This month, I visited an established venue under new management to see what the The Old Town House is like under its radical new leadership.
There’s a lot of excitement in the underground punk scene over what Cait Costello and Jen Burgess of folk punk duo Hello Mabel are trying to create with their venture. I went over to Warrington with a view of checking out the space, and to catch the pair, Dependencies and Dubai-based Fat Randall perform there. Readers beware, this was a solo mission and as you’re about to discover, I’m no photographer. Fortunately, it was absolutely pissing it down on the day meaning you won’t be subjected to many of my novice snaps. Kindly Jen said we could use some of their pictures of the venue itself.
Anyone who’s ever been a guest at a gig in both the UK and pretty much any country outside of it will be aware of the contrasts between our own hospitality, and that of those overseas. Bands are welcomed with open arms by promotors over there. “Hi, are you hungry? Thirsty? Need smoke? No, sorry. You guys can’t stay at my place but this is my friend. You can sleep at his practice room” – that kind of thing. Unfortunately, all too often the experience is different here in the UK. Bands show up, play, and are then expected to fork out for accommodation, blag a floor somewhere, or sleep in the van. Essentially, at midnight, they’re no longer the promotors’ responsibility. In niche music genres, this approach simply doesn’t work. If a band can’t afford to play the show, they won’t and the area’s scene will suffer stagnation as a result.
Hoping to bring a change to all that are Cait and Jen from folk punk act Hello Mabel. They’ve recently taken over a sizeable former boozer in Warrington, known as The Old Town House. Originally, I’d intended to have a chat with the two but after arriving and seeing how hands-on they are, and since Cait was due to appear in two of the evening’s acts and Jen in one, I realised that it might be better saved for a later date. Instead, I joined some friends, sampled the menu on offer (all cooked by Cait herself), and bemused myself with the array of dials on the camera I’d borrowed off Josh.
Keeping it strictly DIY, the team now running the pub have worked incredibly hard to renovate the space and get it how they envisioned. It’s got the feel of a bar now, rather than a pub, and resembles the sort you’d watch bands perform at on the continent. It’s light, airy, smells like pizza, and has good beer. Liquid refreshments come in the form of cocktails, and craft ales, whilst food is vegan, vegetarian, and non-veggie, and is primarily consumed with the fingers. The term junk food best describes it but it’s far from rubbish – particularly recommended are the pizzas, something us Brits famously struggle with.
Touring bands are given the crucial support required to make travelling with their music possible at The Old Town House. They’re fed well, and are given drinks and a place to stay if they need it. Being well-used to life on the road, Cait and Jen know exactly what a band needs after a mammoth drive, and are happy to extend the necessary hospitality to their guests. It’s refreshing to see since many friends in bands have some real horror stories of their treatment after UK gigs.
Kicking off the night’s show, and hot from kitchen and bar duties were The Old Town House’s own inhouse support act, Hello Mabel. Supposedly, Jen’s “night off”, I’d already seen her pull a good few pints before she took to the stage. Backed by a single acoustic guitar, the pair belt out introspective folk tunes with bags of harmonies. Despite Jen’s own testimony of how pissed she’d managed to get on Sambuca, she held it together excellently; a powerful vocalist even when in the highest of spirits. Top tunes about urban living, and resistance – socially political-rather than overtly. I approve. Check them out.
Next up we’re Dependencies a lighter punk rock band with lots of melody, great hooks, and a raw sound. Half comprising of members of Roughneck Riot (Cait’s other band), and half of members of now defunct hardcore outfit Hated ‘Til Proven, the best I can think to describe their sound is pop punk. We’re not talking Simple Plan here though. Dependencies have a more dangerous sound, that’s infectious, catchy, yet unpolished. The group put on a solid performance despite their own admission that they never practice, and a now packed out Town House had a chance to dance.
Finally, Cait would get a well-earned rest as Fat Randall took to the stage for the culmination of the night’s entertainment. They were visibly tired but still brought an enthusiastic performance. The Dubai three-piece are more what you’d expect from the term pop-punk. Echoes of Enema of the State-era Blink 182 run strong. Their tunes have tons of melody and a great sense of humour. Tracks like “Millennium Falcon” got a good response from the still-sizeable crowd and Romario Fernando’s Chewbacca impressions are pretty spot on to boot. For a three-piece the group sounded massive with their simple yet catchy guitar melodies having huge presence. Thanks for this extend to the sound engineer for the evening Joe Heaton – because they never get the praise they deserve.
Despite the gig’s unfortunate timing (the mighty Pizza Tramp played the following day – and was even busier), it was well-attended. Being packed out two consecutive nights surely bodes well for the future of The Old Town House. People at the show were drinking, eating, and the atmosphere reflected the thoughtfulness with which Jen and Cait approach the space they’re trying to create. One thing is for sure, I’m looking forward to seeing what the pair have coming once they’ve fully found their feet.