Have A Cigar: Robin 2

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Mike Hamblett reveals the secrets behind one of the Midlands’ premier independently run small gig venues.

“I wanted to open a venue for people who used to go to clubs when they were young, whose kids had grown up and were now ready to start going out again, but in a venue where they felt safe and comfortable,” explains Mike Hamblett, founder of Bilston’s The Robin 2.

So in 1998, six years after he’d set up the original Robin, its sibling came into existence. Being a former musician (he’d played in local Queen-influenced band Sub Zero), Hamblett’s nose for the local scene was strong. The now-defunct Dudley-based rock club JB’s was Hamblett’s blueprint and he tailored it to his own taste. “The profile of a typical Robin 2 punter is me! I created it for what I like: great live music, not being kicked out for club nights after the show, great friendly atmosphere, great sound, great people… and being able to hold a pint while you’re watching the band.”

The Robin 2 has garnered near-legendary status, and certainly adheres to Hamblett’s simple but vital need for a good local venue, but there’s a lot of hard work involved in running it. “My time is totally consumed by The Robin 2,” he admits. “I work 10- to 12-hour days, seven days a week, then go away for two weeks every six months to recharge the batteries.”

Hamblett’s endurance in defining The Robin 2 as an independent venue against the big gig spots – “the corner shop versus the supermarket chain” – is a point of pride. The fact the venue has played host to the likes of 10CC, Ian Hunter (his personal highlight), Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, along with other big prog names, gives him great pleasure.

As the key figure in what’s now a thriving home-grown music scene, Hamblett has become somewhat of a local celebrity. He argues that it’s necessary to “keep the profile of the venue as high as possible”, which keeps him on his toes: “I spend an incredible amount of time on the internet researching, trying to get new acts here – which, as one of the few independently owned and operated venues left, is getting harder and harder.” DK

For the latest listings, visit www.therobin.co.uk.