Much loved Preston venue's fight for survival
Malcolm Wyatt speaks to music promoter Danny Morris and The Ferret owner Sue Culshaw about a drive to save the grassroots live music venue in Preston
While Danny Morris’ day-job is with Bristol-based international music promoter MJR, he’s not lost touch with his Preston roots and his spare time is given over to a venue where he first gained events experience.
Danny, 29, is helping with bookings at The Ferret, where he was a manager from 2014, supporting April 2019 arrival Sue Culshaw’s bid to secure the Fylde Road venue’s future.
Local redevelopment work and a wet winter didn’t help, and then came Covid-19, The Ferret forced to close. But Sue, Danny and co. are cracking on with a crowdfunding initiative to ensure a future for the venue’s live music and arts promotions, having already passed £4,000 of a £7,000 target.
It’s a venue with a reputation for supporting local musicians and attracting emerging touring artists, showcasing new talent on the alternative music, performance art, spoken word, experimental sound and art show scenes, many of its 200 or so annual events are free.
Past guests include The Blinders, Blossoms, Catfish & the Bottlemen, Idles, The Orielles, Royal Blood, Wheatus, Working Men’s Club, and Big Interviewees Lovely Eggs, Jeffrey Lewis, and Evil Blizzard. And when Ed Sheeran played in 2011, his audience included One Direction’s Harry Styles, who then referenced the venue as ‘The Stinky Ferret’ at The Brits.
The Ferret also hosts Preston Arts Festival and Jazz and Music Festival events, working with UCLan and arts groups, and the three-day Glastonferret music and performance festival.
While 2020’s events programme has been hit hard by the Covid-19 lockdown, Danny remains positive on account of the support shown.
He says: “We’ve two benefit shows sold out - an extra three and a bit grand. There’s still £3,000 to find, but there are more shows in the pipeline which should sell out, T-shirt ideas, that sort of thing.”
Those fundraisers involve two shows by cult Preston success Evil Blizzard – the capacity reduced to 150 each night to ‘help give it that intimate feel’. With situations changing each week, those November dates are only pencilled in, but Evil Blizzard are committed to the cause.
But what inspired Danny, once with local acts Vox Population and The Youth Anxiety, who previously booked acts for Preston Guild Hall’s Live venue, to return?
He says: “When I was in bands there were more venues, such as 53 Degrees – downstairs and upstairs – and three venues at the Guild Hall. Now there’s really just The Ferret, The Continental and a couple more sometimes putting gigs on. And The Ferret’s the heartbeat of the city.
“It’s more than a venue. It’s where bands cut their teeth, and a lot of my favourites were discovered there. It’s important that the city still has that output and potential to put bands on the map. It’s also important for fans. You can tell by how people have come together, donating money, time and designed artwork. Its personal. It’s important.”
Sue Culshaw felt enthusiasm for live shows ‘fell off somewhat once Danny moved on’, something she was keen to address, reinvestment and refinancing following.
She says: “We’ve been trying to get it back where it should be. Then came the Adelphi regeneration – which will be great when it’s finished – and the wettest February ever, then coronavirus. We were looking forward to all the plans we had this year - art and spoken word, poetry and comedy, a wider brief. UCLan uses us a lot too, and all that’s gone, including graduation parties and end of term shows.
“It’s never going to make money. It’s not about that. We’re about keeping financially solvent and being able to put great stuff on. It’s a passion. I’m retired, but I’ve always been interested in the arts, my husband’s a professional jazz musician, in music since he was about 12, also known for Free Parking, which he started in 1984.
“My brother-in-law’s Paul Birchall who played keyboard in M People and with Heather Small over the years. And this grew embryonically. No one else was doing it and I’ve a lot of ideas. Preston can’t lose this place.
“It’s too important. The Ferret’s different, with a reputation for finding emerging talent, supporting lots of arts and creative people. It’s almost become more about the response than the money. It’s amazing to hear the messages people have put out. I’ve cried a few times. This place matters. That’s really been the theme.”
For more details about The Ferret’s crowdfunding campaign and how to get involved, head to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/theferret/comments#start You can also keep in touch on social media via www.facebook.com/FerretPreston/ twitter.com/FerretPreston and www.instagram.com/theferretpreston