The rockin’ Robin: Ex-Robin 2 Club boss Mike Hamblett reflects on venue in new book
He’s played host to some of the world’s top acts – from BB King, to Billy Ocean, The Animals, and Peter Green – but now former Robin 2 owner Mike Hamblett has hung up his management hat, packed up his hoard of ticket stubs and gig posters, and moved to Shropshire to pursue a different life all together.
Looking back on his years running Black Country live music venues The Robin and The Robin 2, Mike decided to write a book detailing his many memories – and, speaking to Weekend, the 65-year-old has shared some of his many top moments bringing global stars to the stage in Bilston.
From Noddy Holder, to Steven Seagal, to Bill Wyman and Lenny Henry – he’s met them all.
“Robert Plant has been to both venues,” said Mike.
“Arthur Lee and Love is one of his favourite bands. They did a few shows.
“Rob’s also got up on stage with various artists over the years. And it was never planned.
“Having Steven Seagal come was incredible. He’s a world famous movie star.
"He did three sell-out gigs at The Robin. It was pretty amazing having him come all the way from the US to Bilston.
“When he went outside, he opened the fire doors and a huge mass of people wanted his autograph. I was worried we may never get him back.
“He’s a huge man, but he’s got this aura around him, you could just feel it.
“Roy Wood. He plays huge gigs, so to have him still come to The Robin was amazing. It’s hard to believe just how many hits he’s had. What a talent.
“We had Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople too. I grew up with them. That was at the old Robin, in 1994 or 1995. They came and performed All The Young Dudes, that was amazing.
“The old Robin was just a pub with a huge room at the back, so to get people like that there was incredible.
“I’ve got to thank Noddy Holder for supporting me over the years and opening both venues. He’s been fantastic. All the Slade guys have.
“We once had Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman from Yes. I had to rent a grand piano for Rick.
“They were playing all the Yes classics – and throughout the show you could have heard a pin drop.
“I had to sell the tickets at a high price because it was such an expensive gig. And if it sold out, I would just about cover the costs. But we did it. And it was incredible.
“Bill Wyman came too from The Rolling Stones with his band Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. It was a different line-up every time they played. We had Georgie Fame, Eddie Floyd, Andy Fairweather Low. He had Mike Sanchez at one gig.
“Lenny Henry, he’s such a local legend. And a great soul vocalist. He came with his all-star band featuring drummer Andy Gangadeen, who has played with everybody.
“When Howard McCrary played the Robin, Chaka Khan turned up to see him. This was at the old Robin in the early ‘90s. We knew nothing about it, she just turned up on the door.
“She was great – she got up on stage with Howard and sang with him. She then even got on the drums. It was amazing.
“I later found out that Howard’s girlfriend was Chaka Khan’s sister.
“Leo Sayer was quite a memorable one too. I grew up listening to him. He lives in Australia now, but when he came over for a UK tour The Robin was one of his gigs. That was really great.
“We had quite a few big jazz people at The Robin 1. George Melly and The Feetwarmers, Humphrey Lyttelton before he passed away.
“The list of people who played… I could keep naming them, but it just blows my mind.
“Canned Heat, Albert Lee, John Mayall, Go West… Go West are used to playing huge venues, but they still loved The Robin.”
Not only did The Robin welcome huge names of all genres from across the planet, it also helped kick-start the careers of a few, with them playing the venue on their climb to fame.
“Joe Bonamassa – he became a huge star. He did three gigs at The Robin 2. He’s now playing stadiums around the world,” added Mike.
“There was a great buzz around those gigs. You could tell he was going to be huge. He was incredible.
“Joanne Shaw Taylor started her career at the old Robin when she was 13 or 14 supporting Walter Trout. And now she’s a worldwide legend.
“She didn’t sing then, just played. You could tell she was going to be great.”
Though Mike has now left the Robin, having sealed the deal on the sale of the Mount Pleasant venue back in August 2018, he remembers the place very fondly – and makes it clear that while it was a very demanding role, running the Robins was a true labour of love.
The Robin 2 is now in the hands of former World’s Strongest Man competitor Fraser Tranter, who approached Mike and explained he intended to continue running the landmark as a music venue – something which, after all his years of hard work, was very important to Mike.
“It was never just a business, you couldn’t run something like that if it was – it’s a way of life,” he explained.
“But time rumbles on and I was approaching 65.
“The feeling I got was that he wasn’t going to change what The Robin was all about, which was really important to me. He’s doing more or less what I was doing before.
“So I thought ‘this is the time, I need to move on’.
“I wanted to do all the other things I’ve missed out on. Not that I’m complaining – I’ve had a great life. It’s just given me the opportunity to do other things.
“The Robin needed some money spent on it, on decor and stuff. I’ve been up there a few times and he’s gone to town with decorating which is good.
