Tucked away off the Thames main street in historic Grahamstown is a little venue with a big heart and a whole lot of soul.
Aptly named, The Back Room nestles to the rear of iconic music store Lotus Realm and represents both the values of its owners and the collaborative endeavours of the surrounding community. Opened a year ago by the Sudarshanaloka Trust, the intimate venue is already punching well above its weight attracting the interest of well established kiwi and international acts.
However, the vision was originally inspired by local artists, students and music lovers, who lamented the lack of a small, accessible space where music could be enjoyed and explored.
“As a music shop, we are kind of a hub for anyone involved in music in the community. People kept saying there was really no small venue where students or small groups could meet to practice and perform and collaborate. So the idea was a response to that need,” explains Ujjalamati, a member of the Sudarshanaloka Trust which translates as “land of beautiful vision”.
The development of what was originally nothing more than a corrugated iron barn began in early 2018 and quickly became a partnership project as local musicians came together to fundraise, garage sales were organised, materials gifted and hours of labour donated.
“It was a real community effort and we were delighted when we were able to open in May on time and on budget,” recalls Ujjalamati.
Since then, the completed venue, which can seat up to 50 people, has had a stage added, sound equipment installed and more comfortable seating introduced. As fundraising allows, the space continues to evolve, with a lighting system and projector screen on the future wish list. Gigs now take place every couple of weeks, with art exhibitions held around every second month.
“We’ve just been blown away by the positive response we have received. We have groups and musicians contacting us, many of them well known acts who are including us as a stop off on their tour, taking the opportunity to do a smaller, intimate gig. We haven’t had to go looking for that, they have come to us which is amazing.”
Despite this rapid success, The Back Room remains faithful to its roots and original purpose providing a haven for local creatives of all sorts. The Thames Acoustic Music Club, a Te Reo Maori class and a community choir are just a few of the organisations that have been welcomed, along with a steady line-up of musical talents. Upholding the Trust’s values of compassion, generosity and collaboration the venue operates on a system of reciprocity.
“This means we don’t have set charges. We deal with people who would like to use the space on a case by case basis. Some people may be able to contribute more, some less. Some will make a donation or maybe assist us with fundraising. And we look at the value of what they are providing through their creativity. Another unique thing about The Back Room is the no alcohol policy. It makes it really nice and comfortable for kids and students. The musicians tell us they like it because the people are coming purely to hear them play,” says Ujjalamati.
With such a growing reputation, there are exciting times ahead for this no longer hidden gem. The Narcs, Simon Donald and kiwi jazz and roots band Kokomo are all on the bill in the coming weeks. And, in between hosting these top acts, the hard work continues as The Back Room, supported by the community, continues its evolution.
Check out our creative places page for more information and contact details for The Back Room Thames.
Article published 21st April 2019