Live at the Joiners
Some of the biggest names in music have played gigs at the Joiners in Southampton's St Mary's Street. We take a look at the venue that is an institution in the music world as it celebrates its 40th year and commemorates its creator, Mint.
The legendary gig venue in St Mary's Street has a unique place in many people hearts and in the musical heritage of Southampton.
What makes the Joiners stand out from your average pub is the fact that on any night, you could be lucky enough to see a band on the verge of making it very big. Oasis, Coldplay, and the Manic Street Preachers are amongst the bands who have cut their teeth in the unique atmosphere of the back room of the St Mary's venue.
The Joiners had been a lively music venue for several decades. But the start of up-and-coming bands with national profiles began in the late 80s with the arrival of a man who was to revolutionise the Southampton music scene during one of the most exciting eras in British music.
The Mint Years
The Joiners founder was a man called simply 'Mint'. A promoter and originally a licensee of the Joiners Mint died from cancer in 2007.
Mint arrived in Southampton from Birmingham in 1987, having promoted artists like The Smiths and Sade. He and some friends persuaded the then landlord, Mike Gulliver, to let them put on some gigs - initially on alternate Tuesday nights.
Under the tongue-in-cheek title of 'Next Big Thing', Mint, along with friends Roj, Fran and Phil gradually got The Joiners established on the UK ‘toilet circuit’.
The first band booked by Next Big Thing was Stitched Black Foot Airman on 26th January 1988.
The 'toilet circuit' may sound a bit of a derogatory title, but the network of intimate venues - some where the bands literally had to change in the loos - is still the bedrock of British music.
The legendary graffitied dressing room
By common consent, it was Mint's genius of timing and knowledge of the music business that saw him book hundreds of bands, including ones on the verge of becoming legendary.
The Charlatans, Suede, Oasis, The Manic Street Preachers, Primal Scream, Verve, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, Coldplay, Ash, Skunk Ananasie, David Gray and many more have all been brought to Southampton shortly before they became frontpage news in the music press.
By 1993 Mint had his own office on the premises for booking the bands. There was even a newsletter produced called Sound Info, and in 1995 he became the licensee before ill-health forced him to take more of a back seat.
Movin' On Up
The list of bands who played the Joiners during the 'Mint Years' reads like a veritable Who’s Who of the Britpop era.
Supergrass, Catatonia, Echobelly, The Charlatans, Ash, Moloko, Radiohead and the Manic Street Preachers all graced the underground bunker-come-dressing room.
One of the most famous nights of recent years was on 29th March 1994 when a young Mancunian band fronted by two brothers was booked. Oasis’ Joiners experience was typical of many 90s bands – they were booked by Mint just as they were on the verge of becoming very big indeed.
Were you there?
They had just appeared on The Word and Mint recollects switching them on the line-up with fellow Creation artists, Whiteout, who were initially to headline the gig - Oasis still only got paid £100 for their trouble.
"Noel was ok, Liam was Liam, obnoxious as his reputation that preceded him and still goes on," remembers Mint: "He tried to pick a fight with my secretary 'cos she was amused at one of his boasting comments. He thought this was cause to take her outside - but she just ignored him. During the gig he was trying to rile the audience but the rather placid Southampton crowd were just interested in having a good time!"
Another night that has entered into local legend was when the Manic Street Preachers came to St Mary’s Street in March 1991.
At that stage the band still had the mercurial Richie Edwards in their line-up and had a growing following.
As Mint remembers: "I had them booked for a show in January, they weren't so well known then – they cried off because one of them was ill and it was re-booked, but then they had a radio or TV appearance on the night I needed them in February so they ended up coming in March.
This was pretty honourable of them, a lot of bands would have said; "We’re not playing here, we're past that stage, we're going to play somewhere bigger", so that gives you and impression of what the Manics are like. It was a great show – it was a busy night, we were turning people away.
"I've been told they signed some kind of contract down in the dressing room in the cellar and fairly unusually for St Mary’s Street there was a couple of Rolls Royces outside, and some very large security guys guarding these old guys in suits from the record company."
Richard Ashcroft of The Verve
Ged Babey remembers the band's storming entrance: "They were absolutely amazing. They got changed in the camper van outside and came in through the open fire doors. They leapt straight onto the stage and instantly started straight into it. I think everyone who was there agreed they were just a fantastic band."
The twenty-first gig put on by Next Big Thing was the first of several shows by The Levellers (The Brighton crusties also took a shine to a top hat that Mint collected the door takings in - the band subsequently took it all around the world on tour!).
On the whole, bands seem to have very fond memories of the Joiners – remarkable given the lengths of tours and disorientating nights in the back of transit vans or tour buses.
Richard Ashcroft played with Verve at the Joiners in 1992, and in a NME interview he said their Southampton gig was: "...one of the greatest gigs that I've ever played in my life because we were ... incredible."
The gig was engineered by Ian Lawton: "It was my first ever gig with The Verve ... it just kicked off, I didn't really do anything and all of a sudden it became one of the greatest sonic experiences of my life and the life of everyone who was in the room -it was fantastic, everyone blamed it on me and said it was my fault that it was the best gig ever, but it had nothing to do with me at all!"
The Joiners hospitality could go a long way to explaining bands' fondness for the place. Pat the Doorman, sometimes cooks for the bands – their only decent meal in weeks on the road.
Not all bands were quite so appreciative – Primal Scream were one of the first touring bands to ask Mint for food in their rider. He recollects going to great efforts to get a vegetarian curry delivered, only for Bobby Gillespie and his fellow group members to demand something meatier – they ended up heading to MacDonalds while the staff and some audience members had a rather nice free feed!
The busiest ever Joiners night was when the Charlatans came to town on February 8, 1990. Mint had gambled and booked them solely on the strength of their demo tape, but by the time their gig arrived, they were all over the music press, touted as "The Stone Roses' favourite band" and over 600 people queued along St Mary's Street to hear Tim Burgess and the band's early tunes like The Only One I Know.
Naturally not all the bands, made it big. For every Oasis and Coldplay, there are 50 others languishing forever in rock obscurity.
However, that's not to say there weren't some memorable performances, as Mint remembers: "We've had bands throwing baked beans over each other on stage – which the cleaners weren't too pleased about the next morning … during another show a man and a woman, who were dressed in leather with metal plates on their arms and chest, and attacked each other with angle-grinders!"
Add to that John Otway’s performace when he hid in the suspended ceiling, The Sultans of Ping FC who made the audience lie on their backs and bicycle kick in the air, Birdland who played the start of their set in complete darkness, and the singer with Aussie band, The D4, who played half a gig in a pool of blood after jumping from the PA stand onto an abandoned beer glass after the crowd denied him his crowd surf, and you're rarely due a boring night at the Joiners!
last updated: 17/11/2008 at 08:35
Have Your Say
What are your memories of The Joiners, what was the best band you've seen play there?