Dusty, furtive places with quiet at a premium – these are the oft-quoted stereotypes associated with libraries. So you wouldn’t expect to see Adele belting out her tunes in a Lancaster library, would you?
Thanks to the vision of librarian Stewart Parsons, this actually happened. Parsons created Get It Loud In Libraries to offer his Lancashire library as a venue for up and coming acts like the creator of the album 19 who has since gone on to international superstardom.
“Adele supported Mr Hudson and the Library who were on Island Records, and the label funded 13 dates in libraries around the UK, from Edinburgh to the Isle of Wight,” recalls Parsons.
“I was casting round for a support and I was sent a funny email by an agent saying ‘what about Adele? She’s fucking great’. So I streamed 30 seconds of the songs she had online at that time, and she was so good I thought ‘oh my god’.
“Adele sang four songs sat on a borrowed pub barstool, and everyone was just ‘oh god, she’s unbelievable’. You just knew this was an amazing talent at 17, and she was just a giggly cockney puffing away on fags outside.”
Get It Loud In The Library has now spread to other Northern libraries as record companies have cottoned onto the fact that Parsons offers a cheap and funky chance to give their new bands a safe way to learn their craft in front of knowledgeable audiences.
“I was a music librarian in Lancaster and had built a really good left-field resource of new bands at a time when the likes of Franz Ferdinand were breaking through so there was a real surge of new music.
“We were building up a resource of classic albums too, but I realised 14 to 25 years old weren’t coming in or engaging with what we had, so I just thought let’s put these new bands on and see what happens.”
But it wasn’t all plain sailing as Parsons had to work hard to convince some of his more old school colleagues that rock and libraries do mix.
“I have a feeling they gave me enough rope to hang myself reading between the lines,” laughs Parsons. “The more traditional staff around me worried about people using the toilets, getting drunk or taking drugs which is the classic library stereotype.
“Luckily my boss then was a massive jazz fan so I think he just transplanted his love for that music to something exciting happening he could be part of, and be a spearhead for the county of Lancashire.”
Armed with a limited budget and a cheap PA the team approached the record companies who, to their credit, recognised that playing in an unusual venue like a library might appeal to their up and coming acts.
“Our first artist was in 2005. That was Natascha Sohl and 100 people turned up came down so we just thought ‘oh blimey’. There are a few libraries now that put live acts on, but back then it was a totally new thing.
“We knew we were on to something so we put on The Long Blondes who had just released their first songs on Rough Trade, and it was completely sold out. It was so exciting to see a library just come alive, and having the biggest indie band in the UK at that time doing a showcase felt really special.”
Over the last nine years The Vaccines, Ellie Goulding and Florence and the Machine have all done a turn on their way up. However, all promoters have their favourite nights so, after nearly 200 gigs, who stands out for Parsons?
“The musicality of Katy B, her personality and her engagement with the fans, plus that show at Lancaster library was the first live show she’d ever played. Professor Green was absolutely storming, and The Civil Wars had just won a Grammy the previous week, and there they were in our library.
“Clean Bandit were amazing recently, and I can’t think of any that have been duds.”
Parsons’ boldness in offering his library to bands has been one of the driving forces in the recent movement to transform libraries into inviting multi-media venues, dragging new customers away from their laptops and smartphones.
“I think where we have played our part is in making libraries tweak their policies towards young people and making them less risk adverse,” he contends. “We won the local libraries award in 2007 so the chief exec of Lancashire County Council decided to put half a million into developing youth projects and youth spaces across the county, which wouldn’t have happened without the success of Getting Loud.
“There is another legacy as Lancaster Library now puts on all sorts of events from theatre to opera, and it is one of best venues in Lancaster so there are more young people kicking about the library.”
The success of the gigs has meant Parsons and his team can now link music fans to training opportunities for the next generation of young artists and technicians.
“We set out to subvert a few prejudices, and a big part of our work is a learning programme helping young people to study film, photography, video, rock journalism front of house, tech support or event management.
“It all works on so many levels as the gigs pull young people in to take advantage of all sorts of opportunities to develop skills.”
Upcoming events at Get It Loud In Libraries include Becky Hill at Liverpool University (September 27), Lewis Watson in Kendal Library (October 4) and Teleman playing Oldham Library (October 17).
For more information about Get It Loud in Libraries and future gigs, click here