Geoff Cowart examines the agony and ecstasy of London’s under pressure live music venues.
Featuring: Vortex Jazz Club, NTS, The George Tavern, KOKO, Selfridges, Three Mills Island, Dr. Martens Boot Room, Five Miles, ibis
Between 2007 and 2015, approximately 430 live music venues were trading in London. Today, only 245 remain open.
With that in mind it’s nice to kick off this instalment of Wish You Were Here with some good news. It comes as dark rumours have swirled about the future of the Gillett Square car park in Dalston after it was widely reported the council had sold the site to a property developer.
The square contains the Dalston Culture House – the home of the legendary Vortex Jazz Club and online radio station NTS. So we asked. And thankfully, Hackney Council shot down the rumours by saying: “A developer approached us and offered to buy the Gillett Square car park site, but we are not going to sell it.” Nice one.
In other reassuring news, The George Tavern in Commercial Road has won a long-running fight with a property developer to build luxury flats and offices directly next to the pub. The Swan Housing Group had threatened to develop the site nextdoor to the tavern and could have curtailed much of the live music and fun of the historic Stepney pub, which boasts a 3am licence.
The campaign to save the watering hole began about a decade ago – and was led by late singer Amy Winehouse. “This is a signal for all music venues who fear they can be bullied and bought out by developers,” landlady and 67-year-old grandmother Pauline Forster told the East London Advertiser. To celebrate, the pub is throwing a big party on August 4th featuring live sets from the Winachi Tribe and Adam & Elvis.
In stark contrast, over in Camden the council has just approved plans that would see a new five-storey boutique hotel built directly next to KOKO. It will be connected to the former Camden Palace venue via a glazed roof extension with a restaurant. The flytower above the stage at KOKO is to be converted into a recording studio for visiting artists, while the adjacent pub – the Hope & Anchor – would also be reopened and extended. The plans don’t thrill the Theatres Trust, who wrote to Camden Council to voice concerns about the future of the venue if guests were to complain about the noise and vibration from the venue. The neighbours are ‘not usually compatible’, they wrote.
Fans of excessive consumption will be excited to hear that Oxford Street department store Selfridges is hosting live music events through October. Held at a new 3,500 sq ft space called UltraLounge, the new season will see UNKLE (August 3rd) and Shura (August 24th) perform, as well as nights for rising stars. A pop-up record shop courtesy of Peckham’s Rye Wax will also feature. The design of the Ultralounge is the brainchild of London studio TEM (The Experience Machine) whose founders Christopher Davenport and Christopher Pearson have worked with Jay Z, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.
Across town in Stratford a former barley mill used for gin production will be transformed into an open-air electronic music festival. Called Percolate, it’s the first performance of its kind at Three Mills Island – which is said to be the world’s largest and oldest tidal mill. It was compelling enough to attract Pampa Records owner DJ Koze as well as Hotflush head-honcho Scuba to perform, with sets from Sonja Moonear, Objekt, Moxie and Saoirse expected over two stages on the day.
If your boots were made for walking, why not take a trip to Camden to see the new venue at the Dr. Martens store? The kinky bootmaker is hosting a series of one-off gigs this summer in their cosy new Boot Room venue. Beware – you’ve got to apply for a ticket first. But if you are one of the chosen few you’ll catch Flohio and Blue Daisy (July 20th) and Nova Twins (August 3rd).
Stretch your legs a bit further and you’ll reach a new bar, club and brewery called Five Miles. It’s (erm) five miles out of central London – but handily just five minutes from Seven Sisters. With 18 taps curated by Affinity Brew Co and a soundsystem to write home about, it’s worth the trip.
And the next time you embark upon a journey check if the local ibis Hotel is holding a gig night. With a little help from the fine folks from Camden’s Roundhouse they kicked off their inaugural Lates on Tour nights in Birmingham with local duo Ekkah. And on July 26th the party travels to Manchester and features a set from China Lane. Surely, London must be calling…