“Wales is a good place for tribes to thrive”: talking music with Lucy Squire

Today I am super, super excited to publish this interview with a long time hero and pal of mine. Lucy Squire: entrepreneur, stalwart of the music community and passionately supporting the local alternative dance scene for longer than anyone would care to remember. Lucy ran dance music store Catapult up until a couple of years ago, put on raves in bank vaults (amongst other locations) and today talks to us exclusively about Catapult, soundsystems, Castlemorton, innovation in dance music and the courses she now teaches at USW. Hero klaxon!

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You’re not from Cardiff originally – tell us about where you grew up.

Weston-super-Mare: invaded on bank holidays by punks and mods, booming with old age people homes and rehabs, dead in the winter but NUTS in the summer. People are drawn to seaside resorts for a variety of reasons, but a sense of community was lacking. Against that backdrop, a strong youth culture thrived.

At what age did you start really getting into music?

At junior school I was identified as musical because I could clap to a beat – violin, piano, guitar and a European tour with a Youth Orchestra followed, which I loved.

As a teenager I got into reggae, dancehall, 2tone, punk and a biker’s nightclub there called Hobbits had a big impact on me too (still love Lynyrd Skynyrd  “Freebird”). We used to catch the bus to Bristol and buy wooden crates full of Jamaican 7” imports with no middles. But it was when I first visited Glastonbury Festival, aged 12, I committed there and then to a life of music.

Can you tell me about the original rave scene back then?

In 1989 I went to the Sound Factory in New York, it was life changing. From there I was lucky enough to witness some of the early raves around the M25: Sunrise, Energy, and so on, where the only info released was the phone number to call for directions that took you on road trips often involving hundreds of miles and many wild goose chases.

Things changed with the prevalence of soundsystem culture in the UK. The free ethos and scenic locations overtook the commercial propositions for a while as the youth invaded the countryside. I attended Castlemorton 1992 and totally immersed myself in the culture. I kept a scrapbook of what was happening at the time. There was a DIY ethos where people were getting together and doing innovative things, which perpetuated a creative culture of positivity where anything felt possible. There was also a strong warehouse scene in the north – Blackburn, Manchester, and in Sheffield, where I was studying Law at University.  

A new music emerged that fused with Chicago’s disco scene; a multitude of subgenres were born and suddenly everyone was producing electronic music. The Summer of Love and Acid House are legendary chapters in the rich tapestry of British popular music. I am overjoyed that my youth took place in the 1980s/1990s, it was a lot of fun and inspired me to take the next steps in my life.

When did you move to Cardiff, and why did you move here?

As a postgraduate in 1993 to study a PGCE at Cardiff University.

Tell me about Catapult. Why did you decide to set it up? Give us the background to the shop – where was it first, then about the various places it moved to?

Catapult Records started from my car boot and grew organically from there. Friends had a record shop in Exeter; they supplied me with stock, which I brought to Wales. With support from the Prince’s Trust in 1993 I launched Catapult from a stall in the Castle Arcade Emporium, with a Sony music centre and weekly rental bill of £15. People liked the selection, the ability to listen to records and the general social vibe. We quickly outgrew the space and moved to a unit in the High Street Arcade (via Sidewalk/White Doves basement).  

There were 10 people servicing the Catapult counters at the shop’s peak, crawling over one another grabbing vinyl in a confined space which often felt like a big game of Twister. A broad customer base traveled from far and wide in search of specialist dance music; there was a real community feel that supported the shop. The priority was on service, including the provision of 10 technic 1210 turntable listening posts for customers to trial records before purchase, often for hours, and this is what helped set Catapult apart. Much of our trade came from “regulars”, many of whom became and still are close friends. There’s a book in me somewhere about all the colourful characters we had in over the years.

At the time, Catapult won the Western Mail Welsh Small Business of the Year Award, and become ambassadors for the Prince’s Trust. I went to St James Palace to meet with Prince Charles, which was an experience. Start-up support, especially mentoring, was key to the shop’s success; it was a great shame that the Trust lost its ability to fund new businesses around this time. Today they remain a pioneering charity supporting young people, which I still endorse and support.

It was around this time that I met Simon Thomas after being introduced by Iestyn George who I was curating music for at Union-Undeb, a members’ club, opened by the manager of the Manic Street Preachers. This meeting was a real catalyst as anyone who knows Simon knows how driven and full of amazing ideas he is, coupled with an almost incomprehensible thirst for knowledge.

I love a new project and Catapult provided abundant  opportunities to diversify and explore new territories. Over two decades, Catapult developed multiple sub-brands, expanding the product proposition from retail into fashion, events, label management & education.

The company launched record label “Catapult Records” as a direct response to the lack of physical electronic releases available for Independent Record Store Day. The label focused on Welsh artists and the vinyl format, which became a unique selling point amongst a growing committed audience. To date, there have been nine sold-out releases, one of which (Catapult 007, Earl Jeffers “The Goose”) was signed to Fabric London. The label’s artist Organ Grinder was in demand for remixes/live appearances/radio (Gilles Peterson) expanding the original proposition into artist management and agency.

