Save Our Venues Spotlight: The Hope and Ruin, Brighton

En route from Brighton's central train station to the beach, you'll no doubt come across a former cinema readograph that states 'This Must Be The Place'. In terms of nurturing new bands and scenes in the city, that's exactly what The Hope and Ruin is. We spoke to Creative Director and Booker Sally Oakenfold about the venue's value to the local music community, it's memorable past, and hopeful future.
Posted: 16 October 2020 Words: Tom Curtis-Horsfall

Up to 90% of grassroots music venues in the UK face the very real threat of closure, and though the government recently announced a package to support the arts throughout the economic crisis caused by Covid-19, independent venues that rely heavily on the day-to-day live music eco-system to stay alive will inevitably fall through the cracks.

It's paramount these bastions of local creative communities survive, so to help the cause we're shining a spotlight on some of our favourite grassroots/independent music venues, sharing stories from artists and individuals closely associated with said venues, highlight their fundraising efforts, and emphasising the value and importance of these institutions that our music scene one of the world's most vibrant and innovative.

Next up, it's Brighton's beloved bric-a-brac bar and venue The Hope and Ruin:

"We only really felt like a band once we’d started doing regular gigs and it was thanks to the residency at the Hope we really found our feet and became more than the sum of our parts and became a proper band. A bit shit maybe, but a proper band. We’d dress the stage in branches, walk all over the bar area and above the PA, doing handstands. It was 50% music and 50% carnage. We started to create ‘something’. Without that gentle nurturing and help from the Hope, I don’t know where we’d have ended up."

- Martin Noble (British Sea Power)

When you think of Brighton what first comes to mind is seaside debauchery, the city's lovely bohemian, liberal attitude to life, and probably Fatboy Slim. Brighton also has one of the UK's most fervent, hard-working, and sprawling grassroots music scenes. Inextricably tied to the independent scene is BIMM (British and Irish Modern Music Institute) which has supplied the city with swathes of new talent year-on-year for nearly two decades. And these burgeoning musicians need a place to play.

Luckily there's oodles of venues willing to accommodate new music and budding scenes, one of them being the unmistakeable Hope and Ruin. 

En route from Brighton's central train station to the beach, you'll no doubt come across the venue - a sign that had a former life as a cinema readograph states 'This Must Be The Place', and inside you'll find what can only be described as a quirky, shabby chic designed bar. But it's upstairs where the magic happens to re-use the famous adage. Having even hosted The Strokes' first ever UK headline show, The Hope and Ruin has seen numerous artists that pass through it's doors, in what is now one of the city's mainstay venues to see new music. 

Being one of the grassroots venues to receive the culture fund earlier this week, we spoke to Creative Director & Book Sally Oakenfold about The Hope and Ruin's value to Brighton's music scene, memorable moments, and if the government's rescue package will be enough to keep our sacred venues above ground:

"You can’t stress the importance of grassroots music venues enough. Black Honey simply would not exist without The Hope and Ruin, and hundreds of similar venues around the country. It’s where we could learn our trade and build a following. The UK needs to do everything possible to save our grassroots venues and keep this vital platform available for future generations, otherwise your next favourite artist may never even exist in the first place.”

- Chris Ostler (Black Honey)

When did you become involved in The Hope and Ruin, and what was your original vision for the venue?

I had launched Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar (Rest In Noise) and we were getting too many bookings comings through, so as The Hope was owned by the same company as SMFB they asked me and the team to take over their bookings. Having been an avid gig goer at 'The Lift' (as it used to be known) it had always been a dream to be able to take it on. After a year or so we were offered the chance to run the whole place. It was a bit of a sorry state so we secured a refurb to improve the venue mostly and The Hope and Ruin was born.

Can you tell us about some of the more memorable performances you’ve hosted over the years?

For me putting on Bobby Conn was really special as I’m a massive fan - that was a really great show. Meilyr Jones was another dream come true but he wasn’t keen on the dressing room and said so on stage - we have since improved the Green Room! Snapped Ankles was crazy, Pom Poko were fantastic and played two SOLD OUT shows in a month. The Beths who I love was a really special intimate show. Kikagaku Moyo and Minami Deutsch were incredible and hypnotic. Playing pass the parcel at Penelope Isles Christmas party was also great fun. There are literally hundreds more. I missed Dua Lipa which I’m obviously gutted about can’t remember why some crisis involving a flooded or broken toilet no doubt!

