Astoria La Vista baby
This week marked the sad demise of the Astoria in London’s Tottenham Court Road to make way for an expanded TCR station for the forthcoming Crossrail. It started life as one of four Astoria cinemas in London and became in latter years a music and dance venue. Like many others I have fond memories of it. Stand-out ones include seeing Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros there about a year before Joe died. I was surprised by how much of The Clash’s sound was centred on Joe’s voice, how reminiscent it was of the old days at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town – the main difference being that, twenty odd years down the line, after sustained pogoing I was starting to feel sick and my legs were getting numb. Seeing Atlanta’s Arrested Development there was also a kick – following chat and doobers round the corner in Mateo’s crapped up old Brixton Jag, the gig seemed simultaneously 3 minutes and 3 days long.
Coming in to town the other day I bumped into Feargal Sharkey of Derry’s finest The Undertones on the tube platform (I knew he lived in the hood but I’d never seen him around). I introduced myself and we chatted on the train about music digital and live, including the new emphasis on live gigs as an opportunity to make some serious dough. I guess it’s the grime and edge of the Astoria that will be most missed with the advent of super-corporate venues like the O2 (a venue named after a phone network, that says a lot in itself – where’s the magic and colour of names like The Music Machine, The Palais, The Electric Ballroom, The Marquee?). I think the O2 is very well done and there’s a place for it and such venues but the dirt and a bit of background fear added spice to my teenage live music experiences, and I’d hate to see that vanish. As a fairly sheltered 14 year old suburban Londoner meeting the Hardest Man in the World on the way to that Clash gig at the Electric Ballroom was all part of the rich mix of the experience. He was standing at the exit of Camden Town tube in army fatigue trousers, filling those huge khaki pockets with coins extorted from less hard passers-by (i.e. everybody). He had the standard skinhead cut but was so hard that on his feet were not the de rigueur DMs but plimsoles – that’s how hard he was, he could pull off soft footwear and still terrify all-comers. Music needs a bit of that sort of edge and dirt for its minerals – if the diet is all too processed and clean the taste gets bland and it does nothing to strengthen your body or soul.