Independent Venue Week: some notes from the musical frontline


With Alan Dearling (and Peter Barlow)

“Independent Venue Week (IVW) is the UK’s annual 7-day celebration of independent music & arts venues and the people that own, run and work in them.”

A passion for live music. A mutual experience – an opportunity for musicians and creators, venue curators and the ‘punters’, the audience to share the good vibes. The Golden Lion in Todmorden was one of over 200 such venues across the UK. Here are some words and pics about some of the live IVW events.

Tom A Smith: Already something of a musical prodigy.  Young, good-looking and with a deep, sonorous voice that belies his age. His promo tells us: “Despite being only 17-years-old, Sunderland-based newcomer Tom A. Smith has already achieved more than most artists do in a lifetime. He played his first ever gig aged just eight, supporting local psychedelic rockers Detroit Social Club at legendary Newcastle venue The Cluny, performed at Glastonbury before he was even in secondary school, and Tim Burgess handpicked him to play his stage at Kendall Calling, making him the festival’s youngest ever performer. He has played live with local hero Sam Fender and Catfish & The Bottlemen, as well as supported other Northern acts on the rise like The Lathums and The Mysterines. And now he is looking to break through with his stunning debut single ‘Wolves’.”

“Following his stellar performance on Eltonjohnofficialfanpage line-up at BST Hyde Park, Elton spoke with Tom A Smith on his #RocketHour podcast… He’ll look back in the future and remember Hyde Park as one of the smallest shows of his career….”


Here are some pics from another night at the Golden Lion, headlined by Ben Ottewell (Gomez), and featuring the really talented and individual Rebecca Spooner (who was rightly lauded at the IVW Open Mic competition), and the talented a capella singer Trixxi Cornish.


Trixxi Cornish

Trixxi opened the show with three unaccompanied songs. Always challenging, yet engaging type of performance. Great controlled, powerful voice and the crowd applauded and applauded. A good example of why Independent Venue Week is sorely needed. 


Rebecca Spooner

Wow, what a first show for a potentially prodigious talent. A ‘natural’ on stage, charismatic and immediately an audience favourite (and friend). Something special to behold. Original songs from her life – songs about school, about concepts of girls’ beauty, even pictures of Dorian Gray. It’s music that is still evolving…changing organically…

Here’s a link to samples of her music:

I sense that Rebecca – this was her first pro gig – may really go places!

A small snippet of video from the open mic sesh (and an example of her powerful guitar playing):



Ben Ottewell

The audience welcomed  Benjamin Joseph “Ben” Ottewell to the stage. Something of a mega star since his career kick-started with the English indie rock band Gomez. He received the Mercury Music Award Prize in 1998, and as it says in Wikipedia: “Is well known for his “deep, raspy voice” and “gravelly baritone”. In 2011, Ottewell embarked upon a solo-project, with the debut album Shapes & Shadows.”

Back in 1996 Gomez started out in Leeds at the Hyde Park Social Club and were originally signed to Hut Records (Virgin). Ben is now based in Brighton. His solo studio albums are: ‘Shapes & Shadows’, 2011; ‘Rattlebag, 2014; and ‘A Man Apart’, 2017.

Ben is still regularly performing with Ian Ball from Gomez.

Ben is a classic ‘class’ act.

Here’s ‘Watcher’ from Ben’s third album: 


Golden Lion ‘Open Mic Night’ for Independent Venue Week
Peter Barlow


Alan has kindly invited me to review the Independent Venue Week Open Mic Night, because he could not attend the event. This took place on the Thursday night downstairs in the main bar and stage area at the Golden Lion, Todmorden. Here are my impressions of the evening.

First: a little bit of information about the Open Mic Night.

Each group had to consist of either a solo performer, duo or trio, i.e. no full bands,

who had to perform a maximum of three original songs i.e. no covers. Ten minutes maximum.

Whoever was voted the ‘Best In Show’ would also be given a support slot at the Ben Ottewell gig on the following Saturday at the Golden Lion.

In total there were 9 artists performing on the night.
Unfortunately, I could not get there for the start of the night, so missed the first three artists.
These were: Benn Jones; the duo ‘Witchwood’ and Mick Bruce.
I was later informed that they were all brilliant, as were all the other artists.
Great pity that I missed the first three.

Alan has added in a couple of links to Dave Croft’s videos from the Open Mic IVW event.

The first artist I saw was ‘Cobalt Tales’ – a female duo (Pat and Nuala) based in Sheffield, who played acoustic guitar and bass. They played three tracks, with a melodic, folksy style, include ‘Cool Cats’, which was written during lockdown. I found them to be witty and engaging on stage, with wonderful vocals. Very enjoyable.

Next artist on was the ‘Shadrock Outlaws’ – a trio, consisting of a singer, a young acoustic guitarist and a percussionist on a tea crate! They had a folksy sound with a jaunty feel and the 3 tracks they played were very upbeat.

Up next was young solo singer and acoustic guitarist, Rebecca Spooner, from Todmorden, who sang 3 songs. She had a beautiful voice and was a superb, powerful guitarist. I especially liked the song which she said was inspired by the novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde.

The next artist was Chris Manley with his new musical project ‘Roller Boot Dogs’.

Chris played acoustic guitar and sang, and was accompanied by Tom on keyboards.

They performed 3 melodic songs with (it sounded to me) a Latin influence. Yet another quarter hour of laid-back music. Dave Croft’s video:

Solo artist James Gunn Johnson, from Ramsbottom, was on next. He played acoustic guitar and sang 3 songs with a British folk style. He reminded me a lot of Al Stewart because of his folksy voice and intricate guitar playing.

Last artist on was ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’, – a trio consisting of two guitar players (one acoustic and one electric) and a percussionist with a small drum kit, including a tea crate.
There was also an accompanist playing a tambour just to the side of the stage. There was a jazz rock influence to their music, and they did an encore i.e. a 4th song. A great way to finish off the Open Mic night, with a different style of music. Dave Croft’s video:

The artist who was voted ‘Best In Show’ was Rebecca Spooner because of her brilliant three song set. I was lucky enough to see her perform a longer set on the Saturday, when she supported Ben Ottewell, and she sounded even better. She also said that it was the first time she’d performed as part of a mainstream concert! (one of Alan’s pics of Rebecca)

Just a pity that the music session finished about 10.15, i.e. that there were no more acts, as the evening was superb, with 9 artists offering contrasting musical styles.

Just to mention as well that the sound and lighting was superb for the various performances and that there was a great atmosphere in the Golden Lion all evening. The pub was packed. And obviously there was a great choice of beer as normal.

And a special thanks to Lou (Louise), who provided me with a list of the artists.

The Free Sandwiches:  Alan saw this fun-fuelled three piece at another live indie local Tod venue, Three Wise Monkeys. Eccentric, accordion-driven. They went down extremely well with the young and very old (like me) crowd and all those in between! Plenty of singing-along and dancing and prancing too!



Here’s a video of them from The Cross Inn at Heptonstall:

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