Royal Blood, Wolf Alice, George Ezra, The Amazons, Blossoms, Drenge, Jaws, Declan McKenna… the list of acts who have gone on to bigger things that were initially introduced to the gigging population of Leicester at the Cookie goes on – and a huge amount of credit for that must go to promoter Nik Sharpe for his role in bringing those names to perform at the venue.
“I felt that the city needed a good indie music venue that emulated what The Charlotte did in attracting new, exciting, up and coming indie bands, but without the shitty toilets” explains The Cookie’s owner Tinny Hopkins. “The problem was, as I saw it, that with the loss of such an iconic city venue, the city had lost its impetus in attracting artists and gig goers alike. However, we were finding it a little harder to get our foot in the door with booking agents than we had anticipated”.
The Cookie needed someone with experience and contacts, and Nik has been involved in the music industry since he was 18. “I’d done just about every role in the industry over the years from a booking agent to label management. Promoting at The Cookie came about after a drunken conversation with Tinny.”
“One day I was asked if we could put on an event for the wonderful Charlotte Carpenter.” continues Tinny. “Nik was her Manager at the time and he came to the show. I remember it quite vividly even though I was slightly the worse for wear, he was standing at the end of the bar and as soon as we were introduced I knew he was what the venue needed to be successful. The rest is history as they say.”
History indeed, for the rise of The Cookie as a venue is synonymous with Nik’s knack of landing that up and coming band. Those early years were exciting times for those with a thirst for new musical experiences. For every band that has played the Cookie that has gone on to be successful there are countless others who haven’t. Long forgotten bands who have vanished in time, but who will always have a special place in someone’s heart because of a blinding performance here in Leicester.
It was inevitable that because of the limited capacity, gigs would start to be put on elsewhere in the city. “As we put on more shows at The Cookie, bands wanted to come back and agents wanted us to do bigger shows,” explains Nik “So making the step up to bigger venues was quite an easy one. We now promote actively at other venues every month. We’re always looking to grow artists and take them from The Cookie to Academy 1”. This attitude ultimately reaps dividends for Leicester. As bands grows and their local fan base grows the chances of them returning to Leicester in favour of other cities increases.
The benefit to local support artists can’t be understated. The venue has become a hang out for many a local band, which surely is a mark of respect and thanks for the support the venue has given them. Nik’s approach is simple; “It’s imperative that we bring the best emerging acts to the city and alongside that help nurture the local scene. We like to work with local bands long term and show them a path from supports to headlines… see how far we can take them. It’s good fun and helps build the local scene.”
The story of Nik and the Cookie is not just about music though. Every February the largest UK comedy festival outside of Edinburgh comes to Leicester, and music takes a back seat as The Cookie is taken over by comedians. “The Comedy Festival is a priority for us; it’s huge for the city and its economy. The Cookie has become the major venue for comedy and we attract some huge names”. But music fans need not worry, “Dryden Street Social and the newly refurbished Scholar will be very busy in February hosting all our music shows” Nik adds.
Which leads us nicely into Dryden Street Social and Nik’s role in the new mid size venue in the centre of Leicester. “We’re holding the diary for the venue, so we are promoting a whole load of cool shows ourselves and looking to bring in business from other promoters. It’s great to have a 450 capacity venue in the city centre; it’s something we have missed. Autumn is looking great with names like British Sea Power, Wire, Pop Will Eat Itself, Skinny Lister and loads more.”
The last couple of years has seen another venture evolve which Nik has a hand in; Leicester has a musical twin city in Oxford thanks to the formation of Future Perfect, which sees Nik partner up with Simon Bailey who looks after musical happenings at the Bullingdon in Oxford. “Me and Simon have worked together for many years – we used to manage The Twang and we’ve just stuck with each other since then. When Simon moved to Oxford a couple of years ago we thought we should start doing shows there like we have done in Leicester. The business is now flourishing and we’ve got some great stuff lined up, including our new festival Ritual Union. Although predominantly in Oxford for its inaugural year, with a small Leicester show, it would be nice to see this develop into a Dot2Dot type event.”
And if all of that wasn’t enough to keep anyone busy, there’s another major event that demands Nik’s attention in an ever growing capacity: Handmade Festival. ‘I’ve been involved in Handmade since day one. Initially I just booked The Cookie but 3 years ago I became a director with John & Matt. We’ve really grown the event in the past few years and it’s become important both on a local and national level. We got nominated for Best Independent Festival at the AIM awards this year and that was huge for us. Next year is going to be our biggest festival yet and we’ve got some great stuff up our sleeves.”
It can only be a good thing for Leicester that the city has such a person involved in attracting events. We’ll leave it to Tinny to sum things up. “It’s fair to say that without Nik, The Cookie would not have the national recognition it does today for emerging music. I can’t begin tell you how many times I wanted to pull the plug in the first year, we lost some serious money, but Nik has always been a half full glass kind of guy and that really helped me in coming to terms with how difficult it was to build something as credible as The Charlotte. Despite it all never once did I lose faith in Nik to deliver exactly what I wanted. Not only has he become a great business partner he has become a really close friend and someone who I have the utmost faith in. He’s a tireless worker, he knows exactly what he wants to do and he certainly isn’t fazed by anyone. And you know what, I knew that the moment I met him.”