Eat, drink, shop and prog: the venue that lets you do it all

Clifford and Thomson with Roger Dean and Rick Wakeman

Behind the red-brick facade of a former Georgian coaching inn in rural Sussex lies one of the UK’s most unusual spaces. Trading Boundaries is an award-winning live venue, retail complex and restaurant that also houses Roger Dean’s official art gallery. As far as venues go, it’s certainly unique and has some very famous fans.

“I remember one extraordinary weekend where we had Steve Howe for lunch, Steve Hackett for dinner, and Robert Fripp turned up for tea with Toyah!” laughs the venue’s director and co-founder Michael Clifford.

He and business partner Tracy Thomson opened Trading Boundaries as a specialist furniture shop in Surrey in 1996. Little did the two former property developers realise it would be so successful, they would soon end up moving to a larger space in Fletching. The move gave them the opportunity to expand beyond anything they could have imagined.

“Before we were offering proper food in the café, we would fire up the barbeque on bank holiday Mondays,” says Thomson. “We started adding music and it became so popular that the next natural step was to add regular live music into the café.”

The Elephant Café has hosted numerous live performances over the last decade, including exclusive shows from some of the biggest names in the world of prog. Rick Wakeman, John Wetton and Focus are among those who’ve played at the 150-capacity venue, with Caravan, Gryphon and Steve Hackett all planned for this year.

“Both Tracy and I were brought up with Genesis and Yes, so we love that sort of music,” says Clifford, “but Focus were probably one of the first prog artists we put on [in 2008]. I hadn’t realised they were still touring and went to see them in concert. I met Sir Thijs van Leer afterwards and asked if he and the band would come and play at Trading Boundaries. They did and they loved it. They’ve been back several times now.”

Sir Thijs Van Leer Live At Trading Boundaries came out last year as a limited edition via the new Trading Boundaries label. The owners hope it’ll be the first of many exclusive releases.

“This really is one of those places where people go, ‘Oh my God, there’s such-and-such!’” says Clifford.

For the latest gig listings, see: www.tradingboundaries com.