Last week I attended a party thrown by Bacardi to celebrate their 150th birthday party. At one point, I found myself stood next to a prolific music blogger, the lead singer of a popular up-and-coming indie band and a lad who at the time of this tale, was notoriously known for being criminally underage and despite his baby face, still got in to all the bars and clubs. "It's just like we're at FROG and it's 2006!", I joked. I was then promptly filled with a certain sadness, realising that actually those were the glory days in an otherwise turbulent love affair with Britain's fair capital city.
In the summer of 2005, I started hanging out in London, travelling up from West Sussex on the weekends, before I finally moved to the Big Smoke by pretending to go to university when in fact I just wanted to use my student loan to pay for my Halls of Residence (aka a place of my own to live in). Through the initial Love Music Hate Racism gig that I attended in Trafalgar Square (my first London gig) to the swanky Sony PSP launch at the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street later that evening, I fell for the city's charm immediately. I'd been here before as a kid, but never on the level that the first evening I spent here presented to me... I saw a collection of bands that evening I'll always treasure, even if by my own standards, were actually pretty shit (actually, some of them were really good).
There was a club night every Saturday which was partly-responsible for shaping the sonic landscape of the British music scene during it's 'New Rock Revolution' and where the bands who still fight to live another day in the eternal quest between 'chart music' and 'credible guitar music' first showcased their talents. It was a club night ran by a team of like-minded people, who all lived above a pub on the Holloway Road called Nambucca - an indie mecca where the likes of The Holloways, Kid Harpoon and Beans on Toast all slept, and the chosen drinking hole for all wannabe rock n roll stars to be seen and most definitely, heard. It was a pub that had no rules. Lock-ins were a given, any day of the week. Drug dealers were as welcome as the now-famous bands that propped up the bar. It was a liberal and exciting place to hang out, and played host to a number of brilliant secret gigs from the likes of Babyshambles and Frank Turner.
Whilst the lads (and lasses) who lived upstairs weren't in-charge of the day-to-day running of Nambucca, they definitely embodied the DIY ethos of the pub with their more commercially-viable and brilliantly programmed clubnight FROG. Whilst the place to be on a Friday night was Club NME at Koko (where FROG hosted the top room of fine organised chaos), thanks to promoter Imran Ahmed, FROG a slick operation at the Mean Fiddler, formerly Astoria 2 (and now sadly knocked-down to make way for the Crossrail extension at Tottenham Court Road Station) where every Saturday night you'd be guaranteed to see one of the best live music acts around for less than a tenner. A place that allowed you to see bands like The Cribs, Arctic Monkeys and Bloc Party perform outside of the big venues whilst the Young and Lost Room next door also helped you discover new bands, most of whom I'm afraid to say no longer exist (yet a large majority have regrouped to find success under new guises).
It was a place for young minds to drink away their student loans, to fall in love with one night stands, to dance the night away unashamedly to Bandages by Hot Hot Heat and if you were really lucky, hang out in the DJ booth with the FROG boys and drink their cans of Red Stripe. The Holy Grail, as it were, was if you were awarded a backstage pass - the golden ticket labelled AAA that would allow you to stand in a cold, concreted room and feel like the coolest (and coldest) 19 year old in England. Only when my band performed was I lucky enough to be allowed/trusted/awarded such an honour, and I ruined that by taking a piss in the corner of the room (there were no toilets), unaware that my urine had trickled below into the green room below (for the sound and lighting techs), causing quite a fracas between an enraged (and a little bit wet) Italian sound guy grabbing me by my throat, whilst thrusting me up in the air against said concrete-wall and exclaiming, "I'm gonna fuck you!"
In a summer where the bright lights of London look frightened and the citizens scared of the forthcoming "fortnight of hell" (the Olympics) whilst the rain pours down on what Morrissey would call a humdrum town, it seems a shame that only five years ago, everything the City of London presented to me looked and sounded exciting. When FROG closed its doors for the last time in 2007, electroclash was beginning, bands were scoring number one singles and the X Factor was still called Pop Idol. Now instead in 2012, we find ourselves truly disillusioned by a city that delivered so much, so soon, it just cannot live up to anybodies expectations anymore. For what should be the most exciting summer for London, I have never heard so many groans and whines (including from myself) about a city that is on the brink of collapse from a unique occasion that that is over two thousand years old held in a different city every four years with a lot less fuss than the powers that be are making. Given the amount of money that our Government are spunking up the walls and still not getting things right, maybe we should have let the FROG team organise the Olympics. Then if it all went tits up, at least we'd all be drunk on £2 whiskey and cokes.
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