Gigs in private members’ clubs, churches and a repurposed police station have signalled Abby Meysenburg’s mission to reimagine Liverpool’s live landscape.
Having graduated from LIPA amid a global pandemic, Seattle-born Abby Meysenburg found herself in a predicament. As a Liverpool-based musician, Meysenburg has witnessed first-hand the devastating impact that various lockdowns have had on some of the city’s most-loved independent venues. The demolition of Constellations, the closing of Sound Food and Drink, and the ongoing threat to 24 Kitchen Street, as well as the constant cuts to funding of cultural spaces such as museums and libraries, are all having a huge impact on the city centre’s arts offer. In response to this, Meysenburg established Bed And Breakfast in January 2021, a live music promotion company which focuses on putting on shows in unconventional spaces. The aim is to bridge the gap between artists who need places to play, and spaces which need audiences.
Speaking over Zoom from her Baltic Triangle headquarters, Abby jokes that a few people have been misled by the name, but the choice to call the organisation Bed and Breakfast stems from her desire to make people “feel comfortable and at home.” It also plays into the idea of the unconventional locations, as Abby laughs “the few BnBs I have stayed at have been quirky and unexpected.” As the sole director of Bed and Breakfast, Meysenburg has been putting on roughly one gig per month but hopes to expand this in the future. In May, St Barnabas Church hosted Spilt Milk Society and Seagoth, while Rossa Murray & The Blowin’ Winds and ΔNNA played The Athenaeum private members’ club in June. Most recently, a trio of singer songwriters in Astles, Pet Snake, and Amelia Wallace formed the bill for an August date at Bridewell Studios in Kensington.
When it comes to choosing the venues, Meysenburg credits her travels around Merseyside and the many characterful buildings which catch her eye. “I’m interested in the idea of redeeming certain spaces or bringing in a younger and more diverse crowd.” She notes that concertgoers may have had qualms entering churches, for example, or about the exclusivity of a private members’ club. “I want these spaces to feel like they can be for everyone, and I want to reclaim history.”
Accessibility and transparency are of prime importance at Bed and Breakfast as well as giving artists formative, and fair, early gig experience. Having moved to the UK from the States at 18, Meysenburg explains that she “grew up playing at bookstores and breakfast restaurants,” as almost every venue catering to new bands in the US has a strict 21 and over policy. “I want to give artists that haven’t played many gigs the expectation that you should know how much you get paid before you show up. There should be some beers for you or an explanation as to why there isn’t,” she says.
Consequently, Meysenburg is providing artists with an experience that empowers them to go out into the wider scene of live music. It has also been a priority to ensure that Bed and Breakfast is a safe space. Meysenburg has teamed up with Good Night Out, an organisation which provides training to event organisers and licensed premises on dealing with harassment. Meysenburg says they’ve worked with her to create a “helpful framework surrounding what levels of harassment indicate what levels of response.”
Astles and venue owner Fiona Filby introduce former Bed and Breakfast host venue Bridewell Studios in the first of our City Spaces series.
When a third lockdown further prevented Meysenburg from putting on shows, she decided to begin a Bed and Breakfast podcast. This allowed her to establish both the aesthetic of the brand, as well as the values it stands for. Although things have gone quiet on the podcast front, she says she would be interested in picking it up again, perhaps with live podcast episodes as an element of the gigs.
In terms of a dream venue for a Liverpool gig, Abby opts for the old Martin’s Bank Building on Water Street. “It’s gorgeous, it looks like Gringotts out of Harry Potter!” she enthuses. She also suggests a launderette and possibly an event at Western Approaches, the former WWII bunker-turned-museum, but considers how it may be difficult to look at war critically whilst making art in that space. It’s observations like this that demonstrate Abby’s desire for the events she’s hosting to be more than just gigs.
Trying to find venues across the Liverpool City Region rather than condensing everything to the city centre is a goal for Meysenburg too. “If someone can’t get to one event, then the next one might be in their neighbourhood.” It also allows her to shine a light on the hidden architectural gems that various areas of Merseyside have to offer. She mentions Waterloo’s The Plaza cinema. “A cinema in my hometown used to do some gigs,” Abby reminisces. “You’ve already got the seats and the sound system sorted there, and you could have a cool audio-visual experience with a backdrop onscreen.”
Curating line-ups is all-important to Meysenburg’s process, as she strives to select artists who fit together sonically but still offer some variety. She’s open to promoting a mix of genres, gesturing to the upcoming show at Birkenhead’s Bloom Building in September. Indie-folk act Sara Wolff, the energetic art-rock quartet Hannah’s Little Sister, and the epic post-rock band A Burial at Sea will perform. “All these artists put out albums and EPs during lockdown, so I want to create the atmosphere of a release party here.”
So, what does the future hold? “I want to keep expanding further out into Merseyside. A lot of these cool spaces are a little more off the beaten track.” Abby muses on the idea of bringing a food element to the gigs, in keeping with the promoter’s moniker. “I’d love to put on a dance event too,” Abby smiles, citing Smithdown Social Club’s Wavertree Worldwide nights as an inspiration. She’s already looking at potential DJs and venues.
“It’s a really cool moment in Liverpool now,” Abby concludes. “There’s so many people, especially women and non-binary people who have followed their pipe dreams in lockdown and started small creative businesses.” With Bed and Breakfast, Abby certainly makes a strong case for this, having set up her own innovative project, she’s lending a vital hand to artists and cultural spaces alike.
Bed And Breakfast presents Stores, Hannah’s Little Sister and Sara Wolff at Bloom Building on 9th September. Tickets available via Skiddle.