Musician’s quest to revive concert hall
A high-profile musician who lives in Caistor has told of his work to maximise the potential of a historic concert venue.
In his professional role, Steve Maxson, who lives on the former Caistor Hospital site, is Director of Music at Grimsby Minster.
But in his spare time, Mr Maxson is also chairman of a trust that is seeking to safeguard the future of Grimsby Central Hall.
As such, Mr Maxson is on a quest to attract crowds from miles around to the venue, which lies just off Freeman Street in Duncombe Street.
The Central Hall’s trustees recently won £10,000 in Lottery Funding to help them to explore ways of maximising the venue’s potential.
Mr Maxson also invited the Citizen to tour the venue on Tuesday (October 31, 2017).
“The main concert hall can seat 700 people, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s the hall attracted big names such as Slade, Adam and the Ants, Iron Maiden, the Stray Cats and Steve Harley,” said Mr Maxson.
“The acoustic here is really quite extraordinary. Susan Hollingworth is an internationally renowned conductor, and she tells me that one of the best concert halls she has ever performed in was our Central Hall.
“For the size of the space, it is also quite intimate. Wherever you sit, you are never far from the stage.”
One surprise during Citizen’s visit was how warm it was inside the 700-seat concert hall as the heating was not turned on. Another was to learn that there was a lot more to the venue than its main concert hall.
In fact, Grimsby Central Hall, which was originally built as a Methodist Church in 1936, is more like a complex.
“I don’t actually know how many rooms there are,” confessed Mr Maxson. “It’s a bit of a rabbit warren. There are many regular groups and societies that meet here, and we tend to refer to it also as a community centre, but we have the potential to take on so much more.”
The venue has faced closure at least twice. “At one point in the 1990s the plan was to keep it going until the Grimsby Auditorium was built, but the acoustic here still attracted people long after the Auditorium had opened.”
About two years ago the Central Hall faced closure again, prompting a meeting to see whether the public were prepared to save it, which was attended by more than 200 people. “Quite a few new people became trustees then.”
The main concert hall itself had the front seats removed during the visit.
“It’s a highly flexible space,” said Mr Maxson. “They were taken out when the wrestling was held here.”
With high ceilings and art deco fittings – including some distinctive octagonal-shaped lamps – the main concert hall has a stage that is tall, spacious, and decked out with a high rail to take either a backdrop or a projection screen. A large cross is normally mounted at the back of the stage but had been taken down during Tuesday’s visit.
“We’re very conscious of the heritage of the building but we also have to make the space work as a multi-purpose building,” said Mr Maxson. He added that a concert was staged roughly every other week, the most recent at that time being a Hallowe’en show staged by the CAST Theatre Group, which also holds regular workshops at Central Hall.
Posters on the walls advertised upcoming concerts by the John Ellis Quartet, the GSO Musical Allsorts, Into The Shadows and the Grimsby Philharmonic Society, with ticket prices generally being between £10-£15.
At present the venue is loss-making, running up between £20,000-£25,000 a year. In the past two years the loss was underwritten by an anonymous donor, which gave the trustees some valuable breathing space. However, that arrangement will run out next year and the recent Awards For All Lottery funding was offered so that the potential of the venue could be fully explored “There’s so much love for this place. It’s far too good to lose,” said Mr Maxson.
Some money is made by renting out space to different societies and businesses. “There are a range of charges, but we’re not expensive in terms of hire,” said Mr Maxson. During the visit, one business was hosting a training day, the Workers Education Authority was holding a class, and a company was also being shown round with a view to renting space for some regular conferences. “There are a lot of rooms in use, but there are more rooms that can be let.”
One such room is the Choir Room, which is quiet, carpeted, roughly 20ft x15ft, and fitted out with chairs and a bench and sink along one wall. The Old Vestry next door is similar and also fitted with a sink, but smaller – possibly 15ft x 9ft. “There must be loads of groups who could use space like this,” said Mr Maxson. “Maybe a parent and toddler group, or a writers’ workshop.”
Most of the rooms are significantly larger, including The Space, a small concert venue on the top floor with three large arch-shaped windows, art deco style, that have been sympathetically double-glazed. “It would make a great arts hub. There’s plenty of light in here,” said Mr Maxson. “At present, it is another room that is open to development.”
Another performance space is the Roy Kemp Recital Hall, named after a leading campaigner for Grimsby Central Hall in the 1990s. It has its own stage, a kitchen, and seating for 200. The Grimsby Philharmonic Society hosts weekly meetings in the room, where attendances can be as many as 80 people.
A Fisherman’s Chapel is lovingly furnished with seafaring artefacts and elaborate leaded light panels. It is still used for weddings and funerals, particular by former members of Grimsby’s fishing community.
Day-to-day management is undertaken by Howard Mills, whose parents Dorothy and Percy were the first couple to be married in the Methodist Church and used to run a greengrocers at the corner of Thomas Street and Pasture Street. Meanwhile, decorator Mark Long was carefully painting a radiator, with evidence of his hard work on every staircase in the building.
Before leaving, the Citizen confessed that it had never heard of Grimsby Central Hall before, despite living locally for nearly ten years.
“It’s the town’s best kept secret,” said Mr Maxson. “Lots of people will have heard of it and some will remember going to concerts here, but few people realise how big it is. We want to hear about people’s memories of here. It’s important to document them.”
Photographs by Stewart Wall