Category: Rants

The Robbins’ Well lives to pub another day

by Ruth

EDIT AT A LATER DATE: someone has now bought Robbins’ Well and it’s (currently?) closed. Here’s hoping for the future…

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A few days ago I wrote a blog post commiserating the demise of one of my favorite Leamington pubs after discovering the building was to be sold.

Fortunately for Well-lovers, it appears that the sale has fallen through, and this has been confirmed by pub staff. I’m pretty delighted by the news, albeit still concerned that a similar sale might go ahead in the future.

This whole affair has brought home for me how much I truly love Robbins’ Well. I think until now I valued it immensely, but also took it for granted – I had this idea that it would always be there, doing its thing. Reading the deluge of comments on the blog post and on Facebook, I got the impression this was the case for other people, too. There is a lot of love for the place, from people who have been going there to drink, eat, talk, and see bands, comedy, films, theatre…

I stand by everything I wrote in my previous post. The Well is not a perfect pub, but it is of great value, and not simply for nostalgic purposes. It’s a good place to go, and a great place to run DIY events. I’m concerned for the future of DIY culture in Leamington, and about the rampant gentrification of the town. “Progress” and “regeneration” shouldn’t come at the expense of local services and affordable entertainment.

This is something we have to be actively involved in – if we leave things up to the invisible hand of the private market, the entire town will be fancy flats and upmarket cafés in just a few year’s time. At the moment Leamington is a pretty diverse and exciting for such a small place (e.g. we must have the highest density of truly excellent Indian restaurants and Polish grocers of any town for miles around) and we need to support that. We need to defend and create space for affordable eating, drinking and partying.

A lot of us were very sad to hear that the Well was to close. Now that it’s had a stay of execution, I hope that we can perhaps rally around to support it for as long as it may stay open. I saw a lot of people saying that they’d miss it, but hadn’t been there for a while – why not drop by?

And I’m going to see about booking dates for those gigs.

In Memoriam: Robbins’ Well

by Ruth

Update: the sale of Robbins’ Well has fallen through!

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On Friday 1st April I wandered casually into Robbins’ Well to ask about booking the basement gig. The guy behind the guy looked crestfallen. “I’m sorry,” he said, “that won’t be possible”. Why? “We’re closing in the next two weeks. The building has been sold.”

The news was so upsetting that I spent the next day or so trying to convince myself that it was a particularly ill-considered April Fools joke. But no, it’s true: a true Leamington Spa landmark will soon be no more. The owner of the building is selling it on, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon see luxury flats for Jaguar Land Rover employees appearing in its place. As well as being part of a wider national trend of pub closures, the Well is the latest victim of Leamington’s small-town brand of gentrification.

This is a tragedy.

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(image via Google Street View)

 

The thing about the Well is that it’s never been a great pub. It has 3.9 stars on Google reviews, 3.8 stars on Facebook, and 3.5 stars on Tripadvisor. There are, without a doubt, better pubs in Leamington – some of them local boozers, and others somewhat more expensive places offering properly decent food. But as long as I’ve lived in the town (a good decade, now!) the Well has always been there, offering something important.

It’s affordable, without being yet another ‘Spoons. It’s a place where locals, students and out-of-town visitors mix. It’s in an excellent location – right next to the river and opposite the Parish Church, with really good public transport links. It’s in a gorgeous old Regency building with a great deal of character. It has bizarre interior decorations, with what looks like large sheets of oil barrel providing, uh, “unique” light fittings.

Most importantly for me on a personal basis, it’s a decent place for live music.

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Gig in the basement of the Well (photo by Krissie Pearse)

 

Leamington’s live music scene has gone through its ups and downs over the years. Right now it feels like we’re going through one hell of a “down”, and a lot of that is because of the current lack of decent live music venues. The Jug & Jester hasn’t hosted gigs since it became a Wetherspoons. Kellys disappeared a few years ago, to be replaced by a short-lived and deeply sleazy strip joint that was destroyed by arson under suspicious circumstances. LAMP was amazing during its year-long tenure as a venue, but was closed by the Council without notice following a farcical dispute over noise levels (ironically, the problems for LAMP really started when they applied for planning permission…in order to install soundproofing). The Exchange was always a little questionable with all of those England flags, but at least it was somewhere you could occasionally see a punk band.

