Music, nightlife, On reflection

Another club bites the dust

London’s club scene is dying and all we can do is shrug a shoulder. Our city used to be one of the most liberal, exciting places in Europe, but it has long since lost that crown to Berlin, of all places. Wasn’t Germany supposed to be a place where people are square and uptight and anything fun is verboten? It should give us pause for thought that Germany now embodies so many of those virtues Britain used to claim as her own, such as freedom and tolerance.

A millennial only knows Britain, the police state. Anyone born in London after 1989 will have grown up with CCTV everywhere, bouncers with attitude, roped off pavements, smoking bans, countless petty rules about taking glasses outside, coming in through one door but having to enter through another, having to squeeze into the venue after ten, even having their pictures taken on entering, like criminals (hello, 93 Feet East). The act of drinking and letting your hair down has become one of the most heavily policed activities you could engage in in today’s Britain. It’s a misery and I feel sorry for the twenty-somethings of today, who never knew the freewheeling London of old. A city that used to take pride in its Swinging London label has been deadened by philistine councils, overbearing police, who instead of serving revellers, expose them to chicanery, and the never-sated monster that is gentrification.


Fabric, one of our most celebrated, iconic nightclubs is the latest casualty – 51st Parallel has already reported on the closure of Madame Jojo’s and The Joiners’ Arms. On this occasion, the crackdown is a reaction to a series of incidents. Over the last three years, eight people have collapsed at the venue, with four of these dying. The latest casualty is an 18-year-old girl who  bought what would seem contaminated MDMA at the venue. Threatened with the removal of its licence, the club has been forced to deploy seven sniffer dogs during operating hours. Not only will this probably discourage anyone from coming in the first place, the cost is also prohibitive. A Fabric DJ tells me that a sniffer dog hour comes at £300 – that’s £2,100 per hour and £21,000 for ten hours. You might as well shut the club down.

According to the Evening Standard, “in a police report submitted to the committee, Pc Steven Harrington said: ‘[Fabric] attracts clientele from all over Europe and it would seem that the immaturity or lifestyle of these patrons leads to them becoming actively involved in the taking of illegal drugs and this could account for the disproportionate and wholly unacceptable number of deaths and near death incidents at the venue.'”

Any drug-related death is an unacceptable tragedy. I cannot imagine the anguish of a victim’s friends and family on hearing that their loved one has been killed clubbing. The level of drug-taking in London today, the sordidness that comes with it and the addiction it can lead to all exact an enormous human cost. At the same time, it is part of human nature to get intoxicated. As long as it is legal to buy and consume alcohol, usually to excess, you can’t justify banning other substances such as MDMA, which are far less harmful than booze or nicotine. Neither should we act surprised that people pop pills and sniff all kinds of white powders in clubs – it’s what they’re there for. When, as a society, are we going to come out of denial and deal with the problem rationally? Introducing sniffer dogs in Farringdon won’t turn the tide any more than decades of prohibition have done. The way forward is legalisation. Let drugs be sold legally and openly while providing testing stations so consumers know what they’re taking. Why is this not possible? Because politicians from both parties deliberately ignore factual research and expert voices for purely electoral reasons. Young voters simply don’t matter. They have no electoral clout and little cash. We have slapped tuition fees on them, we have denied them job opportunities. And now we’re busy ruining their fun. If I were young, I’d be very angry at this betrayal.

Our politicians’ cowardice and contempt for the young, with their “immaturity” is not only killing London’s nightlife – it is directly responsible for any death caused by contaminated drugs. Still, as was the case with sexual mores, an unstoppable societal shift towards liberalisation is coming. But for Fabric and its followers, it may well come too late.

