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Bar Essentials: Mello Mello

This threatened gem is exactly what Liverpool needs more of, says Angie Sammons. Don't let it go to the wall,

Written by . Published on September 25th 2012.

Bar Essentials: Mello Mello

OF all the bars, in all the towns in all the world, Mello Mello, for me, is the real deal. 

An unassuming jewel where the dedication and hard work of its team shines, it has also been the one I have selfishly resisted writing about. 

But now Mello Mello is facing closure in one of those baffling bits of Town Hall red tape. Time, then, to join the shout.

I first visited, somewhat curiously, on November 23, 2007, the night the late, great theatre legend, Ken Campbell, had endorsed it in what would be his last ever performance in the city. 

Parr Street Studios was deemed an 'historic, legendary musical icon'. Atomic Kitten and
Barry Manilow had recorded there. Some wags
said that was a reason to close it down

That night, and the weeks and months beyond, you could barely get a cup of tea in Mello Mello. For a start there were no cups. The individuals behind it, a collective called The Art Organisation (TAO), nay had a pot to do anything in, let alone make a brew. Toilets with seats? Anything with seats? A drinks licence? You could forget it.  

But art installations, epic improvisation marathons... that was something they could handle.

Manager RobManager Rob LongsonFrankly, this was a ramshackle hovel in which nobody would have been surprised to have their foot disappear through a rotting floorboard. Sprawling rooms with plaster dropping off walls, drum kits bashing in damp cells, rickety wooden stairs, bikes lying around, an out-of tune piano in the corner.

It was not romantic, it was like a giant squat. But it didn't matter.

With a conscious eye on the 30-year-old history of O'Halligan's Parlour in Mathew Street, TAO - with their friends in interesting places – set about remodelling a derelict bombsite into a similarly creative hive.

This raffishness was perhaps not to the taste of the smart and casual punter, more comfortable lounging on the warm leatherette of neighbouring bars like Studio 2 or 3345 at Parr Street Studios: The latter was an enterprise nurtured with plenty of council love and a business plan seeking to attract a new noun: “Creatives”. 

In 2006, the full weight of the municipality was thrown behind a campaign to keep Parr Street from being sold by its then owner, Phil Collins, and turned into more bloody flats. It was saved for the city with a lot of publicly-sourced goodwill – including the offer of a £50,000 council loan to keep it running as a space to help young bands.

Mello Mello Liverpool32

Parr Street Studios was deemed an “historic, legendary musical icon”. Atomic Kitten and Barry Manilow had recorded there. Some wags said that was a reason to close it down. 

In 2008, I heard a prominent culture figure, in the private members' bar, 3345, describe Mello Mello as “a bit of a petri dish”, not making the connection, perhaps, that petri dishes are exactly where cultures germinate. 

But this is not about Parr Street, it is about wills and ways.

Two years ago, like Elvis, TAO left the building. But their affiliates, led by manager Rob Longson, took over and gave it long trousers. Now there is a smart dance studio, music rooms, a reiki massage set-up, writers' groups and more.

Mello Mello Liverpool51

Here's the model: “Mello Mello is a registered not-for-profit Community Interest Company set up to facilitate and promote local grassroots musicians, performers, writers, film-makers, dancers, promoters and artists; and to provide a place where these activities can not only be learned, rehearsed, performed and honed but can also be spectated with minimal or no cost to the audience. All money made by Mello Mello goes straight back into improving facilities and providing a better deal for local bands and promoters.” 

It may have hung onto the cheesy name of a bar that occupied the premises in the 1990s, when Cream ran it, but, alongside its chums at the nearby Kazimier (at home in what was the massively cheesier Continental) Liverpool has had nothing so refreshing in years. 

With that, its 80 per cent discretionary business rates relief has been snatched away and it has been told it must find £30,000 a year to stay open. 

