Watford Concerts Archive

Watford Town Hall / Colosseum

A history of our involvement

by Jonathan Brett

This is a personal view aimed at putting on record the key events and my actions relating to them.

A 1,500 venue, built with advice from the leading acoustician of the time, Watford Town Hall, or as it has more lately been known, Colosseum, is possibly the finest hall in England for orchestral performance. For more than 70 years it was the home to regular orchestral concerts as well as developing a worldwide reputation as a recording venue. Managed by Watford Borough Council, it was loved by musicians - and the public - for the warmth and intimacy of the sound but sadly the hall was increasingly neglected towards the end of the 20th century.

During the 1990s there was a rapid decline and a lack of investment and intelligent management led to a situation where the hall was costing a great deal to run (a net cost in the region of £400,000 pa), producing very little and seeing attendances plummet. The last concert season promoted by the council achieved an average audience of under 350 and the hall was closed in 1994. Having first encountered this famous hall for myself a couple of years before and performed in both the 2001/2 and 2003/4 seasons, I regarded this as a disaster for British music and wrote at length to the council before the closure proposing better management rather than closure.

The following year it was re-opened, having been leased to a disco promoting company for commercial use. An approach by Classic Concerts Trust established that, although they wished to have no direct involvement, the new managers were keen to support the musical heritage of the hall. With an agreement for nominal hire charges and financial support primarily from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts plus small grants from Watford Borough Council and the Eastern Orchestral Board, the trust presented its first season of concerts with the English Classical Players in 1996/7.

Having previously always worked through a collaborative process, this marked the trust's first venture into full scale concert promotion. This allowed me to implement a number of innovations, including the provision of free access for children, which stimulated increasing interest and eventually meant that young people accounted for 8% of the overall audience.