Fight to save rock venue from religion

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The Independent Online
GLENDA COOPER

Rock legends such as U2 and Bob Dylan are being urged to help save the Brixton Academy, one of London's top live venues, from being converted into a Brazilian pentecostal church.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which at present is thought to have only between 10 and 20 members in Britain, has bought the venue, capacity 4,000, and will take it over next January.

Labour councillors and MPs in Lambeth are asking pop icons who have played there to register their dismay at the loss of the art-deco venue.

Its owner, Simon Parkes, said he was made an offer out of the blue - reputedly pounds 4.5m - that was too good to refuse. Parkes, who is bound by a confidentiality agreement not to disclose the buyer or the price, said that he felt his experiments with the venue - the first place to hold huge club nights and secure a late night licence till 6am - had gone as far as they could.

"How do I plead to all the unhappy fans at allowing the venue to be turned over to a church?" he said. "I plead guilty. I have no excuse. The offer is a good offer... I would not achieve a huge amount more with theAcademy having taken it from a derelict venue to what's been called the world's greatest rock venue." He plans a huge New Year's Eve party as a farewell.

The Academy, which has played host to artists as diverse as Morrissey and Public Enemy and will next month host a "secret" gig by the Rolling Stones, will be controlled by Edir Macedo, a millionaire bishop.

Bishop Macedo founded the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in 1977, in Rio de Janeiro, and it now has 500,000 members in Brazil. It reached North America in 1986. The church practises faith healings and exorcisms.

Cathy Ashley, a Labour councillor who is running the campaign to save the venue with Keith Hill, MP for Streatham Hill, said the fight was far from over. "He [Parkes] has not sold it yet. There is a verbal contract ... but I know they have not put in a planning application yet. It is highly likely the council will turn the application down."

Volunteers for the campaign yesterday started contacting rock artists to request their help. "It's a brilliant live music venue," Ms Ashley said. "There's no other venue in London to beat it. It's an important part of London's culture and it's crucial for economic regeneration in Brixton."

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