The Waterloo Music Bar in Blackpool survived effects of pandemic by the skin of its teeth says director Ian Fletcher

Tony Dewhurst meets Ian Fletcher, the director of The Waterloo music bar. Fletcher charts the venue’s fight for survival following the Covid-19 pandemic and how their loyal fan base helped keep the doors open.

By Tony Dewhurst
Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, 12:30 pm

Ian Fletcher’s voice breaks with emotion when he gestures towards a gallery of photographs, taking pride of place, besides the public bar at Blackpool’s Waterloo music venue.

Gruff motorcyclists in gnarled leather jackets, Mods sporting trim pork pie hats and Boating Blazers, punks, goths, and an old aged pensioner from Marton who calls at The Waterloo for a pie and a pint each week.

“I owe everything to them – they’re the only reason we are here today,” said Fletcher.

Ian Fletcher is charting the The Waterloo music bar's fight for survival following the pandemic

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    “Without them the doors would have closed a long time ago.

    “That’s why the photographs are there, to recognise their incredible generosity, spirit and support.

    “It is a tribute to them from us - I’ll be indebted to them for the rest of my life.

    “The Waterloo is their building now, that’s how I feel.”

    Ian Fletcher, owner of the Waterloo Music Bar in Blackpool Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

    Two years ago, the lights went out at one of the UK’s fastest growing music venues and Fletcher was left wondering, like many in the entertainment and arts industry, whether he would be calling last orders for good.

    He said: “The support for us from the music community, and I mean people from all over the world, who bought T shirts, caps, merchandise, and contributed to crowd-funding campaigns, meant that we were able to survive by the skin of our teeth.

    “We posted Waterloo merchandise to America, Japan, and Argentina – the response was incredible.”

    The venue on the corner of Waterloo Road and Central Drive received no government or Arts Council support.

    The bar inside Waterloo Music Bar is covered with photos of people who have helped keep them open. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

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    He said: “The government could learn a heck of lot from Blackpool Council, the way they supported us every inch of the way was wonderful.

    “We’ve completely revamped the venue and the only reason we’ve been able to do that is through people’s kindness, financial and moral support.

    Hawklords - they will appear at The Waterloo on April 7

    “It has brought us closer together with the community of Blackpool.

    “We’re a seaside town, so off-season when it’s not so busy and vibrant, hopefully we’re a shining light for the town.”

    He admits he was very proud after The Waterloo won double recognition in the North West Music Awards, landing the Best Grassroots Venue.

    Ian also claimed the Night Time Hero award for his unstinting efforts to support new music and charity work.

    Ian has been a long-time supporter of the Blackpool charity Streetlife, which helps vulnerable young people.

    “When we reopened after Covid, local band, Rupert Fabulous were the first act back on the stage, so it will be very emotional when they play The Waterloo again on Friday (March 25).

    Forthcoming highlights at The Waterloo include Hawklords (Apr 7), Apr 8: Rammlied (Rammstein tribute band), 15-17, Anarchy Easter punk weekend (The Outcasts, UK Subs), April 29: Ian McNabb.

    He added: “I’m so excited, and even though this year could be a really hard one, all I can say is that we’ve only just started.

    “I’ve done about twenty per cent of what I want to do at The Waterloo.

    “We used to be a pub with a bit of music on, but now we can class ourselves as a proper music venue.”

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