STYLE

Never Mind The Branding: Does It Matter That Converse Saved The 100 Club?

16/02/2011 14:37 | Updated 22 May 2015

The 100 Club, the iconic London music venue that played a key role in the birth of punk, has avoided closure thanks to a corporate sponsorship deal struck with Converse. Good news for everyone who believes central London should be made up of more than just mind boggling numbers of Topshops and Costa coffees, but it's hard to believe that signing on the dotted line with a division of Nike is really a victory for the future of music.

The bar's celeb and Facebook backed campaign has succeeded where a similar effort to save the venue's New York equivalent, CBGB, failed. I spent the final three years before CBGB succumbed to a bitter rent dispute in 2006 schlepping drinks and fielding questions from a seemingly endless stream of tourists about the many legends of the gritty club. (For the record, there was never a jar of Joey Ramone's vomit behind the bar, but according to those in the know, the one about Debbie Harry and the loo is true.)

Occasionally the eager questioning came from a teenager discovering punk for the first time and dreaming of spearheading a second musical revolution on CBGB's sticker-covered stage, but mostly they were men straight out of a Nick Hornby novel. The stories of why they never made it down in the heyday, or descriptions of the bar they'd dubbed the CBGB of their hometown, flowed as fast as the whiskey and (overpriced) cheap beer. And once the pending demise of the club became the biggest story of the summer, I am not sure anyone could hear the music anymore over the first timers sharing their tales of woe.

Bartending at CBGB was the first job I got when I arrived in NYC fresh-faced and bushy tailed from a small town in California. Most of my colleagues had been there about a zillion years and graced the stage more times than they could count. None of them even pretended to listen as yet another customer pledged their undying love for the Talking Heads (if they had a pound for each time we heard that, their earnings would have rivaled the Stones). As the club's final hours ticked away, even I lost patience. You know it has gotten bad when the only smiley member of staff sporting a good girl ponytail instead of a bad girl tattoo no longer cares about how much the club meant to Mr I'll-just-have-a-diet-coke (not very punk rock and really not going to help pay the rent).

As sad as it was to see it go, bands in New York are getting on just fine without CBGB. Equally, keeping the 100 Club open will have little impact on the current music scene in London. Places like that matter because they are important to the city's mythology and that in turn will help to inspire the kid who is about to form the next Clash. That kid, and hundreds like them, will make the pilgrimage to take a photo in front of the sign the first time they come to the capital. In that regard NYC truly lost a bit of its magic when the awning came down at 315 Bowery Street. No 19-year-old will ever again make a right off Lafeyette street and come face to face with the place of their small town dreams and feel their heart skip a beat as I did back in 2001 (erm, not that I went on to form the new Clash, but that's not really the point right?).

Yes, the value of the 100 Club lies primarily in the past. Like CBGB before it, the bar is unlikely to ever again be the epicentre for a new musical revolution. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but once you're famous enough to warrant interest in your survival, your days as a hotbed of creativity are long gone. It may be a tenuous victory for music, it is a well fought and important win for modern cultural history. The value of the art that was produced on stage at the 100 Club should determine if it survives another hundred years, not if they can afford to pay as much rent as a punk-rocked themed branch of a clothing retailor (John Varvatos in the case of CBGB. Varvatos also has a deal with Converse, so in a weird way the same money that is currently "preserving" CBGB's live music legacy will do the same for the 100 Club - although we can only hope that, this time around, the preservation extends further than keeping small section of graffitied wall in amongst clothes racks. How's that for a twist of musical fate?).

Once every music journo goes back to not paying it any attention, it will be time for the club to embrace its lucrative future dealing in nostalgia and special edition Chuck Taylors. Sure there will still be gigs for authenticity's sake and if they are really lucky there will be occasional moments of magic onstage just like the good ol' days. In those fleeting seconds, even the most jaded barperson will be reminded why it is actually kind of cool that so many people want to wear their t-shirt.

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