As festival season has all but wound down, MetalTalk can now release the first in our new series of The MetalTalk Venues. Each month, we speak with a venue owner or promoter to highlight the work they do for the Heavy Metal community. We spoke with Brett Hall from The Giffard Arms in Wolverhampton this month.
Owner Wendy Shone took over The Giffard Arms, a venue with a spooky history, over 20 years ago. It is said that William Giffard murdered a woman named Anne Horton, who is believed to be one of the numerous ghosts that haunt the pub. With a decor that is Gothic in style, this all adds to the atmosphere of the venue.
“The Giffard is, from its own admission, an iconic venue,” Brett Hall told MetalTalk. “It originally was just the two floors that were a pub with a late-night license and rock disco. Then we started adventuring into bands because we’ve got the stage area, and we’ve got the PA.
“The original PA was from Robin One. When The Robin transitioned into Robbin Two, Alex, our tech at the time, purchased the gear from Mike Hamblett. So we were there with this decent PA and full mixing. Well, why don’t we capitalise on the stage? Why don’t we get around to putting some bands on? And that’s literally how we started.
“We started putting on bands. Then we did our indoor festival across two floors, called Gift Fest, and we just kept expanding from there. It went from one or two shows a month with obviously the annual charity festival into what we do now.”
While Wendy is the owner, Brett has taken the role of booking the acts. “She’s always supportive of me, Doddy, Greg, and others that have come in with our crazy ideas of what we want to do. Basically, she gave us a lot of free rein to go ahead and build it into a hub of live music for the West Midlands and touring bands across the UK and internationally.”
In the early days, Wendy transformed the venue with a gothic decor. It’s impressive when you’re inside looking around and atmospheric. “It’s a character within itself,” Brett says. “Getting the Throne in, the pulpit for the DJ stand, coffin-shaped tables. It’s still gothic, very much so with its decor. But that’s its character, and that will never change because that’s what people know it to be.
“Granted, the music that’s played there from the DJ angle is very much classic rock on a Saturday and predominantly on a Friday, along with your more New Wave Of Heavy Metal, pop, punk, and any of the genres that go throughout the week and in the upstairs room after the bands.
“The bands came along with that style, and it’s very rare that we do a Goth band, to be honest. It’s just part of The Giffard Arms character.”
We had to ask if anyone had seen a ghost at any of the shows. “Funnily enough, I had this chat with Dan [Southall] the drummer from These Wicked Rivers the other week,” Brett says. “When he was playing the gig, he would always ask to get in early to set the kit up how he wants it.
“We obviously always let him; I have a long history with These Wicked Rivers, a good relationship with them. He was always grateful, but he told me the other week he hated doing it. He hated being in that room on his own. There are other stories, other bits and pieces. There are activities that have taken place in that building as a whole that are just unexplainable.
“Obviously, we do a lot of merch. Gary, the venue manager, does a lot of printing designs on the T-shirts. We’ve had t-shirts that have been in the packaging or hanging up just fly across the back area in the kitchen for no apparent reason. It’s just gone launching. But, as Dan says himself, there is an absolute aura in that room.
“When it’s open and live, it’s buzzing. But to go in there when you are the first one in when it’s dormant is a very surreal experience sometimes.”
The Giffard Arms is a Grade II listed building with a Tudor facade. “As much as we’d love to get a lift in or something to help the bands load in,” Brett says, “I don’t think we’re ever going to be allowed to because of the list of the building. But that’s again part of its character, and the bands love playing here.
“They always say great atmosphere. It’s a great crack, it’s a great venue, great sound. We’ve just redone all the lighting, so it looks amazing. But it’s the loading in part and the loading out because it is up the old stairs. There’s nothing that we can do about that because it’s listed. But again, that’s part of the character of The Giffard.”
Brett says his role is event promotion and the events management element of the pub. He also works with external promoters and is part of the team which organises festivals across the year with Doddy and Greg.
We asked what style of music or bands Brett likes to book. “If you had asked me this 6-8 years ago, predominantly, our bookings would have been per month. We would usually have four or five over Friday and Saturdays either Metal, New Wave of Metal, Thrash bands, and then alternative styles for the remaining dates.
“When we came out of Covid-19, and to be fair before, we were putting so much on, and the diversity of the scene was so great, which is a good thing. I always say that YouTube and Spotify absolutely destroyed the band’s concept of selling a CD. You want to get your core fans who are supporters of the bands and know what CD sales mean to bands. Now, they will go and buy them when at shows and gigs.
“But with regards to breaking down genres, you can go and listen to absolutely anything now on Spotify or on YouTube. So, a Slipknot fan might also be a Fall Out Boy fan. So we had to diversify in a good way, and I’m happy to say that we have done.
We do have New Wave Of Classic Rock and blues. We do still have Thrash Metal, hardcore, punk, indie and psychedelic. We had a psychedelic old-school punk artist a while ago, which again attracted a different audience. It’s just great that those audiences still travel and come to these shows because it is a diverse range now that we appeal to.”
The news of venues collapsing due to Covid-19 and the cost of living pressures is widespread. The Giffard Arms are working hard, and Brett fully understands the pressures many people are under.
“We were very fortunate to come out of Covid-19 The Giffard and other outlets and venues that we work surviving,” Brett says. “We have to be honest, it did take some time, but it was great to see the response of people that did return to live music.
“I remember our first, my first show when we returned in September . I did the Giff Fest show, and it was overwhelming to see the responses and the numbers that turned out for the shows for the day’s events, which was great.
