ROCK fans have been urged to throw their support behind live gigs as question marks have begun to be raised about the future of the independent and alternative music scene in Warrington.

It follows closure annoucements at Porters Ale House and Old Town House, both in Buttermarket Street, within days of each other.

Rock music venue Porters closed on January 5 and Old Town House has announced its closure but will stay open until April.


Despite putting heart and soul into the venture with numerous gigs booked every week, Jen Burgess, of Old Town House, admitted the costs and stresses of running a venue and the struggle to get people out to gigs 'beat' her.

She said: "It's a mixture of the current climate being very difficult in terms of the costs of running a venue and also the difficultly in getting people out these days.

Jen Burgess

"That and the stresses it has had on us on a personal level. Ultimately we tried our best but now its time to hold our hands up and say it beat us. To say we are sad is an understatement but we are proud of what we've achieved over the past two years."


In those two years the venue quickly became a home – quite literally for many artists who slept on the floor after gigs – for everyone from Warrington artists to DIY punk bands from all over the world.

Jen, who also works at Parr Hall in event management, added: "We've had lots of bands stay with us and made some great friends. We always said we wanted to offer the best hospitality we could to touring musicians as we understand how difficult it can be and I like to think we did that."

Among them are Warrington's punk/ska group The Mighty Bossmags who have hosted Old Town House's Halloween special for the past two years.

The Mighty BossmagsThe Mighty Bossmags

Frontman Bobby Stickah described it as 'one of the most special little venues in the whole of the UK'.

He said: "Everyone involved in the management and running of Old Town House, past and present, since its opening in 2017 have truly gone above and beyond for Warrington.

"I personally think they’ve reached hero status with what they’ve achieved and they all deserve the most wonderful break for their efforts.

"Old Town House has been there with open arms to accommodate every one of my kooky schemes that I couldn’t have achieved without bags of support and partnership from them.

"I will be the first to admit I’ve taken it for granted – the seemingly endless fantastic bands that play, the laidback way we can play and host gigs there.

"We made Old Town House our home, like other Warrington bands did like Roughneck Riot and Hummer as well as the monthly AgendA drag night and so many more."


Lee Harman, of Warrington Music [WAM] can particularly empathise with Jen and Gazz as he used to run a rock and live music night called Asylum at The Venue in Barbauld Street and Rain in Academy Way. He had to call it a day following music policy changes at both venues.

He added: "Those who identify as being part of an alternative/rock music scene often feel a target for how they dress or how they live their lives and as such have a closer bond to people and friends who embrace the same interests.

Lee Harman

"Old Town House was what it was due to its DIY punk spirit. People appreciated what Jen and her husband Gazz were doing and the venue was also home to AgendA, an LGBT+ performance group who put on events where elsewhere they may not have felt comfortable. To many artists Old Town House felt like home."


So what now? Other music venues like The Lounge in Springfield Street – where Viola Beach cut their teeth – and the Auction Rooms in Legh Street continue on among others and Jen is keeping the option open for someone to take over Old Town House. She also said she would be happy to remain involved in a smaller capacity.

Steve Oates, who organises Warrington Music Festival, reckons that is likely.

He said: "Two indie/rock pubs which are opposite each other have closed down in the same week – surely that's now an opportunity for someone to accommodate the people who like that type of music in that part of town.

"I'm sure it won't be long before the Old Town House is brought back and my guess would be that it will be something the same...but different.

"I'd imagine that lots could be done to help the town centre pubs thrive and that the people having the conversations around things like transport, policing, parking, environment and business rates will be able to help the independent pub landlords as much as drinks pricing, personable bar staff and clean toilets.

"Maybe, the town centre development will help to make a better place so that more people want to come to spend money in Warrington businesses. Only time will tell.

"I'm sure the decision to close Old Town House didn't come easily for Jen and Gazz but I'm happy for them if they feel that now is the right time to walk away.

