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Stay at Home Comforts: Ian Lawlor

General Manager Ian Lawlor on The Leadmill's lockdown activity.

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Many Now Then readers will have logged hours in The Leadmill; the place has been pulling in punters and performers for four decades. But business as usual was abruptly halted in March and a packed schedule of live events remains on pause.

But that doesn't mean this Sheffield institution is inactive. We asked General Manager Ian Lawlor about The Leadmill's lockdown activity, which has included live-streamed sets, bands hosting quizzes - and toilet paper sold at cost price to defeat bog roll profiteers.

Hi Ian. How are you and what have you done today?

Hello! I'm doing really good thanks. I've got back into running after a couple of months of pigging out on endless takeaways and I'm already feeling the benefits. I got caught in the massive storm and downpour mid-run last week so hopefully it will be a drier experience today.

If you had to sum up your lockdown experience so far in one sentence, what would it be?

For me it's been very productive and a great exercise in creativity and resourcefulness from our whole team.

Are you doing anything in particular to keep your spirits up during lockdown?

I've still been working full-time for most of the lockdown so have kept myself busy throughout. At home with good food, good TV and keeping in touch with friends, family and work mates every day really helps. I've been on quite a few long hikes, bike rides and runs which have been nice.

Do you have any music, book, film or TV recommendations you'd like to share?

Definitely check out an old band I used to go and see all the time when I was a teenager. They were called Fulc and everyone I introduce to them is impressed. My fave current bands are Fever 333, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets and Royal Blood. If you haven't heard them, then stop everything and listen to them now.

Is there a particular restaurant, café or bar you're missing, or a local delivery you've enjoyed?

Street Food Chef will always be close to my heart. We basically live off them in the office. I'm so glad they've been able to open again now.

A new place everyone needs to try out and support is MacPot. They opened their doors literally just a few weeks before the lockdown which is gutting. They are lovely people and their food is delicious. The macaroni cheese lasagne is especially good.

Recently The Leadmill has run lots of events via live streams. Which nights have seemed most popular and are you looking at other possibilities in a similar format?

I'm really happy with how they've gone down. It's been a way better response than we expected and I'm glad we've been able to regularly provide our customers with something fun to do during lockdown.

Billy Bragg has by far been the most popular live gig we've done but they have all been superb and pretty varied too. The club night streams have been brilliant with all our DJs getting on board, even bringing back our old legendary 90s dance night Rise for a one-off stream. We did our first Comedy Club stream on Sunday 21 June as well, something a bit different.

Lockdown has posed massive challenges for live venues. What's your take on the mood in the industry and why is the Music Venue Trust's #SaveOurVenues campaign important for you?

The industry is understandably being extremely cautious. We're already having to look as far as 2022 for some shows. That isn't to say there will be no live music before then though. We're a very resourceful bunch and I'm pretty certain we can all turn some special events around in a short space of time as soon as we get the green light.

At the moment our main concern collectively is being forced to open with strict social distancing rules in place, which just won't work in our settings. There's only so much we can do in intimate spaces and when social distancing means reverting to 10% of your usual capacity, no-one is having a good time or making any money at that point.

The #SaveOurVenues campaign has been key in raising awareness of the dire situation most UK independent venues have found themselves in, and it's been able to prevent at least 140 of them from closing for good by raising money through live streams and generous donations.

It's such an uncertain picture at the minute. How else can people who would normally be buying tickets for shows support their favourite local venues?

All local venues would welcome any kind of financial support you're able to give but I know most would prefer to give something back in exchange, so buying their merchandise is always a good way of helping. We launched our 40th birthday merch just before the lockdown so if you do want to help then please check out the selection on our website. We still have some of our old dancefloor which can be engraved too.

What's the first place in Sheffield you want to visit when the lockdown is over?

I'm looking forward to the gyms and swimming pools being open, but I'd really love to go karting as soon as we're able. Need that thrill again!

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