I suppose there will be some people who have never even heard of The Maze music venue on Mansfield Road in Nottingham. For those of us familiar with it, it seems to have been around forever. In fact its current period of success began in 2007 after surviving a proposal to convert the building into student flats.
Thousands of commuters using Mansfield Road will only see it as The Forest Tavern, an ordinary looking pub at the top of the hill close to the Forest cemetery.
I recall visiting The Forest Tavern some years ago in the later stages of a pub crawl. Ordering a pint of Budweiser for a friend, the chap behind the bar quite rightly pointed out that they served Budvar the Czech beer and not “that American shit”. Whilst he poured my pint of a less well travelled Castle Rock beer, I told my friend that if he wanted to drink ‘American shit’ we would have to go elsewhere.
It is strange how moments like that make you connect to a place. From that moment over 10 years ago, I felt I belonged there; if only for its honesty.
As its website proclaims; “a traditionally British public house integrated with a European style relaxed Bavarian bar”, whatever that means.
Less controversially, it introduces The Maze as having “in recent years become somewhat of a legendary venue” hosting “underground club nights, alternative band nights as well as dabbling in theatre, comedy and poetry”
Anyone stood relaxing at the ‘Bavarian bar’ will get a glimpse of the music venue at the back of the building. In fact there is a vantage point that actually gives a view of the stage itself. During sell out shows this vantage point can change hands for sometimes as much as a pint of Budvar.
This brings me to a recent sold out show on a bitterly cold Thursday night in January.
A friend had invited me to see the main act, House of Thieves. With three bands in support and at £5 in advance, I arrived with The Mocking Jays already playing to a sizeable crowd in the 220 capacity main room. Those that attend gigs will know that even in sold out shows, the support acts do not necessarily have an attentive audience.
But this night had been set up superbly. Good ticket management, all the bands ready to play with minimal changeover time, and the merchandise desk and banners leaving us in no doubt whose gig this was. The event on social media stated “This will be a fantastic night with fantastic support”. They were right.
The Mocking Jays are a youthful 4 piece band that had enough energy and charisma to get people dancing, another rarity for support acts. The Mocking Jays looked the part too.
Next up were Silver Stags, a three piece guitar band plus lead singer. The drummer and two guitarists looked the part even before they had started to perform. Looking more like international stadium rockers, their first number was quite probably, deliberately understated. A clever ploy that allowed the audience to work out the front-man, who it has to be said, had the appearance of someone on a ‘stag do’ who had got up on stage for a bet! An imposing looking chap wearing a plain shirt and jumper and pint in hand, sneering and scowling as he disdainfully delivered his lyrics. This visual mismatch was in fact quality rock and roll with a punk edge.
By now the crowd was close to capacity and even closer to the realisation that this event was in fact an evening of music festival quality.
Turrentine Jones raised the atmosphere another notch with their infectious indie blues. In contrast to the culture clash of the Silver Stags the drummer and pianist sat back and allowed the vocalist and guitarist to take the limelight and produce another charismatic performance behind his retro style microphone.
And so, onto possibly the East Midlands’ next best thing. Turning a venue known for its ‘honesty’ into a House of Thieves. A storming performance from a band that have not been around for long but are getting noticed on the back of their live performances. Each member stamping their authority on stage; but channeling everything into producing the atmosphere for the lead vocalist to implore his audience with what can only be described as a megaphone of a voice!
“Lyrics that cut deep” indeed.
If I ever get chance to see this line up again, whether it be at an Arena venue, I’ll be happy to drink whatever “American shit” is going.