Popped my Frome cherry; a Morning in a Somerset Freetown

Without certified limitations on Devizine, I freestyle the boundaries of listing events upon the ethos if it’s conceivable and practical to drive to from our Devizes base, then what the hell, I’ll list it. While it’s laborious, and often impossible to include every Wiltshire pub with a man with a guitar yodelling Wonderwall in, I try my upmost, but the wider we journey the vaguer it obviously gets; I’m not flipping omnipresent.

I’m partial to listing events in Frome, though, despite it bordering my ruling, for two reasons; 1: The Cheese & Grain; the non-profit, community led, all-purpose venue, punches well above its weight, booking the quality of acts you’d expect to trek to a city for.

And 2: I get this overall perception of Frome being this little Somerset haven of alternative arts and culture; like a West Country Brighton, without a pier. But in all honesty, it’s hearsay; it could have a pier for all I know, for other than dropping in on my previous employment as a delivery driver, and to navigate its bypass on my way further west, I confess, I’ve never actually explored the centre of Frome; what-cha gonna do? I don’t do urban rambling, and deplore the mechanical façade of orthodox window-shopping.

In a weekend where I decided to bunk gigging, as previous weekends I’ve golloped three apiece, realise I’m addicted to writing and have to knock some-waffling-thing up for the sake of my sanity, even if it comes across school holiday assignment. Up until Sunday options were slim, Britain’s Got Talent the epicentre of entertainment ingested, followed by a surprisingly tricky quiz show hosted by the Not Going Out comedian, in which questions might’ve been easier if BGT hadn’t previously fried my cranium.

So, with Dad’s taxi booked to Longleat Forest with an approximate three-hour interval, I start contemplating how to kill said three hours. With strict satirical nonstarters like “keep driving,” “catch the first bus out of there,” and “end it all now!” being the responses to a Facebook post requesting ideas of how to kill three hours on a drizzly spring Sunday morning in Warminster, I made a note to reconnoitre why it’s considered so dismal and cultureless, other than its discouraging namesake relating to war, which is never much fun, coupled by my discovering a Warminster community hub website which, when you click their event guide comes up “page not found,” and perhaps sought to rectify this if possible, another time.

It was a no-brainer, head to Frome, Sunday mid-mornings aren’t the liveliest of times anywhere, so if I could find some hippy-chick knocking up a bowl of humus barefoot on the street, at least it’d be something. Noted I’d crossed state line as drystone walls envelope fields, hills get that bit steeper and road systems are purposely designed to ward off, or merely confuse the shit out of grockles.

To save diverting in circles, I implored myself to dump the car at the next available carpark and pray it was walking distance to the town centre. Cliché mainstream shop Marks & Sparks Food Hall and the Frome Job Centre provided clues, unimpressively. I mean yeah, they’ve got the archetypical charade of chain stores, though the borderline acceptable Subway being the only fast-food joint, if Greggs is endurable, and yay, they robbed me two quid to park on a Sunday to ascend vertical cobblestoned streets like Dale Winterton mountaineering, only to browse closed shops wondering why I didn’t slouch in the car playing WordLots on my Samsung.

What upped my spirits, other than a bakery sign saying Cornish pasties for £2.50 (I mean, who does that? Have I slipped through a wormhole to the nineteen-nineties, or is this the Isle of Wight?) was a window display of an arty emporium sardonically mocking Brexit and the travesty of the Conservatism regime through decorated mugs and other handmade merchandise. I smiled at the audacity of a shop which would be petrol-bombed by our knuckle-dragging majority of Daily Fail readers back in Devizes before it opened; I’d fit in here.

For want of getting lost, I wobbled back down the hill, locating The Sun Inn, one watering-hole with a Tardis for a door I’d noted for holding the odd live music event; perhaps that was my route back in time but without a rainbow scarf I couldn’t gain access, ramming the door only woke the dog and I assessed I was too early. Though by the time I’d detoured once more, governed by a broken compass, found another closed boozer I’ve listed as a music venue, uninventively named 23 Bath Street, I went on a hunch the side road by The George would be the way to my mecca.

Sure enough, over a bridge in a carpark a visage appeared, the golden wooded entertainment cathedral of The Cheese & Grain. With a café, The Grain Bar, on the side it was lively already, as a regular children’s clothes market, Little Pickles was just closing, allowing me to sneaky peak at the impressive venue. I could just imagine some great acts playing, who have in the past graced this stage. It was no Albert Hall, it was functional, yet in by modernism standard it was chic, alluring nonetheless.

I considered my tummy, at the café, but wandered off as on the way over to it, I’d seen another attraction beckoning me. Black Swan Arts is another point of interest, and I sheepishly entered, as a stranger does in a gallery shop. With some lovely art, you usually browse the circuit, make your excuses and go the way you came in, cos as much as I adore art, my wallet doesn’t.

Yet this was such a charming gallery, hosting plenty of workshops, it just fizzled into the Frome life already blossoming from its slumber outside. But I didn’t go out through the out-door, I sauntered to the rear of the shop to appear next in queue for the café, The River House, conveniently.

Handsomely expedient and adorably unpretentious, they kookily handed me a mini-figure of Batman’s Robin, rather than a spoon with a number on (which I secretly wanted to keep,) and proceeded to knock me up a hunky-dory mug of tea and perfectly toasted sausage ciabatta for a mere seven quid.

That’s when I got the bat-signal, sadly, my time was up and Dad’s taxi was back on call; just as I was getting into sharing my table with middle-aged beatniks far cooler than me. I pondered upon my return to the carpark, as a fellow sat on a bench practising his flute, Frome is a wonderfully original, outlandish place, deffo. If I was a younger, unattached lad, I could be persuaded to settle there, become part of the furniture at the Cheese & Grain.

But as it is, aging rapidly, rooted here with a settled family, and I must say, content with Devizes, I could only wish that our town council, our event organisers, and the great doers in town could take a leaf out of Frome’s books, shake off the partial frumpiness of Devizes, the discreditable tory grasp, and think outside the box. For all the great amenities we have in Devizes match Frome, yet our ability to utilise them as effectively, to accommodate everyone and their ways no matter how eccentric they might appear to others, sometimes, and I stress, only sometimes, falls beneath our potential; in, ha, you know, my honest opinion.

Though, I’ve returned home, added listings for The Cheese & Grain to our event calendar, as usual, but I mean, look, it falls within the ruling, really; they’ve got The Beat, The Feeling, Zion Train, Stiff Little Fingers coming up, they’ve even got Public Image Ltd, and thems worth driving the distances for, worth crossing border control into the land of somersetting for, if we can’t have Johnny Lydon here, punking up the Corn Exchange!


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