Local promoter Steve Jason comments on the “poor relation” status of Peterborough venues, following the news that The Cresset Theatre will close. Broadcast at 08:10 on Monday 26th April 2010 in the Paul Stainton Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Peterborough.
PAUL: Now on the show this morning we have been focusing on the lack of night-life in Peterborough following the news that the Cresset Theatre is to close by the first of July, well to acts anyway. The Broadway Theatre of course closed fifteen months ago. Peterborough now just has one recognisable theatre, and that’s the Key. So will we, as a city, still be able to attract the country’s top performers? Or will entertainment and culture in Peterborough suffer from the lack of a quality venue? I suggested that to Council Leader Marco Cereste last week, that we might become the poor relation of Cambridge and Leicester and places like that, and he was quite angry about it. But that’s my opinion. Let’s find out from a man who should know. Steve Jason has been a promoter in Peterborough for many years, one of the few people in the city still putting things on. Steve, morning.
STEVE: Good morning.
PAUL: Both wearing cheesecloth this morning. Very nice. (laughs) Complement each other beautifully. Surely I made a fair point last week, didn’t I? Without the Cresset we’re a poor relation, aren’t we? We can’t see the top acts here. We can’t see the middling acts here anymore can we?
STEVE: No if you haven’t got .. it’s one thing not being able to get certain acts, but if you haven’t got anywhere for them to play if they want to play then you’re certainly struggling, Paul.
PAUL: How difficult is it to sell Peterborough to big acts? You put Feeder on recently, didn’t you, at the Cresset?
STEVE: That was about eighteen months ago, yes. It is difficult. You are up against .. Peterborough, are we an east Midlands city, are we an East Anglia city? If we’re East Midlands, we’re up against Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham. If we’re in East Anglia, we’re up against Cambridge and Norwich.
PAUL: Are we a poor relation?
STEVE: Facility-wise, yes. You have to ask yourself the question do the powers that be want us to be top dogs.
PAUL: What could they do to make us top dogs? Because we can’t throw money at everything, can we in this day and age?
PAUL: What do we need to do to get ourselves on the map with Nottingham, with Leicester, with Norwich, with Cambridge?
STEVE: I think three out of those four cities, Paul you can’t compete with. Norwich is twice the size of Peterborough in population. Cambridge, Cambridge is our rival. What you’ve got to look at is you’ve got to make the agent want to play here instead of Cambridge. Acts these days are in demand. If you’ve got two weeks to play the UK, and you’re going to do a fourteen date tour, the agent plots it. There’s no point in the agent doing ten shows in one area of the country. He wants to go round the country. So if you’ve got space for one show, you’re going to look at Norwich, that covers East Anglia. To come across this way a bit you’ve got to be top dog in the area. And facility-wise you’ve got to be better than any other.
PAUL: If he’s looking for a thousand-seat venue to put his band on effectively, and he’s got a choice in the Midlands area between Leicester Peterborough and Cambridge, you’re saying Leicester and Cambridge are going to come out first.
STEVE: Yes because they’ll look at the routing, unfortunately, and they’ll think OK we do Leicester we do Cambridge we do Norwich. It’s a nice .. there’s plenty of gaps. And they’ll say people in Peterborough can go to Cambridge, or they can go to Leicester. They won’t do Peterborough Cambridge and Norwich.
PAUL: So would it matter if we had a venue, if we had a two thousand seat capacity, or a fifteen hundred capacity?
STEVE: If you had one it would help. Because obviously sometimes the act might go out in the Spring and do fourteen dates, and then they’ll go out in the Autumn and do fourteen dates. So the act will think, OK I might do Cambridge in the Spring, and I’ll come back in the Autumn. And sometimes the routing, the theatre, may not be available. For arguments sake, one of the theatres, if you had a facility that held one and a half thousand people, one of the theatres may have a two week pantomime run on. So you can’t get it. But you’ve got to have the facility.
PAUL: Council Leader Marco Cereste talked about developing the Moyes End at London Road. He talked about putting a venue in there. But it may be three four years before it happens. Is he wasting his time?
STEVE: One of the best venues in the Midlands is the new Coventry .. the Rioch Arena. They’ve got an eight thousand capacity venue in there. It’s had four shows.
