Ramsgate Music Hall is pulling in the sharpest young talent
PUBLISHED: 11:19 14 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:19 14 April 2014
The venue is small but it's attracting bands from across the country
Ramsgate Music Hall… the name sounds old-time, variety, vaudeville, The Good Old Days even (and if you remember that, we really are talking a leap of faith).
But here is somewhere that could be very good news indeed for Kent’s young talent and those who simply love their music.
It was Wednesday, October 30, last year that London indie band Allo Darlin’ ripped into their first chords to become the first group to play the music hall. They were followed by The Wave Pictures, Blouse and Cate Le Bon, among others, while it almost goes without saying that more will follow and, as the venue’s reputation grows, so will the status of those playing.
Not, however, that pulling in the biggest names is what the music hall is all about. For as much as providing east Kent with a venue unique to the area, it is hoped that local emerging talent will have somewhere to perform and indeed some young people will be tempted into the world of
musicianship for the first time.
The notion of Ramsgate Music Hall was given life by three friends returning from a festival in Somerset and a conversation along the lines of ‘Wouldn’t it be a great idea to open our own venue so we wouldn’t have to travel miles to see great bands’.
They were not the first to have such thoughts and assuredly won’t be the last, but on this occasion the big talk was leavened with no small amount of realism.
All had been involved in music throughout their lives and all had the ambition to make this idea work.
Julian Bigg is a graphic designer by trade whose work has included album covers, while he also helped develop Cargo in Shoreditch, a club that became highly respected and caught the zeitgeist as the area moved from somewhere to be avoided to one desired by the beautiful people. It is an experience that could serve him well in the Ramsgate Music Hall project.
With Bigg are Tim Baines, a former Manchester-based producer and radio plugger (someone whose job is to get acts played over the airwaves) and Robin Hyman, a Thanet entrepreneur and music fan.
“We’re trying to do something new,” said Bigg. “Boutique is not a word I like, but the small size of this place and its acoustics are really important.
“It’s about the whole experience for band and crowd alike. We’ve been told we’re unique – Blouse and their people were blown away by how we looked after the band.
“As for the actual building, we gutted it. There’s a really nice green room with toilets, for example, and we’ve built somewhere nice where bands will want to come. We’re small, but we’re not toilet circuit.”
The toilet circuit, for those who might not be aware, features those venues so poorly endowed with facilities that band members have to get changed in the WC.
Not the case at Ramsgate Music Hall, oh no, even though it has a capacity of just 120 for live-music events and nearer 150 for DJ-based club nights.
There can’t be many who don’t appreciate that the music scene in Kent has improved markedly over the past decade or so, albeit there is still no stand-out venue to attract the very biggest acts. So what does Ramsgate Music Hall offer that any number of smaller sites, even pubs, don’t?
“From this end, there’s nowhere in Kent before you get to The Forum in Tunbridge Wells that you could call a proper music venue, and after that it’s London or Brighton,” said Bigg.
Might some of the growing number of places in the county that do host live music object to that view?
“I agree, but they are not attracting the bands you would want to see. Acoustically, these places don’t sound great. We’re not a pub – we’re a small, dedicated music venue bringing in bands that don’t come to Kent.
“The county doesn’t have many like that unless you go to pubs – which can be good, but you can also get pub rock…
“We do a real spectrum of stuff. There’s things you’ll hear on [BBC Radio] 6 Music – we’re about musically-savvy kids who would want to go to cutting-edge gigs.
“So far we’ve had a really broad spectrum of people in the audience, any age from 65 to 15. Kids can come in with their parents – to be honest, it’s almost a nonsense putting an age on it.
“We don’t want to be perceived as an elitist venue – a lot of the people who come in are big festival-goers, but there are others who do their music totally differently.”
So far, so good, it would seem and the fact that bands have travelled from as far as Birmingham and Manchester to play an as yet little-known small-town venue speaks volumes for what could be happening here.
Nevertheless, however good the idea, such things don’t grow from nothing. Blood, sweat and tears are the standard ingredients, not to mention a pot of money.
“The place was an absolute state when we got it at auction,” said Bigg. “It used to be Jesters comedy club and, before that, it had a dark past as a bar in a number of guises. We were told by one wise old local that if there had been a robbery locally the police would come here and whoever wasn’t sat at the bar was the likely culprit.”
The trio’s winning bid was £67,000, but they have “put in just over £300,000” thus far, not a surprising amount when you consider the work that was needed.
“The place was gutted – the tiles on the roof and one side of the walls are the only original bits left from what we bought.
“We’ve got a German d&b sound system set up by the same engineer who fitted out The Lexington in London. The building work was carried out by a small team led by Tim. Acoustically, it’s a wonderful thing – Cate Le Bon’s sound
engineer said we had potentially the best-acoustics small venue in the country.”
Funding it all was not a cakewalk – “the banks wouldn’t lend us a penny” – but £40,000 was raised through the Regional Growth Fund, a large chunk from each partner and the rest privately.
The challenge now is to both raise awareness and ensure a viable income.
“We spent so much time trying to get it right before getting the word out,” said Bigg. “But we’re already getting people from Dover,
Folkestone, Dartford, London… even one from Nottingham.
“If we get 100 for a gig we’re fine and if we can build a beautiful venue that pays its way we’re happy – it does have to be self-sufficient. We’re going to start opening as a bar on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays – bar nights will help pay the way – but we’ve got a busy schedule in April and May and the music will always have priority.”
Bigg moved to Thanet from Greenwich and his admiration for his adopted home is reflected in that slightly quaint name for the venue.
“I came down to get away and relocate and just fell in love with the place.
“Broadstairs is the town that will never change, Margate has deep problems and, though Ramsgate still has some of those, things are changing here. There’s a nucleus of really interesting people who are doing brilliant things.
“We wanted to put Ramsgate in the name – it’s about Ramsgate. The ‘music hall’ is kind of vaudeville, but it’s a name that won’t date.”
The ambition is to “create a hub” and that means more than pulling in the bigger names on the circuit – it’s also about inspiring local talent, some of it not even realised by those who have it.
“We want to have rehearsal space but have yet to work out how to do it. This can be somewhere kids who don’t have instruments can come and play – there can be workshops for drums, guitar and so on.
“And if one day we can sit back as grandparents and watch talented bands and musicians who
developed their skills here, then we will have succeeded in what we’re doing.”
■ Ramsgate Music Hall is in the town’s Turner Street. For more on the venue and the bands that are scheduled to appear, visit www.ramsgatemusichall.com.