Look out Harvey Goldsmith, there's a new rock promoter in town. Roman Abramovich has poured £20m in to his latest obsession, a basement club which he intends to turn into Britain's most exclusive live music venue.
Under The Bridge is the latest addition to the Russian oligarch's collection which already includes superyachts, a vault of priceless art and Chelsea FC, which houses the new venue beneath the Stamford Bridge stadium complex. Associates say the 600-capacity Under The Bridge club is more than just a plaything for Mr Abramovich, whose wealth is estimated at £11bn.
The Russian now spends his evenings mingling with fans at gigs and asking their opinion of the sound system he has installed at considerable cost. A colleague said: "Roman is a big music fan and he's serious about the club. He wants the Rolling Stones to play here. He's built a luxury backstage green room, installed a hydraulic stage, bought the best sound system in Europe and filled the place with classic rock memorabilia. He usually gets what he wants."
On Wednesday night, Mr Abramovich chatted with surprised fans at a Jamie Cullum gig. Tonight he is expected to welcome Dr John, the New Orleans R'n'B legend, who is performing for the London BluesFest.
The venue used to be a cheesy nightclub called Purple, popular with Chelsea players and former public schoolboys. Mr Abramovich, who has hired Amy Winehouse and Kings of Leon to play at his private parties, was persuaded that he could attract music's biggest names to a new "boutique" venue built to the artists' specifications.
Mr Abramovich hired James Cafarelli, designer of the House of Blues chain of US venues, to revamp the interior. He ordered 66 premium PowerLight amplifiers, a record for an indoor venue, on the basis that they offered the "best sound on the planet".
Superstars lured to the venue are given two luxury dressing rooms complete with en-suite bathrooms, kitchen facilities, make-up tables, chilled champagne and a lounge area with wide-screen television and an Xbox.
They also have direct backstage access to the club from the Stamford Bridge complex's hotels, without fear of being mobbed by fans.
Like Chelsea FC, the club is ultimately expected to make a return on the oligarch's £20m investment. There are seven private booths available to hire from £750 each and the venue is being touted for private parties and corporate events. However the Russian is launching the venue during a slump in the once-buoyant live music industry, as fans rein in spending and festival tickets remain unsold.
Friends say Mr Abramovich hopes to attract television companies to record a weekly Under The Bridge music show from the club and is offering the stage to big names who need a daytime rehearsal space.
Chelsea stars looking for a wild night out are on notice. A source said: "Roman doesn't want players piling in unless they want to hear the music. It's not a nightclub."
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