Sad Day for Melksham Assembly Hall

The stalwart venue of Melksham is being viewed more like just a wart by town councillors, in a sad day which could see the closing curtain for the Assembly Hall.

Melksham News reported on the rumour I’ve been trying to hold back on, hoping the day wouldn’t come, that Melksham Assembly Hall and the Town Hall could be sold off under controversial plans being considered by Melksham Town Council.

More than once, Conservative Councillor Phil Alford contradicts himself in conversation with Melksham News, in the very same sentences!

Here he defends his case by telling the newspaper, “the Assembly Hall needs £400K for refurbishment,” but adds “we should build a new facility.” Is it just me being thick, I mean I’m no building contractor, but wouldn’t building a new facility cost more than repairing the one you’ve got?!

And does it even need this colossal cost for a refurb at all? It looks fine to me as it is, lick of paint, job done. Face it, Melksham, other than a handful of excellent local pubs, like the Pilot and Foresters supplying the town with live music, you’ve hardly any few entertainment venues as it is.

The Assembly Hall is a pillar to the community, with a brilliant programme and variety of events to suit everyone. From top class tribute acts, massive fundraising events such as the legendary Female of the Species gigs, which had to be shifted to Seend, to regular clubs such as the twenty-five year strong Rock n Roll Club drawing crowds from across the country, and even the popular male stripper nights. Perhaps it’s the latter offending Mr Alford; feeling somewhat inferior?!

Has the smokescreen got in your eyes yet? The new campus project has seen closure of the library and historic Blue Pool too; how many eggs does this Councillor want to put in the same basket, I sigh. “We now have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something about it,” he continues his pitch, why is it “a once-in-a-lifetime chance?” is there no chance of a backhander in the future?

He said this, He. Actually. Said. This. “Now is the time to be creative, trust residents, decide on a plan and move forward for the benefit of the town,” regardless of the simple fact, next Tuesday’s meeting to decide upon the fate of the hall has the proposal it should be held as a closed session, preventing the press and public from attending. If that’s the best method of involving public opinion then I’m the Queen of Sheba.

It’s begger’s belief how closing a venue would “benefit” a town, but the cavalry comes in the form of independent councillor Jon Hubbard, who told Melksham News, “we don’t know the details of the options yet, but the Assembly Hall is a massive asset to the town.

It’s one of the largest halls in Wiltshire, there is nothing else that can compete with it in terms of capacity and I think we would be quite mad to even contemplate getting rid of that without replacing it with an equivalent facility.

All of the plans I have seen have been talking about significantly smaller facilities and Melksham already has a wealth of smaller halls and I see no reason why the town council should invest taxpayers’ money into facilities which will compete with existing assets that the town has.”

Well said Jon, it goes in line with the original rumour circulating, that some councillors wanted the hall to be only for events which they feel benefitted the community, in which case they’re in the wrong job and should be an events coordinator rather than a councillor. The Assembly Hall is the brilliant venue hosting self-propelled events I wish we had here in Devizes. The running at a loss argument is piffle in a peroid of economic decline, they all are unfortunately. Especially when said peroid is a direct result of appalling national decisions of the political party Mr Alford himself supports.

The irony is blinding, but folk have hijacked the Facebook post to express their disappointment and point out the significance of the Assembly Hall. One said, “The Town Hall is the very fibre of this town’s history. Its location at the heart of Market Place is the embodiment of the pride we have for our town. To sell the building for private ownership is beyond conscionable.”

Another said, “The town hall is the focal point for nearly all the town events. Selling it off is 100% short sighted. People travel for miles to see melksham Xmas lights and other events, if the town hall goes we would lose those or they would move to melksham house which doesn’t have the same focus in the town.”

The post is here, you can comment, but I’d advise to take your opinion to Mr Alford himself, his email is: Phil.Alford@wiltshire.gov.uk


Rock n Roll Lives; in Melksham!

Found myself in the Sham last night, hail hailing rock n roll at the Assembly Hall, something I’ve been meaning to witness for ages; and I’m pleased to report, they do it with bells on……

Passing through Swindon’s GWR works prior to the Steam Museum, I perchance to natter to an aged engineer prepping a locomotive for display. He frustrated his vocation was fading, and with no apprenticeship, the knowledge would be a lost trade. Art is different from a trade; it lives beyond the creators’ years naturally; it is only hope it inspires enough to attract devotees from future generations.

