The charity gig now booking Lewis Capaldi, Duran Duran, and Elbow: How Lytham Festival put Lancashire on the musical map
Lytham born-and-bred, Peter Taylor has, over the past decade, done more to put the town on the musical map than pretty much anyone else alive. In fact, the only person who can match him is Daniel Cuffe, his business partner and co-founder of the Lytham Festival.
Together, the pair have made Lytham a must-play venue for countless international artists and a must-see show for hundreds of thousands of punters, transforming the entertainment landscape in the area. And it all started with a Facebook group aiming to prevent the town’s theatre from being closed down.
“Daniel and I met when we were trying to save Lowther Pavilion,” explains Peter. “I’d set up a group and we were doing some concerts to raise some money at which Dan was the sound engineer. Eventually, we got talking and decided that, beyond just doing things for the good of Lytham, we should try and make a business out of it. That’s how it all started.”
It, in this case, being Cuffe & Taylor, Peter and Daniel’s eponymous events promotion company. But a career organising the hustle and bustle of backstage life wasn’t always the dream, according to Peter, who had harboured dreams of gracing the stage and being the star of the show instead of organising it. But there was just one problem.
“I’ve got a dreadful singing voice!” he says with a laugh. “I’d always wanted to be on stage and, although I knew I couldn’t do it, I still wanted to be in entertainment. That being said, I’d never actually thought ‘oh, I’ll be a producer or a promoter and work behind the scenes’. It was never on my roadmap and I never even considered it.”
The concept took root, however, once Cuffe & Taylor put on the first edition of the Lytham Festival - then called Lytham Proms - in 2009. It was an immediate hit and, the following year, Peter managed to land Boyzone and Status Quo, prompting disbelieving locals to assume that such acts must be tribute acts.
But, in true Lytham Festival fashion, they were the real deal.
“The first edition was very popular - we sold all the tickets and thought ‘this job’s easy!’” says Peter. “But, looking back, it’s embarrassing. We didn’t have a clue - I remember running around Lytham trying to find a tuna sandwich for Lesley Garrett because she wanted a tuna sandwich and we didn’t have a kitchen or catering and even any clue about artists’ riders.
“We put the generators behind the stage, which we thought was great until they started running and made a massive noise which was picked up by all the mics on stage,” he adds. “It was much more basic, shall we say. But we learned a lot and, thankfully, we don’t make the same mistakes - we like to profess that we know what we’re doing now!
“When we did the first Lytham Festival, we only did one night and, from there, it progressed naturally to thinking ‘we should make a company for this’ and then on to ‘let’s make this our full-time jobs’,” Peter continues. “It all happened very organically and here we are all these years later. It’s all been about learning.”
Lytham Festival has gone on to become one of the North West’s biggest and most beloved events, expecting to welcome some 200,000 people over the course of the expanded 10-day edition this summer. The likes of Diana Ross, Britney Spears, and Tom Jones have graced the festival’s stages over the years alongside a litany of other global superstars.
Held at Lytham Green, described as a ‘tranquil beauty spot normally reserved for dog walkers, kite flyers, and family picnics’, the festival brings the town to life as it’s transformed overnight into a bustling musical hub. For its 10th anniversary in 2019, the festival played host to headline shows from Rod Stewart, Kylie Minogue, and Stereophonics.
“When you put an event on, the actual event is terrifying and goes by in a second,” says Peter. “It’s not until after the event that you can appreciate it. You just don’t get the chance to take a step back because you’re responsible for lots of different elements and people, from car parks, ticket gates, and bars to backstage, production, and the artists.
“It’s a blur when you’re in the moment and it’s not always enjoyable until you can reflect on it and think ‘that was really good!’” he adds. “But seeing the festival grow has been really fulfilling - we’ve always said that we’ll continue to do the festival as long as people want to come and, thankfully, people still do.”
Having established themselves as one of the UK’s top 10 live music and event promoters with offices in London and the North West, Cuffe & Taylor also confirmed their status as one of the industry’s big-hitters in 2016, when the global entertainment giant Live Nation Entertainment became the majority shareholder in the company.
“Having Live Nation come on board was fantastic,” says Peter. “It opened up a network of artists that we probably wouldn’t have been able to access had we remained on our own and their expertise allowed us to concentrate more on running the company. But, day-to-day, it was business as usual.
“After all, Live Nation bought us because we’re pretty good at what we did and because we knew what we were doing.”
Also promoting Greenwich Music Time at the Old Royal Naval College and Scarborough Open Air Theatre, the Cuffe & Taylor also recently agreed a five-year deal to curate open-air live music shows at The Piece Hall in Halifax, Yorkshire. Away from music, they’ve organised tours for tribute acts, celebrity chefs such as James Martin, podcasts such as The Good, The Bad, and The Rugby with James Haskell and Mike Tindall, and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
And, with the worst impacts of the Covid pandemic hopefully in the rearview mirror, it’s all about the future in Peter’s eyes, particularly with the biggest ever edition of the festival ever in view. In a matter of days, what was once a single-night proms event will host Diana Ross, Lewis Capaldi, Snow Patrol, Duran Duran, Nile Rodgers & CHIC, Simply Red, Elbow, The Strokes, Tears for Fears, and Paul Weller.
“Our industry was one of the first to close and one of the last to reopen, but we’re back now and there's pent-up demand,” says Peter. “We’re doubly excited this year what with the expanded 10-night festival - it’s double bubble. We’re looking forward to opening the gates again and we’re raring to go.
“Lytham’s is a unique place - more people come to the festival than actually live in the town, so it has a dramatic and positive impact on the area and the local economy,” he adds. “We love that the artists love the show too. For example, because it’s smaller and more personal, I know that Duran Duran have a lot of friends and family coming, which is really nice.
“I’ve done everything from cleaning the toilets to working as a car park attendant at the festival, so I’ve no aspirations to get on the stage now - the thought terrifies me!” says Peter when I ask whether festival organising has scratched his showbiz itch. “But we get to meet some great people, so it’ll be nice to finally get everybody back together.”