In a new series of articles Geoff Cowart examines the agony and ecstasy of London’s under pressure live music venues.
Featuring: Hackney Arts Centre, The LCCM Music Box, George Tavern, PeckhamPlex Cinema and multi-storey car park, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Mangle
Behold! Some rare good news in London’s luxury-apartment-eats-popular-gig-and-bar world. The Village Underground team have unearthed a gem of a venue – the old Savoy Cinema – sitting untouched behind rusted doors.
The cinema was all the rage when it made its debut in 1936. But it’s not seen a crowd for the last 30 years. That’s all about to change as the team lobby Hackney Council to let them restore and re-open the venue as a multi-purposes space called the Hackney Arts Centre.
Auro Foxcroft, Village Underground’s founder and director said: “It’s incredible that you can still make discoveries like this in today’s London. The project will restore this important historical building to its former glory, becoming a major arts venue for Hackney. It would otherwise likely continue to decay and ultimately be lost forever.”
Their plan – which also includes restoring the centre’s façade – will now be put to a Hackney Council committee for a decision.
Want more good news? How about another new music venue opening in London? This time it’s on the South Bank as The London College of Creative Media has announced it will open its new Music Box venue.
The SE1 venue is being built to specifically host gigs by up-and-coming artists and students, as well as to hold masterclasses by musical legends. The six-storey venue – due to open its doors in September – will help find the next generation of talent to follow in the footsteps of recent graduates such as Tom Walker, Whilk and Misky, Chiara Hunter and Husky Loops. And ironically, there are some impressively expensive flats hunkered above it. For their students, this will be the first lesson in the tension between London’s property and music industries.
Over in Stepney, it’s last orders for a bitter nine-year legal wrangle between The George Tavern and luxury flat builder Swan Housing. The developer is appealing against the dismissal of its plans to build flats directly next to the legendary late-night venue and pub thanks to the Court of Appeals last year.
It’s a rare chance to see a local council – Tower Hamlets – side with a pub landlady – Pauline Forster – as they fight to keep the 600-year-old, Grade II-listed building in Commercial Road rocking. The long-running campaign is also backed by Kaiser Chiefs’ singer Ricky Wilson, Kate Moss and Georgia Jagger. “We’re fighting for the future of live music in London,” says Pauline. “We desperately need a common sense approach to planning and music venues.”
Meanwhile, the fight continues to save the PeckhamPlex Cinema and multi-storey car park from being demolished and redeveloped by Southwark Council. The venue – which played host to Steve Reich for the BBC Proms in 2016 – has become a hotspot thanks to ambitious programming from the Bold Tendencies crew, who inhabit the top four storeys.
If you are a medal fan, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has been named as the venue for August’s Elrow Town party. Organisers say the 360° open-air show will see two stages of music within a pop-up metropolis at all-day spectacular set for August 19th. Uptown is the Singer Morning area complete with bouncy sumo-wrestlers and stilt-walkers. Downtown is a Spanish fiesta with flamenco-dancing, brave matadors and giant bulls. You’ve been warned. If nothing else, the hard-pressed taxpayers who footed the Olympics bill come out winners.
Now for the terrifying. Over in London Fields, an Easter weekend party at Mangle ended after acid was sprayed on a section of the 400-strong crowd, partially blinding two and injuring 20. Met Police have arrested two suspects – including The Only Way Is Essex TV star Arthur Collins on suspicion of attempted murder.
IN THE NEWS: VENUES UNDER PRESSURE
The ever-opinionated London Assembly has published a report stating the capital’s venues are under threat. The damning report details how regeneration programmes, which now cover large swathes of London, are putting music venues at risk. Between 2007 and 2015, London lost 35 per cent of its grassroots venues, a decline from 136 spaces to just 88.
The generous folks at Network Rail have announced they will hike rents of businesses under railway arches. Cue looks of horror from London Fields Brewery, Corsica Studios and Archspace who are all likely to be stung.
Between naps, the House of Lords has ruled that the Licensing Act is fundamentally flawed. The report recommends that town hall planners make licensing decisions, rather than separate committees – which were often found to be ‘something of a lottery’ with some ‘scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors’. Think Fabric and its recent saga with Islington Council…
And finally, the Mayor of London is to be quizzed over Form 696. It’s the risk assessment that the Met requires of DJs and MCs who perform with a backing track – not a live band. Grime artist P Money told the BBC: “It’s just our scene. The police target grime.”
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