Look out for Lafayette!
24 January, 2020 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Ben Lovett in Drake & Morgan
“I CAN go on about it so just stop me if I do …” Ben Lovett is in Drake & Morgan in King’s Cross, discussing his vision for his new live music project Lafayette, the issues facing independent music venues and everything in-between.
Next to him is a baby pink hard hat, an essential piece of kit as the building site that will soon be his music venue/bar and food destination is just around the corner, a frenzy of activity as countless workmen scramble to complete the works before it opens in a few weeks.
“We’re kind of racing to the finish line right now,” says Lovett. “We’re trying to get the A/C permissions so getting all the air conditioning and airflow commission from the roof of the building, that’s the main challenge right now – stuff I never thought I’d be losing sleep about 10 years ago.”
The New Orleans-style venue’s foyer will house several street food-style outlets, overlooked by an ornate aged cast-iron balcony. “The Courtyard is this kind of outdoor-indoor food concept that is entirely double-height windows and the [600-capacity] venue Lafayette and the bar Sweetwater are all subterranean, which is actually a good thing because it’s less complicated to soundproof something underground,” he says.
There’s even a parking space for a tour bus – a rare luxury in the area. Right now, the building is a maze of false walls and ambitions but in a matter of weeks it will be a zone 1 live music venue housing acts of all calibers from big names to up-and-coming acts and beyond. The design of the all-standing venue is such that there is a feeling of intimacy from all angles. The furthest point is still only a matter of metres from the stage. “I think you’ll see the eyeballs of every single person at the show, which is a really important thing to me, if you can see them, they can hear and see.”
Lovett’s aim is not to dictate the music but to allow it to grow organically. “We don’t mandate, I don’t want to steer culture per se but I want to accommodate better, more democratically what’s out there, what people want to see. It’s too early.
“Of the 60 shows we have confirmed, there’s no trend. Although having Robert Glasper here is a show that I don’t think would ever have happened at Omeara, it’s a bit more of a high-end show … We’ll have underplays to get on the map. If we’re lucky we’ll do maybe 10-20 a year. So, 90 per cent of shows will be the most exciting new artists on the way up. We’ve already announced part of the line-up.”
D Double E, AMP Presents, Blossoms and The Districts are among the dates announced so far. Having already established Omeara in Flat Iron Square – and, of course from his life as part of Mumford & Sons, Lovett has particular experience of artists’ needs, hence details like a shower in the band room, and the demands of running an independent music venue.
“I had some conversations with Mark Davyd who runs the Music Venue Trust, he’s a legend. He put some ideas in my head around how challenging it is to make a truly sustainable independent music venue in London. It’s really hard to make the numbers work unless you do some things I don’t believe in such as selling out to sponsorship, or doing a ticketing deal with a massive corporate ticketing company. You’re basically forced to compromise to keep the doors open – sometimes on shows and the type of acts because having something on is better than having nothing on when you’ve got salaried staff.”
He added: “The theory I have is to be a beneficiary of the impact you’re making with the venue in the immediate vicinity. If we just opened it as Lafayette, we would have failed, but we’re going to have bars and restaurants that will operate under one banner and that basically creates a little ecosystem that’s sustainable.”
Lafayette isn’t without some controversy. Early on, word got out that Lovett hoped to call it Somers Town but, after hearing of the negative reaction from some local residents, he struck that off the list.
“When we registered for the licence, the name was a work in progress. We had to come up with a company name so registered the licence under Somers Town Ltd. There were a few folks who I spent some time with subsequently and we talked it through, about what my goals are.
“I had a two-hour crash course in Somers Town, its history, the residents’ views of this development and how they feel a bit forgotten and isolated from what’s going on around them, not just this development but on all sides. I was truly just grateful for the information and I felt like I grew five years in two hours.”
Lovett has continued to support the community and has become involved in helping with Somers Town’s annual festival. He is also looking at encouraging local employment at Lafayette.
He says: “Part of our hiring plan is going to incorporate how we include local hires to encompass Somers Town residents.”
Still, good luck trying to finding Lafayette, as he has no plan to mark the entrance – if you know, you know. “There’s not going to be a sign. That’s a bit of my personality in there. I think people will come on its own merits. I don’t think we’ll have much of a walk-up crowd.”
• Lafayette, 11 Goods Way, King’s Cross, London N1C 4DP. More info from www.lafayettelondon.com/