For just over two years I worked at the Gander, a live music venue in Bournemouth. Packed with history and tradition, I was unfortunately involved with its eventual demise and permanent closure. Watching its inevitable termination first hand, I said to myself many times that I could write a book about what was going on around me. There was so much happening, so many rumours being thrown around which at the time couldn’t be answered. Well, I haven’t the time or desire to write a book, but I still feel the need to write a few words, about the good times and the bad. If I’d written this within a year of the closure it would most likely come across as bitter and accusatory. Now that a few years have passed I can avoid such a sour tone and focus more on the good times. Firstly, a bit of background for anyone not from Bournemouth or not aware of The Gander On The Green…
The original building was called Lansdowne House, and was built in the mid 1860s. It was demolished in 1891 and re-opened as the Metropole Hotel in 1893. On 23rd May 1943 German Luftwaffe bombers flew in low over Hengistbury Head, dropping around twenty-five bombs over Bournemouth destroying twenty-two buildings, including the Metropole Hotel. The Metropole continued to trade in new premises before it became the Gander on the Green in the 1970s. Over the next quarter of a century the Gander On The Green became one of, if not the most popular pub in Bournemouth, gaining legendary status. It was frequented by punks, rockers, bikers, goths and lovers of live music. Intentionally ‘spit and sawdust’, it was a sweaty, dirty, wonderfully friendly rock pub. When yuppies, wine bars and fake tans began sprouting in the 80s, the Gander On The Green went from strength to strength. Its customers were loyal, comradely, and distraught when the pub eventually closed in 2004. The pub was on two floors and for one year from May 2005 the ground floor became Karma. Most Gander On The Green regulars hated it – like most other pubs in Bournemouth it had become a characterless bar. The pub went, but its history remained. In the summer of 2006 it was again refurbished and renamed The Metropole, with upstairs reopening as The Gander, a move which re-established live music.
I wouldn’t say I was a Gander On The Green regular, but I went plenty. During the 80s and 90s there was a healthy amount of choice if you were into music and fancied a pint. It was primarily a ‘rock’ pub, and there were plenty of ‘alternative’ options which I preferred, notably the Third Side, Whiskys, Bacchus and a number of other pubs, clubs and live music venues. Bournemouth may have been clinging on to its last few time-honoured ale houses, but they were disappearing rapidly. Being fully aware of its amazing history as a live venue, I was genuinely excited to hear news of the Gander live music relaunch night in 2006, coming shortly after I had started my own local live music website, bh one. I remember feeling deflated by the event, by the lack of numbers in attendance and what I perceived as fairly lacklustre entertainment. I had yet to start putting on my own shows, not aware of the difficulties faced in bringing people to a venue that had lost all its customers. I would soon learn.
For about six months I went a few times to the Gander and Metropole, it was nothing like the old pub. The Metropole was a marginally better version of Karma, adopting a ‘rock’ music playlist and despite the name, the Gander looked characterless. Fin and Nod were the licensees (the premises were owned by Enterprise Inns) during the Karma and early Metropole/Gander days and Fin in particular was a wonderfully enigmatic and likeable character, a showman and entertainer who enthused and inspired people around him. They laid the groundwork for those who followed. Numbers were returning. In early 2007 I started putting on my own events through bh one, and by the Spring the Gander was home to our (bh one was a joint venture between myself and long time friend Rob Langdon, aka bh Bob) events. Around this time Gary and Jen took over. I knew there was a massive potential for the bar and I wanted to do more. I asked if I could manage the bookings in the Gander as they were few and far between at the time. Gary and Jen seemed more interested in the Metropole than the Gander but gave me the go ahead. Exciting times. Apparently there was no money available to pay me, but money has never been my main reason for getting involved with local music promotion, so I started immediately. Shortly after, Gary and Jen left and the license was taken over by Dan Prowse, previously the Assistant Manager of the Metropole. The real fun was about to begin.
Firstly, thankfully, as it was bordering on a full-time job, he started paying me, cash in hand, of course. Secondly, within days of Dan taking over the license he was hit with a bill that wasn’t his. A rather large electric bill I seem to remember. Legal wrangles lead to a short, temporary closure, but it wasn’t a good start for Dan. Unpaid bills and legal issues hit Dan early, and they never left. Poor sod, he never stood a chance. Over the next two years the Metropole and Gander ‘survived’, keeping its head above water and occasionally threatening to regain its former glory despite (and yes I will be critical) catastrophically poor management and what was an ongoing healthy and safety time bomb. Its easy to lay blame, but the job, the bands, the Gander faithful, the staff and even the old, decrepit building itself hold more than enough joyous memories to negate the often exasperating, sometimes laughable circumstances which lead to its demise.
