Venues are often places we rush in and out of with little thought of the story behind the place in which we spend a few hours listening, waiting, moshing, watching, laughing, rocking and generally having a good time. (Ok.. there are some ‘hope they stop playing soon’ gigs as well. Best not talk about those nights.) We look around to locate the important stuff like stage, toilet, bar and merch stall. Do we really care all that much about the place, or notice much? Probably not. One venue in Norwich, however, is a place worth investigating.
OPEN Norwich, on the corner of Bank Plain and London Street, was for many years a branch of Barclays bank. Old School in the extreme, it had high domed ceilings of white and gold plasterwork. The presence of cashier desks, glass and corporate logos was made insignificant by the splendour and size of the place – it was worth going in just for a look, and it was probably in some visitor guidebook, too.
In 2003, the building was bought by the Lind Trust, who established a Youth Forum. A need had been identified – the SOS bus facility (a seriously excellent thing) was available at weekends to support young people, but there was nothing during the week and that needed to be addressed. Two years later, charity status was awarded and in 2009 the current OPEN Youth Trust was formed. Every single penny of profit made goes to youth charities. OPEN provides early intervention of all kinds to over 4,000 youngsters using the drop-in facilities, supporting the next generation from ages 7-25.
OPEN hosts every sort of event you can imagine – art exhibits, musical workshops, shows of all sorts by young people, boxing, quizzes, lectures, book launches, drop in centre, recording facilities, dance studio, conferences, Body Art conventions, life skills courses, adult education, Christmas markets (a first this year) and awards nights. It is also registered as an exam centre. Several more new things are in the pipeline for next year, too. When I visited there was a weeklong dance workshop for kids going on. There’s a café, a climbing wall, ICT facilities and a wealth of access to advice and support. The vaults are also still in use – secure storage is a steady income.
Regular music events began back in March 2012, in a main hall holding 1400, with the more intimate and rather nice Club room holding 300. The range of music is pretty varied – London Grammar, Belle and Sebastian, Craig Charles’ funk night, jazz, Machinehead and a Queen Extravaganza. This month, The Darkness are welcomed – the fastest selling gig the venue has seen. Rick Lennox saw The Darkness in 2000 at The Barfly with 150 people, loved them, and has wanted to put them on ever since. It’s only days away…
At the time The Darkness’ tour was being mooted and promoters were ringing round venues for free diary dates, OPEN had a booking for the preferred Saturday night so Monday was arranged – the other booking then fell through, much to Rick’s annoyance – too late to change by then. Whilst tour itineraries are being finalised, the venues will hold dates as long as possible and chase if another enquiry comes in, but confirmation from the promoter can come in as early as the next day, so things can move very quickly. Dates for official announcements from the band and ticket sales are confirmed for release after the information goes on the band’s website. After that, the venue tech team will have liaised with the band’s production team, marketing will have sent the artwork and any posters, and the venue will have made sure as far as humanly possible that everyone knows where they should buy their tickets from.
OPEN itself is hired by the promoter, Live Nation, so there is no contract direct with the band. Rick is there to communicate, problem solve and make sure that everything runs smoothly (ie not letting Justin see the balconies). Which isn’t always as easy as it sounds…
This isn’t just an excellent venue. It’s a force for good in an increasingly bleak world for the young. If you’re there for The Darkness next week, stop, look around and think. Every venue has a story – some are helping the future happen, not just the now.
Many thanks are due to Rick Lennox and Hayley Gerrard at OPEN Norwich, whose help and time was much appreciated. Have a look at some photos they provided – it’s an amazing building!