The (Old / Music) Mill is an apparently thriving community local boozer.
OK, now stop. Read that sentence again. When was the last time you read something like that? 10 years ago? 20? Community local pubs are a dying breed, surely?
The Mill does some food, enough to have a chef on the payroll, but it’s certainly no restaurant-style gastropub, or Americanised craft beer and burger joint. It has a very respectable changing selection of draft real ales, but it certainly isn’t sustaining itself on a CAMRA listing and connoisseur tourism. I’ll come back to the music situation later.
So there are two things that make the Mill distinctive as a pub. One is that its clientele are varied in pretty much all respects (age, nationality, ethnicity, gender, tastes) except locality of current residence – no niche, clique or subculture – and yet know each other well and get on well. The other, in the context of the first, is that it isn’t (I’m reasonably sure) imminently about to go bust.
However, it has also partially rebranded itself as a place for music. And its handling of that side of the trade is ad distinctive – and as successful – as its general survival.
There are bands there twice a week now I believe. They are genuine professional performers, who get paid a reasonable fee (I’m not going to disclose what) plus (usually worth having) jug contributions from the crowd, and the possibility of making a fair bit more on merch if you have any to sell. But they play in the bar, no separate venue space, no door charge or even bar markup to those getting the music.
Here’s the really fascinating bit though, the reason the Filthy Spectacula played our second gig in four months there Saturday gone and are very happily looking forward to fixing a date for a third:
The Mill book all sorts of bands. Folk-rock, reggae, punk, electric blues, you name it. I mean, they’ve had us twice … What they don’t book is conventional covers/function/party bands. In fact more than one punter told me on Saturday they only like covers done creatively, changed into a band’s own particular style.
We took an all-originals set – as we always do. And it isn’t just a management thing, this preferring originals; it isn’t a snobbish organiser imposing music he finds aesthetically acceptable on a crowd with no agency. Sure, the Millers (couldn’t resist, sorry) definitely like danceable beats (though some danced to songs we’ve never seen any other crowd attempt!), shouty-engaging frontmanning and over-the-top stagecraft. But they absolutely lap up getting them provided in the form of songs they don’t know and haven’t heard on the radio.
In an era when (and I speak from experience) most bands that are actually getting paid to play are anxiously trying to achieve greatest response by juggling what was in the top 40 last week with what was in the top 40 when their average audience member was 16, and still worrying about being upstaged by a TV showing the football with the sound off, that is truly remarkable. And even a band like the Filthy Spectacula, who have hardly ever played to an indifferent audience, could not appreciate it more.
Here’s to you, Mill folk. We don’t know how you do it, but it’s magic what you do. We’ll be back when you’ve got time for us.