Curtain set to fall on rock music's 'best club'

NEXT Thursday Keith Richards will take his red plectrum, his bandana and his bottle of Jack Daniel's out for a rare public airing. Like almost 200 bands a year, Richards has chosen to play at the Town & Country club in Kentish Town, north London.

If he is his usual tardy self, however, Richards may not just miss the concert (as he threatened to do on many occasions in the wild days of the Rolling Stones) he will miss the hall: the club which was last week voted the best in Britain for the third year running by readers of the New Musical Express, is due to close on 24 March next year.

The Town & Country is financially buoyant, its bar, for instance, is Scottish & Newcastle Breweries' largest outlet in Britain. Its demise is the culmination of a long-running battle with its landlords, Folgate Estates. The club sits in several acres of prime redevelopment land, which Folgate has been keen to exploit. It was last threatened with eviction in 1990 when a compromise short-term lease was signed. This time there is no reprieve in sight.

Its manager, Oliver Smith, said: 'We simply do not understand the landlord's unwillingness to negotiate on the lease. The club is financially sound, has an international reputation, contributes significantly to the local economies and has excellent relations with the local authorities.'

The club has always been noted for its extraordinary range of concerts. As well as its strong roster of up-and-coming rappers and rockers, the Town & Country has offered London concert-goers the chance to see international superstars at close quarters.

Unless there is a significant change of policy by Folgate, which declined to comment about the decision, Keith Richards may be the last of a distinguished line. At least he will be guaranteed a warm welcome.