ARTS:; ROCK:; My round, Damon

It's where the new stars of Britpop down pints and play pool. Or was. Nicholas Barber visits the Good Mixer
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The Independent Culture
YOU'VE trodden in something unpleasant while crossing Abbey Road barefoot. You've scratched "Come Back, Lizard King" on the tombstone of some Parisian with the misfortune of being interred near Jim Morrison in Pere Lachaise. You've had a pizza in the Bad Ass Cafe in Dublin where Sinead O'Connor used to waitress. And you've bought a T-shirt from Zipperhead in Philadelphia because it's mentioned in a song by the Dead Milkmen.

Or maybe you haven't. But there are some places that the self-respecting rock obsessive, if that's not a contradiction in terms, will always find time to visit. Breaking into the Rock Shrines chart at the moment is the Good Mixer in Camden, north London. It's the pub where Madness used to go. Mark Knopfler would drop in for a pint when visiting his gran down the road. Now, the Good Mixer is the headquarters of a gang of rock groups who were barely heard of and/or barely in existence before 1994, but are now among the most fashionable names in the business: Blur, Elas-tica, Menswear, Shampoo, Sleeper and the rest of the line-up of the recent Britpop Now BBC special.

To you and me, they are the jet-setting indie aristocracy, usually to be found in swimming pools full of champagne and supermodels. To Lester Hurley, who runs the Good Mixer with his father, they are a friendly crowd of lager drinkers who never cause any trouble, excepting the time when Oasis were thrown out for harassing Blur guitarist Graeme Coxon.

Coxon goes to the Mixer, as cool people call it, for a game of pool between award ceremonies. Others go there in the hope of spotting him. Eighteen-year- old students Robert Murrow and Sarah Crutchley describe themselves as "pilgrims from Bournemouth". "We'd read a lot about the Good Mixer in music mags and gossip columns," says Robert, "and as we were visiting Camden we thought we might as well see what all the fuss is about. You do feel a bit like a groupie coming here, though."

As I walked into the Good Mixer (allegedly named after a cement mixer left in the cellar when the pub was rebuilt after the Second World War) for the first time, the opening chords of the Kinks' "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" were clanging from the jukebox. The Jam, Blurand Elastica were next. Welcome to Blurland, a theme pub which couldn't be more perfect if it had been designed this way. It's a replica of the pub in Quadrophenia, the mod film starring Phil Daniels (who later starred in Blur's song, "Parklife"). There is a Twilight Zone pinball game and Sky TV. Otherwise, it doesn't show any signs of modernisation since the days when Madness still wore baggy trousers. A few vinyl discs hang on the walls, but no gold ones.

"It's got that down-at-heel feel to it, and a brilliant juke-box," says Steve, 29, from Islington. This down-at-heel feel is, says Mr Hurley, the secret of the Mixer's appeal. "It's one of the few pubs in Camden that hasn't been done up. Almost all the others go for the lunchtime business crowd, so they're brassy and varnished, with big lights. We just plod on the way we are."

Tonight, the Mixer is populated with young Damon-out-of-Blur and Carrie- out-of-Sham-poo lookalikes, who have spent hours getting their hair to look that bad, and tens of pounds in Oxfam on their couture. No stars in, but almost everybody looks as if they could be next month's big thing, and almost every conversation concerns where a particular friend's band is playing on a particular night.

While the pub is not yet a full-blown tourist attraction, Good Mixer T-shirts are on sale at the bar, and, since the Brits, which confirmed Blur's regal status in British pop, it has been receiving fan mail addressed to the band, and phone calls from girls asking if Damon is there, please. "We don't mind that. It's all good advertising," says Mr Hurley.

But if he is happy to see the Mixer become a fan mecca, others are not. In a parallel of the perverse whims of indie fandom, the Good Mixer backlash has started. Once a band becomes less of a well-kept secret, the fans look for another that's more exclusive. The same goes for pubs. Sue, a jewellery designer who sells her wares at Camden Market, has been coming to the Mixer for two years. "It used to be good, but now we're sick of little girls coming every night in the hope of seeing Damon. They stand out a mile, anyway. You can see they've made an effort, not like the regulars. Everyone's getting into Blur now, and it pisses me off. I prefer Portishead anyway."

"I played pool with Damon once," adds her friend Jamie. "I beat him. He wasn't too happy."

A spokeswoman for Menswear and Elastica says that her charges are finding pastures new. "You used to be able to go there for a quiet pint. Now it's turned into a place where everyone goes: bands, fans, people off the street. It's too crowded." And even the New Musical Express is deserting. "The whole Camden indie social bubble is about to burst," says John Harris, a writer/editor on the music paper. "I stopped going to the Good Mixer when I walked in and saw all of Menswear playing pool at once as if they'd been paid to do it. The place had turned into a cartoon." And the fact that it's appearing in a national broadsheet will, I suppose, only make it worse. "Too right, man. And I salute you for knocking a nail into the coffin."

Bands will soon stop going there altogether, which means, presumably, that fans will stop going there, the pub will quieten down, and the next generation of pop stars will start going there again.

In the meantime, anyone looking for Damon can seek him here and seek him there. According to one anonymous PR: "If it's a pub in London and it's open, Blur will be there."

! The Good Mixer, 30 Inverness Street, NW1 (0171 916 7929).

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