The Red Lion Pub: 40 Years and Still Going Strong

Ethan Howe

Featured image courtesy of canalandriversidepubs

With 18 Pubs around the country closing every week, I speak to the man who has owned a pub for 40 years and is still going strong

“An oasis on a 6 mile walk from Greenhithe station to Gravesend” Is how someone reviewed The Red Lion on google, and I couldn’t describe it better. Standing at the front door leaves a view of nothing for miles, but that’s part of the magic of the Pub. No neighbours means no complaints, no complaints means loud music, and loud music creates a great venue.

When you set your first foot in the pub you immediately get sent back in time. With an industry being taken over by franchises like Wetherspoons, it’s almost refreshing to see a pub that looks and feels like a traditional British pub. Don’t get me wrong, Spoons can be a great place to go, but the faux old-style pub feels forced and bland. The charm of a real pub just can’t be matched. You can find imperfections around the room that just aren’t possible to fake. Whether it’s the rugged carpet, the aged seating, or the pool table that’s seen it’s fair share of games. There’s not a single part of this pub that doesn’t have a story.

Speaking of stories, the owner of the pub, Terry Lee has plenty.

You know those people who you meet and they feel like an old friend? That’s Terry.

That’s probably part of the reason that he has now owned the Red Lion for over 40 years, and with the current state of pubs it’s a pretty big achievement to still be up and running.

Terry Lee - 1981

Music

“It is most definitely the best, if not one of the best live music venues in Kent” claims Terry, and if we base it on the acts he’s had in the past, I think he is very justified in saying that.

“I was a DJ and promoter who ended up getting his own venue, it’s a bit perfect” says Terry. Even if he didn’t tell you this, you could just tell he must have some sort of history with music because of the passion he has when he talks about live music.

Owning the place for 40 years also holds its fair share of stories about the people he’s had perform at the bar, and there’s one story that I think stands out more than any other.

Iron Maiden

When I asked Terry about his favourite story about previous artists that have performed at The Red Lion he immediately named dropped Iron Maiden, which is a story in itself. Iron Maiden playing in Gravesend of all places.

But the story gets better:

“I suppose everyone’s favourite story is how Iron Maiden came to play here, they were at this point established as the biggest rock band in the world, and they were on a world tour. It took them a year, probably one of the biggest tours a rock band has ever been on and after their manager gave them a year off. No recordings, no gigs. Nothing. “Adrian Smith… phoned me up and said ‘Can we come down and I’ll do a gig’”

The problem with that phone call was that Iron Maiden couldn’t contractually play without their manager – Rod Smallwood – agreeing to it.

“So they called themselves The Sherman Tankers… All I could do was go to people in the bar and tell them Iron Maiden was going to play here. They would go ‘of course they are Terry’”

Photo courtesy of Metalheart via Wikimedia Commons

Even after hearing the story from Terry it seemed surreal to me that Iron Maiden would come to play in Gravesend, so I can’t imagine what people thought at the time. But for those 200 people, I bet it was a gig they won’t forget.

Pubs in Gravesham

Gravesham is famous for the number of Pubs it has. This number used to be around 80, and as Terry told me, this was because it used to be known as the ‘Watering hole of the Thames’.

The sad thing is that now the number of Pubs in Gravesend is closer to 40, and I’m sure that number will continue to decrease.

Terry thinks that times are changing and people are not treating pubs in the same way that they used to: “Since the 70s drinking habits and social habits have changed”.

“The reason they closed is dead simple, they didn’t get used” which is the sad truth that is effecting Pubs around the country now.

Pubs now need to offer more to stay open, Terry uses the fact that The Red Lion is a music venue to do this, and some pubs focus on the traditional ‘pub grub’ to keep people interested.

Wetherspoons has also shifted the scene of pubs slightly, and before I get into this I will preface it by saying that Terry says he likes Spoons and thinks that they are good at what they do, but at the same time they do not offer the same as traditional pubs.

“Nowadays we have the drinking houses –I’m not going to call them pubs- but big Wetherspoons\warehouses that have been converted into bars where they have the buying power to keep their drinks really really reasonably”

Wetherspoons appeals to people who just want a cheap drink, they tend to not offer entertainment. This is where traditional pubs such as The Red Lion come in. Terry makes sure to offer entertainment as well as reasonably priced drinks, and this seems like the key to be staying open.

The Future

After 40 years it’s clear that Terry hopes that his pubs, and all pubs continue to have their place in our society, but with the latest figures from the Campaign for Real Ale, it turns out that we are losing 18 pubs a week in the UK.

Which doesn’t bode well for the future of the pub.

It’s not all bad looking towards the future though. Pubs may not be what they used to be, but they are clearly evolving into something else.

They are no longer the place for communities to meet and socialise, but instead they are a place to be entertained, and this seems to be the best way for them to continue to stay open.

We may never have over 80 pubs in Gravesham ever again, but that doesn’t mean that they are gone forever, and if it has survived this long, then The Red Lion has a promising future.

The Red Lion Pub - Google Maps

See below for the full, uncut audio of the interview with Terry.