Where have all the venues gone?

Sunday, July 9th, 2006

It looks like we’re heading into a fairly grim time for live music in Brighton: Two of our premier venues are closing their doors to live music, one until further notice and one permanently.

The venue closing for the foreseeable future is the Freebutt. The Freebutt is a real dive of a place, and playing gigs there has certainly sometimes felt like a “paying your dues” sort of affair. But at the same time, it’s a Brighton institution and it’s held some great concerts—everything from secret British Sea Power gigs to raucous Swedish riot grrls. Unfortunately, the Freebutt is a punky venue in a residential area, so there are definite noise issues going on—and until those get sorted out, the Freebutt is closed to live music starting immediately.

The (temporary) loss of the Freebutt would be bad enough on its own. But it gets much, much worse: The Hanbury Arms Ballroom—site of countless alt.country gigs and pretty much the home of all things Americana in Brighton—is apparently turning into a cocktail bar. A live-music-free cocktail bar.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard the news today (delivered in a heavy-hearted email by the Gilded Palace of Sin, the promoters who will probably be most affected by the closure). The Hanbury Ballroom was where Salter Cane played its first gig, and the venue has had a special place in my heart ever since. The room that seemed so huge to me the first time we walked in—huge and intimidating with its high domed ceiling and blood red walls—became something of a home to Salter Cane, both on and off the stage. We played many a good gig there, we saw many a good gig there, and I know we missed many a good gig there, because there were always so many gigs taking place there that we simply couldn’t see them all. Now all those gigs will have to go someplace else—but to be honest, there’s really no place like the Hanbury.

Well, this too shall pass, I suppose. When another legendary venue, the Lift, closed several years ago, it seemed to be a death knell for live music in Brighton. The Lift turned into a “pre-club bar”, and all the bands that would normally have played there wound up playing in places like the Freebutt and the Hanbury instead. Now the Freebutt is out of the circuit temporarily (one hopes) and the Hanbury permanently—but the post-Lift pre-club bar is back to being a pub looking for live bands to play upstairs. So maybe what goes around comes around, and maybe this is just the transition to a whole new exciting era of live music in Brighton.

But I’ll miss the Hanbury nonetheless.


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