OK, ganglets- it’s time for my list of the Midlands’ greatest rock venues of 2018. The clubs, pubs, bars, halls, theatres, arenas, stadiums, parks and art spaces that charmed my cynical heart, and made me remember why I fell in love with the practice of gig- going in the first place: all in our beloved Midlands (East AND West) region, and all unique in their own way.
As for what precisely makes a venue such a unique and special place, it’s probably harder to define: sure, you could try and quantify it by judging such facets as decor, location, friendliness, staff attitude, sound, roster of performers etc, and undoubtedly all those things are part of it, but at the end of the day, it really is a matter of that ‘indefinable something’ However, I can’t simply reel off a list of names and numbers with no additional helpful information- who do you think I am, Travel West Midlands? so I’m at least going to attempt to back up my statements. And again, if you disagree, well, ner-ner ne-ner ner. This is MY website.
In numerical order, therefore, and divided into (a) music venues (b) dj venues and (c, here’s the list of all the best: if you’re heading to the bar, mine’s a pint of porter (assuming they serve it)
- THE ROBIN 2, Bilston
If tooth be gnome, the Robin was always going to walk away with the top award: in terms of the sheer variety it provides, it’s unchallenged by any other club venue in the region, and in terms of proper, good old fashioned rock n roll atmosphere, well, what can I say? The walls simply drip with it, duckie. Opening in the early 90s (at one point running concurrently with the old Robin 1 in Brierley Hill, until that eventually passed into legend) it is the heart of the Black Country music scene: sure, plenty of tribute and covers bands (Fred Zeppelin, Just Floyd, Purple Rainbows, Elio Pace’s Billy Joel Songbook) pitch up to play here, but the revenue generated by housing four of them on the trot only serves to provide the funding with which its superb promotional team can bring five or more top-drawer international touring acts into its hallowed portals.
That, ladies and gents, is how a successful independent rock venue works in the late 2010s: this is why, within the course of a week after a splurge of tribute acts, you’ll find artists as diverse as (for example) California pop-punk legends The Dickies, New York power-metal legend Geoff Tate, Aussie blue collar hero Ian Moss, London neo-proggers IQ and Geordie folk-rock stalwarts Lindisfarne topping the bill within a ten-day period. And let’s not forget its consistent support of new Midland talent either- hence why you’ll find great up and coming local acts such as Gin Annie, Broken Witt Rebels and the People’s Republic Of Mercia (PROM) supporting Graham Bonnet, Reef and Dr Feelgood respectively.
This is largely because chief promoter Mike Hamblett, who’s been doing this since the 70s, genuinely cares about rock music in its many forms, and always has: perhaps sadly for us, at 65, he’s now finally threatening to retire (having already sold the business to an outside investor despite retaining his job within the company) but if there ever was a promoter who deserved some bloody recognition in this business, and a damn good rest into the bargain, it’s him. To paraphrase a certain classic punk album, “Never Mind The Warnocks”: it’s people like Mike that keep the wheels turning at grass roots level, and when they’ve all gone, frankly, I don’t know where we’ll be. In addition, the Robin serves a healthy mixture of Banks’s beers (again, keeping it local) Hobgoblin ales and assorted ciders, lagers, spirits, wines and alcopops for extremely reasonable prices: they also do great food here, although since the opening of the restaurant, you have to go upstairs to order it.
The outside garden/smoking area, decorated in beautiful blue and white like a haunted hotel out of a 70s TV ghost story, is near palatial, with plenty of tables and chairs provided: chairs and seating re also provided for gigs with an older age demographic or more sedate atmosphere, but best of all, you can actually stay here overnight in the v.comfortable hotel upstairs, which not only many touring bands, but their fans (what with the venue attracting audiences from literally the whole world) elect to do if coming from far away. And, might I add, the ticket prices- even though I’m almost always on the guest list- are more than fair too. Just remember not to stand too close to the speakers, as fuck me, they’re loud!!
As we veer towards 2020, the 700-capacity Robin (you should see it when Slade, Big Country, the Macc Lads, Joanne Shaw Taylor or Magnum sell it out, it’s unbelievable) remains the jewel in the Black Country crown: let us hope it always does.