Remaining venues include the Zephyr Lounge – which is a wonderful space but costs way too much these days for DIY promoters to run small gigs with touring bands – and the Althorpe Gallery, which has hosted some great events but is tiny, appallingly inaccessible, and has basically no insulation – meaning that it’s freezing for most of the year.

The thing about the Well is that it was often not the first choice for a gig space, but there have still been many, many fantastic nights there over the years. Whilst other venues came and went, the Well was a stalwart. The venue’s staff were sometimes very accommodating, sometimes hostile, and (in recent years) most often seemingly baffled by the presence of promoters and bands, but it cost little-to-nothing to hire so it was great for charity events and we could always pay sound techs and/or travelling bands. The pub’s basement had terrible acoustics, but it was a perfect size and had a great feel for small events with an audience of maybe thirty to a hundred people.

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Gunmen of the Apocalypse in 2012 (photo by Krissie Pearse)

 

I’ve been attending gigs at the Well since 2006 or so, and running gigs there (mostly as Rolling Head Promotions) since 2007. That’s a lot of memories. Most of the bands I’ve been in have played there. Not Right played a number of key gigs in the Well basement, including our second ever performance and our album launch night. I remember attending chilled-out acoustic nights, and full-on metal nights. I remember seeing Lesbian Bed Death‘s best line-up give everything to the tiny room. I remember Satan’s Buttcheeks daubing themselves in UV body paint and playing the most ridiculous music. I remember  death metal band Mongolian Death Worm shooting deeply concerned glances to one another as a fight broke out right in front of them. I remember no-wave heroes Sissy Hex making so much glorious noise that when their set ended I felt like a great weight was being very slowly lifted from my body. I remember musical theatre: a really very impressive student performance of Hedwig & The Angry Inchgearing up for a run at the Edinburgh Fringe.  I remember lugging equipment down the awful steps behind the venue, every time worrying just a little that we’d break something (probably a person).

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Our second ever gig! (photo by Krissie Pearse)

 

Everyone will have their own memories of the Well. It’s not “just” a pub (so few pubs are) – it’s a place where people meet and special things happen. It’s a place with a strong history. Kirsty – who, unlike myself and Snowy, actually grew up in the local area – occasionally recounts stories of the place in its glory days as a rock pub. You had to turn up early just to find somewhere to sit – unimaginable in these quieter times. As time passed the management were less friendly towards promoters, meaning that fewer events happened there and less people found themselves feeling that the Well was somewhere you regularly went to. Eventually the walls (originally a warm, if slightly unsettling shade of red) were re-painted beige. Still, it remained a good place to go, and a decent place to hold an event. Just last year, I was fortunate enough to co-host the incredible Femmington Spa Queer Fest there; a very, very special event, with a uniquely friendly atmosphere and so many fantastic performers and workshops. In February I played another album launch gig there, this time with Abandoned Life.

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Hot Magenta in 2008 (photo by Elizabeth Alstrom)

 

I don’t think there will be any campaigns to save the Well. It doesn’t have the deeply loyal custom of a truly independent pub or dedicated DIY venue. It’s possibly the quietest it’s been, these days, since first opening in 1998.

Still, it will be an enormous loss to Leamington. The town is on its way to becoming a true cultural wasteland. I’m not just talking about the closure of pubs and performance spaces, either. We’ve also seen the end of the Bath Place community centre – hit first by arson, and then by the sell-off of its new location in order to build (you guessed it) luxury flats. We’ve seen an enormous increase in upmarket bars that reflect not just the JLR crowd, but the growing wealth of the University of Warwick’s student population in the wake of fee and accommodation rises. The Pump Room Gardens are being redeveloped, but delightful additions such as flowerbeds around the bandstand will mean that it will be harder to see actual bands there, and will have the additional “benefit” of putting off the weird kids who currently have a habit of worrying adults by gathering together in a public space. Most worrying, rents have skyrocketed; I’m not sure how much longer it’ll be affordable to live in the town without being deeply posh.

So, I’m sad to see the Well go. I’m sorry for the current staff of the place, who were a decent bunch and have lost their jobs at short notice. I’m concerned about the future of Leamington’s music scene. I’m also worried about the future of Leamington itself; I think there are a lot of political battles to come if the town isn’t to become purely the preserve of the wealthy and boring.

But for now, we’ll remember.

“The grossest possible misogyny”

by Ruth

It was a great weekend. We played a fantastic punk alldayer in Nottingham on Saturday evening alongside some amazing, inspiring acts, and met some really cool new people as well as old friends.

