The Joiners Arms is a small music venue based in St Mary’s, Southampton. It has been open for 49 years and is run by co owners Tim Betts and Ricky Bates who have hosted a range of popular and local bands throughout the venue’s lifespan, including Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead. We caught up with Tim Betts to find out why The Joiners Arms has been so successful over it’s 49 years and what makes it so special.
Since opening in 1968 has there been a growth in popularity and crowd turnout in The Joiners Arms?
From my point of view – as I’ve only been involved for 2 and a half or 3 years now – we’re seeing a change. In the old days we had more punk bands and it was a massive music scene then it sort of faded, and now it’s popularity is starting to creep back. People are realising if you don’t come and see these bands here then there isn’t gonna be anywhere to go and see them anymore.
You’ve attracted a range of bands & artists to your establishment, how proud are you for hosting some big names such as Ed Sheeran & Arctic Monkeys?
People always talk about The Joiners and say ‘Oh my god Ed Sheeran played here’ but when artists like that played here they were just lads who were out gigging wherever they could, so we still have loads of bands; like tonight we’ve got the common people auditions and it’s all local bands, so they’ve all got different sounds and talents. We see all types of original bands; bands of skulls, then normal function bands or cover bands, but they all have a place in the music scene.
How do you personally help out with upcoming artists & bands?
Just by enabling really. Sometimes I talk to bands and suggest they try certain things but it’s not a massive guru and student type relationship, it’s literally providing a space where people can come and do what they want. All I can do is make it as easy and comfortable for them to do what they want. I don’t tolerate any musical snobbery, we’re all down here to make music and enjoy ourselves.
How do bands get into contact with you?
Mostly now it’s very much word of mouth. Back when I started it was mostly due to posters around different places and halls. We’ve got the website and Facebook but it’s mainly due to word of mouth, people just hear about it – sometimes I wonder where they find out.
Do you believe small music venues offer a special intimate setting allowing bands to organically grow their fan base?
Yeah undoubtedly, it’s the only way that bands can grow their core fan base realistically. I feel quite passionate about that because you get your touring bands that come down to these venues and I feel quite strongly that we have a right to put on a local band when a touring band is on just to give them the exposure. It’s not giving them exposure to a different area of people but a different fan base and helping them to grow. I do feel quite strongly about that. Sometimes we have to fight with the agents to put local bands on but we do push as hard as we possibly can to make sure we can get at least one local band on a big show. It’s getting harder for a local band to find a place to play in Southampton. So from that degree it’s not easy for them to expose themselves, but it is good when they play local, give it a few months then play local again, building it up like that.
How influential do you believe The Joiners Arms has been to Southampton’s music scene?
I can’t blow my own trumpet, I’m completely rubbish at that. I remember when I first took over The Joiners I was almost too embarrassed to walk through the door, I was like ‘I kinda own it, is that ok?’ It is a big influence, it guides the bands to the right areas because they’re mingling in the right scene with the right kind of people. They’re normally always playing with somebody that’s got a little more experience so they learn from that. It’s not an influence as such but more an exposure to the culture which enables them to grow.
What is it about The Joiners Arms that separates you from other live music venues?
The Joiners is a very special place. From when I first came down to Southampton and started going there I just knew it was special.
As soon as you walk through the door you realise how friendly it is, everybody’s just down there to enjoy the bands and the music. There’s a certain level of stability about the place. You go there, you know Pat is going to be on the door, then you’ve got Michelle and Sean working behind the bar and our incredible sound engineers. It’s an unusual room, we can’t quite put our finger on what makes that room sound so good but we daren’t touch it.
People often say ‘I wish I can meet so and so’ and when you come down to The Joiners you can’t not meet them as they’ve got to walk through you to perform or get to the bar after their performance. We don’t really deal with egos here and if anybody’s playing up we’re quick to level them out, not maliciously but just to kindly remind them that they aren’t the most important people in the room and it works really well. When Ed Sheeran performed here, he finished his set walked to the door and chatted with almost everybody that came out of the building. Almost all of the bands can’t avoid being in contact with the fans and they love it.
Do you have a loyal local audience or is it a new wave of students each year that make up your crowds?
Mostly local as that’s what local venues are about. For the bigger shows we get people coming from Bournemouth and Portsmouth, but for the most part it’s the locals from Southampton near the area that come and see the bands.
How does The Joiners keep managing to reinvent itself having been open for 49 years?
People getting involved with it are a little bit crazy. If anybody was thinking about getting involved with the joiners to become a millionaire then they’re wrong – it’s all about the passion for the music. We’re lucky because over the years we’ve had different promoters come in and book the bands. Now we’ve got Ricky and Tom Dire who’re involved with the club psychedelic stuff on Saturdays and we have other people that bring in different bands. We’ve also got a really nice pool of predominantly younger promoters coming through. I’m clearly older so I’ll see bands that are coming along and say to Ricky ‘We’ve got to get them’, he’ll say ‘Who are they?’ and I’ll reply ‘Oh they were massive in the 80’s, they’ll still sell out!’ So I have to work hard to convince him to put bands on that I like but meanwhile he’ll be bringing in the more local or younger touring bands. We cover all the basis and keep it young, that’s what reinvents it.
What has been the most memorable performance to grace The Joiners Arms?
It’s not really a hard decision for me, it’s was a more recent night too. It was a band from Canada called July Talk and they’re incredible. I saw a video of them ages ago and said to Ricky, we’ve got to try and get this band and I didn’t think we ever would because they’re such a great onstage presence. We managed to catch them one day in between tour and got them for super cheap. So they came down and it was without a doubt the best show I’ve seen down there, it was so cool. It was just electricity on the stage and they were all so nice. Even through sound check they were chatting and when I went round there to watch the support bands, they were out watching too, applauding. Afterwards they invited all the support bands up to Camden to be on the guest list the next night. It was just such a great vibe and musically the show was great. We also had Bad Manners down there which was amazing, I thought the place was going to fall down. It might sound kind of evasive but different bands give you different things, that’s what I took from those two particular shows but everybody will have a different opinion on that.