East Village Arts Club has it’s official launch on Saturday, Getintothis’ Joseph Viney caught up with the man responsible for the £1.5m makeover of the Masque, managing director David Laing, on his vision for Liverpool’s new gigging venue.
Anybody from Liverpool of a certain age and disposition has a story to tell about The Masque Theatre.
Maybe you met the girl of your dreams there – before her much-more-handsome-than-you boyfriend spirited her away. Perhaps you saw a life-changing gig in the breezy loft or sweaty theatre. In essence, it was an old, faithful piece of the Liverpool nightlife furniture.
But like old furniture, the wear and tear increases, bits and pieces start to fall off and the smell of many years of use starts to take a real toll. Its closure was met with the inevitable sadness and howls of derision from the community; ‘Years ago, I…‘, ‘Back in the day we…‘ and that’s exactly the problem.
For clubs like the Masque, and just like any business, memories are not a commodity. People stopped attending because a lack of invention hampered it. It’s for the same reasons that Le Bateau closed its doors in the first instance.
However, in death comes new life. East Village Arts Club finally opened its doors to an expectant public this past week. With a strong opening line-up of acts booked for the very near future (The Fall, Ghostpoet, Mystery Jets and CSS among many others) and the variation of different stages, bars and all kinds of entertainment, its arrival on the scene is more than welcome at a time when establishments like MelloMello face an uncertain future.
Enough has been and can be written about what’s on the surface, but what about those involved in the venue’s creation? What drives them to forge ahead with a new venue when our city and the nation as a whole groans under the weight of unbalanced chequebooks?
Step forward the Mama Group‘s David Laing; the club’s managing director, and one of many who saw fit to offer the people of Liverpool another outlet for their creative mores, another meeting place and another landmark in an already vibrant part of town.
Despite his Scottish brogue, Laing’s family is of local stock and various moves around Britain have given him an advantage in seeing how different cities and their own cultural eco-systems work.
“I was born near Chester but my family lived and continues to live in and around Liverpool,’ he tells Getintothis. “In fact, my mother spent many years living just off Penny Lane. I went to University in Scotland and have spent a lot of time in places like Sheffield, Manchester, London, Glasgow and, of course, Liverpool.
“Before getting into opening and refurbishing venue spaces, I went through the usual convoluted routes; booking for student venues, managing bands, being in bands, writing for fanzines and magazines.
“I’ve dealt with this whole industry in any number of different ways and I think I’m the better for it. It allows me to see things from different perspectives.”
East Village Arts Club undergoing it’s rennovation
Indeed, Laing’s recent CV makes for impressive reading: “I was heavily involved with the refurbishment and re-opening of Manchester’s Ritz. We relaunched it 18 months ago and it’s been a great success.
“We focused on preserving everything that was good and much-loved in the history of the venue and Manchester itself. We wanted to bring everything up to date; we kept the name, the famous bouncy floor. It’s important to approach these things with a great deal of respect.”
It’s that attention to historical detail that means the former site of the Masque is in good hands. Even the finer details are covered. Yes, the name East Village Arts Club does hint at the New York-come-Dalston vibe, but it’s a subtle approach.
Says Laing: “This whole area of Liverpool has a nice eclectic, boho vibe, much like New York’s own East Village.
“We wanted to try and fashion some sort of link between what’s happening now and in terms of the city’s great history. Liverpool of course had a long and storied relationship with Trans-Atlantic shipping routes and Charles Dickens read extracts of his novels from this very building and sailed to New York from Liverpool on a few occasions. It’s about getting involved with those minor details too.”
East Village Arts Club has given the site of the former Masque a complete makeover
A £1.5 million project, East Village Arts Club is in a prime commercial position, and stands to benefit from grand foundations and a long history.
“When you first see the building,” says Laing, “The state it’s in… But when you see its potential… If you’re interested in hosting events, promotion, you can tell what is a really cool space and what isn’t. It’s taken a lot of work; the Masque was run down, it was unsafe.
“That part of Liverpool is an exciting place to be, it’s had massive growth and we want to be a part of it.”
Being ‘a part of it’ doesn’t solely extend to commercial interests. Laing and his colleagues, armed with no lack of charm and a good sense of humour, immediately set about building bridges with Liverpool’s artistic community; a collective that is very quickly becoming the envy of the rest of the country.
He added: “What we’ve tried to do is make sure we have the right people involved who can bring in an arts and entertainment programme that does justice to the venue and the city. We’ve put a lot of focus on fostering relationships with the arts sector.
“It’s not an industry in the typical fashion; for a start there are no agents“, he laughs, “but that can be a blessing and a curse sometimes.”
Co-operation is what has taken Liverpool’s artistic community this far, and it is further co-operation that will secure our future too. Laing, given his storied career, understands that when it comes to the arts, and cities like Liverpool, it’s not competition that sets the agenda, but discovering how to work together; seeking the ties that bind.
“It’s about what we can offer gig goers, artists, the people of Liverpool and it’s been the same for any given city I have worked in and places I will work in the future,” Laing enthuses. “We don’t want to take anything away from anyone. That isn’t what art and culture are about.”
A city that thrives upon its past, present and future looks set to redefine those terms for itself once again.
For full listings check the official site.
Further reading on Getintothis
Mystery Jets launch East Village Arts Club
The Masque Theatre shuts – reflections and Getintothis‘ top gigs at the Seel Street venue