After nearly three months away, Riga Music Bar is finally back up and running!
You know how it is: you start one small job and then that job leads to another…and then another.
We only intended to close for a week and somehow that week turned into three months! Since we’ve closed we’ve had tonnes of time to re-evaluate our situation here and that meant ramping up the changes that we were originally planning on making. Although we knew that we’d be disappointing our audience by staying closed for so long, we knew that our most dedicated fans would want us to take our time so that we could re-open better than ever.
Thanks to our mates over at The Raj, we’ve been able to hos a number of truly unique performances in a great space that has kept interest in our music nights going whilst also boosting the popularity of what has always been our favourite Indian restaurant. Now that the work’s completed though, we’ve been happy to break in the venue once more with a few of the best solo artists performing at the moment. We’ll hand it over to our features writer, Jolene Fitzstewart to tell all…
It feels strange being back in the Riga after such a long time away.
As the doors open and a bunch of familiar faces start to flock back in, I get a chance to appreciate how different the space really feels.
Now that a number of windows have been created in the bistro area there’s a lot more light in what used to be a bit of a squalid canteen room. It’s now a social environment with the late Spring sun beaming through the skylights and the beer flowing freely, it almost feels like Summer…almost.
Once you move into the gig area though, it’s back to business as usual. The darkness envelopes the punters as they enter with only their expectant faces illuminated by the newly added neon strip lighting, a nice touch that oozes an 80s retro sensibility which will serve tonight’s performers well.
HarshMannas is the stage name for Norman Hooper, he’s a local lad and has built quite the following over the last few years. Only 24-years old, this performer spent 2017 going through a rather dramatic change. HarshMannas started as a grime artist back in 2005. Fresh out of college, he had big dreams of heading to London and claiming his fame amongst his heroes, but things didn’t quite work out the way he planned. After struggling to gain traction in the capital he had to return home and find a new path.
The blissed out electronica and spoken word diatribes that HarshMannas is now known for have served him well and proves to be popular with the crowd here. Heads nod in approval, but there isn’t much in the way of dancing, they’re saving their energy for the main act.
After squirelling himself away in a studio for Winter, it’s a joy to see Tellurmonster back at the Riga Music Bar. In this new age of shape-shifting songwriters, his brand of deceptively complex music making is a welcome reprieve from the norm and soon has the audience shuffling in appreciation. It’s a stellar night at the Riga Music Bar and one that has hopefully reminded the punters why they loved this venue in the first place.
Our working relationship with the Raj is one that was borne out of competition which was quickly followed by mutual respect. Our town isn’t exactly big, so it can be easy to get possessive over footfall. The boys at the Raj were no doubt a little relieved when Jakers’ burnt down. Although a fried chicken shop was hardly going to be taking that much business away from a fully-fledged Indian restaurant, there had always been a rivalry between the two establishments. When we opened up our doors 6 months later, Sanjay and his team were no doubt a little disheartened to discover that we were planning on serving food as well!
Fast-forward a few years and our two teams have never been tighter. Their lads are often round our gaff enjoying the music and we’re frequently over theirs after a late-night working the bar. We’ve grown so close that they were good enough to let us schedule a series of gigs in their dining room. Programming for this new environment was a unique challenge, which meant avoiding aggressive or intrusive performers and seeking out smaller scale acts.
The Raj does a roaring trade in delivery orders during the week, however their dining room is often a little quiet during these times, so it was great to see it pretty much packed out with all of our regulars, who were eager to tuck into some authentic Indian grub and listen to some interesting modern music.
Our first act to grace the Raj’s makeshift stage travels around the world with nothing more than a laptop and midi-keyboard; bringing dark, chilled out Afro-inflected beats wherever he goes. Circadian Rhythms is the stage name for Ode Azikiwe, a South African born producer and DJ who’s been making a name for himself in his hometown of Johannesburg. Since 2004 Ode has been attempting to join the pulsating rhythms of New York’s club scene with his hometown’s Afro-beat roots, creating a number of original works, whilst also remixing many modern classics at the same time.
He makes for an innocuous figure, dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt with a baseball cap placed neatly on his head. With the lights dimmed, an expectant hush descends upon the dining room as small spots pick out the lone performer. His head nods imperceptibly as a simple djembe beat begins to take on a more sonorous timbre, the back light of his laptop illuminating a face full of focus. Diners nod their heads in appreciation and seem unsure as to whether or not they should continue eating.
It’s an admittedly novel situation. Although many people are used to having music on in the background whilst eating, it almost seems rude to tuck-in or converse when there’s a person who’s travelled such a long way to curate the soundtrack to your meal. 10 minutes into his 2-hour set, a deep South-African voice emerges from the rhythms to thank the diners for coming out but not to stop eating on his behalf.
The mood relaxes in the room and a quiet murmur of approval circulates around the room – bright wide smile is now reflected by the blueish-white LCD screen and it stays there for the entirety of the night.
