AN EVOLUTION FROM MODEST BEGINNINGS
I had a very interesting meeting with Alan and Lisa Woolley recently, and, over a few drinks as we sat on comfy padded sofas at The Flowerpot, they delved into their history of how Raw Promotions had evolved from modest beginnings into the top music promoter that it is today.
The Cureheads tribute band were sound checking in the music room as we travelled back into time to the mid eighties when the foundations of RAW Promotions were laid down. Alan told me that RAW Promotions name was an acronym taken from his initials; that much I already knew, but there was lots more fascinating facts to follow that I didn’t know about at all. Alan went on to relate of how, in the mid eighties he had started to put gigs on under the name of Raw Folk at The Lord Nelson at the corner of Curzon Street. These were folky gigs, as Alan explained that he had been influenced by his brother who was well into folk music. With well known folk bands at the time which included Gregson & Collister, Martin Simpson, Vin Garbutt, Martin Carthy and Jake Thackray, Alan had his first taste of sell out gigs; these had proved to be very popular with those gig goers on that circuit. Alan told me that these early gigs proved to be a learning curve of how to manage gigs, and, despite being challenging, enabled him to hone his skill for the future.
After a while he had moved to putting gigs on upstairs at The Brunswick, which had a slightly larger capacity. Previously gigs at the Brunswick had been promoted by Andy Cooper and Boz, who are to this day still involved in music promotions, including, of course, The fabulous Off The Tracks festival now in its 30th year. In fact, Alan appeared at the very first Off The Tracks festival along with Alan Hull of famous Tyneside folk rockers Lindisfarne. Alan related all these details with remarkable clarity including how his Dad had built the stage at The Brunswick in three parts, and how The Rattlers sold out gigs to the 100 capacity room at this time.
At this time, Lisa had found work, under John Major’s flagship job creation scheme, the YTS at RE Cords, one of then several independent record shops in the city. Lisa cheerfully related how she must have been doing something right, as after a while she was taken on full time and promoted to the singles department. Singles played an important part of the record industry in those days and downloads were still a twinkle in the eye of the gods of the future. So, successful was Lisa, in 1987 she went her own way and set up BPM records with her RE Cords manager Dave Hill, the name being inspired by Alan, using another acronym, this time for Beats Per Minute. Alan told me with a wry grin, of how Lisa had had the choice of a YTS placement at RE Cords or Field Sports, but had chosen the record shop. Talk about famous last words, as Alan went on to tell how he had told Lisa to take the job at Field Sports as he thought there was no long term future in the music industry!
In around 1994, after a while of Alan putting on well attended gigs at The Brunswick, John Evans, who was joint landlord there with Trevor Harris, left to take over the Flowerpot. John proved to be an astute judge as regards to furthering Raw Promotions ascendency in the live music industry, and he started by suggesting to Alan that there was this possibility of a larger venue there. There was however just one problem: The Flowerpot was a small but very popular Derby pub selling great beer, as it still is, but there was no room for a music room, so an adjacent building that had previously seen life as a tyre depot was mooted as the ideal location. John invited Alan over to show him his idea, and to ask him for his advice as to how to proceed, and of course the rest is history.
At this time, the building was just an empty carcass, but over the next couple of years, it was turned into what today is the music venue that we all know and love, with The Rattlers playing the first ever gig there when it opened for business on Alan’s birthday in 1995. When I asked Alan if the Rattlers line up was the same then, he confirmed that that was the case, and that they all looked the same then as well!
The music room still has traces of its past, as Alan showed me where the cars would have come in for tyre changes, with two pillars in front of the stage hinting at this.
So, in 1995 the stage was set for the show to begin, in more ways than one; those days the stage was where Sid’s desk now is, and entry was down a passageway at the side of the Pot. The first gigs were all promoted as ‘The Great Derby Saturday Stomp’ and featured some of the best original roots and blues bands on the circuit.
