It’s been a turbulent couple of years for The Masque, firstly unexpectedly shutting its doors in November 2011, then the guys behind Chibuku/Circus doing a valiant caretaking effort to keep it ticking over before the welcome news late last year that the MAMA Group were coming on board to give the venue a much required revitalisation.
After six months spent covered in scaffolding and an army of more attractive than normal builders traipsing in and out of it (we’ve done some pretty solid investigative work in that department), finally the news arrived that we’d been waiting for – The Masque was reopening again! Only, er, it wasn’t. Even though last year we told you it definitely wouldn’t change its name, it is…
Determined to get to the bottom of this, and other pertinent questions, we had a catch up with the MD of MAMA Group, David Laing, who talked us through the future plans for the venue, what made him fall in love with the building and what kind of food we can expect to find in the new venue’s new restaurant.
So The Masque is dead, long live the East Village Arts Club, what was behind the decision to change the name of the venue?
Over the entire history of the building, right back to being the Royal Institution, it’s had a number of names, the most recent of which is The Masque. The key factor in the change for us was that we’re really broadening out the range of music and types of events that will take place there, including having a bar and kitchen operation as well as club nights, we thought it crucial to signal how big a change that really is. With vision we have for the venue over the next 10 to 20 years, sticking with The Masque as a name didn’t really feel like it gave the right impression.
Over recent years it was a venue that became synonymous with clubbing. What made you decide on a multi-use space now?
There were a few reasons behind this that all seems to come together at the same time. As a
company we were actively looking for interesting venues around the country that would give us
the capability and the option to do a wider range of events. That’s something we want to do as a business, we don’t want to be too narrow in terms of types of music and events that we can put on, we want a more eclectic programming.
Much of the venue’s programming will encompass a wide breadth of arts and culture. There will be a site-specific ceramic sculpture installation by London ceramicist Annabelle McIntosh commissioned for the opening, and the first visual exhibition ‘Will Draw for Money…’ is a graphic arts exhibition by Glaswegian artist Barry Neeson, running from May 3rd – 19th. There will be science lectures, acoustic open mic nights, fairs, all sorts of stuff…
In addition to that we were really keen to introduce a good food operation into more of our venues which isn’t something that’s practical in some of them – The Ritz in Manchester for example – but other buildings we have, like the Hoxton Bar and Grill and The Jazz Café in Camden, they’re places where you can go in and have a drink or something to eat, not necessarily just visiting for a gig. And from a business point of view that’s important to us, it’s expensive to run a building and so you want it to be busy all the time, with people using it day and night, not just once or twice a week when there’s a club on.
I came to visit and saw the change over the past few years around Seel St and Ropewalks area,
being impressed by how eclectic and bohemian it has become with independent bars, coffee shops, other venues and just a great atmosphere. The final piece of the puzzle was seeing the building, I think perhaps people who have been in there over the last couple of years for a club night maybe wouldn’t be able to see how fantastic and grand the building is. There’s an incredibly rich history behind it which we want to add to and build on, we’ve uncovered old fireplaces and old beams and stonework which we’re keeping and restoring.
And all of that made me think that an exhibition would be great in here, or a comedy night, it’s a really exciting opportunity for us to renovate this building, use it for all these different ideas as well as keeping the clubbing aspect running alongside it.
You’ll be working alongside the Circus and Chibuku team who have made it their home for the last ten years and you’ll also bringing on board Revo (Club EVOL). Are you keen to develop it into a musical hub for the city?
I honestly think that the bare bones of the building make it the best event space that I know of in Liverpool, and one of the best in the UK too. The main theatre room – now that it’s nearly finished being refurbished – I think it’s one of the best performance spaces I’ve seen in this country and I hope that we have put a team together who will do that room justice and get the best of the best of each of their respective genres that they work in. We want the best artists, the best club promoters, the best live promoters… it deserves that.
Probably the biggest change for most people will be the food; it’s traditionally been a night time venue only. How do you see that working, will it essentially be two different venues?
The bar and restaurant exists separately so that you don’t have to be coming to a gig, it’s going to be open from 11am so you could be popping in for a coffee and not intending to visit for club nights at all. But then at the same time you could be coming at 8pm at night and stopping off for a pint before going next door for a gig. It’s part of the same building but able to be used like any other bar or restaurant really, the fact that there might be a live gig happening upstairs wouldn’t affect it in any way.
And more importantly, what kind of food are we talking?
If I refer to it as red meat and hard liquor which should give you an idea of the style! We’ll be doing big, juicy burgers but with high quality meat that we’re sourcing very particularly from local farms. American soul food will be on the menu too, racks of ribs and big sandwiches with pickles and blue cheese sauce; locally sourced, high quality but in a laid back environment and made with love.
We’ll also offer a much bigger range of beers from all round the world, not what you’d normally expect from a live venue, no warm pints in plastic cups!
You’ve got a really hectic opening month ahead, with some fantastic line ups and also the venue will be utilised as part of the SoundCity weekend. What in particular are you looking forward to checking out?
I think I’m going to be there for pretty much everything for the first few months! If I had to pick out particular examples I think that Mystery Jets which we’ve just announced today will be something to watch out for, then on the clubs line up I think SBTRKT at Chibuku (4 May) is my personal favourite.
Looking further ahead, I’m looking forward to being able to confirm the first comedy show in the Theatre – it’ll be exciting to see the first of each type of event happen.
Forthcoming Live Music and Clubs at the Arts Club include Kate Nash (pic, 21 April) and Ghostpoet (main pic, 21 May) For more details, visit their sites.
The East Village Arts Club
(Opens 18 April)
90 Seel Street