Kaiser Chiefs headline The Adelphi's 30th birthday party. Photo: Ian Rook
Hidden away in a terraced house, on an unprepossessing street in Hull, The Adelphi Club has been breaking new bands, building a strong music-loving community and inspiring huge devotion from locals and touring artists alike for almost 40 years. “The first thing you’ll notice,” says manager Paul John Sarel, “is there’s a couple of houses missing on one side, because in 1944, the Luftwaffe bombed Hull and wiped out two houses, so we have a car park, which is good.”
It sometimes takes people a while to warm to its “a little bit scabby, a bit fusty” charms, Sarel admits, but once you catch the bug, it’ll have you for life. “It certainly looks a little bit shabby,” he laughs. “When bands come to the Adelphi for the first time, they arrive in the car park and you can tell by the look on their faces they’re going, ‘Oh my word, what is this? What have we booked here?’
“But then we show them around, give them a little bit of a history of the club. They get a sense of the room, meet the staff, and Clyde the club dog – he makes people happy because he’s a friendly, friendly boy. At the end of the night, they usually leave us as friends. Nine times out of 10, they want to come back.”
The Adelphi’s patrons include Paul Heaton – who first played there in the ‘80s with The Housemartins and returned to the tiny stage to celebrate their 30th anniversary – and Jarvis Cocker, who signed up in recognition of the incredible nine times Pulp played the Hull venue before their Britpop breakthrough. Radiohead may have only visited a relatively paltry two times on their way to worldwide success, but drummer Philip Selway is a firm supporter of the venue. Idles love the place so much they chose to launch their Grammy-nominated 2021 album Crawler at the 200-capacity club. Kaiser Chiefs headlined the 30th celebrations, and the club has big (currently secret) plans to celebrate their upcoming 40th birthday.
Speaking to The Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign recently, DJ Steve Lamacq named the Adelphi as his favourite grassroots venue. “I still remember my first trip to the Hull Adelphi,” he said. “I walked past it twice, before realising that that was the venue. It’s absolutely legendary that place and the bands who have come through it.”
Oasis notably played the Adelphi on the eve of the release of their first single. The Shamen once slept on the venue’s kitchen floor after a show. Green Day, The Stone Roses and Supergrass have all sampled its shabby chic.
But the bands’ devotion is nothing in comparison to the people behind the scenes. Grassroots music legend Paul Jackson opened the venue in 1984 and ran it for an incredible 34 years. It was “his entire life”, says Sarel, and the founder is still an important guiding hand on the board.
Sarel’s life is scarcely less intertwined with his workplace. A Hull native, he’s lived within a mile of the Adelphi since he was six years old, so was “always vaguely aware of it”. As an under-13s footballer, his team was sponsored by The Housemartins, so his curiosity grew. And then when he was 18, he was finally able to visit. “It was just so exciting,” he recalls, his tone rising even decades later, “my ears were ringing in the morning because it was so loud. That was when grassroots music got under my skin.”
Having volunteered and fundraised for years – even spending a spell living in a camper van in that Luftwaffe-cleared carpark – Sarel says he finally “forced myself in after 30 years”, taking on the role of manager three years ago. There’s no mistaking his delight, but it’s no easy task keeping the lights on in the current climate.
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More than 120 music venues of a similar size to the Adephi closed in the last 12 months. Though there was relief among grassroots music venues this week as their business rates relief was held at 75% for another year, as part of the chancellor’s Autumn statement, these vital cultural spaces face huge stress. The cost of living crisis has hit hard, among other pressures. “Our energy bills have gone up by four times the amount they were just a year ago,” says Sarel. “We’re having to pay £800 electric instead of £200 electric every month. It’s like we’re having to work so much harder to get to zero. I paid a VAT bill yesterday of £6,800, which is a massive amount of money.”
That precariousness has an impact on the people on the frontline. “It’s a joy but also you can put yourself at quite a lot of risk with your health if you’re not careful,” Sarel says. “You’re constantly thinking of it and you don’t sleep well.
“And then just when you get to a point where you think you’ve done well, something else happens. Like an annual hygiene check of the building, or a burst pipe, or a toilet seat breaks or a band will request that they want to be in the building at four o’clock instead of five o’clock. So you’ve got to respond to that. You’re constantly on the go. And you’ve got to remind yourself to take a break from it.”
But if we want a world that’s got space for new sounds, for the experimental, the strange and the niche, we need places like the Adelphi. “It’s a fight, you know, but I’m not scared of the fight,” says Sarel. “If you turn up at the Adelphi with a hurdy-gurdy and some cymbals strapped to your knees, and you tell me that it’s art and it’s good, we’ll let you play. That’s not gonna get on X Factor. It’s not gonna be a ‘success’. But we can programme what we want, and nobody can tell us not to.”
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Venue Watch analysis: The Adelphi Club, Hull
By Phil Ryan – musician, writer and entrepreneur
I find that as the weeks pass, I’m writing about places that are of such musical significance I’m amazed they aren’t protected on an official register or something. We categorise old buildings, ancient monuments, churches, sites of natural beauty and of course place of cultural significance. In a week where we’ve seen a glimmer of hope in the budget and a much-vaunted Government committee promising assistance, isn’t it time we issued some kind of protection orders on our musical sites of cultural significance?
If you get a chance got to the website of this week’s Venue Watch subject The Adelphi Club in Hull. It’s staggering just who has played there, who has got their first gigs and chances to shine in its wonderful space.
In my book, this tiny club has as much significance in the UK’s cultural and historical records of protection as Nelson’s Column or Salisbury Cathedral. This priceless venue has enriched the lives of thousands. For that alone, the City of Hull should list it as a piece of both nationally and locally important heritage, and that should come with protection. As ever I ask you to go to their giving page and bung them a couple of quid.
But to the various politicians who represent themselves as protectors of our national identity I’d say grassroots music venues like the Adelphi are a pretty good place to start. They are important pieces of our history. No country that claims to care about its history would leave such places without protection.
Musician Phil Ryan has toured with The Animals and is co-founder of The Big Issue and The 12 Bar Club.
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