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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Rowdies Going Down the Pub

I’ve been thinking recently about how good the sitcom Cheers was back in its heyday, it broke the perception that going down the boozer was something typically English and in the US you don’t get the same community spirit. Similar with Moe’s bar in the Simpsons, the US has a parallel ethos, your local watering hole is a fundamental asset in modern life, a community hub; social media just doesn’t compare I’m afraid. Fair to presume it’s the same whatever part of the world you are, sometimes you want to go “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.” Steady, it must be called  Rowde for a reason!

 

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From the moment I moved here I’ve loved the Cross Keys, standing on the site of the original timber-framed, thatched pub which burnt down in 1938, it’s a spacious tavern which was bulging with punters when I first stepped in, the 2006 World Cup being broadcast from Germany and plates of sausages and of chips were shared.

 
“We’re doing a lot for the World Cup this year,” Kelly tells me as I prop up the bar. Her name’s been above the door for the past couple of years, and she and her team are thoroughly dedicated to amend any chequered reputation it once may have had. Winner of Wadworth’s Best Neighbourhood Pub contest last year, and a runner up in Claire Perry’s quest to find the best local pub, it’s easy to see why.

 

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There’s a varied timetable of events and happenings, the August bank holiday sees the return of the popular Splat the Rat, but Kelly, in contrast is holding a “Ladies Night,” on the 29th June, where a DJ, a Drag Queen and something called “Hunks in Trunks” do, erm, whatever it is they do. Not for me I’m afraid, but that’s our point; a village pub needs to be for all, and that’s exactly what the Cross Keys is achieving, for it’s villagers, and it’s well worth the mere couple of miles travel for those in Devizes; come on over, we don’t bite.

 
On the subject of biting, the Cross Key’s grub is most alluring for visitors, and it’s spot on for a fair price. Continuing from the previous owners rep for an awesome carvery, the Sunday carvery is still popular. It’s the everyday menu of homecooked, locally sourced (G&W Butchers, Poulshot Lodge and Fine Food Company) pub classics which Kelly is most pleased with, adding the attention to wider vegetation and glutton-free options.

 

 

“We had a build-a-burger night, which was popular,” she told me, planning on returning the occasion. That said, checking out the skyscraper styled burgers already on the menu, I wonder if there’s need!

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Once you’ve had your fill, it’s good to know the pub also runs a fitness class (!), and here’s exactly what I mean about being the hub of village life. While it’s one thing for a town pub to put on great live music, a village or community pub needs to be so much more. Kelly, still open to music events, with free hire of the function room, but from aforementioned fitness classes, to the cup cake night and from the popular craft fayres and workshops with wonderful crafters Twiggy Owl Designs and others, to bingo and quiz nights, notwithstanding a fine gin menu, the Cross Keys has everything you could want from a village pub, and continues to strive to impress.

 

 
Bringing the community in is what it’s all about, such as the amazing idea of “Dementia Friends,” on 2nd July, which will be a fun, hour session learning more about the condition and what how to make life ‘friendlier’ for those affected by it. You can’t knock that, just welcoming the elders of Rowde for tea or coffee is brilliant in itself.

 

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We held our wedding reception there back in ermmm, whenever it was again, and the kid’s christenings, so I’m overjoyed to see it still running efficiently in these hard times. Hats off to Kelly then, for maintaining our hub; I wish her all the best and hope there’s many more happy years with her name above the door.

 
Check out the Cross Keys website, book for the carvery. Like them on Facebook.

 

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