By The Landlord
“50,000 bands and 1 disgusting bathroom.” – CBGB, the documentary
“I swear I was there …” The Gig that Changed the World – by David Nolan, on the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976
A tiny, sweaty, rammed room in a pub cellar, a busker’s street corner, a cult venue where great bands find their feet but hardly anyone really attended, to behemoth events, from Glastonbury to Live Aid and SXSW, across the world the locations of live performance can be synonymous with certain songs, and forever remain preciously imprinted in the formative experience of musical hearts and minds. Wembley of course is not one of those small venues, more the standard ironic announcement by those jumping up to a small stage to parody their fame. But to honour the wonderful people everywhere who make live music, and particularly to mark Independent Venue Week which begins on Monday in the UK, and in July in the US, where smaller venues are celebrated and supported against the threat of closure by developers seeking to homogenise and exploit, our latest theme is to in turn seek out songs that ideally name specific music venues in lyrics, or music that’s synonymous with that special place.
David Nolan, the author of the book about that famous, history-changing Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, where only roughly 40 people attended, but thousands claim they have, states that: "We know that Morrissey was there, who went on to form the Smiths. We know that the lads who went on to form the Buzzcocks were there because they organised the gig. We know that two lads from Lower Broughton were there who went out the next day and bought guitars at Mazel Radio which used to be on Piccadilly Station Approach, they formed a band called Joy Division; We know that Mark E Smith was there who went on to form The Fall … That was it: that was the day, that was the time, that was the year that was the precise moment when everything took a left turn."
We never forget the venues we first fell in love with music on our own terms. Now then, I swear I wasn’t at the Lesser Free Trade Hall to see the Sex Pistols, nor the much second gig on 20 July, but I did see the Smiths there in the 1980s, and other early gigs included The Wedding Present at the tiny Boardwalk. But sadly I was far too young to go to see David Bowie on his 1972-73 Spiders From Mars tour where he played very close to our house at the old Hardrock venue in Stretford, Manchester, which was later turned into a B and Q store, which is also now no more. But I regularly attended the Hacienda when it was Tony Wilson’s arthouse experiment, well before the heady, ecstatic Madchester days, and more by chance than design, a caught certain Madonna Ciccione in 1984, and like most others there, I was most unimpressed by this dancey, miming Cyndi Lauper wannabe. She’ll never make it, y’know …
I certainly wasn’t burning up in the Hacienda that day, because it wasn’t very exciting at all. Just listen to the muted applause and venue’s echoey emptiness just before she starts Holiday. But that’s the reality of those “I was there” moments. Live music can be brilliant, but it can also be tiring, annoying, tedious, uncomfortable, with terrible sound. In retrospect we naturally edit out the negatives – the queuing outside and then for the bar, and the annoying talkers and elbowers, and instead remember what become cult moments. And the most potent gigs are often the ones you missed. But for the most part music venues, especially the smaller, independent ones are a source endless joy and inspiration.
I attend lots of gigs, many of them wonderful, especially in the smaller or more unusual venues, where the chemistry is just right. I’ve seen performers in all sorts of places - Pulp in a cave, Bjork at the amphitheatre in Verona, where you are brought beer by attendants on those ancient stone steps, Stevie Wonder at Glastonbury, to watching the great Al Green roll around at my feet in a TV studio screaming out Tired Of Being Alone. But random some habitual favourites at different times could be anyhere from King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow to The Deaf Institute in Manchester, to London’s Moth Club, Paper Dress Vintage, Windmill, Lexington, Hope And Anchor, or Rough Trade East, but even by mentioning some specifically I feel guilty at not launching in to list the many other great ones out there, in the UK or elsewhere.
But let’s have one example of a song that could be sort of thing that could be nominated this week, about a Camden venue that was huge in the 1970s, then closed for years, but has since became enormous again:
From Hammersmith to the Roundhouse, London is chock full with venues that have reached cult status, but the list of those that have closed down is even long due to redevelopment, especially around Soho, from the Astoria to the tiny, eccentric 12 Bar Club. Perhaps the most famous of all is old Marquee, with its iconic logo, where everyone who was everyone, especially in the 60s and 70s played, from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin to the Who, seen here in 1964:
Many past venues were the cradles of creativity. CBGBs in New York of course being a classic example.
We all have our own favourite venues from Berlin to theBarbican to the Budokan, and this week it would be great if as well as songs about them, you also share memories, photos of gigs, festival places. But to inspire more, here’s just a selection of some remarkable places around the globe, past and present where magic, has and in some case, will continue to happen:
But not all venues are quite so glamorous. Johnny Cash tried his luck with a lockin:
But while this grand or otherwise venues may offering inspiration, you could also look for places less lauded, such as street corner buskers:
Or the best place might be to make music on the move:
Or for example, how about a band on a tram, as seen here in Wroclaw, Poland:
But if you really want to get things moving, perhaps the best way to keep your music location fluid is to follow this quite crazy band Russian guys on their own highway to hell:
I hope you’re enjoyed this unconventional music venue tour. Now over to your for your songs about them or other spaces, whether mentioned in lyrics or synonymous with that certain place. This week’s venue manager, keeping the band announcements going, and returning a second appearance on our own stage is the impeccably perceptive pejepeine! Place your song suggestions below, not to mention any reminiscences about music venues and great gigs to celebrate these precious places, with a deadline for nominations at 11pm UK time on Monday, for playlists published on Wednesday. 1, 2, 1, 2 …
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