Our homegrown clothing label “Youth of Britain” was designed, manufactured & distributed in the UK, and 2012 saw ventures into new categories, co-ordinating events, fashion and hospitality with the launch of a series of pop up street food propositions with the collective Street Food Cardiff.

As technology disrupted the vinyl world we moved to a bigger store in the Duke Street Arcade in 2011 stocking production equipment, clothing and a growing DJ School after hours. Cardiff’s Arcades provide a fertile ground for independent businesses, we are lucky to have such central, affordable space: it’s just not the case in other cities.  It is positive to see young businesses like Rock-Ola, Blue Honey & Crates thriving in the centre today.

We finally closed the doors with a heavy heart on New Year’s Eve 2014; the world had moved on with many people perceiving the value of music as “free” and it was time for a change. Retail in this climate is a real challenge.

Alongside the shop, you also put nights on. Can you tell me about those?

Events are exciting; the way the music and those shared moments connect people. I like to DJ and have been involved in an array of wondrous happenings over the years, promoting, mixing, and enjoying!

It is good to connect with the community and see the records that have been bought in Catapult working on the dancefloor. Djing is a highly skilled craft that I will never tire of. The Catapult DJ school was one of my favorite projects.

Having been inspired by my global ramblings, when I moved to Cardiff I was keen to set up some club nights in the city, especially after going to Clwb Ifor Bach (Juice Joint), which became home to Catapult’s first nights in town, a deep house affair called Overdrive. From there we moved to work with Tim Corrigan at the Emporium for a few years, a highlight being when we brought LTJ Bukem (amongst others) to the city in 1994.

We started putting regular events on again in the last few years when the Vaults venue came up. It’s such a unique space, we couldn’t resist. The time was right to introduce a wild drum’n’bass party that fed off the ethos we had with the shop. Experiencing DJs perform at the Vaults with the booth on the dancefloor is as interactive as it gets; there’s nothing tame about it. Cardiff has a wealth of musical talent, there’s an enormous energy and community spirit that comes together.

Today the Vaults is being compared with some of the UK’s most infamous night holes, like London’s Fabric and Bristol’s Motion. It’s been an amazing project to be involved with, people just love it there.

You had a lot of famous DJs do in-stores in the shop. Which were the most memorable of these?

Instores were my favorite thing to do at work. Bonobo, Drop Music, High Contrast, Vibes, Blame, Netsky, Nic Fancilliu, LTJ Bukem all came to the shop to meet their fans and drop tunes. They were all brilliant experiences. At first I couldn’t see how it was going to work in my small shop, outside a club environment (I was really worried about the crowds), but then I experienced the most unique, intimate sets: a real sense of being in the present with a small collective of hardcore enthusiasts. Music translates very differently in different spaces and anyone who attended knows how special those gigs in a small basement in Cardiff were.

Can you tell me about Cardiff’s music scene? What makes it different?

Wales is full of opportunity, often presenting unchartered territories to explore and incubate. There’s a special uniqueness about the culture, it’s a good place for tribes to thrive.

The music scene can be a hard place to operate. what’s it been like, being a music entrepreneur in Cardiff?

The music business is an unpredictable path, it’s a “people” industry, full of colorful characters, and this has been one of the greatest joys. I have worked with many talented, unique individuals who provided good company, new music, untold banter and left inspirational marks. Partnerships and collaborations have been key. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve half the things I have without a great team and this is where much of the pleasure lies. 

There’s been a whole heap of success stories from Catapult employees who made it to the top of their game: most notably High Contrast and his Olympic Opening Ceremony production in 2012. Then there’s Raeph Powell and Richie Vibe Vee at 1xtra, Cally with a glittering international DJ/Production career, Neil Cocker Dizzyjam Founder, Adam Corner music journalist, Stu Grady Graphic Designer, and Helia Phoenix who runs We Are Cardiff. This legacy makes me sincerely happy. Record shops are a great place to discover new music and people; Spotify and Amazon can’t create this kind of community.

Essentially, experience had showed me that the DIY approach works: just grasping the mantle and going for it – I’m wired that way. Today’s landscape is wholly different. The industry is unrecognisable and routes to carve your own niche are never prominent. No-one really knows how things will look in the next decade, as an exciting shift in focus has been brought about via digital culture and the possibilities are endless. 

Tell me about the courses at USW. What makes it different from other colleges? What can students expect to get out of studying here?

Today I am lucky enough to have a new career that I love with equal passion, working as part of a team at the University of South Wales in the Creative Industries sector.

At USW we offer an immersive, creative and practical grounding in music business, developed and delivered by industry experts.

Students are surrounded by artists and get involved with crafting real world projects from day one. Inspiration levels are continuously boosted with master classes and events, there’s loads of collaboration opportunities and an active community environment.

I would have relished the opportunity to study Music Business at University; these courses offer academic routes to the market that just didn’t exist 10 years ago.

***

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3 responses to ““Wales is a good place for tribes to thrive”: talking music with Lucy Squire

  1. Pingback: “Wales is a good place for tribes to thrive”: talking music with Lucy Thomas | WelshBiz WordPress Blog·

  2. Pingback: We Are Cardiff: our most popular posts of 2016 | We Are Cardiff·

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