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Relaxed in the glow of an evening sun filtered through train windows during the journey home, a couple of us decided to log into the website to make a small update. We initially weren’t too surprised to see a spike in visits over the last couple of days, but became curious and confused when we saw that the vast majority of the hits were for the lyrics to our song “Freedom of Speech” (which we happened not to play on Saturday).

It turned out that this page had been discovered by a TERF (“trans-exclusive radical feminist”). She found our lyrics “upsetting”, so wandered over to Reddit to share them with a bunch of her TERF friends.

The uninitiated can read about TERFs here, here, and here. Warning: it’s not pretty. The subreddit in question is “Gender Critical Feminism”. We’re not gonna bother linking it for obvious reasons. Google it if you must, but trust us when we say that you’re not missing much.

The resulting brief burst of outrage was somewhat predictable. Ruth was misgendered, trans experience was put down to “magical thinking” comparable to George W Bush’s saviour complex, and there is a sarcastic comment about our use of swearwords (yes, we know that swearing is no longer anything like as cool as when MC5 instructed listeners to “kick out the jams, motherfuckers” back in 1969, but you can’t have everything).

The strongest message that comes out of their strange little conversation though is that we’re a misogynist band. That’s right folks, Not Right hate women!

So what’s misogynistic about the song? Well, we do use the word “cunt”. That one’s up for debate in some feminist circles, although we use the word in such the same way as we might use “dick” or “arsehole”. Body bits, yeah?

Beyond that – is it because we say “we’ll hit right back”? Because we talk about “hateful slurs”, and then there is some rude condemnation of said slurs? This is exactly the kind of language that’s used in feminist discourse around protests and events such as Reclaim The Night (which, for the record, we fully support) and it’s not meant to be literal. We’re not planning to actually “hit” anyone – we wish to instead strike metaphorically against their discourse.

This all seems painfully obvious, but is genuinely beyond TERF logic. The same kind of disregard for metaphor and irony can be found in recent TERF criticisms of Against Me! that accuse Laura Jane Grace of misogyny for using lines such as “your tells are so obvious/shoulders too broad for a girl” and having an image of a breast as a slab of meat on the cover of Transgender Dysphoria Blues. This kind of accusation misses the point so spectacularly that you have to wonder if the ignorance is intentional. How can anyone read those lyrics, look at that album cover, and not see a blatant condemnation of binary gender expectations and the sexist objectification of women, trans and cis alike?

Might it instead be that Freedom of Speech is “misogynistic” because we state that trans bodies, trans lives and trans genders shouldn’t be up for debate? If so, there’s no way we can win a rational debate: if you can’t recognise the experiences of others as real and valid, then you’re inevitably going to find yourself at odds with them. You end up with the same kind of entrenched ideological warfare that takes place between LGBT people and homophobic religious fundamentalists.

At the end of the day, it’s ridiculous that women who call themselves feminist are wasting so much energy getting angry about the existence of trans people. There is actual, real suffering happening in this world. Freedom of Speech addresses the suffering that arises from the dehumanising logic of transphobic (and homophobic) hate speech: violent murder, horrific medical malpractice and frequent suicide attempts.

We’re quite prepared to accept that we point all of this out in a blunt, stroppy manner. But “the grossest possible misogyny”? Fuck off.

b&wIn other news, some guys who had turned up to the weekend’s gig decided to engage in some “friendly banter” as we got ready to play. As usual, Ruth’s arms were covered in transphobic slurs, and Kirsty had written “culture slut” on her chest. “We’ll see about that,” muttered one member of the fun little group at the front.

We plugged in and blasted out Never Back Down, a wave of heavily distorted noise and furious feminist condemnation. The dickhead parade couldn’t take it. They were out of the pub door before the song was over.

We were left to enjoy the rest of the night free of their presence. The end.

Statement on sexism at Coventry SU’s LGBT History Month Gig

by Ruth

Last night’s gig was unpleasant for a number of reasons. First and foremost amongst these was the barrage of sexist comments and rape jokes directed at us from a small group of men in the audience. We were also deeply unimpressed with the response from certain individuals representing Coventry University’s Students’ Union, who seemed keen to be rid of our band as quickly as possible.

It doesn’t seem fair to label the night a disaster: there were fantastic performances from other acts, particularly headliner Devon Mayson, and we were grateful for the extremely positive response we recieved from many members of the audience. However, we feel it is important to publicly address some of the things that went wrong.


