Ten Years of Huntleys + Palmers
How do you start your own club night? Huntleys + Palmers founder Andrew Thomson reflects on the tenth anniversary of his renowned party outfit, and offers some advice for succeeding in the game
The ever first Huntleys & Palmers party was "in a tiny tenement flat, like 100-person capacity," recalls Andrew Thomson, "in part of the Glasgow Uni that's not used for parties anymore. I booked Pilooski in the September, and [the event] was in December, and it was just months of total stress. I remember at the time I was like, 'I'm never doing this again, this is so stressful'. And then it happened, and it was busy, and then afterwards I realised it was this thing that had been missing in my life, and I wanted to do it again. And I guess I've never stopped."
In the decade following that humble beginning in 2007, Huntleys & Palmers has grown into a renowned club night, label, and champion of some of the best underground artists in the UK and beyond. Huntleys + Palmers has played an instrumental role in launching the careers of many much-loved names, including Auntie Flo, SOPHIE, Mehmet Aslan, Alejandro Paz, Mamacita, and Hi & Saberhägen.
Forming an integral part of the electronic movement in Glasgow, H+P parties have since extended to London, including a long-running affiliation with the iconic Plastic People venue, and have also hosted and played parties at the likes of Glastonbury, Fabric, Corsica Studios, and Berghain Kantine. Thomson's role has also evolved from that of a promoter, to a DJ and label head of the imprints Huntleys + Palmers, Highlife, and Belters, and the curator of the popular Clyde Built compilations that give a platform to emerging local acts.
To celebrate their tenth anniversary, Huntleys + Palmers have hosted a string of events throughout 2017, with acclaimed acts including Actress, Ben UFO, Inga Mauer, Ivan Smagghe, Lena Willikens, Mehmet Aslan, rRoxymore and Young Marco. In November, Thomson brings Talaboman – the portmanteau for the creative project of Axel Boman and John Talabot – to a special venue, Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum.
"It happened by complete chance," Thomson exclaims. "Axel is in Stockholm, and Talabot is based in Barcelona, and they have their own tour schedules – one will be in America, one will be in Asia, so they don't even chat to each other all the time. I had them booked for the middle of September, around about Freshers Week, it was all ready to go and I was about to announce it, and then Axel realised it was the date of his brother's wedding! We thought we were going to have to push it back to next year, but then it all just kind of worked out... I was apprehensive about the whole venue thing, because it just seemed too good to be true!"
"In London, people actually go out to network, they go out to be visible. Whereas in Glasgow, it's so organic, you just meet people!" – Andrew Thomson
But let's go back to the beginning – how did Thomson, who was a regular patron of Glasgow's clubs, evolve into a DJ, promoter, label owner and advocate for some of the boldest and best music in house and techno? He explains, "when I first started, I was just out in Glasgow all the time, like most people of a certain age. And then I went to Berlin in the summer of 2006, and I came back like 'I don't ever want to listen to minimal techno again,'" he laughs. "I was so sick of it."
He continues: "At the same time I started to work for the Sub Club, doing PR for them – I was going to the Sub Club regularly anyway – and from doing that I was just more and more into the Glasgow 'scene' and the behind-the-scenes part of it, the mechanics of it all. I wanted to put on my own night, I was just trying to figure out how to go about it."
In terms of establishing industry contacts, Glasgow's welcoming reputation also helps, Thomson adds. "In London, people actually go out to network, they go out to be visible. Whereas in Glasgow, it's so organic, you just meet people! And I guess the more after-parties and all the rest of it that you go to, it just opens you up [to the industry]".
Glasgow's flourishing nightlife gave Thomson the platform and inspiration he needed to get Huntleys + Palmers off the ground, but the plethora of venues and parties the city offers can also be an obstacle, he warns. "People always thought that moving to London would be more difficult, but Glasgow has got so many promoters per capita that there were not enough people to go around; not enough punters. I think it's always been quite tough in Glasgow, I don't think anything has really changed. I have noticed a lot of nights come and go."
For those thinking of breaking in to the city's crowded market of club nights, Thomson agrees that it's important to buck popular trends and trust your own tastes. "I had an idea in my head that I wanted to book people who hadn't really played in Glasgow before. I felt there had to be some kind of gap [in the market] and also at the time, the minimal thing was happening, and then the whole Ed Banger thing, and musically I wasn't into either of those things at all. They were getting a lot of hype – there was a night at The Arches that was getting around 2,000 to 3,000 people, and it was super-hyped... it just wasn't for me. I wanted to do something that was more kind of musical."
Launching your own club brand unsurprisingly requires a lot of hard work, and despite Huntleys + Plamers' success, it still remains very much a one-man operation, Thomson reveals. "People help me on certain things now and again, but that's the thing I've really thought about, as the ten years ends – if we'd just done a techno night, or something very defined to one genre, I think it's easier to build a following because people know what to expect time and time again. So what I've realised is that at some point down the line, people need some sort of continuity, and I am that continuity. So I had to push myself a bit more, DJ a bit more and make mixes, so that people could get a sense of where it all comes from."
Finally, every good club night also needs a good name. In Huntleys + Palmers' case, Thomson laughs when reflecting on the story behind the club night's moniker. "I had booked this guy, but I had no name for the party, because I wasn't even thinking about developing a brand or anything like that. Around the same time – and it's quite interesting because recently there's been a lot of press about it – I'd read about the Wolfenden report (aka the 1957 Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution). There was a court case and during the trial, I read that because it was the conservative 50s, they had these code names for homosexuals and prostitutes, which were huntleys and palmers."
"I liked the connotations of that name, but what I didn't realise was that those names actually came from a biscuit company," he concludes. "Ever since, people always send me pictures of these biscuits."