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Review: The Blue Room

April Keen
The Sound Of Superstring - Live at The Blue Room on the 21st December
The Sound Of Superstring – Live at The Blue Room on the 21st December

Ah, The Blue Room, The Stan, The Stanley Fine Cask Ale House, The Stanley Arms, whatever it was called when you started drinking in there it probably holds a special place in your memories. For most of the what was once called indie, rock and alternative scene, The Blue Room was probably where your first underage drink was taken and you found a pub you could call your own. I, for one, was in there at fifteen/sixteen, skulking in a corner with badly dyed black hair and a Fields of the Nephilim t-shirt, ordering ‘a pint of beer please’ before graduating to ‘pint of cider and black, mate’ when age and experience had done their work. Later, I would work there, meet the great loves of my life in there, find lost friends who had left for Uni at Christmas time etc.

As it did for so many others, it became a cornerstone of any social event or night out in Blackpool. A seemingly permanent fixture. It was a jolt to the system, therefore, when it came out that the old girl was closing down; first The Tache and then The Blue Room. Blackpool’s alternative scene was dealt a double blow that it seemed it would struggle to recover from. We all had to move on, all of a sudden.  After twenty or so years, I found myself in different environs, either surrounded by angry football-chanting mobs who eyed anyone different with barely restrained aggression, or in quieter but hideously expensive Cuban-themed cocktail bars where you were sneered at if your trainers were not the right brand. Thankfully, this was about to change.

The news came out of the blue (sorry), that The Blue Room was re-opening! First as a rumour, then as a definite event! All of a sudden, all the other rumours about what the historic pub site was going to turn into were quashed. Thank goodness, I don’t think I could have taken it if it had became a Tesco Metro! Then a Facebook page and the date, Friday 13 December, confirmed it.

Fully refurbished toilets
Fully refurbished toilets

I should point out that the reopening didn’t necessarily mean it was going to be a great thing. I’m not the only person who thought The Blue room had become fairly poor before it closed.  Despite the best efforts of the management it was freezing cold, had the smell of urine and toilet block, charged expensive prices, looked tatty, and you had to get past the now legendary poor service from certain members of staff (who here didn’t experience waiting at the bar for five minutes while the barmaid finished her cigarette?). All this conspired to keep the people at bay. So if the pub simply reopened ‘under new management’, it would be a double edged sword, great that it was open again but not so good if it was dragging its previous problems into the equation.

On the thirteenth I opened the doors, a little nervous of what I would find. The first things to hit me was the warmth.  And it was clean! It looks like a new bar, the walls painted in muted tones and the lighting subdued to a relaxed and intimate level. Just looking around at the place with its new candlelit tables and armchairs, with the old ‘stick to the floor’ carpets ripped up and the ‘see your face in it’ polished wooden floorboards gives you feeling of walking into a city bar with character. The Smiths played over the sound system as if someone was watching for me to arrive, (here he comes, quick break out the Morrissey!) and sense of relief hit me. Anticipating a large turn out, there were a few bar staff ready to serve and at only two pounds seventy for good pint of Becks I retired to a table to ruminate. The main thing for a pub/bar to consider is the clientele.  Pitch it too far one way and you risk alienating the rest of the customers.  The Blue Room has, by and large, aimed at the alternative/student market.  Thankfully, with its stylish refit, this incarnation has managed to strike a balance and resisted the  urge to plaster the walls with Joy Division and Stone Roses posters. The walls have the odd subtle slogan and quote discreetly painted and understatement seems to be the word.

As the people started to fill the place, the chatter was almost universally positive. ‘Wow’ is

the word I heared a lot, and indeed ‘wow’ it is, for those who may be a little too young to remember the glory days when the last major refit took out all the booths and the bar moved across the pub, this is a massive change for the venue. One ageing punk moaned that it looks ‘too posh’ but even he was quieted when he sank into a leather armchair and then sank into his reasonably priced pint.

The new stage set up
The new stage set up

The focus of the pub has changed as well.  Previously, the place was a pub that had bands on, now it is a live music venue. This shift is quite important.  What used to happen a lot was you would be chatting to your mates over a pint then BANG! ‘one two, one two, krrrraaaaannnngggg!’ It was sound check time and your conversation was wiped out by thirty second bursts of ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica or the bass line of De-Lite’s ‘Groove is in the Heart’.  This was the ‘drink up, we’re off to Scrooges’ moment of the evening. Now the place has been rebranded as a live music venue, with a great sound system and what looks to be a fully committed stage area, the expectation of people in the pub should shift from ‘Oh damn they have a band on later’ to ‘let’s go watch a live band’ a key factor for the venue’s future as quality live music becomes rarer to find these days.

The bands and acts that were booked for the opening night included Dust, Jekyll, April Keen and The Atmospherics.  They were tight and professional, coming across as more than just local band level. All looked comfortable and easy on the the stage. OK, there was the odd Stone Roses cover but the night wasn’t about musical innovation as much as it was about showcasing the venue and pleasing the crowd, which all involved did with aplomb. As long as this base level quality of bands and acts continues, the live music element of the venue is assured.  I do hope they get ‘Petrol Bastard’ to play again (just to test the limits of the sound system).

So, all in all a great night, in a great venue, one which had a lot riding on it. With future expansions planned for an outside area (wisely waiting till it’s warmer) and a roster of great bands lined up for the Christmas period and beyond, we can only expect great things from The Blue Room. Whatever happens, it certainly will be THE place to go for the more ‘alternative’ and less ‘Walkabout’ minded crowd. As one rather poetic chap said to me at the bar, ‘the phoenix is reborn.’

Images courtesy of Fairclough Photography.

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