12 Bar Club
The 12 Bar Club logo on the main stage
|Genre(s)||blues, rock, punk, folk, antifolk|
|Capacity||150 (Denmark Street)|
Some of the most famous musicians and groups to play at the 12 Bar before they reached a wider audience include Adele, Martha Wainwright, Joanna Newsom, KT Tunstall (all of whose first London dates were at the 12 Bar), Damien Rice, Regina Spektor, The Libertines, Keane, Seasick Steve and Jamie T. Jeff Buckley also played an impromptu set at the 12 Bar some time before the launch of his debut album Grace.
The Denmark Street venue officially closed 16 January 2015 as part of a redevelopment for the area, despite a lengthy battle to keep it open. Shortly after its closure, activists occupied the building and re-opened it to live music. Property owners attempted to evict the activists. The club relocated to Islington, shutting for good a year later.
The original building was originally constructed in 1635 as a stable. It was later converted into a forge for the St Giles area that was used until World War I. The fireplace from the forge could be seen at the rear of the stage and regularly housed the performers' guitar amplifiers. The building then became a carpenter's shop until shortly after World War II, when it was converted into store rooms. It is a Grade-II listed building.
During the 1980s, parts of the premises (later to become the area around the bottom of the stairs up to the 12 Bar toilets) housed science fiction/comic book shop Paradise Alley, with the entrance in the side alley connecting Denmark Street to Denmark Place (facing the rear of larger science fiction shop Forbidden Planet 2). The painted-over Paradise Alley store sign would remain over the former entrance until 2015.
During the early 1990s, the building housed The Forge Folk & Blues Club, founded by Andy Preston who organised the performances and Nida Daniel who managed admissions and refreshments for customers. It was originally a social club and music venue for the staff at the guitar centre who used the original forge area at the back as an amplifier workshop - dust-sheets would be thrown over the amplifiers in the evening before the entertainment began.
12 Bar Club
In 1994, the club was expanded and renamed the 12 Bar Club. Offices and a restaurant were added. It was the brainchild of international businessman Lars Ericson and musician Phil Ryan. They approached lease holder Andy Preston, owner of the world-famous Andy’s Guitars, and together they formed up to create and launch the club in 1994. The club was run by Ryan, who devised the music policy and booked a host of well-known names including Bert Jansch, whose album Live at the 12 Bar: An Authorised Bootleg was recorded there in 1995, Robyn Hitchcock, Nick Harper, The Albion Band, Steve Jones, Tom Russell, Peter Rowan and the Rowan brothers, Boo Hewerdine, Gordon Giltrap, Jonathan Kalb, Richard Mazda, Suzanne Chawner, Ian Crowther, Vince McCann, Will Kevans. Some of these named artists went on to promote their own nights featuring the best in up and coming artists. Under the guidance of Phil Ryan the club won the Time Out Best Music Venue in 2005, which Ryan collected at Time Out headquarters.
The clubs became a destination for many artists from around the world. Music manager Andy Lowe, a former employee of Decca Records, was also instrumental in attracting up-and-coming and established artists.
The Denmark Street venue was famous for its two-level viewing arrangement despite its small size. A small "balcony" section (allowing for 15 or 20 people) originally prevented those standing at the back on the ground level from seeing the heads of particularly tall band members. A refurbishment in 2006 corrected this problem by reducing the size of the balcony.
Bands and performers who have played at the 12 Bar after gaining more commercial success (sometimes playing 'secret' or late shows) include Cholesterol Jones, the Lene Lovich Band (who made their live debut at the club in 2012), Kristin Hersh, Pete Doherty, The Television Personalities and Robyn Hitchcock.
The venue was known for supporting independent promoters and less mainstream styles of music, notably hardcore punk and antifolk - the seasonal antifolk (UK) fest was held at the 12 Bar and many 'antifolk' style performers from both New York and England have played there, including Langhorne Slim, Jeffrey Lewis, Major Matt Mason, Curtis Eller, Thomas Truax and Filthy Pedro, either at the fests themselves or like-minded nights such as Joe 'Sgt Buzfuz' Murphy's monthly 'Blang' night. Also, early in their career, The Libertines played at the venue.
