570 Christchurch Road, Boscombe, Bournemouth BH1 4BH
This is not a bad place at all to have as a local venue and it’s been a regular destination for me since the mid-noughties. The more recent gigs here that I’ve covered in my blogs are listed in the links at the end of this blog. These experiences have led me to gather the notes and pics that follow. My last visit was for The Wailers on 3 March 2022.
If I was only allowed to go to one venue for a year it would probably be this one – the O2 Academy Bournemouth – it’s in Boscombe. The bands coming seem to be more up my street than they have previously. It’s a great mid-size venue.
The O2 Academy isn’t in central Bournemouth but slightly out, in the the main shopping precinct of Boscombe. I usually end up driving and Hawkeswood car park nearby is fine, near Sainsbury’s just a couple of hundred yards from the venue – via choice of dimly lit alleys, or indeed through Sainsbury’s itself.
The train link is not that handy, a 1.3 mile walk from Bournemouth main station. The nearer station is Pokesdown, pretty eerie at night, and not such a regular service, which is a straight 0.7 mile walk. There is The Bell pub opposite Pokesdown Station – a useful waiting room I’ve used when training it to AFC Bournemouth.
The M2 bus goes near, and via Bournemouth town centre, and it’s a night bus route as well. Getting/ meeting a cab after isn’t easy. Busy and not a great place to hang about or get stuck in given the street night life characters. The venue is within a pedestrianised high street.
This, the old Opera House, is a lovely venue inside – not totally without its shortcomings but generally it has a decent programme of touring bands, in an attractive historic building with a good sound. The downside is the lack of pubs in the immediate area and the druggie and beggar honeypot the high street can become, especially on a busy night at the O2.
Nearby Chaplin’s is a great place in its own right and the only close pre-gig place for a pint I am familiar with – I’m all ears for anywhere else. It’s quirky, busy and worth a visit. Give yourself plenty of time as a ‘swift one’ maybe ambitious for big gigs.
If looking to stay over, within walking distance there is a Premier Inn further down Christchurch Road – not their finest example but you get to go to Chaplin’s bar after the gig eh (I did that after Public Image Limited a couple of years ago). I guess if you’re coming to stay over you’re going to be better staying in central Bournemouth or on the sea front and getting a cab.
One thing to watch for is the variable start times for gigs – as with all of the O2 Academy venues (there was a time when main bands were always on at 9ish). They sometimes have early curfews, especially at weekends and so start promptly, maybe with a nightclub session opening for ‘the kids’ after the oldies have been cleared out and packed off home to bed.
At least with Twitter and Facebook these days we can look up the support bands and usually get an estimate on stage times.
When I visited in July for From the Jam the bars had gone cashless (cards only).
This O2 Academy is a beautiful and ornate structure – it opened in 1895 as Boscombe Grand Theatre. The capacity is 1,800, with all of it open. It’s standing everywhere downstairs, bar the small accessible chairs down on the left beyond the usual merch stand site. There is a small standing balcony (one deep unless you don’t want to see) on the first floor, with some lounge sofas and low tables behind which you can’t see anything from. On the second floor there is a higher seated balcony called ‘The Gods’. Three rows and these are often not open and a surprisingly good view if wanting to dodge the mayhem downstairs of a busy gig or rest your legs. It’s unreserved seating, when available.
One development I noticed at The Wailers was some tables and chairs set out near the downstairs rear bars. This was with the upper two floors shut and a significantly less than capacity crowd. Not seen the downstairs tables since.
When the upper floors are open there is a quieter balcony bar open on the first floor. The larger seperate bar upstairs is rarely open for gigs these days. Shame. Met Gary Numan and his band up there once when it was open after a show.
When it’s busy here getting a drink is pretty tortuous particularly early on, whether queuing nicely for the smaller corner bars or bundling in at the side bar – those are the traditions. It’s almost tempting to buy one of those dreadful beer bucket two pinters 🙄 (..ok I did have one recently in Bristol O2.)
The beer choice has been limited for long time to lager or horrible lager on the taps. Occasionally there are some bottles of ales (Wychwood for example) or more lager in cans, stashed in the metal fridges – need to ask. The addition of Shipyard Pale Ale on tap has been good to see. It is expensive – I suppose all the big venues are.
Unless it’s absolutely rammed it’s quite easy to wander down particularly the left hand side to get a closer view. The sound is lost a bit under the balcony though so I wouldn’t hang about under there all gig.
A wander upstairs to the first floor standing balcony can also get you a different glimpse of the stage, through people.
As usual right in front of the mixing desk is a good standing, even leaning, place if you don’t want to be down the front. No one behind you either so holding a camera/phone up isn’t irritating anyone and a beer shower is less likely.
I’ll update this as I go – things change. There’s plenty coming up in my Boscombe gig calendar 😎
Links to my previous blogs on which these notes are based:
– Wolf Alice (post Lockdown)
– Blossoms (as Lockdown hit)