Top Ten UK Venues That I’ve Played (Sort Of)
Lach, antifolk legend and star of BBC Radio 4’s hit series The Lach Chronicles, will be performing in nine UK cities (Jan.27-Feb.4 see below for full schedule). Joining Lach for six of the shows is Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum singer-songwriter Chris Barron of The Spin Doctors. Barron’s just-released solo album Angels and One-armed Jugglers is getting Stateside raves (“It’s the antidote for what ails you. Top Roots album of 2017!” – No Depression Magazine) and he’s eager to present it to his British fans on this tour along with his monster hits like Two Princes and Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.
Lach’s tour includes two nights (Jan.29,30) at The Islington in London (1 Tolpuddle Street N1 0XT). These shows will debut the new monthly “In Conversation” series Lach is bringing to the venue; produced by the club’s owner Terry Kirby. The series focuses on the war stories behind an artist’s life mixing conversation, song swaps, audience Q/A with Lach’s enormously funny conversational style that earned him Top Radio Pick in The Times, Observer, Telegraph, Daily Mail and Radio Times! On the 29th Lach’s guest will be Chris Barron and on the 29th it will be Ian Prowse. The shows are taped live for later podcast.
Lach’s antifolk style is cited as a main inspiration by hundreds of artists across the world over the years including such stars as Beck, Regina Spektor, The Moldy Peaches and Suzanne Vega.
There’s a breed of club owners who just get it. It’s such a simple formula that it amazes me that the ones who actually understand it are in the minority. The majority of venues see the traveling DIY artist as an inconvenience, it is so much easier to book in pub quizzes, hen and stag parties, or cleverly (not) named cover bands. (Really, how bad must a band be that their only way to gig is to be Not Really Pink Floyd? Even Pink Floyd doesn’t want to be Pink Floyd anymore!) And then there are the ‘pay to play’ venues who think that they’re supporting live music by charging the struggling musicians to hire the venue, the soundperson, and even the security. Hire your own bloody soundperson and bald dude with a badge to stand at the door you cheap bastard, it’s called an employee! These places are invariably run by coked-out middle management types who think that by being in a dark room with alcohol and blaring robot music they are somehow something more than a glorified fast food shift manager. You want fries with that soundman?
But there are exceptions to the rule. Golden, salt of the earth, illuminated exceptions. These are the clubs created by perps who LOVE music, musicians and building community. They know the simple formula: consistency and community plus great sound and respect for the artists and their audience equals a hallmark venue. These clubs are usually owned (or managed), booked and promoted by the same person. Somebody whose life was changed by music and art and felt a burning need to share that with his or her town. These people have live music running through their veins. Their flat’s bookshelves are packed with music biographies, the walls covered in gig flyers and framed cherished concert tickets. They’ll stay up all night with you discussing obscure recordings and reminiscing over past concerts. They know the best cheap breakfast place, the only decent indie record store in town and where to get a snare drum head at one in the morning. They are generally in debt financially but rich in memories of nights filled with magic. They don’t go for the flash in a pan profit but long-term survival through sincere efforts to build artist’s careers, build local pride and take a stand for something they fiercely hold dear, the love of original live true music. Maybe it was seeing The Clash in 1979 or discovering an underground scene like Antifolk and wanting to be part of it in 1999 but it lit a flame in their souls that’s been burning at least since John painted the ceiling of The Cavern. I salute these heroes of Rock and Roll across the world but this is a Top Ten column, so I’ll limit the list to my current stomping grounds of the UK and clubs I’ve headlined in. By the way, I won’t be giving detailed histories of the clubs because you can Google that shit. These are just my first thought, best thought mumblings because I have to get back to my guitar.
In no particular order:
1. Edinburgh – Sneaky Pete’s
Exactly the shape I love, a long dark rectangle with a bar in the back, the stage just big enough so a four-piece band feels snug but not claustrophobic (Unless they’ve a guitar player who hides their lack of originality behind a dozen pedals and a drummer who thinks chimes are a good idea.) The sound is excellent and the staff is friendly. The man in charge, Nick Stewart, is fully involved with the city council and similar groups to help make Edinburgh an indie artist friendly city all year round, not just during the Fringe.
