No Sleep till Croydon: Song Bar World Venue Tour 2019
This week’s A-list is not only up on YouTube. If you click on each venue name (and links in some of the B-list) you’ll be transported to the venue's current location via Google Street View, allowing you to experience the thrill of the tour bus. Venues come and go, so be prepared for some surprises as our roadies unload the amps and we stand around waiting for the local dealers to turn up.
We’ll kick off our tour at the corner of 31st and Cottage Grove in Chicago – park land and office space today but once the site of the Royal Gardens, a venue that inspired one of the very first jazz recordings and a much-covered standard, here played by Bix Beiderbecke’s New Orleans Lucky Seven and almost certainly well-known by the mystery band celebrated next …
One of several candidates for the pub south of the River Thames, where Mark Knopfler once watched a jazz band knocking out standards like Creole Love Call to a sparse crowd, before they called it a night and announced defiantly that they were The Sultans of Swing. This was a nickname for Django Reinhardt, who also played “Dixie double four time.”
Now let’s head to downtown Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, Ireland, with Christy Moore. Home of the famous annual matchmaking festival, Moore instead hymns a local festival that took place until 1983, when organisers ignored one of the most basic lessons from festival history by putting bikers in charge of security and paying them with beer. The ensuing riot, combined with the unrelated drowning of eight young festival-goers on a nearby beach, put an end to it.
“Nothing beats the feeling of the high Barrowland ceiling,” sings Amy MacDonald in her tribute to one of the great British concert venues, where generations of young Glaswegians have paraded along to the gaudy neon façade to feel the bounce of the sprung dancefloor ( a legacy of the days when dancing was what you did to bands). Just look at it.
I’ve never been to the Cavern, but I once saw a decent Beatles tribute band in a tiny, packed basement in Stamford and got a thrilling and surprising blast of what that was all about. The Big Three’s Cavern Stomp certainly has that energy in spades. The original cellar has been closed, filled in and dug up again, but it’s still going strong. A few yards down on the other side of the street you’ll find one of Liverpool’s other iconic venues.
According to regular commenter Tarquin Spodd, X-Ray Spex’s Let’s Submerge pays tribute to the Roxy’s basement, which is rather appropriately now the site of a swimwear shop. Plenty of nominations for Crass’s more specific whinge, too, but I’d rather pick a celebration of what is probably the seminal punk venue to a complaint about getting banned for drunkenness by sell-out capitalist pigs.
One of the surprising things last week’s thread threw up was the fact that short-lived Birmingham club Barbarella’s appears to one of the most-hymned venues in Britain, the subject of songs by The Prefects, The Devils and The Photos.
Now the site of a branch of RBS, where young men with ID lanyards have taken the place of punks and New Romantics, it is hard to imagine this was once the crucible of Brummie punk.
Where Joni Mitchell saw a musician play real good For Free in 1969. The story of Blind Richie was printed in The East Village Other in 1970, alongside ads for an evening with Gunter Grass and an early computer dating service for gay men.
Off to the jazz corner of the world – Birdland. Still operating at 315 West 44th Street, but the original location in the basement of 1678 Broadway now appears to be a bank located in a skyscraper. Weather Report, U2, Ray Charles and Jack Kerouac have all given a nod to “the bop joint”, but it’s a pleasure to pick Ella Fitzgerald’s impeccable version of the lullaby written by one of my favourite artists – suave British jazz pianist George Shearing.
A professional touring musician expresses doubts and worries about the faithfulness of his girl back home in Philly in The Roots & Erykah Badu’s You Got Me. Which seems a bit rich seeing as he was the one who hooked up with her at the most venerable venue on our tour – the 200 year-old Elyseé frequented by Maupassant and Toulouse-Lautrec.
No street view available, but a photo that captures the French colonial elegance of Mali’s main station. This is where the Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, Bamako held court throughout the 70s, launching the careers of stellar musicians such as Salif Keita, Mory Kanté and Kante Manfila.
Bandstands: elegant municipal cakes where brass bands would pump out the current hits to the public in the days before radio, records and amplification. On a grey wet day at the Croydon Road Recreation Ground, we can see the Beckenham Bandstand, where David Bowie performed on the 16th August 1969 (the same weekend as something called Woodstock was happening across the pond) and started to write Life On Mars: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. 'Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’” Memory of A Free Festival is his perfect evocation of the sun machine coming down on the 1960s.
Arenas and Auditoriums A-List Playlist:
Bix Beiderbecke’s New Orleans Lucky Seven – Royal Garden Blues
Dire Straits - The Sultans of Swing
Christy Moore - Lisdoonvarna
Amy MacDonald – Barrowland Ballroom
The Big Three - Cavern Stomp
X-Ray Spex - Let’s Submerge
The Photos - Barbarellas
Joni Mitchell – For Free
Ella Fitzgerald – Lullaby of Birdland
The Roots & Erykah Badu – You Got Me.
Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, Bamako – Foliba
David Bowie – Memory of A Free Festival
Ballrooms and Basements B-List Playlist:
Hermeto Pascoal – Montreux
The Brazilian sorceror's gorgeous instrumental dedicated to Europe's biggest jazz festival.
Guy Clark – Cornmeal Waltz
Guy recalls a long gone dance hall on Ranch Road 17, Texas.
Love – Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale
Arthur Lee’s impressions of the area around the Whisky A Go Go on Sunset Strip
The Animals - Club A Go-Go
The Toon’s most legendary, long-gone club.
The Sweet – Ballroom Blitz
Chinnichap glam anthem inspired by crowd disorder at the Grand Hall, Kilmarnock, one of those Scottish Victorian buildings that looks like it’ll last a few centuries yet.
Peter and the Test Tube Babies – Shit British Tour
“No way Retford Porterhouse.” The only venue on either list I’ve been to, and I agree.
Peter Hammill – Open Your Eyes
“The last days of the Locarnos”... The Specials also mourned a Locarno in Ghost Town.
The Clash – White Man in Hammersmith Palais
The absence of militant themes at an all-night reggae revue at the Palais disappoints Joe Strummer. One can only imagine his disappointment if he were to see the site today.
Super Beagle – Dust A Sound Boy
One of those militant tunes Joe borrowed is reworked over the mighty Stalag riddim in a celebration of sound system culture, which has transformed live music over several genres.
Orchestra Baobab – On Verra Ça
Residents at the Baobab & Balafon Clubs in Dakar, Senegal give their nightly band intros.
The Whitlams – God Drinks at the Sando
Elegy to the Sandringham Hotel, Sydney. Now closed, but next to the excellently named veggie restaurant Lentil As Anything.
Guru’s Wildcard Pick:
The site where Milton Nascimento, Lo and Marcio Borges, Beto Guedes, Nelson Angelo and other young musicians hung out and jammed, calling themselves Clube da Esquina (Corner Club), which later became the name of one of Brazil’s finest albums.
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Hello Wembley! Songs pertaining to live music venues and spaces. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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