The face of central London’s live music scene is changing and it’s not a pretty sight. Thanks to Crossrail and other developer’s plans to gentrify the area, independent venues steeped in rich musical history are being shut down left, right and centre. The latest casualty of the redevelopment plans is the 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street, whose owners have since been forced to relocate to another property on Holloway Road. Over the years, the street and the storied venue itself have had some of the biggest acts of all-time pass through their hallowed grounds: Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Sex Pistols… the list goes on.
Since its move to London N7, squatters have occupied the shell of the 12 Bar Club, barricading the walls in an attempt to save the building from demolition. They’ve kept the space going in any way they can, and following a busier-than-usual committee meeting, punk troubadour Frank Turner took to the ‘stage’ (a pool table in the corner) with his acoustic guitar to show his support for the campaign.
Following a mighty roar from the crowd, Frank announces that the evening would be “all about singalongs”. Opening with The Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson’s Heart of the Continent, its lyrics poignantly relate to the situation currently facing the building and its occupants. If I Ever Stray and The Real Damage soon follow and Turner is barely audible above the soaring voices of the bodies crammed inside.
Admitting that one reason he decided to come along was the fact that he’d never actually played the 12 Bar Club before, Turner covers Jamie T’s Sheila – an act that he had seen at this venue years earlier. As the ambassador of Independent Venue Week, Turner is obviously passionate about live music and it’s clear to see when he engages the crowd with venomous versions of I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous and The Road.
There’s a heckle from the crowd, shouting something about Turner’s Eton education but it’s largely ignored by the crowd. The awkwardness, however, is palpable and Turner seems briefly shaken. He brushes it off easily, however, and injects even more fire into the likes of Peggy Sang The Blues, with its perfectly-timed lyric of “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you go” and Four Simple Words, which gets the crowd punching the air and singing in equal measure. A man who can headline Wembley Arena didn’t have to drag himself out into the bitterly cold night to support this cause – but he did, because he cares and it shows in tonight’s impromptu performance.
A cover of Billy Bragg’s A New England has the crowd singing as loud as they can from all corners (and rafters) of the room. Frank praises the squatters and those giving up their time for the campaign and plays Photosynthesis with such vigour that his fingers start bleeding and breaks a string. Borrowing a replacement guitar from one of the occupiers, he finishes the triumphant set with The Ballad of Me and My Friends and I Still Believe, complete with an outstanding harmonica solo from the crowd.
As shouts of “one more song!” fill the air, Frank climbs onto the pool table for one last time to play Recovery, taken from his most recent album, Tape Deck Heart. For venues like the 12 Bar Club, it really is a long road to recovery, but with the support of musicians like Turner and those on the frontline occupying the buildings, there may be hope yet.
Heart of the Continent (John K Samson) If Ever I Stray The Real Damage Sheila (Jamie T) I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous The Way I Tend to Be The Road Peggy Sang the Blues Four Simple Words A New England (Billy Bragg) Love Ire & Song Plain Sailing Weather Photosynthesis The Ballad of Me and My Friends I Still Believe Recovery