The Big Interview: The economic Lord of ‘Madchester’

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Immersed in culture: Sacha Lord has always been in touch with music
Immersed in culture: Sacha Lord has always been in touch with music

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From being a teenager to the age of 51, Sacha Lord has always been a proud Manc and his love for the music scene in the late ’80s/early ’90s remains his passion to this day.

Lord, who celebrates his 52nd​ birthday this week, was obsessed with ‘Madchester’ and the famed Hacienda nightclub, and believes a similar energy and time is about to come again.

“All eyes were on what was going on in Manchester,” Lord states. “It was a really exciting time.”

He went to Manchester Grammar School and while classmates were leaving sixth form to go to Oxford, Cambridge and so on, Lord clocked up two grade Us and an E, “I’m proud of the E – it was for art”.

So the lad, who has gone on to become night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Combined Council, began to work in a clothes shop.

He explains: “I was really anxious at that stage not knowing what I was going do for the rest of my life and all the other pupils knew they were going to be doctors, lawyers or whatever.

“But I just took the bold plunge and put a [music] night on. It was a student night at the Hacienda on 4 July 1994 and it’s escalated from there. I ran student nights at the Hacienda and then Paradise Factory for about seven or eight years.”

His next move was to open a club called Paradise Factory then a place called Sankey Soap and, in 2006, he unveiled The Warehouse Project – a series of dance events from September through to New Year’s Eve in a disused railway station called Mayfield in Manchester city centre.

Then followed the Parklife festival in 2010, which is “now the biggest metropolitan festival in the UK” and, in 2018, Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham asked Lord to become his night-time economy adviser. Lord says this is probably the highlight of his career.

“If somebody said to me, ‘you’re going to go on to co-found what is the biggest nightclub in the world and the biggest metropolitan festival in the UK but, more importantly, be the adviser to the mayor of the whole of Greater Manchester, I would have thought you’d nicked the confiscation box of the Hacienda – that’s absolutely impossible but it happened and that has to be my proudest moment.”

Sacha Lord and Andy Burnham (1)
Andy Burnham and Sacha Lord

Conversely, the low point of Lord’s work life centred around the Millennium – and he says it was the same for all hospitality promoters.

He explains: “Every single promoter cancelled their events on the Millennium. When the quotes were coming in for sound, lights and stuff like that, everybody was charging three times as much because ‘wow, it’s the Millennium’.

“As Prince said, he’s going to party like it’s 1999 so we we’re all charging ridiculously high prices. I think I was £99 per ticket. We all cancelled because the public just would not pay that and it damaged the industry for quite a few years.

“Everybody had a house party on the turn of the Millennium because they refused the ticket prices, refused to pay for taxis, hotels and all the big expenses.

“People thought ‘we’ve had a better time at the house party’ so it took a few years for New Year’s Eve to recover on the back of that.

“The lesson was: I was using a limited company and I owed £40,000 by cancelling it but what I did was I sat every single creditor down and came up the payment plan over 12 months.

“For that year, I didn’t have a penny to my name because every single pound I made went to those creditors and I paid them off and I’m actually still using the vast majority of those companies.”

Work-life balance

Lord got married last year and is all too aware of the difficulty in balancing his family life with work life.

“I’ve not been very good at mixing family life with business,” he admits. “It’s probably been 95% work but my wife Demi is doing her damnedest to improve it and she’s doing quite a good job actually.

“I’m at the stage now where I’m almost 52 and I’m getting a more balanced life.”

When it comes to pressure, Lord confesses it is himself who creates the most problems and cites the lockdowns during the pandemic for making him feel quite lonely because “everybody’s looking at you for the answer and you don’t always have the answer”.

PARKLIFE-2019 stage

He continues: “And when you’re running a festival with 80,000 customers or a nightclub with a capacity of 10,000 every Friday, Saturday and from September to the new year, things do go wrong and when they do, all eyes are on you.”

Being a managing director, the thing that surprised Lord most was how much work there is to do.

“As a kid, I always used to think, ‘Oh well, it’s cushty at the top but it’s actually not – being MD is probably the hardest role in the business.

“Also, it’s probably a fault of mine because I’m very hands-on. When I turn up at The Warehouse Project, I know everybody’s name from security to the cleaners and I always have a chat because they are, ultimately, part of the team – part of the cogs.

“I’m always sticking my nose in other departments’ business, which doesn’t always go down too well.

“And although a lot of people can go into an office and work 9 to 5 and then switch off after work, I can’t, I’m thinking about work 100% of the time.”