Many famous names have graced this former tyre depot, and many reading this will no doubt have fond memories of their favourite band playing there. When questioned as to what their favourite gig had been, Alan and Lisa were unable to specify any particular singer or band, such has been the sheer volume of talent that has played there. However, they did mention a number of names that had suitably impressed them, quoting performances from big names like Beth Hart, Nine Below Zero, Nils Lofgren, Fish, Wilko Johnson and Joe Bonamassa, who they’d booked early in his career because they liked the name! Not content with making the Flowerpot a success, Alan and Lisa branched out around this time putting on some great gigs at The Assembly Rooms, with bands like Walter Trout, Nazareth, Robin Trower and Davy Spillane.
Alan suggested that John Martyn may qualify for the dual honour of the best and the most difficult act to have played at The Flowerpot. When pressed for the reasons why, Alan and Lisa related how they had seen him play at The Royal Festival Hall in London only the previous evening, and how they were both blown away by his performance, not least the fact he was playing the Pot the following evening. He went on to describe how John had played a brilliant gig, but also how his demands on them at the gig were somewhat burdensome, and yet, after the gig, the band were all in McTurk’s Kebabs with everyone being friendly.
The Flowerpot has become internationally famous as a venue for live music, as it seems wherever you travel, you will meet someone who knows about it. Alan made mention of his experiences to this end, and I can attest to this personally, as I recently spoke to someone at a live jam in The Lord Nelson in Gibraltar, who, when I mentioned I was from Derby, immediately mentioned The Flowerpot. Furthermore, people travel from all over the country and even Europe to see gigs there, a point that I personally have been witness to. Let’s not forget that the Flowerpot has excellent B&B facilities upstairs as well, so bands have used these facilities as well as the travelling fans.
Tribute bands are very popular at The Flowerpot; indeed many of these acts consistently sell out. When asked about this, Alan said that originally they didn’t intend to put tribute acts on, but has since, as he puts it, “warmed to it.” He said that probably the first tribute act they’d put on had been Limehouse Lizzy, and The Australian Pink Floyd, who now apparently have a bigger rig than the real Pink Floyd. Lisa and Alan went on to explain that you could have a great night out, have a few drinks, and experience the vibe of the real thing, such as “The Rolling Stoned” at a fraction of the cost. Original Blues and Rock bands also play a big part in Raw Promotions gigs. Huge names that have graced the stage include Jefferson Starship, Michael Schenker, Focus, Big Country & Wishbone Ash.
Lisa made mention of when she was selling records of famous names such as China Crisis, Midge Ure, Toyah, Hazel O’Connor, The Christians and many others, that she never in her wildest dreams thought she would be actually be booking and meeting these people as part of her job. Yet, this is now reality; all these acts that sang out through the grooves of the vinyl that she sold in the shop have now become real people that she and Alan have hosted, with some becoming personal friends and acquaintances.
I asked Lisa at what point in the proceedings did she jump ship at BPM and concentrate solely on Raw Promotions? She answered that around 2005, she could see the market in recordings changing, what with the advent of downloads and the decline of vinyl sales, that she was thinking of a change and as such was looking for a new challenge. Lisa clearly has a very shrewd business head on her shoulders and has been blessed to have had the foresight, along with Alan, to make Raw Promotions a success, most definitely benefiting from that first leg up she had from the YTS scheme that kick started her career.
Despite all this, Lisa says the best thing about it all is having people come to the gigs to have a good time watching quality live music and to see them all leaving afterwards looking happy. If you’ve ever been to one of the gigs at The Pot, you’ll know exactly what I mean, as when you arrive, you’ll be greeted with a smiling face, and when you leave, you’re given a list of upcoming gigs and you can hang out and chat with Alan and Lisa and even meet the band. That most definitely rings true for me personally, as when I first came to gigs there, I really did find their friendliness infectious, with me wanting to come back for more, which I have been doing for several years now.
The Flowerpot isn’t the only venue where the wonderful Woolley gig machine put on bands; Alan & Lisa have over time have also promoted at other venues including the excellent Nottingham based Rescue Rooms.
For a full list of all Raw Promotions gigs visit www.rawpromo.co.uk.