"Sometimes you can hold on to things too tightly and you lose touch with all the other great things you have going on in your life. You can also lose out on better opportunities because you're distracted and in a place that is wrong for you at this time.

"I hope they bring their approach and ethos back somewhere else when they're ready and they bring to any new venture all they've learnt and experiences good and bad."


Jen, who will be celebrating her birthday at Old Town House in March, added: "The decision to close has been on the cards for some time. And the reason we've held out for so long in such a tough time is because we are passionate about this community that's been built and felt we were letting them down.


"Ultimately however its taking its toll and so no amount of passion for a cause is going to be enough to sustain what we've made. I'm just happy it existed and we look forward to making the last three months count.

"The town has had a great musical past and we seem to be capable of creating loads of great bands, just not successfully creating a home for them.


"There are wonderful great folks in this town who are so supportive of the scene and want to do their bit to nurture it.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like there are enough of them. Saying you support live music and alternative culture and actually supporting live music and alternative culture are two different things.

"So it saddens me when I see posts saying how its a shame venues are closing down and what a great place they are and you wish you'd visited more than once that year.

"Venues do not succeed because people like them. Or because people think they are nice for the town. Venues need your support – go to a gig.

"Also if the decision makers of Warrington would like to see this town preserve a bit of soul before it disappears entirely under a mountain of cinemas and chain restaurants then it needs to figure out how to better support small independents.

"I think a shift in attitudes and a commitment to get out to shows from audiences and a commitment from the powers that be to help is the only chance of building a flourishing, interesting music scene here."


Just 12 miles from Old Town House, a Northwich pub seems to be bucking the trend for independent venues.

Craft beer bar Salty Dog hosts live music, comedy and other events and was featured in the national Guardian newspaper’s best small UK music venues.


But owner Chris Mundie said it’s a ‘battle’ to keep the regulars coming back and attract newcomers.

He said: “We’re in the same boat as Old Town House and places like that. It’s expensive to run any kind of business but especially if you’re an independent.


“We’re getting a lot of good press and we’ve got a lot of cool bands playing but we’re still very much living month to month. We have got a really good customer base who support us regularly and that’s why we’re still open basically.

“I’ve gone to Old Town House quite a few times and it’s a great place.

“They put on really interesting stuff but it’s about footfall – getting people to vote with their feet and drink somewhere independent rather than at a chain pub – that’s the battle really.

“Independents can’t compete on price with brewery-owned and chain pubs so any bar like us is completely reliant on the community wanting to support somewhere that’s bespoke and different and interesting.

“There are people doing good stuff in Warrington and Old Town House was an example of a really great bar that should be thriving.

“But we’re all up against it. There aren’t really any breaks for independents. We’re all paying business rates, we’ve all got pretty high utility bills and subsidies for leisure don’t really exist.

“Then there’s alcohol duty. Everything is getting more expensive. All the prices are going up across the board but people’s wages aren’t going up so it’s basic arithmetic really.

“We’re only doing as well as we’re doing because of the support of the community. There is momentum and we are moving forward but we can’t be complacent.

“It’s a constant thing. You’re always pushing tickets, you’re always trying to get people out, especially on week nights.

“But at the same time you have to realise that people only have a limited amount of disposable income.

“I’m sad the Old Town House is going because they put on bands that I like. I’ve played gigs before with the guys from Roughneck Riot.


“It’s all part of the same scene and you don’t want to see that disappearing because once it’s gone it’s hard to get that back. Everyone complains when something goes but if you don’t support it in the meantime that’s what happens.”

Bobby Stickah, a regular performer at Old Town House, added: “If you go to your music venues even just every once in a while to watch an original band it really makes a difference.

"If you’re open to it, you may just unearth your new favourite jam, as well as helping to create a stepping stone for new bands.

"Old Town House, despite its size, hosted Hayseed Dixie, Twin Guns, featuring an ex member of legendary band The Cramps, and Lightyear among others.

“Sadly, it’s so easily lost.”