Mello Mello Liverpool18A rather interesting bandMello hasn't been singled out, as some have been quick to suggest, nor do I believe Liverpool City Council are "trying to close it down". 

As austerity bites, other CICs in the city centre have had to suddenly find £30k. Nevertheless, I can think of one canny arts operation which got a £30k grant just after its own full rates demand landed on the mat earlier this summer. What the Lord taketh from one hand, etc. 

Mello has never looked to benefit in this way. There have been no loans, grants or investors and it has blossomed in a part of town which nobody has artificially decided is now the “Creative Quarter”. 

Nor is it in an Enterprise Zone like Peel's Liverpool Waters whose multinational, conglomerate tenants have been promised 100 percent rate releif for five years, if and when they come.

Instead, Mello Mello is one of those places that provides just what every city needs – organic intelligence. 

Mello Mello Liverpool58

And organic, incidentally, applies to all the food (vegetarian) and wines at which Mello excels. A glance around the kitchen reveals premium ingredients, they do a very decent beer – all unarguably priced - and if you are a charity, or not charging for tickets, you can hire the place for free. Liverpool Confidential has run two successful events there this year. No other venue entered the frame. 

Say hello GinaSay hello GinaAn online petition, to reverse the decision, has already attracted more than 6,000 signatures, including that of Queen's Brian May, and, say management, they have come from right across the city's demographic. Of that, they are as surprised as anyone. 

There are some signs – plenty of political support emerging - that their wish may be granted. But it will have to be swift.

An appeal, which took months to respond to, has just been rejected with no grounds given. Around £9,000 rates arrears, accrued while Mello was waiting to hear the outcome, are payable now. 

They simply have not got the money, they say, and will be forced into administration soon. The building is rented, and the idea that some loveless corporate is watching the ticking clock, waiting to swoop down on all that toil, can be lost on nobody. 


Maybe there are ruthlessly commercial ways forward for the bar ops, but Rob and his team of 20 staff insist the whole concept has to stay: "We don't want to run just a venue. At the moment we are paying £6,000 in rates. This way the council ends up with nothing."

In the meantime, should common-sense or another way not be found, the loss to a city that preens itself as the "centre of the creative universe" will be unnecessary and shameful. 

To whoever happens to read this: don't let it happen.

*Mello Mello, 40-42 Slater Street, Liverpool L1 4BX. Open daily till midnight. 

Sign the petition
Send a letter of support 

Angie Sammons on twitter @twangeee

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20 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Paul PaulsSeptember 25th 2012.

Damned right!

Stevo Music ManSeptember 25th 2012.

Keep this open - visited it when Bill Drummond did a talk all the way from Corby, Northants. Such a cool place to be in

It's shit up northSeptember 25th 2012.

He gets around that Bill Drummond.

Freddy LaytonSeptember 25th 2012.

Love the place, it must be saved

Absinthe & TurksSeptember 25th 2012.

Hear hear! This place is brilliant and unique in a city centre otherwise full of fashionably horrible places. It's not really a boozer but a great place to eat good food at a reasonable price, the clientele are civilised and the staff offer customer service superior to anything I've ever encountered in supposedly upmarket, pricey places down he hill in our former commercial district where the men in suits without ties swagger and preen.

It also offers unfashionably comfortable chairs at proper, convenient-height tables, proper windows that admit natural light and breathable air and patrons are not battered around the eardrums by loud 'music' blasting out of speakers unlike virtually anywhere else in the area.

OK so there's a smell of damp sometimes but everywhere smells like that since the smoking ban.

SAVE IT I say!

Rod DaviesSeptember 25th 2012.

If Liverpool is to recover from the near century of progressive economic & social decline, it needs to foster creative communities from within, rather than the forlorn hope that this critical catalyst can be imported. If Liverpool has a single characteristic for hope, it is the vibrancy contained within its own communities. The city needs individuals & groups to invest resources (time, money & hope) into initiatives like MelloMello to make this work.

