Ripley... home of the blues

The birth of the Blues came late to Ripley's Town Hall. But stars from around the world now flock there to perform. Chris Berry reports. Pictures: Jim Moran.

Appearances can be deceptive, and, from the outside, the Town Hall in Ripley, is a prime example.

Standing proudly at the north end of this small, but perfectly formed, village, is the grand baronial hall that was built in gothic style in 1854.

From Ripley's main, and, indeed, only street, you are given several options as to its original purpose. It looks like a church building, with its stained-glass windows, but the bay windows give the impression of it being a country house – albeit a scary one.

There is a rather large clue to its real identity as you draw closer and see its name above the second tier of windows, but a decent knowledge of French is required to understand wholly its intended role.

It was named the Hotel de Ville – but it's not a hotel either and never has been. Those more knowledgeable than others, aided perhaps by being aware that the eccentric William Amcotts Ingilby had rebuilt the village modelling it on a French village, will know that Hotel de Ville means Town Hall.

Inside, and at ground level, you're met with what looks like nothing more than a village hall. A stage, wooden floor, and a badminton court are all you see. Yet here you are in the home of the Blues.

Andy Herrington is the man behind the Ripley Blues Club. It has its own website that has had more than 10,000 hits; has played host to The Yardbirds, The Blues Band, Chris Farlowe and Doctor Feelgood. And now it has its own CD – Ripley Blues – The First Five Years.

Andy says the birth of the club came about by accident. "I sent off for a CD of a band I'd seen, Nine Below Zero, who were the support act for Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall, and as a joke, at the bottom of the letter, I put 'Do you fancy playing Ripley Town Hall?' They replied saying they did and that they could do September 4."

It was to be the catalyst for what is now a monthly blues venue and which has featured bands from all over the world.

"My first problem was assuring the band of an audience. Ripley doesn't have enough people of a gig-going nature to come along, so I had to start making calls. We ended up with a reasonable crowd. It certainly wasn't an embarrassment, but I did lose a couple of hundred pounds on it overall.

"The fantastic thing though was that I got such a high from it," says Andy. As many promoters and venue managers have found, music venues are not all about being plush and ultra-comfortable. They are more about the ambience, building a reputation – and that's exactly what the Ripley Blues Club has done; so much so that many more bands now want to play there.

"All bands love coming here. They enjoy the rural setting." The capacity is around the 250 mark, with some people travelling from as far away as Scotland and the South of England. "The nature of our venue is that it's not intimidating (although the building may look quite formidable). You can come along without any fear of what might happen to you."

As well as putting Ripley on the music scene map, the Blues club has also become a significant contributor to the upkeep of the building, which now plays an even more community-based role.

"We have, thanks in the main to the generous sponsorship from Sir Thomas Ingilby, who is also a strong supporter and attendee of Ripley Blues Club, and the Heritage Lottery Fund, made significant changes to the Hotel de Ville, which have benefited the whole community."

So which bands and acts would Andy like to see gracing the Ripley Town Hall, Hotel de Ville or whatever name they call it in the future?

"Obviously, I'd love to be able to get Eric Clapton, Van Morrison or Chris Rea here. Most people like playing smaller venues these days. It looks likely that Georgie Fame will be here next year, and I'm talking with Eric Burdon's agent about him coming over from America where he lives now."

n You can purchase a Ripley Blues T-shirt, as well as the Ripley Blues CD, and find out latest gig details by logging on to: www.ripleyblues.com or by ringing Andy Herrington on 01423 771281.