In Eastney, on the fringes of Southsea in Hampshire lies an empty, unassuming looking pub now hiding behind sagging net curtains and white washed windows. Eighteen months ago, it was The Cellars, a truly special, vibrant live music venue that attracted some of the freshest upcoming talent around. It was a place where I had spent many happy evenings. The fate of The Cellars is being replicated across the country and you don’t need to have lost your local venue to feel the effects. Emerging artists need somewhere to play other than between ad breaks on Saturday evening TV. Do you want Simon Cowell and Amanda Holden to be the final arbiters of who we’re all listening to next year? No? Didn’t think so. Read on…
On 18 October the Music Venue Trust, a charity established to assist in arresting the alarming rate of closure of grassroots music venues across the UK, held a benefit concert at Camden’s iconic Roundhouse. The event was appropriately enough entitled FIGHTBACK! and RockShot was there to check it out.
The Roundhouse was the perfect place to hold this event. Through the 1970s it was one of the premiere live music venues in London, attracting artists as diverse as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Clash, Elvis Costello and The Police – but in 1983, the old engine shed closed its doors due to lack of investment and fell into disrepair. Twenty-one years later, following the establishment of a charitable Trust and with the assistance of National Lottery funding, the building was converted into the fabulous live entertainment space and community resource it has remained ever since. It’s amazing what a bit of vision, commitment and passion can do.
These three attributes were present in the artists who kindly gave their time and energies to the event tonight. Music was available in three separate performance spaces: On the main stage; in the intimate surroundings of the former under croft that now hosts the Sackler Stage; and in the first floor Torquils Bar – its full height glass frontage giving views of the Chalk Farm Road outside. These latter two spaces were small – and packed – and non-staggered start times across stages meant that getting decent access to watch bands in them soon became quite a challenge. I enjoyed a spirited early set from Sheffield’s Bang Bang Romeo in the Torquils Bar but struggling against the throng both here and at the Sackler Stage, spent the majority of the night in the main room.
The early sets in here were necessarily short, but we were treated to an eclectic mix as Whispering Bob would say. The Carnabys opened proceedings in charismatic, high-energy style, frontman Jack Mercer’s feet seemingly spending more time above the stage than attached to it.
The solo voice and guitar of singer/songwriter Jake Isaac rang out next, though I only caught the end of his set having just escaped the melee of Bang Bang Romeo. Ed Harcourt looked similarly exposed on the big Roundhouse stage with his set delivered alternately from behind the keys of a piano and strings of an electric guitar. His brand of brooding, apocalyptic rock seemed entirely in keeping with the nature of why we were all here.
At the end of Harcourt’s performance, we were, to be honest, in need of a musical cuddle – and it duly arrived in the form of Public Service Broadcasting, a band that epitomises British quirkiness. There are no vocals unless samples from world famous speeches and public information films count; they don’t talk to the audience unless computers doing it for them count; and they don’t dress to impress unless tweed and bow tie combinations count. It all sounds a bit weird, but is in fact absolutely brilliant. Their set of up-tempo musical landscapes was a joy, my personal highlight of which, Gagarin – 4 minutes of 70s funk soul celebrating Yuri’s eighty-nine minutes going round in circles – involved a three-piece horn section and a semi-inflatable spaceman bouncing around the stage. Brilliant.
This was the perfect set-up for main stage headliners Everything Everything. The band’s bassist, Jeremy Pritchard has said they are influenced by everything except 12-bar blues and it certainly is tricky to pin them down. Vocalist Jonathan Higgs’ falsetto rang clear above gothic rock one minute and gurgling sequenced grooves the next. It is certainly complex stuff and it’s not hard to see why the band has been nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and Ivor Novello Award.
It was a fine close to a fine evening raising money and awareness for an important cause and it was certainly one I was glad to be a part of. As Jeremy Pritchard himself said:
“We are facing a genuine cultural crisis, as well as a serious threat to the music industry in the UK – a huge British export. Already we hear the cry that there are too few festival headliners rising through the ranks. This is directly connected to the worrying trend of invaluable but highly vulnerable local gigs going for good. #FIGHTBACK.”
The Music Venue Trust: http://musicvenuetrust.com/
The Music Venue Trust Go Fund Me #FIGHTBACK campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/2pt5g8k
Live Review & Photography by Simon Reed at Music Venue Trust #FIGHTBACK on 18th October 2016