“THE FUTURE IS BIRKENHEAD”, shouted loud and proud in 5 feet tall neon pink letters on the front of the former Rocky’s nightclub building in Argyle Street was enough to pique my interest.
I mean, apart from the to-be-expected downbeat response from the usual crowd of miserable naysayers and doom-merchants, wouldn’t it raise an eyebrow of even the most optimistic of Birkenhead denizens?
birkenhead.news decided to find out more about Future Yard, the venue behind the neon pink mural.
Christopher Torpey is one of the four co-founders behind the project of opening Birkenhead’s newest live music venue: Future Yard.
Outside, the mural has now been painted over with a geometric pattern, but it’s what will happen on the inside that we’re more interested in.
“Future Yard is predominantly a music venue.”, Christopher said. “But we want it to be more than just something that is open between 7pm and 11pm for a live show — we want it to be used all the time, like a proper community resource, by artists and people from the area.
“As a venue, we’ll have a lively programme that offers something for everyone one our 350-capacity live room. But beyond that, Future Yard will look to foster a community, developing the next generation of artists and live industry professionals with development and training programmes.”
How Future Yard will do this is by creating opportunities for emerging, brand new musicians to perform here and to learn their craft; for audiences to come and see them early on in their careers; and for the people not on the stage who are equally as important at making live music happen (the techs and promoters) to get their first experience in that side of things.
Christopher continued, “It’s a first step on the ladder kind of a place, but with a community feel to it that will make you want to come back time after time.”
birkenhead.news asked a question that many might ask, with the home of music in the UK being just a short distance over the Mersey; Why open in Birkenhead?
“Why not?!” was the immediate retort, leaving our reporter feeling ashamed to have even asked the question in the first place.
Christopher continued, “Because there’s been no dedicated space for live music in Wirral for years, which is ridiculous given the history the area has for producing musicians.
“There are only a handful of places in Wirral where you can actually see a live show, or play one, and we know that there are loads of musicians and gig goers who live here. We know this because we are those people ourselves!”
All of the team working on Future Yard now were born and brought up in Birkenhead and Wallasey; they’re used to going over to Liverpool to see shows and engage with a proper live music infrastructure: studios, record shops, bars, venues.
“There’s no reason why a part of that can’t exist in Birkenhead, too.”, Christopher reasoned. “It’s so well situated and easy to get to for people across Merseyside. And hopefully, over time, that will apply to musicians and music lovers across the country as well.”
“There’s been nothing going on here for decades – we’re kind of at ground zero as we are right now, and that means we can build Future Yard to be something that benefits all parts of the live music industry.
“We can also work towards achieving our aim of making Future Yard the UK’s first carbon neutral music venue. Why shouldn’t 75 Argyle Street in Birkenhead be the place where that exists?”
The team say that they can help shape what people think of Birkenhead in 20 years’ time. “Through music, you can achieve change like that, and it’s ultimately what we want to do: to shape a new music future for Birkenhead.”, Christopher explained.
There’s a wealth of history and experience in the team behind Future Yard. They each have a number of years of experience in various parts of the music industry. They’ve run music festivals, managed artists, run record labels, worked on major album release campaigns, run rehearsal studios, worked directly with musicians in press, PR and music publishing. Two of the team have been running music magazine Bido Lito! for the past 10 years, working closely with local emerging musicians and getting a really good feel for how Merseyside’s music sector functions. Two of the team also sit on the Liverpool City Region Music Board.
Christopher also thanks the various bodies and organisations from whom they’ve had support, “Wirral Council has been supportive, ever since we did Future Yard festival in 2019.
“Arts Council England have also supported us through the Culture Recovery Fund, which was really helpful.
“We’ve also had support from Paul Hamlyn Foundation, PRS Foundation and (European Music Market Accelerator) JUMP; and specifically around the training programme we started (Sound Check), Youth Music and Magenta Living have been key partners on that.”
Future Yard was originally due to open it’s doors in April last year, with local 80s synth-pop legends OMD performing their first Wirral show since they played as a two-piece in 1979.
“Just as we were gearing up to announce further shows around this, the pandemic hit, so all of our plans went on hold.”, Christopher said with a look into the middle distance of what could have been. “I think we’re on Plan E or F now!”, he said, proving the team’s determination and flexibility.
“We’ve had to re-schedule the initial shows twice to account for the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought to live music and touring, and we’re currently hoping that autumn 2021 is when we’ll be able to open properly.
“We were also hoping to start up our training programme for young people in the area and open up the front of the building as a bar and café, but all plans have had to be changed.”, he said.
The team did manage to get a live show in during September, which wasn’t quite how they imagined their first live show to be.
It was a socially-distanced show on a limited capacity of 60, with local psych-pop raconteur She Drew The Gun. “It was an amazing experience to finally have an audience in the room and seeing the artist interacting with them — but we’ve not been able to follow it up with any other shows, which is rather strange. The building is ready to go, but it’s sat there eerily empty.”
In October they did a run of three more live shows, but because of the tier restrictions in place at the time, they had to do them without live audiences in the room.
Instead, Future Yard presented them as performances which were broadcast for free as live-streams on YouTube. “The streams were strangely cathartic: it wasn’t the same as having an audience in the room, but it was a great way to still keep in touch with them and bring a bit of live music into people’s living rooms.”, Christopher said.
“We can’t wait to open fully, and have the building buzzing with artists and audience members!
“It’s been so long since we first planned to do so, and we’re itching to get going. But we’ve used the time in between to keep really busy, developing different projects for the future and turning the building into a fully operative, three-floor artist and community space.”
So, from a rocky start in the former Rocky’s building things are now starting to roll.
An upbeat Christopher concluded by saying, “Despite the lack of live shows in the building, it’s been a busy few years since we started – long may that continue!”
In music terms at least, the future is Birkenhead.
The next two live-streamed performances are part of a programme for Independent Venue Week, an annual celebration of grassroots music spaces and venues.
On Friday 29 January (tonight), Natalie McCool is performing the first of the Live From Future Yard streams, which you can watch for free on YouTube from 7.30pm.
Natalie is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has done two albums already, and is releasing her third album in July this year. Her signature sound, of innovative and emotionally-driven alt. pop, has won her loads of fans across Europe already.
On Saturday 30 January, breaking new artist Pixey rounds off the Live From Future Yard programme (also free to access on YouTube from 7.30pm).
Liverpool-based Pixey has been tipped for great things in 2021: her open-hearted, bright, indie pop caught the attention of NME, who selected her in their Essential 100 list of artists they expect big things of this year.
Friday 29 January 2021 – Natalie McCool – free livestream link.
Saturday 30 January 2021 – Pixey – free livestream link.