Letter from London: January adventures

Am I allowed to say ‘I was there’ if I arrived, saw it was full and then left? Probably not.


Am I allowed to say ‘I was there’ if I arrived, saw it was full and then left? Probably not.


You can tell I like a band when I’ll go out of my way to a venue that’s out of my normal stomping grounds to see them. Mid January sees me plodding up the far end of the Holloway Road, as I try to find Nambucca. I panicked after I’d been on the bus for about half an hour and thought I must’ve missed the pub that I was heading too. I jumped off at Holloway Road tube station. A phone call later and I realise my mistake: I’ve got off the bus far too soon, so I put my head down and set off. It’s touch and go if I’ll make it in time for the Bow Mods: they’re on first. I finally find the venue: a large old pub given a lick of paint and a new sign. I pay my door tax, order a pint from the ever-so-young bar staff, say hi to my mates and head towards the back room to see the band. Unlike a lot of small venues, the PA in here is pretty good, and there’s a decent, up-for-it crowd. The Bow Mods are on fire; they’re getting better and better. Check them out as soon as you can. I’m afraid that the other bands on show here tonight – a night called Bloody Awful Poetry by the way – make no impression on me at all. That’s not to say they weren’t good as I was rather distracted by good company and beer. As the evening wears on the average age of the punters plummets and I leave well in time to get the last train home.



Listening to the Rob da Bank show during the following week I hear an amazing track: the music reminds me of a nintendo gameboy and the laid back vocals are mesmerizing. The track has a good title too: Thou Shalt Always Kill. Stupid band name mind: Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, but it makes them easy to find on myspace. It turns out that they’re playing that weekend, so I make a note to pop along.


But first, I’m off to the opening night of an exhibition at the Spitz. I think the Spitz is great: a nice sized venue, somewhere to drink and eat, and a gallery space. To top it all off, it’s a piece of piss for me to get home from there. The exhibition is of posters by ‘Too Bad’ Jim Johnstone, many of which have been used to promote gigs at the Spitz. I get there really early, so I wander over the road to the small supermarket to grab a sandwich and kill some time. Tucking into it on the way back a homeless guy asks me for some money. Now.. I’ve got one hand holding the sandwich I’m eating and one holding the plastic box with the other sandwich. Instead of fumbling with sandwiches to try and get to my pockets I offer him the untouch cheese and chutney. "Are you sure?" he says, but seems quite pleased in the with the snack in the end.


I think I’m the first ‘punter’ to arrive at the gallery and as there’s no one in my way I quite quickly work my way around the exhibition (there’s only a couple of dozen pieces). As I like ‘Too Bad’s style – very rock’n’roll in a Cramps way – I look at all the posters again. Other people are starting to show up and I consider tucking into the free booze. A trio of guffawing PR girls stumble in hand in hand, horrid specimens, so I decide to head home sober. The homeless guy spots that I’m hands free now and chances his luck again: I think I told him to piss off.



The next night I’m off to see Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip at a pub in Hoxton called The Griffin. I used to work on the same street as the Griffin, but never set foot in the place because, at the time, it scared me a bit. Very run down, with that smell of stale beer that reminds me of hardened drinkers. That was 3 or 4 years ago, a long time in Hoxton, and I’m guessing it thinks it’s got the same shabby chic as the Old Blue Last across the road now thinks it has. It’s friday night: the pub is full of after work drinkers, drifting east from the City. There’s also a few Hoxton cliche types. I figure out that the gig must be upstairs and I squeeze my way past the pool table and make my way upstairs. Total sell out. Bah… foiled, so I head home. I later find out that not only Rob da Bank has been playing Thou Shalt Always Kill, lots of other DJs have been giving radio airtime too, so this is the hottest ticket in town. Am I allowed to say ‘I was there’ if I arrived, saw it was full and then left? Probably not.




The next weekend I manage to go to a gig that’s a just bus ride from my house, in fact I could have walked there, if I fancied a forty minute walk. I head up to Leytonstone to meet my a gang of my mates who have, inexplicably, got into country music in the past couple of year. I walk through the doors of the Sheepwalk, where I have previously seen irate West Ham fans foaming at the mouth and yelling obscenities whilst watching the football on the big screen. Tonight the place is rammed. The corner of the pub, where the bands play is decked out in chilli-pepper fairy lights and the DJ area looks like a shrine of some kind: yup they’ve made the effort. The punters have made the effort too; I see quite a few cowboy shirts (checked with embroydered collars) and even the odd cowboy hat. Tonight I’m at What’s Cookin’ for some "rockin’ country-fried music". Hmmm….



First up is "Lil’ Lost Lou", a female fronted three-piece. I almost like them. I’m not sure why I don’t or why I should. Something about them reminds me of ‘The Immortal Lee County Killers’, an awesome band, but maybe LLL are a bit more country and a lot less punk. I guess that’s why they don’t do it for me. Next on stage is Hayman, Watkins, Trout and Lee. The Hayman in question is Darren Hayman, formerly of Hefner, which may be of interest to some of our readers. In keeping with the theme of the evening, WHT&L play bass, banjo, mandolin and guitar (gee-tar surely) in a bluegrass/ country style. They start the set with a Jonathan Richman cover, which is a sure fire way to get me on your side. The crowd love them, and I must admit that if you’re up for some simple , beery fun then seeing this lot play at What’s Cookin’ is close to perfection. The novelty host, a head free of hair except for impressive ‘mutton chop’ side burns, won’t let them go until they’ve done a couple of encores. For me… I can’t forget that on the other side of those pub doors isn’t Alabama, it’s Leytonstone and that maybe, as a I overheard a regular say, bluegrass is best left in the States.






Words: Chris Gibson