Last night we returned to the Walnut Tree in Maidstone, having played there in 2007. It's a unique venue with a set up which suggests it shouldn't work, but which does work and has done for coming up to 20 years.
It's a stage in the corner of a pub, and nobody pays to get in. That is usually a recipe for disaster, for comedians being undervalued or ignored. Also, instead of the usual compere and 2 or 3 comics, you get one act doing 45 minutes solo. Who's going to sit through that you think. Especially since the act doesn't start till 9.30 at night, by which time your punters will be well merry and a nightmare to try and quieten down.
But no, not at the Walnut Tree. Because here they have a tradition, stretching back to 1990, whereby they have invited in up and coming comedians and given them a good hearing. Photos on the wall attest to early appearances by the likes of Bill Bailey, Ed Byrne, Jimmy Carr, Catherine Tate and many many more, all of whom have been warmly received by a faithful comedy-friendly crowd. And last night was no different.
If there's one factor that sometimes runs more smoothly in bigger venues, it is the technical back up. For sound cues, an act like the Socks has to rely on the CD player behind the bar being operated, in slightly subdued light, by Peter the owner. This can be entertaining in itself, as his clip from last night demonstrates:
I look forward to returning there sometime in the future, and urge all Maidstonians to make a bee-line there every Thursday. You won't regret it.