We should be protecting Soho's musical hotspots, not bringing in the bulldozers

As Tube developments bulldoze through Soho's musical hotspots, Phil Strongman argues the case for protecting London's heritage

The recent Olympic ceremonies saw a mass celebration of Britain's music and culture, ceremonies seen by more than a billion people worldwide.

Yet the place where so much of that culture was nurtured, Soho, is now in crisis. The heart of London's West End has been under attack for years now with the big commercial landlords pushing rents through the roof, forcing out independent shops, cafés, theatres and bars while allowing anonymous chain-stores to flood in. Westminster Council's licensing, and parking, policies have also hurt and their commercial rates are among the world's highest, again hitting the small lease-holder hardest.

Transport for London's thoughtless expansion of Tottenham Court Road Tube station has increased the cull – this alone has closed globally famous music venues such as the Astoria, Sin, Metro and the Bath House.

These venues dated back to the 19th and early 20th century, were architecturally amazing and were played, or visited, by Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, The Who, U2 and The Beatles. Most other cities would slap blue plaques and preservation orders all over them – in London, they're allowed to be demolished because TfL can't be bothered to dig down a few more feet.

In Denmark Street, one man who has so far managed to buck this depressing trend is the 66-year-old Carlo Mattiucci. The owner of the much-loved 12 Bar Club is celebrating 15 years running one of the smallest music venues in London (its legal capacity is still just 150). It's based at the eastern edge of Soho at the far end of Denmark Street, which was once London's music publishing centre – in the 1950s, aspiring songwriters would shout their latest ditties up at the publishers' first-floor offices. Denmark Street stayed the UK's own Tin Pan Alley right into the 1970s – Hendrix, The Kinks and the Stones recorded there, the Sex Pistols actually lived at number 6 and Acid Jazz had a studio opposite – and it remains the UK's retail centre for guitars, drums and keyboards.

As Mattiucci also owns the Enterprise rehearsal rooms and the Carlisle Arms in Bateman Street, he's in a unique position to compare how London councils treat venues (the 12 Bar comes under Camden, while the Carlisle, which sometimes has DJs, is in Westminster). "Camden are OK, they know the importance of venues and licensed premises. Westminster don't. At the Carlisle we were a bit late with a licence renewal last year – but we've been running it for years with no trouble and the local police support us so we weren't expecting a fuss. What did Westminster do? They closed us down on this technicality. We had to lay off some staff and when they finally let us re-open our customers weren't allowed on the pavement for over nine months, though punters from three other pubs nearby were outside. They even demanded we get two security guards. Even the magistrate finally said the council was nit-picking. It's all all right now but…."

The 12 Bar, under astute music manager Andy Lowe – a former DJ and Decca records employee – attracts a clientele that includes superstars while its tiny live room provides a unique platform for up-and-coming acts. Potential future headliners such as Ger Lane, Beth Riley, Milk Kan and England Sporting Defeat can be seen onstage, while in the bar it's sometimes possible to mingle with the likes of Noel Gallagher, Dave Grohl or one of the New York Dolls. The venue's live room has great acoustics and is also soaked in history, possessing a Vicwardian balcony and a stage wall from 1642. The 12's fans include musicians, indie websites and even the Telegraph, who recently voted it the 2nd Best Music Venue in the World.

Mattiucci didn't start out in concert venues though, he ran a café in Thayer Street originally, and he surprisingly puts the 12's success down to his own lack of interest in music promotion – "I never feel tempted to intervene" – and to the efforts of his twentysomething daughter Piera. She, in term, thinks music manager Lowe is the key: "We were really lucky to get Andy, to have someone with so many connections and with such an understanding of all types of music."

The success of the 12 Bar allowed the Mattiuccis to step in when the Intrepid Fox pub in Wardour Street, a legendary rock hang-out, was closed by its brewery. As Piera points out, "Its manager was then fired and evicted with just three weeks notice, after being there for years…" The Fox is now located under Centre Point and thriving as much as the 12 Bar.

But even the latter may be now under threat. The closure of the Astoria, Metro and Sin has reduced the area's weekly footfall by around 10,000, a big reduction in potential punters. And TfL's Tube redevelopment is poised to hit Denmark Street sometime between 2013 and 2016. "We get on well with Consolidated, who own the actual buildings here," says Mattiucci, "so we're pretty sure that when we have to close they'll find us somewhere. Hopefully there'll be a seamless move to another local venue, preferably in Denmark Street. Might be as soon as next year. But I'm sure it'll be somewhere good."

Yet it will, says Piera, still be a sad day when they have to leave the original premises: "There will be the odd tear shed, that's for sure…"

Those who see only today's balance sheet may regard all this as irrelevant. So what if these places go? Let the big landlord corporations, and Westminster Council, over-charge all they like – so what? But allowing an area to be purged of individuality and flooded with branches of Gap, Next, McDonald's, All Bar One and Starbucks doesn't actually add to a locale's long-term appeal – why will those from the suburbs, let alone overseas, keep coming if the only places left are exactly the same outlets they already have at home?

Even now, with CD sales shrinking and record shops a thing of the past, music is still a multi-billion-pound industry – according to Performing Rights Society figures, British song-writing alone generated more than £630m in 2011. But this level can only be sustained if there are small- and medium-sized venues, and bars, willing to give a platform to new bands, new singer-songwriters and new DJs. After all, no novice act can fill the likes of the O2 or Wembley, nor can everyone fit into the TV karaoke shows that Simon Cowell has so successfully exploited.

Take million-selling, award-winning bluesman Seasick Steve. Nowadays, Seasick Steve, aka Steven Gene Wold, plays at festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds and the Isle of Wight. He also packs out stadiums in Europe and America. Although the singer-songwriter was raised in Oakland, California, he got his first real breakthrough in Britain. He appeared on Jools Holland's TV show on New Year's Eve 2006 – after he was seen playing live in Soho. At the 12 Bar Club.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape