I don’t want to write a eulogy, but tonally I wonder how that can be avoided totally. This is an article that I feel takes a lot of precedence, and emotional import. Though we cerebrally register that any pub or club is only as valuable as its punters and what refuge from reality they can offer, yet occasionally the scene is particularly blessed with a venue that offers something special. Something idiosyncratic, shamelessly quirky, an unforgettable atmosphere that lights a few candles in the cold sober warren of your heart, and just becomes downright loveable.
When I first visited The Barge in Gillingham, it was because my then boyfriend and I took a detour away from friends and he knew of this cool place where we can sit and revel. A colourful, irreverent Irish lad with a rustic sense of humour, – no wonder he took me there really. The Guinness was good too which I’m not going to complain about, these were before my ale imbibing days, and my washboard stomach is royally lost in the mists of time. But never mind.
I gauged my surroundings, and felt quite buttery inside as it had a charm I hadn’t really experienced in a pub before. Quaint, romantic even. The corner stage which years later I would inhabit, and call my home for many a half hour set wasn’t occupied, and my eyes skimmed elsewhere. I loved the oaky smell, that welcomingly hoppy funk, and the Summer afternoon candlelight, yes – Summer afternoon candlelight, – dancing in and around the nick-naks, just did something to me.
I followed him to the garden as he wanted a smoke, and I wanted to continue chatting about whatever crap we were musing over. Though a bit morose at abandoning my special seat in this cranky pub in what suddenly felt like Lower Gillingham’s sadly fictional pirates’ jetty, – the looming phallus of Kings North Power Station across the river brought me a bit more back to earth. Such is life!
Years later in 2016 I’m booking my band’s umpteenth event at The Barge and am told by my head chef out from the most azure of blue… That the Barge was closing, and therefore my event won’t take place there. Safe to say I was heartbroken. I had been crestfallen before at the closure of some pubs, but never quite like this.
Many other people whose lives have been permanently affected from the first time they stepped into The Barge’s woody caramel glow will have their own reasons to be sad. Wistful of what more they could have done in there, but I also applaud the valiant staff to continue the place’s totemic legacy just down the road as we can hope a good part of the Barge’s soul is transferred into The Ship Inn just down yonder road.
God I love their nerve. Despite battling against ominous financial odds, and the bitter axiom,- the only too true truth that a labour of love is never far away from becoming a beast of burden,- nothing will take the memories away. Nothing will excise the influence, and the chances given to countless musicians. The place evolved with us as we grew, the twisting morphology of the decked conservatory, and the evangelising rotation of local tipple, the place was a constant to us. A jolly and inspiring halfway house carved out of wood, sweat and all our dreams that it fed.
So here’s to The Ship Inn. it will grow into its own in the light (I won’t say ‘shadow’, optimism is all we have nowadays) of ten thousand golden, song filled nights that radiated across the black Medway sky.
‘End of an era’ is a banal, overused term with often threadbare conviction. Medway still has Poco Loco, The Prince of Wales, The Eagle, Billabong, The Good Intent… And many other places of great music and collegiality despite the area’s swamp of different styles. This month we lost a vanguard, The South- East lost The Barge. Yet we got it lucky, we got it very good.