Bootleg Social in Blackpool has some big acts set to perform in September
Bootleg Social in Blackpool
From childhood friends to co-owners of Blackpool’s independent music venue, Bootleg Social have a packed calendar after being closed due to the pandemic.
The highly-rated bar and live music venue is located in Blackpool’s town centre and prides itself on ‘being a bit of a hidden gem’.
The 330 capacity venue has supported and nurtured new and upcoming bands from the local area since 2014.
LancsLive spoke to Stephen Skelly, co-owner of Bootleg Social, about the venue, upcoming events and how they coped with pandemic closures.
The cool location of Bootleg Social used to belong to Jenks, known to many as a great indie night out. In fact, that’s exactly what encouraged co-owners James Ogilvie and Stephen Skelly to takeover the building for Bootleg Social.
Stephen said Jenks was the place the friends went when they were all 18 and after coming back from university, found that the beloved venue was up for lease.
Stephen said: “I was at a point in my life where I could either buy a house or buy a venue, so I got a venue.”
The friends set up the venue to celebrate their love for indie and alternative music, and have been directing the business since 2014.
“When we first started we hosted acoustic acts mostly, it was a bit DIY,” Stephen said.
As time went on they continued to build the venue and their stage and became a multipurpose venue used to put on club nights and DJ events, as well as offering a “decent” collection of craft beers and serving food to their customers.
Previously, the menu consisted of Pieminister pies but has recently changed to “a new Chicago style deep dish pizza” where customers can order a full pizza, or even just a slice.
DJ set at Bootleg Social
Stephen believes the indie and alternative music scene in Blackpool is “recovering”, he recalled the scene from “around 10 years ago” where the scene was “great”, but then he said: “it dwindled and youth music culture changed and people had different interests”.
“Since we’ve opened Bootleg there seems to be a bit of a revival of the indie-alternative music scene. Live music and bands in the area are sprouting up again which is nice and refreshing.”
The turning point for Bootleg was back in 2018 when The Wombats asked fans which small venues they should tour through.
After an online vote, Bootleg Social won, meaning they became one of four grassroot venues to host the band to adoring fans.
“It put us on the map in a way,” Stephen said, “from then on, being able to say we had previously hosted the Wombats gave Bootleg a bit more credibility with agents who were more willing to send bands through Blackpool.”
He continued: “It was a big thing for us, and it was a big thing for the community, it gave people the belief that if we want good things to happen and we want good bands to come through Blackpool then everyone needs to put a little effort in and it can happen.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Bootleg was closed until May 2021 where they reopened with “a few” socially distanced gigs with a maximum capacity of 40 people and seated with table service.
When the now-dubbed Freedom Day came round in July, Bootleg came back with a sold-out gig with the local band Alright who had formed over lockdown.
Stephen said: “It was like a return to old times, with a few precautions involved obviously.”
The venue encourages lateral flow tests before events and staff wear masks behind the bar. They have also installed UVC air filtration and ventilation to make gigs “as safe as possible.”
There was an opportunity for Bootleg to reopen in August 2020, but it was financially unviable for the venue. The only reason, they said, that they could reopen to provide socially distanced gigs this year was due to the Arts Council Recovery Fund.
“We wouldn’t be here without it,” Stephen said, “it bought us through these times.”
Stephen said the pandemic was “devastating” for venues like themselves.
“We’re supporting these small bands and putting on grass roots gigs, it’s not profit-making, we do it for a love. I’ve worked bootleg for the last six or seven years and it’s literally a passion project, its something we do for love, not money or profit.”
Now, thanks to the National Lottery Revive Live tour, Bootleg Social have a packed calendar for the rest of the year.
The National Lottery has partnered with leading UK charity Music Venue Trust with a unique initiative to help revive the UK’s live music sector. They are contributing £1M to ‘directly underwrite the touring and production costs of over 300 live performances this summer, enabling the grassroots live music industry to start promoting shows again in the knowledge that the upfront costs associated with touring are covered.’
Stephen said: “Its a national incentive of loads of bands that want to try and get back on the road and help small venues by putting on tours and bringing bands back on stage as soon as possible. These first few months of opening its been hard to book big names as no one knows what is happening”
Bootleg are selling tickets for half the venue capacity, for anyone who buys a ticket they can bring in a friend for free, as long as they have purchased a national lottery item such as a scratch card or lottery ticket, and show evidence of that purchase.
Stephen said it was “a cool little incentive” that helps “everyone get back into a place where shows are viable, which is amazing.”
There are three National Lottery Revive Live tours at the venue in the next month. On September 7, Pizzagirl is performing. September 11 sees Little Comets take the stage, and on September 21 Apollo Junction will play.
Bootleg Social is also hosting a tonne of gigs throughout the month and those looking for a night out, worlds away from the stag dos of Blackpool should check out their line up.