GAINING a place in an elite list of top 10 small venues in the UK within less than two years of opening is some pretty good going.

But when you realise that the place we’re talking about isn’t the latest addition to Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street or indeed Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter, but merely a small bar in the heart of Cheshire, it makes the accolade all the more impressive.

The Salty Dog in Northwich’s High Street is not piggy-backing on a vibrant music scene that’s been alive and well for decades. It’s leading its own revival in a town on the up.

“We have managed a hell of a lot over the past few months,” Salty Dog owner Chris Mundie tells the Northwich Guardian, as he reflects on a whirlwind end to the year.

The pub and music venue, which opened in April last year with a passion for craft beer and promoting original live music, has capped off its first full year by featuring in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, before more recently being listed in The Guardian’s coveted list of best small venues.

The list, which is often used as a checklist for travelling music fanatics, sees The Salty Dog in the company of Camden’s Green Note, The Deaf Institute in Manchester and Green Door Store in Brighton.

Northwich Guardian: The Salty Dog in High Street

“We’re not in a big city and we’re not in the most obvious place to find a popular bar or venue really, so I think it’s been key that we’ve thrown ourselves into the community,” explains Chris, former drummer of punk rock band The Business.

“It’s really nice that we’re getting these plaudits nationally, but I think that’s only been made possible through the amazing support we’ve had locally first of all.

“One of the things that’s interesting if you look at any important venue in recent music history, is that they never start off in places you would expect them to. It’s never the obvious places that are already full of music venues. It’s the places where there isn’t that platform and somebody recognises the need for it and takes that risk.

“I think there was a void in Northwich and there was that need for it.

“When we first opened especially, there wasn’t a lot at all going on at our end of town, so we really needed to be doing interesting things every night of the week to give people a reason to venture our way, because there was nobody walking past, there was no passing trade. People didn’t have much reason to come to Northwich town centre and especially to this end of the town.

“I think the fact that we needed to be creative and constantly had to put things on to give people a reason to come along has stood us in good stead in the long run.”

After a year of hard work, creativity and perseverance, The Salty Dog was given a golden opportunity when Moulton’s famous frontman Tim Burgess and his popular indie-rock band The Charlatans came calling.

Northwich Guardian:

The band, having formed in 1989 amid a more vibrant Northwich music scene, were looking to host a homecoming festival – returning to Northwich for the first time since 1991.

They wanted it to benefit the town, inspire a new generation of talented musicians and create a hub of live music – and The Salty Dog found itself right in the mix of the madness.

“It was probably the biggest thing for us, the North by Northwich Festival with the Charlatans,” Chris said.

“It was the first event we’ve ever had like that in the town - it was like a guerrilla festival that sprung up out of nowhere.

“They were great in including us – they came to us really early on and we arranged to hold various events including the support acts to the Charlatans’ gigs, where fans would come to The Salty Dog to watch the support band each night, before heading over to Memorial Court where The Charlatans were headlining.

“That was the turning point for us really. Up until that point we were chasing after bands and having to work hard to convince people to come and play here rather than a city centre. But after the North by Northwich Festival, all of a sudden, we became another pub on the circuit almost overnight, and we started getting calls from bands wanting to come and play here.

“Tim Burgess spoke really nicely about us and I think that’s gained us a lot of credit in the music industry as well. The fact that it gave us that credibility was huge and we showed that although we’re only a 100-capacity venue, we are well capable of hosting some big names and putting on a really professional event.

“The Blinders played here as part of that festival. They’re now headlining The Ritz in Manchester which is someway off playing The Salty Dog with our 100 capacity, but they’re coming back again next June. So that shows these bands have a lot of respect and faith in us and enjoy playing here too.”

The Salty Dog is spearheading a movement in Northwich, but Chris is the first to admit that on its own, the success would not have been as forthcoming.

Northwich Guardian: Their show at the Salty Dog was the second one to sell out.

The help from The Charlatans and the North by Northwich Festival was huge and it clearly succeeded in its mission of helping venues such as The Salty Dog, along with other independent venues in Northwich such as The Plaza and The Salt House.

But being a part of something a lot bigger and exciting in a town’s resurgence is the main reason, Chris says, that his modest-sized venue has done so well so fast.

“We’re getting a lot of recognition at the minute, but I think it’s just one example of what the town as a whole is doing,” he said.

“I think for a long time people have been embarrassed of being from a small town, and when you go on holiday you say you’re from Manchester instead of Northwich.

“Now people are getting behind the town and starting to be proud of the town they’re from again.

“Northwich is heading in the right direction and everyone’s pulling in the same direction. So we’ve probably got more credit than we’ve earned because we’re part of this larger overall movement that’s happening in the town.

“We’re lucky that we opened up just at the right time really. As good as it is to get the acclaim and the positive coverage, it wouldn’t have happened without everything else that’s going on in Northwich at the same time.”