The Bull and Gate in London is the latest classic venue to close : an obituary
RIP ;- THE BULL AND GATE – Kentish Town London (1980…ish to 2013)
IF …at a guess, during the past 30 or so years I went to an average of 5 gigs a year at the BULL & GATE (and I fear that if I had made a list it would probably be more but I’m good at my 5 times table) ……that’s at the very least 150 gigs, probably about 3-400 bands.
I’d assume that you’d not want to see the list of utterly brilliant life defining nights when I’ve exited the venue shaking with delight, arms in the air whilst skipping down Kentish Town rd to get the last tube home. However I am going to list them right here, right now….
1) Cop Shoot Cop / Diety Guns early 90’s:
It was a hot Saturday summers night. It was packed. I said during the support bands’ set something along the lines of “Fuck – we have to get to know these people ….”.
They were called “DIETY GUNS” and they were from France and sounded like SONIC YOUTH but stranger, noisier, with quiet bits and a bit more thrilling than Sonic Youth.
They were one of the very few things that us as a band at the gig (whole bands used to go to gigs together in those days) ever really agreed on. We got to meet them and 20 odd years later the bass player, an American (keep up), is still here because she moved here to LIVE because she was quite excited about what was going on in London at the time (There was something going on and if you’re reading this type of bollocks on a web site in 2013 then it’s probably because of this- we’ve all seen good stuff over the years haven’t we ?)
It was the fullest I ever remember seeing the Bull and Gate that night. It was heaving. It was hot as fuck and we all felt a bit smug that somehow we’d got into this “Secret show” on a Saturday night.
We all agreed DIETY GUNS were fab.
And then we watched COP SHOOT FUCKIN COP.
In the Bull And fuckin’ Gate!!
Yeaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!! – Brilliant !
2) …. er that’s it.
I was never lucky enough to be in there when Blur, Coldplay, Carter, The Manics etc.. played (or unlucky enough when KEANE played) so I can’t report on whether the roof got raised, people cried and pens were being waved by fat men in suits witnessing the future of rock and roll or not. This behaviour never took place when I went there, although I’m sure time will tell whether the last show I went to (new up and coming songstress and all ’round good egg NADINE SHAH) will produce results that cause reactions like that soon….it might y’know.
So there’s two ways of looking at the news that London’s current most famous small venue,The Bull and Gate in Kentish Town is to close down.
ONE ; – is the sadness that we’ve lost another venue that I would imagine ANYONE could have got a gig at during the past 30 years, even if it meant sitting in a van all the way from Newcastle to play in front of only the soundman.
And TWO;- the one of good riddance it was a shit venue that sold shit beer and hosted shit bands that no one was ever interested in.
Oh, and Nirvana never played there.
This is a venue that hosted gigs seven nights a week for many many years and just as I started to realise that during the past few years I wasn’t actually turning my nose up about spending an evening there anymore (Good PA . Better bands. New carpet. Free music papers. I knew I wouldn’t be in any of the bands…..) the doors will be locked soon to reopen as a posh pub for posh people that won’t mind paying an extra quid for a pint or play that game where you have to stand motionless trying to look cool and hope that the little slice of lime wont fall out of the bottle you’re drinking from.
The Bull and Gate is a big building in a residential area and to run a decent business in a building like this really needs more customers that it’s had over the years. One of the nice things about visiting this pub was that it’s a good pub to go to for a chat, have a seat, no need to queue at the bar and maybe perhaps after a couple of beers the temptation to wander through the Gents (or Ladies) and into the venue to watch some unknown (a lot of unknown) bands perform what they have been rehearsing so they are then be able to tell their mums that they’ve actually played to an audience and therefore taken the first step required in order to conquer London and go on to world domination – A bit like that old tv program “Rock Follies” and a bit like bloody COLDPLAY.
One of the bad things about the Bull and Gate was it was mostly empty and once upon a time you’d sometimes get the promoter talking you into paying a couple of quid to watch a band (that were rubbish) because no one had turned up to watch them. This came about because the bands, with their transit vans parked in the alleyway, believed that London is paved with gold and music hungry people who will cram themselves into anywhere just to hear some music.
To “SIGN ‘EM ALL UP BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE DOES!!!…..”
Well no ….well OK, well it’s wasn’t always like that, but it did used to happen.
I never laughed at these people because I always understood that theory too.
I once sat in a van all day to play in Bradford to 2 people (the barman + soundman – even the bloke that came with us for the ride didn’t even bother coming into watch us play!)
This venue in North West London used to be one of very few venues that hosted this kind of entertainment. Almost anyone could get a gig at the Bull & Gate. Even my band played there. We were shit. We fitted in nicely. We didn’t play in front of many people. We played in front of some of our mates and we played with a band on the bill who were called BUM GRAVY. I’ll repeat this because its worth repeating. They were called BUM GRAVY.
