Save Our Venues Spotlight: The Railway Inn, Winchester

The centrepoint of the city's local, melting-pot music community, Winchester's The Railway Inn has proved a vital stepping stone in the careers of many respected musicians. We spoke to resident artist booker James Knights about the venue's memorable moments, and immediate future.
Posted: 17 September 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 Winchester's musical centrepoint The Railway Inn:

"Growing up in Winchester, the Railway Inn was the only gig in town, the place we saw touring bands, the stage we aspired to play on. Over the years I've played there countless times, and it remains the staple of the local scene, and a place very dear to my heart."

 - Frank Turner

You wouldn't usually associate a quaint, sleepy, traditional town (well, technically a city given it has one of Europe's largest and most historic cathedrals) with a vibrant, multi-genre'd, grassroots music community given that budding musicians often migrate to bustling major cities where opportunity and progression feels more abundant. But this is why The Railway Inn is so vital to Winchester and its surrounding villages.

Being the only legitimate venue of its kind within a readily commutable distance, The Railway Inn attracts all kinds of artists from all kinds of genres and all kinds of backgrounds. In many ways, it fits the bill of a quintessential independent venue and it's integral relationship to its local music community, in so far that it acts as a stepping stone to wider success for many burgeoning bands and artists.

It's a real melting-pot of music and the local community's respect for diversity and quality is clear. Over the years The Railway Inn has seen the likes of Dua Lipa, PJ Harvey, Ed Sheeran, Gary Numan, Kasabian, and countless others perform across its two intimate stages - Frank Turner regularly returns given he was a Winchester resident during his formative years.

Having been the venue's resident artist booker for the best part of two decades, we spoke to James Knights about the memorable moments, and the Railway's immediate future: 

How long has The Railway Inn been showcasing artists under its current iteration?

Approx 40 years, and I've been here almost 20.

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

Sure, I remember some great nights: Kasabian, Mumford & Sons, The Mystery Jets, Dua Lipa, Akala, and Kevin Bridges (the comedian) all stand out, particularly.

"I hope The Railway and it's supporters can get through this hard time, so it can be enjoyed again in the future, and forever more."

- Kate Stables (This Is The Kit)

Which are some of the more memorable performances you’ve hosted over the years?

Having Ginger Baker from Cream come down at the last minute was a real highlight, a sell out Electro festival with Gary Numan was also very special for me.

The government announced a support package for the arts, but with up to 90% of grassroots music venues facing the threat of closure, how far do you think this will go to protect these venues, and is it enough?

Time will tell on how much the grassroots venues are given. I hope for the best, but fear the worst. There's not a great record for the smaller venues getting funding in the past.

How intrinsic is The Railway Inn to the lifeblood of the local music community?

In Winchester it's almost all there is. A great place for artists to make their plans, and try things out on stage without the fear of failure!


"Great staff, and such a blast to perform at this intimate venue."


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

Apparently it was once a brothel. Although I'm not sure how true that is!

How do you feel about potentially hosting socially distanced gigs, and it is a genuine prospect for grassroots venues like The Railway Inn?

I'm sure it will be something we will face, and attempt to get right. However, it's far from ideal and we're still uncertain if gigs with distancing can be both entertaining and profitable for the venue.

How do you see the music industry bouncing back from this situation?

It will take time, but there are far too many spirited venues and individuals who will pick up what they do, once it's safe to do so.

"Small venues like the dear beloved Railway Inn need to exist as they provide an encouraging starting point for people finding their feet as musicians, performers, DJ's, gig promoters, club night organisers, and all the many roles that music venue envelopes. And of course a place for local communities to share and celebrate in. My journey in playing music and going to gigs owes so much to this brilliant venue."

- Rozi Plain

To see how you can help support The Railway Inn, click here.

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