Over the past few months, my inbox, Facebook timeline and Twitter feed has been inundated with passionate cries to save the Buffalo Bar, Madame Jojo’s and London’s iconic Denmark Street.
These three landmarks are threatened (if not already defeated) by development, closure by Westminster Council and Crossrail respectively. Also in the news recently, Fabric, Plastic People and Ministry of Sound have either closed or are also suffered threats. And this is just London; all across the UK, small music venues and underground clubs are being lost. The lurking spectre of profit ruling over all is at the heart of each of these venues’ potential or real demise, but that’s a story for another day.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, we have decided that the best way to ensure that these venues remain available for us is to join a group, retweet a link and click-sign an online petition. Hence many thousands of impassioned digital cries fly through the ether, and we sit back and shake our heads when the windows are boarded up. If a million people marching through London is insufficient to influence government policy, do you believe that a few thousand clicks of a mouse is enough to force a multinational property developer to review their decision to turn your drinking den into prime real estate?
What has struck me about each of these cries to ‘Save the …!’, is the intensely blinkered view that these petitions expose. To rely on lazy clicktivism to keep a venue open is to completely miss the point of what these places are actually for. The petition to Save the Buffalo Bar on Change.org currently has 5,800 signatories. But the sad fact is that, for a venue with a capacity of 150, it was rarely full.
Make no mistake, I say this as someone with great affection for all of these threatened landmarks.
Seeing Klaxons and Metronomy for the first time at White Heat, Madame Jojo’s weekly night of indie debauchery. Wink club nights at the Buffalo Bar and rushing in to New Years Eve 2006 just in time for the countdown to the end of my first, eventful, year of living in London. Jamie T at the 12 Bar Club and buying the Epiphone Les Paul down Denmark Street that pointedly failed to turn me into the troubled genius of a rock star I was never destined to be.
Many of these memories were made in a haze, but they remain and will do until my faculties inevitably give up the ghost. But that is what they must remain; memories. I have not visited any of these venues (apart from a brief stroll down Denmark Street) for many years, and there is an unmistakable hint of forced nostalgia of these calls for retaining these playgrounds of our youth.
The loss of live music venues is a tragic reality over the past decade. For personal reasons, far more sad than the aforementioned losses are the demolition of the Astoria, the mothballing of the Bull & Gate and the fire and subsequent neutering of Nambucca. (This is not to mention the intense branding afflicted upon the Shepherds Bush Empire, Kentish Town Forum, Hammersmith Apollo and Brixton Academy, venues with a grand history now flourishing only under the corporate thumb.) The fact that some have bemoaned the loss of Earls Court, easily one of the worst places to see live music in London, shows the extent of this desire to retain what we have, regardless of the quality.
Most of these venues are responsible for some of the best memories, friendships and gig experiences I will ever have. And these remain, despite the buildings being razed to the ground or the doors being sealed up and the lights having gone out for the last time. I am fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to enjoy these venues, as I was to visit Tacheles, the Foundry, Turnmills, Hammersmith Palais, the Luminaire and CBGBs before they suffered the same fate. As sad as I am to see them go it’s time to move on.
It is a particular sense of entitlement that lends itself to believing that the landmarks of your experience are especially worthy of salvation and protection. And the fact that you had a great time at a bar in 2005 does not necessarily mean it must remain in place for you to return to once every three years to reminisce.
If you genuinely want your favourite music venue, cinema or pub to stay open for your continued enjoyment, then visit it. Don’t sign a petition. Drag yourself along to see that new local band you haven’t heard of. Try the local beer and go see the film instead of waiting for it to be on Netflix. Recommend it to your friends. Support it.
And if you really want to campaign, call for extensions to the Live Music Act 2012. Promote your favourite band’s tour through social media. Buy a ticket; do something positive, rather than reacting to the negatives. Be passionate about what you like when it is there for your enjoyment, don’t just squeal with self-righteous indignation when someone threatens to take it away.