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Behind the scenes at city's historic music venue
IT’S the hidden room in an iconic venue where few get access.
We enter a security code, and as we climb the rickety staircase the distinctive smell of cigarettes and sweat invades the senses.
The sofa is so grimy it’s hard to make out its original colour, the yellow tabaccostained walls are covered with graffiti and from the window half a dozen empty beer bottles and ashtrays from the night before can be spotted on the roof terrace.
Frankly it’s filthy but I’d entered one of music’s most hallowed shrines: The Joiners band room.
Known as ‘Southampton’s Cavern Club’, it’s here at 141 St Mary Street in Southampton, that the world’s most famous rockers have psyched themselves up for their most unforgettable and intimate sets.
The advertising posters of yesteryear proudly dotted around the venue and inset into the new bar and tables speak for themselves.
Boasting forthcoming gigs such as the then virtually unknown Charlatans, Coldplay, Radiohead and Oasis, it’s easy to see why The Joiners has been voted best small music venue 2013 by NME.
In fact most of the biggest names in music have played here – often just days before the bands hit stardom.
And retracing those bands’ footsteps is enough to give any music fan goose bumps.
The band room relocated from the basement to an upstairs room recently after health and safety made the old room unusable.
The route downstairs is through a corridor – so dark it could be underground – which leads to the tiny darkened room at the back of the pub where the nervous and fresh-faced brush past fans before hopping onto the 2ft high stage covered in decades worth of different coloured tapes used to hold down wires.
It’s in this exact spot, in the notoriously sweltering hot room that holds just 200, that history has been made... over and over again.
And its musical heritage reads like a rock’n’roll hall of fame.
Suede played there in June 1992 a week after their debut single The Drowners went on sale.
In early 1993 Radiohead visited for a gig – introducing the song Creep as ‘our one-hit wonder’ before the band went on to become one of the biggest in Britain.
On March 29, 1994, two months before the release of their first single Supersonic, Oasis played to just 30 people for £100.
The Gallagher brothers did, however, still manage to cement their bad boy image that night. Three songs into the set, Noel hit Liam with his guitar, Liam retaliated by punching his brother in his face – and the band stormed off stage without coming back.
It was more than 18 months before Oasis returned to Southampton and by then they were international superstars.
Rumour has it Manic Street Preachers signed their first record deal in the basement when they came in March 1991.
Richard Ashcroft from The Verve has said the band played their “best ever gig” there when they graced the stage in 1992.
And there was the time Chris Martin of Coldplay fell in love with the intimate venue so much that he pledged to come back and buy it when he was famous.
And the busiest ever night in local legend was when The Charlatans came to town on February 8, 1990.
They had been booked on the strength of their demo tape but by the time the gig arrived, they were all over the music press and more than 600 people queued along St Mary Street to hear Tim Burgess and the bands’ early tunes.
The venue opened its doors as a music venue in 1968 but it wasn’t until the late 1980s when a promoter called Mint Burston moved to the city from Birmingham that it catapulted into the spotlight.
Mint, who died from cancer in 2007, was responsible for getting The Joiners established on the UK ‘toilet circuit’– the term used to describe the network of intimate venues where bands literally had to change in the loos – which became the bedrock of British music.
And the venue soon became known as THE place to catch the raw talent of the next big thing.
But that reputation continues today.
In recent years the Arctic Monkeys took to the tiny stage in one of their final small gigs before their hit I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor exploded them into the charts.
And yet another unforgettable moment came when Ed Sheeran played a gig before he enjoyed worldwide fame.
After his full set he stood on a stool in the middle of the crowd, so silent you could hear a pin drop. Armed only with his guitar and no microphone he sang Bob Dylan covers. That’s before he stopped for a drink and met every fan afterwards.
Meanwhile Southampton bands including indie band Delays, whose album has appeared in the top 20, metalcore band Bury Tomorrow who will headline the main stage at Reading and Leeds festivals this year and alternative rockers Band of Skulls, whose music appears on the Twilight Saga films, today all class The Joiners as their spiritual home.
It’s hardly surprising then that when the venue announced it faced closure at the end of last year after being hit by a cash crisis following a dramatic drop in ticket sales, support from the music world was overwhelming.
Frank Turner and The Vaccines, whose drummer was once barred from the venue for letting fans through the roof ten minutes before their set, both showed their respect for the venue by playing not-for-profit shows to raise money and awareness of its plight.
That support teamed with the accolade from NME has meant The Joiners, now owned by Glenn Lovell and Patrick Muldowney, is still firmly on the map.
But according to Chris Stemp, promoter and booking agent, it’s the music lovers from the local community who hold the venue’s future in their hands.
He said: “It’s been a massive turnaround in the past few months and the support has been overwhelming.
“But without the community supporting with their feet and coming through the door, we probably would have closed.
“Their support is the only way we’re going to survive.
“Normally when you announce bad news, it’s the kiss of death but it’s testament to the history the venue has got that people saw the importance of it.”
Chris added: “The whole place revolves around giving new local bands the chance to play live. It’s where singers start, it’s where communities are built and without that, a lot of those bands wouldn’t exist – and long may that continue.”
THE Joiners could open as a cafe during the day following a refurbishment.
Students from Southampton Solent University gave up their summer to give the iconic venue a makeover.
Course leader for the Interior Design Decoration course Sarah Dryden, associate lecturer and local interior designer Sharon Prince and their students spent six weeks working out budgets and sourcing materials to transform the bar area.
The team of intrepid interior designers came up with the concepts to redesign the room which was previously black by brightening it up with red tones yet retaining its musical heritage.
The bar and table tops have been decorated with collages of former bands’ advertising posters. And the stools and chairs have been upcycled – recycled into something better – using donated fabrics from Steve Hartley of SGH Upholstery.
The Joiners hopes to open during the day by early 2014.
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