Backstage with Trish Brown
This week, we go backstage with Trish Brown, an event producer who has developed and delivered top festivals such as EFG London Jazz Festival, Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival, Bath Festivals, Cheltenham Jazz Festival and many more.
Trish is currently working at the historic concert hall St Georges Bristol. In her role as Operations Director, Trish is responsible for delivering over 600 events per year, running the hospitality department and generating commercial income for the charity. In 1823, St George’s was built as a church to service the Clifton area, but in 1976, the church faced redundancy. It was rescued by a group of local music enthusiasts, who saw its potential as a centre for fine music, and St George’s Music Trust was born. The venue is now established as a major concert venue, known locally, nationally and internationally for jazz, classical, folk, world music and opera.
Keep reading to find out more about Trish’s impressive portfolio of events, how St George’s is adapting to lockdown restrictions and their plan to bring back fans safely.
You’ve worked with exciting organisations all across Bristol, with an impressive career spanning over a decade. How did you first break into the live music industry? And what advice would you give to those starting out now?
I remember producing a charity concert when I was 15/16 and getting musician friends of mine to perform in the local church hall. Tickets were a bargain of £3 full price and £1 concessions, and it was from that experience that I realised that I really enjoyed providing a platform for artists to perform to audiences. I went to university to study music performance and was incredibly fortunate that the lecturers supported my development in arts management/production as part of my degree. I think I was the final generation to grow-up without being fully exposed to social media, so I think my advice would be to make sure you go and absorb yourself in as much live performance as possible. Also, don’t limit your experiences by genre, try something new that you’ve not heard of before. Although 2020 has been a year which has seen amazing steps forward in terms of our ability to engage with art digitally, it has also felt like a year of incredible loss by not being able to experience as much live creativity as we usually would.
How would you summarise Bristol’s live music scene and what makes it so unique?
Bristol’s live music scene is just brilliant to be a part of. The range of genre, style and artist is something I really love, and there is always something new to discover. It’s great that there are underground spaces for artists, alongside established formal concert halls, city wide festivals and major stadiums, so basically there is something for everyone here. We’re very lucky to live in a city that strives to create an inclusive environment and are well supported by the local council in the scene.
Like many music venues across the country, St George’s has had to deal with constant Tier changes and lockdowns. How have you manged to keep fans engaged during such an unpredictable and unprecedented time?
It’s certainly been quite the roller-coaster ride! Since closing in March we’ve worked hard to maintain close relationships with the local artistic community through providing the venue as a space for recorded concerts, album recordings and filming sessions. This has meant that there has been content going out to fans directly which helped us maintain a presence despite not necessarily being able to physically welcome audiences back into the building. We were part of the successful cross-city project, Bristol Arts Channel which helped maintain visibility of St George’s alongside the other local creative organisations. One of the strengths we have as a team is that we were also able to respond incredibly quickly to the changing of tiers in relation to opening up for in-person concerts. It’s a testament to the team and the artists that we were able to host a number of outdoor garden events, gigs in the bar area, and reduced capacity classical concerts in the main hall.
The impact of COVID-19 on music venues has been devastating, but fans seem enthusiastic to return! How do St George’s plan on safely reopening this year?
We are so excited about welcoming people back through our doors and have been working really hard in terms of ensuring the venue is covid-secure. We’ll be doing the usual risk assessments, additional cleaning schedules and maintaining social distancing until government guidance changes. We have also been really fortunate to get funding from Arts Council to re-vamp our website, so that the customers journey from when they first engage with us digitally to when they leave us at the end of an event in person is a really great experience.
Music listening soared in 2020, with more than 155million albums bought or streamed according to BPI, proving just how important music is to our lives. What albums or artists have you been relying on to lift spirits during the various lockdowns?
I would say that I’ve really enjoyed having a bit more time to listen to full albums from artists during lockdown, as we can so often get caught in only picking up single tracks. I’ve really enjoyed the release of ‘Dorje’ from Skeltr, Nubya Garcia’s album, ‘Source’ and Sam Sweeney’s ‘Unearth Repeat’ record. I have also been listening to Gregory Porter’s podcast, ‘The Hang’, which lets you listen into really interesting conversations with a range of guests, and I have also enjoyed Jess Gillam’s podcast on BBC Sounds, ‘This Classical Life’, particularly her episode with Ayanna Witter-Johnson, two brilliant musicians talking about their influences and favourite music tracks.
What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
2021 is going to be a really interesting year, obviously starting it with a lockdown is pretty challenging, however, I think that the vaccine gives us hope that there is a point in the not-too distant future where we will be able to go to a gig and share that experience with other people. I am also looking forward to seeing the continued development of creative digital content, coupled with the in-person experience of arts and culture. Also, on a non-music related note, I also play rugby for Bath Ladies so am really looking forward to being able to do that again!
Can you name your first gig, last gig, favourite gig?
My first established artist gig was either Foo Fighters at Manchester Arena or Humphrey Lyttlelton at Buxton Opera House, and the last gig I went to was the Bristol Ensemble, Baroque Christmas Concert just before Christmas 2020. My favourite gig was either Hot 8 Brass Band at the Fleece, Marcus Miller at Royal Festival Hall, or Karine Polwart at St George’s Bristol, all for the inspiring energy they brought to the performance, but also how much they suited each gig space.
Which artist/band/performer would you like to see perform at YTL Arena Bristol (...and why?)
I think seeing Gregory Porter at YTL Arena would be unbelievable, he is such an amazing performer and we hosted him at St George’s before he got really famous so it’s great to have seen his career grow. He’s got brilliant jazz and soul chops, which translate really well on a bigger stage. I also think, Bjork would just mind-blowing!
Finally, could you share an all-time favourite song so we can add it to our YTL Arena Backstage Pass playlist?
Wow this is a hard question! Depending on what vibe you’re going for the playlist, I think either, Seven Nation Army by Nostalgia 77 & Alice Russell, Something by Snarky Puppy & Lalah Hathaway or Animal by Aurora.