Joshua Brooks Jon Turner full interview

21 Jan

So you might have seen the interview with Joshua Brooks general manager Jon Turner in Friday’s CityLife. It is difficult, when an interviewee is as forthcoming as Jon, to whittle things down to the allotted word count, especially when none of the quotage is waffle. Something I might start doing this year is posting full interviews up here, for the most verbose subjects to have their say in its entirety. Let’s start, then, with all the words we didn’t have space for in Friday’s paper.

Good morning Jon. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to work at Joshua Brooks.

Originally from Hertfordshire, I moved here in 2003 to study Fine Art. I co-founded an arts collective, showcasing works by artists from all over the world, in exhibitions organised and held in alternative spaces. I volunteered at The Castlefield Gallery, worked weekend daytimes at Manchester Art Gallery and was an exhibition technician at The Cornerhouse upon graduating. I had a studio at the brilliant Islington Mill and was also exhibiting my own work in solo and group exhibitions. All while working at JBs.

Having been to Joshua Brooks under its former guise (Sofa Central), I began working here part-time while I studied Sculpture at the Art School. That was in my second year, back in 2004. By this time the venue had returned to its original name, Joshua Brooks.

There wasn’t a lot going on initially but after about a year or so, a decent programme of events started to materialise. Nights such as Flow, Friends of Mine, Invest in Property, Monster Monster and Beat Club gave the place a good mix. Soon after, nights Up The Racket, Clique and (the recently retired) Micron came on board. It was quite an exciting place to work for a student!

I left, temporarily, to help my then General Manager to steady-the-ship at another venue. After a few months there (during which time one of the original partners bought the other out) the owner asked me if I’d like to take-over the running of Joshua Brooks. I was confident I could do a good job, so took over as GM in 2008. I’ve also lived above the venue for over 2 years now.

Of the nights above, only Up the Racket and Micron remained when I started my tenure.

It took the first year for me to build a team that I could trust would put their heart and soul into the place. It was with the help of this team that the venue started doing well financially and put us in a position where we could start making some wholesale improvements.

By 2010 we had a brand new bespoke soundsystem installed and I’d convinced the owner that, to compete with the better venues in the city, we needed a full-time Promotions Manager. This is when Gareth Chubb, one of the co-founders of Micron, came on board. We also re-branded the venue with new logos, with the help of our good friend Sam Swaffield (S’il Vous Plait). While Sam also helps in the design of things like our A-boards, I make and sign-write everything at the venue myself – from toilet signs to the DJ booths! So I’m quite a protective manager!

Forging relationships with like-minded people in the industry, we’ve been lucky enough to work with the likes of Juicy, POGO, Strangerways, Content, LIMBO, Fingerprint, Murkage, iDiOSYNC, ChowDown and many, many more fantastic promoters! Including Clique, who have recently returned to launch their new monthly night Bam! Bam!

How did it feel to be named Best Venue for the second year running?

Great! We all work really hard as a team here, so there was a great sense of satisfaction. It’s a credit to the efforts of my immediate team of staff and everybody else that we work with on a daily basis.

There are some great venues in Manchester, doing some great things. To be recognised once was an amazing feeling…to be recognised a second time was a fantastic surprise. It’s given us all, at Joshua Brooks, a renewed energy to improve further!

What is it about Joshua Brooks that makes it special?

I guess it’s difficult to pinpoint. Although the events at the weekend focus more on underground dance music, we still have a mix earlier in the week with Moustache, Juicy and the newly acquired weekly Monday event – Nine Lives.

From Thursday to Saturday, you can often see guest DJs more used to playing in front of festival scale crowds, lifting the roof off the basement. There’s a great sense of intimacy between the crowd and DJ, thanks to the space.

As a punter, you’re not confined to the basement either – we’re lucky to have a bar area that we’ve been able to improve too. There’s also the smoking area and that’s imperative for any venue!

It’s these ‘social spaces’ on the ground floor that have helped create a sense of community amongst those revellers who frequent the venue on a weekly (sometimes nightly) basis. It’s a space for them to take a time-out from the often frenetic nature of the dance-floor in the basement.

And it’s that sense of community that gives the venue a welcoming feeling, in my opinion. There’s always a familiar face or two!

