Opinion–Stonebow House

Scanning the YorkMix website this morning, I came across a request by the York:Living With History project for memories of Stonebow House who, in the light of recent developments meaning that the building’s future is uncertain, are working to develop a social history of the area. As there is a belief among some that, until recently, Stonebow House served as a second home for me, I decided to put in my two-penneth worth, as a music fan. It ended up being more of a soapbox piece than simply memories but I sent it in anyway.

Here it is in full:

I have been a fan of music for as long as I can remember but, despite being a York resident for the whole of my nearly fifty years, I didn’t step foot into Fibbers until around sometime in 2007.  Prior to that I had limited myself to big arena/stadium type gigs featuring headline bands that everybody knew, although it has to be said that it had been a few years since I had been a regular gig goer. There was something off-putting about Fibbers. I don’t know what it was – lack of knowledge about the bands playing there, possibly leading to the impression that small venues meant poor quality music and groups of student-age attendees who were cliquey about their favourite up-and-coming bands who were destined never to make it.

In hindsight I couldn’t have been more wrong and, since the time that a couple of friends convinced me to venture out one night, I haven’t looked back. At the time, those friends went somewhere in York to experience live music at least once a week. Initially I didn’t think that was fair on my family and suggested that I would probably try to make it once a fortnight or so. That gradually increased, with the full support of my family, to the point where if there was a band I wanted to see playing Fibbers (and, later, The Duchess) I would go, even if that meant multiple visits in a week, although current circumstances mean that I haven’t been there anywhere near as often as I would like during 2014.

Towards the end of 2007 I started reviewing gigs – nothing serious, just a personal ‘blog but, hey, if it’s published on the web, there must be a desire for people to read it, yes? Since then, I reckon I have seen somewhere in the region of 150 gigs at the two venues. Taking an average of three bands per gig, that’s 450 individual performances encompassing everything from small, local outfits who have (as far as I can tell) performed once then never been heard of again to international touring bands, up-coming acts to the once-greats who are now “reduced” (for want of a much better word) to playing smaller venues and people that very few have heard of to household names. During the last few years I have both despaired at how few people turn out for what I would consider must-see gigs in York and wondered at how the venues have filled for bands that I have only come across while scouring the “what’s on” listings for the venues. I guess that’s the nature of music.

Fibbers and The Duchess have been integral in how my attitude to music has changed. I still listen to and like stadium fillers, but there I get so much more satisfaction from supporting smaller bands, many of whom are obviously so much more appreciative of that support. My CD collection has increased dramatically over the last few years, with the majority of purchases being from merchandise desks at the venues. Even better is the number of friends, either personally or on-line, I have made through going to local gigs, not just the musicians and staff at the venues but other attendees who share the same passion for music that I have. Let me tell you, there can be fewer satisfactions for a music fan and amateur reviewer than a) unexpectedly finding your name listed in the “we wish to thank” section of a local band’s debut album, b) having your reviews shared by the act you have just seen or, c) a complete stranger coming up to you at a gig saying, “you must be the one who writes all those reviews.”

I saw this request for memories of Stonebow House (and music isn’t my only memory of the place, I also remember regularly going the the Jorvik Cafe with my Nanna many years ago) on the YorkMix website, where one of the questions was “Favourite Fibbers Gigs?” I’m not sure why Fibbers was singled out over The Duchess. Maybe simply because it’s been there longer. But I have many favourites from both venues. The brilliant Leeds-based Hope & Social and the American “rockgrass” of Hayseed Dixie never fail to entertain. York’s ever-rising star Boss Caine is always superb. I queued round the block to see Uriah Heap and spotted David Gest in the audience watching 60s superstar Colin Blunstone. Yorkshire’s own Blues prodigy has wowed crowds at both venues, while Canadian and Finnish rockers Kobra And The Lotus and Santa Cruz gave stand-out performances despite there being few people in the audience. New Yorker Willie Nile recently and completely unexpectedly blew me away and it has been a delight to see local NWOBHM band Morpheus Rising on more than one occasion. Even my personal favourite musical genre has been well-served, with prog-rockers Mostly Autumn, Panic Room, Touchstone, The Reasoning, Breathing Space, Stolen Earth, The Von Hertzen Brothers, Amplifier, The Pineapple Thief, Fish, Hawklords, Psychedelic Warlords, Manning, DeeExpus and more all playing here.

The possible demolition of Stonebow House worries me because it could mean the end of these two venues. I admit neither are perfect but, quite simply, if they go I fear for the future of live music in York. It won’t disappear completely because there are so many other venues, from the many pubs putting on both covers and original acts, up to the bigger venues, The Barbican and Grand Opera House both have regular concerts. However, Fibbers and The Duchess are our only two “mid-size” venues and without them, York could conceivably fail to attract bands of the size and stature of those I have listed above, and many more. Without these venues, where are touring bands going to play? And where will local bands get a step up?

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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