Sexist heckling

We started our set on a pretty positive note. It rapidly became unpleasant after Ruth began to read an extract from My message to those who would attend Radfem 2012 in light of the recent announcement of the transphobic Radfem 2013 conference. The room went silent during the reading…only to be broken by laughing from a corner. Apparently transphobia is hilarious.

Things rapidly went downhill from there as we were then subjected to a series of sexist taunts: “how does it feel?” “I prefer gang rape!”

We responded in anger. We told those responsible how we felt about their comments. We asked them if they were prepared to emerge from their corner booth to talk with us about it face-to-face (they weren’t, surprise surprise). We accused them of being cowards.

And then we carried on playing, deliberately aiming our venom at the sexist power structures that enable gendered abuse and violent language.

After a couple of songs we noticed that the hecklers were leaving. We levelled a barrage of abuse at them until they were out of the door, before thanking everyone else in the room and continuing with our set. Apparently they had been asked by venue staff to leave. We weren’t aware of this at the time, but were grateful for it in retrospect. Ejecting them from the venue was the right decision, particularly given that the event was themed around LGBT liberation.

We played another tune before being informed that we didn’t have long left. We quickly agreed to drop one of the remaining songs, before then being told we only had time for one more. So we agreed upon a set closer and Ruth – not realising that we hadn’t actually been on particularly long – announced to the audience that it would be our last song.

As we played a woman wearing a Coventry SU hoodie approached Kirsty and asked us to wrap it up. Kirsty – annoyed to be interrupted whilst she was playing – informed her briefly that we were going to finish the song.

In the end we played a set that was roughly 20 minutes long. We had been alloted up to 40 minutes in which to perform.


Rape culture is fucking terrible

Needless to say, both the attitude of the hecklers and the comments they made were completely out of order. We make no apology for reacting in anger.

Not Right is a political act, and informed by feminism. We believe that sexism (and transphobia) should be tackled directly and never tolerated. If bigoted behaviour is unaddressed, it will only prosper. The world will only become a better place if hateful attitudes are challenged directly.

We live in a world of unnecessary suffering that is only perpetuated through greed and fear as well as sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism, ageism etc. Addressing these inqualities and fighting for a better world is deeply important to us as a band. You can’t change the world a lot with a song, but you can take a stand.

Having made our objections clear, we made an effort both to continue playing, and to address both other members of the audience and members of staff at the venue in a friendly and polite manner both before and after we left the stage. The actions of a few unpleasant individuals should not have to spoil the night for anyone.


Coventry SU’s response

It seems that the staff of Coventry Students’ Union and several members of Coventry LGBT+ did not agree with our assessment of the situation. As the night draw to a close, it was made quite clear to us that our set had been cut because of our response to the sexist heckling. We were informed that we should have let venue staff deal with the problem without attempting to confront it ourselves.

We have a number of issues with this position.

Firstly, if we hadn’t powerfully highlighted what was happening, it was unlikely that the hecklers would have been ejected from the venue. It certainly didn’t seem like anyone was paying a huge amount of attention at first.

Secondly, by implying that our response was inappropriate, there is an implication that we were also misbehaving. The venue staff’s approach – to blame all those involved in a situation, kick one group out and give the other group a warning – is in many ways understandable. It absolves them of ‘picking sides’ in any confrontation that may occur in the venue.

However, we feel this approach fails to acknowledge either the nature of the incident that actually took place, or the seriousness of that incident. In suggesting that we were at fault for responding with legitimate anger, we feel that Coventry SU implicitly tolerated the violent language used against us.

Finally, failing to communicate properly with a band is quite rude; cutting their set short before attempting to persuade a band to leave the stage whilst they’re playing their last song is exceptionally so.

We are not members of Coventry Students’ Union, or Coventry LGBT+. We do not know who was responsible for the various decisions taken. But those individuals were representing their respective organisations, and this reflects poorly upon both.


Thanks to the lovely people

We don’t want to end on a negative note. In many ways, last night’s gig was a great success. We feel we played a pretty decent set under the circumstances, and it was clear that a large proportion of the audience enjoyed it.

We don’t have a problem with Coventry students, let alone LGBT students at Coventry. In fact, we were grateful for the overwhelmingly positive reception we recieved from many people in the room. We’d like to thank those people – you were awesome. Thank you for watching us playing, dancing to our songs, reading our zines. We hope to see you at a gig again soon!

Massive love, and down with sexism.

Not Right