SLIDESHOW: Breathing new life into the Galleon legend

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It’s hard to believe Stephen Pierre was once a shy, nervous lad, too scared to showcase his musical skills outside his own home.

But the nurturing he received as a glasses-wearing teenager ‘confident enough to play and sing at home – but not in public’ when he visited the old Galleon Bar is something he’s passing on to a new generation.

Inside the 'new' Galleon bar owned by Stephen Pierre

Inside the 'new' Galleon bar owned by Stephen Pierre

This month, it’s four years since he brought the celebrated music venue back to life, in a new location of Abingdon Street, as well as this year being the 60th anniversary of the original basement bar in Adelaide Street.

Stephen fell in love with the venue in his teens, when the resident pianists Teddy Corvo and Colin Hadley gave him the encouragement he needed to bring his skills into the open.

“Going into the Galleon at 17, I was a nervous kid in glasses, wanting to play piano and sing but being a little too shy to do it,” he said.

“I remember Teddy and Colin saying to me ‘have a go’. And that’s what I needed, someone to help me cross that bridge into playing publically.

“The Galleon was the place where you could make mistakes and learn how to do it.

“The memories I have looking back on that time, from now when performing is effortless to me – it’s the Galleon which gave me that ability.”

Stephen admits having a tear in his eye back in 2010 when he saw the original bar boarded up, ready for demolition under a compulsory purchase order for what was due to be an extension to the Houndshill Shopping Centre.

And he is clearly proud of having brought back what he describes as the ‘best name in Blackpool’ for live music on a small, intimate scale.

Initially he hoped to save the Adelaide Street venue, which closed in 2005, and gathered local support via Facebook, although that was not to be. But spurred on by people’s fondness for the old venue, he 
then started to look for an alternative spot where its ethos could be recreated.

“I started scouting around the town centre for somewhere big enough to do what the old bar did, but not too big as to lose that intimacy it had,” he said.

“It wasn’t a big place and, if anything, it was a bit scruffy - which added to its character and atmosphere, which was priceless.”

About to leave town one day after viewing another bar, Stephen received the call offering the chance to view what he remembered as Lucy’s Bar, and had also in its time been Jack’s Sports Bar and back in the Seventies was Mac Fisheries.

“I met the chap there and knew from the minute I walked in that this place would be the Galleon,” he recalls.

“Where the old bar was a basement and ground floor, this was ground and first floor with a similar capacity.”

An initial short term lease was signed, allowing both the brewery and Stephen a quick get out option, but he soon decided to take on the full lease and buy the bar outright, with contracts completed just in time for a New Year’s Eve opening party to see in 2011.

Despite breweries’ offers of refurbishments for the venue, Stephen stayed true to his original idea of retaining the Galleon’s ‘scruffy’ appearance and instead of scrapping the fittings and furniture left behind in Jack’s Sports Bar, he spent around £100 on a couple of pots of paint and having the carpets cleaned.

“With the scuffed black leather sofas and a bit of a clean up, it was perfect,” he said. “I went back to Heineken, and said instead of that £10,000 you offered to do the bar up, why don’t you knock that off my beer bill over the year which they agreed to do, and we’re still working really closely with them still today.

“The brewery’s support has allowed me to work with local charities and to sponsor various events. We raised money to buy a headstone for Callum Johnson, a little boy who died of cot death, and sponsored the football kit for Layton Junior School, and next year our charity will be Trinity Hospice.”

As a trained musical theatre performer and a jazz pianist and singer, Stephen’s main aim for the Galleon – for now– is to bring through new talents, with masterclasses offered at both the bar and its sister venue the Galleon Coffee Bar on Topping Street, passing on his own skills as well as bringing in other tutors.

And it’s this ambition which has seen the venue picked up by TV crews.

“We’ve become something of a destination for talent searches – Britain’s Got Talent were here last night, and we’ve had The Voice here twice,” Stephen explained. “To have producers approach me to use our venue is absolutely thrilling.

“And we attract a real age range – no one takes a second glance if someone in their 80s comes in and sings a bit of Frank Sinatra or a poet takes to the stage.”

And one of the new Galleon’s oldest customers is Stephen’s own uncle James Fitzpatrick, who at 78 credits the venue with bringing him ‘back to life’. He’s a regular at the Sunday evening ‘vintage’ session, which also draws in newcomers to the music scene keen to take the stage with host Kim Markham.

James remembers the original bar with fond memories, as somewhere he could take a new lady friend and recalls the homely atmosphere with a twinkle in his eye.

“To me, the old Galleon was not a pub or club, it was an institution,” he said. “On a Saturday night out at the Winter Gardens, you might meet a nice young lady and if it all went well you’d take her for coffee at the Galleon on the Sunday. That was the routine.

“But it was more like going to someone’s house than a pub. There was never trouble, the doormen would ask how you were when you arrived and check if you needed a taxi as you left - and the music was great, it was quality.

“There was no shouting or trashing the place, and if they knew it was your birthday a bottle of Champagne would appear.”

Top acts from the time were regulars at the old Galleon, and Stephen’s even been able to recreate that buzz this summer as the casts of musicals Avenue Q and Mamma Mia! became regulars during their stays in town.

“The Mamma Mia! cast worked very hard, but when they had a day off they would come in the night before and all be on the karaoke,” he said. “We’ve had all sorts of people in, Will Young has been and comedienne Chrissie Rock comes whenever she’s in town.”

Stephen added: “I’m very proud that we’ve been able to port across the name. The Galleon was 
 
famous for welcoming everybody at a time when things could be quite difficult and underground.

“The old pianist Teddy was like a Fylde coast Jools Holland, giving people a really early platform to work with some fantastically talented musicians. Schultz the drummer and Dave Wagot are others I remember, they were at the top of their game but played the Galleon for beer money.

“It was somewhere people went after a gig or show, back in the days when there were 10 top acts on in the various theatres, and it didn’t matter who you were you could come and not be bothered by anyone.”

And that friendly welcome is what has helped encourage James back out into the town centre – somewhere not typically frequented by the resort’s pensioners.

“Stephen has rekindled the Galleon,” he said. “I’m one of many who come now and it’s what I’ve been waiting for for years. It fetches back memories of yesterday, and that was a good day.

“All sorts of people go there now, to listen or to play. I used to stay in and watch TV, but not now.

“There’s a healthy, family atmosphere and the Galleon that Stephen has created is such a unique place.”

* Anyone with memories of the original Galleon bar, its owners and staff is welcome to contact Stephen, as he hopes to develop an archive of the venue to go on display in the first floor.