Adele may have headlined Glastonbury and filled arenas across the globe in a worldwide tour that climaxes next month with four sold-out dates at Wembley Stadium, but 10 years ago she was playing a gig in a library in Lancaster for an audience of 175. “You can check out the show online,” says Stewart Parsons. “I am so relieved we filmed that!”
Parsons, a librarian with more than 30 years of experience, started the Get it Loud in Libraries scheme 10 years ago to introduce new people to libraries by turning them into live music venues for special concerts. Over the last decade, 36,108 people have attended 279 shows put on by acts including alt-J, Florence + The Machine, Imelda May, British Sea Power, Plan B and, of course, everyone’s favourite balladeer, Adele, whose fee that evening in Lancaster was £50.
“She was grateful for the opportunity,” recalls Parsons. “She told me that on Myspace.
“The aim is to capture great artists on the cusp of something special and land them on a stage in towns less associated with the major touring maps – doorstep gigs for people of all ages who cannot afford public transport or for whom ‘last trains home’ make gig attendance impossible.”
Big names have played tiny little venues: Plan B in Rugby Library, The Young Fathers in Skelmersdale Library. Parsons’ personal highlights are many: “Tim Burgess and Gruff Rhys playing tiny Kendal Library was gorgeous, and Adele singing on a borrowed bar stool on an out-of-tune guitar is right up there.
“The audiences that started to attend shows had, in the majority, not darkened the library doors for a long time,” Parsons explains. “It made them reimagine the library. See it with fresh eyes. And seeing young people, often less than 10, enjoying their first gig in a safe, inclusive setting is always a joy.”
Many of these young gig-goers then join their local library, boosting membership numbers in an age when local authorities are looking for ways to justify cuts.
“You cannot avoid the reality and challenges facing libraries,” Parsons says. “They are being asked to deliver world-class services with severe dents in their capacity and resources. People use their libraries now for life reasons: to read, to live, to explore, to find their head space – to be.”
Literacy is vital to human beings. A reader of books is more at the heart of the universe
His sentiments echo the ambition of The Big Issue’s #WhyBooksMatter campaign that celebrates the life potentials libraries provide.
“Literacy is vital to human beings,” Parsons says. “A reader of books is happier, more articulate, more able to gain employment, more at the heart of the universe. Certain acts really advocate libraries and literature and our part in expanding the cultural potential of a library – Plan B, Florence and Tim Burgess all said great things. Alex Kapranos recently tweeted us to tell us it was a great idea and that the library was a refuge for him in his youth.
“Libraries are a conduit to happiness because of the books and reading matter they offer but also because they transform. Go in a library as one thing and leave as another – hopefully Get it Loud in Libraries is an opportunity to do just that.
There are a whole raft of shows from a range of acts coming soon. Who knows, there may be someone like Adele…