A night out in the ‘Town Of Music’

As part of the build up to Herefordshire’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2021, Ross-on-Wye is rebranding itself as ‘Town Of Music’. We thought we’d put that claim to the test last Saturday night (01/04/17) by spending the evening in search of the lost chord. Actually it turned out there was an lot on offer, so we were only able to sample a few. We could have chosen to see the Ross Choral Society singing Hayden’s ‘Seasons’ at St Mary’s Church, or caught ‘Ruddigore’ the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, at the Phoenix Theatre. There was also the monthly Country and Western night (Yeehaw!) at The Larraperz Centre. But my first love has always been Rock, and since there were three pubs, all within walking distance of each other, boasting live bands, we decided to go on a musical pub crawl. We started off at ‘The Crown and Sceptre’ on Board street, walking in a few minutes after 9pm, just as the band started their set. ‘Phoenix’ are a three piece, which is always a good thing in my opinion, since the line up leaves little room for a saxophone player. They hail from Hereford, and their publicity says they like to play loud, which I can confirm is true, they were VERY LOUD. In fact I believe if they had been playing in a pub in Hereford, we could have still heard them. Having said that, I do like loud, but walking in from the quiet of Ross’s ancient market square, to be confronted by a wall of sound Phill Spector would kill for was a shock to the ears. Obviously all rock bands like to crank it up to eleven and rip the knob off. Pheonix were at about 15. The Crown and Sceptre has a great feel to it and is quite a long thin room, so if you don’t want to be a the front with your ears bleeding, you can easily drift to the rear, where the volume is at an acceptable level. My advice to Phoenix – turn it down just a bit. Actually Ross has a history of Bands playing loud. Famously, in the 60’s, Pink Floyd were playing the ‘Top Spot’ ballroom when the management shut the power off because they were too loud. (In a strange twist of fate, the venue has now become Jacqueline’s Nightclub, which these days hosts a ‘Silent Disco’). But back to our Saturday adventure, and the next port of call was The Eagle Inn at the other end of Broad St. The Eagle has lots of music events, including Thursday Karaoke and weekend DJ’s. We arrived in the middle of the band’s set. ‘The Doonies’ (another 3 piece) were very good. The sound was much better balanced in here, crisper, clearer. Still loud, but not ear splitting. I think it’s often down to the drummer. If they have the sense to tone down their madness a notch or two in smaller venues, then the guitars have some wiggle room, and the vocals don’t need to be set to destroy. Of course, suggesting drummers have any sense is perhaps asking for the impossible, however the sticks man in the Doonies did seem to have grasped the idea. Perhaps he was planning to drive his Rolls into a swimming pool later, and was conserving his energy. Don’t get me wrong, he still played great, just not whacking the living daylights out of his kit. The band as a whole were brilliant, and chucked in a few numbers of their own besides an unusual selection of covers. I would have happily stayed in The Eagle and enjoyed the rest of their set but we were on a musical mission, so after 40 minutes or so we headed back up Broad Street to our last pub, The recently refurbished King Charles II. In here were a duo from Wales called ‘ESP’. Two bearded hipsters with acoustic guitars (don’t worry, they had them well amplified) were bashing out a classic selection of songs from the last seven decades of popular rock music. We all agreed that the King Charles was the best venue of the night. Of course that was possibly due to it being later in the evening, there were more people in, and we had all lubricated ourselves with the local sheep dip (apart from Joan who had selflessly agreed to be our designated driver). But even so, ESP were giving it their best shot, and besides their obvious musical skill, they were engaging the crowd with between song banter, which created a great atmosphere. All three pubs we visited were friendly and welcoming, and all are good places to drink beer (white wine for the lady) and watch a band. Plus they were all within a quarter mile of each other, so it was easy for us to sample each one. There’s a map painted on the wall of the Crown and Sceptre which shows that in the 1890’s there were about 30 pubs in the immediate area, and I expect in quite a few of them there was someone with a fiddle in the corner. Of course back then there was no TV or YouTube to keep the population subdued, so you had to make your own entertainment. The town may have lost some of these drinking dens, but there is still a varied selection of pubs and entertainment to choose from and of course with the summer fast approaching there will soon be loads more live music in Ross. The bandstand will be hosting brass band concerts every Sunday afternoon (from May 28th). The two day ‘Ross Beer and Cider Festival’ is on 29/30th April, and there are several other weekend music festivals coming up. There is Ollie Fest 25-27th August, Dubs On The Wye 16-18th June, The Country Music Festival 7-9th July, The Linton Blues Festival 7-9th July, and this year also sees the start of The Busking Festival 9th September, as well as all the Bands playing in the pubs. So, if you can drag yourself away from the magic screen, I recommend a night out – or a Sunday afternoon picnic, or a weekend of Cider tasting in Ross On Wye, ‘Town Of Music’. You can check out what’s on at the various venues on the what’s on website www.playross.com