Ah, Manchester. Home of Morrissey, the Stone Roses, Oasis, the Buzzcocks – and now the Manchester Bass Lounge, where you will be treated to a tour from founder and owner, Drew Dempster, around a space that is packed to the rafters with amazing gear. The MBL has come a very long way in a very short time, Drew tells us.
“Prior to setting up MBL in late 2011, I had no background whatsoever as a bass retailer,” he tells BGM. “I was simply a guy with a very large collection of basses who constantly moaned about the lack of a bass specialist in the north of England, and then I decided that I was to be the one to step into the breach and offer something a little bit bespoke.”
He continues: “Initially the offer was exclusively preowned basses, but we’re now offering some new basses – exclusively by British luthiers – and Markbass amplification. Year one, 2012, was a steep learning curve in terms of buying the right stock at the right price. It’s important to avoid the crowd, in other words to stand apart and avoid becoming a commodity, competing simply on price. In terms of new basses, we’ll never sell the global brands. We operate very much under the radar. The word is getting round and a quiet revolution is gathering pace up here.”
Prior to establishing the Bass Lounge, Drew served time on the club circuit, telling us: “I played bass in a prog-rock band called New England in the early 80s but packed up in 1986. I had 23 years in the doldrums before picking up the instrument again in 2008 and joining Oldham-based covers band the Majestics who, simply put, play ‘good time’ music. A classic midlife crisis I guess.”
Developing such a niche business like MBL from absolutely nothing can prove complicated, as Drew explains: “My background since the mid 80s has been architecture. I spent 15 years building up a large architectural practice, which I managed to sell in 2005, and that business expertise enabled me to indulge my passions in music and bass guitars. Building a bass business from the ground up is no different from building any other business up – the important part is identifying a gap in the market, understand how to create and build a brand and have a strong product with good a level of service.”
In its short time in business, the Bass Lounge has already experienced more than its fair share of highs and lows, Drew tells us. “We’ve only been established for just over a year, which is not long. A low point was doing a guitar show in late 2012, where we didn’t even sell a pack of strings.
“However, high points include consulting with Gordon-Smith Guitars on the development of a brand new bass model, the Gryphon, for which I designed the headstock logo and other components and also came up with the name. I was also asked to become an Overwater dealer: Chris May at Overwater is a bottomless pit of knowledge about all things bass, and an endless supply of amusing stories about the industry and the people in it.”
He adds: “I love the two basses that I’ve helped design. Our Overwater Original series appeared in the last edition of Bass Guitar Magazine and I had a big smile on my face when I gigged the first production Gordon-Smith Gryphon model, because all the changes and refinements we made worked a treat.”
So who is MBL’s audience, as Drew sees it? He explains: “I’d say that our customers are a fairly discerning bunch who tell us that they really appreciate the ‘one on one’ time that I invest in them. Our customer base is pro and semi-pro players from around the north-west, many of whom are middle-aged guys who, having raised families and built careers, have seen their kids move out, and the new income has allowed them to play again and afford the bass they want. The majority of our customers are extremely knowledgeable, so it can be very much a two-way knowledge sharing experience.”
Finally, who are Drew’s bass heroes? “That’s a tricky one,” he muses, “but I’m pretty much from a rock background so my heroes are Lemmy, John Entwistle, Jack Bruce and Geddy Lee. If I have to nominate one it would have to be Lemmy… he got me started in the late 70s when I learned to play bass by listening to Hawkwind’s Space Ritual album. When I see him in action I still want his job. A true originator and chronically underrated by the bass police.” We couldn’t agree more…