Totally off the Cuffe – it is the Proms for the people

Lytham Green
Lytham Green
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Cannon and Ball. Little and Large. Penn and Teller. Jonathan and Charlotte. Cuffe and Taylor.

Taylor and Cuffe? “Maybe not,” concedes Peter Taylor, one half of Lytham’s music industry partnership which has come a long way in a surprisingly short time.

“Cuffe and Taylor has a certain ring to it. People think we’re solicitors.”

Peter and business partner Daniel Cuffe are behind Lytham’s biggest night of the year. Correction: three nights. In musical terms. Lytham Proms may not outshine Blackpool Lights in terms of spectacle or numbers but there’s no shortage of stars.

And 66 per cent of the 30,000 who attend the Proms are from the Fylde coast. It’s a format which has worked since year one – 2010 - when Fate threw Peter together with Lesley Garrett via a mutual friend and he talked her into coming for the very first Proms. One night only.

They sold 5,000 tickets on a 50-50 split risk basis with Fylde Council and turned a small profit that first year. The rest is history.

This year the now three-night Proms open on Friday August 2 with ‘80s hitmen and women Tony Hadley, Jason Donovan, Marc Almond, Heaven 17, Odyssey, Altered Images and Sonia. Russell Watson headlines the classical Last Night of the Proms blockbuster on the Saturday with Jonathan and Charlotte, Gary Lovini, The Other Guys and co. And it all wraps on the Sunday with Rita Ora, Conor Maynard, Stooshe, Charlie Brown, Ed Drewett, Reconnect and Hannah Joy. Tickets around £32 – £44 for the classical showstopper.

It almost beggars belief that this is only the fourth event of its kind in Lytham. Or that the lads bagged a classical coup on their first venture – in the form of lovely Lesley Garrett.

They were back the following year with Status Quo, Katherine Jenkins. and Boyzone over three nights. Not one. Last year local “Boe” made opera god, Alfie Boe, straight from the Diamond Jubilee concert, headlined Last Night of the... sandwiched between Rick Astley, Belinda Carlisle, Bananarama and Olly Murs.

So who the heck are Cuffe and Taylor?

Two music lovers, Peter says, who got together as Friends of Lowther Pavilion and formed a partnership.

Initially they fancied joining forces to take over the pavilion at Ashton Gardens, lost out on that bid, but kept the momentum up to assist the council with the very first Proms.

Peter, 32, looks 22, and admits people don’t always take him seriously in the music industry.

“I’ve proved them wrong. I can be very firm. But when I mention Lytham St Annes to people in London it’s like speaking a foreign language.

“There’s a massive north-south divide. I have to mention Blackpool but they tend to think only of the Illuminations because there haven’t been many outdoor concerts in Blackpool. We’d have liked to do more there.

“But now people are coming to us. Lytham Proms is no longer our core business, just one of our events. We’ve done 30 events since, all over. We’ve got the big Runrig 40th anniversary coming up for 20,000 fans – a huge Scottish Celtic band. That’s going to be massive. And a VW contract too. Lots of stuff.

“We only started in November 2009. It was bonkers to even think of selling tickets or doing an event. Yet we managed a profit. We started off with mates helping, now we’ve got 12 full time staff here and at Southport, 18 part time and up to 800 helping out at events.

“All the money made is reinvested. Someone told us you only make a profit on your fifth year with a festival, on your 10th for a big one, because you establish your customer base. I think the fifth year will be our year. We’re already working on it now.”

Peter became a hotelier in St Annes after leaving school. “I was a closeted actor, but my parents couldn’t afford a privately funded drama school as they were then. I fell into hotels. The turning point was when my mum died at 69. I was an only child. She had me late, eight months gone before she knew she was pregnant. I lost my dad three years before my mum. We were in and out of hospitals so it helped that I had the flexibility of hotel work but it was like – what do I do now? I no longer had ties. I’d travelled enough so worked at the Blackpool Hotel and Guesthouse Association, and then StayBlackpool ... but it wasn’t where my heart lay.”

His friendship with Cuffe marked the crossroads.

“We were acquaintances, same sense of humour, but it was Daniel’s mum who reckoned we’d be good in business together. We’re chalk and cheese and that helps.

“I was asked to get quotes to do the Proms. When they came in they were astronomical, asking the council for a quarter of a million so I thought – why don’t we do it?”

Realising a big name would pull in the crowds, and with his heart set on Garrett, Peter contacted a friend who worked as a conductor for the BBC. Before he even had a chance to explain why he’d called the conductor said he was heading over to the North West – with Lesley and Manchester Camarata. It was fate. Lesley was delighted to support the event.

“We went to pick her up at the station with all her luggage – just back from holiday and heading back to Yorkshire – and she was lovely, really animated about the whole thing. “When we took her back there were lads with cans of lager all over the place and she just said, ‘Darling give me a hand here.’ She’s genuinely nice, utterly unpretentious. She’s very special. She did our first gig and we sold all our tickets.

“In fact it got a bit frightening was when we saw the queues. I remember thinking, ‘oh my God’, what have we done? There was panic, fear, and pride too. We were in the car park, doing the traffic, make do and mend, a mate had a trestle table which was the box office under a cheap gazebo, another school friend was stage manager, back stage with a lamp from his bedroom clamped to the stage so he could read what was going on. He’s assistant to the Lord Mayor of London now! The dressing room was a marquee with partitions in it. Lesley asked if there was a heater, but there wasn’t. Daniel’s mum did the crew catering. Mates did the bars.

“The second year the big companies came round, and we lost money. So now the only thing we don’t do is the catering. Selling tickets pays for the event, the money is made in the fringe stuff.”

The team staged the first Proms for £100k. “50-50 with the council.

“They put money in, we did, we both got something back. Today the whole thing is £600k but over three nights. The first year we got 5000 people, now we get 10,000 people a night. It was kind of a Eureka moment for ius. We can do it, we thought. The following day I sat in an office Daniel’s mum let us have – right here in Lytham – and called acts solidly for three months.

“We ended up with Katherine Jenkins and Boyzone and Status Quo. Those boys are brilliant. We’ve even washed Rick Parfitt’s hair in the sink in a portable loo! And Katherine Jenkins is no diva. She made one request – to be able to watch the rugby and we managed it.

“I find artists the papers are nastiest about tend to be the nicest people – Katherine is one of the sweetest.”

The team learned their lesson with regard to ticket sales after booking a band – for another venue – which sold 6,000 tickets in 10 minutes.

“We had 10 lines ourselves before customers went through to other companies. It was crazy. But now we don’t faff about selling tickets. We 
promote the event.

“And once you’ve built your stage you’ve got to use it as much as you can.

“We’re not in a massive populace area so want three different audiences to come – and it’s important to us that a family of four can come to the opening concert for under £100. Go to Manchester and it’s £200-£250.

“And these concerts are great exposure for the artists.

“The Last Night is lovely, people bring picnics, there are fireworks, it’s where it’s all started for us – we’ll never change it.

“The biggest tip I’d give any promoter is – get all your staff to go en masse to the toilet first before you get distracted and forget! And have a good cuppa standing by at all times.

“Believe in yourself and others will. My ambition is to get Madness here, and Duran Duran, and Kylie. And I’ll get them. One day they will come.”