Independent music venues are an integral part of the UK music scene, without them, we would not have some of out most-loved bands and artists. Independent venue week celebrates not only the venues but the people that run them and work there, a venue that I am proud to call my local is The Forum in the Kent town of Tunbridge Wells. The 250 capacity venue hosts music of all genres as well as comedy and tribute nights. This year marks The Forums 25 year anniversary making it a really special and exciting time.
I spoke to Carolyn Gray from The Forum about the venue, it’s history and what it means to be an independent venue.
What’s the story behind the venue, who opened it and when?
The building was built in 1939 by the council as a “rest-room and public conveniences” and during its time was also used as a brass rubbing centre, and council storage.
It was an empty building when friends Jason Dormon, Michael Oyarzabal, Peter Hoare and Mark Davyd were looking for a permanent venue to host gigs. Prior to this, they had been putting on events in pubs, halls and clubs in the Tunbridge Wells area since the late 1980s. They secured the lease to the building and opened in January 1993.
What do you make of the local music scene?
Despite loving music since in the early 1980s, I didn’t get involved until about 2011, which was because my husband joined the local ukulele jam group. They played at The Forum’s annual festival ‘Unfest’. About that time I was also getting involved in twitter, and local community events.
A lot of the ukulele groups were going out and watching gigs, and we gradually got more involved, I was very impressed then with the amount of local talent, and I started covering events in my blog. In fact, I ended up so involved that I brought back The Forum’s fanzine “Blam!” and took on The Forum’s twitter account. I continually try to convince people that there are local acts as worthwhile to watch as there are more well known national bands.
It’s good to watch bands grow, we have seen both Slaves and The Standard Lamps with The Forum quarter full, and Lady Bird played their first ever show as part of a Blam/Unfest event – so I wish them well!
Who are some of the most successful acts from out of town that have graced The Forum stage?
There are lots, both on the way up, and the way back down. We saw Wolf Alice in their early days with about 40 other people, and seen acts like Everything Everything, The English Beat and The Blockheads at special shows. Sadly missed all the now legends that played when they were unknown, like Oasis, Coldplay, Muse, Biffy Clyro, Mumford & Sons, Adele…
But this is very much my point – when you come along to a little-known band you don’t know what will happen next in their career, or of those who support them!
What does it mean to be an independent venue, why do you feel independent venues are important?
Personal opinion, about The Forum: by being independent it means the place is as good as the people who are running it. The Forum is a Community Interest Company, meaning it works to serve the community, and not profit the owners. A lot of the day to day work is done by volunteers, and relies on people who are passionate about music listening out for things they like, negotiating with agents and managers to get shows booked in, then work involved on posters, social media and website to get the message out to the general public, all before the actual four hours of the show! But that
The volunteering aspect means everyone is doing something they enjoy, I guess unlike that 9am Monday feeling of “another week at work”.
Nationally the venues do offer that first stepping stone to acts, from playing their hometown a few times, to embarking on a tour of similar sized places around the country. I think if you took that stepping stone away we would see the collapse of the British music industry. The festival headliners need to start somewhere.
What’s coming up in 2018?
Lots, as it’s the 25th anniversary year. There are many special shows, the previously mentioned “The Stable” new band nights, a 25th Anniversary Compilation Album “25 Years and Beyond” funded by the Forum and the PRS Open Fund, and hopefully a book of all the memories, plus theatre, comedy, Sunday Sessions, club nights, charity shows, and of course – Unfest!
So the message is, get out into your local venue, listen to the music and just have a great time because it’s the people that keep these venues up and running and you never know what you might find!
Check out who you can catch at The Forum this year: TwForum.co.uk
Huge thank you to Carolyn Grey!