And they were ace .
However, in the beginning we said we’d never play the Bull and Gate.
But we did play there.
Quite a lot.
I know many people who having formed a band would openly admit that even though they planned to gig intensively, playing the Bull and gate was not on their wish list. They always did play there though, myself included. Everyone in a band played there, it was hard to escape it how ever much you tried to avoid it.
Most people who went to the Bull and Gate were people in bands or people who were there to support their mates bands and to go through some sort of confirmation ritual that their mates were now officially (sniff, swagger) actually “in a band”.
DOING GIGS !!! – YEAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!
“she/he’s fuckin’ serious about this band lark you know. 1st gig at the bull and gate…..!!”
…and nine times…no nine and three quarters and a little bit more times out of ten YOU…the audience member…the “mate”, would then have to LIE TO YOUR OWN FRIENDS about what you thought of “the band” when you were eventually asked the question by “the band” about what you thought of “the band”.
Unless you happened to be MY mates who would not hesitate in being honest enough telling us we were crap – the bastards!
Another reason people would go to see their mates band was because everyone knows where the Bull and Gate is. Out the tube turn right cross the road and past the chip shop – easy!
Then there’s the “we haven’t been out much in the week recently have we ?” type of people. Those kind of people often visited. Their mates knew someone who were playing there and it is a really difficult thing to do – get people to come out and watch an unknown band. But people worked hard at getting an audience to turn up, everyone tried to ask everyone and sometimes a modest audience would turn up at the Bull and Gate. However, considering this is London and (almost) CAMDEN this was still difficult.
What was ace about the place though was that sometimes it was where you could stand and watch a band you’d may have heard on the radio the previous week and actually find yourself standing next to the person that played it who would sometimes be there. He or she would be easy to spot as they would be holding carrier bags full of demos that other people in the room had been carrying around with them hoping for such person would turn up.
Being in a band and getting that bit right was a skill in itself.
We now we have a lot of people feeling sad (which is OK) that the venue is soon to close. Some people who may not have visited the place in the past ten years are feeling sad.
It’s The chip shop next door I feel sorry for really y’know. When they realise soon that their trade will have fallen and there are no more bands popping in to have their dinner before show time (The term “spotty indie kids wasn’t just made up y’know) and that the new pub when it opens will also be selling food….its them that might suffer most. Not us. We’ll be down the Shacklewell arms moaning about the pool table being in the way and discussing alternative ways for getting home once we’ve realised we’ve missed the last train by, er…… two hours!!!
People will also feel sad if the Dublin Castle in Camden ever closed. Or the Water Rats in Kings Cross, but when did YOU go there last ? (ok ok I don’t need a list thanks)
I’m not sure what happened when Camdens’ finest place ever, The Falcon closed. It seemed to whimper away if I remember correctly (fade out!) , but that place was popular and there were some ace gigs at that place (fuckin’ BLUR in 1990 were brilliant !) and we loved the Falcon, made friends in the Falcon, met a lot of other people who were all in good bands. It had it’s own catch phrase which was something along the lines of “Drink up and FUCK OFF !” and we looked at the Falcon like a local where many people would go just to hang out. We also had a dance invented for us by the press called cleverly enough ” The Camden Lurch” It was the grungy noisy, “lurching”, Queen Vic’ or Rovers Return without the scandal (probably).
But no one went to the BULL AND GATE just to hang out. We only ever went there to see our mates bands or to meet up before going into the 2000 plus capacity “HMVForum” (or Town and Country club as some people will remember it as) next door.
Things have changed. We’ve got a lot of new venues in London nowadays and hats should be raised to the Bull and Gate for surviving this long really. Venues in the East side of the capital have sussed that if they stick a quid on a pint and make the gigs free then people like myself will wander along on a cold Tuesday night and (shock horror) not go to the bar all night thus having enough loose change in our pockets for some chips* and another trip out the following night.
These gigs…..that today contain a lot of decent bands that have been monitored closely by obsessive promoters thanks to the internet and peoples willingness to nowadays listen to anyone at any time and write blogs before anyone else does without leaving their armchairs, are being visited at an increasingly modest trickle nowadays because we have a generation out there that trust the promoters and can listen to what they are about to go and see themselves before putting their coats on to go out for the evening. It’s just a shame that not enough people still don’t seem to realise this.
It deserves to be acknowledged that the Bull and Gate is about to close.
Good bye and thanks for existing.
Its not turning into Macdonalds.
Its turning into another type of pub.
A pub where we’ll all still walk past on the way to the Forum only there wont be a bunch of people we’ve never heard of playing simultaneously in the back room.
