Curtain call for Carnegie boss who brought big names to town
Last updated at 12:25, Friday, 07 September 2012
Paul Sherwin was only asked to look after Workington’s Carnegie Theatre for six months.
Tomorrow, 31 years on, he will retire from what became his home from home.
“I think Allerdale council may have forgotten I was here,” laughs the Finkle Street venue manager, sitting in the newly refurbished auditorium.
Paul, 60, of Craig Road, was plucked from his day job in the council’s finance office to manage the theatre.
The Carnegie had been without a manager for some time when Paul stepped into the breach because of his love of music.
In bands since he was 14 and a member of the house band at the Rendezvous in the 1970s, he started promoting midnight til 4am dances at Lowca and Parton when he was 17.
Walking into the Carnegie in 1981 felt like coming home.
He recalls: “I knew that although this was ‘showbusiness’ it was also all about making money – that’s why I joined bands, not for the reason other people did, like the glamour.
“There’s nothing glamorous in working with these groups and organisations, it’s all about the transaction.
“Our first act, on November 1 1981, went down really well; we managed to get the Sensational Alex Harvey Band because I knew his manager.
“Two weeks later, of course, Alex Harvey died in Belgium, so we could have been his last gig.”
There’s no magic formula to run a successful theatre, according to Paul.
“If anyone knew that, they’d be a millionaire,” he says.
The next acts appealed to an older audience and included comedian Ken Dodd.
Paul seemed to be hitting the spot with his customers.
So how does he choose the acts that appear?
He says: “I’ve never knowingly booked an act I like. Of course the temptation is there to just book the bands you want to see, but you’ve got to fill the theatre.
“I wouldn’t have lasted 31 years if I’d just done that.”
The longest-serving theatre manager in the UK, he has a network of contacts across the country, and in the Carnegie’s heyday it attracted some big names on the circuit.
Paul says the future of the theatre is secure.
“We’re never going to get the big names here, it’s just too small a venue, but acts like Uriah Heep are still extremely popular and fill the place to the rafters.
“What people seem to forget is that this place is not just about the ‘star’ acts.
“We are a thriving community theatre, with lots going on with schools, organisations and the local amateur dramatics groups, who put their shows on here.
“They are the bread and butter of the theatre and what keeps us going. Anything else is just jam.”
As well as the theatre, Paul co-founded the Keswick Jazz Festival in 1992 and the Maryport Blues Festival in 1999 – initiatives run by the council at the time and later taken on by outside groups.
He estimates that the Carnegie has seen more than 1.5 million people entertained during his time at the helm.
“And that’s something to be proud of, I think,” he winks in his trademark laconic style.
Born and bred in Workington, Paul started work when he was 13 when he bought a paper round in Stainburn.
He says he has always had that knack of spotting an opportunity and making it work, no matter how hard he had to work to make sure.
“When I was in the finance office, I used to cram two days of work into one. By day, I’d be collecting rents, by night performing gigs up and down the west coast in house bands and other groups, putting on events.
“You name it, I was doing it to make a living.
“I am the person who sold toilet paper to Eskimos!
“At the time I was running an import/export business and got a contract to send off a load of loo roll to Greenland.
“I’ve always had something on the go – in the 1980s and 1990s, we had shops in town. They were mostly run by my wife Ros, but I was there in the background during the day, then turning up at the Carnegie to work the night shift.
“I’ve always worked the night shift there because I believe you’ve got to be close to your audience and it suited us.”
Retirement does not mean pipe and slippers for this 60-year-old either.
He says: “I’ll do something. I’m still chairman of the Cumbria Festivals Group and whether it’s going back to import/export, setting up a shop, writing film scripts or playing in a band, I don’t know.
“I could probably write a book about my time here, although I’m not sure anyone would buy it. The opportunities are endless really, and I’ve not decided on any one thing.”
Is it a bittersweet moment for the man, who for many people IS the Carnegie?
After all, the theatre has just had a £220,000 refurbishment, has some big names lined up for the future and a council which has pledged to remain committed to the venue.
He sighs and says: “I’ve spent more than half my life wrapped up in the Carnegie and perhaps now is the right time to hand it on to someone else.
“But it is part of me, too, and I don’t think I’ll ever let it go, fully.”
l Carnegie Theatre reopens tonight – Pages 27-28 and 51-52
First published at 11:56, Friday, 07 September 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk
Have your say
Farewell Paul, thanks for all the fun. I practically grew up in Monroes Bar and have many great memories all thanks to you.
Having spent many a happy hour in the Carnegie theater every Friday evening for the last ten years whilst my daughter was at dance class, I can honestly say that Paul will be missed. Many a time he has been called upon to sort the odd way wood crowd that has found their way in from the cold into the cafe area, he has gently but firmly tackled more than a few gobby youths, drunks and others. He has politely dealt with many an enquiry and been a solid presence in the theatre. You will be sadly missed......Happy retirement Paul.