In the last decade we have witnessed a scourge on our capital’s live music venues. Much of the losses incurred have been the result of increased rent prices forcing owners down alternative avenues in order to break even, or out of business altogether. In recent years however, developments in transport networks across London have shattered the cultural landscape of our West End.
I am speaking, of course, about the infamous and inimitable Denmark Street. The Rolling Stones recorded their debut album at Regent Sound Studio in ‘64, Bowie regularly supped at the Gioconda, and the Sex Pistols rehearsed at No. 6 in 1975-6. Tin Pan Alley’s historical credentials are unparalleled.
So how is it that Denmark Street today is boarded up and practically barren? It is through the closure of places like the 12 Bar and the Intrepid Fox, not to mention a number of music shops. The back of the north side of the street looks like a shanty town on the edge of the apocalypse. This developers’ delight of a metropolis construction site, with screaming black-and-yellow hazard signs, ever-present cement mixers and empty cranes, is ripping the lifeblood out of our city’s once-vibrant, cultural heart.
You could say that the writing was on the wall in 2007 when the Astoria was bulldozed, or at least it was until the wall was torn down to make room for a Crossrail forecourt, which is still unfinished. I have never seen the intersection where Tottenham Court Road meets Charing Cross Road without the tall, blue, wooden walls now synonymous with the junction.
The Fox was pushed out of its premises near Centre Point almost a year ago but was left unoccupied for months before any work was done. Despite significant (and ongoing) support for the 12 Bar, it enjoyed brief notoriety as a squat after the original premises closed and the bar migrated north to Holloway Road, where it thankfully still has live music.
As someone putting on music nights in London for up-and-coming artists, it is becoming impossible to find, and keep, a venue. I’ve lost count of how many are now, or will soon become, gastropubs or luxury apartments. Apparently, an 800-seater arena is scheduled to go up somewhere near Denmark Street which threatens us with a new place to ‘engage with brands’ in a very sinister, touch-screeny Minority Report sort of way. But where will the young bands start out?
If it’s a question of ‘value’ then we must ask what we’re giving up and how much we can possibly gain from another commuter route connecting east to west. It may be advantageous (once completed) but can this benefit justify the annihilation of a cultural legacy? Perhaps art and music are luxuries we can no longer afford, whereas money for swanky flats and restaurants remains prioritised. Whilst we cannot reverse what’s happening altogether, we can at least support those venues that remain, and discuss and debate this issue in the hope that the volume of our dialogue arrests its development before we lose everything.