Carol Emmas meets the team behind Birkenhead’s creative hotspot

THE first thing anyone who has ever visited Future Yard for the first time will tell you, is - you REALLY must visit - it’s REALLY good. With a bar, coffee shop, kitchen, music, studios, art and photography exhibitions under one roof, what’s not to like?

Who knows, maybe the next OMD has already set foot inside the building

Yet, Future Yard is more than that - it definitely has an element of magic dust sprinkled upon it. You know when a venue is a bit special as you can instantly feel the subculture buzz. When I first visited in October to see Manchester Collective, Voice of the Whale, I had to pinch myself. I thought I’d walked into a 1960s French Left-Bank movie, or on to a New York Beatnik theatre set.

Future Yard Birkenhead External © Robin Clewley
The outdoor garden space at Future Yard © Robin Clewley

The second time I visited was on a mid-Saturday afternoon to meet co-founder, Craig Pennington. Again, the bar and coffee-shop was full of the coolest of people. My first question to Craig is, do you pay these people to come in to look the hippest of hip? Such people do not voluntarily visit Argyle Street on a Saturday afternoon.

"Yes, it does seem that way," Craig laughs. 

"We definitely have all kinds of interesting people coming through the doors. It might be people who will go to classical concerts, then there are elements of our audiences who are artsy or critical, and there are always alternative music fans in the mix."

Future Yard Birkenhead Girli 2 Gary Lambert
Girli performing at Future Yard © Gary Lambert

Future Yard is all about the music. In terms of food and drink it’s a destination bar that’s growing popularity lies in association with, and in the wake of the bands and musicians who play there. It’s interactive and both relaxed and exciting. 

In fact, it’s all you want it to be in Birkenhead or anywhere in the world for that matter. It also just happened that on the Saturday I’m here, OMD are preparing to play Future Yard for their first gig in Birkenhead for 40 years. 

My thoughts drift to how he has actually managed to get OMD to play Argyle Street - of all the places in all the world.

Future Yard Leftbank Soundtrack Birkenhead Andy Mc Cluskey Omd © Robin Clewley
Andy McCluskey of OMD has supported the Leftbank Collective

Hailing from Wirral himself, Craig explains how OMD have a continuing emotional connection to the area. 

“I had a conversation with Andy [McCluskey] very early on and he told me how OMD formed purely so they could play Eric’s and how Eric’s was a space and idea that was so, so powerful, that many of the late 1970s bands were incubated there.” 

“Andy was really excited by the idea of Future Yard and its aim to support new artists. He also liked the power that could potentially have. So I asked him, ‘do you fancy coming to do a gig - wanna come and play?’ And he said yes.”

Festevol Future Yard Birkenhead © Robin Clewley
This year's Festevol took place across Future Yard and IWF © Robin Clewley

The Leftbank Collective was founded to showcase some of the great things happening in Argyle, Hamilton, and the Priory area of Birkenhead. 

It’s a collaboration between Craig, Future Yard co-director Chris Torpey, and other local creative groups in the area, including Make Hamilton, Spider Project, Bloom Building, Convenience Gallery and Scenegraph Studios. 

In August, The Leftbank Soundtrack was launched, an animated music walk featuring newly commissioned compositions from some of the town’s iconic musical talent - Andy McCluskey from OMD, Louisa Roach of She Drew The Gun, Matthew Barnes of Forest Swords, musician and composer Andrew PM Hunt, Nigel Blackwell from Half Man Half Biscuit, and singer and songwriter Bill Ryder-Jones.

Future Yard Leftbank Soundtrack Birkenhead © Robin Clewley She Drew The Gun
Louisa Roach of She Drew The Gun © Robin Clewley

It’s great that Birkenhead has a bunch of organisations that recognise its potential and can push forward new creative and progressive ideas. 

Craig explains that there’s been a strong movement over the last five to ten years around the idea of music cities and what we can do to make spaces liveable and easy to be an artist in. 

“It’s everything across the board from parking and other really dry stuff, through to how a place can talk about and promote itself,” says Craig. 

He mentions Austin in Texas and how you’re greeted in the airport by ‘welcome to the music capital of the world’. 

“It’s delivered with such confidence - you can’t help but buy into it,” Craig says.

Future Yard Birkenhead © Robin Clewley Ivw
The team at Future Yard L to R: Craig Pennington, Cath Hurley, Matthew Hogarth, Christopher Torpey © Robin Clewley

Future plans include long term permanent spaces for arts organisations around Argyle Street and Market Street. Improvements of the cycleways, less traffic and more green spaces are also on the agenda in association with Wirral Borough Council. 

“We’re totally up for more ideas or collaboration and want to work with other creative and community organisations. We’re here as a resource to be used and we encourage people to get in touch. Especially now, as we’ve been like caged animals for the past two years.”

Future Yard is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) and its music training programmes are about reaching out to people who might not have gone to college, university, LIPA or SAE. 

“But, who are no less skilled or talented,” says Craig. “We have students working on the OMD gig tonight.”

Future Yard Birkenhead Argyle Street Bar
The venue includes a bar, coffee shop, studios, and exhibition space

After the OMD gig, Future Yard co-founder, Chris Torpey, tells me that the band ‘put on a hell of a show.’ 

“To see an audience made up of people who had travelled from across the UK and from further afield - Germany and USA - was such a great feeling," says Chris.

“And who knows, maybe the next OMD has already set foot inside the building and been inspired to start their own journey.” 

With a loan from Nesta’s Arts & Culture Impact Fund that has allowed Future Yard to buy the building, it’s a project with legs. Plus, a crammed line up of really exciting gig listings and arts towards the end of this year and into next. 

The only thing I have left to pass on to anyone who hasn’t yet been to Future Yard is  - you REALLY must visit - it’s REALLY good. 

Welcome to the music capital of the world.

Future Yard, 75 Argyle St, Birkenhead CH41 6AB

Read next: ‘It seemed like we’d waited forever for it’ - from Masonic Hall to a thriving arts hub

Read again: Future Yard launches music tour to celebrate Birkenhead

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