Thrill beats the chill

IT'S a blustery winter afternoon as I arrive at the Royal Hotel in South Grafton one Sunday. But the cold isn't the first thing to hit as I step outside into the beer garden ? it's the thump of drums and the low thunk of a bass.

These rhythmy blues are being played by a group of four musos. In a nod to the biting chill the drummer is wearing a beanie, but the cold hasn't stopped these men from turning out to the Royal's weekly open mic afternoon.

Nor has it kept an appreciative audience from gathering. There are families with their kids and groups of friends ? not to mention the three women who are having the time of their lives as they dance around a space they've allocat- ed as a makeshift dance floor.

Owner of the Royal Ben Partlett runs the afternoons to give budding musicians a chance to play.

"It's getting bigger and bigger every week," says Ben, sipping a beer. He has to talk loudly ? I can only just hear him over the music.

Ben has owned the hotel for 18 years. He left the Valley eight years ago, when he says the area was bustling with dozens of bands.

"We got back recently and the scene had dried up, so I decided to start the afternoons because it gives the young kids somewhere to play," he says. "Hopefully this can encourage them to get back into it and start the scene up again." ? Emma Cornford

Local Partners