Sadly, Stix and family moved on from the East Kent at the end of 2017. Clearly, a pub full of happy drinkers wasn’t enough for the brewery! Passing the East Kent now, it’s hard to believe that for a few months, you could catch fantastic live acts for free there at least once a week. I’ve left this post up in appreciation for a marvellous moment in time…
We’ve walked past the East Kent pub in Whitstable dozens of times (for Mrs M, make that hundreds or more as she grew up there). We’ve watched it decay and close; worried as it started to be refurbished lest it turn into another ‘investment opportunity’ apartment building or, only slightly better, up market gastro pub; and breathed a sigh of relief when it reopened as a pub offering nothing more complicated than good beer and simple food, but little did we guess what a gem of venue it would turn out to be.
We had our suspicions on our previous visit, when we noticed they had a rockabilly band on – shame, but we were committed to a family ‘do’. Then when we went back recently, there was another very rockabilly-sounding band name on the blackboard outside, and a very rockabilly-looking landlord doing odd jobs outside. Fortunately, this time we had a free evening so, leaving the wee beastie absorbing handy German phrases at the hands of auntie and nanna, we decided to give it a try.
One step inside the door, and we realised this was no one-off occasion as we were confronted with the sight of a packed pub full of our sort of people. Things got even more interesting when the bloke who kindly pointed out the coat hooks turned out to be a guy who’d been in our respective circles 30-odd years ago and who recognised me instantly! Cue half an hour of intense reminiscing as we worked our way through a long list of mutual friends and events.
And then the band, Leroy and the Rockets, storming their way through two sets of hard core rockabilly in a performance space little bigger than the average front room, but clearly relishing every minute of it. And no wonder, as their audience contained more than a sprinkling of fellow rocking musicians, including Lew Lewis, freshly returned from the Viva Las Vegas weekender, who stepped in to take vocals on a couple of tracks. Also spotted in the audience was Vivien of Holloway, taking a break from her vintage fashion business in her favourite seaside haunt.
A break in the proceedings gave me a chance to catch up with landlord Stix Outram to find out just how this classic pub had been brought from the edge of closure to become such a dedicated Big Beat venue. Very simple, he explained, he lives around the corner, played regularly with the Nagasaki Three in the next pub along the road, and couldn’t bear to see the East Kent go to waste when it entered into its makeover. Despite never having run a pub before, and with the backing of an equally brave wife, he made a call to the brewery to tell them he had a vision for the refurbished pub. ‘So do we’ they replied, ‘Come in and talk to us’. And what a vision – a decent pub by day, and a cracking music venue, with bands featuring sometimes three nights a week – and none of your one man and a guitar pub singers, either, as Stix puts all his performing contacts and experience to use to draw in the sort of music he and his punters want to hear. The future gigs list reveals an exhausting line-up of well-known and promising bands stretching into the winter including a good few favourites of ours – the Baron Four, Lew Lewis and the Twilight Trio and Mrs M’s old pals the Houserockers. You can find it all on their Facebook page.
The East Kent really is something special. A proper and salubrious pub, in an attractive part of the country, dedicated to hosting the kind of live music we love to hear. And the fact that it’s just ten minutes walk from my mum-in-law’s front door just makes one more good reason to pay a regular visit!
PS – forgive the rotten photo quality – we were waving a mobile phone around in the crowd just hoping for the best!! This article first appeared in Now Dig This, Britain’s longest-running magazine dedicated to the Big Beat.