String of concerts will help raise famous natural venue to new peak

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Operators of a Peak District cavern are mining a new source of income - concerts.

Sheffield-based ukulele outfit The Everly Pregnant Brothers kicked off a series of six events this summer in the Peak Cavern, alternatively known as The Devil’s Arse, in Castleton.

They are all band nights with the exception of a cello performance. The large entrance to the cavern has been used regularly for Christmas carol concerts and, more recently, has started to gain a reputation as a music venue with a capacity of 600.

Memorably, Sheffield singer, guitarist and writer Richard Hawley played there twice during winters, once in bitterly cold conditions.

Last summer the John Reilly Band gave a performance, and there was also a ‘Battle of the Bands’ night.

In October the cave was taken over for three days by American whiskey company Jack Daniel’s for a performance by The Vaccines and The Tribes and other bands.

Now the cavern operators, John Harrison and Jeremy Gosling, are starting to organise concerts themselves, as opposed to hiring out the cave, to create a stream of income in addition to the staple of school visits and guided public tours.

“The acoustics are absolutely tremendous,” said John. “A big crowd generates a tremendous atmosphere and it becomes a really good venue.”

Most concerts take place in the entrance, although a cello performance by Matthew Barley, to mark the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, will be a smaller and more intimate affair towards the back.

It’s a commercial venture to help offset the seasonal nature of the business, said John. “They are very busy during the school holidays and before Christmas. We are always looking at ways of getting more people into the caves off season, and the caves are dormant in the evening.

“We decided we would build on successes over Christmas and put on things at weekends in the summer to appeal to the local market and to get more visitors to the area.”

Another new direction will see delegates at Sheffield Doc/Fest, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, being bussed to the cavern for a screening of Nick Ryan’s film, The Summit, about the quest to conquer K2.

Richard and Jeremy were granted a 25-year-lease on Peak Cavern from the Duchy of Lancaster in 1997. Like many businesses, they have to look for new ideas.

“Nothing is ever easy. In the early years we invested heavily, with new lighting and a new kiosk. From there it’s a case of trying to keep things fresh and interesting. We have just had some new LED lighting.”

Dates for your diary

Matthew Barley - About Britten, Friday, June 28;

The John Reilly Band, Saturday, August 10;

Carmen Ghia & The Hot Rods, Saturday, August 17;

The Gutterband, Saturday, August 24;

The Bootleggers, Saturday, August 31.

Peak Cavern is below 280ft high cliffs, and is the largest natural cave entrance in Britain. The ruins of Peveril Castle are above.

A community once lived there for more than 400 years.

The cave was called the Devil’s Arse because of flatulent-sounding noises from inside when flood water is draining away.