Cooperage to close

Cooperage to close (again), this time for good?

On the 15th May the Cooperage’s regular Indie, Soul and Motown night The GoGo, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month, announced that this Saturday (26th) would be the last one at the iconic quayside venue and possibly the last club night there ever, as the pub would be closing down. This was history repeating itself however, as the Cooperage, which dates back to the 13th Century and is easily recognisable for its heavy Tudor beams and exposed stonework, was initially closed back in 2009, after frequent noise complaints from nearby apartments forced the city council to shut the venue down.

It was reopened just over a year later though, when Duncan Fisher’s Apartment Group (who own Floritas, Baby Lynch and Madame Koo’s) bought the pub and paid in the region of £100,000 to have it soundproofed. The launch night on 7th October 2011 was hosted by Drum & Bass Promoters ‘Grenade’ who brought ‘2 of the loudest, deepest sound systems in the North East’ to test out the new soundproofed walls. All seemed well and the venue gradually returned to its former self….

The Cooperage has been operating as a licensed pub since the 1970’s and has generally, over the years, been recognised as a live music venue. The North East Music History Group has an ongoing online discussion (which can be accessed on their website or on Facebook) about The Cooperage where people can contribute their memories of nights they have had there and also the bands they have seen.

Martin Craig, for example, author of ‘Teesside Blues’, recalls that his band The Sabrejets had a 15 month residency there in the late 70’s during which time Den Hegarty of The Darts joined them onstage with  Ray Davies of The Kinks watching in the audience. Cult Punk singer John Ottway also played there in the 80’s and even Newcastle United footballer Norberto Solano and his band did a charity gig there last year. These famous acts have joined countless other local bands at The Cooperage, to entertain packed audiences for over thirty years.

In recent times, however, the venue has also become synonymous with the underground dance scene. In 2008, local artist collective The Ghetto Method were commissioned by the Cooperage management to transform the interior of the venue to give it a typical ‘warehouse’ feel similar to The Hacienda. Drum and Bass promoters Cause and Effect and Turbulence have held regular nights there as have Milk the Cow, more recently. Perhaps it was this move towards powerful sound systems and all night parties that signalled the beginning of the end for the old pub.

…This time round though, on the face of it, it doesn’t appear that the decision to close the venue is in any way motivated by complaining neighbours. Tommy Byron who runs The Gogo night was simply told by the owners that they had finally been given permission to turn the Cooperage into a hotel, which indicates that this was perhaps the plan all along. “I’m pretty sure it’s the last night on Saturday apart from a few private functions, birthdays etc. Only things that were booked before last week are still allowed to happen.”

It would make sense that Apartment Group want to open a hotel however, as that’s all that seems to get built in Newcastle these days – the city apparently has the highest occupancy for hotels in the UK at any one time. Tommy is in good spirits about the whole thing though. The Gogo has been going for just over a year and has actually sold out every month in 2012 (450 people). He also told me that he is planning a “huge” launch party as soon as they have found a new venue. On Saturday, to give the Cooperage a good send off “we’re going to do a cash drop and hopefully have a 4am finish.”

The last time the Cooperage shut its doors, on the 20th July 2009, there was a huge outpouring of grief and a protest group was established online to try and stop the plans going ahead. No such activity has materialised this time since the 15th May announcement, which suggests that people are perhaps ready to see the venue finally move into a new era.  In the words of Martin Craig however, regardless of how you have enjoyed the Cooperage over the 30+ years its legacy will always be the role it has played in “providing a nurturing environment in which local musical talent could grow.”

If you want to say goodbye to the Cooperage, then head down to The Gogo this Saturday. The night starts at 11pm with a warm up at The Dog & Parrot beforehand.