We spoke to Stuart Box, co-owner of Picturesound, about Prestival, the challenges he faces promoting live music in Preston and his long term ambition.
What is Picturesound?
Picturesound is a band booking and gig promoting venture based in Preston, using The Ferret and The New Continental and, in future, possibly elsewhere. The aim being to improve the variety and quality of gigs in our town, and to contribute our part towards creating more of a local “scene,” and conducive to making Preston a viable destination of larger touring bands.
When did you start putting on shows?
The first gig was in November 2013, although that was just a tester – a toe in the water. I started booking in earnest from January 2014.
Have they been successful?
They have on the whole been successful, with the occasional exception. Of my last ten gigs at The Ferret, I’ve had over one hundred through the door (in a 190 capacity venue) on four of them, including one that broke the bar takings record, and had under sixty only twice. The remaining ones lying somewhere between. I don’t attend every other gig at the venue, so I can’t be accurate as to how they compare with the competition, but the impression I get from staff and regulars is that they are currently the best gigs going.
What are the main challenges in putting on shows in Preston?
There are numerous. Although the quality of local acts is generally high, there are too few gigging bands to fill all the available support slots without excessive repetition. Repetitive bills have been one of the major factors in the apathy of potential audiences. The lack of dedicated venues with an array of capacities is also an issue. At the moment, there is not what you would call a “scene,” although I am hoping to be part of changing that.
Do you make any real money from Picturesound or is it more a labour of love?
Not yet. I started with the aim to just enjoy myself and, at worst, to break even. I am given a small budget from the venue to put shows on, but would rather distribute that fairly between the acts, many of whom travel. I run the business as ethically as possible, and try to make sure no one is out of pocket and that everyone enjoys themselves. I have only put on one paid entry show in the first six months, and this did make a very small profit. The aim eventually will be to get paid for the work, but for now it is a labour of love.
What’s your view on what happened with Prestival?
My view is that it’s probably for the best. It was obvious from its organizational difficulties that it was a huge potential failure waiting to happen, and, had it actually happened and flopped could have soured the council and the whole local scene from putting on similar scale, but better organized, events in future. I don’t ascribe to the idea of “trickle-down” economics, either. Festivals may be a big success and draw in 20,000 people, but you have to ask where are those people for the rest of the year? One huge blow-out doesn’t help build a scene. Glastonbury started as a tent in a field. Small, regular gigs, then scaling up over time is the approach I’m taking.
Do you think Preston could host a successful festival of that scale?
It could, but not a huge one and not from its current starting point. I prefer the approach of Liverpool Soundcity, in hosting gigs concurrently at a series of small venues, but all over the city. A wristband grants you entry to any of them and you can wander around in search of something you like. That way, instead of outsourcing catering etc to greasy burger vans and flogging beer in plastic cups at a fiver a pint, you use the existing infrastructure and local businesses benefit. No one would argue that Edinburgh hasn’t befitted from this model with its Fringe Festival.
Where do you think most bands in Preston fall short?
I don’t think it’s a failure of individual bands. They do what they do, to different degrees of success. Some I think are very good, others I’m less enamoured of – but that’s just my taste. It’s the lack of variety and, most importantly, depth. More than once I’ve struggled to find an appropriate local support for the kind of bands I have visiting from elsewhere. Other times, I’ve had to rely on bands more than once as they are the only representative of a certain genre or sound. In an ideal world I would double or even triple the size of the pool from which I can draw. But I can only work with what I have, and it’s an unspoken rule that there has to be at least one on a bill, both as I do support local music but also for the practical reason that they bring people in.
If you could change one thing about Preston and it’s music scene, what would it be?
As above, but also I would also prefer there to be more venues. Competition is a good thing, and with more going on you would hope general enthusiasm for live music would improve. Plus I think there is a disconnect between the student scene and the native scene – a link that needs repairing. For a town with approaching 40,000 students, certainly during the term-time months it shouldn’t be a struggle to fill a small venue.
What are your plans for Picturesound in the future?
Expansion in terms of numbers of gigs and the venues I use. I would like, sometime early next year, to attempt a gig beyond Preston – probably in Manchester. I want to expand the reach and reputation of the brand, bring in new fans, continue to put on impressive shows. I would like to have a wider reputation, to a point where signed bands chase me for gigs rather than the other way around. But, most importantly, I want to continue to enjoy it. That has been the main driving factor so far: to put on the kind of act I want to see and hope that others enjoy them as much as I do.