When developers bought the Rose Hill Tavern a couple of years ago it looked like we’d lost another Brighton pub for good. Miraculously, thanks to a local campaign, the building was saved and has now been reopened as an arts and music venue by Jules and Kassia (aka Bunty) from the Beatabet collective. The place might look much the same, but from now on the Rose Hill won’t just be a normal boozer. We spoke to the new owners about their plans for the pub.
What kind of place will it be?
We’ve set The Rose Hill up as a not-for-profit, independent arts organisation. It’s both a venue and a creative hub – offering live performances, artistic residencies and workshop/rehearsal space, whilst providing a truly independent and friendly space to see live performance. We aim to showcase consistently interesting music and performance from all genres, with a distinct leaning towards the more adventurous and original.
So what happened with the developers?
The Rose Hill Tavern was sold by Enterprise Inns in April 2014 to a local developer. They submitted planning to convert the building into luxury flats, at which point the local community kicked up a huge fuss, even garnering the support of our local MP Caroline Lucas. In the nick of time they managed to get an Asset of Community tag on the building before the planning was due to go through. After a lengthy battle and a tribunal the planning was eventually turned down and the developer put it back up for sale. We bought the place off her in December 2015, having been days away from committing to a move to Hastings… In fact we were on our second viewing of a particular place in St Leonards when we found out that our offer had been accepted at the Rose Hill.
Why do you think Brighton needs a place like this?
Where we differ from other places is that we are truly independent, there are no tie-ins with breweries, there are no enormous rental bills from landlords, and the bar is not-for-profit. As long as our expenses are paid we can sub performers wages from the bar takings. Indeed, one of the stipulations we have for promoters who want to put things on here is that they must pay all performers properly.
We are so fed up of musicians not getting paid for their work, especially in Brighton. Over time this wears down their ability to continue working at their music. We’ve watched so many exciting musicians and bands hit their thirties and then drift off into full time work because it’s so difficult for musicians to make a living in the current climate. On top of that we pay well over the living wage to both the door and bar staff and we want to keep it that way.
How’s it going to work?
We are turning the old beer cellars into studios/workspaces rented on monthly basis. This in turn removes the financial pressure from the venue floor, meaning we can run events that are not expected to bring in lots of money, but that still thoroughly deserve to be hosted somewhere. As active members of the Brighton creative scene for well over a decade it is saddening to see fewer and fewer grassroots and experimental events happening here.
There has been a steady spate of good independent venues shutting down in Brighton and we hope to help stem that tide a little. Another reason we hope Brightonians will enjoy coming to the Rose Hill is that we are working very hard to keep our prices down. You walk into any of the pubs near us on London Road and the pints drift towards £5 (some even peak over £6!!). All our drinks are very reasonably priced compared to that.
Who else is involved?
This is absolutely artist/musician-led, with all the main team working at the Rose Hill around their other creative commitments. The wider Beatabet group and all their associated bands are involved. The main ones are Resonators, Bunty, Le Juki, Dizraeli And The Small Gods, Man Ray Sky, AK/DK, but lots of musicians within our wider network are already getting involved. Not just in running the space, but in using it during the day for rehearsals, devising sessions, etc.
Have any of you run a venue before?
Ha, no we haven’t run a venue! We’ve spent 15 years putting on events and working with venues and performing at venues, but actually running one…. hehe. Fortunately I’ve also got plenty of other experience in running companies so hopefully that should stand us in good stead.
Have there been any problems setting it up?
Ooof, the set-up has been long. Getting the building licensed was one of the most bureaucratic processes I’ve done in ages. Forms, letters, phone calls, coming to agreements with the police, the fire service, the environmental health and safety team, making sure all the neighbours are happy with your proposals etc, etc. Everything had been stripped out of the place too, so we had to start from scratch – new fridges, tills, beer pumps, stage, PA, etc.
We’re getting there, but it’s definitely an ongoing process to get the place to a point where we’re fully happy with it. Plus the building had been left for far too long, everywhere I look there are things to address – damp, peeling paint, broken windows etc. Haha, now I’m making it sound like a dive! It’s not, it’s brimming with character – it’s just that behind the scenes it’s been a bit neglected.
What events have you got coming up?
As our own Brexit antidote we have started a quarterly night called EUROLOVER. Each event focuses on a different country in Europe, where we invite musicians and artists over to perform, and lay on local beer or spirits from that country. The first is EUROLOVER: Belgium, on 30th July.
We have a new night of free improvisation called Big Baby this Thursday (14th July) – three musicians each do solo sets and then play together at the end. This edition is Timothy Didymus’s 59-glass orchestra, vibraphone and piccolo.
We’re also teaming up with local electronic label Feint Records for the Brighton album launch of their new signing Grip Tight.
Later in the year we’ve got the BFI-supported Dreamland Cinema presenting a series of film nights, legendary 70s improvisers and feminists Les Diaboliques in an extremely rare UK performance, TruThoughts’ very own Anchorsong and a Thousand 4 £1000 fundraiser for housing refugees and asylum seekers with speakers including Green MP Caroline Lucas.
And finally, we have the fourth instalment of the monthly Beatabet-curated nights in early August with the usual wide variety of performance, music and screenings.
Check out the Rose Hill’s new Facebook page for more info about these events.
Photos by Ashley Laurence, taken at the Beatabet launch with Man Ray Sky.