In our latest industry spotlight, we chat to Lisa Musso, owner and founder of Sanctuary Rock Bar Burnley about the venue, and its future.
Talk to us about your role at Sanctuary?
It’s very difficult to define my role at Sanctuary to be honest! I’m the owner and founder of the venue and since it’s conception 13 years ago, my role has evolved massively. I had a business partner, and together, we saw the gap in the market for a purpose built alternative live music venue in Burnley. We were offered the building – which was derelict at the time, and then over the course of approximately 12 months, Sanctuary was created and born.
Unfortunately, my business partner lost faith in the scene some years ago and decided to sign everything over to me, meaning I was to take on pretty much everything behind the scenes. It was daunting to say the least but I was also very excited to be able to hold the reigns myself and put my own stamp on the business.
My role now is to brainstorm, research, book and promote all the gigs and events – with help from my awesome promo girl, Hayley, I do all the finance/legal side of the business too so my working life during the day is pretty hectic to say the least! Thankfully, I have a brilliant manager and team of staff so working every night is no longer a necessity, which gives me time to be a mum too.
What’s been a career highlight?
It’s hard for me to pinpoint an exact highlight as Sanctuary has been such a fulfilling career for me. I suppose one of the biggest things that gives me the most kudos is seeing bands that we’ve showcased at a grassroots level go on to make a bigger name for themselves; Evil Scarecrow, Evile and Heck for example, not forgetting Metal to the Masses winners such as our 2015 winners Bloodyard. When I see those bands play to big crowds, or see their name listed on bills with the likes of Skindred, Sodom and Wednesday 13, I get this weird ‘proud momma’ moment. That makes me happy.
And actually hosting Metal to the Masses means so much to me as a venue owner. We wanted it for some years so when I finally got a call from Simon Hall from Bloodstock with the offer to cover such a large region, I was over the moon. It’s an absolute privilege to be affiliated with Bloodstock Festival and to be one of the judges for the competition.
What fuels your passion for your work?
All of the above fuels my passion! The industry is struggling, that’s common knowledge, but I refuse to walk away from it because without live music venues like Sanctuary and hundreds of others that are fighting for the scene, there will be nothing left other than mainstream bars/clubs playing manufactured music. There are thousands of ridiculously talented musicians out there that need the platform of grassroots venues to kickstart their careers. Original, live music is my passion, plain and simple and for as long as I have breath in my lungs, I will never ever give up supporting the artists. Times are tough for most in the original scene and it’s no secret that I’ve had to make some very difficult decisions for Sanctuary over the years. We’ve changed our ‘no covers’ policy for example, we’ve had to put some gigs on that seem against the grain, but I made these decisions purely because it was the only way I could sustain the original band nights. I’m not knocking the other nights at all because, let’s face it, they are also great fun and I have to try and please a broad spectrum, whilst sustaining my business so that I can continue to do what is at my core and support original music.
On busy nights, when the bands and customers are having a great time, I’m reminded why I do what I do, and why I love it so much. That also fuels my passion.
What’s Burnley’s music scene like?
Burnley’s music scene in general is very mainstream. A number of bars are jumping on the ‘live music’ trend, trying something a little different to their main nights and there are a couple of other ‘alternative’ pubs. We are the only purpose built live music venue in the immediate area though.
What are your plans for the future of Sanctuary?
My plan for our future is to continue to build on and improve what we have. We have a great reputation with customers and bands and finally, after nearly 12 years of operating, we are becoming more well known on a national level. I’d also love to book some bigger names, but that’s work in progress!
I had plans a few years ago to expand and open another venue in a city but after researching and viewing a number of locations, I decided it wasn’t a viable option for us at the time. I think, for now, I want to concentrate and focus on us and what we are about rather than diluting the business and offering the same brand elsewhere. Sanctuary is a community and I want to make it the best it can be for existing customers and bands and for all the new ones we have yet to welcome.