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X Factor stars Duke join calls for new arts centre for Cheltenham

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: October 26, 2012

  • The Axiom

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CALLS have been made to bring a dedicated arts centre back to Cheltenham.

Ten years ago, The Axiom, which attracted the likes of Catatonia and Travis, was put up for sale by Cheltenham Borough Council, and has remained empty since then.

Now, an impassioned plea has been made to provide a new centre for the town – such as The Quadrangle next to the town hall – if the old building can't be restored.

In its heyday, the Axiom was a "very exciting", liberally-minded place to be, said Andy Hayes, who was music manager at the Axiom in the 1990s, putting on live acts "27 nights a month," housing the largest art gallery in Gloucestershire, community theatre, and artist workshops.

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St Paul's ward councillor and musician Andrew Lansley performed at the Axiom. He said: "There's no magic benefactor. If people want it to be reopened, they need to speak up."

Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood said: "Cheltenham has a variety of cutting-edge galleries, performance venues and installation spaces but none of them seem to have recaptured the heart and soul of the local creative community in quite the way that the Axiom did. A new central arts centre with a viable business plan could help provide that focus again."

Cheltenham Borough Council said money from the Axiom's sale funded £500,000 of the art gallery and museum's refurbishment, and £200,000 had been "earmarked" for The Playhouse Theatre.

DJ Richie Abberline joined the call, saying: "What Cheltenham needs is someone who is willing to invest in not just a venue, but somewhere that takes pride in its appearance, and isn't afraid to stand out."

Cheltenham-born X Factor contestants Duke said that with no dedicated gig venue they had relied on pubs.

Ed Travers, from the band, said: "If you play in a bar you are often playing to people just because you're there – if you're playing in a music venue, you have people who want to see live music."

X Factor contestant Kitty Brucknell, who grew up in Cheltenham, added: "In terms of having a proper cultural space that someone, like young musicians, can make use of without having a lot of money, there's nothing."

"It would be amazing if they opened the Axiom again," she added.

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  • Listen  |  October 31 2012, 8:12AM

    Cheltenham does have a new live music venue ! Sound Music Venue on St Georeges Place .Open Fri/Sat and Sun Evenings ....http://tinyurl.com/8trarrl . Sunday nights are open mic nights for all up and coming acts to play. Free membership . They are also on Facebook Soundmusicvenue.cheltenham and Twitter Soundmusicvenue. They have only been open a month and already have over 500 members !! This weekend they have The Black Feathers on Friday, Battle of the Bands on Saturday and Open Mic on Sunday ...ands its all FREE to enter ! Check them out !!

  • aroakley  |  October 31 2012, 7:45AM

    Spratley - you make a good point about Gloucester Guildhall. However, I think the answer to the question "If Gloucester can do this, why can't Cheltenham?" is quite simple: Because Gloucester has already done this, and it's only 6 miles down the road. I can see how it would be very difficult for county councillors to fund a pretty much identical mid-sized venue in Cheltenham when the county already has one only twenty minutes' bus journey away. Now if Cheltenham was a unitary authority, the funding situation might be different. Let's be honest, though, no middle-ranking pop band is going to have a tour date in BOTH Cheltenham AND Gloucester, they'd just pick one of the two. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to getting a new mid-sized performance venue in Gloucestershire is as simple as that; we already have one.

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  • zaphira  |  October 30 2012, 9:35PM

    Cheltenham HAS an art Centre. We opened a year ago. At the moment we are small but are moving in the Summer to a bigger place with a Venue and a Cafe (vegetarin) as well as running art and music classes and workshops. We currently hold classes for toddlers, school children, adults and even do out reach at childrens centres and old peoples homes. We have held music events and done a festival! We promote and exhibit local artists, a new exhibition every 3 weeks. Please get involved, we have lots of like minded volunteers and need to step this up with our impending move. We opened a year ago with NO funding on our own money ( we moved to a tiny flat and sold most of our belongings) my partner and I have worked for a year with no pay on this project, thats how passionate we are about Cheltenham having an art centre, again please get involved!!!! http://tinyurl.com/8vxctxt

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  • Spratley  |  October 30 2012, 8:18PM

    Gloucester Guildhall is a fantastic place. If Cheltenham could have a similar facility half as good, we'd be very fortunate indeed. If Gloucester can do this, why can't Cheltenham?

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  • KAF1960  |  October 30 2012, 4:16PM

    I remember the Axiom back in the day when I used to work / drink in the Centre Bar downstairs. I remember it as a fantastic venue for all shapes & sizes plus it had the best beer in Cheltenham! There was a café at the front for the Nut Rissole brigade and an excellent market in the side courtyard on a Saturday. Inside there were various exhibitions, events I seem to remember over a period of years. The management changed in the late 80's / early 90's and things went off the boil although I do remember a live music venue in a large room at the back. The last I heard someone on the south coast owned the building with keys looked after by the cycle shop next door. To echo a previous comment, when I win the lottery I'll buy it, install a microbrewery, reinstate the bar / coffee shop / music venue. Maybe a proper steakhouse, rugby sports bar in the main building plus rooftop BBQ. We can but dream ….

