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  • Writer's pictureJacob Dutkiewicz

The man who turned Groningen into a music scene heavyweight. An interview with Peter Weening.

Updated: Jun 24

So, I told Kurt “Courtney is here”. I gave her the phone, left the room and closed the door behind me.
 

Peter Weening did not allow himself to get persuaded by Kurt Cobain to propose to Courtney Love on his behalf. But he was the man who made it possible. Directly, by handing over the receiver to Courtney, but also by setting up Vera and Groningen as one of the biggest music scenes in Europe.

 

Weening has been the band booker and event organiser at Groningen concert venue Vera for 41 years. Over the course of his career, he booked gigs for bands like Nirvana, the White Stripes, Pearl Jam, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden and so many, many others… It was partly thanks to his work and dedication that Vera became one of the central music venues for the new wave in the Netherlands.



Weening in front of Vera

“I was always interested in music,” says Weening. He grew up in Zeeland, listening to radio Veronica and Luxembourg and making top-hit lists with friends. It was no surprise that when he arrived in Groningen to study law, he picked up DJing at dance nights.

 

He got his in when he became a bartender at Vera and was then invited to join the venue’s board. When the old booker stepped down in 1980, Peter took his place.

“It was customary that planners would rotate after a year,” he explains. But as things got professionalized, the personal connections between the venues and booking agencies became very important. “It was a stupid idea to throw all of that away after one year. This is why I stayed.”

 

Getting straight to the point

 

Weening says that most of the bands coming to the Netherlands were from England, which was experiencing its heights of the new wave movement. And so, in ’81, he travelled to London to meet the English bands, bookers, the booking agencies and the record companies.

 

“It wasn’t easy. I was on the dole and I had to pay for everything myself. But it was a really smart thing to do. It gave me a lot of contacts. I was on the guest lists for the biggest bands and I came back home with bags and bags of free LP samples.”

 


English band “The Boys” was the first gig that Weening booked. His good relationships with the English industry allowed Vera to establish itself within the newly forming “club circuit”, the 5 or 6 venues in the Netherlands most frequently visited by the big groups.

 

But most music bands only visited two cities when coming to the Netherlands, Amsterdam and one other. “We were always that plus one,” says Weening and he backs it up with research.

 

Between ’85 and ’90, Weening along with friends went on tour with, and played support for, American punk band Legendary Stardust Cowboys. In what Peter calls an act of “Punkspionage” they travelled across the Netherlands and visited the other clubs in the “circuit,” Tivoli in Utrecht, Melkweg and Paradiso in Amsterdam, Doornroosje in Nijmegen, De Efenaar in Eindhoven, and Gigant in Appeldoorn.

 

“But I thought we were better. We had the best atmosphere.”

 

What about the atmosphere?

 

“You can’t describe it but I guess it had to do with Groningen being a student city with a strong identity,” says Weening. Groningen also had a bit of a music history already, with a few rockabilly and rock and roll bands in the area.

 

“There were no time limits for bars to stay open either,” which was uncommon for other cities in the Netherlands. “With one rule. They had to book a band.” He continues, “That made Groningen a good soil for music.”

 

He claims that it allowed Vera to cultivate a scene in the city and put Groningen on the map for bands and agencies to see.

 

“To have a good scene you need to be able to write about bands, so we made our own press. You need to have record stores to buy the records of the bands. Well, we had really good shops already. This is what gives you the basis to book a band and that’s how you grow a scene. I read about a band. I can see the band. I buy a record. You start booking more bands, unknown bands. People get curious. And then it grows and grows.”


One of the musicians left a guitar at Vera as thanks. Nobody really knows whose was it though.


So that’s what made it easier for Weening to book bands, but there was also the venue side of things, and that also took effort.

 

“You had to make sure that everyone here was on board, that people were helpful. The technicians, the host. Be there when the band needs you. Talk to them when they come and when they go. Be respectful and they will give respect back. It’s simple stuff.”

 

And if everything is done right and the bands like you, the agencies will stick with you too.

 

Word would get around, of course, so when Mudhoney came to Europe as the first Seattle grunge band in the late 80s, others would follow.


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Seattle Bands

That’s how Weening got Hole to play at Vera in ’91. He didn’t have to ask. Bands wanted to play in Groningen.



“That’s typically Vera”

 

Vera never had the money to book bands at the peaks of their power and influence. “When you really wanted somebody, you had to pay,” Weening admits. But this necessity, to look towards less-known bands and up-and-comers, shaped a large extent of Weening’s, philosophy. “Don’t buy the big name and go for the future. That’s typically Vera.”

 

When Weening considered contacting bands, he never had the size of the audience in mind. “When I book a band, I look at the interest of Vera and the band first.” When Nirvana played in Vera for the first time in ’89, Weening said that the audience was maybe 50 strong. “You never know what happens in the future, that’s why you need to book by your heart.”

 

Audio cover
The Booking of Butthole Surfers


The nights that went wrong

 

When asked about the mistakes he made during his career he says that there weren’t many. Some regrets, but Weening says that these are "mostly stories about the stuff that never happened.” Like when the European tour of the Smiths fell through. But some other nights were just plain rowdy.



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Bad Billie Childish


Peter was ready to end the interview here. He had some other place to be, but I told him only half joking, that I won’t let him leave the room without retelling the anecdote he gets asked about at every interview. When Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana guitarist while on tour, called Weening with a favour. He asked Peter to propose to Courtney Love on his behalf.



Audio cover
The Marriage Anecdote

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