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Thursday, 17 November 2011

Toilet venues: flush 'em away

Is it goodbye to the Bull & Gate in north London?, asks Michael Hann, referring to the "legendary" gig venue in Kentish Town in north-west London. I certainly hope so.

No, OK, music venues are generally a good thing. Especially if they're small, cheap and programme in adventurous music. But the B&G ceased to be anything like this years ago.

Hann admits to "a sense of sadness about the slow withering of back-room venues" that have been putting on bands "for as long as [he] can remember", but actually I think he's wrong about the decline - there are more not less small venues in London in these last 10-15 years - and unnecessarily sentimental about the places where bands play. Who really cares? They can strum their instruments in a house basement, an art gallery, an industrial unit or a shop in the street for all I care. (In fact some of the best gigs I've attended have been in exactly these locations).
Taken to extremes, this fixation with music venues leads to the laughable sanctification of places like the Cavern, or the Roxy, or [insert a venue of your own here, every town has at least one of these]. To be fair, despite the blog's subtitle alluding to the fact that Coldplay once played at the B&G (ooooh!), Hann's article isn't doing what the Evening Standard does with its trashy reference to the fact that "Nirvana, Blur, Coldplay and Manic Street Preachers" may or may not have trod the hallowed boards of the B&G in their pre-limo days.

And Hann's also - very broadly - right when he talks about how the old dinosaurs of the London pub venue scene - the B&G, the Dublin Castle, the Enterprise, the Barfly (and you could add the Monarch) - long ago stopped being interesting. But I think he also oversimplifies when he talks about the "eastward" shift. He misses some decent east London venues, doesn't mention how Camden's Lock Tavern is doing good things currently, and totally ignores Brixton's Windmill and Notting Hill's Arts Club, both mainstays of the small-venue music "scene" in London for more than a decade. 

But I come back to my main point (yeah, you probably feared I would ...), it's not about the places, it's, er, about the people. The most interesting bands will always find places to play. And this won't be in venues with "crystalline" sound systems or "legendary" reputations.

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