STEVE: Yes. It is not always the magic you .. because next door to Coventry is a great place called the Birmingham NEC.
PAUL: Or the NIA.
STEVE: Or the NIA. Poor Coventry there, lovely forty thousand capacity ground that they can’t fill. But they’ve got an eight thousand capacity gigger, and what they’re trying to do is to try and make that eight thousand capacity arena bigger now, so it can compete with the NEC.
PAUL: So it’s a sort of middling .. you’ve got to get your package right, either small, or big. Not somewhere in the middle. which no-one’s going to play.
STEVE: Yes. Because you won’t get enough shows.
PAUL: Are the people of Peterborough to blame for some of this, for not supporting people at the Broadway Theatre, for not supporting acts at the Cresset? Because I can’t believe the Cresset can’t make money. Surely if you put the best acts on, just pick out Jimmy Carr and people like that surely there going to sell out?
STEVE: They are Paul. You can look at it both ways. But you need four Jimmy Carrs a week to make money.
PAUL: There ain’t four of them around. (laughs)
STEVE: No. The problem is you can’t run a theatre on one show a week. You need three to four good shows. And that’s not just Peterborough. Theatres are expensive. They’re big barns, nice barns sometimes, but they’re expensive to run. Obviously the bigger cities, and I’m talking the big cities, we can’t compare ourselves with Birmingham London or Manchester.
PAUL: Should we focus on a smaller venue, a nice thousand or fifteen hundred capacity venue.
STEVE: They’ve got it, and it bugs me to say it, in Cambridge they’ve got it. they’ve got it right. They’ve got the eight hundred and fifty capacity Junction. For the little things I do, which is the rock alternative, the stand-up pop rock show, you build your acts up. Obviously I’ve got the Met Lounge which holds two hundred. When acts get too big for that you can bring them back to .. in Cambridge you’ve got the Junction, which holds eight hundred and fifty.
PAUL: Then you go one bigger.
STEVE: Go with the Corn Exchange. The Corn Exchange is dual-purpose. They’ve got it right there. The Corn Exchange floor is flat, so if they want to do a stand-up show, they can stand eighteen hundred and fifty people. They can put twelve hundred standing downstairs, and they’ve got six hundred seats on the balcony. That’s that market taken care of. If they want to do something which is all-seater, because the act wants it, and it’s that sort of act, they’ve got raked seating. They pull down the seats from the back of the hall, it becomes fourteen hundred capacity.
PAUL: And the Council owns it as well, don’t they?
STEVE: The Council own it and they subsidise it to the tune of one and a half million pounds a year.
PAUL: Should the Council here be doing something like that, then, instead of spending money on other things? Should we have a decent theatre, Council owned, Council subsidised?
STEVE: It would be nice. I believe the Key Theatre is now going from this week over to a new Community Trust.
PAUL: It is yes.
STEVE: Which means, and I could be wrong, the Council was subsidising the Key Theatre to the tune of four hundred thousand pounds a year. So they’re saving four hundred thousand pounds. Now if I’m reading the reports right ..
PAUL: I think they’ve got to put that money in though, to run it. So they may not be saving that amount. But I take your point.
STEVE: Whichever way you look at it they’re saving that subsidy. I know they put money into a pot to run it. But the Cresset was losing a hundred and fifty, a hundred and seventy five thousand pounds. So why not .. I think it’s pretty common knowledge because you had it on this show .. the Cresset isn’t going to be around so much longer.
STAINTON: Steve Jason’s here. He’s one of the few people putting things on in Peterborough. We’re going to talk more in just a second and find out what ideally he would like in Peterborough, and what he thinks we’re going to get. We’ll take some travel first.
PAUL: Susie has your headlines.
PAUL: It’s your Peterborough Breakfast Show. Eighteen minutes past eight. We’re talking with Steve Jason who’s been a promoter in Peterborough for many many years. We did invite the Leader of Peterborough City Council Marco Cereste onto the show this morning, but he said due to being in an election period he was unable to attend. If he was here Steve, what would you like to say to him? What would you like to ask him?
