For decades it has been at the centre of many diverse music scenes; jazz, blues, soul, punk and indie have thrived here, but next month The 100 Club in London’s Oxford Street faces closure – just another victim of rising rent prices. In recent years several other music venues have disappeared for similar reasons; The Marquee, The Cavern, The Astoria – all of them hugely important cultural spaces with a real connection to the history and development of rock and roll as we know it. The 100 Club may be best known as the venue where The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks and Siouxsie and The Banshees played on the same bill in September 1976, thereby creating punk history but the venue has been home to a wildly eclectic range of musicians since its foundation as Mack’s in 1942.
During the war American G.I.s visited to listen to jazz and do the jitterbug. Jazz performances have been a staple at the venue ever since, and the late George Melly played his last ever show here in 2007. The early 60s trad-jazz boom saw Acker Bilk, Chris Barber and Herb Alpert (among many others) perform regularly, and with the beat boom of the early 60s, the venue was renamed The 100 Club and played host to rising stars such as The Who, Rod Stewart, The Kinks, The Pretty Things, The Animals – too many to list here. It became a lynch-pin of the punk movement; fans of The Jam, The Clash and lesser-knowns like Vic Godard’s brilliant Subway Sect have gobbed on its floor. A northern soul all-nighter has been held regularly since the late 70s and since Suede played an unforgettable gig in 1992, the venue has provided a home for nervous newcomers and steady old-hands alike.
Drop in on any night of the week and you’re likely to see an intimate performance by a proper music legend, or an equally thrilling set from an exciting new band who are aiming at greatness. You would think, given this rich and diverse heritage, that the venue would be a certainty to be declared a UNESCO site of great cultural significance. But in an age of cutbacks, austerity measures and (aherm) “being in this together”, the legendary venue is relying for its continued existence on the beneficence of its regulars and others who are sympathetic to its plight. This is a vital, working live venue. The truly promising pop stars of the future need places like The 100 Club to aid the development; its loss would be a loss for pop music, bad for the future and a betrayal of the past.
The Save The 100 Club campaign was launched earlier this month to draw attention to the issue, and is seeking donations from the public in order to meet the cost of becoming a Non-Government Organisation – if it all works out it will become a venue run by passionate music fans for passionate music fans. The campaigners hope to establish a board who will oversee the preservation of the site, work with businesses who will sponsor events and keep The 100 Club in operation. I asked the comedy writer and music critic David Quantick – who is involved in the campaign – to tell me more.
What inspired you to get involved in the campaign to keep The 100 Club going?
I saw the website and made a financial pledge, and they emailed me… Also the Club is one I go to a lot. Its location is brilliant, its size is fantastic – you can smell the bands – and it’s great to be in a venue where the Sex Pistols and Louis Armstrong played. More importantly, it’s a live venue in a part of the world where live venues are vanishing – and the fact that this part of the world is in the middle of a major world city where much of popular music was invented and developed is ridiculous.
One journalist (who shall remain nameless) tweeted recently saying he thought the 100 Club should be left to go to the wall, that keeping it open would be giving in to nostalgia – what would you say in response to people who take that view?
I’d say they were missing the point. The 100 Club isn’t a nostalgia venue. The bands who play have been around, but where else would that be a stigma? You don’t not go and see a play because some old bloke is playing King Lear. The Club suffers because it doesn’t attract the properly obvious names, the indie landfill and grade two NME acts you can see in any venue on any given night. It showcases new acts who haven’t been in the rock press as well as old punks.
The club is perhaps best known for being a “legendary punk venue”. Do you think the club’s association with jazz and soul is overlooked?
By journalists, yes. Jazz freaks and Northern Soul fans are well aware of those links. It’s only people whose musical heritage goes back as far as Park Life who don’t know that.
At NME.com I read Boris Johnson’s rather empty message of “support” for the campaign, and about Ken Livingstone’s assertion that similar venues can be protected by revising planning laws. What can politicians do to get involved in the campaign to save the venue? And how can music fans in Ireland best show their support?
I don’t know, not being a politician. At least Johnson is being honest in his subtext of “I don’t care at all.” All music fans can support the campaign by buying tracks online for a pound, by pledging money where possible, and by publicizing the situation. Or you could kidnap Boris Johnson and make him swear a vow on a saint’s bones that he’ll save the 100 Club.
It might seem a silly question to ask, but why should the fate of a gig venue in London matter to pop fans in Ireland?
It’s a fair question. London thinks it’s the centre of the musical universe, and its arrogance and musical racism has always made it hard for bands who aren’t from the capital, let alone from outside England to succeed. However, one area where things do happen first in London is finance, and in this respect, when a venue in a busy shopping street closes so we can have more Gamezones and O2 shops, others will follow. You don’t have to support the Save The 100 Club campaign, but at least be aware that, sooner or later, your local venue or your favourite concert hall will be next. Live music venues are totally under threat everywhere.
As is the way of the modern world, there is a Save The 100 Club Facebook page. This campaign seems obviously more important than worrying about the X Factor winner getting to number one.
In this case, words do help. Publicizing the campaign makes it high profile and alerts people who can materially help to the situation. Pledging money and buying songs gives the campaign some financial support. Steve Diggle from Buzzocks said it’s like St Paul’s Cathedral, and for music fans it’s more important than that. We’ve lost the Cavern Club and a million other historical clubs and losing the 100 Club would be not so much the last nail in the coffin as the last coffin in the overflowing graveyard. The 100 Club is a brilliant and unique 21st century music venue. Bands, clubs and DJs still use it and it’s almost the only place in central London where you can go for live music. Close it down and you don’t just lose a slab of history, you lose a living club.
Are you an artist established or unsigned? Donate a track to the Save The 100 Club Campaign – send MP3s and bio to firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the Facebook page for the campaign here.