History of The (MAD) Ferret...
The Ferret is a small independent music venue and bar situated next to the Univeristy of Central Lancashire (UCLan) campus on the outskirts of Preston city centre. It has a 200 standing capacity, 100 seated. It was established in 2006 as The Mad Ferret and the lease taken over by present owners the Rowlands family in 2014 to save it from closure. The Ferret was refurbished in 2104 at a cost of £70k using savings and begged and borrowed money from family and banks turning it from a rundown dingy place into a bright modern themed space.
I took over as manager in 2014 and we developed a strong brand supporting local young musicians starting out and attracting emerging touring artists. It's primary purpose was set out to support and showcase new emerging talent in the alternative music scene, as well as performance art and spoken word, and experimental sound and art.
What we are About
The Ferret has always been unique to Preston's music scene in its focus on showcasing young and up and coming talent which often only finds an audience in the bigger cities of Manchester and Liverpool. It's Facebook page and website highlights the diverse events at The Ferret, many of which are free to attend. Preston has a number of pubs hosting local rock bands and cover bands butThe Ferret occupies a unique niche.
The central programme of The Ferret has always been to offer young talent a place to develop their music on a stage with professional PA, lighting and a talented sound engineer, to a responsive audience. It programmes the whole range of music from Hip Hop, Indie to Blues and Jazz and so on. The audience experience is central, and The Ferret has almost 12,000 Likes on its Facebook page which confirms how much it punches above its weight.
What we Do
The Ferret hosts upwards of 200 shows a year the majority of which are free entry. Examples of artists who got exposure at The Ferret early in their careers would be
Ed Sheeran; Blossoms; She Drew The Gun; Red Rum Club; The Orielles; Royal Blood; Wheatus; Lovely Eggs; Ginger Wildheart; Rae Morris; The Blinders; Bo Ningen; Catfish; Idles ; Working Mens Club; Jeffrey Lewis; Evil Blizzard amongst many.
The Ferret also works closely with The University and Arts groups hosting events during the annual UCLanImprovised Jazz and Music Festival. It is currently working with arts promoter Garry Cook to host performance and spoken-word events monthly. The Ferret is also a venue for the annual Preston Arts Festival.
UCLan music students showcase their bands at The Ferret termly. The Ferret also works closely with the graphics arts dept at the University and offers wall space to students and hosts social events for the graphics and music department. The Ferret also supports arts graduates with photography and music tech students using the space.
The Ferret hosts regular events such as quiz nights and ppen mic nights supported by students and many local musicians who like to take advantage of the professional set up to develop their talents in front of a live audience. Recently it introduced an open decks night for would be talent in this field to book a residency spot, which is proving very popular. The Ferret talent spots through these events and offers support slots to promising young performers.
The venue supports young local musicians starting out, hosting Last Band Standing competitions offering substantial prizes to the winners including recording time and headlining spots.
Glastonferret is an annual three-day music and performance festival during which the venue is cloaked in real turf and straw bales. This legendary Preston event sells out each year.
The Ferret offers space to recycled clothes markets and a regular Cuba charity evening raising money for Cuban musicians and medical charity. It also hosts charity events throughout the year
The audience frequently refer to themselves as the Ferret Family. The staff team are passionate about music and work really hard to make the audience and artists feel at home. Despite the limitations of the venue we have developed a strong and positive reputation amongst touring bands and their agents for the hospitality and organisation.
Like most small music venues, The Ferret struggles to make any profit. Grassroots music venues are the lifeblood of the music industry, it is not an exaggeration to say without them there would be no music industry. They need lots of dedicated nurturing. The Ferret has never been run for profit but operates more like a charity no-one on its board takes any money or dividends from the venue. It is a labour of love borne out of a passion for live music.
Since the initial refurb it has been difficult to find any money to upgrade. The sound engineer Tom Lawton has struggled along with outdated and inadequate equipment. For the past two or three years The Ferret has had a lot more nightlife competition as has the live music scene in general.
My Role (Danny Morris)
Despite leaving The Ferret to go full time into promotion, I remained a loyal and regular customer. A new team was put together almost a year ago to do some refinancing and re-organisation of the venue to bring it back to its former glory days. I offered my contacts and experience as a national promoter and together we have gradually re-vitalised the programme of events. The path has not been smooth as at the same time UCLan commenced its ambitious Adelphi project entailing extensive road closures around The Ferret coupled with the wettest February on record. However the programme we had planned for 2020 was the most ambitious and exciting yet with names like Louis Berry, Mark Morris, Nigel Clark and others. Its future was starting to look bright and we had great hopes it could be stabilised financially.
Then the coronavirus hit and everything has been put on hold. Besides threatening the already fragile future of the venue it is hard to see all the musicians, artists, photographers and musicians we offer support to locally, struggling as their work disappeared overnight along with the loyal staff on the team.
What we want to achieve
The Ferret adds so much to the city's arts and culture scene, its loss would be a tragedy. We really need to be able to support our sound techs, retain our staff and promoters and keep The Ferret operational even if only at the media level when the inevitable happens and we close our doors, so that we can ensure we rebound from this with a functioning venue and a dynamic programme.
We intend to a majority of the a fund to provide some paid employment to musicians and artists to give The Ferret a much needed lift, through painting, murals and a general upgrade whilst we are closed. If more money is raised some upgrading of the outdated and broken sound equipment would be great.
The worst thing for us having worked so hard over the last 12 months would be for the Ferret to decline and be unable to reopen. We welcome the government's help but it is not enough as the future and time scales are so uncertain. We need The Ferret to stick around and will do everything we can to try and ensure this, but we cant do it alone and need help. We promise to match any money raised in order to provide an even better resource for Preston.