True Gripes: Live and shoddy: A gig in the capital is pure misery

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The Independent Online
It has been noted with tedious regularity that, should everyone in China jump up and down at the same time, the subsequent tidal wave would engulf New York. Should those same Chinese choose simultaneously to discuss London's live venues, aquatic disturbances brought on by the ensuing gales of laughter would almost certainly render much of the rich arable land of the Mid West uncultivatable.

As anyone who has spent time abroad will know, live venues in London are among the shoddiest in the world.

Take for instance The Garage, on Highbury Corner. The stage is invisible, the sound is appalling, and the beer is Oranjeboom.

A selection of food is available near the bar, presumably intended to attract busy-bee gig-goers too rushed to eat before they go out. In truth, it tends to appeal only to that ever-shrinking minority for whom no evening is complete without being sick in a litter bin.

In the centre of town is The Borderline: here, bar prices are roughly the same as at the nearby 'live sex shows, and the venue's fantastically thoughtful L-shaped layout precludes you from simultaneously sitting at a table and seeing or hearing anything whatsoever.

The Camden Falcon - which looks and feels rather like a building site with the radio on too loudly - is only slightly larger than the boot of a Ford Cortina, and smells distressingly of cabbage. The Powerhaus in Islington, meanwhile, boasts bouncers who look like the foothills of a small mountain, but punch considerably harder.

That beery, beardy, battered-leathery hell we call the Small Venue feels like sledging under rainbows next to the all-out Day-Glo horror that is the Relatively Big Venue.

The Grand, a cavernous flea-pit in the delightful environs of downtown Clapham, is notable for its wall-to-wall carpets, made entirely of beer.

Another noteworthy aspect is the sound system, which can somehow make a solo acoustic performer - augmented by a small string section - sound like Big Daddy falling over some dustbins. It nonetheless sees fit to charge the price of a compact disc on the door.

Many music-biz veterans have come to love the London gig circuit; for most of them, rock 'n' roll is somehow inauthentic without sweat, grit, grime, and beer that empties your pocket as quickly as it gasses your stomach. This supposedly ties in with their outdated notion of band and audience as one, which, aside from anything else, is not even true.

Post gig, the band retire to a back room filled with free beer, soft drugs and money, while we stand at the bar shouting,'Is that Miki from Lush?' over Radiohead's Creep, which is played much too loudly through a broken sound system. Hardly the Woodstock dream.

The truth is that many of London's music venues are run by a bunch of rip-off merchants happy to treat us as cattle with fat wallets. Sadly they exert a powerful grip over the music business.

A gig in the capital is, more often than not, a pretty miserable and unfulfilling experience for all concerned.

Worst of all, things show no sign of changing. Under these conditions, how can live music possibly survive?