Created with the kind of “let’s put on a show” energy unseen outside of a Cliff Richards musical, The Rafters is a new music venue in Maidstone that’s quickly made a name for itself as the place to go on a Saturday night, dragging in alternative types from around the town, and making people of a certain age sigh wistfully that it reminds them of the Union Bar. I know what they mean. The no-frills décor and the absence of a dress code makes it a laid back place to hang out, free from the pressures of coolness and safe from the shirty nutters that roam the high-street in clouds of aftershave and barely restrained violence.
It’s run by a local promoter, Zoe Sparkle (known to her friends as The Sparkleator), who organises a host of pub gigs around the town, as well as co-managing the Maidstone Fringe Festival. Thanks to her hard work over the past few years, and that of Maidstone’s other promoters, our town has a thriving live music scene, with people playing nearly every night of the week. Until The Rafters opened, however, there was no dedicated music venue, the majority of the gigs being held in pubs, and the town’s only theatre being given over to a year long programme of Butlins style entertainment (it’s Panto whatever the season!) The Union Bar died a long time ago, living on only in the memories of its graduates. They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I think it’s equally true that you don’t know what you’re missing until it returns.
With a raised stage, proper sound system, and spacious dance floor, The Rafters is a proper venue. Already it’s hosted some fine live acts, bringing in fresh blood from around Kent and the London Boroughs, as well as hosting established Maidstone favourites. The range of music being played is broad, and the quality always excellent. The stand out act for me this month was Cut the Funk, a group of impossibly tight session men playing fat-back grooves that shook every arse in sight. As well as the live entertainment, The Rafters has a line up of DJs keeping the tunes going until four in the morning. Having talked to a number of punters (sober, of course), I’ve realised that everybody has an opinion on what kind of music the DJ’s at The Rafters should play. Nobody argues music more than alternative people, and for every person that’s happy with a bit of funk, there’s another who insist The Rafters should be a metal venue, a reggae venue, a hip hop venue. There’s been talk of hosting dedicated nights, a plus for people who know what they like. In my opinion, it’s the diversity of people and tastes that gather there that makes the venue what it is. Despite our differences, we all know what we are not.
After a successful opening two months, the future looks bright for The Rafters, and therefore for people who like the type of music they don’t play in the other clubs around Maidstone (“It says nothing to me about my life,” warbles Morrissey at the back of my mind.) Zoe is currently trying to get touring bands to use the venue for warm up gigs, which raises the exciting possibility that Maidstone could be host to some real world-class talent sometime soon. For now it continues to give smaller bands from around the country another place to play, and for that alone it should be applauded.