Where Are They Now: London’s Lost Music Venues

God knows how many London music venues have shut down in the past decade. Just off the top of my head, there’s the Astoria, 12 Bar, the new 12 Bar, Buffalo Bar, T Chances, Intrepid Fox, Big Red, Archway Tavern, Metro, Hackney Trash Bar, Silver Bullet, Gossips, and probably many more I can’t remember. While it’s normal that city landscapes change, these places haven’t been replaced by new venues. The music side of London just seems to wither, leaving behind a cultural wasteland populated by yuppies.

Paul Talling probably smelled the coffee a bit earlier than others, for he began taking picures of venues that would soon vanish as early as 2003. His book London’s Lost Music Venues is out today on Damaged Goods Books. Andrew Stevens talked to him – and of course, he was especially curious about the croptop aspects of London’s lost venue history.

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Paul Talling

Where did all this start?

Derelict London is a photography website that I created in 2003 after seeing many buildings that I knew were disappearing, and I thought that it was time to document them before they were demolished. I began to research the social history associated with the buildings and set up a website that celebrates the rundown parts of London. I was surprised at the time by the positive feedback and media interest on what I was doing from the likes of the BBC and the Evening Standard. I was then offered a publishing deal and the resulting book brought my photos to an even wider audience. I only wish that I started taking many more photos 20 years earlier…

For a book about music venues, where would you put yourself on the spectrum?

Musically, I am into a lot of different stuff, especially punk and mod. There are no rules for me. I love what people call the DIY ethics of punk, though of course, DIY doesn’t just apply to punk — there are plenty of inspiring DIY elements to all subcultures in music and football such as bedroom record labels and fanzines.

london music venuesWhat made you write this one?

Following on with the ‘lost London’ theme with Derelict London and London’s Lost Rivers, I decided to document the lost music venues and to answer the often asked question of what do those venues look like these days. This is something dear to my heart, as I used to promote small venue gigs in London between 1988 and 2003. This is the first volume which covers the pubs and smaller clubs, many of which get overlooked when people discuss former venues.

Which was your first of those venues?

It was the Tunnel Club at the Mitre Arms on the Greenwich Peninsula in 1987, to see a band from Aldershot called West One who were quite popular with mods, though all their fans arrived on a coach apart from me. Now, this is a bit hazy for me, but I remember walking up the Blackwall Tunnel Approach looking for the pub in that really grim and isolated area back in those pre-Millenium Dome days. The venue was just a ropey around the edges pub with a side room with mainly unknown rent-a-crowd bands, with the occasional well-known pub circuit headliner like Geno Washington or Desmond Dekker, though its lasting legacy were the comedy nights that gave early exposure to Eddie Izzard, Harry Enfield and Vic Reeves. Going off on a tangent here – Malcolm Hardee, the promoter of the comedy night allegedly stole Freddie Mercury’s £4,000 birthday cake and donated it to a local nursing home.

The Blue Coat Boy was as ropey as you could get really, at its ‘Skunx’ night for skins and punks the gents was so disgusting you had to stand on the stairs to piss into it, I heard.

The state of the gents seems to be a common theme in pub gigs during the 1980s. In the book, I cover the period 1982-3 when the Blue Coat Boy was a hangout for punk and skins. People have told me that there was often an air of violence about the place due to differing political allegiances among the punters for Skunx (later Streets) upstairs. Great selection of bands during those couple of years such as Blitz, Subhumans and Infa Riot, plus later bands like Brutal Attack and Skrewdriver who gave the place a bad reputation (the place was taken over and renamed The Blue Angel and live music ceased not long after they played there). In the book, I mention the time that punk poet Attila the Stockbroker performed an anti-fascist poem and had his own mandolin smashed over his head by an audience member and the time the anarchist band Anthrax witnessed someone running through the bar wielding an axe after the gig. Most likely just a minority spoiling the atmosphere I am sure, but that is the stuff that sticks in the memory.

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A well-known skinhead band at the Bridge House, Canning Town

The Bridge House was where it all came together, skins and mod revival, almost their Roxy.

Canning Town was considered a hostile area during those arse-end days of the docks and many of the media and art school types tended to avoid the Bridge House and in my view, this was not a bad thing. Not wanting to generalise, but the Roxy was a place to be seen by people who had recently come to London, whereas much of the Bridge House crowd were made up of working-class East London kids and it catered to varying musical tastes. I explain in the book that the pub was so well-run and self-policed by landlord Terry Murphy and his well-respected boxing family that there was rarely any trouble at the gigs despite being popular among different crowds.

Being on the local manor for the Cockney Rejects and Cock Sparrer it became quite a hangout for skinheads and the emerging Oi scene. Quite a lot of pub-rock and metal down there too. Local lad Steve Harris of Iron Maiden said it was an important venue for them in their early days. There were many mod revival bands too, one of which was captured on the live album Mods Mayday 79 released on the pub’s own label making the Bridge House the first pub in the world with its own record label.  It released over 20 singles and albums some of which were by post-punk/new wave band Wasted Youth whose bassist was Terry’s son. They were the band that inspired some lads from Essex, later to become Depeche Mode, to play their first London gigs there. The Police used to ring Terry regularly for a gig, but with a name like that were refused a gig in Canning Town! It was all over in 1982 when Terry left and by 2002 the pub ended up being demolished and these days the site beneath the infamous pylon remains part tarmac and part storage yard.

