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Calling the tune

Calling the tune

COVER STORY

11 Feb, 2020

Leaving the Forces to focus on running his own events and entertainment-focused business has made Jacob Kelly the (mix) master of his own destiny. And, last summer, the Leeds house music mogul hit the road with an innovative concept and a new companion …

Jacob Kelly

Jacob Kelly has a new woman in his life. Dottie is American, a little older than him and they plan to travel together to bring house music to the UK’s best events. 

Jacob’s wife JoJo doesn’t mind, though, as Dottie is an iconic 1970 American Airstream, which Jacob has lovingly transformed as the vessel for his new business, Airstream Events. Jacob, describing the journey to launch, says: ‘It’s been six months of relentless work, seven days a week – countless hours of organisation, graft, ideas, planning, meetings, form filling … you name it. Dottie went under a very big knife, transforming from unloved Airstream trailer to sparkling DJ booth, and she made her debut at the Airstream Events launch party last June.’

Jacob took on the renovation with the help of some friends, and customised Dottie with one of the best DJ booths and sound systems in the world, emerging as a boutique pop-up party solution for festivals and private events. Dottie can also be hired as just a bar, too, without the sound system. Jacob worked with industry leaders to kit out the trailer with the very best in sound technology. The investment required was therefore considerable so, through X-Forces Enterprise (XFE), Jacob accessed a Start Up Loan for the maximum amount available to buy the Airstream and help towards the equipment.

Airstream Events is not Jacob’s first foray into business, however. He set up and established Eclectic Avenue Records, which boasts releases from some of the best names in music. As a DJ, Jacob has played superclubs like Space in Ibiza, and been given producer credit on cult labels such as Music For Freaks and Defected DFTD.

For the past five years, Jacob has owned and run two bars in Leeds – The Doghouse and The 212 – which have hosted established international DJs. The vast knowledge, contacts and experience he accumulated during those years has been channelled into Airstream Events, as he explains: ‘I’ve been running my own businesses within hospitality and events for years and have learned an awful lot, some of it through making mistakes. I firmly believe that you’ve got to fail to know how to succeed. I decided that I wanted to break free of landlords and being stuck to one place all the time. Airstream Events will enable me to do that and include my family more.

Jacob Kelly

‘My wife JoJo has been in broadcasting for 23 years, and currently presents the drivetime show on Capital Yorkshire. Airstream Events is very much a family business – JoJo has been my sounding board when others thought I was mad, despite a really sensible business plan. We share a deep passion for music and it’s going to be great to enjoy this together and make lasting family memories.’

In fact, Airstream Events is already making a name for itself at the very top level of the music industry, having been invited to work with renowned electro duo The Chemical Brothers at their end-of-tour show at the O2 Arena last year. ‘We drafted in Airstream Events for our big London show to facilitate our aftershow party in December,’ says Chemical Brothers tour manager James Baseley. ‘Wow, what a great sound system! And Jacob and his team were truly professional and provided a great service with no fuss. We hope to work together again in the future.’

That must all seem a world away from Jacob’s military career, which saw him serve for almost eight years in the British Army, within 47 Air Despatch Squadron. ‘I joined at the very young age of 16,’ he says. ‘I loved every moment of serving, however after a while I realised that if I left when I did, I would still be young enough to start a civilian life and create a future for myself.

‘In 47 Air Despatch we used to fly around in C130 Hercules and throw stuff out of the sides and back to resupply the troops on the ground, a skill there’s not much call for on civvy street! However the grit and determination that was drummed into us has never left me.

‘They were great years in the Army, and without a doubt I am grateful for what they gave me. I think every veteran will understand when I say my military background is always with me. In everyday life, I hold those values of discipline, hard work and timekeeping in high regard, and they are a real benefit when you’re self-employed.’

Jacob Kelly 3

When he left the Army in 1999, however, it turned out not to be the simple transition to civvy street he had expected, and Jacob reveals that it took a few years for him to find his feet and carve out a career in the music industry. ‘My first job on leaving was in a sales role for a street sales company in London, which I’d seen advertised in a paper. It was all a bit odd and, looking back on it, I’m not entirely sure it was completely legit! We would all meet at 8am at the head office, where we’d all do sales pitches in front of everyone, and then go outside and do weird exercises. After that we would go out on the streets and try to sell random experiences, like makeovers and track days, to passers-by. It was all a bit strange and I left after a week.

‘My passion has always been music,’ he continues. ‘So I found sales roles to fund me buying music, which led on to me Dj-ing, then to production and on to where I am now.

‘When I was without focus, I followed my passion and that turned out well. I’m fortunate to be able to work in a field I love and every stage of my working life has provided positive experiences.’

JACOB’S SERVICE CAREER

Enlisted: January 1992
Exit date: 1999
Final rank: Driver
Service branch: RCT/RLC
Specialisation: 47 Air Despatch Sqn

Jacob was referred to X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) as it is the official delivery partner of the government’s Start Up Loans Company for the military community. XFE supports the business owner with business planning guidance prior to receiving the loan and mentoring for 12 months thereafter via an allocated XFE business adviser. It is a service that Jacob is finding really useful, even with his prior business experience: ‘I have found the X-Forces support to be fantastic so far,’ he says. ‘The funding was vital to get my project off the ground and the team coached me through the spreadsheet minefield! My adviser keeps in touch to make sure that I’m OK, and I’m really pleased this sort of support is available to me because of my Army service.’

When asked about the advice he might share with others facing the challenge of embarking on resettlement or a new business venture, Jacob replies: ‘I believe in carving your own path. Think of something that you are passionate about, work out a plan on how you can make it work for you and go at it. Don’t let other people make you doubt what you want to do. Get a great support group around you that believe in you and what you want to do, and focus on being positive. It’s tough out here, it really is, but never give up and do what you want to do. You will find that civilians do not tend to have the same urgency and work ethic as someone that has served.

 ‘The main thing I learned in renovating Dottie, and along the amazing yet stressful journey to launch, is that you cannot control time or other people’s time. It’s frustrating but there is nothing you can do. For example, if someone is meant to be doing a job for you but their last job has been delayed, your plans must remain adaptable. I think that’s probably something else I have retained from my military days too.

 ‘Finally, be patient and know that there are always people here to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask if you need it.’

Book Airstream Events

Dottie is now available for bookings via Airstream Events. She will travel to any location around the UK and will be on the festival circuit in 2020. Jacob hopes to eventually expand his fleet, to see Airstream Events bringing music to even more people.

To find out more, click here

XFE CEO and founder Ren Kapur MBE applauds Jacob’s commitment to following his passion: ‘On our Self-Employment Discovery workshops, and during the planning process, one of the first questions we ask of prospective entrepreneurs is whether they really know their market. The most successful business owners understand who their customers are and what their motivations may be. Jacob is a great example of this, being fully immersed in his industry, where his knowledge and contacts will prove to be valuable, and drawing on his past business experience. We are delighted to support him in this endeavour, and I look forward to meeting the stunning Dottie very soon.’

Follow Airstream Events

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About X-Forces Enterprise (XFE)

XFE is the official delivery partner to the government’s Start Up Loans scheme and the Career Transition Partnership (CTP). It has already supported more than 1,500 entrepreneurs to start their own businesses, and has helped many more through training, events and mentoring. 

For full details of how to register for XFE’s start-up and business planning support, call 0800 368 9533, click here or send an email

All photos: Bob Peters

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