Profile: the city banker who gave it all up for music
Julian Lewry was 40 when he sat down with his wife and worked out a five-year plan to give up his well-paid job as a banker in the City of London and concentrate on the uncertain, financially insecure music business.
“Whilst I enjoyed what I was doing in banking very much, I just thought, no, I don’t want to do this into my mid-50s, or get to retirement and end up with a gold watch,” says Lewry, the father of three teenage children. “Incredibly, my wife was agreeable to this.”
Five years later, he took the step, walking away from 20 years in banking to face an unknown future. For the past three years, he has run Julian Lewry Music Services – working from home offering a wide mix of services, from promoting concerts to putting on discos, from music memorabilia to arranging tours for artists.
He also founded the Farncombe Music Club, in the village where he lives just outside Godalming in Surrey. It has provided a new venue for folk and Americana artists, and a unique one – the club puts on its shows inside the local church, with the artists performing in front of the altar and the spectators sitting on pews.
“It’s all very interesting and exciting and you just don’t know where it can lead you to on a Saturday night,” says Lewry, now 48.
Financially, though, he acknowledges that the work has represented a huge drop in income. “It’s profitable, but if you went into Dragons’ Den with this I think they’d regard it as a glorified hobby.”
Music has been Lewry’s passion all his life, from the time he first listened to his grandmother’s eclectic record collection in the late 1960s. At 17, as a charities project for his school in Guernsey, he organised a music festival that attracted 2,000 people on an island of 50,000. An early girlfriend told him: “Whoever marries you will have to marry your music.”
“I just liked the whole thing of it, but then I went and did something sensible by going into banking.”
Lewry continued his interest in music, however, working as a DJ in his spare time. When his wife asked him to move some of his music memorabilia so they could make a nursery for their first child, he and a friend went to sell it at a music fairs – but ended up buying memorabilia as well as selling it, and set up a small business that did well until the arrival of the internet. Then the time came, he says, to take a look at his life. He chose to leave banking and concentrate full-time on music, and he has never regretted the decision.
“You miss the regularity of being paid on one day of the month, you don’t necessarily know when your next pay cheque is, but I don’t have any regrets. I wanted to leave before I got to the point where I hated it ... To be honest I felt there was more to life than just that. I didn’t feel beholden to serve out my days working in banking at all. And I wanted to spend more time with the family.
“My relationship with my children I hope has improved. I have more time with them. I used to leave the house shortly after 7 and rarely get back before 7 if not 8, and there were often times when I was travelling and I didn’t come back. Now, yes, I’m out in the evenings, but I generally come back at some point. And I can take August off – I don’t have to book holiday with anyone other than myself.”
Although Lewry has wide musical tastes, his work has tended towards folk and Americana, set on its way seeing a performance by Eve Selis that he says “really knocked me off my feet.” The music club is now in its third season, with shows ranging from folk to rock and pop. Artists appearing there have included Kim Richey, Angie Palmer and Tom Russell – who made a sold-out return visit on January 16.
St. John’s Church in Farncombe may not be the most comfortable venue in the country, but it has its advantages, Lewry says.
“The acoustics are awesome. It’s got this natural reverb which isn’t too long. Obviously we put a PA up for the artists but it would be perfectly possible to run some of the concerts without the PA.”
Not all the shows in Farncombe make a profit, but overall Lewry says he isn’t losing money – the one condition his wife put on the enterprise.
“Even if you make a profit, I think if you calculated what that was worth in terms of what you put into it, you are certainly below the minimum wage. Would you go in and take an employed job for that amount of money? No you wouldn’t. But when you’ve promoted a concert and you come out having maybe made £100, it’s different. The pleasures are immense of doing that. It’s great having the signed posters from an artist who says thanks.”
Lewry says he loved his job in banking – he worked for the Dutch company Rabobank for 10 years and still socialises with his former colleagues – but the decision to leave was an easy one.
“I didn’t want to look back and say: I should have done that. I suppose I’m living my dreams. I’m very fortunate.”