At the end of November we went to see Bellowhead play at OPEN in Norwich.
Those of you who are as old as me (or older) will remember the OPEN building as a huge bank at the bottom of London Street. If you haven’t ventured inside since those days (or ever), it’s high time you did. OPEN is a very interesting asset for the city of Norwich, with a multifaceted offering and pretty much something for all ages.
Nowadays, OPEN describes itself as a ‘multi-purpose venue providing youth activities, live music, events and conferences in the heart of Norwich’. At it’s own heart, it is a charity for young people, offering fantastic subsidised (or free) courses, a drop-in ‘youth club’ and an SOS Bus. The philosophy of the OPEN Youth Trust is to ‘provide vulnerable young people with places to go and positive things to do’. The massive (50, 000 square foot) Grade II Listed building also features a climbing wall, secure storage and office space.
Inside, the building is every bit as expansive as I remember it being as a bank, with beautiful original features visible throughout. The Bellowhead gig was held in the vast former banking hall, which has a capacity of 1450, making it one of the largest function venues in Norwich. Inside you’ll find state-of-the-art sound and lighting facilities and a long bar. There is a smaller adjacent ‘club room’, which was open on the night we went. It too has a bar and is perfect if you want to sit apart from the main throng of the crowd at a gig.
We watched from ‘the bridge’, a mezzanine platform that spans the width of the banking hall, offering a fantastic view of the stage below. It also has its own bar, meaning we never had to queue for long to refresh our glasses.
Bellowhead were playing Norwich on the last night of their 2014 UK tour.
Support was provided in the form of Moulettes. Described as ‘charismatic, idiosyncratic yet poppy progressive, psychedelic neo-classical folk rock’, they were excellent and complimented Bellowhead perfectly. I’ll definitely be seeking out their albums.
Bellowhead themselves – an extraordinary 11-piece extravaganza of modern pop-punk-folk, played an energetic one-and-a-half hour set and sounded absolutely fantastic. With a foot-stompingly authentic sound, you’d never imagine you were in such a large venue and the gig actually had a real air of intimacy about it. The band filled the stage with people and instruments (everything from saxophones to concertinas), and front man Jon Boden looked and moved like a reincarnated folk version of Elvis Presley with a touch of Jarvis Cocker and John Lydon for good measure.
Well-known songs like 10,000 Miles Away, Roll The Woodpile Down and Betsy Baker had the audience bopping, tapping and clapping along from the outset. ‘Fakenham Fair’ was sweetly dedicated to Norfolk man Mark Baldwin, chairman of Kick Start Fakenham, a voluntary group which organises events including the Fakenham Fair, who had passed away earlier in the month at the age of just 41.
Aside from the bands, which were brilliant (would highly recommend seeing both if you ever get the chance), OPEN proved itself to be an excellent venue for live music in Norwich. Inside is spacious and has a very ‘friendly’ vibe (whether this was just the nature of this particular gig, which attracted a large cross-section of ages remains to be tested, though I suspect not). There are plenty of staff and security staff about the place and all we encountered were extremely polite and helpful. The presence of 3 bars meant little queueing for drinks and facilities such as toilets and seats are plentiful. There are areas dedicated for wheelchair users who wish to get a decent view of the stage.
In short, fantastic gig, fantastic venue. Well worth checking out.
20 Bank Plain, Norwich, NR2 4SF.
Tel: 01603 763111 (Box Office).