FOR the 500 people lucky enough to get a ticket to see Pete Doherty and his new band The Puta Madres grace the stage of Northwich’s old bingo hall, The Plaza, last month, it was nothing less than an incredible night. But to them, it wasn't much more than that, either.

To the venue’s owner Will Godfrey, however, it was an acid test that was eight years in the making, and one that could lay the path for the building’s new life in the town.

The beautiful building which stands proudly at the top of Witton Street, full of colour, character and charm, was built by Will’s grandfather in 1928 and opened as a cinema, before later turning into a bingo hall.

But calling its last numbers in 2011, the listed building has stood vacant in recent years.

Northwich Guardian:

The inside of The Plaza - see the picture gallery above for more inside pics.

“I’ve been busy doing other things since then, but this has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to see what could develop from here,” Will said.

And when the popular Northwich indie band The Charlatans came knocking last year, armed with an idea to put on a fortnight of music across the town as part of their homecoming gigs at Memorial Court, Will saw it as the kickstart he and The Plaza needed.

“The building had stayed the same since 2011 - we still had all the old seats in and we had about three weeks to sort it out, so I just got to work on it,” Will said. “That was what I needed, otherwise you can just let things roll over.

“I saw it as the opportunity to then see if we could go down the road as a live music venue because I strongly agree that the architecture of the building is perfect for it.

“That was the catalyst and hopefully we can now go on and use that and try and make something better in Northwich.”

Northwich Guardian:

The Charlatans visited The Plaza last May for a photoshoot with the Guardian ahead of their homecoming gigs.

Although The Plaza was heavily-involved as a free venue in The Charlatans’ North by Northwich Festival, last month’s Pete Doherty gig was the first ticketed live music event held there, and was put on as a fundraiser to go towards investment into its permanent reopening.

‘This is a spectacular venue, by the way,’ Pete told the crowd. And being shown around the place by Will, it’s hard to argue with the Libertines’ iconic frontman.

READ > Pete Doherty plays to fans in the street ahead of Plaza gig in Northwich

The venue is a treasure trove of antiques, and not-so-subtle nods to its illustrious past in this community.

The stage, the raked floor, the pay office window and upstairs balcony with the comfy theatre seats, all show off The Plaza’s original life as a cinema – while the bingo numbers on the back wall of the stage and bingo table with the machine still attached are left behind from its bingo hall days.

But when indie rock legend Pete came to town, the hall found a new meaning to the term ‘full house’, and a picture of what the building could become, has never been clearer.

Northwich Guardian:

Pete Doherty and The Puta Madres played to 500 people in the building in February. Photo: Sal_GigJunkie

“It was great to be able to see the building full again, with people of all ages enjoying themselves, enjoying the music, enjoying the venue,” Will said.

“It’s given me the confidence to be able to see if we can now try and do a larger gig of ideally about 800 people to see if it can then become a financially viable business.

“I think we could turn this into a smaller Manchester Apollo or the Brixton Academy, because they’re all the same – they’re old cinemas with a raked floor, beautiful acoustics and if anything, we’re a lot prettier than the likes of the Apollo.

“Pete Doherty has said he wants to come back and play again, so maybe looking towards the tail end of the year for that and we’re looking to do a larger gig before the summer.”

READ > Dead Dead Good Weekend of music aims to hit the right notes in May

Northwich Guardian:

The eye-catching stands at the top of Witton Street

With other venues, bars and restaurants opening up and thriving in the town centre in recent years, Will says times are changing and is confident The Plaza can add a unique music venue into the mix, which could attract people from all across the north west.

“I think that Northwich is at the beginning of a new era,” Will said. “I’d like to be able to bring people from at least across the north west to here, to see and hear quality acts.

“From when I grew up here in Northwich 50 years ago, Northwich was still then a traditional working class ICI town. It’s only now that it’s finally losing that mantle.

“You’ve only got to look around to see all the new building developments and the opening up of cool new bars like The Salty Dog and The Bull Ring bar that’s just opened, and you can see the demographic of the town is changing.

“People are more prepared to travel now as well, than they were before. I think Northwich is now getting to the point where it can attract all the wealth that is around it, rather than losing it to the likes of Knutsford or even Manchester.

“It’s a slow process, but I think this is the beginning of that process. It feels like it’s happening.”

Northwich Guardian:

ShadowParty played their first gig at The Plaza as part of the North by Northwich festival last year

READ > ShadowParty gives Northwich Plaza a reason to celebrate with debut gig

With Will’s family once owning a portfolio of cinema and bingo halls around the north west, Northwich’s Plaza is now the last one remaining, which makes Will all the more determined to breathe new life into the old building.

But he says to keep a building like this open, it needs a lot of support from the community.

“It was built by my grandfather and I was the fourth generation of cinema and bingo hall owner, and unfortunately under my watch the whole industry has changed radically – society has changed, and we’ve had to shut down all our halls bar this one. So it’s very close to my heart this building.

“I believe it’s the most beautiful building in town and it’s just dying to be reoccupied.

“We had the Regal Cinema in Northwich and that died, partly because of change in the times, but also because people just didn’t come. That’s the simple truth.

“So this will need the support, like we had for the Pete Doherty gig, but we’ll also have to appeal not only to Northwich but to a much wider area to succeed.”

READ > The Salty Dog's rise from Northwich underdog to national top music venue