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  • aroakley  |  October 30 2012, 3:23PM

    I would also like to echo Oldfield's comment that it would be most informative if we could hear from Barry Leach, the former director of Axiom (Cheltenham) Limited, sometime of the Gloucester City Centre Community Partnership, as to why the Axiom closed in the first place. I think Mr. Leach might have some very useful information that would highlight some lessons learned about managing music and arts venues.

  • aroakley  |  October 30 2012, 2:58PM

    What killed the Axiom, though, wasn't anything to do with its tired decor or occasionally dodgy clientelle (not as tired nor as dodgy as some recall - I think it was actually pretty well kept and self-policing, especially if you compared it to local nightclubs of the time). What killed the Axiom was that they didn't keep proper accounts. It's all very well "arts" and "liberal" figures doing some "grass-roots campaigning" for a new venue, but if the end result is that taxpayers' and fundraisers' money is poured into an obfuscated drain or secretly used to prop up other failing arts projects, then that new venue will just close again. What I said from day one when the Axiom closed, is that this project needs a good accountant. Musicians, poets, painters and other "creatives" are ten-a-penny in Cheltenham; suitable buildings ditto (add Gas/Chemistry to the list, for starters). Accountants who are prepared to deal with "arts" types, however, are like hen's teeth. If you want to get a replacement mid-sized arts venue for Cheltenham, then you need to start by recruiting an accountant, not looking for a building.

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  • andrewlansley  |  October 30 2012, 12:34PM

    Hi Performer, Some good points and I agree - music is thriving in our town, it's just the old issue of not having anywhere mid-sized to put on shows that keeps cropping up. People do view the Axiom with rose-tinted glasses (including me) but there seems to be an awful lot of fuss about it and not much action. I believe that access to the arts for the young and disadvantaged SHOULD be free and a strong argument can be made for encouraging people to take up creative pursuits for a number of benefits. The steering group you refer did indeed include students (3/4 - why wouldn't it?) but it was predominantly made up of representatives of independent art galleries (Meantime & DeepSpaceWorks), funding & promotion specialists (from 5 Valleys & BWM), educators (Gloscol and UoG) as well as reps from Cheltenham Festivals, CAC and the Art Gallery. The opinions (and motivations) of this group were mixed and for me proved nothing other than there was no capacity to support any kind of initiative at the time. That was the conclusion of the "Arts Centre" meeting for me; an investigation into the requirements of our town followed by researching the options that were open to support such a proposal. Like I said in my blog, there seems to be no facility to support such an initiative at the moment and like I said in this article, if people want it reopened they need to speak up. I'm all too aware of the political process of finding a problem, diagnosing it incorrectly then applying the wrong treatment. It is not up to one person to say what we require in the town, it is up the people of Cheltenham: your answer is in the responses solicited by articles like this one. To address your "final thought" I have not received any kind of paper from anyone that outlined the process of zero-cost method of establishing something at a medium sized venue. Had I received this, I would have most certainly followed up on such a 'golden ticket' - especially as I made a point of responding to the 100+ emails I received following the town-hall meeting. Perhaps you could ask them to resend? I would be very interested to read... cllr.andrew.lansley@glos.ac.uk Thanks, Andrew

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  • Performer  |  October 30 2012, 11:35AM

    Sorry, but as someone who used to frequent the Axiom there is a lot of looking at it through rose-tinted specs. It was a tired, at times grotty venue, but yes it had atmosphere. As a live music venue it was great, but I remember very little community theatre going on. Cheltenham does NOT need a new arts centre. It MAY need a venue for live music but those are very different things. Music is actually thriving in the town at smaller venues and pubs although admittedly somewhere a bit larger is harder to find. Unfortunately, those who cry out for the new centre are often hoisted by their own potard. I have had dealings with some of these bands who wanted somewhere to play when I worked at a venue in town. But they were never prepared to pay for it. They seemed to think that venues should just give them space to rehearse and perform in for free. Why? Every drama group, amateur orchestra, choir PAY for their rehearsal space and PAY for a venue they choose to perform in. Why do bands think they should get something for nothing? Andrew Lansley held a very interesting meeting at the Town Hall. A pity the steering group he formed was predominently comprised of students who wanted somewhere to play music - proving the point that if we need anything, it needs to be somewhere focusing on music. But they need to put their money where their mouth is. One final thought. I know there are arts organisations in Cheltenham that Andrew Lansley has never met, even before he became a councillor. I know someone who emailed him an excellent paper about pros and cons of a new music venue and even suggested a way of starting something at a decent sized venue in town that would have cost nothing. A response was never received.

  • andrewlansley  |  October 27 2012, 11:06AM

    I was asked for a quote for this piece and have written some further info for anyone who is interested in the current status of the Axiom for those who may be interested: http://tinyurl.com/9t6ohk4