Legends of the Bridge House: The venue everyone loved

Iron Maiden, Midge Ure, Mick Jagger – they all rocked in Canning Town

Pierre Perrone
Friday 11 January 2008 01:00

From 1975 to 1982, the Bridge House, Canning Town, in the East End of London, was the place to be. Heavy metal fans rubbed shoulders with punks, mods, skinheads and goths to watch Iron Maiden, the Tom Robinson Band, Secret Affair, Cockney Rejects and Wasted Youth. The 560-capacity pub is where Dire Straits, U2 and the Stray Cats played their first UK dates, where The Blues Band and Chas & Dave recorded live albums, and where Depeche Mode got signed.

Ray Winstone was a regular, between appearances in Scum, Quadrophenia and even in a film called Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains alongside Paul Simonon of The Clash and Steve Jones and Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols. He'd followed the advice of "Uncle Tel"– the landlord, Terence Murphy – and given up boxing in order to "get stuck into the acting".

That's one of many tales Murphy tells in The Bridge House, Canning Town: Memories of a Legendary Rock & Roll Hangout. Murphy himself was a light-heavyweight who lost a bout on ITV's opening night in 1955 and quit boxing in 1957.

When we meet for a pint near where the Bridge House used to be, he admits it's the venue, not his boxing, that people still talk about. "Every time I went out to dinner, boxing, football, someone would mention the Bridge House and the wonderful times they had there. I wrote the book for fun. I had all the paperwork: dates, bands, 1,500 tapes. I had a tape of The Executive, George Michael's first band before Wham!, but we never gave them a gig."

The Police also missed out. "I couldn't book them, not in Canning Town. People would think there were coppers in the band," Murphy says. "U2 played before they had a record deal. We had Paul Young with the Q-Tips, Alison Moyet with the Little Roosters, Annie Lennox. She seemed to have a new wig for every song," says Murphy, who took over from his brother John at the Bridge House in 1975.

"I wanted to put my mark on it. The first band I got was Remus Down Boulevard. I paid £20 a gig." Pub rock ruled at Dingwalls in Camden and the Hope and Anchor in Islington, but the Bridge House was way out in unfashionable East London, though that became a virtue. "Musicians like to hang out where they're not going to be hassled," Murphy says. "At the Bridge House, they could play a few bum notes, have a drink, relax. It became the place to have a jam. Paul Jones brought Tom McGuinness and Hughie Flint; that was the start of The Blues Band."

Murphy's policy of rotating styles and genres paid dividends. "We decided to try and keep people in the area, save them travelling to the West End. We had a couple of jam sessions, West Coast country rock with Clover [featuring Huey Lewis], heavy rock with Iron Maiden. Steve Harris [the bassist and leader] was a local boy. They always pulled a good crowd.

In 1980, Murphy told Mick Jagger not to dance. "He came with Keith Richards to see Charlie Watts, Ian Stewart and Alexis Korner play with Rocket 88. Jagger started dancing. I said, 'Mick, you're not allowed to dance. I've got a dancing licence but it's only for the stage.' He couldn't believe it."

By 1978, the Bridge House was established. "We were the first pub in the world with its own record label," Murphy says. He hit on the scheme of having photos of regulars on the inside sleeve of the Live: a Week at The Bridge E16 album: "They all bought a copy." The Mods Mayday album in 1979, featuring Squire and Secret Affair, made the charts. "Both bands signed to Arista. We never recorded to make hit records. We did it so bands would get their name about, do a few interviews, mention the pub and create a vibe."

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Oddly, the Bridge House didn't capitalise on its place at the centre of the late-Seventies Oi! scene with an album. Garry Bushell, then a Sounds scribe, now a tabloid columnist, says: "The Cockney Rejects' story is about to be made into a film, so we'll have to recreate the look, sound and feel of the Bridge House. It's going to be tough. The place was a one-off."

The venue also spawned Wasted Youth, a post-punk, goth band who never quite reached the heights of Joy Division and Bauhaus, though their following included one Dave Gahan, later of Depeche Mode. "I introduced him to my son Darren who played bass in Wasted Youth," Murphy says. "Depeche Mode couldn't get a gig in London. They had the guts to give a tape with a drum machine to a rock pub. Depeche Mode played exactly the same as their tape, but only 20 people turned up. Then I thought I'd put Depeche on with Fad Gadget . Daniel Miller fell in love with them and signed them in 1980. In 1982, they heard we were struggling and they did a secret gig for us. They wanted us to keep the pub open."

Murphy shows me the site where the Bridge House once stood. "The pub became a club, then a hotel. It got pulled down for a new flyover in 2002. I did try to get a plaque but there was nowhere to put it, until now."

Murphy has given his blessing to the New Bridge House, a music venue run by Tony Nicholls and Tony Cook, a few hundred yards away. Remus Down Boulevard, featuring former Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton, played the grand opening yesterday.

'The Bridge House, Canning Town' by Terence Murphy is published by Pennant Books (£17.99); see www.thebridgehousee16.com and www.bh2live.com

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