Landlord becomes driving force for live gigs in Lancaster

Mark Cutter from The Robert Gillow.
Mark Cutter from The Robert Gillow.

Bold claims are being made by the landlord of one of Lancaster’s favourite pubs.

Mark Cutter, who took over The Robert Gillow in January, says the atmospheric Meeting House Lane pub is the best music venue in town.

Perhaps he said it to get a rise out of the other landlords and promoters in one of England’s most musical cities. Even so, the trained barrister’s claims are not without merit, given the frequency and consistency of gigs at The Gillow since he took the reins.

Music lovers may have noticed a significant change at The Lord Ashton in North Road of late as well, which is also down to Mark’s ambitious launch into the licensed pub trade.

He took over there in August last year.

And those excellent gigs at St John’s Church for Lancaster Music Festival? That was Mark’s idea, too.

The 31-year-old has one of those familiar stories in Lancaster – he came for a year and 10 years later he’s still here.

Having secured a job with a masters degree course at Lancaster University in 2003, Mark spent a year or two as a legal assistant, before taking on his own research unit until 2011.

The research just so happened to be into alcohol and its associated social trends.

Here he met his partner Natasha, and the couple, who have four children, decided to “see if we knew what we were talking about”.

And so, Mark, originally from Epsom, London, despite having no background in the licensed trade, bought 80 per cent of The Lord Ashton and got stuck in.

“We took it on in August 2011, and it’s been a longer road to freedom,” he said.

“It needed a complete social and physical turnaround.

“I’m working towards the freehold, but in the meantime we’ve taken advantage of the Live Music Act, which allows, as of October 1, live music without a licence between 8am and 11pm, but the plan is ultimately for a 4am licence down there.

“The Robert Gillow on the other hand is the best music venue in town, or it certainly will be.

“We opened 24 hours during Lancaster Music Festival and we’ve proved that a pub can open all night and provide a service to the people of Lancaster.

“We’re looking for live music three times a day minimum, and we’re more or less there now. Soon we’ll be running Champagne breakfasts with a piano player.”

Doing some research down the pub is a popular claim, but for Mark, that research was legitimate and now will hopefully pay dividends.

“We found that people appreciated being able to go out somewhere where they know there will be live music.

“They don’t necessarily have to check a timetable, they just know it’s going to be part of the culture and the vibe of the pub.

“Live music plays an extremely valuable role in the community when it comes to cohesion and culture.

“We know that live music is a positive when it comes to mental health.

“Music provides a focus for people and lets them relax.

“When I came here a light came on and I realised it was the right thing to do.

“We first thought of stopping music altogether, because of the costs, but we decided to go in the opposite direction because, when we actually looked at how the pub was running, we realised it was the music that was drawing people and bringing them together, and there’s a tremendous sense of community amongst the musicians in Lancaster.”

Up until last week Californian singer-songwriter Kristi Michele was coordinating music at the Gillow, but she is now focussing on her own performances, so Mark is looking for a new music coordinator.

He said he was also enjoying working with the custodians of St John’s Church in North Road, which is in the hands of the Churches Preservation Trust.

He said: “I made a loss financially over Lancaster Music Festival at St John’s, but I did it more to prove the concept of putting music on in unusual places.

“If we don’t make use of these buildings they’re going to fall into disrepair.”

Mark is providing the bar for a Kash for Charity gig, raising money for Children in Need on November 10 at St John’s.

The line-up features Bill and Phil, Kristi Michele, Sue Parish, Betty’s Blues, The Fiona Ford Band and Kash. Entry is £7.

Mark said his long term aim was to see a “really vibrant, sustainable music scene in Lancaster, which allows the idea that there should be live music on all the time. I quite like the idea of morning music, and I’m in the process of putting something together called ‘Busk for your Breakfast’ which will start in the next few weeks.”

As for the Lord Ashton, it’s no longer a “dirty boozer”, Mark said.

“Pubs shouldn’t be dens of iniquity, they should be places where people come together.”