For the July issue of Town Crier magazine, I interviewed Cross Keys landlord Jerome Mohamed about his love of music and his ideas behind running his pub. A shortened version appeared in the magazine, but here’s the full Q&A:
SM: Music is a very important part of The Cross Keys these days – has music ALWAYS been important to you?
Jerome: Yes music has always been important to me, particularly Jazz and Blues. I am a musician myself and whilst I may not be the greatest I take huge pleasure in playing.
SM: Was it the reason to take on the pub?
Jerome: Absolutely, though the original concept was based around a small music café. Finding an appropriate premise proved difficult. When I first viewed Cross Keys I could see it had massive potential.
SM: What were you doing before the pub, what was the moment when you decided to change career?
Jerome: I was in the IT industry, suited and booted and commuting to London every day. The company was sold and as a family we decided it was the right time for a life style change. Owning a music venue has been a dream I have carried since the age of 15 and whilst I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it a reality, most of my working life has been geared towards gaining the business skills and investment to achieve that goal, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m not a complete newbie to the industry though, as in my younger days I worked as a cook, cellar man then assistant manager for a busy Nicholsons pub in the city.
SM: Is the music working out how you’d hoped – free jazz and blues, with the extra jam nights etc – is there more you’d like to be doing?
Jerome: Some nights I am living the dream! Watching a full house enjoying great music in my place is what it’s all about. It’s really important to me that music is accessible too which is why almost all of our music nights are free.Do I want more? Of course, if I had my way I would host live music every night. But of course paying the bills is a necessity and let’s face it, the licensed trade is no walk in the park. So we’ve expanded our offering. Cross Keys was once a well respected family pub – I’ve heard many a tale from the locals and I am trying hard to bring the old glory back with the addition of lots of live entertainment. For the Cross Keys I see a varying program of entertainment for the whole family from kids summer workshops to weekend music festivals all accompanied by affordable, quality food and drink served with a smile – after all our slogan is meet, eat, drink and be entertained!
SM: Are your performers local, as in showcasing local talent, or do you like to bring in people from outside the area?
Jerome: From day one my plan has been to host local musicians as well as give local people the opportunity to see national artists on their doorstep. I am also very keen to support new or young musicians, we have already hosted young person jazz events and given a number of young musicians their first gig. I’d like to go further and regularly give new musicians the chance to play in a safe environment at Cross Keys.
SM: How do you feel about music around Tunbridge Wells – is there too much/ not enough?
Jerome: Tunbridge Wells is very lucky to be home to so many great musicians and equally lucky to have some great venues and promoters like the Forum, AVP and Paul Dunton. Audiences are hard to find but I believe this is not so much to do with a lack of people but the restrictive costs in telling the town about what’s on – it’s a struggle for all venues and I’d like to see the local authority get more involved in promoting ALL music events in Tunbridge Wells. There is a rich musical culture here and people need to know about it.
SM: What are your hopes for the future?
Jerome: There is a tough balance between reality and dreams here – I’d love to host music all day and every day. Over the next year, we will be continuing to build up our current music events, making changes where we need to, to ensure we can maintain healthy audience levels. We are about to introduce a monthly Jazz Jam on the first Thursday of the month. The backline for this is very impressive so keep an eye out, you are likely to experience some very exciting off the cuff music here.
Our music festival KeyFest will see its second year on 2nd/3rd August in collaboration with AVP. And I’d like to find a way to include Cross Keys in Unfest next year.
SM: Anything else you’d like to say….
Jerome: Whilst music is my first love, I also have two young children and know how important it is to being able to find a venue during the day that can entertain all ages. We put in a new play area in the garden just before Easter and it’s been a hit. We hope to encourage more kids this summer with some creative workshops during the holidays. During term time, we also have an indoor play area for the under 5’s as we are keen for mums (and dads) to come in during the day and enjoy a coffee or spot of lunch whilst the young ones play.
We are open to private functions and often host a celebration on a Saturday night. We can reserve large areas of the pub for free. With our summer menu, we also launched our new gourmet burger menu and they are really tasty! As well as your regular steak burger, we’ve wild boar, duck, pulled pork amongst others and over the summer we will be offering a gourmet burger special – the first being a weekly world cup burger (you can guess the country).
We are also considering introducing comedy nights, charity race nights and more. As and when we fix anything we always put it in our What’s On section on the Cross Keys website and we try to use our facebook and twitter sites as often as possible.