across campus. Every bar needs something unique that it can call its own, and it’s nice to have this just being a real County event. Although we want bigger bands for the event itself – at the moment it is mostly bands from the North West, but the dream is to get some established nationwide acts up here.

CS: We also want to create a team here, a committed team that will be able to carry this on after we’ve left University. We have learned a lot from doing this too, practically speaking. We want to help people who want to learn about the music industry, how to promote and put on gigs, and this is a way to do that. Ultimately, we’re doing it for everyone here. It’s grown from our own selfish needs for live music! But we want to share it because we feel like it’s something Lancaster is missing, on campus. Who doesn’t like free live music and cheap beer?

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