Creative types rarely contemplate this, tending to live for the moment. Rock n Roll was perhaps the first youth culture to transcend social and political barriers into mainstream. Generations of segregation had worn-out the connection of railroad slaves, mimicking four-beat folk of their masters, and white youths of the 1950s reunited it by blending blues into country, much to the outrage of traditionists. But would those early, wide-eyed rock n rollers have stopped to consider seventy years later their voices would still be ringing out, their fashion would be epitomised and their dances displayed with such enthusiasm, in a market town hall in South-West England?!

Geoff and his wife proudly sit on the door of the Melksham Assembly Hall and welcome me. They have been the backbone of The Melksham Rock N Roll Club since its formation, twenty years ago. Recently two clubs opened in Bristol, he expressed, but prior he’s had free reign of the niche market for a few years. Coupled with winter’s chill and the resistance to head back out post-lockdown, he shrugs, unruffled attendance is slightly down. I pulled up a chair for a chat of all things Buddy Holly to Shakin’ Stevens, then popped inside to see for myself.

Despite his reservations and taking into account the hall is wonderfully spacious, it feels suitably packed in there, if this is an evening of lesser ticket sales it certainly doesn’t show. Devotees of rock n roll have come from afar to attend; Geoff cites members trek from Bristol, and even as far as Essex.

The closest we have here in the ‘Vizes is the Long Street Blues Club, which while spectacular can be a library-like appreciation society; I was shushed in there while thanking Ian for inviting me! Here appreciation is displayed rather differently, events aptly referred to as “dances,” while hold factors akin to many clubs, a live band, DJ and a raffle, the most astounding part was the dancing. There was no way I dare step onto that dancefloor to be showed up, as matured and authentically attired regulars would put upcoming generations to shame with their astounding moves! Trade in your gym membership, come here instead for a rock n roll workout!

With poodle skirts whirling around refined gents in double-breasted Chesterfields and winklepickers, it’s an impressive spectacle. I was interested to observe the age demographic, concerned, like the steam engineer, for his disappearing trade. I’d spoken to Geoff about diversity, for what is considered “rock n roll” is altered by later age-groups, through Zeppelin to punk. But acceptance of progression felt like a no-go zone; this was traditional, fifties fashioned rock n roll, like it or lump it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the band, hailing from various locations from Hungerford to the Cotswolds, this five-piece ensemble called Haney’s Big House had the classic arrangement; bona-fide frontman on lead, bassist, drummer, harmonica and an outstanding upright double-bass player. It proficiently spelled rock n roll to me, they played their own awesome compositions, and relished in covering Bill Haley and Chuck Berry, to name a few. Yet conversing outside, nick-picking gossip circulated it was too blues, whilst others suggested too rockabilly.

True, but the band don’t hide this blues influence on their own website, and inside the crowd danced on seemingly unconcerned. I huffed at a minority of grouches, they revelled in nights of yore through rose-tinted specs, when unfortunately, that era has passed. Haney’s Big House made for an excellent evening, seemed to love the spotlight and were a perfect match for a rock n roll club.

Akin to the contemporary scooter scene, subgenres have to merge back into one another in hope of survival, as Northern Soul mods meet ska-led skinheads, so rockabilly, RnB and blues should be accepted as fair game by fundamentalist rock n rollers, otherwise the scene risks fragmentation over time.

A heartfelt concern, because I’m with Joan Jett, loving rock n roll, put it every time on the jukebox baby; I grew up listening to Elvis, Buddy et al, via parents. There’s nothing like the authenticity of original rock n roll, with an epoch to match, The Melksham Rock N Roll Club is an institution upholding this ethos and they do so with matchless effort.

It was a brilliant evening of beguiling retrospection and long may it continue for another twenty years plus. My demographic observations came up trumps, while a palpable majority were retirement age diehards, a sprinkling was younger, equally excited about the scene. Though that number has to be upped, so I urge anyone affectionate of old timey rock n roll, try this affordable club for size; it’s reelin’ and a rockin’ to the point age is just a number, folk of all ages twirling the night away; absolutely wonderful!

Next dance is Saturday 26th February with Jive Street….

Stay updated via their Facebook page.


Check out other forthcoming events at Melksham Assembly Hall Here, from Abba and Carpenters tributes to Madness and Led Zeppelin…and erm, “ladies” nights!


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