Given his time again, Lord says he would have loved to have started a portable toilets company. “I would have saved myself millions over the years,” he says.

“When I look at the bills and what we spend on an annual basis… if I went back, I’d definitely start a portaloo company.”

On the past, he says he doesn’t look back and regret anything. Instead, he thinks he could have done some things differently and sees every failure or wrong decision as a lesson learned.

Sacha Lord - Tales From The Dance Floor

He adds: “This is not a plug but Harper Collins approached me at the beginning of last year and I’ve spent 12 months writing a book, which is essentially the past three decades of my life called Tales from the Dance Floor​.

“It’s been actually it’s been quite therapeutic going through it and there’s nothing in that book that I regret at all.

“Obviously, there are moments of concern, and of worry, but there’s nothing of regret.”

However, Lord’s proudest moment transpired from tragic circumstances. He explains: “[Andy] Burnham phoned me up during lockdown because there were two illegal legal raves that happened in Greater Manchester, one for 6,000 people and one for 2,000 people – and being illegal obviously meant there was no security, no paramedics.

“Sadly, there were two stabbings and one kid died. [Andy] asked me if there was something I could do that would entertain people in their homes and avoid this sort of thing happening again.

“I said, I can’t even leave my house. How am I going to do this?

“But I found something in Berlin called United We Stream​ where they took an empty nightclub, put a DJ in there and every Friday and Saturday there were music sets streamed via a camera in front of the DJ.

“I said I’m going to do this, but on steroids, and we had every major artist you can possibly think of including Fatboy Slim and Calvin Harris.

“All the big names played for me every Friday and every Saturday for 10 weeks and not one person charged a penny.”

He asked the public to donate a pound or two if they could with the stream having 20.4m viewers and managed to raise £612,000. A third of the money went to the homeless in in Greater Manchester and the balance went to freelancers and people who were excluded from financial support from the Government during the furlough period.

“When the applications came in, I was excited to give the money out but when we were sat reading them, it was heartbreaking.”

Lessons in life

If a young person wants to reach the lofty heights Lord has hit, what advice would he give them?

“It’s something we’ve already touched on,” he says. “Every time you fail on something, don’t see it as failure – see it as a lesson and don’t repeat it.

“But young people have got something I don’t have and that is age on their side. When I was starting off, I didn’t have family or mortgage commitments. I didn’t have kids and you know, if something goes wrong, what’s the worst thing that could possibly happen? You’re not going to lose your home or your marriage so if it’s something you really want to do and it’s absolutely a passion, start again.”

Being a leader isn’t something that has happened for Lord accidently and during lockdown, he did use something from his personal life to improve his work life.

When the PM “kindly” allowed people to have one hour to go out and have a walk during the pandemic – “which is ridiculous when you think back to it”, he says – he started power walking at 8am and, when his mind is at its clearest, he would deal with any big phone calls for the day to get them out of the way.

“Exercise is absolutely key for a clear mind,” he states.

Warehouse Project 2019 (1) (1)
The Warehouse Project

His advice for someone operating a start-up business in the hospitality sector now is: “Don’t consider expansion for probably about 18 months.

“I say that because the amount of closures we’re seeing on a daily basis, utility bills still being sky high, the cost-of-living crisis, the cost of products is at a record high.

“I’m seeing so many places that are very, very busy, but they’re not making any money. We saw a very high-profile closure in Greater Manchester in the first week in January, which was Greens, a restaurant owned by celebrity chef Simon Rimmer.

“So my strong advice would be rather than expansion, just look after the business you’ve got at the moment.

“Don’t overstretch yourselves, things will get better in 18 months’ time but it’s securing what you got at the moment to build a strong foundation.”

The top three qualities a leader needs to have are summed up by Lord: “Firstly, you should be extremely approachable by anybody in any department, at any level. Always stick up for your team. And in my particular sector of events, always be at every single event when the doors are open and meet everybody in the departments when they were working.

“Something that really grates me when I’m out and I do see with promoters is when I talk to them and they’ve got a beer in their hand. You’re at work! What if you saw your postman walking down your drive with a can of beer in his hand? It’s your job. Be a bit more respectful.”

So what does excellent leadership look like to Lord?

“I think you are an excellent leader if the team you’re leading all respect what you do.”

  • To read an interview with Sacha Lord on how he believes the sector will get support if Labour wins the next general election, click on this link​.

Related topics Rebuilding the Pub Sector

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