Support Fabric by signing the petition here

Culture vulture, Music, Theatre, Things to do now

Sunday poetry and jazz at Ronnie Scott’s

Pity poor Sunday night. Still suffering from the effects of the weekend and overshadowed by Monday’s approach, the fag end of the Sabbath is usually given over to slouching in front of the telly. Which is a shame, because once a month, Jumoké Fashola takes over the upstairs bar at Ronnie Scott’s with jazz and poetry, ending the weekend with a flourish.
There's no getting away from her

There’s no getting away from her

I like Jumoké. Like her sartorial rival, Camila Batmanghelidjh, she wears a trademark turban, a head-dress which is as regal as it is decorative. Who is the original, who the fake? My guess is that Batsie has the older rights. But Jumoké is a feisty challenger, and if I were Camila, I’d let Jumoké wrap herself up to her head’s content. In this season of goodwill, ladies everywhere, let our pacific motto be: no more burnin’ the turban.
Move over, Bats, there's a new turban in town

Move over, Bats, there’s a new turb in town

Ms Fashola has been impossible to avoid in recent weeks. Wherever I go, her turban follows. Standing tall and not a hair in sight, she fluffed us up for Fingersnap. Then she presented piano legend Abdullah Ibrahim at the London Jazz Festival. And when I walked into Jazz Verse Jukebox to see a friend, there she is again. It feels like the universe is drawing us together.
Aisling Fahey has unassuming power

Aisling Fahey: unassuming power

At Jazz Verse Jukeboz, Jumoké displays an unfailing knack for spotting up-and-coming talent. The last line-up featured Aisling Fahey, the New Young Poet Laureate for London. Her demeanour may be sweet and innocent, but her poetry is acutely observed and real. David Lee Morgan dazzled with an impassioned, epic poem on the atrocities of Congo’s colonial past. And Keith Jarrett delivered a performance that was both polished, stimulating and gripping. All this was complemented by jazz and a chance for new talent to shine in front of the open mic.
Keith Jarrett: Dazzling verse, masterfully delivered

Keith Jarrett: Dazzling verse, masterfully delivered

It was a memorable night which proved that you can still enjoy world class art at student prices right in the heart of London. So this Sunday, drag yourself away from the sofa and venture out to Ronnie’s Bar.
Jazz Verse Jukebox starts at 8pm; entry is £8.
2014 BBC Slam Poet David Morgan

2014 BBC Slam Poet David Morgan: passion and humanity


And the soul lives on

Bobby Womack’s death marks the passing of another all-time greats in soul music, but he lives on in singer/songwriters David McAlmont and Guy Davies of Fingersnap.

The duo opened performed last night in the intimate setting of St James Theatre, where the audience can enjoy their glass of wine luxuriating in the comfort of their well-upholstered chairs. It was a fitting locale reminiscent of Las Vegas golden era – only the ashtrays, guys in tuxes and ladies in gowns were missing. The duo showed they meant business with a goose-bump inducing rendition of My Funny Valentine, kicking off a two hour tour-de-force of captivating and enrapturing soul music. Using his voice with the assurance and dazzling skill of a virtuoso playing a well-aged Stradivarius, McAlmont took us from almost inaudible whispers to glass-shattering falsetto passages, in a timbre so pure, strong and emotional that the audience were putty in his hands. All this was carried by Davies’ sure-footed accompaniment: dependable, yes, but also a joy in itself, at times sounding like chiming bells and at others making the audience tap their feet with his rolling riffs.

Pure soul: Fingersnap

Pure soul: Fingersnap

Seasoning their set with whimsical reminiscences and tales, Fingersnap sang crowd-pleasing favourites (was that Amy Winehouse joining in the chorus of Tears Dry On Their Own from her cloud?) and their own topical material. Hey Gene was a tender ballad dedicated to Bishop Gene Robinson, while a song about the superficiality of social media had the audience t(w)itter in sheepish recognition.

At other times, Fingersnap evoked the golden age of the blues, with Bessie Smith’s saucy Kitchen Man transporting us to the decadence of the roaring twenties. Even more astonishing in its depth of feeling and technical accomplishment was Arlen and Mercer’s American Songbook Classic Blues in the Night, with McAlmont’s powerful blues slide once again making the audience’s hair stand on end. When the show ended after an encore – including Fingersnap’s latest ballad, Blackbird, it was hard to believe that well over two hours had passed. The spine-tingling performance will stay with us for a very long time.

McAlmont and Davies are thoughtful, accomplished, funny and original – and they care deeply about their loyal audience. Last night during standing ovations, it was clear the audience loved them back with just as much passion – the music had fused performers and spectators into one body. Bobby Womack would have been proud.


Fingersnap play next at London’s Le Caprice.

If you’d like to see more of David, check out this moving ballad from his collaboration with Michael Nyman, The Glare.