The end of the Gladstone?

The relentless gentrification of London is something that makes me really angry: the way in which property prices are becoming completely out of control (my own flat has almost doubled in value in just 3 years, while friends of mine can't even afford to buy small studio flats now); the way in which expensive and exclusive new restaurants and artisan bakeries are popping up everywhere, celebrated by Time Out magazine, while residents who've been in the area for years are shunned and excluded; and the way in which places with soul and character are placed under threat by greedy property companies.

According to the Music Venue Trust, London has lost 35% of its grassroots music venues since 2007. The Astoria was closed to make room for Crossrail. The 12 Bar Club was closed, with Denmark Street set to be replaced by a new glossy shopping/cafe complex - again in partnership with Crossrail. And now the Gladstone Arms pub in Borough looks set to close.

I've been to the Gladstone quite a few times over the last few years and there really isn't any other music venue like it in London.

It's true that there are lots of other small, intimate spaces for live music. But they're not quite the same. Take the Harrison in Kings Cross, for example. It has a lovely small basement venue, probably about the same size as the Gladstone's live music area. I played at a well-organised and curated monthly event there called Acoustic Folk Highway. But because there was an entry fee, the audience was largely comprised of musicians and their guests. If a music night is comprised a group of unknown artists, then why would the locals hanging out in the upstairs part of the venue be tempted downstairs to pay for something they know nothing about?

In some ways, it's quite nice to play to other musicians - they know what it's like to play gigs where everybody ignores you, so more often than not, they will watch pay attention. But, conversely, that can result in a silent and slightly clinical or forced atmosphere. The good thing about the Gladstone is that people are there for a variety of reasons: to sit quietly in the corner and enjoy the music in the background (last time I was there, a woman was sitting on her own, knitting); to eat and drink and talk to friends; or to watch the bands and musicians playing. But no matter what the reason is, when the music starts and the lights go down, people start talking more quietly. It isn't complete and utter silence. It's more friendly than that. But it's quiet, and I like that.

The Gladstone works better than other free entry nights because there is an established 'scene' there. People expect live music. I've played at other venues where the music has been completely secondary to everything else that's going on. I had the misfortune of playing a gig at a bar in Finsbury Park a while ago. Absolutely nobody there had any interest in watching live music and it felt like the promoter had decided to enforce their live music night on a venue that really wasn't that interested (there was no-one there to help with sound, for example, and the equipment was faulty anyway) and an audience that didn't really care. I don't begrudge people talking while I'm playing at those kind of gigs - they didn't come to watch live music, and they didn't ask for live music - they just came to talk to their friends. But playing in that kind of environment is horrible.

There's no chance of that happening at the Gladstone because it has a real community feel. Yes, there are musicians there watching other musicians, but there are also people who live locally (another recent gig I went to had a table of people who'd brought their young children along) and who enjoy watching live music. The Glad celebrated its 10 year anniversary recently and, it being a hot summer day, everyone was out in the street, sitting on the pavement and standing in the road. It was a really happy day, only tainted by the knowledge that the pub may not exist for that much longer.

The situation, as I understand it is this: last year the pub was acquired by a company called Sartoria, which is based in the Cayman Islands. Sartoria applied for planning permission to build luxury flats (obviously what London really needs is more luxury flats that only the super rich can afford...!) and, fortunately, this was rejected by Southwark Council. The area was then designated as a conservation area, with the Gladstone listed as an asset of community value under the localism act. But the pub's lease expires in October, and it's likely that the owners will increase rents, forcing it to close.

Having played at other venues around town, there really is no comparison to the Gladstone, and I say that as someone has only been going to the Glad relatively recently - I know that the loss of the pub will be felt even more keenly by its regular visitors and musicians who have been playing there for years. I just hope that someone somewhere steps in to save it, otherwise yet another wonderful live music venue will be lost.


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