Jonny & Rupert

Jonny & Rupert

Jonny Booth, Manchester
Licensee- The Castle Hotel | Business Partner- Gulliver’s, The Eagle & The Parlour | Guitarist- Biederbeck | Top dude & Busy bloke

The Wave: In the true spirit of “if you can’t get a job done, do it your fucking self’; the tale of how a bunch of band mates grew tired of their Manchester drinking holes and the on-going struggles of city’s bands and promoters.  Today, with four venues up their sleeve and another one opening very soon, here’s how The Castle gang came to be…


THE BEGINNINGS – Chapter 1: The Castle

Whose Castle is that?
Me and Rupert [Hill], the main business partner, set up The Castle four and a half years ago with Esther and Stephie managing. The opportunity arrived at The Eagle two years ago and we co-invested with Esther and [we’ve] recently gone into business with Stephie. In some respects it’s a cooperative.

How it all came about
Rupert and Esther were in a band and I was managing The Temple. We’d been fed up with where there was to drink, and on a small scale, the way a lot of promotions worked with ticket targets. It was trying to provide small capacity, accessible venue; because I know promoters really struggle with venue hire.

From first-hand experience, the cut throat world of promotions & playing gigs,

Years ago, the first question asked was “How many people are you going to bring?” and understandably when you’ve got overheads.  A lot of promoters preyed on ‘Pay to Play’. They may have got a little bit of unreasonable stick, because there were some pretty formidable venue hires.  We never thought that the onus should squarely be placed on the bands and promoters heads.

The live music scene back then
It seemed to be getting quite hemmed in. Opportunities seemed to be waning and it was in danger of it (not that I’m saying that we’re the saviours), becoming a bit stifled.

Addressing the vicious cycle of costly venue hire and making a buck
We don’t charge hire fees. A few years ago there were a lot of small venues with really dire PA’s, ‘speakers on broom handles’ kind of affairs, not really worth anyone’s effort playing. We wanted to be able to make it work for everyone involved; make it worth the promoters getting out of bed for, be able to pay the bands and take some money home.
I don’t know whether it’s a model that’s been done before in Manchester, the free hire and working in more of a cooperative.

castle jonny and rupertFree venue hire vs. excellence
We’re always pretty strict about who we let hire out. It wouldn’t be worth their while if a band tried to promote a night and they didn’t know their way around promoting. It’s a skill in its own.

Keeping away from promotions
Venues that self-promote, intrinsically can put themselves unnecessary pressure to fill seven days a week with music, you just stick anything on.  We could just fill it up with whatever came through and we’d still be able to take the money on the bar. We knew that it was important that we had a venue with a really good reputation first and foremost. It’s being precious, so when bands did come, it would actually be taken notice of. On a bigger picture, for the general health of the Northern Quarter and the music scene in Manchester, it has been important.

Quality, small venue gigs = exciting and special
That’s what we really wanted to achieve. Venues have changed a lot. The Deaf Institute really led the charge on that going, “it doesn’t have to be a shithole painted black, stinking and paint peeling off”. When we really started talking about putting the venue in, we did take a lot from The Deaf Institute model. When we got The Castle, we only opened half of it because the other was falling down.

A new breed of venue
The music market has opened up a lot. The people buying tickets has changed, it’s not just 18-30 festival goers. Rupert and I noticed when we were dragging our parents along to gigs they were like “this is fucking horrible, this place”, I think there’s something in that. The whole feel of venues has changed. We’re not in the 80’s anymore.

 “It’s not about décor. The thing on stage is the main thing… it doesn’t really matter how great the drapes are.” (Classic Slum, June 2013)     
Of course, that’s absolutely the case, but it’s not about what’s happening in the venue. It’s getting people in there in the first place. I don’t think it is as cut and dry as what’s on stage or the quality of the PA or the quality of the bands, it is about the whole experience.

A boozy inspiration
We felt like it needed to look like a boozer. That’s why we like doing it in pubs, it doesn’t require that much thought because they are such old buildings, they tell you what they need to be done to them. There wasn’t one that we knew of and with the music hall at the back. We openly admit that we plagiarised Deaf a bit with the backroom. We were fortunate that the ceiling was already there.

Recognising a beer shaped gap in the Northern Quarter offer
It’s changed a lot now because beer’s become super fashionable. I don’t want to say that we invented the craze, but before The Castle I worked at Trof and I managed Big Hands and Temple. People started stocking bottles of ale and the sales were creeping up. I was like ‘no-one’s got a pub with loads of hand pulls on’.  The Crown and Kettle, The Bulls Head, they were all doing ale, but I don’t think that they were directing it at our market.

The Castle Ceiling

The Castle Ceiling

Supply, demand and…rivalry?
It’s wicked around here! I don’t believe that much in competition. I don’t get the impression that anyone is. There’s a million bands every single day that want a gig in Manchester, so you can probably fill every street in the Northern Quarter with a venue and it would still be booked up with decent stuff. The more venues, the more music, the more people will come.

You’re doing really great, well done.
I hope so, we’re really happy with it.


The ingredients of a good British pub
It’s in the eye of the beholder. You could say “I hate gastro pubs”, but a good food pub could equally be as relevant on the pub scene as a little back street, dark dirty boozer.

The decline of boozers
There’s no room for lazy licensees. It’s pushed the breweries into a corner, where they’ve had to be quite ruthless, get rid of some dead weight and they can protect what’s good. The statistic only shows what is closing; they don’t say what percentage of that is being taken up again with better operators.

