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Norwich gig venue is looking forward to bright future after 25 plus years of great live music

PUBLISHED: 09:13 29 November 2018

The Waterfront is celebrating 25 years at a special event this weekend. PIC: Supplied by The Waterfront.

The Waterfront is celebrating 25 years at a special event this weekend. PIC: Supplied by The Waterfront.

Archant

Nirvana, Paul Weller, Amy Winehouse, Nick Cave, Happy Mondays, The Prodigy and Orbital - acts which have all showcased their musical talent on stage at the riverside venue over the past 25 years.

The Waterfront is celebrating 25 years at a special event this weekend. PIC: Supplied by The Waterfront.The Waterfront is celebrating 25 years at a special event this weekend. PIC: Supplied by The Waterfront.

The Waterfront is set to mark that musical milestone with a birthday party event on Saturday, December 1, “celebrating with the classic meltdown tunes of the last 25 years”.

Revellers can expect the very best of indie, rock and pop at the celebration, along with lots of giveaways and birthday treats - including the chance to win some memorabilia.

The Waterfront advertising Radio 1's Sound City 92. Picture: Archant LibraryThe Waterfront advertising Radio 1's Sound City 92. Picture: Archant Library

But the opening of The Waterfront - originally a brewery bottling plant for Trumans on King Street - under the Student Union Services on December 1, 1993, was actually the venue’s second coming.

Plans for a music venue were first mooted back in 1985, with the support of The Norwich Venue Campaign, which had been formed to campaign for a venue for live music in the city.

Bloxx headlining The Waterfront Studio in Norwich. Photo: Paul JonesBloxx headlining The Waterfront Studio in Norwich. Photo: Paul Jones

At the time Norwich had been described in the music press as being “deep in the heart of village idiot land”, with dozens of big name acts ignoring the city.

Radio One DJ John Peel was among the first to give his backing to a Norwich rock and pop venue, and that fight was further aided by fellow DJ Janice Long, who used her show, in the mid 1980s, to stake the city’s claim for better facilities to attract top bands.

WATERFRONT 10TH BIRTHDAYWATERFRONT 10TH BIRTHDAY

In February 1986, city councillors approved a £375,000 scheme to set up a major 500 to 600-capacity rock venue in the city, despite claims from some living in the area that the venue would turn King Street into “nightmare alley”, with fears over noise, violence and crime.

The venue initially opened on October 24, 1990, with 808 State and MC Tunes topping the bill.

The Waterfront, Norwich The Wedding Present playing live. PIC: Colin Finch.The Waterfront, Norwich The Wedding Present playing live. PIC: Colin Finch.

Manchester band The Fall and Kurt Cobain’s Seattle-based grunge outfit Nirvana were among the acts which played the Waterfront in those early days, together with Desmond Dekker and Ralph McTell.

But it was to be a false dawn, with the popular music venue closing down in January 1993 amid a cloud of debts said to sit at £360,000.

Crowd at D:Ream at The Waterfront 16/02/1994 Picture: Archant LibraryCrowd at D:Ream at The Waterfront 16/02/1994 Picture: Archant Library

The closure came despite support from the likes of Norwich-born singer Cathy Dennis, who performed at the venue in 1992, and Mr Peel.

But just months on from the closure The Waterfront reopened its doors to thousands of music fans in December 1993, with the Radio One DJ, who helped reopen the venue, again singing its praises, just as he had when it initially opened.

Exterior view of The Waterfront, King Street, Norwich. PIC: James Bass.Exterior view of The Waterfront, King Street, Norwich. PIC: James Bass.

Mr Peel said: “My hope is that this time it stays open.”

And The Waterfront has not only stayed open over the past 25 years, but it looks to be in a strong position to remain open for the next 25 years and beyond according to current bosses.

Amy Winehouse singing at The Waterfront in 2004. PIC: James Bass.Amy Winehouse singing at The Waterfront in 2004. PIC: James Bass.

Chelie Lear, Waterfront venue manager, said: “Our plan is that we will be there for the foreseeable future.

“We’ve just agreed a long-term 15-year lease with the city council.

The Divine Comedy play at The Waterfront, Norwich in March 2001. Photo: Natasha Lyster.The Divine Comedy play at The Waterfront, Norwich in March 2001. Photo: Natasha Lyster.

“We have plans in place for refurbishments to part of the building and have just had a new floor put into the main room.

“The music scene is changing constantly and it’s something we always aim to keep ahead of.

The Waterfront is celebrating 25 years at a special event this weekend. PIC: Supplied by The Waterfront.The Waterfront is celebrating 25 years at a special event this weekend. PIC: Supplied by The Waterfront.

“It would be very nice to be having a 50th party.”

She said Saturday’s festivities would mark a “wonderful” last 25 years, in which time they have had the likes of the The Verve, The Darkness, Arctic Monkeys, Ed Sheeran, Machine Head, Bloodhound Gang, Fun Loving Criminals, Faithless, Example, Boy George, Feeder, Elbow, D:Ream, Sleeper, Radiohead, The Pogues, Jimmi Somerville, Cast, Terrorvision, Shed Seven, Kula Shaker and Ash performing at the venue.

They will also celebrate the venue hosting the city’s biggest and longest running Alternative Club night - Meltdown - as well as 25 years of trying to be good neighbours.

Although The Waterfront was not in the centre of a residential area when it first opened, changes to the city over the years have meant it now is.

Ms Lear said they worked hard to be a good neighbour to others in the area.

She said: “I think whenever a music venue gets surrounded by a residential area your going to have a little bit of difficulty from neighbours but as a whole we fit in very well with the local community and we work very hard to be a good neighbour.”

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