“He wants to move it forward. He’s going to put his stamp on it, like anyone would, but it’s still The Robin and he’s still putting great music on.”
One of Mike’s many desires having left the venue is to return as a customer and enjoy the shows from the audience, he says, though he’s not managed that yet with so much going on in his new life.
In fact, more than 12 months on since the sale Mike says he’s not had time to miss the Robin; he’s been far too busy writing a book, setting up a new firm with his wife, and renovating his new home in Kinlet, near Bridgnorth.
“It’s totally different but I’m enjoying it,” said Mike.
“We’re out in the sticks. I’ve got an office at home and a workshop. And I don’t have to travel 45 minutes to work every day.
“I haven’t stopped. I’m still working seven days a week, but it’s totally different working from home. I still do 10-to-12-hour days.
“My wife and I have opened a holiday lettings business in Bewdley. We started the new business in March/ April and we’re doing really well.
“I’ve also been sorting the house out and building my office and workshop.
“I’ve got lots of things in mind I’d like to do.
“I’m really into woodwork. I want to make unusual bespoke furniture using reclaimed material; one-offs using wood, metal and iron.
“I’m just enjoying life.
“Fifteen years ago we got married and since then my wife’s barely seen me. I did 12 hours each day, with a 45-minute drive each way, so we’ve now had a really good 12 months together. It’s been really nice. We’ve got to know each other again.
“I was born in Cradley Heath, then moved to Quarry Bank, then Bewdley.
“But since moving to Shropshire, we’ve got half an acre of land, two big dogs and we sit outside most days.
“It’s just a completely different way of life.”
Before launching himself into his new series of commitments, Mike bid a final farewell to The Robins with a book detailing his memories of the venues titled Keepin’ Music Live.
The book, published last year, features many a tale from Mike – including stories of his childhood – as well as an array of tributes from artists who played the venues including Andy Scott from The Sweet, Colin Blunstone, Glenn Hughes, The Blockheads’ Mick Gallagher, Peter Cox from Go West, Carol Decker, and Steve Harley.
Slade’s Noddy Holder even wrote the foreward, in which he describes The Robin 2 as being part of the Midland’s ‘music heritage’.
“I was in discussions about selling The Robin. I started to look back at what I’d done over the years and I couldn’t quite believe it. I’ve always been moving forward, planning ahead for shows,” explained Mike.
“I had a chance conversation with a journalist friend and he said ‘you’ve got a really good story to tell here’.
“It has been pretty incredible, I’ve had a great life, an exciting life. I really can’t get my head around being 65, I feel 30.
“I put the word out that I was writing a book and got a huge response from artists. It was quite overwhelming they had taken the time to respond and what wonderful things they had to say. It was really emotional.
“The foreward was written by Noddy Holder, it was brilliant having him. And the rest of Slade contributed too.
“We also had contributions from people such as Carol Decker, Toyah Wilcox, and one of my all-time favourites: Glenn Hughes – I first saw put him on in 1994. Where have the years gone? He’s still at the top of his game now, with Black Country Communion. He’s an incredible talent. To have a response from someone like him – for my little book.
“We also had Colin Blunstone – he’s got to be the nicest guy you could ever meet.
“Steve Harley contributed too – he’s one of my all-time heroes. Steve mentions in the book about getting changed in a Nissen Hut. We had a Portacabin back then as a dressing room for about 12 years. It was horrible.
“We also had words from Andy Scott, Mick Gallagher, Peter Cox, Dean Friedman and Joanne Shaw Taylor.
“The book is also about my life before The Robin, where I came from – which I’m very proud of – and every gig in there since 1992. It’s amazing who we had.
“It took around 12 months to put the book together.
“There is such a wonderful collection of pictures in the book. And they bring back so many memories.
“For the first time I could look back, which I’d never done before. I’d honestly forgotten a lot of the things I had done.
“After I released the book, everybody said it made all their memories come flooding back. That’s what I wanted to achieve. I told my story for everyone that came on that journey with me.
“I’ve met some really great people – customers, staff and artists. It’s been really nice.
“After my book had just been sent to the printers, I heard back from Nils Lofgren. He’d taken the time to respond and it would have been a real bonus to have had him in the book.”
Despite being busy with his new goals and spending time with his family, Mike has still held on to memorabilia from The Robin venues to remember the many shows by.
“I’ve got tickets from virtually every show, which I just kept for myself,” he added.
“They’re in two huge flight cases and go all the way back to 1992. I just can’t throw them away.
“I kept posters of virtually all the shows too, so I’ve got thousands of posters.”
Mike’s book Keepin’ Music Live can be bought at mikehamblett.co.uk or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
It is also stocked at Wolverhampton’s Waterstones.