Music, community, inclusiveness, passion. All key to the ethos of The Union Bar, in Cambridge Road (formerly The Tubman - but more on that later), a venue at the centre of the live music scene in Hastings, and a launchpad for local talent.
A lifelong Hastings resident, Paul Osmond has been at the helm for four years this May, during which time he and the team have been working to put the pub on the musical map.
“We are a unique environment,” he said. “We are pursuing a different angle to most people especially with original live music and an open door policy, whether it’s their first gig or 100th gig.
“It is a place where people are able to come and express themselves.”
The rising stars of two local bands in particular, which played some of their earliest gigs at The Union Bar, are evidence that Paul and the team are doing something very right indeed.
First up, The Kid Kapichi, a four-piece indie rock band, and a name now synonymous with a polished live show. They have played respected venues all over the country, and at Hastings Fat Tuesday last year caught the eye of headliners Skunk Anansie, who invited them to perform as a support act when the band played Nottingham’s Rock City.
Then there is Ceyote, another four-piece, but this time spanning the genres of psychedelia, rock and punk. Their epic multi-layered, what could be described as “sound poems” are instantly recognisable. Both bands now have a dedicated and growing fan base.
The booking policy at The Union Bar is no doubt central to its status as the home of new music.
Paul told me that he makes a point of not listening to bands’ material before booking them. I ask him if this is not an incredibly risky policy, but he shrugs and says that often listening to a recording or watching a video on YouTube does not give an accurate impression, adding that in the four years he has managed The Union Bar, there have only been a handful of bad gigs.
“We have had some absolute gems. It’s not until you get a band in a pub environment that you get to hear them properly. A small and intimate venue enables us to get a certain level of sound.
“Our musical policy is that we have only original bands. I think there is so much good, original music out there, it seems silly to put cover bands on.”
So a band gets in touch, asks to play at the pub, and Paul allocates them a slot. No, it really is that simple.
Moving on to the misconception that The Union Bar is a “goth” pub. This is simply not the case, rather, all genres of music (evidenced by Paul’s booking policy) and types of people are welcome, including goths of course. From prog rock to metal, funk, and psychedelia, anything goes, and Paul is now keen to tap into the folk scene, which has been underrepresented at the pub so far.
Perhaps here is a good place to mention the name change. What exactly happened to “The Tubman”? When the building needed repainting last year after damaged masonry was repaired, Paul saw this as an opportunity to make the name change that he had had in mind since taking over the pub.
The dictionary definitions of the word “union” include: “The action or fact of being united” and “A society or association formed by people with a common interest or purpose.” This sums up everything that the venue is about.
The clientele is described by Paul as intelligent, and free-thinking, a very open-minded group who will listen to all kinds of music.
“It is the kind of place where anyone can walk in, sit at the bar, and somebody will start up a conversation.”
He also paid tribute to the staff, and in particular sound engineer Harvey Palmer, who started helping out aged 16, when Paul took over the pub, and has since completed a music degree and plans to work towards a Masters in sound engineering.
His attention to detail, ensures that the quality of sound is as good as it can be, and the bands and audience have a memorable experience.
“It is everyone who is involved with the pub who makes it what it is.”
It is not only local talent being nurtured by Paul and the team, but emerging artists from across the region and beyond. “We are quite established within the DIY scene in Europe,” explained Paul. “We’re well-positioned for a first or last gig in the UK.”
Yet another reason to check the gig listings for The Union Bar - an opportunity to see bands which would in a place such as Brighton, draw crowds in their hundreds.
Often an out of town band will be matched with a local band, which already has an established following, to encourage people to come and experience new music.
“We have had bands from Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Canada, Slovenia, Slovakia, Germany and France,” said Paul.
He tells the story of his fortuitous if accidental encounter with Kamikaze Test Pilots, brothers from Zimbabwe who turned up at The Union Bar mistakenly thinking they had been booked. “They played anyway and smashed it!”
Paul reels off more bands to look out for that have played at The Union Bar. Those local to Hastings include Free Beer (“A punk band - probably one of the best punk bands I have seen come out of Hastings”), Riddles, a psych rock trio, and The Piercings, a young indie outfit, hoping soon to record their first album.
From slightly further afield, London-based Ghouls is a gypsy punk band, with a flavour of Gogol Bordello (“The sort of band that gets you up and dancing”), and Half Crown, from Brighton, whose music is a fusion of genres including indie, funk and rap. Both now have a big local following.
While Slaves are a garage punk duo from Kent. Paul said: “Personally I think Slaves is the most exciting band I have seen in a long time, a huge sound for a two piece and really impressive to watch live.
“I think they will get signed this year and will be playing some good festivals and live shows.”
The live music is what sustains the pub through difficult trading times, though it remains an ongoing challenge to persuade people to come and listen to a band they have never heard of, even in a town where so many are involved in live music in some shape or form.
One sense in which Hastings is extremely rich, is in terms of musical talent, so it is vital that a venue which offers those starting out a platform - no questions asked - is cherished and celebrated.
Friday and Saturday nights are music nights at The Union Bar, and gigs are already booked well into spring, meaning plenty of dates for the diary.
“We are really gifted in this town with the number of musicians, and great musicians,” said Paul. “But with the Hastings music scene, you have to work really hard.”
He describes running the pub as “a fragile existence”, in the context of Government austerity measures and the ongoing threat of a noise abatement notice (issued by the council) hanging over his head. It means that a noise complaint at any time could lead immediately to criminal proceedings, and the risk of Paul losing his licence.
He says it is difficult to make plans for the future in such challenging circumstances, other than to continue trying to find more good bands.
Previously Paul managed Pier Pressure – the night club on Hastings Pier – after which he put on house and garage nights around town, followed by an eight-year “sabbatical” working in finance, before he heard that the pub was up for grabs.
Here he has created a safe and supportive environment where new music is given the chance to flourish, a melting pot at the heart of the community, which makes a major contribution to the richness of the local music scene.
And in a town where large numbers of young people in particular are facing unemployment and an uncertain future, a venue such as this is offers a beacon of hope.
Bands/artists ready to take to the stage at The Union Bar should get in touch via the Facebook page: facebook.com/thetubman, or by calling Paul at the pub on 01424 420074.