It’s 11.15 on a Saturday morning and I’m sitting watching a live music performance with a cuppa and a biscuit in my hands. Not very rock’n’roll, you might think, but there’s a clarity to listening to music in the morning that offers a completely different vibe to evenings. And the performers had better be on form for two reasons…
The layout of the venue is theatre-style with the audience seated in a semi-circle with rows stretching back to accommodate over 100 of them (and it’s full). The audience age group suggests these are people who’ve been around the block a bit and know talent when they see it. They won’t stand for anything below par.
So where am I? I’m at The Under Ground Theatre’s new(ish) home at The Venton Centre, Junction Road, Eastbourne. It’s a terrific venue for the music, offering plenty of well-kept toilet facilities, disabled access, good space for the stage, a huge room for serving refreshments and is within easy reach of the town centre and the railway station.
Running events is a charity called Eastbourne Arts Centre Charitable Trust but everyone knows it as The Under Ground Theatre. Why Under Ground, when it’s clearly not? It’s bright and airy and very much above ground. I caught up with two of the charity’s trustees, Alan and Sue Hutchinson to find out more about the operation’s background and current and future plans. Here’s what they told me:
“The Under Ground Theatre was started in April 1989. One of the past Chairmen named it ‘The Under Ground Theatre’ because at that time we were operating out of the basement of Eastbourne library theatre and the name The Under Ground Theatre seemed appropriate.”
And since everyone got to know the name, it remained with them as the venue and the trustees changed. One thing that’s remained since 1989, though, is the warm, friendly and inclusive atmosphere the trustees and volunteers create. The free-to-attend Saturday morning events were the brainchild of long-standing trustee, Geoff, who developed the idea many moons ago. They run from 10am until shortly after noon with a half-time interval serving tea, coffee and biscuits for only £1. It’s an unusual concept but it works and is absolutely brilliant and appreciated in several ways.
These events promote social interaction with many enduring friendships having begun there. There are regulars who’ve been attending for years who never miss a Saturday morning event. It’s widely regarded that music has a unique impact on wellbeing, social, emotional and mental health and resilience. At the Under Ground Theatre on a Saturday morning, people can listen and enjoy without having to brave the pub, go out on a dark evening or struggle to hear the music over background noise. As well as meeting their friends and enjoying a chinwag over an extremely reasonably-priced cuppa (biscuit included).
The musicians who play the Saturday morning events do so free of charge, and they’re lining up to perform. Alan takes care of the diary and knows what goes down well. Events span Pop, Folk, Americana, Blues and Country music from across the decades. Although they don’t get paid, the performers enjoy other benefits – the chance to interact with an audience that’s actually listening being a big one. There’s always a lot of laughter at the events as performers and audience enjoy bouncing off each other. It’s an inclusive atmosphere in every way possible.
Another great draw for both performers and audience is that the Under Ground Theatre boasts an excellent PA and lighting system together with knowledgeable operators in Steve, John and Abi. As a result, it’s one of the more professionally-run gigs for musicians to play. They’re currently awaiting delivery of a portable stage to improve the audience viewing experience.
The Under Ground Theatre is run entirely by a fabulous group of unpaid trustees and volunteers. As well as the specialist technical knowledge brought by Steve, there’s the refreshment set up, layout and removal of chairs, washing up, etc. A lot goes on in the background that people don’t see. The trustees try to keep things as simple as possible so events are funded by donations and profits from refreshment sales.
The events are very much appreciated by newcomers to Eastbourne and anyone experiencing loneliness, perhaps after losing friends or a partner. It’s the perfect place to meet people who appreciate good music and/or want to socialise without having to go to a pub.
In fact, Alan and Sue Hutchinson originally went along for exactly this reason when they moved to Eastbourne in 2012. Before long, they got more deeply involved as Sue’s secretarial background was useful at meetings and Alan started helping with band bookings.
Alan’s just launched a monthly Saturday evening event – 7pm – 9.30pm – and is even keeping these free to attend. This saves the hassle of organising tickets and allows people to drop what they can afford into the donations bucket. This is in keeping with the ethos of the Under Ground Theatre charity. One added advantage of the evening events is the full bar that’s available. And very well stocked it is too, with prices kept low yet still providing the money to cover the hire of the venue.
I attended the first of the Saturday evening events on 21 October with superb local blues band, The Big Blue. Along with others, I was up dancing in the aisles.
Coming up next, and all FREE to attend….
Saturday 18th November 2023 7pm – 9.30pm (doors at 6.30pm) – Double-header
Will Taylor, emerging singer/songwriter/guitarist, a 23 year old with influences from John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, Charlie Puth and Sam Tomkins will be playing popular contemporary covers along with some well-known classics. Will includes some of his own comparable songs and plays towards a hair-raising crescendo of ‘loop-pedal’ guitar and vocal harmonies.
Neil Grove, supremely talented guitarist, 21-year-old Neil is playing solo blues/rock‘n’roll with plenty of masterful slide riffs. Neil’s influences extend to Muddy Waters, BB King and Hubert Sumlin who played with Howlin’ Wolf. Neil’s performances are nothing but astounding. Regular readers will be quite familiar with Neil since the interview with this remarkable young man that we previously published.
Watch what he does witb a guitar here:
Saturday 2nd December 2023. 7pm – 9.30pm (doors at 6.30pm)
Terry Lees & Natasha Norodien
Guitar/vocal/flautist duo. Terry’s award-winning guitar wizardry and the truly beautiful voice of Natasha bring their own style to classic traditional folk ballads. The performance will include tracks from their recent acclaimed album, ‘Over Albion’ as well as songs from their forthcoming album.
Terry & Natasha will be supported by Milton Hide. Folk duo Jim and Rosie Tipler have been playing at festivals and clubs up and down the country, a blissful blend of vocals, guitar and clarinet promoting their latest album, ‘The Holloway.’
With almost 35 years under their belt and still going strong, despite facing the challenges of lost premises and Covid, the trustees of The Under Ground Theatre are clearly doing something right. They are enjoying an excellent working relationship with the management team at the Venton Centre and the happy faces of their appreciative audience members must be a great source of satisfaction as reward for all their hard work.
Get yourself along and see what it’s all about. A great time guaranteed.
The Venton Centre, Junction Road, Eastbourne, BN21 3QY