If you are in any way linked to Oxford, you may have heard that The Cellar, one of our most beloved music venues, is under threat of closure.
My first exposure to The Cellar was before I moved to Oxford, or even thought of doing so, back in 1995.
I was living in Coventry, and helping out my friend's bands where I could. One of the bands I crewed for booked a gig in at The Cellar, so we loaded the gear in the back of the van, and after a trip down the motorway, the doors opened.
It wasn't quite the Oxford I'd heard of, the home of Radiohead and Supergrass, the Dreaming Spires. There we were, on Cornmarket, hungry, tired, trying to work out where the gig was. We found the alley…
"Fuck, that's a lot of stairs" [^1]
The Immaculate Assassins played to a couple of people, but it was a fun gig, and I remember the bar staff being lovely.
Cut to 2003, I'd been in Oxford six years now (that's another story), and The Cellar had become part of my life. At least once a week I'd find myself there, discovering a new band, meeting new people, a lot of whom are friends to this day.
I wasn't from here, but this had become my home. This was my Oxford.
I was playing guitar in a band [^2] with some friends (I say "playing"… I was trying to find interesting ways to get effects pedals to cover up for my lack of talent) and we'd been having fun rehearsing at Glasshouse. We'd started to get a set together, and we'd invite friends to rehearsals to hear what we were doing. They'd bring beer, we'd swap instruments, play some covers, arse around, but we kept coming back to the set. And we got tighter.
I can't exactly remember how it came about, but talk turned to actually playing the set in front of people. An actual gig.
Then we got a gig, and it was at The Cellar. Playing support… but it was an actual fucking gig.
I remember panicking slightly.
(…it's the Cellar…)
Then I panicked a lot.
(…we can't play there, that's where… proper bands play…)
The day of the gig I was a wreck, I was so nervous I could barely speak. My partner was an absolute rock, we sat in my flat watching films, and she held my hand the whole time and told me it would be okay.
We set up, we sound checked, I had a confusing conversation with the sound engineer about the amount of feedback I was producing ("…I'm going for Jesus & Mary Chain, I've got this… I think"), we got a round of applause from the bar staff (I told you they were lovely), and then we waited.
Next thing I remember is seeing my band mates on the stage, and my partner saying "shouldn't you be up there?", I panicked, ran round the back of the artist area, up on to the stage smacking my head on the lintel on the way (if you've played The Cellar, you'll know the bit of architecture I mean), plugging my guitar in, and thinking "this is it, I'm on stage at The Cellar, and I've given myself concussion, I'm about to pass out. Good work Garrett".
I didn't pass out, and by all accounts we played a good gig. I don't remember much of it. At the bar after the gig a friend said that I had an "unconventional" style of guitar playing. I took that as a compliment.
The Cellar is an important part of my life, and it's an important part of countless other lives.
The Cellar is one of those place where memories are formed.