There have been few places that, just by stepping over the threshold, have felt like coming home. When I was a teenager it was the John Bull pub in Wigan, followed later in the evening by head-banging rock nights at Maximes. Growing up I was a self-confessed rock chick, choosing to listen to my parent’s Cream, Led Zeppelin and Beatles LPs rather than Kylie and Bros.
My musical tastes mean that I’ve often felt born out of time; perhaps I should have been a teenager in the 70s instead of the 90s. Feeling out of the groove has always made me decidedly uncomfortable in the kind of haunts that most of my generation love. So it’s a rare and wonderful experience to find somewhere that feels truly comfortable, like a spiritual sigh of relief on rediscovering your lost tribe. That’s exactly how I felt when I first went to The Railway pub in Bromley Cross, Bolton.
It immediately impressed me because it looked like a proper pub, not a homogenised airbrushed shell devoid of atmosphere like so many pubs these days. The next bonus was the staff who were warm and welcoming, none of the wary stares you often get when trying a new local.
We arrived early that first night. Members of the band were doing a sound check and everyone was so friendly, nodding and smiling – it felt too good to be true. My partner and I thought there had to be a catch. Maybe the vibe would change when the place filled up, maybe the act would be crap. But in truth it was quite the opposite and, later that busy evening, we noticed that our fellow punters were equally affable. Over the years I’ve had many conversations with complete strangers, something I would never do in an average pub, but in The Railway there is a comradery, a sense of brethren, knowing you are all cut from the same cloth. It’s liberating.
The act we saw that first night, SeYes, were amazing. I even witnessed a grown man shed a tear. Since then we have been to so many superb gigs, each night completely different. From The Doors Alive in the Summer when it was so packed that condensation poured down the windows to crazy nights with The Hawklords, all with that same chilled vibe.
You can sense that for the owners Jon and Hillary music is an all-consuming passion which is woven into the very fabric of the venue. The Railway is genuinely one of my favourite places in the world. So you can imagine how gutted I was when I found out in November that it was coming to an end. A large proportion of the clientele rely on the local train station for transport to the venue but for six months in 2015 there was little or no service from Bolton due to work on the line. This had a catastrophic effect on trade. Coupled with a brewery that sets more store in sport and pub grub than a live music experience and it’s clear which way the venture was going. At the moment they have gigs booked until April 1 but after that The Railway will be no more.
Hopefully this will not be the end of the dream. Music clearly courses through Jon and Hillary’s veins and they know that the North West is crying out for a brilliant venue. With crowdfunding, they are intending to open Spiderwood Farm in the Pendle area of Lancashire. It will house a mixture of funky witch-themed amenities such as a barn with a capacity of 400 for live music events, a shop, cafe and even places to camp. They are hoping to tempt bigger names tired of playing massive stadium venues, but still small enough to feel intimate and attract up and coming bands. Fingers crossed it will come to pass. So many great live music venues are closing in the UK. It is up to everyone who loves music to do their bit to save a little slice of rock heaven.
Main image: Mudkiss Photography