“Payday came and with it beer.” – Rudyard Kipling
There’s a lot of different social factors involved in the way that people spend their time and money. The good thing about a pub is that the last luxury that anyone is ever going to give up is going for a pint after work. The suburban backstreet boozer that has catered for just blokes going getting pissed after work, that market has diminished.


How the clientele reacted to the gang’s next takeover
Terrible. We were not preaching to the converted at all, well not even here [the Northern Quarter] really. The people that were in all three places just hate us. The amount vitriol that we’ve been subject to has been shocking.

The regulars return
Funnily enough, they came back in the end and get on with the new regulars; some of them, the ones we haven’t barred. We had a little contingency of the BMP in The Castle when we first took over that we had to weed out.


Size matters.
We get a load of bands on the first tour at The Castle. Then [they are on their] second tour, the singles out, they’re getting radio play and The Castle’s not big enough. We felt that we were missing out a bit and that we’d quite like to get them the second time round as well, because it’s twice the size of The Castle.

Gullivers New Stage

Gullivers New Stage

Why Gulliver’s hasn’t worked before
Reading between the lines, the people who had it before us thought it would be a cash cow and realised that actually when everyone’s had their bit, you’ve not got an awful lot left. [They] kind of thought that every 3 quid that went to the bar went straight into their pocket and then realised that it didn’t. You’ve got to work at generating an income and keep the doors open.

Discovering upstairs
When it first got taken over, we came and had a look around. We kicked ourselves because we’d dismissed it and a) because it was across the road from The Castle b) we didn’t know it had a venue in it. It’s amazing, it really kind of harks back to when pubs were all about ballrooms and dance houses. They really were the centre of the community.

CHAPTER 4: THE EAGLE Pt2 A new music venue
The cottage next door to The Eagle was tenants accommodation. A month or so ago we had planning permission to take out all the ceilings and floors out to open it up.
That area of Salford is really emerging. Out of all the contenders that might grow into being the new Northern Quarter, I think that’s the one.  With it being next door to Blueprint, we are working quite closely with them to create some space upstairs where bands can do residential stints and stay with us whilst they record over there.

Spread your Eagle wings, go on your Gulliver’s travels and build a Castle elsewhere…
We’ve opened one a year-ish, so if we wanted to continue like that, we’d probably run out of space in Manchester pretty quick. I don’t think any of us has got illusions that we want to become a massive chain. We like to operate on a grassroots level.

The next one…
Not for a while, this place [Gullivers] completely broke me.  I would really like it for The Castle and The Eagle and Gulliver’s to re-group and do something really big like a 1,000 capacity.


It’s not very easy. You’ve got to keep your eyes peeled and find somewhere cheap. Particularly if you are a musician or a promoter, you are unlikely to have fifty grand to fit out a state-of-the-art venue. I’ve always, always, suffered at the hands of venue hires when I tried to promote. If we can at least allow bands to get a little money and promoters to earn a bit of cash.

Get some work experience
Don’t bother if you’ve never run a bar before, you’ll just trip over straight away. I don’t think I would ever consider opening a bar if I’d never run one. You can learn as much of what to do as what not to do.

The Eagle Stage

The Eagle Stage

Don’t be a bunch of pretentious nobs.
We were very conscious about not being dicks. Making everyone be polite, it sounds really twatty but it’s us really.

Support your local brewery.I’m a full supporter of it because these guys have got to keep these buildings standing. You do pay more for beer, but you get considerably cheaper rent. It means your deposit is lower, so all of your in going costs are halved or quartered. You’ve got the whole support network as well.

…and not a wide-screen in sight.
If you want to watch telly, then stay at home. Before we took The Eagle over, we went in a couple of times and it was a room full of people watching Jeremy Kyle not talking to each other.

Having a former soap star involved helps, come one.
Absolutely not. No.

The Eagle’s music venue opened on Friday 18th October with a cracking triple billed gig


Co-founder, Producer and Presenter of the weekly Silent Radio show. Part of the Silent family since 2010.Over 10 years experience of working with national, award-winning youth charities and in the creative industries. She’s the former Deputy Director of, Europe’s leading promoter of emerging creative talent. Here she helped secure new creatives secure massive media exposure (BBC R1, 1Xtra…), showcases at mega impressive locations (Downing Street, V&A...) and kudos from the best in the business (Brian Eno, Boiler Room, Peter Saville…).She also flies the flag for women in the media as Director of Manchester’s independent music website Silent Radio and co-Founder, Exec Producer and Presenter of the Silent Radio show on MCR.Live; Further radio includes BBC 5Live, BBC Radio Manchester, plus the odd bit of TV Production Management with international broadcast credits (BBC, ZDF / Arte, Smithsonian…), she also dabbles with playing records to people and her first podcast is currently in pre-production.Bestest gigs: Pulp, Sheffield Arena, ’12 | Micah P Hinson, Sheffield Lantern Theatre, ’12 | Dream Themes, Manchester Star & Garter, ’14 | Patrick Watson, Manchester Gorilla, ’15 | Less Than Jake, Nottingham Rock City, ‘01 | Frightened Rabbit, Manchester Deaf Institute, ’12 | The Decemberists, Manchester Academy, ‘11 | Passion Pit, Manchester Academy 2, ‘09 | Iron and Wine, The Ritz, Manchester, ‘08 | The Verve (with Beck), Wigan Haigh Hall, ‘98 | Take That, Manchester Eastlands Stadium, ‘11 |Worst gig: Fall Out Boy, Manchester Roadhouse ’05 (subject to change)