I was having lunch with Tim in Itsu earlier this month. He agreed that with its modern decor and enormous windows onto the City Road and Finsbury Square, if we took out most of the furniture, the place would make an excellent Improvizone venue.
You'd think finding a music venue in London would be a walk in the park. In my case, it was a walk round EC1, EC2, W1, N1, WC1 and NW1. And SE1. Until suddenly, all of January had passed by.
There are venues and venues. Big ones and small ones. What do I want? First, I want a place where I stand any chance at all of being able to book an Improvizone gig. If I could safely hire The Spitz I would, but I've been monitoring the site hits and we're not there yet. Right now, I'm looking for a street-level pub/bar/cafe with big windows in central-ish London that has an entertainments license, but is not well known as a music venue.
Notice I have not described a typical music venue. If it's not a regular music venue, there will not be a hundred thousand other events clawing for a booking. Better still, if it's not a regular music venue, people will probably have fewer expectations about what they're going to hear. This is good. Sure, a music venue with a stage and lights and a PA would be great. People pay to go there, by which process they are investing some interest in what they're about to see, which means they are going to at least try and enjoy it. But music venues come at a price. Someone has to be convinced you're worth having. At the end of it, they usually walk off with a large chunk of your money.
So I don't want a music venue yet. While we're on the subject of what I don't want, what else?
Definitely don't want...
- A regular music venue run by a promoter
- A place where people only want covers bands
- A place where people only want DJs or dance music
- An acoustic folky place where people don't like electronics or amps
Would like to avoid...
- A venue that doesn't have a licensed bar (like an art gallery or a church)
- Standing room only
- Seats like a theatre
- Being hidden in a cellar or upstairs where no passing trade will see us
- Somewhere a long way from a tube
- Somewhere with no parking anywhere for people coming with gear (me).
With that long list of negatives,
I needed a long list of candidates. First I trawled through all the London Lite listings, the LMC's list of venues, any other suitable listings from band mailouts, and rapidly concluded I was making a mistake. Many are music venues. See above. The rest are ordinary pubs and cafes that someone has taken over for the evening. You don't ring up these places and ask them to listen to your demo, you just ask them when they've got a free evening. Or at least you would, except it's in a part of London where you wouldn't send your neighbour's dog, let alone park a car full of expensive gear. Anyway, this seemed much more what I wanted to do, to find a unique venue for a unique new event. And if it's unique, I shouldn't be seeing it all over TimeOut.
I got much more out of the various list of function rooms on www.beerintheevening.com and www.citypublife.co.uk, focusing on one area at a time, generally staying out of Camden or anywhere too far for people to get to. Out of those, and other suggestions, or venues I already had in mind, here's a list of the places I looked at closely. There are at least four immediate possibilities here, and I'll be finalizing which one over the next couple of days.
- The Barbican Jazz Lounge, 177 Charterhouse Street, EC1M
- Scott thought of this one. Good location, free, but really tiny and nowhere to park a car-load of gear outside. Standing room only around the playing area. Still an option though.
- The Arts Cafe, 28 Commercial St, E1
- I approached these people for Pulse Engine a few years ago and it was promoters only in those days. Now the place is being refurbished and re-opens in March 07, so I may investigate further. Apart from being not very close to a road, a road not buzzing with passing trade at the best of times, in many other respects this place is ideal.
- Imbibe, 173 Blackfriars Road, SE1
- First of many South London options, haven't bothered with any of the others after seeing this. I regret not looking south of the Thames before. I guess my punishment for narrow-mindedness was walking around the whole of Central London for a month, because this place not only looks the part, the owner Sam seems keen on what we want to do, it's close to Southwark tube and is dead easy to find. I think we can even park cars round the side. Looking good.
- Potion Bar, 28 Maple Street, W1T
- Very small, friendly place, we might be able to squeeze in upstairs if we stay a small, exclusive event, ie if hardly anybody comes, ie Potion is strong contender.
- The Red Room, Jamie's Bar, 74 Charlotte Street, W1T
- I found this one just walking around. No, I was walking, not the venue. Oh, the English language. I loved the idea of playing in the Fitzrovia area, the grand but neglected no-man's land above Oxford St. Apart from Potion (above), very few pubs in this area have suitable function rooms or entertainments licenses. This one had quite a good basement, but with a minimum spend of £500, I'd rather play upstairs.
- The Wapping project, Wapping Wall, E1
- A novel location certainly, not very central but easy to get to. They have a pointless and totally uninformative animated website, for which I'm not going to waste your time with a link, but the interior looks terrific, and it would have been fantastic to have installed ourselves among ghostly remnants of machinery. I don't think they wanted our sort there though.
- The Blue Room at The Yorkshire Grey, 29 Grays Inn Road, WC1X
- This pub has a lovely upstairs room, airy but not too big, modern decor, floorboards, big windows onto the street. It would have been really nice to play up here. They didn't have a full entertainments license. Gutting. I almost felt like making their application for them.