STEVE: I would like to ask him what his opinion is, what he would do ..
PAUL: Well he got very shirty with me when I said we were a poor relation.
STEVE: Did he?
PAUL: And most people on text said how can he argue with it?
STEVE: You either love this theatre business, and the music business, or you don’t. There are certain things that Marco, I call him Marco he seems a good guy sometimes, he’s an expert in. And I listen to him. If you’re in this business it is a very very expensive business, the rock and roll business. People don’t understand that when an act goes into a town, and this is not just unique to Peterborough, the act will walk out with sometimes ninety per cent of the box office revenue.
PAUL: Which is phenomenal isn’t it? It costs you ten grand, you make a thousand pounds.
STEVE: If you sell out.
PAUL: If you’re lucky.
STEVE: If you sell out. This is what you’ve got to understand. You’ve got to sell .. and take this up to Wembley Stadium venues .. the promoter who is putting the show on, he’s underwriting the costs of the show, he’s got to sell ninety per cent of the seats sometimes to break even.
PAUL: So you need somebody to underwrite all this, don’t you really? You need an organisation. But we can’t afford to do it massively. So what do we need? We’re going to lose the Cresset. The Broadway might come back, it might not. But we’re going to be without a decent theatre in this town. And people did enjoy going to the Broadway. They enjoyed the acts that were on there. They enjoyed the night out, the experience. they’re not going to get it, are they? What do we need in the short-term? What can we do? Can we send people to the Showground? There’s a suite there we could go. You’re shaking your head. What can we do? Where can we put Jimmy Carr on?
STEVE: I would have thought if the Cresset is losing a hundred and seventy five thousand pounds a year, and obviously that’s what the trustees say, so you’ve got to go along with it, and as I hinted before the break it’s not unknown that perhaps they’re looking for somewhere else, why not just say to the Cresset, OK, we’ll subsidise you for three years. You’ve saved on the Key Theatre. The Key can’t do what the Cresset does.
PAUL: No. It’s too small.
STEVE: And there are some things the Key can do that the Cresset can’t do. It’s a lovely little theatre. I did a show there, Ocean Colour Scene acoustic three years ago. Brilliant show! I couldn’t put them on electric in there. Because there’s be pandemonium in the place.
STEVE: What I’m saying is why not just say to the Cresset, OK, we’ll give you one seven five, if that’s what it is. Justify it. And if it goes over that, too bad. There are ways you could do it I am sure. Comedy is doing very very well, the likes of Jimmy Carr and other comedians. There was one last week, John Bishop, sold out. Comedy is the new rock and roll at the moment. It’s doing well .. that’s not just Peterborough .. it’s doing well across the country. So let’s roll with it. Let’s roll with the comedy. Why not, if you can buy a football ground for eight million pounds? It’s a shame that Mr Cereste can’t be here, because there was a quote in the paper saying to help the Cresset would cost more money than Posh in the long run. I don’t know quite how he understands that. But fair play, if that’s what he says. Why not just help the Cresset? If he’s going to build the three thousand capacity gig at the back of Moyes End, fine. But that’s not going to happen tomorrow. Two, three years ..
PAUL: Four maybe.
STEVE: .. four. So if the Cresset has a masterplan that it may be relocated in three or four years time, why not have somewhere where they can come? The Cresset isn’t perfect by a long stretch of the imagination. But if you sell seats, if you’re selling tickets, you can get the acts in.
PAUL: It’s somewhere to go. Very very quickly Steve, because we’ve got to move on, the next two years, what are we going to see in Peterborough? What acts are going to be coming? We’re not going to get anybody, are we?
STEVE: It’s going to be tough. Obviously we’ve got the two hundred capacity Met Lounge, and then we’ve got no bigger place. The Embankment, OK, we’ve got a show on there in the Summer, but they’re one-off shows. It’s better to have fifty two-thousand capacity shows than one twenty thousand. It’s regular.
PAUL: So we go to Cambridge, Leicester, Norwich for now, until we get somewhere?
STEVE: Until I find somewhere.
PAUL: Steve Jason, one of the few men putting things on in Peterborough at the moment. The future looks a bit grim. He agrees with us. We’re a poor relation.