PARR HALL IN the heart of Warrington (Cheshire) is a concert hall designed by local architect William Owen (1846-1910). It was built for the townspeople by Joseph Charlton Parr, descendant of the founder of a local bank. The benefactor was a prominent member of his family’s bank, Parr’s, and Warrington’s Mayor between 1901 and 1903. A plaque on the wall of the hall facing Palmyra Square commemorates his generosity. A much larger and newer plaque, actually a frieze, also outside the front of the hall, serves a sadder purpose.
In May 2013, a new rock band was formed in Warrington. Called Viola Beach, it had four members: Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, and Jack Dakin. Frankie Coulson and Jonny Gibson were initially members, but they left the group to concentrate on their university studies. Reading of this, I was reminded of one of my father’s students at the London School of Economics: Mick Jagger. Unlike Coulson and Gibson, he could not afford to remain a student as his band was becoming so successful. Incidentally, The Rolling Stones performed at Parr Hall in November 1963.
In June 2016, the band’s debut album, “Viola Beach”, was released. Consisting of 9 tracks, it reached the number 1 position on The UK Albums Chart in August of that year. However, the band were never to learn of their success. In February 2016, the members of the group and their manager were on tour in Sweden. In the early hours of the 13th of February, the car in which they were travelling failed to stop at the closed barriers of a bridge across the Södertälje Canal. The roadway of the bridge was lifting to allow the passage of a vessel in the canal. The car carrying the band plunged into the water 98 feet below. The driver, the band members, and its manager, were all killed. The memorial outside Parr Hall, which portrays the band members and their manager in bas-relief, was sculpted by Tom Murphy. It was unveiled in September 2021.
Had they not met their end so prematurely, I wonder whether Viola Beach formed in a town on the Mersey might have gained some of the success enjoyed by another now much more famous Merseyside band: The Beatles.