To fail MelloMello at this critical juncture for the city will inherently send a message out to the wider community that there is no real partnership across the city where everyone from the City Council to the ordinary man & woman on the corner is working for the common good and the hope that Liverpool will become the immensely successful city it once was. Liverpool was and remains a critical cultural meeting point of cultures and it has been the synthesis of these that made Liverpool great once and will make it great again. This was never the collaboration between the establishment cultural monoliths, but a myriad of multi-facet contacts between ordinary people from myriad places who together produced the Liverpool identity.

Let no one forget that behind the direct investment into MelloMello by the founders, there is also the many millions invested by Liverpool's communities into equipment, knowledge and skills development in the creative arts (guitars / amps / etc etc)

While £30,000 is not an insignificant sum for MelloMello or any other not-for-profit organisation, for LCC it is little more than 1 full time post. By continuing MelloMello's NDBR relief Liverpool City accrues far more than that 1 post could ever produce, and so the Business Case for removing the rates relief is unsustainable.

To fail the MelloMello at this point is to fail the Liverpool communities, and LCC is charged to provide leadership and vision. To allow MelloMello to vanish, will be another blow to the fragile foundations of Liverpool's recovery. Should it falter and stall, then once again thousands upon thousands of Liverpool's best & brightest will follow the road out, and turn their back on the city.
How can LCC expect the young to invest their time, their money and their creativity into the city of LCC cannot at least recognise the value of their contribution and facilitate its promotion by sustaining non-for-profit venues like MelloMello.

IlovelampSeptember 25th 2012.

Its always busy and has loads on, its not dirt cheap, why the fuck can't they pay the normal rates like every other business?

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2012.

Because they plough all their profits into offering subsidised spaces so that arts and culture can flourish at the grassroots. They get no grants for this. And every other business DOESN'T pay the full rate.

IlovelampSeptember 25th 2012.

well time to have a business plan that doesnt need the council to pay. Its a great space and just needs to be run in way that makes sense.

Patrick GaleSeptember 25th 2012.

How is the council paying? They have renovated a derelict building with no grant support, have created jobs and are doing far more for grassroots culture than anybody else who is getting far more. How much did the council give to Novas Scarman for the now-mothballed CUC, or any of them in the Baltic Triangle - an ugly place where nobody wants to go. All of these places get rates relief and more.

IlovelampSeptember 25th 2012.

I love mello mello, I just don't understand why it shouldn't pay rates, its a busy cafe bar venue that shouldn't need help, long term.

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2012.

It's not for profit. It ploughs its profits into the building. Sounds to me like the only person benifiting from this is the landlord

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2012.

Have we actually seen there accounts or business plan? It's always busy when I'm there so I can't see how it's not making this type of money.

Jd MoranSeptember 26th 2012.

Is it really true that "some loveless corporate is watching the ticking clock, waiting to swoop down on all that toil" or will the premises remain a derelict blot on the cityscape for as many years as it had previously?

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2012.

They employ 20 people with wages and national insurance, plus they purcahse their stock and run and maintain a significant building, they must have a reasonable turnover (And some brains) but cant think of a way to raise an extra £575 a week?

25p on a drink. 50p on food. £15 to rent a room not free. There are lots of things that could solve this but only if somone somewhere is prepared to pay a little more.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 27th 2012.

Who said the rooms were free?

AnonymousSeptember 28th 2012.

The article at the top of the page

SaladDazeSeptember 26th 2012.

Right. I've never been. It wasn't there when I was at the College of Crafts and Catering. It was a car repair place, I think. But now I'll go. And will then comment magisterially.

SaladDazeSeptember 26th 2012.

A shop... selling...?

Duke StreetSeptember 26th 2012.

Was it 'Palace Lamp' which sold lamps?

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Who said the rooms were free?

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Duke Street

Was it 'Palace Lamp' which sold lamps?

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A shop... selling...?

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