With the final chords of Kassassin Street’s set still ringing in their ears, the sold-out crowd at The Cellars at Eastney were witnessing the end of an era.
Last night the Cromwell Road venue drew a line under its history as a place where you could experience everything from veteran touring acts such as Wilko Johnson, Miles Hunt or Arthur Brown through to up-and-coming local acts. For the last night, posters from gigs down the years plastered the walls.
Kassassin Street were given the honour of playing the final set as one of the local acts that has graced its stage several times before.
After announcing that their recent single Centre Straight Atom would be the final song, the five-piece cheekily invited their friends on stage for a raucous romp through Primal Scream’s Movin On Up.
Stef Arnold of promoters Reflected Sound of Everything had arranged Friday’s Mark Morriss and Friends Christmas show and was there for the final night as well.
She said: ‘I’m absolutely gutted. There have been so many memories, so many amazing gigs here.
‘And I’ve never seen any trouble here, people come here to enjoy the music.’
Regular gig-goers Carolyn Greenway and Cliff Coe had been coming to the venue for years.
‘We’ve been coming here for a long time,’ says Cliff. ‘If a band was on at The Cellars, it was like a mark of quality – you knew they would be good even if you didn’t know the band.’
Steve Pitt, The Cellars’ manager took to the stage before Kassassin Street and revealed to the packed house that the team had rejected an offer to take it over at ‘11.59 hours.’
He added: ‘The emotional rollercoaster we’ve been on for the last 11 years has taken its toll. Because I’m always here people think I’m “The Cellars”, but I’m not, we have a close-knit team here.’
And he reeled off a list of thanks, particularly to Malcom Cannings, who stepped in in 2011 to buy The Cellars when then-owners Enterprise Inns wanted to sell it off and turn it into flats.
Steve added: ‘The reason we are closing isn’t because of developers, it’s because it’s just not financially viable.’
Bluetones frontman Mark Morriss brought forward his regular Christmas show so he could play at The Cellars one last time. Amid the jokes about an early Christmas, the singer-songwriter was clearly emotional about the occasion.
And on Saturday, Beats & Swing hosted a raucous sell-out show with Jimi Needles keeping the crowd dancing into the early hours.
This time however, while the future of the building has yet to be decided, there was to be no last-minute reprieve.
by Chris Broom
If you feel sad about The Cellars closing, make it your mission to get out to more live music
It speaks volumes that the first time The Cellars’ website ever crashed because of too much traffic was the day it was announced it was to close.
Who were all these people suddenly trying to access the site? And more pertinently, where were they at all the gigs?
For all the handwringing that accompanies the end of any treasured institution – and The Cellars is treasured – make no bones about it, it is having to shut down because not enough people went to gigs there.
And that’s not because of a shortage of name acts playing there.
Anyone with a passing interest in the music business will have heard that since physical album sales plummeted, the live arena is where you make your money.
But the fact that so many small venues have been struggling and closing – The Cellars is sadly not an isolated case – gives this the lie.
Blockbuster acts like The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, U2 et al, may very well be able to put on stadium shows with inflation-busting ticket prices, and plug that monetary gap in lost album sales.
However, as Cellars’ manager Steve Pitt told The News, even the fact that the venue was closing didn’t help shift tickets for touring acts that have done well in other cities. And that is very worrying.
Music also needs support and nurturing at the grassroots level.
Portsmouth has a thriving music scene – look at the success of something like Icebreaker in January, which saw 90 local bands perform in one day to packed houses. And many of the people in that scene support their peers wholeheartedly.
But venues like The Cellars need to operate beyond the local circuit if they want to thrive.
So, less handwringing about venues closing and more going out.
Take a look at what’s on at The Wedge, The Square Tower, Pyramids, Guildhall, and others and take a punt on something.
You might just find your favourite new band.