"It's the first place you bring a friend that's visiting town. Brighton certainly wouldn't be the same without the Hope, everyone knows that - it's TV's on the ceiling, bath tubs in the corner, fairy lights comin' out ya ears and all the bands that live within (... pleading for more).”

- Lily Wolter (Penelope Isles)

Have there been many artists you’ve supported early on their career that have now gone on to major things?

Demob Happy, Penelope Isles, Porridge Radio, Black Peaks, As It Is, Gender Roles, Black Honey, to name but a few.

Is there any unique history or particularly facts that people don't know about the venue?

The Hope and Ruin used to be a Swiss Restaurant when the pub was called The William Tell. It’s been through many guises as a live music venue since then. The Strokes played their very first headline UK show here which was pretty special. I couldn’t attend that show as I was pregnant at the time. I’d been promoting the gig and playing The Strokes on my radio show but a packed room full of people smoking wasn’t going to work. I did watch the band load their gear in and as they say the rest is history, and that’s why we do it.

"Being one of the first venues we ever set foot in as individuals to have a drink, and then one of the first venues to host us as a band, The Hope and Ruin feels like a pretty integral part of the Orchards' story. You can’t mention the Brighton music scene without talking about The Hope and Ruin.”

- Lucy Evers (Orchards)

"The name of the venue sums up what it means to us, it is the 'hope' for Brighton bands trying to play shows and get seen. Without this incredible venue I don’t think we would have been the same band. They have been there from the start and have always been supportive. They put us on when no one else would, and we’ve played some incredible shows as we’ve grown as a band."

- Gender Roles 

What do you think The Hope contributes to Brighton's vibrant local music community?

We’re a place where bands can be creative, meet other creatives make all the mistakes they need, and then turn it round into something magical.

With up to 90% of grassroots music venues facing the threat of closure, do you think the government's support package is enough to protect these venues?

That’s really hard to say. The lack of a plan to deal with things properly has not helped. We’re doing all the right things but the Government does not seem to understand that. It’s a very difficult time for venues but we aren’t going to let a pandemic destroy all our hard work.

"Venues like The Hope and Ruin and so many other grassroots venues in this country have a huge part to play in the culture and growth of upcoming bands and musicians - their position in the industry is just as apparent now as it was when we were starting out, if not more so due to the pandemic causing restrictions with live music and limiting numbers in larger venues.
Many independent venues are falling victim to over priced rents and a general lack of support from the government, this needs to change if we want to keep live music for many generations to come.”

- Liam Kearley (Black Peaks)

What's the most effective way members of the community and music scene can support Hope & Ruin at the moment?

We’re open as a pub serving a range of tasty local craft beers and all the usual drinks. We’re serving Beelzebab’s vegan kebabs, loaded fries and hotdogs. We have all the safety measures in place, so buying a beer and some food is what we need people to do.

Have you been able to put any plans in place to host socially distanced gigs, and it is a genuine prospect for grassroots venues like yourselves?

We've announced a series of socially distanced live shows that will take place at The Dome in Brighton - 'Live Is Alive!'. It’s a collaboration between all the grassroots music venues in Brighton and will raise money via the #SaveOurVenues campaign for all the venues involved. That’s going to be exciting. As for shows in the venue that isn’t viable right now but we have some plans to support and help the scene which we are working on.

How do you see the independent/grassroots spaces bouncing back from this situation?

GMVs are tough they have to be and many operate on a shoestring. If we get the support we all need I’m hopeful we can all get through this. It won’t be easy but we won’t give up without a fight.

"My memories of the venue go back many, many years. Over 20 now. We've played there literally countless times. It's gone through countless incarnations over the years, always sort of gradually improving and chipping away, but since Sally took over, the venue has become hands down the best place of that size to play in town.  I love The Hope with all my heart.”

- Thomas White (Electric Soft Parade)

For more info on the Live Is Alive! series of shows, and to keep up to date with The Hope and Ruin, click here.

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