About a year ago, I came back to the island from university and was having drinks with some friends. One of them mentioned that Castletown was now cool. I was confused. As far as I knew, all the appeal of Castletown was in its name; a town and a castle with that terrifying wax statue that groans on the bog. But, it turns out, my friends were right. There are a few places that have made the old capital worth a visit, but nowhere has had quite the same effect as Compton Vaults.
Compton Vaults is based in the basement of Compton House. It is pretty grotty, but the spirit of punk never lived in a spotless chain cocktail bar. The space is the best example of “a dirty music venue. And I mean dirty in the best possible way. The entire place just oozes personality and individuality”, Jamie Blackburn, who has been playing at CV since it opened, tells me. There’s a certain embracing of the freedom to express yourself; whether that’s with body mods and colourful hair (like many of the regulars have) or on the walls of the venue itself. It’s part of the pull of the place. And as much as the space is owner Juan Christian’s, who filled the walls with local art (which brought him much satisfaction, he tells me), there’s certainly the impression that the space is equally for the community.
It is this physical space that sets you up for the general vibe of the vaults. It has an atmosphere that is unique to the island- “you’ll be hard pressed to find someone having a bad time”, regular Niamh Sumner tells me. Jenni Smith, who describes herself having been in the Manx music scene for a while, seems to agree, “[The Vaults] don’t care about what you think about them. But they do care about the community, its customers and the music makers. They care about the freaks and the misfits and have given them a home. They care about bringing people together, the punks moshing with the hippies, the girly girls head banging with the metal heads, the indie kids bopping along to hip hop because in Compton Vaults it doesnt matter who you are, where you’re from, what you like or how you dress. Everyone is welcome.”
Community is at the heart of the Vaults. Beyond creating a space for individuals to be individuals, Juan has raised a significant amount of money for charity. There have been two ‘Heavy Mental Health’ gigs, which have raised money for local charities. Juan has always made room for collection tins, and supplemented totals raised out of his own pocket. When the Pride event was cancelled this year due to Covid, Juan helped put on how own pride-themed event to raise money for the LGBT youth club. CV raised enough money to get someone off the streets. From speaking to different people, Juan’s generosity and kindness is obvious.
There is a certain level of chaos associated with the vaults, too. The cocktails are notoriously strong. Owner Juan claims that he was kissed by a ghost in the building the night before it opened. He describes Oktoberfest as “absolute carnage”. All kinds of musicians are welcome. The music is played loud.
I asked a few punters what they would miss, and the replies were expected; the atmosphere, the music, the events. But the response that surprised me most was Juan’s. He told me that he wouldn’t miss anything, because he’s not losing anything. All the music, community, and spirit will live on in other venues. In fact, Juan is excited to experience everything, especially the music, from the other side of the bar. He is clearly thankful to the community that has rallied behind him and the Vaults; the staff, the glass collectors, people called last minute to go behind the bar, and his partner. But what is clear speaking to the hoards of people who love the Vaults is that they are equally thankful for Juan. A lot of love has circulated around the Vaults, and a lot of it is for him.
Compton Vaults has never played by the rules. But as the doors close for a final time on 12th September, it seems they have uncharacteristically followed showbiz’s number one rule: always leave them wanting more.