Rock Hopping in the Free Rowde

When apathetic to galivant to a gig, and not for want of staying in my village, there’s always the Cross Keys in Rowde. Hum, been a while, historically had its ups and downs. Last report I did here things were looking up; food-wise, a few craft fairs and various goings-on. But it’s changed hands again, and the one thing it lacked other than the sporadic Splat of the Rat, live music, has returned to the agenda by the new landlord.

Arm twisted, I’m back in the watering hole where I had my wedding reception and the kid’s christening parties. Little visually has changed, punters included. No bad thing, village hub. The landlord tells me they’ll be renovating the restaurant area, but if it isn’t broken. For the functional the main pub is perfect, aesthetically it’s apt. Although the change for the evening is the pool table area, where guitars and drums swim amidst wires and foot pedals. Devizes band Rockhoppaz are due to kick off a season of performances here. This is good, heard of but not seen these guys yet.

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Holding a preconceived idea, largely based upon the name, I was mistaken to assume I’d be knocked over by rock verging on metal, which though not my cuppa, I’ll endure to support live music in my village for sure. Pleasantly surprised then to hear this matured four-piece’s repertories, though while varied, were largely based on rock and punk-mod classics.

Tuning teaser being Johnny B Goode, the age range of songs went from contemporary back to rock n roll. Commencing with the Kaiser Chiefs, we heard Dandy Warhols and Primal Scream covers, we were cast rearward to Buzzcocks and The Jam, and plopped into a pinnacle of Rolling Stones and Kinks. It was this era where I thought the band reigned, with an awesome Brown Sugar. Yet the range was achieved in its entirety with equal passion and skill, but when lead singer, Jim Smith rolled out an adroit version of Neil Young’s Rockin in the Free World, I changed my mind.

I questioned this namesake preconceived idea to the band during their beer-break, pointing out drummer, Ian “Tef” Martin’s AC/DC tee-shirt. Oh yes, I was told, they’ll be playing an AC/DC cover in the second half. What ensued was a potentially everlasting musical trivia conversation, indicting their passion was their motivation, and herein lies the spirit of Rockhoppaz, I feel.

They’re not the next big thing, just a bunch of guys satisfying an appetite on the pub circuit, but as far that notion travels, lead Jim Smith, aforementioned drummer Ian Martin, guitarist Chris Downing and “Big” Ben Robinson bassist pull to its bumper, and would do your function a huge favour, for their thirst and talent rubs off on the audience; punching above the average pub circuit band’s weight.

In various incarnations they’ve been around for a while, previous band names being more profane, they say, causing me to think they once had a punk vibe about them. They’ve played the Opportunity Centre charity fundraiser at Wadworth Brewery, The Yeoman, The George in Frome, Melksham’s Pig & Whistle and our trusty Southgate, they’ve gigged the Midlands, Windsor and Bath. The Cavalier, Devizes has them on November 2nd, their next local gig.

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As for the Cross Keys, I hope it’s the first of many, and with the great pub-grub and Sunday roast menu retained, I wish them all the best. The landlord calls for more, monthly, with local mod-rockers, Cover Up appearing next. I’d like to see some local heroes with some original acoustic booked too, happy to recommend the usual suspects. There is a notion cover bands will undoubtedly satisfy the regulars at The Cross Keys, but said originals will bring others in. It’s not a long walk from Devizes, I do it the other way many weekends, and that’s uphill, pal! That said though, getting a bit autumny innit, so nice to know live music has extended out to Rowde.


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