We’ve been able to focus on the product range in the bar recently too, sourcing craft beers and real ale from the best microbreweries in the country and beyond! We’ve had some great feedback from CAMRA and the industry in general. This has brought a different demographic to the venue while providing the late night crowd with a different source of discussion.

I have to give credit to my staff as well. They encounter some challenging situations on the busier nights, but still manage to keep a smile on their faces and make everyone feel welcome!

What ingredients do you think go into making a good Joshua Brooks clubnight?

The ingredients to a good night start going into the pot a long time before the event! Or, it should do anyway! So I guess the promoters that we work with have to share the same enthusiasm that we do and ensure that their target market do too.

There are certain genres of music that I’ve banned from the venue, for the simple reason that they often have a stigma attached which wouldn’t help us in maintaining our overall identity as a venue. So type of music is very important. It’s about knowing what works well with the dynamics and aesthetics of the space. We’ve made mistakes in the past when you know, as soon as the first track is played, that the event should’ve been held somewhere else!

The DJ attitude is very important…I’m lucky that my staff aren’t withheld in their opinions! If they think a DJ isn’t engaging enough with the crowd, they’ll make no compromise in letting that DJ know! The attitude and energy of a DJ (as well as their talent!) is often the connecting link between the music and the crowd. Certainly the nights I remember most vividly, are those where there is a distinct relationship/rapport between DJ and crowd. It’s all about experience, so if you can find a DJ that is capable of orchestrating that, then they become a very important element of a clubnight’s success.

Of course the crowd themselves, play an important role in determining whether a clubnight has been a success or not. But the crowd often reflect the people behind the event. We like to work with like-minded people and would like to think that this is manifested in the demographic of the crowd that turn up here every night. If it isn’t, then we’ve made a bad judgement of character when beginning a working relationship with a promoter.

So, every ingredient has to be spot-on. The venue itself, the girl taking money on the door, the dj, promoter, bar staff, door staff, crowd, music, marketing (the list goes on!). If you leave the venue with cherished memories, then it must’ve been one tasty clubnight!

What’s your favourite Joshua Brooks memory?

Apart from being named Best Venue?! : )

There have been so many! Seeing the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Toddla T, Joy Orbison, Alex Metric, Hervé, Yousef, Derrick May and our very own Damu (he works behind the bar here you know!) – they all rate up there.

My ultimate favourite has to be Octave One last year! Their set-up on stage was immense…not far off NASA space control! But it was their live performance behind that equipment that swung it for me. The energy that they omitted was something I’ve never seen before, certainly not in a small venue like ours! I was transfixed for the whole set and I’ve never seen a crowd here ‘go off’ like that!

What are your plans for 2012?

I don’t like to talk of specific plans, just in case they don’t pull off! But, be rest-assured, we’re always looking to improve Joshua Brooks in any way we can. A lot of it relies on the feedback we receive from our customers – we don’t take any constructive criticism lightly. I’m lucky to be head of a team of perfectionists here! : )

I’ll continue working closely with Sam (Swaffield, S’il Vous Plait) on enhancing the Joshua Brooks brand, while I’m determined to enhance our ever-growing beer range as an obsessive hobby of mine!

Gaz (Chubb, Micron), has more time to focus on the programme now that Micron has finished. Such is the nature of clubnights, that they can’t always continue their residency at your venue. Hence it is vitally important that dialogue is kept with clubnights at other venues…dialogue I know Gaz has maintained with some of the city’s most established and exciting new promoters! So watch this space for new nights!

Moustache have had a great start to life at Joshua Brooks and are looking to push-on now, replicating their previous success enjoyed in Leeds. Juicy is going from strength-to-strength. Nine Lives is a new weekly Monday night that we’ve got high hopes for after a fantastic trial night in December. That starts on 30th January.

iDiOSYNC, Selective Hearing and ChowDown have booked some serious names for the next few months’ events, while Heavy Rain have followed suit with their new residency here, starting in February. Content continue signing some of the biggest names to have played here, when Josh Wink comes to town next month. While Movement and 4Q Magazine have similar size guests lined up over the coming months.

Personally, from a nostalgic point of view, I’m hoping that Bam! Bam! can go on to be as successful and brilliant as Clique was when it started out here! Keep an eye-out for our limited edition, bi-monthly listings flyers and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Thank you Jon.

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