Lancaster Music Co-Op still going strong after 30 years

From left, Mick Armistead, David Blackwell and Ian Dicken outside Lancaster Music Co-op
From left, Mick Armistead, David Blackwell and Ian Dicken outside Lancaster Music Co-op

For three decades Lancaster Musician’s Co-Op has provided a platform for aspiring songmakers, helping to build the city’s enviable national reputation as a hotbed for musical activity.

Since 1985, the Lodge Street rehearsal rooms and studio has welcomed thousands of singers, guitarists, bassists, pianists, and all manner of other musicalists through its doors, providing a cheap, no frills space for noise to be made and talent to grow.

Early days: Tom Myall, David Blackwell and Ian Dicken outside the Co-Op.

Early days: Tom Myall, David Blackwell and Ian Dicken outside the Co-Op.

But the Co-Op building - a former coach builders and slipper factory - has seen better days and is in need of some pretty urgent repairs.

Plans to redevelop the ‘Canal Corridor North’ area of the city, where the Co-Op is located, has meant that for 10 years its future has remained uncertain and in the hands of the would be developers British Land, previously Centros Miller, and the council.

The council, which leases out the building for a peppercorn rent, said it valued the work done by the Co-Op and wanted to see a resolution as soon as possible.

It’s been the long held dream of Co-Op creators and caretakers David Blackwell and Ian Dicken to create a 300 capacity venue and much improved recording and rehearsal space, cementing a new cultural quarter of Lancaster between The Grand and The Dukes theatres.

Ian Dicken and David Blackwell in the studio at Lancaster Music Co-op

Ian Dicken and David Blackwell in the studio at Lancaster Music Co-op

Thirteen years ago councillors approved their plans for the building, but the grand designs for the wider area meant negotiations for a long term lease “went out the window”.

“We’re in limbo”, David sighs, as he did five years ago when the Lancaster Guardian initially covered the story.

“We haven’t been able to do anything because of our lease agreement and the building has been getting in a worse and worse state.

“It’s getting to the point where we really have to do something about it. We feel like we’re missing out on funding as the years go by.

“Things have been stagnating because of the British Land development.

“When Centros became British Land, we had to go through the same processes.

“It felt like starting from the beginning again and we’re pretty much in exactly the same position.

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen.

“Sometimes it feels like council officers want us to get so fed up we get bored and let it go, even though everyone we speak to seems to support the idea of having community rehearsal space.”

David said the building, although in need of repair, had a significant historic value due to its former uses and current cultural standing.

“This is where we want to be, between the two theatres, we feel part of a cultural area of the city,” David said.

“It’s still a great resource for local people to have a rehearsal space at an affordable rate.

“It’s a place where you can turn it up and not annoy anyone, where people can get together and form groups, and learn from eachother and if people want to know about equipment or how things work, we’re there to help.”

David said he and Ian were now re-visiting the plans from 2003 and had just finished revamping the studio space.

“We’ve no long term lease and no way of looking at improving the place in the long term,” he said.

“It’s a shame it’s gone on so long because the Lancaster Music Festival is doing so well, and that’s tied in with people who have rehearsed at the Co-Op. There’s no medium sized venue in the city, nothing between Manchester and Glasgow, and we have some great contacts with promoters up and down the country. It would just be great to get on with it, but another 10 years could easily go by before anything gets done.”

Coun Janice Hanson, city council cabinet member for planning, said: “The city council very much values the work done by the Musician’s Co-operative and, like them, I want to see a resolution as soon as possible.

“The council lets the building to the Co-Operative on a ’tenancy at will’ which passes responsibility for operating and maintaining the building to the Co-Operative. The terms of the lease are that it should be ‘wind and water tight’, so repairs should be being made by them on this basis. Discussions regarding potential future development of the canal corridor are still ongoing and subject to a decision by full council next month so it is too early to say what the future might hold.”

As part of its 30 year anniversary, the Lancaster Musicians Co-Op held a series of fundraising concerts with bands that have rehearsed or recorded there.

David said: “All the bands have done it for free and we’d just like to say a big thanks to everyone involved and everyone who has used the Co-Op in the past. The cash raised has gone towards repairs to equipment and the building.”

Lancaster Filmmakers Co-Op are currently putting together a piece on the gigs this year, with interviews and pictures with David, Ian and producer Mick Armistead.

David added: “If I had to call it a day tomorrow I’d say we’ve been successful because it’s done what it set out to do. It’s never closed and it’s been open pretty much every day for the last 30 years.”

l Want to support Lancaster Music Co-Op? Need affordable recording or studio space?

Email or call 01524 388544.