As we have seen, the Small Venue Heroes feature has, over the last year or so, done what it set out to do. It has given a nod of appreciation to those current artists who, whilst not being big stars, are the backbone and the lifeblood of americana music. Names, sometimes well-known and sometimes not so, playing small venues up and down the country, keeping music live and the americana scene vibrant.
I was fortunate to see Jesse Terry play several times during his recent UK tour. As fans will know, he regularly tours the UK and Ireland playing in a range of small venues. This last tour took him to the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, before the Montrose Folk Club in Scotland. He then ventured down into England and played Cluny 2 in Newcastle and Grateful Fred’s Americana, Roots and Acoustic Night at The Atkinson in Southport, to name only a few of his thirty-plus dates. A small venue hero indeed.
However, on this occasion, the Small Venue Hero accolade goes not to an artist, but to a venue.
Grateful Fred’s Americana, Roots and Acoustic Nights are held monthly, on the first Wednesday to be exact, within the beautiful venue that is The Atkinson, Southport’s home for music, theatre, art, literature and history. Founded in 2010 by musician Colin Maddocks, Grateful Fred’s started life in a pub in Formby, Merseyside. After only a year of successful monthly events, opened by his then band, The Silver Freds, Maddocks and his Grateful Fred’s concept were approached by The Atkinson to set up a monthly night there. Being such a prestigious venue and having just had an expensive make-over, it was a no-brainer and Grateful Fred’s re-located.
Bringing in names such as Molly Tuttle, The Chapin Sisters, AJ Lee & Blue Summit, Ron Block from Alison Krauss band, Jim Kweskin, Joel Raphael, Eric Brace and Thomm Jutz, Henry Priestman, Merry Hell, The Kennedys, Front Country, The Stray Birds and many, many more, this small venue hero known as Grateful Fred’s, continues to entertain vast numbers of people in and around Southport. The room of choice holds 100 people comfortably sitting around tables and has a beautiful tiered balcony that can hold an additional 75. Grateful Fred’s events often sell out and currently average around 90 regulars, which is no mean feat in this post-covid era.
The night Jesse Terry headlined, the room was near capacity with ‘Fredheads’, as the audience is affectionately known. There was the namesake, short opening set from Maddocks’ band, followed by support from Vanessa Murray (one-half of the duo White Little Lies). And, if it hadn’t been for the beautiful sounds from the stage, you could have heard a pin drop, such was the focus from the crowd.
If you like the idea of seeing big names as well as up & coming artists in a small venue, albeit within a larger one, Grateful Fred’s is for you. Among those already booked for next year are Boo Hewerdine, Brooks Williams, Mikey Kenny, Annie Keating Band, Max & Veronica, I See Hawks In LA, Eric Brace & Thom Jutz, The Often Heard, Daniel Rodriguez and Ruthy & Mike. So, unless you live locally, book a trip to the iconic seaside town of Southport; make sure you take in the first Wednesday of the month and book tickets to Grateful Fred’s. It is a must.