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Probably not the same Blitz, Last Resort and G.B.H. that you’re thinking of

I get what you’re saying about the elitist pretence of the Roxy in its role in punk history/mythical consciousness but it did put on Sham 69, Menace and Cocksparrer.  Beyond the already well-covered hallowed ground, what did you document in the book on it?

Perhaps my previous comment about the Roxy was a bit harsh, as a majority of the bands were great, but I do think that some journalists and svengalis shaped their own agenda to the whole scene. I like Andy Czezowski’s comment when you spoke to him about the Roxy book [for 3:AM] where he refers to a journalist [Jon Savage] who has “written his layer over the top of what actually happened.”

My book covers 130 small former venues but is not a social analysis of the scenes. It focuses on the often asked question of what these venues look like these days. So modern-day photographs of each with approx a 300 word summary on each which includes the history of the buildings (a former fruit and veg warehouse for the local Covent Garden market in the case of The Roxy), its days as a venue with examples of the some of the acts to play there plus a few ads, flyers, etc. It’s been well covered elsewhere but the site of The Roxy was, until recently, a Speedo swimwear shop.  A few weeks ago I walked past and the site was vacant.

What about The Vortex?

The site of the Vortex is still a club. It has changed names with great frequency in recent years.

I’m glad the Greyhound in Chadwell Heath is in there, given its status in the mod revival era, though as a venue few will have heard of it outside of those circles?

I wanted to include many the venues that were not so well known to everyone but still hold a fond place in the memories of local people. Yes, the Greyhound, whose live music hall was called The Electric Stadium, was popular with mod revival bands such as the Purple Hearts and Small World, etc. but around that time (1981) it had bands playing there catering for many different tastes such as A Flock of Seagulls, The Cardiacs, Wreckless Eric and Diamond Head.  Marillion played there five times around that period! Going back to the late 1960s the venue hosted the Mojo Blues Club, where Rick Wakeman performed regularly when he was in a band called Spinning Wheel.

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Stompin’ at the Klub Foot: outside the Clarendon Hotel, Hammersmith

The Hambrough Tavern is now notorious for the events of 1981, was it that notoriety which secured its inclusion?

Yes, it was at the back of my mind for years that there must have been other gigs there too and to find something positive about the place so I had to do some digging. Prior to the infamous Oi night there had been gigs by The Meteors and Marillion (who got everywhere that year…), but the best nugget of information goes back to 1962 when Manfred Mann were spotted playing here by publicist Kenneth Pitt, who became their manager and got them signed to a record company and topping the charts by 1964.

The Clarendon Hotel is probably now best remembered for Klub Foot as the epicentre of psychobilly, is that why you included it?

I included The Clarendon because it was important to many gig-goers in the 1980s, not just for psychobillies. It was two venues — a basement for smaller gigs and club nights and a large ballroom upstairs which had a capacity of nearly a thousand people. There were gigs by U2, The Birthday Party, Joe Jackson, Killing Joke, Ramones, Pulp, Happy Mondays, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Housemartins and bloody Marillion, of course. Basically bands from every genre on the gig circuit at the time — C86 indie bands, goth, mod, old punk, grebo, metal and so on. Someone recently told me that they saw Blitz there when others in the audience got pissed off with the new direction that the band were taking.

Goldsmiths Tavern is now not far off a wine bar but when I attended the college it was a toilet with a decent ska night, though I wondered why it made the cut?

Yeah, the New Cross House as it is now called is a bit more upmarket than its days as Goldmiths. Back then the only food was from a grotty BBQ which did the job of disguising the other smells around the place! But there was quite a lot of live music though during the 80s and 90s. There was The House of Love, The Ex, The Prisoners, Alternative TV and Test Department playing there during the 1980s. By the 1990s there was a strong squat scene in the area with many punk and anarcho/crustie scene bands playing including Radical Dance Faction, Back To The Planet, P.A.I.N., UK Subs and Senser, plus local student bands like Placebo who went onto chart success.

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Finsbury Park 1989: punk weekend at the Sir George Robey. The Rainbow in the background.

The Sir George Robey, famous for ska and punk for years and I understand you have a passing connection or two, though I only remember it as the Powerhaus. Your punk weekender included Red London, among others.

I attended the Robey many times to see bands and I promoted a few nights there too back when it was really grotty and there was literally dogshit on the floor. The ‘punk weekender’ was in June 1989 when I got loads of bands together both young and old attracting a mixture of punks, skins and crusties.  There is a flyer knocking around though many additional bands such as The Crack, The Guttersnipes and Foreign Legion were squeezed on at short notice. It got a bit hectic by the Sunday night when it sold out and fans of Culture Shock were spilling out into the Seven Sisters Road and there were crusties blocking the traffic resulting in the police turning up.

I think it was Vince from Released Emotions records that got me onto Red London. I must admit that I don’t remember much about their set as I was organising so many bands coming and going and putting out fires so to speak. The weekend was great fun though. The Powerhaus days was when Vince Power (Mean Fiddler Organisation) bought the place and spruced it up a bit, but that was shortlived before it closed forever.
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