Illustration: Rachel Veniard

THE COMPANY STORE is a monthly blues, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, country, doo wop and Americana knees-up run by roots enthusiasts Danny ‘Sixteen Tonnes’ Roberts and John ‘Big John’ Bayliss. Since 2008, the club has provided a haven for our city’s whiskey sippin’ blues lovers and a safe house from the carnage of Slater Street on a Saturday night. But this isn’t a snooty stare down reserved for those in the Nashville-sanctum, no sir; The Company Store have played host to some of the finest new bands from across the UK, with a real mix of Alabama Stetson and Adidas Samba-clad folks along for the hoedown.

THE COMPANY STORE Image 2

When Bido Lito! met up with Danny for a brew on Bold Street to talk socialist mantras, gingham tablecloths and the blues, we caught him in the run up to their night featuring Howard Eliott Payne. “It’s crazy in the run up to the shows man, dead busy like, but we love it.” Well cool. Let’s get down to it then.

The Company Store was launched as an opportunity for Danny and John to provide an environment for people to enjoy the kind of music that they obsess over and also to create an ideal setting for Danny’s band, The Sixteen Tonnes, to ply their American rhythm and blues wares. “We’d talked about doing a night for a long time because we thought there was nobody in Liverpool doing a proper country, Americana, roots club,” says Danny. “There’s some in Manchester and in London there’s a few, but there was nothing here. We wanted it to be different from nights we’d done in the past and provide an environment for people to listen to The Sixteen Tonnes and the kind of music which we’re influenced by.”

The club was set up to be more than just a straight up, four bands on a stage, led by a half-arsed Facebook group, middle of the highway band night. The Company Store has recently included a vintage fashion stall as part of the night, as well as their regular mix of star-spangled quirks, which Danny filled us in on; “We always announce our line ups at the club a month in advance and are meticulous about our playlists. We decorate the venue with Americana themed posters, have gingham tablecloths, we give out free shots of whiskey at the start of the evening as well, all little things that people don’t do, but make a difference when people come to the night.”

As well as the guarantee of sour mash, we can let you in on another little secret that Danny and John don’t shout about, early comers to the club also get in cheaper than the advertised six buck door tax, making that bourbon taste all the bit sweeter. All these extra ends that the boys go to, only help to demonstrate the passion they have for the night and for the music which they showcase.

The Company Store takes its name from an American country classic, Sixteen Tons (can you see the links y’all?). “The name comes from a Merle Travis song Sixteen Tons, which was also the inspiration for the band’s name. Johnny Cash did it, Bo Diddley did it, Tennessee Ernie Ford did it and Stevie Wonder did it,” Danny informs us. So the night’s name is steeped in good pedigree. But, why was it this song that Danny chose to lead his band, and subsequently, the club with?

“My Nan died recently and, when I was a kid, she was the main music influence in the family; she got me into Elvis and all that. But my granddad used to always sing Sixteen Tons, he used to sit there at the dinner table with you sat on his knee and he’d sing it a capella.” Danny Roberts, The Sixteen Tonnes

“My Nan died recently and, when I was a kid, she was the main music influence in the family; she got me into Elvis and all that. But my granddad used to always sing Sixteen Tons, he used to sit there at the dinner table with you sat on his knee and he’d sing it a capella. Over the years I realised what it was and when I started thinking of a name for the band I was like ‘yeah, that can be it’” Danny tells us.

The club then grew as a natural progression from that, with the lyrical content of the song being so perfect. Also, Tennessee Ernie Ford, who recorded one of the most famous versions of the song, has been inducted into both the country and gospel halls of fame in the US, so maybe he symbolises the night’s musical palette pretty well?  “Yeh, definitely,” offers Danny. “We’ve had bluegrass bands and barbershop bands, anything that has that roots feel.”

“When we started the night we did four posters, using the lines from the song, and had them all around town” said Danny. “The first one was ‘You load sixteen tons, what do you get?’ the second was, ‘Another day older and deeper in debt,’ the third was, ‘Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go,’ and the fourth was, ‘I owe my soul to the company store’. They were just random posters all over town.”

As well as providing some solid gold tag lines, such as the club’s ‘Sell your soul to the company store’ staple, in many ways, the lyrical content of the song was topically hitting, especially given the fact that the country was teetering on the brink of economic collapse when these posters went up around town. So, does this starkly symbolise the relevance of the blues today? It seems amazing that a record about a coal miner recorded in 1946 could seem so relevant over 60 years later on the other side of the globe?

“Yes, definitely. When we first put the posters up, especially,” Danny confirms. “‘Another day older and deeper in debt’, man it was at the back end of 2008 and it was just starting to hit home how bad this climate was going to get. I can only imagine people looking at those posters and thinking it was some kind of socialist rally… which in a way I suppose it is.”

And, The Company Store’s posters have remained an integral part of the night’s identity since it started. “Me and Rachel [Veniard] sat down early on when we started working on the posters,” Danny says. “She specialises in company branding and typography and just got the logo perfect. The posters have lots of references and the colours are always strong. I’ll have an idea and she’ll go away and come back with a variation on it which is always perfect. The posters have definitely affected posters in the city, lots of people have gone for that 50s, vintage rock n roll vibe with their posters since. It’s like when a good band come along, people copy, and there’s definitely been some of that.”

The Company Store has made The Zanzibar on Seel Street its home. With the live venue scene constantly changing around the city and various new spots springing up in recent years, what is it about The Zanzibar that endures? “Sound, it’s all about the sound,” Danny confirms. “Andy and Pat [resident engineers] just know the room in there so well. I played my first gig in The Zanzibar when I was 16 and have known Tony [Butler, Zanzibar owner] for years. He’s backed us and lets us do what we want.”

So, its coming up to two years now since The Company Store started. I was keen to know what Danny’s secret is to promoting a club with long term form and success?

“That’s a good question. I ain’t got no secrets man!” he laughs. “Probably hard work, focus and commitment, which I lack to be honest! We do it so we’ve got somewhere to go on a Saturday night, have a bevy and listen to some good music. That’s the bottom line for me.”

Well man, saddle up the steed and tune up the banjo….cos’ we’ll drink to that.

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