As 2022 started, we knew it was our 30th anniversary since starting at Friday Street in 1992. It would be great to celebrate in some way, plan some events and tell the story of how Stayfree Music has grown and developed through the decades. But there were also lots of challenges as January approached. It seemed that since the Covid lockdown that bands were less active; some had given up and there was a general air of gloom, a lack of gigs and people questioning whether they wanted to continue with music as a hobby or profession.
Stayfree founder Ian Redhead sat down with Director Caroline Wright and newly-appointed event manager Ruth Miller to talk about how the 30th anniversary could be celebrated. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room and a desire to relaunch Stayfree as a vital part of the local music infrastructure. All of us felt that the many successes, the resilience and the can-do attitude that drives Stayfree should be promoted to a wider audience.
To coincide with the actual anniversary, an open day was planned for May with the aim of using the outdoor yard space for food, drink and an open mic session. Indoors, we planned for free lessons, workshops and a huge exhibition of posters, documents and artefacts from Leicester music history. It would be the biggest event that Stayfree has ever promoted.
Another brilliant idea was to start monthly Stayfree Showcase gigs at different local venues. Local promoters at Duffy’s, Firebug, Big Difference, Soundhouse were all keen to get involved and the search for multiple band line-ups began.
Following the success of Unglamorous Music bringing new women in to start rehearsing with bands, the possibility of running a holiday kids’ club or youth music club was considered and we trialled ‘Rock Real’ for a month in the summer. We still like this idea though it will need a lot more organisation if we get it started again. We found that there were a lot of young grade 5 + drummers and only a few guitarists or bass players, who were complete beginners.
We were asked to team up with new enterprise W6 as they launched a cool pop-up outlet for artisan foods, arts and small business. Stayfree provided the music and beers outside and it was another great day.
Caroline is used to answering the phone to a variety of different bands and booking them in to rehearse, hire equipment or just give advice. Word about Stayfree’s fantastic Black Room with its stage set-up and lights has been spreading wider during our anniversary year with several national touring bands calling to book. The Libertines and Prolapse both booked two days in the Black Room and metal band Control The Storm rehearsed at Stayfree to prepare for Download Festival.
In June we held our anniversary party at Soundhouse, with an enormous pink/purple cake, speeches and bands, including
headliners Produkty. The cake kept us going all week!
As the year came towards an end, everybody could see huge changes since January. There was more positivity – the mood in the Leicester music scene and venues was good. Stayfree was buzzing with so many new bands of all ages wanting to book rooms from 12 noon until 11pm. The showcase gigs had generated better links between bands and our customers were giving us really good feedback about our new rehearsal room gear, drinks range and helpful staff.
We decided to finish the year off with a big Christmas party at Firebug. The jam packed line up was all of the staff and their bands. Headlined by the big boss himself fronting his band The Hunters Club
So all in all, we think that 2022 was the best year for a long long time!