Do we still miss the Fulham Greyhound, the Hammersmith Clarendon (that got us angry a bit when it closed),The Astoria, The Marquee, The White Horse in Hampstead and I’m sure various others I cant remember anymore ? Does anyone actually miss not going to the George Robey in Finsbury park? I’ll mention the Robey because it was there and part of the same thing but has anyone EVER been heard to say “oh I really miss all those nights in the Robey…..? I could describe what it was like but you might be eating your dinner.
Support your small venues folks. You don’t need me to tell you this. Nothing ever lasts forever.
However, we’re not seeing venues starting to close one by one, in fact we’re seeing the opposide here in good ole Laaaarn..darn taaan.
Will people really miss the BULL AND GATE ? – probably
When they approach this new pub before going into the Forum, sorry the HMVForum next door they’ll have a moan about not being not allowed in or have the same conversations beginning “bloody ell this place hasn’t half changed ……” that will now feel are happening every bloody time you enter Kentish Town, and will do now for the rest of our lives . You’ll also engage in long discussions involving a lot of pointing to where about where you thought the stage used to be and then bore each other about the favourite gigs you went to when it was a gig venue.
Like I just did then.
They’ll (or “we”) will probably moan a bit about about the smell of those tall hamburgers that have wooden skewers holding them together with half a dozen thick chips next to them that cost eight quid stinking the place out and feel nostalgic for the days when the pub just used to smell of ….
I’m sure the promoters, sound men etc who I assume will lose their livelihood will miss the place as well.
But theres plenty of other venues here in the smoke. Maybe more than there ever was and we have to support these places. The promoters of today really do have their shit together, they wont run away at 10 o’clock with the £20 door money and i’ll wager that if you’re going to one of these small venues to see your mates band nowadays, I think you might find that the other bands on the bill will be pretty decent as well.
In a nut shell reader, I think we should all go down the pub a bit more than we have been recently what dy’a reckon?
Let’s all go and say goodbye to it before May 4th.
Not everyone on the same day though,that would be daft.
Raise a glass for the venue and the people who over the years tried really bloody hard to keep everyone happy. Not the people who played there and went onto bigger things. They can come and get the beers in and watch some up and coming bands with the rest of us so the band onstage can then go home after a gig and tell their mates that the bloke who I would never recognise from “Coldplay came to see ustonight“!
The Bull and Gate will be like losing an old friend. The old man you used to cycle to the shops to buy fags for as kid. You hadn’t seen him for years, knew he was still alive but hadn’t seen him for decades.
Promoters ; Please don’t Alter any line ups between now and then. No secret bloody Manics gig or Chris bleedin’ Martin turning up followed by a string of photographers meaning that all the people who haven’t been there for ten years will now suddenly decide to go, pack the place out and get the bar staff wondering why the place “couldn’t have been like that all the time?”.
Book a band at random, prefereably one that’s never done a gig before to end proceedings. Someone you really love yourself. This would be more representable than say Blur. However if Blur were to turn up unnanounced and play in front of 20 people and a couple of other bands it might be just as cool.
So we’ll all pop along between now and the 4th May then shall we ? You’ll remember where it is… turn right outside the tube, cross the road and walk past the chip shop.
And Lets all remember that these kind of places still exist around town and enjoy them whilst they’re here and lets try to love these venues a bit more and appreciate what happens during the times we are there and the times we arn’t there.
Next time you’re sitting at home on the sofa moaning about not being able to have purchased tickets for the big arena gig that went on sale that morning but are now all on those secondary ticketing sites for extortionate prices, have a look around at what else is going on at the same time. Google the band, watch their videos and realise that you can now be entertained just as much for a tiny fraction of what you were prepared to shell out in that sponsored aircraft hanger. You shouldn’t need to be told this but then again you may be as surprised as to the quality that’s currently out there at the moment.
There’s alot of people curating gigs in places like the Bull and Gate throughout London (and the rest of the UK) and it’s an important part of our culture. We produce the best music in the world here in the UK and places like the Bull and Gate are very important even if it is just to laugh at and ridicule for some (yeah, me included).
This venue hosted 3 or 4 bands every evening for over 35 years. That’s 25 – 30 bands a WEEK. A lot of bands and a lot of band members and a lot of van drivers and a lot of hangers on and that’s a lot of chips and one or two sausages.
I’ll miss the Bull and Gate (even though in the past I probably would have been glad to see the back of it) and alot of other people will miss the Bull and Gate. Even more people will miss “not being bothered to go to the Bull and Gate” and that could be why we’re not angry about the venue’s closure.
We’re not angry because there’s a lot going on out there in Indieland still but at the same time we’re not just shrugging and going “oh it was a shithole anyway”.
The Bull and Gate is dead … Long Live the new Bull & Gates out there and “can I just have a little more echo on the vocals please?”
* very rarely eat chips – i made that bit up.