2. Leeds – Hyde Park Book Club
The prototypical laid back progressive venue. Great coffee and the best veggie burger I’ve ever had. I seem to recall people in jumpers actually reading books and playing board games and I wondered if I had accidently booked into a so-called ‘folk’ club and was expected to play the flute and sing about how father figures suck. But that’s me, my brain, my ‘Anti’ nature. In reality, everyone in the joint was really cool, kind, and excited to talk about music, culture and politics and the performance area was intimate and welcoming. They do a lot of community outreach, support local resources and have added a second performance space in the basement. That’s where I’ll be playing next time around as it appeals to my subterranean nature.
3. Hull – The New Adelphi
I believe that if it wasn’t for this venue I may have given up trying to create a livable circuit for myself in the UK. The place is operated by Paul Jackson. In my surreal mind Paul always seems like a wizard letting me into his secret lair after my long journey to Mordor. He is a vociferous yet gentle fighter for original music; from the open stage nights to cultivating audiences for artists, to working with the city to improve the music scene. The staff feels like family, the kind one chooses rather than necessarily the one that one’s born into.
4. Derby – The Hairy Dog
Club promoter/booker Phil Burgess is the man! I think they should just chuck it in and rename the city “Burgess”. This family man has been keeping, independent music alive for years. I couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else in that town and, on top of it all, he’s a brilliant artist and musician. The man walks the walk. The venue has also recently renovated the big upstairs live room making it more intimate with spectacular sound. Hats off!
5. London – The 12 Bar Club (Sadly closed) and The Islington
First a bit about 12 Bar. It was the joint. It’s where Antifolk lived in the UK. Hell, they even named a monthly night after my album Blang! and it featured some of the best Antifolk this side of the Atlantic. The place made absolutely no sense as a venue. It was like playing a double-decker bus but only the last four rows of the bus! Then why was it so loved? Because Andy Preston ran it with heart, soul and laughter. It was a bastion of a revolution and the sound was terrific. Demolished by real estate speculators, it’s probably a fucking Hard Rock Café now with pictures on the wall of the musicians they replaced! Now, onto The Islington run by the intrepid Terry Kirby. Having made the Camden Barfly what it was, Terry ended up opening his own venue and it’s been my London home ever since. He created an intimate space with high-end sound and a pro-active booking policy. I once drew less than a dozen people to my gig there and he still payed me my guarantee. I’m sure he lost money on the night. But it paid off for him because it’s led to us creating a new monthly series there of ‘In Conversation’ nights that will sell out. The nights are basically me in an informal conversation with a brilliant guest, swapping songs, war stories and Q/A from the crowd. The idea is all Terry’s, I’m just lucky to have been invited along to host it. The first two shows are Jan.29/30 with Chris Barron (The Spin Doctors) and Ian Prowse (Pele and Amsterdam) respectively and are being recorded for podcast. Talk about a club owner helping someone with a career!
6. Liverpool – The Lomax
You think the owner/booker doesn’t matter? That building community and caring about musicians doesn’t matter? Then consider the case of Frank Hedges. When the city, IMHO, set up Hedges on a cocaine entrapment charge and shut down his venue, hundreds upon hundreds of local residents turned out to protest! His club was only original bands; and this in a city still humping The Beatles’ pale white legs. His workers were all in the arts. His admission charge was rarely, if ever, more than £5. It was the true spirit of Rock’s golden promise and he’s dearly missed. Some of his ex-employees are still trying to carry the banner, most notably Katherine Murph at The 27 Club, though I haven’t been there yet to report back now. I believe Frank will return to what he loves, once he’s free, and I would imagine scores of bands will be flocking to support his next projects. That’s how it’s done, baby!
7. Sheffield – Sheffield IS a music venue.
Halfway between my current hometown of Edinburgh and my new monthly series in London I’m lucky to have cultivated Sheffield as another home away from home. One of my favorite gigs was at the now closed Studio 60, a literal underground secret venue. I love secret venues. First club I ever ran was The Fort in NYC, the illegal afterhours joint that gave birth to the Antifolk scene, so I have a natural affinity for them. The Club 60 gig was, unfortunately, their last one, not the first time I’ve closed down a club! But I’m happy to report they’ve risen again as The Big Wow and I’m looking forward to checking it out. In the meantime, I’m all about Café #9 run by Jonny Dean. It’s like playing in the cool philosophy professor’s living room. Limited to 40 seat capacity Dean has created a vibe where everyone feels like they know each other already and are part of a wonderful parlor game called “Ain’t live independent music spots brilliant?”
