Conventional wisdom suggests that to be successful these days food will generally be part of any plans to revitalise a pub's offer. But in true rock 'n' roll style, convention doesn't really come into it as far as Ye Olde John O'Gaunt is concerned.

 

The Lancaster pub has had a long-term reputation as a leading music venue, but when new owner Alan Ackers took it on a couple of years back and announced a major refurbishment it was assumed the kitchen would come into play.

Instead Alan, who runs six pubs in the North West with his Halmer Inns multiple operation, opted to turn up the live music association to 11.

He explains: "We knew we had a good pub but we wanted to take it to the next level. I didn't want to open up the kitchen and put food on because for me the mix of food and live music is not a good one.

"Food can be great but it can also create extra costs, such as chefs. Also, it isn't easy to have people sitting down for food while live bands are performing.

"So I decided that we would fully commit to the music."

He took the bold move to go 100 per cent wet and 100 per cent live music when it came to entertainment. And he hasn't looked back.

In a joint investment with landlord Punch, around £250,000 was spent to revitalise the pub. It was a delicate operation with Alan and the team keen to maintain the traditional feel at the Grade II-listed building.

 

 

Photos of musicians adorning the walls help tell the story, as does an artefact in the gents — part of a barstool that was favoured by legendary actor and drinker Oliver Reed.

 

Topping the bill

With history preserved, Alan and the team pushed the live music offer forward by putting on live acts seven nights a week, including two open mic sessions.

Ensuring the acts are what a knowledgeable and music-loving audience wants is the responsibility of general manager Claire Tomlinson.

"We are lucky in Lancaster in that there is so much talent around so it isn't difficult to find acts," she says. "We get loads of bands coming to the area for the Lancaster Music Festival and we have built up a reputation so that people are keen to play here.

"If there is a band that we know has a bit of a following or maybe have a popular student crowd then we will give them a try,usually midweek.

"Also we have the open mic nights and occasionally you will see someone who you want to book there and then."

All acts are paid, generally somewhere between £50 and £160, depending on the length of performance, the make-up of the act and its popularity.

 

 

 

Keeping it fresh

A variety of styles are catered for, such as jazz, rock 'n' roll, soul and rockabilly. The small size of the bar means heavy metal tends not to get a look in.

Claire is also wary of giving regulars "too much of a good thing", so looks to keep the line-up fresh.

"We have some acts who have been like house bands and have played three or four times a month, but generally we don't want to have the same acts all the time."

The approach has worked as has the friendly atmosphere at the pub, with acts from places as far-flung as San Francisco getting in contact to request to perform at the John O'Gaunt.

This reputation has been built up over years and is one that Claire was familiar with before she became the GM.

"I was a customer before I worked here. It is such a special place and has an amazing atmosphere. Many of the staff are musicians as well. If they are not musicians, they love music — if they don't they are in the wrong place really."

This passion attracts music fans from far and wide. And even when the live music isn't on, this crowd still uses the pub.

Alan adds that this is encouraged by the pub's cask offer: "Cask and music are a good combination and we have eight different casks a week on rotation. It is popular with the student crowd as well. We also do a lot of malt whiskies."

Not unlike the bands that perform at the pub, it is all about a blend of things that the audience wants to enjoy.