The job. The Gander was never going to recapture the essence of the old Gander On The Green, but its history and tradition were a constant. They were more than enough to motivate and inspire me to see just how close we could get to bringing the glory days back. The old pub had a stage centrally placed; it relocated once but was always a focal point for the punters. The new Gander was a stand alone venue, upstairs from the Metropole, and with a 160 (though it was never really confirmed) capacity it was a decent size, not too big for local acts, but big enough to attract quality national touring bands. It had a decent P.A courtesy of Mr Alfie Lee, a soundman, drinker and young man of high repute. Soon the venue was putting on around four gigs each week, the majority were booked by myself, others by local promoters, young chancers, lead singers, and Mr Dan Renton & Bear Mills. The latter promoted under the name of In Rock We Trust®, whose dj and live music nights were quite possibly the main reason behind the Metropole and Gander’s ‘longevity’. Bear also run Wreckless Intent®, putting on metal shows for uh, metallers. In some ways this was my dream job. On paper it sounded perfect.
In reality you’re dealing with musicians (talented and sometimes inspirational but fucking unreliable), ‘music people’ and the simple fact that turnout is everything. You can have the three most unbelievably exhilarating and captivating ‘unknown’ bands in, well, wherever, but if no bugger turns up they may as well be statues on stage. No punters = no venue. Of course, it is true that to some extent a new venue has to gain a reputation. Maybe so, and this should also justify a groundbreaking three-band bill which attracts a crap turnout but leaves each of the twenty totally gob-smacked. But the Gander wasn’t really a new venue, and unlike most people who take over a recently relaunched venue, Dan had no money. We tried, as promoters we really tried. On a shoestring budget we upgraded the venue; a lovely black paint-job, a new stage and downstairs in the Metropole art installations and local creatives came and made their mark. But, the memory of painting those Gander toilets will stay with me forever, on my hands and knees with my neck straining and senses repulsing around the piss-pounded toilet bowls. Not fun, but perversely rewarding. The ladies thanked me more than the gents, obviously. Music promotion and venue management is not an easy job. Why? Because it’s a business and money fucking matters. It’s the reason why I gave it all up.
The bands. Ah, the reason why music promotion and venue management can be the best job in the world. I feel like listing a stream of bands who, over two years at the Gander just blew me away, and there were plenty. Hopefully, local bands especially will be aware of my love and admiration of their energy and talent. bh one championed original, creative and a hopefully diverse range of acts from (here we go…) amongst many others; the songwriting genius of Matt Marr, Sarah Griffin and The Sables, the inventive, unconventional brilliance of the likes of Dutch Husband, True Swamp Neglect, and Dildano, the gloriously heavy Clams and Deltorers and the psych-rock of Muddy Miles and My Broken 101. Bands like these and many others with more skill and creativity than the vast majority who bother the ‘charts’, deserve so much respect and recognition for the time, money and commitment they put into their art. They are paid peanuts, if at all. A travesty and injustice, especially compared to ‘covers’ and ‘tribute’ bands (I deliberately avoided both at the Gander) playing someone else’s songs, regularly earning hundreds per gig. After the Gander years many newer, younger bands begun to emerge, but that’s for another time, that will be ‘the Champions Years’. Betika on New Year’s Eve, Thomas Truax and Michael Wookey, the stunning Acoustic Ladyland and perhaps the most consistently entertaining and unputdownable band to play the venue, Toupé, will be gigs and bands I’ll never forget. Many of those bands become friends. Musicians and songwriters, as well as being largely unreliable and unable to answer a mobile, are the most beautiful, imaginative and inspirational people to spend time with.
The Gander faithful. Some people just love live music. Other people are a little more obsessed. The sign of a successful venue is when people go along almost regardless of who is playing, as if they have a trust and personal relationship with the venue; they know they won’t be let down. Now the Gander didn’t have too many of those, though certainly the weekly In Rock We Trust® crowd in the Metropole were wonderfully loyal to the rock dj skills of Dan & Bear. Initially the majority of the Gander schedule was local bands, booked by myself as bh one promotions, and I’d like to think we had a fair number of regulars who either loved the music or wanted to support the local scene, or both. One such soul was Faren, a gentle PVC punk whose cataloging and annual summarisation of attended gigs sums up his devotion. Best of all, I met many wonderful, supportive, fun loving people; piss-heads, piss-takers, losers, winners, freaks, nerds and good samaritans, and on many an occasion the Gander was packed full of them.
