We closed our doors on 19th March and despite talk of pubs reopening on 4th July realistically we can’t see The Betsey being able to trade in any kind of sustainable way until the late autumn of 2020 and quite possibly much later. As well as our local business community a large proportion of our turnover derives from the 400 plus events we stage each year, and with no prospect of them returning in the foreseeable future and with local offices still largely empty, we find ourselves in a very tight spot as we look ahead.
For hundreds of years the British pub has provided a now sorely missed social hub, as well as a natural home to music, comedy and poetry. With the help of our dedicated community of gig goers and regulars we sincerely hope to be able to continue that fine tradition and see the Betsey fly again!
As you look down the Farringdon Road from Exmouth Market towards the River Thames, The Betsey Trotwood stands proud in the London landscape. In the background the Shard shimmers in the light.
Built in 1865 and formerly called the Butcher’s Arms, the Victorian pub has lived through over a century of London history. But more recent events are the story here.
Run by landlord Richard ‘Raz’ Cobbing, since 2006, it has developed a unique place in London gig-goers’ hearts. It’s a haven for the Betsey’s regulars, who are guaranteed some eclectic music in the bar to go with their beers, even on a rare night when no gigs are on. For many of the musicians and artists themselves it is a place to drop into ahead of and after gigs to meet friends and relax. The pub has created a strong sense of community amongst those who use it and a reputation that has seen it booked for many unusual one-off events.
Raz is himself no stranger to the limelight, as he represented Great Britain at the Olympics in both 1992 and 1994 in Freestyle skiing and before that was the World Games trampoline Champion in 1989. He still holds Britain’s skiing aerial high score record and keeps his hand in commentating for Eurosport for World Cup and Olympic events.
Sadly Raz recently lost his wife, Katie, but continues to live with his two sons in the rooms above the pub. His indefatigable good humour is still in place despite his recent trials and, like his friends and regulars, is itching for the pub doors to re-open....whatever form that may take.
The pub itself is a Mecca for music fans and comedy connoisseurs. Wired for sound on all three floors, it attracts name acts and not so well-known bands from around the world.
It’s renown within the music scene is such that ‘The Betsey’ features in songs by artists from as far afield as Nashville and Stockholm and it has featured in numerous music videos.
International artists regularly frequent its stages with one Californian band, GospelbeacH, making a specific request to play a secret gig there at the end of their UK tour earlier this year and Big Star’s Jody Stephens’ new duo, Those Pretty Wrongs, played a beautiful lazy Sunday afternoon set last November. Both were packed out with online waiting lists of people seeking entry.
But this isn’t just a pub that likes and supports music and live arts, its people live it too. Patrick Ralla manages the bar in between playing guitar (and multifarious other instruments) in both the pysch-folk band The Hanging Stars and The Rockingbirds, a long-standing flagship band for the Americana scene in the UK.
The Magic Numbers are essentially the house band and keyboardist / vocalist Angie Gannon can often be found there - alternately behind the bar pulling pints, ‘managing’ the occasional over-refreshed customer off out towards their beds or behind a microphone adding some spontaneous lead or backing vocals for the bands in the basement.
It has three distinct spaces with an upstairs room used for acoustic shows, comedy and poetry events, the main bar used for ‘Club’ events such as the regular Come Down And Meet The Folks roots music sessions and and the grungier basement (albeit accented with Sixties pop-art styled alcoves) where the sound of a rock band at full bore can be contained until the early hours.
Described as ‘one of the last beacons of authenticity in poetry and alternative music in the London scene’, it’s been the venue for a range of unusual events including an immersive ‘poetry brothel’. Its reputation led to Burberry and Dazed holding their after-show party for London Fashion Week there a few years ago, attracting A-listers such as Stormzy and Cara Delevingne to its dancefloors.
Recognition needs to be given to the Shepherd Neame brewery which has played a sterling role in supporting The Betsey in recent years and with the rent cancellation for tenants of its pubs during the lockdown.
On Saturday 20 June there will be a Betsey tribute show to raise money to support this iconic venue. Musician Danny Wilson, who has played The Betsey numerous times, at gigs with his bands The Champions of the World and Bennett Wilson Poole and off the cuff when he happened to have access to a guitar (never a problem ), has joined with Raz and Patrick to pull together a stellar line-up of Betsey ‘regulars’ and fans, including the Magic Numbers and GospelbeacH, as well as comedy stars Henning Wehn and John Hegley for an online festival to support the pub/venue.
This promises to be a highlight of the various online events to support the arts and venues during lockdown. To date, the number of acts wanting to support the cause has meant having to extend the event to a four-hour extravaganza to fit them all in. More may yet want to show their support.
Please join us this Saturday in celebrating this iconic venue and the people who make it the wonderful place it has become. If you can afford to donate to ensuring its ability to continue providing an essential focal point for artists and their supporters that will be much appreciated. If you cannot, then just join us to enjoy the music and the poetry and the humour anyway.
- Paul Docker (Betsey regular), London, June 2020