Musicians have entertained visitors to the Pump Room since it opened in 1706. The Pump Room Trio, who nowadays do the musical honours, have just gained two new members, and all are welcome to enjoy their music, says Imogen Windsor
At a time when Bath was known as the “premier resort of frivolity and fashion”, the Pump Room and baths were at its centre. Nowadays, when you enter this grand building through the familiar revolving door, you can still sense the essence of Beau Nash’s Georgian society. As you watch Pump Room restaurant staff weave their way expertly between tables, almost dancing in time with the waltzes performed live by the Pump Room Trio, all that’s really missing is the finery.
On first glimpse, the Pump Room can leave you awe-struck and slightly hesitant, questioning whether you’re really allowed to be there. When you get beyond the grandeur and opulence of the room, you realise that what you’re actually seeing is just a busy restaurant. But of course it’s more than that – it’s a special room that’s steeped in history. Once inside this elegant space, you see that there are real musicians playing on stage, going about their business of entertaining the customers. The juxtaposition between the calm serenity of the music and the noisy chatter and clatter of crockery is how the Pump Room has been for 300 years. If you close your eyes and listen, a heavenly Georgian picture emerges.
Beau Nash first brought musicians into the Pump Room when it opened in 1706. Since then, resident ensembles have existed in the guises of the Pump Room Band, Pump Room Orchestra, and currently, Pump Room Trio. Patrons are entertained with live music every day of the year, apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day; anyone is welcome to go in to listen and enjoy the atmosphere.
Derek Stuart-Clark has been the trio’s pianist since 1991, alongside cellist Keith Tempest, in situ from 1987, and violinists Lorna Osbon and Robert Hyman, who have shared the role from 1993. On 1 September violinist Matthew Everett and cellist Tim Gilbert became the two new string players.
Fortunately this transition has been pretty seamless, and the new line-up gelled together musically straight away. Matthew, the new leader, confirms that there are no immediate plans for any kind of shake-up: “In the short term it will pretty much remain the same; there are little things I’d like to look into, but I don’t feel there’s an urgency to do that”.
Penny Jenkins, commercial manager for the Council’s Heritage Services, feels strongly about preserving the tradition of live music in the Pump Room: “It’s so much a Bath institution now, that I think there would be uproar if anyone were to suggest that we don’t have live music. The better the experience in the Pump Room, the more people will use the Pump Room.”
It’s a win-win situation: the popularity of the Trio brings more customers to the Pump Room for tea and a slice of Georgian charm. This generates more revenue for this council-run attraction and adjacent Roman Baths, and for Searcy’s, which provides the catering.
Looking to the future, Penny’s vision is to make the Pump Room’s live music more inclusive, by inviting other accomplished local musicians to perform in a handful of sessions throughout the year: “[It] felt like a good time to refresh how we went about the Pump Room Trio. It was really important to me that we kept that quality of playing, and that type of playing. That’s my passion: preserving the old, and the tradition, but just allowing a little bit of opportunity for other people.”
“People want to come in because it’s a visual experience as well as an audio experience; so we have to look right as well as sound right”
This means customers may be entertained by small jazz groups in the summer, or by talented youngsters fresh from the Bath Young Musician competition. Though Penny is quick to point out that there won’t be tea-time rock bands shaking the building’s foundations any time soon. There’s a common understanding between musicians and management: the Pump Room presents a Georgian ‘package’, and the Trio, elegantly turned out in their formal attire, are part of the theatre. “People want to come in because it’s a visual experience as well as an audio experience; so I think we have to look right as well as sound right”, says Derek.
“It’s a retrospective – People are buying into that Georgian experience,” Tim adds. This probably encourages customers – the ‘audience’ – to engage with the Trio. People will often make musical requests; there are some regulars who are so familiar to the musicians that they don’t even have to approach the stage any more: “You clock them, you get the repertoire out, and start playing,” says Derek. One elderly couple came in at the same time every week for several years, and the Trio always obliged with Eric Coates’ ‘By the Sleepy Lagoon’ as soon as they caught sight of this appreciative pair. This is one of the most rewarding parts of the job, Derek says: “People come up and say ‘we used to dance to this…we used to come here in the 1960s [and] you brought back memories for us’. For me, that’s what the job’s about. That’s the power of music.”
Of course, the Pump Room is a restaurant first and foremost, and the Trio supports that in a particularly high-profile way, from centre stage. “They’re vital to the restaurant [as] background music”, Penny says. “We do have hen parties in, and they do get quite jolly – they’re there for their afternoon tea, not necessarily the music. Other times it can be quiet, and people are listening.”
When people applaud, it’s lovely for the musicians to have this feedback. They gladly oblige with ‘Happy Birthday’ requests, and beam warmly with the applause. It can suddenly change the whole atmosphere in the room, when people realise that they are allowed to show their appreciation.
“That is quite a British thing; the British are quite reserved, and they’re not always comfortable, especially if there’s just a few of them; there might just be a smattering of applause,” says Tim. “I don’t think that’s an indication that they’re not appreciating – they’re nodding away, and enjoying it.”
“You might think that there’s no-one listening, but there’s always somebody listening,” Derek adds.
Taking tea in the Pump Room while listening to live chamber music is a must-do experience for tourists. There’s a concern that some locals believe it isn’t for them; thinking that it’s exclusive and perhaps a bit intimidating, but the trio and management alike want everyone to feel welcome.
The new musicians are mulling over ways in which they could use the trio’s well-established name to reach out and promote music. Showcasing the vast array of music that the trio plays – from waltzes to opera, and from tangos to show songs – could tempt more Bathonians into the Pump Room to enjoy this “little gem”, as Derek describes it, “right here on their doorstep.”
It’s a special place and a special experience. And it really is for everyone.
The Pump Room Trio play daily from 2.30 to 4.30pm and on Saturday from 10.30am to 12.30pm; romanbaths.co.uk/pump-room-restaurant