'˜We're fiercely proud of our independence': The Wedgewood Rooms celebrates 25 years
They may be little more than a footnote in music history, but cult alternative rock band Eat occupy an important place in local lore '“ in late 1992 they became the first band to headline The Wedgewood Rooms.
Now, 25 years on, the Albert Road venue is celebrating its silver anniversary year.
During that time, hundreds of acts have graced its stage. For some it was as big as it got. For others like Oasis, The Strokes, Muse and many more it was a stepping stone on their rapid rise to greater fame – their gigs at The Wedge have become ‘I was there’ moments for those lucky enough to have been in attendance.
While it is now known primarily as a music venue, it was started in 1992 by Cliff Holman and Martin Kingsbury as a comedy club.
Shortly after, Ian Binnington and Claire Davies of the Portsmouth Venue Campaign put on that first gig. As PVC Promotions they have remained the main promoters for touring acts at the venue ever since. The Wedge kept the comedy running and now has the region’s oldest comedy club.
Previously a punter and sometime crew member, Geoff Priestley took over as manager of the venue 15 years ago. But as Geoff says, it hasn’t always been plain sailing.
‘To be honest, there have been times when it nearly hasn’t survived. There’s a lot of support locally and goodwill and I think that helps.
‘The Wedge has also had quite a varied programme – live music, tribute bands, comedy, club nights, spoken word – so has been able to flex with the times.
‘It also has always had a dedicated team of staff who get minimum wage, work long hours in loud and noisy conditions, but who contribute massively to The Wedge still being here.’
Among his favourite gigs at the venue, Geoff lists Barenaked Ladies, Johnny Marr, Damon Albarn’s solo warm-up show, Slaves and the David Bowie charity tribute night put together by the local music scene. But his own favourite booking was a young, and then relatively unknown, stand-up, Michael McIntyre.
Recent years have not been kind to small and mid-size independent venues. Of the 25 venues on that famed 1994 Oasis tour, more than half are now closed.
But Geoff is bullish about the future. ‘I am more positive about this than I have been for a while. Being part of the Music Venues Alliance helps give us a voice nationally, and is making inroads into fixing some of the practical problems that grassroots venues, like The Wedge have.
‘There also seems to be a small resurgence in live music at the moment which will help.’
And it also recently gained community interest company (CIC) status, which will help safeguard its future.
‘The Wedge has always done a variety of events and this has been one of its strengths and we are currently trying to expand on that around our main live music events.’
The artist who holds the record for playing The Wedge more than any other is Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Ian Prowse, at first with his bands Pele and Amsterdam and latterly as a solo act. He’s back this May to mark the 25th anniversary of Pele’s debut album, Fireworks.
He says: ‘When I think of Fireworks, the two places I immediately think of are Loughborough University and the Wedgewood Rooms. It was like we were sort of born together – we played there at the very start of the Wedgewood Rooms being a venue.
‘The people of Portsmouth really took to us. It would always be packed when we played, and it would be massive singalong, It would be frenetic. Portsmouth is like a northern town down south, and we felt a real affinity to it.
‘I’ve even slept in the venue one night when we didn’t have a hotel, so Geoff just said ‘‘get your head down here’’.
‘I thought if we’re going to do this tour, the one place we needed to play this album again was The Wedgewood Rooms.’
PVC’s Ian has been putting on about 60 gigs a year at The Wedge since it began.
He says: ‘You can’t be around for this amount of time and not make an impact, and I think The Wedge has.’
While he looks back fondly on the live boom of the mid-90s when guitar bands ruled with Britpop, he feels The Wedge has earned its place as a venue of some renown on the circuit.
‘There are lots of stories, but most of them are unprintable,’ he laughs. ‘The important thing is that it’s still here, it has come out the other side and the future looks bright.
‘It’s a landmark venue, not just for the city, but for the country. I would like to think that people appreciate it for what it is, but people don’t realise how important these places are until they lose them – like The Cellars.
‘And it’s completely independent. That’s something we have always focused on – that and not being part of the more corporate music business. It’s something we are fiercely proud of.’
For more information, go to wedgewood-rooms.co.uk
Share you memories of The Wedge
The staff of The Wedgewood Rooms have set up a Facebook page for people to share memories of gigs gone by.
Former staff and audience members have been recalling some brilliant tales of highs and lows from the past 25 years.
For example, Paul Caruana recalled Kasabian’s Isle of Wight warm-up gig in 2007: ‘A bunch actually left the festival to come back to Portsmouth and watch Kasabian at the Wedge! We then got a ferry back to the festival that night and saw Kasabian again the following day!’
Or Tony Windsor says: ‘Seeing Supergrass supporting Shed 7 and thinking “these are pretty good”’
Click here to see the Wedgewood Rooms Memories (25th Year Anniversary) page on Facebook.