8. Edinburgh Again (Hey, I live here!)
It isn’t all music. The independent support for local talent includes poetry joints, storytelling spots and comedy clubs. Because of my BBC Radio 4 comedy series The Lach Chronicles I’ve added stand-up to my gigging routine and The Stand in Edinburgh is not only one of the best comedy clubs I’ve played but it’s one of the best venues period. Why? The formula! They have a consistent booking policy, they create community through their Monday Red Raw Open Mic series and they treat the performers with respect. I especially appreciate their enforcement of no talking and no cell phones during performances. I should also mention newcomer Edinburgh comedy club The Monkey Barrel run by a bunch of comics for the sheer love of it. Their community outreach includes free comedy classes and a space to try out new material.
9. Nottingham – The Running Horse/The Guitar Bar
The Guitar Bar was a venue run by Rob Gibson out of an old hotel he had. A brilliant joint with cool guitars hanging on the walls. Rob did it all. Booked/promoted/bartended. In addition, he had one of the hotel rooms set-up immaculately in retro 1970’s style for traveling musicians like myself to stay in after the gig! Guitar Bar’s demise led to Rob taking over The Running Horse Pub and continuing his maverick booking policy in support of rising local talent and indie touring artists.
10. Your City – Name Your Local Hero
Alright, you made it to the end of the article and like most things it’s also the beginning. In the comments section below how about letting us know of the unsung local venue that keeps hope alive where you live? And, if there isn’t one…start your own!
Lach’s Winter Antifolk UK Tour 2018
All shows are 18+
January 27 Sheffield – Café #9 (9 Nether Edge Rd, S7 1RU) Venue Phone: 0114 258 1383 TKTS: £10 (Limited to 40 seats!) – TKT URL
January 28 Oxford – The Cellar (Frewin Court (Off Cornmarket St), OX1 3HZ) Venue Phone: 01865 244 761 TKTS: £5
January 29 w/ Chris Barron. – London – The Islington (1 Tolpuddle Street N1 0XT) Venue Phone: 0207 684 1577 TKTS: Special Note: Lach’s monthly “In Conversation” series. Tonight’s guest: Chris Barron (of The Spin Doctors). Chris Barron’s songs & words excite, ignite and inspire. Expect a night of decadent Rock and Roll tales, hilarity, secrets revealed and super surprises as well as a Q/A session with the audience!
January 30 w/ Ian Prowse – London – The Islington (1 Tolpuddle Street N1 0XT) Venue Phone: 0207 684 1577 TKTS: £9 Special Note: Lach’s monthly “In Conversation” series. Tonight’s guest: Ian Prowse (of Pele and Amsterdam “Best New Band”- NME). Expect a night of decadent Rock and Roll tales, hilarity, secrets revealed, song swaps and super surprises as well as a Q/A session with the audience.
January 31 – w/ Chris Barron – Derby – The Hairy Dog (1 Becket Street, DE1 1HT) Venue Phone: 07446 845555 TKTS: £7
February 1 – w/Chris Barron – Leeds – Hyde Park Book Club (27-29 Headingley Ln, LS6 1BL) Venue Phone: 0113 274 9888 TKTS: £7
February 2 – w/ Chris Barron and Matt Edible (It’s Matt’s Record Release Party!) Hull – The New Adelphi (89 De Grey St, HU5 2RU) Venue Phone: 01482 348216 TKTS: £5
February 3 – w/ Chris Barron 0 Tynemouth (outside Newcastle) – Tynemouth Surf Cafe (Palace Buildings, Grand Parade, North Shields NE30 4JH) Venue Phone: 0191 447 1503 TKTS: £8
February 4 – w/ Chris Barron Edinburgh -Bannermans Venue Phone: 0131 556 3254 TKTS: £6