“Now you’ve got this cost of living. It’s not about people’s opinions. I want to return, I want to live that part of my life, but I’m 100% gonna be cautious or whatever your opinion was when coming out of Covid-19.
“Whereas now, with the cost of living, you haven’t got those opinions. You can’t afford to go out if you need to heat the house or need to put 15 quid extra on the electric. That, unfortunately, means that you’re gonna be unable to go to that show that weekend.
“Is a fact of life, and it’s an unfortunate shame that people are struggling in these trying times and unable to attend shows that they’d love to go to and support. This is always one of the hardest-hit sectors when it comes to anything that happens because it’s a leisure activity. It’s people’s enjoyment.
“But as always, we will persevere, we will continue. It is a shame to see so many shows have been postponed or cancelled because of low ticket sales or other elements that have taken effect due to the cost of living.”
We spoke around the idea that these days, there is an emphasis on bands to contribute to gig promotion, and we suggested that a band sharing a post on social media is not enough. “Gone are the days when a venue would go out and flyer and poster and send mail, because back then you didn’t really use too much social media. I’m talking 10-plus years ago.
“Gone are those days where the sole emphasis is on the promoter and the venue or the events manager in the venue. Now, it is a collaboration between everyone to try and maximise attendees. And it has been for a very long while. It’s great having ten bands, especially when you’re bringing those ten bands in for the first time that some people may not have heard. So you do need your other bands that you’re putting on together to work with you to turn it around because everyone needs a chance. You can’t keep playing your front doorstep every single time.
“Bands have to spread their wings, and sometimes that means that they’re not going to get as much attraction. But if they can get to that venue and pick up an extra 10/15 fans and a handful of those, buy a t-shirt or an album or a CD or something, that’s great. It shows that there is an interaction there, and then you build on time and time again. That’s how it should work.”
Brett says that he is fortunate that a majority of the bands he works with understand this. “No one wants to play to an empty room,” he says. “It’s a pet hate, and I know for a lot of other venues when you overhear, ‘it was just a glorified rehearsal for us then,’ because that’s the wrong mentality to take.
“Bands want to be going out and performing. As long as you’ve tried, is my take on it. As long as there’s been effort there to try and engage your audience. Same with the promoters. Just putting a post up on social media isn’t the be-all and end-all.
“Some bands aren’t gonna bring in 25/30 people each time they play live. People say, we love the band and would love to support you. But the bills come through this week, so I have to pay it.
“Like I say, as long as it’s a combined effort and it’s noticed, I’m happy with that. All we can do is try in very trying times.”
But Brett confirms that the music scene is thriving for The Giffard and surrounding areas. “Hand on heart, I’ve been quite happy to say that the West Midlands as a whole is still very healthy with live music and the attendees. We get in a lot of artists and performers because fo where we are geographically based. We’re very easy to get to for a lot of places. When you’re travelling from up north, we’ve got that hub that people are able quite easily to travel to. We do have a lot of UK-based artists that will come and do their album launch or their EP launch within the West Midlands area because it is well attended.
“Some bands would much rather come here. For example, White Raven Down last year did an album launch with us. Travelling right the way from down south all the way up, and it was packed. It was absolutely ram-packed. Biased as it may be, I do always say that if you could come to the West Midlands and get the support of the live music gig-goers in this area, they will support you, and they do follow you.
“It is a running theme. I do know people who are based here who will just get in the car and drive. I do the same myself with some artists. I’ll just get in the car and drive for an hour and a half, two hours to get to the show, watch the band, enjoy and then travel back.
“It is one of those things. We are social creatures around here, and we do enjoy our live music, and if we can, we always will try and support it. And I think the bands realise that. They want to come and travel to put on these special shows because they know it’s going to be well supported and well attended.”
To annoy the Londoners, I ask the price of the average pint. “You’re averaging about £4,” Brett says.
Brett has been booking gigs at The Giffard for 18 years. “It just kind of fell into place. I was in there for my 18th birthday, drinking, having never been in before. A few of my friends said, come on, you’ll love it. Let’s go.
“So we went, and I fell in love with the place. A few months after that, I started DJ’ing, learning the bar, learning the ropes and then just sat there the one afternoon with Wendy saying we’ve got the stage, shall we use it a bit more and that was it really.
“Back then, we had a lot more places for people to choose where they wanted to play. We just thought, let’s go with more of the heavier side of things, which is what we did, and that’s how it all started. It was just going in for a drink when I was 18, and it just evolved into what it is now.”
Brett is not a musician, though he did learn some of the chords to a System Of A Down track a few years ago. “I’ve got the utmost respect for anyone that has grafted,” he says, “and had the patience to learn their craft, their skills to master becoming a musician. Even more so when you get people who are multi-skilled on different instruments. My hat goes off to them because it’s something that I’ve never been able to do.”
Brett spoke about the excitement there is around some of the smaller festivals, including Steelhouse and Stonedead, while taking nothing away from the likes of Download, Reading, Leeds, etc. “It is more of a community,” he says. “I think it’s more because it’s your friends that you’ve worked with who are now progressing onto that bigger stage and bigger field, performing in front of those huge numbers.
“I think that’s where it is now, and it’s nice to see that a lot of people are out supporting these kinds of festivals.”
As for the future, that is down to the music fans, and Brett’s hope is that people keep making it all worthwhile. “Keep on supporting bands and keep on attending these shows,” he says. “Because if it wasn’t for the support and the love of the general public coming to support the shows and the artists, we wouldn’t be here doing what we’re doing.”
You can find The Giffard Gig Guide at Facebook. Next month – Cart & Horses, the birthplace of Iron Maiden.