The staff. Nine out of ten events which took place in the Gander were under the technical sound control of Alfie. Quite by chance the last sentence of the last paragraph sums him up perfectly. Four nights a week I’d ask the headline band to get to the Gander for 6pm, and Alfie for 5.45. Alfie was in a band (Animal Talent Show), so he rarely turned up til gone 6 knowing full well the bands were going to be half an hour late. The Gander was loud (one thing the council seemed not to bother us about), and for two years I sat two metres away from one of the two main speakers. I became very good at asking for money using hand gestures and lip reading. Alfie was a star. We’d share Subway sandwiches whilst setting up, he’d send me ‘humorous’ texts when bored with a band whilst I pestered him about the sound or lighting. Alfie was a diamond. Alfie, it was an absolute pleasure. Bar staff came and went, but there were a few mainstays who braved the conditions. Adam and Michelle were two such stars. It takes a strong, gentle, kind and forgiving human being to be constantly lied to and let down at work, but still continue with a genuine smile and air of grace. Adam and Michelle were such a couple. Dan and Bear were too… but in a very different way. Total professionals, behind the scenes they were spitting blood but in public they pumped out track after track of unflustered crowd-pleasing rock. Their live promotions proved bloody popular too. They were on a good deal, but fuck did they deserve it.
So I spent nearly two years under the ‘management’ of Dan Prowse. Never have I worked for a more disorganised, dishonest, and disastrous boss. Now, I have no doubt whatsoever that Dan wanted nothing else but for the Metropole and Gander to succeed, but a businessman he is not, and even more obvious was his inability to manage and motivate his staff. In his defence bad luck and trouble seemed to be his best friend. From the ‘bill that wasn’t his’ as soon as he arrived, the council, Enterprise Inns and the building itself seemed to conspire to give him as hard a time as possible, seemingly forcing him into submission. He didn’t have it easy. Now I could spend a very long time giving example after example of how Dan mis-managed the business and lied to his staff. But what’s the point? Dan Prowse certainly wasn’t the reason the Metropole and Gander closed. That said, some of his actions were, in retrospect, laughable. But at the time, knowing that those actions were losing the customers, losing business and ultimately a factor in losing the Gander and Metropole, was no laughing matter. He owed many people money, seemingly from day one. Many people really tried to help him, and looking back it just makes me sad to think that so many people cared so much, including Dan himself, but as soon as Enterprise Inns decided to sell (probably the best part of a year before they actually did), and Wetherspoons got a sniff, the end was simply inevitable.
bh Bob. My business partner, my friend. Only with a smile on my face do I remember the years we spent there; on the door, in the crowd or particularly as the months passed by, at the bar. Bob built the bh one website, he pushed me, inspired and encouraged me to do it in the first place. We hatched plans and formulated great ideas, some sunk without trace, many became reality. To sit beside him at the Gander door, smiling amidst the ear-pounding, being graceful, appreciative promoters filled me with pride. To have such a kind and generous man working with me was quite simply, a joy. That kindness extended itself to two particularly unselfish gestures, handed out by Bob to the owner, Dan. Twice in the space of a year, in an attempt to get the business finances back on track, large sums of money were loaned. The second loan has yet to be, and never will be fully repaid. Nowhere near. An apology would have been nice, but has never and I expect will never be delivered. Written in to the seemingly worthless loan agreement was a free bar tab. Yes, we took full advantage, particularly at our weekly Psychocandy nights which saw us djing funk, soul, hip-hop and most things groovy in the Metropole. They may have been midweek, but early starts were never part of the job description. Bob, Dan may owe you a lot of money, but I owe you much more.
During the last couple of months it was clear the end was nigh. Surveyors, debt collectors and too many men in suits were all over the building to mean anything other than an imminent closure and takeover. As always, getting information out of Dan was bordering on impossible. The number of ‘temporary’ closures had reached double figures; booking gigs, knowing the probability of the venue not being open made the job impossible. In many ways I’m surprised the venue stayed open as long as it did, and hearing one day that the venue was visited by men looking to repossess valuables contained within meant only one thing. A few urgent phone calls were made and soon the place was swarmed with staff and promoters quickly securing their possessions. The sound rig came out in no time, the Gander’s guts were being ripped out, and at some point during the day Dan appeared, in tears, he looked totally broken. He didn’t stay around. I felt incredibly sorry for him, despite everything.
At the end of June 2009 the national pub chain Wetherspoons purchased The Gander & Metropole from Enterprise Inns. It was renamed the Christopher Creeke in honour of one of Bournemouth’s early luminaries. A number of us pushed for meetings with Wetherspoons in an attempt to keep the venue’s rock roots alive. The meetings took place, but they were pointless. Now it’s just like any other Wetherspoons pub and I’m sure it’s doing very well. The Gander’s demise was almost inevitable. Keeping a live music bar and venue open is not easy. Any weakness will put the business into difficulties, and the Metropole and Gander had, despite its name and legend, enough to kill it ten times over. But, looking back at the gigs, the all-dayers, the fundraisers, the bands, the staff and the punters, I have so many happy memories that I can’t think of the two years as anything other than a privilege. A beautiful, emotional, gut-wrenching privilege.
Photos and videos, top to bottom:
Poze – 1980s
My Broken 101 – 2009
Muddy Miles – 2009
Betika – 2007
Animal Talent Show – 2008
Acoustic Ladyland – 2008
Toupé – 2009
all photographs by Grant David Read (except for Poze)