Notes: Venue Manager, BLOC
Can you give a brief outline of who you are and the job that you do?
I am Chris Cusack. I have a number of roles around my current job as Venue Manager at BLOC, a live music venue in Glasgow. Primarily, I programme live events, which means listening to and organising a range of bands and musicians from the UK and beyond into sensible and successful concerts. Alongside that, I work within a small record label that we started through the venue, helping lower level bands who show promise get their music out and into the public arena. I also play in a band myself which can involve lengthy touring trips into mainland Europe.
Which languages do you know and how did you learn them?
Besides English, I have a passable grasp of French, which gets me by on short breaks but probably wouldn't win me many arguments! I also have a fair knowledge of Spanish and I know bits and bobs of Italian and German gathered during my travels.
French began in secondary school and most of the basics have stayed with me, though I regret not pursuing it further at Higher level. This has been complemented by travels in France as a musician and in conversation with the many French friends I made during those trips and through bookings I’ve made here in Glasgow.
My Spanish began during an extended trip to the North of Spain more than a decade ago and again was consolidated by musical travels and friendships. I enjoyed Spanish as a language and really engaged with the culture so chose to continue studying it in my private time via audio lessons on my iPod.
What would you say is your underlying drive to continue learning languages?
I am all too aware of how I neglected to learn foreign languages at an earlier age. In my experience, people in other parts of Europe largely take learning foreign languages as standard. They often cannot believe that so many British people do not know how to speak any other language.
My girlfriend happens to be Spanish and she has effectively shamed me into trying to improve via her near-flawless grasp of English - not to mention French and Dutch! It's also worth adding that part of the reason I pursue learning Spanish is that it is extremely widely spoken throughout the Americas and those are countries I very much hope to visit and discover in the future. Speaking the language is invaluable when trying to learn more about a country and its culture.
What role has language learning played in your career?
Language learning has been important on a creative and professional level as I often have to communicate with artists and managers from across the globe. My passable French and my relative confidence in Spanish have been invaluable in booking acts here in Scotland not to mention facilitating some of my band’s touring adventures and helping us make many new friends who stay in touch to this day.
As a band, we also found that taking the time to make an effort in another language can be a great way to break the ice with people. It shows you are trying to engage with their culture and not just turning up assuming that everyone prioritises English. This was most evident some years back when we travelled with another British band, none of whom spoke French or Spanish and none of whom made any effort to do so during our two weeks of touring. Ultimately, our group was much more warmly received by our hosts and our final impression of the tour was much more positive than that of the other band, largely because we made every effort to engage with the French and Spanish cultures. We asked our hosts about different words and enquired about things that might inadvertently cause offence. We also invited them to show us local foods and drinks and attempted to immerse ourselves in what their region had to offer. I am confident this is a big part of why we were so quickly invited back to tour again, whereas the other group found it more difficult to book European shows the next time they tried.
Do you have any memorable experiences of trying to communicate with a speaker of another language that you would like to share with us?
Sometimes having an ability in more than one language reaps unexpected rewards in situations that you might not have expected. Spanish came to our rescue travelling in the South of France, for example. In the more remote areas and farmlands many French people are not equipped with English which can make communications - especially urgent ones like "Where can we get some diesel, our van is about to die!" - extremely frustrating. Strangely, in just such a situation, it turned out not to be English that was the common language, but Spanish. Whilst neither the French people concerned nor ourselves were masters by any means, we were still able to combine our abilities and work our way out of a tricky situation.
Return to Job Profiles