You may have heard that The Maze – voted the most popular place to play in town by a huge majority of Notts bands and artists – has suffered a major financial setback after its hosting of Burtfest. There’s some ominous rumours floating about, so we gave its manager Gaz Peacham the opportunity to set the record straight...
So just to make it clear to everyone, what’s happening with The Maze? Are you really facing closure?
We’re always facing closure, as are many venues. Running a venue is always hard, especially in recent years with the economic situation the country has found itself in. People think small venues do OK, but since I’ve been at the Maze it has been a constant struggle. We had turned a corner in the last year, however, which we were very proud of considering that many venues and pubs around the country have closed in that time. And for the first time in years The Maze was making money and being able to invest in improving the venue such as opening our second room last year. However, at the recent festival we held in Burton – Burtfest - we made a big loss, and it has put us back massively in our plans. In all honesty, now we have had a chance to look at various scenarios, I doubt we will close - but there are chances of major changes to staff and the way the venue works, and it might be hard keeping up the standards we have had.
How is Ben (Brettell, the owner) at the moment?
He’s alright. He has got through the original shock and disappointment, and we are all now motivated to get back on track as fast as possible. The local scene in Burton has really pulled together to help him, playing free gigs at his venue (the Wetmore Whistle) and holding fundraisers for him. At first we wondered if Burton had been a bad choice of location for the festival, and if we should have tried something closer to Nottingham, but seeing how the festival and its failures have bonded the music scene there has been one of many positives we can take from the experience.
So there’s no regrets about Burtfest, then.
No. I was really proud of doing it. We held a really great festival that was well-run and really professional - punters and bands and contractors who have worked at festivals all around commented on that. Sadly we had bad luck with the weather and we did make some mistakes, but it is a learning curve and I am confident we can learn and grow long term from what we did at Burtfest. It has certainly made our team even closer.
Bottom line: how much money do you need to raise to keep The Maze safe?
It isn’t really that clear-cut. The festival paid out about 50% of what it needed to, and the rest was paid by Ben out of the other business bank account. We could have just closed Burtfest as a company and not paid anyone who worked there and been fine, but we didn’t want to do that. We are honourable, and all the people who did sound, staging etc at the festival did a fantastic job, so we had to take the hit. We have looked at various options, and we need to raise tens of thousands this summer to keep exactly as we are. But that’s unlikely to happen, as we are coming into the hardest time of year for us as a venue, and we accept that. We will probably have to keep tight purse-strings and cut back on things for at least a year or so, unless we can have an amazing six months and raise cash to pay debts off.
If the worst comes to the worst, how soon could we lose the Maze? Is there a cut-off point where it'll have to shut down if certain bills aren't paid?
As I said earlier, I doubt we will lose the Maze now - though September is the last deadline really, so if we did have an awful summer and couldn’t do any deals with certain companies we would have to go and talk to the brewery.
If the current owners have to sell up, what's the likelihood of the place still being used as a music venue?
I think it’s likely. We know both the team here and the brewery don’t want to change anything - but if things did go really badly this summer, Ben might have to leave as he has a young family and can’t live off nothing, like he did when he first opened the place. Ben is the one who re-invented the Maze; he has given a lot to the music scene here, working closely with people like myself and Steph, Will Robinson, Damn You, Cosmic American and many others. He gave a lot of promoters and bands a chance and helped them both with advice and money. If he did have to sell up or move on, it would be really really sad, and I don’t know for sure what would happen then. It would change a lot of things, I’m sure.
Putting aside personal ties, how much of a loss to the local scene would it be if the Maze shut down?
A massive loss. There are literally hundreds of bands in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere who simply have no other real venues to play on a regular basis. Our open door policy and the fact we try to put gigs on every night of the year means we have given many bands their first gig and been the place they learnt their trade. Take Jake Bugg; he played his first gig here three or four years ago, when he was only about 13 and no other venue would let him play. I think most of his first 20 gigs were here. We are really proud to have helped people like that and to have provided that platform for them.
What can local bands do to help?
Play here! We don’t want charity - we just want to try to work our way out of this situation. We’re hoping to have a great summer but historically it never is, so come play for us, help us promote what gigs are happening and tell people to drink our booze. A major trend we have seen appear in recent years is that people get pre-loaded elsewhere, or at the corner shop, and so even if gigs are busy we don’t make money on the bar cause no-one is drinking. We need to have busy gigs and people drinking in the venue. Many bands and promoters are offering to hold fund-raisers where the door money goes to the venue, which is lovely, but we still feel that bands and people who make gigs happen should get paid.
What can the general public do to help?
What we would prefer is that people try harder to get other people to the venue and encourage them to drink here. When you finish work, pop to the Maze for your after-work drinks, pick up a gig guide whilst you’re here or check out our website, and any gigs you like the sound of come down and see, and buy lots of beer when you’re here.
If, and hopefully when, The Maze pulls through and survives, will it still be involved in organising large festival type events again, or has it had its fingers properly burnt?
It’s too early to say but I’d like to. I think we did a great job of Burtfest and would love to do it again, but I think we would look at changing things - maybe scaling down a touch or certainly looking into more sponsorships, and investment deals so the financial risk isn’t there as much. As a venue and as people we want to improve and develop; we have some very talented people in our team and we have a vision of where we are going. Hopefully this is just a small breakdown in our journey; if the AA don’t turn up and re-start the engine, we will just have to get out and push.
The Maze, 257 Mansfield Road, NG1 3FT
The Maze website