Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tool time

Follows a slightly-misty eyed set of reminiscences of my time as a Grunge-child.

London's Astoria music venue is no more. It is to be demolished to make way for the worthy venture that is a functioning rail service for the capital. Just as the owners scramble to organise farewell events, a lot of music journalists are scrambling to try and put the venue in its proper context.

The Astoria was not one of those toilet venues where you could boast of seeing a band before they were famous, alongside 12 other people. It wasn't a legendary arena-like structure where you could witness a band's emergence to the big time.

No, it was the place where middling bands plied there trade, where US imports uncertain of their reception would try their chops, or where megastars that bloviated about "taking it back to the clubs" would go to search for nebulous indie cred.

I can't remember much of the club's interior - dark, awkward-shaped, smelled of (usually rather expensive) lager. I was, I'm afraid, a very drunken teenager during most of my visits, and since I had a hard curfew of about 11.00, so as to meet the last train to Lovejoy Country, I would drink with a certain aggressiveness, at the memory of which my present scotch-sipping self guiltily recoils.

It looks, though it's little comfort now, that Crossrail would reduce the number of stops between the West End and Liverpool Street to one, which would have been of benefit to my drunken teenage self. And there will be other venues to visit, even as the eternal struggle between North London and the West End for the indie soul of the city endures.

The first gig I ever saw was at the Astoria, and gathered together an Undertow-era Tool, Headswim, when they were aping Pearl Jam rather than Radiohead, and Paw, one of the unsung heroes of grunge. It was 'triffic, and I remember being especially taken with the way Paw's lead singer handed out a whisky bottle to the people in the front row.

I also saw Rocket From The Crypt play there, with Thee Headcoats supporting, though it was some time before I learned to love the punk-skiffle-rockabilly fusion of the Headcoats. Possibly because I got drunk enough to pass out a while during their set. What I'm getting at is that the Astoria was a fantastic place to see second-tier American imports during the mid-90s. And before you get sniffy, one of those was a bunch of no-marks called Mudhoney, and they had some band called Nirvana in tow...

By the time I moved back to London in the first year of this century I'd shifted my attention further North, to the Barfly, Scala (where I saw Royal Trux and some terrible band called Coldplay with a following composed exclusively of teenage Japanese fanzine writers). I'd learned to pace my drinking by then. It was much less fun.


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