Other bands such as Menace, London, The Bleach Boys, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Sarah Gillespie, Lloyd Maines, Benjamin Shaw, Jack Hayter, Monkish, Andy White, Cud and Rhatigan, Terri Hendrix and Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera have also played at the 12 Bar Club.
The 12 Bar Club was awarded Live music Venue of the Year '95/'96 by Time Out magazine.
Closure and protests
Property developers Consolidated Developments, in partnership with the Crossrail Project, sought to terminate the 12 Bar Club's lease as part of an ongoing development programme around Denmark Street. It resulted in an 18-month lawsuit and significant protests. A petition against the closure drew 17,000 signatures, including Marc Almond, David Essex, Glen Matlock, Pete Townshend and local MP Frank Dobson, but it did not save the club.
The club held a farewell party on 11 January 2015, with 30 bands playing. It officially closed its Denmark Street venue on 16 January, but within days, activists entered the building in protest. Members of the group, calling themselves "Bohemians 4 Soho," told The Guardian newspaper, "We are a collective of artists, activists and campaigners who are willing to become cultural heritage wardens for the area." Under the motto "without culture, society cannot exist," the group stated it wanted to preserve Tin Pan Alley.
On Friday, 23 January, an injunction order was affixed to a facility door prohibiting the occupants from holding a party, playing music or distributing alcohol. The order was ignored and a large party was held that night with live music. Consolidated Developments took legal action to evict the activists. The Bohemians stated they were squatting not only to protest the closure of the 12 Bar Club, but also to preserve the building from demolition. The occupants provided police with a Section 6 notice to defend their occupation.
Whilst commentators lamented the closure of another central London music venue, Frank Turner played an impromptu gig in support of the squatters. They were evicted in early February 2015. The police reported there were 15-20 people in the building and there were no arrests.
In the crime fiction novels from the Cormoran Strike series, protagonist Cormoran Strike is a detective who works and lives above the 12 Bar Club in the Denmark Street location. The novels in the series are The Cuckoo's Calling, The Silkworm, Career of Evil and Lethal White by J. K. Rowling (under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith).
- "We should be protecting Soho's musical hotspots, not bringing in the bulldozers". The Independent. 25 August 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
- Diane Taylor (23 January 2015). "Music fans flood in as squatters throw open doors of Soho live venue". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
- "Club: 12 Bar Club Reviews". 30 January 2002. Archived from the original on 29 August 2003. Retrieved 7 July 2008.
- Plumbley, Mike. "Vapour Trails: 12 Bar Club". Archived from the original on 1 May 2004. Retrieved 7 July 2008.
- "Roddy Frame - 12 Bar Club". 5 February 2003. Retrieved 7 July 2008.
- Jak Hutchcraft (22 January 2015). "Meeting the Protesters Squatting Soho's Doomed 12-Bar Club". VICE. Archived from the original on 28 March 2015. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
- "London's 12 Bar Club – venue for Jeff Buckley and Adele's debut UK gigs – to shut in January 2015". New Musical Express. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
- "Why London's music scene has been rocked by the death of Denmark Street". The Guardian. 20 January 2015. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
- Coral Williamson (19 January 2015). "Soho's 12 Bar Club relocates to Islington". MusicWeek. Archived from the original on 28 March 2015. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
- Harris, John (6 February 2015). "A lament for the death of bohemian London | John Harris". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 24 August 2018. Retrieved 29 November 2019.
- Drury, James (6 February 2015). "Police Evict 12 Bar Squatters". Londonist. Archived from the original on 25 August 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2019.
- "12 Bar Club". 12barclub.com. Archived from the original on 28 March 2015. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
- Cooper, Joe (5 February 2016). "A year after switch to Holloway Road, 12 Bar Club music venue closes". Islington Tribune. Archived from the original on 6 February 2016. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
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