After successfully restoring a derelict brewery and then opening a bar, the managing director of Phipps in Northampton is now turning his attention to a 200-capacity music venue on the site.
Work is already under way on the first floor of the building in Kingswell Street, with Alaric Neville hoping, when open, it will help promoters bring more touring acts to the town and provide a home for other creative arts.
However, despite progress, more investment and building work is required before the venue could open.
“The plan for a venue has been there from the beginning,” he explains.
“When I first walked into the building, my initial thoughts were ‘what a great venue this could be’.
“The original plan was for a large 500 capacity room and a small micro brewery but after speaking to various people we decided to concentrate on the brewery and bar which I think in hindsight was correct.
“There was always the intention to make this building more than just a brewery, more of an arts centre and creative hub.”
After years as a tannery, Phipps brought brewing back to the old Albion Brewery in 2014 with the bar opening the following year.
Since then, artists, photographers, film makers and a creative media company have moved into parts of the building which also houses a print shop and small gallery.
“Even if we grow the brewery to be twice the size we are now, we’ll never need all the space the old company did,” Alaric explains.
“Brewing is more efficient now and the space you need is much smaller.”
“Our attention is turning to the two floors above the bar.
“The aim is going to be offering something that adds to the town’s existing cultural capital.
“The Soundhaus is closed, The Picturedrome has a different feel and our capacity will be well below the Roadmender but well above The Lab.
“There’s some great Northampton bands, but we need to step outside and look from a wider vantage point.
“Scenes in towns, music and anything creative, flourishes and grows when you measure yourself against people further on than you.
“A town like Northampton needs to be attracting more touring national and international bands.
“I lived for a long time in Leeds and saw how the music scene works there and in other cities, even in towns smaller than Northampton.
“Most places have that hub. We’re going to be entry level – I hate the phrase the ‘toilet circuit’ – but it’s that kind of idea, a dedicated performance venue not a pub back room”.
“The capacity will depend how we build the stage, but we’re looking at about 180 or 200 which is a good working audience.
“At that size, you get the up and coming touring bands I want to bring to the town.”
Originally from Rushden, Alaric played in local Northampton bands before attending university in Leeds.
For more than 30 years he recorded and produced bands in the Manchester and Leeds area, running a record label, working with acts including Chumbawamba, Oysterband, CUD and The Ukrainians.
Since moving into the brewery and re-establishing the Phipps brand, he has also helped organise the Northampton Beer Festival and the music for the Town Festival. In between he has reintroduced gin to Phipps’ range.
Although the Phipps brand has grown and prospered as a “financially sound” business, Alaric admits more money will be needed before the venue can open.
He has been talking to the University of Northampton about providing a shared home for its theatre and drama students and the potential that has for unlocking grants.
“We don’t get funding at the moment, we’re not like an arts centre which gets revenue,” he explains.
“To potentially have the university and then bands, comedy and functions here, you can see the place being used every day and paying for the work which needs doing.”
“We need to put a second stairwell and lift in and there will be a stage and small bar upstairs.
“It will take serious money but we’re talking to the university who are also going to help me navigate the shark infested waters of funding.
“Phipps can provide some hard cash, but we will only achieve this as part of a collective.
“It is not going to open any time soon as planning and fund-raising will be lengthy processes but at least we’ve started on the journey.”
Explaining his hopes for the venue, Alaric added: “The model for this venue is not that it’s exclusively ours. I want promoters to know it’s here and to know the terms are as easy and straight as forward as they can be; ‘bring it here, it’s yours, it’s an open access space’.
“I think the day of standalone venues may have gone, but there’s been theatre, comedy and music in pubs and inns since before Shakespeare’s time - rock and roll is just the latest incarnation of what people do to entertain each other.
“Music and merriment and theatre and laughter go together, you’d find them all in ale houses and music halls.
“If Northampton is going to grow and thrive it will be through its cultural scene - eating drinking, watching plays and films and listening to live music.”
“Northampton needs to have a vibrant cultural scene - because it doesn’t look like it’s going to have a thriving, large scale shopping scene!”