Rock & Pop: Pub Rock
The End of the Road for Pub Rock?
- Capacity crackdowns,
poor promotion and theme pubs threaten London's musical backbone:
LondonNet feature by Catherine Chambers
IT'S ALMOST unthinkable, but
the demise of pub-rock culture has become a worrying trend.
Venues that were once an integral
part in shaping London's musical heritage are being made extinct
in the face of the more profitable yet soulless theme pubs. And
that's not all. Once hailed as the capital of music, London is
in danger of losing sight of new talent. The changing nature
of pub culture - driven by need for profit - is causing the rising
stars, Britain's future new musical heroes, to go unheard of.
For underground acts, trying to land a gig in one of the capital's
smaller venues can be an almost impossible task.
experienced its hey-day in the 1970s when an altogether new gig
circuit provided an independent alternative to established concert
venues. This was before the economic slump of the 80s and the
rapid growth of pub chains. It was a place where talent-spotters
could make their mark. The idea was to persuade pub landlords,
who had few customers, to let bands play in front of eager audiences.
It worked, and the pub rock scene was born, a movement that later
helped pave the way for a musical revolution -in the form of
punk, with bands such as Ian Dury and The Clash leading the charge.
Today it's a different story.
Small venues have been hit by problems involving noise complaints
and licensing, not to mention increasing pressures on profit
margins. Unfortunately it's the bands that suffer. A crackdown
earlier this year by Camden Council on venues that overstretched
their capacity led to licenses either being temporarily withdrawn
or severe restrictions placed on it. the Camden Falcon and The
Dublin Castle, both an intrinsic part of the Camden scene, have
had their capacity severely cut back, whilst the Water Rats in
Kings Cross was forced to close for a month after its license
was withdrawn due to overcrowding.
Art-rockers Pillbox who regularly tour the pub
circuit suffered directly as a result. " We had a show booked
at the Water Rats the day before it closed and all our listings
were wrong," explains singer Susan Hyatt. " The problem
is it's hard to find anywhere to gig anymore. the Water Rats
and The Dublin Castle have lost their vibe now. the Camden Monarch
seems to be the only good place left."
Venues with a restricted capacity
mean fewer punters, and therefore less money. But bands that
are only able to pull crowds of just 40 simply aren't worth bothering
with, says Tris Dickin promoter of the Spitz venue in East London. "It's a Catch 22 situation,"
he acknowledges. "We get bands calling to book gigs and
if they only bring a small crowd it isn't enough. We need about
100 people to break even."
Sean Worrall, who runs successful
underground label Org Records and promotes his own nights, agrees.
"Part of the problem is that as a promoter you've got to
hire a venue. It costs £300 to hire the Camden Monarch,
you need at least 130 people in to break even, and then you have
to pay the band." Some have pointed to the rise of dance
culture and DJ's or the spread of comedy venues as a cause.
However, Sean blames the decline
of pub-rock culture on promoters being out of touch with the
current music scene. "Bands can't get on decent bills, so
when they do get a gig they can't play to the right audiences.
Promoters should be thinking about matching bands up together.
In the smaller venues there should be a lot more care taken into
whom they're supporting. How often do you go to gigs now and
see three bands that you're really excited about?"
Bee Rozzo, who promotes the
extremely successful Barfly Club, which hosts gigs every week
night, moved from the Camden Falcon to the Camden Monarch after
the Camden Falcon's capacity was cut to 100. "A lot of people
in London just aren't passionate about the music they're putting
on," he asserts.
"Some promoters charge
their bands to play and don't care who hasn't got a gig. Talent
Scout run 'Pay To Play' which means the band have to put up a
deposit up and unless they get X- amount of people in they lose
the deposit. These people just don't give a f**k about the bands
they're promoting, they just care about getting people in there.
They're just exploiting talent and people who don't have talent."
There is, however, a unanimous verdict
on the high quality of music in London, which makes the decline
of pub rock culture even more alarming. In the words of a regular
gig-goer, Stewart Holmes, "We're proud of our home-grown
talent in this country, and it wasn't long ago that London led
not only Britain but the world in popular live music. It's galling
to think that young talent is being crushed before it has a chance
to shine. Where would Blur be without the rock venues of Camden?
London needs to wake up if we are to help the UK music industry."
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