Maxi James reviewed Circadian Rhythms at a seated concert on the 5th February 2018 whilst enjoying some time off from cheffing at the Riga Music Bar.
Whenever I think of folk music, my mind drifts to dismal country fairs, Joni Mitchell wannabes at open mic nights and God-awful-buskers in quaint historical cities like York and Winchester. So, with that being said, you might be surprised to hear that I found Folky Terry and The Strawberry Crunch Bunch to be one of the most entertaining and energising live acts to have graced our stage here at the Riga Music bar.
A good-sized crowd turned up for the support act on a Tuesday night, either an indicator that the students were back and really didn’t want to get on with their revision or that up and coming local act Good-Time Jarv was already building up a considerable local following.
With a mop of bleach blonde hair and a battered acoustic guitar, Good-Time Jarv more than resembles a certain deceased Grunge icon however the pure tone that he sings with and the delicacy of his guitar puts him in closer reach to a singer like Norah Jones than any of Cobain’s acoustic work. As is expected from a large crowd, Jarv initially struggles to be heard over the din, however after drawing the mob’s attention with a blinding rendition of Bowie’sThe Man Who Sold The World (surely a nod to his bleach blonde 90s hero) he soon settles into a groove that has the audience lapping up his softly crooned vocals.
By the end of Good-Time Jarv’s set the Bar is reaching max capacity and there’s some real anticipation building in the room. The stage is cleared and brightly coloured instruments of all shapes and sizes are brought on stage. There’s a tuba, a double bass and even a Korg synthesizer: hardly the kind of instruments that you’d associate with a usual folk band but, then again, Folky Terry and The Strawberry Crunch Bunch aren’t your usual folk band.
The 7-piece band are given a rapturous welcome as they take their positions on stage. Dressed in black, they’d look a little ominous if it weren’t for their technicolor instruments. The band begin a thrumming intro based on Sunflower River Blues, a folk standard that is clearly familiar to the crowd. As this opener reaches a crescendo, the man himself bounds on stage. Folky Terry has always been known for his outlandish getup, yet it seems like he’s really pushed the boat out for this show.
Thick dreadlocks wheel through the air as the front man grabs his uke and begins to strum madly; this kind of devil may care performance is normally associated with hardcore punk acts rather than folk performers and it’s clear that his energy is infectious.
Within a matter of minutes the crows is a sweaty mass of smiling faces and it’s clear that Folky Terry has won over a new slew of fans.
Folky Terry and The Strawberry Crunch Bunch played the Riga Music Bar on the 9th January 2018 and were reviewed by Part-Time Bar Staff member, Jolene Fitzstewart.
With yet another successful year under out belts, we thought we’d collect some of the highlights from the team here at Riga, from the most disastrous to the most successful!
Chip Pan Fire in the Kitchen
It was only a matter of time before an accident like this came a cropper. Every bar is tested at some point, whether it’s a robbery or something a bit more serious. Our little accident came in the form of an overzealous chip fryer and thankfully didn’t result in any lasting damage to either persons or property. A busy Friday night shift can often take it’s toll on the kitchen, ask any of our chefs; as tidy as they try to be sometimes, messes can often be hard to avoid.
Although we had to shut down the kitchen for the weekend, we were glad to be back up and running the week after. The faulty chip fryer was replaced and we’re happy to report that there have been no further technical issues – Jakers’ Chicken Shackwe are not.
Hosting the Bob Bobbins Blues Blast
For over a decade the name Bob Bobbins has been synonymous with groundbreaking blues music and it was our honour to host what would be the great man’s 27th annual Blues Blast this year at the Riga. As with all of his Blues Blasts, this one-day show brought together Bobbins’ seasoned house band with locally sourced talent, as well as Bobbins himself, making for an epic night of Blues that has gone down as one of the nights of 2017.
Combining the best dance and hoedown moves from around the world to create a completely unique, fun, community based experience that everyone can get on board with. Our inaugural Hoedown in May was a massive effort that spanned across the entire bar. We’re so happy to have such a talented and enthusiastic team here at Riga’s and it’s thanks to their efforts that we were able to pull this event off and keep it running throughout the year as a successful weekly event.
New Year’s Eve Extravaganza
We’ve always had fun at our New Year’s Parties and this year’s celebration was no different. Once more we opened our doors to the mercy of the town with only one aim in mind: to blow the socks off every person who chose Riga to party the New Year in with. We had a tonne of our friends helping us out this year and the live music performances were as much a celebration of them as it was of 2017 in general. Performers from our sensational World Hoedown teamed up with our Salsa DJs to build some seriously funky beats and it was great to see our chefs on the dance floor letting loose.
We’d all like to thank our wonderful staff for the great work that they’ve done for us in 2017. Riga Music Bar is going nowhere anytime soon, we’re going to be right here entertaining you lot for as long as we can!