Thursday, 17 January 2008

Closure of the Red Rose

Bad news: the Red Rose in Finsbury Park, comedy club and London's busiest venue for improvised music and the location for numerous regular events and one-off concerts (such as the visits of such luminaries as Charles Gayle and John Tchicai), is to be converted into a pool hall. Imagine that.

An e-mail that's been circulating tells the full story.
From: Gerard Tierney
Sent: 2008 January 08 19:08

I am afraid I have to announce that the new owners of the Red Rose have decided to make something different out of the Hall. In the 3 months since they took over from Joe they have not been able to make enough money, so they have taken a new partner and are "doing up" the Hall to use as a pool hall, heaven help us. This was announced between Christmas and New Year and despite valiant efforts by a number of people to try and make a counter-offer for the business, there was simply no time.

John Russell, one of the valiant ones, did wring an important concession out of them, buying time to allow the 3 concerts I mentioned in my previous email to go ahead, thus allowing music to continue to the 20th.

Some 50 concerts now need a new home:
Back In Your Town - taking a bit of a break.
Mopomoso - information on new venue / dates when available.
London Improvisers Orchestra - ditto.
Free Radicals - ditto. (FR booked acts, I will be in touch as soon as possible to say whether February can be salvaged, and otherwise to see if a March restart is viable, and if so on what date.)
(The Freedom of the City Festival on the first May Bank Holiday weekend is safe, as already booked in to Toynbee Hall.)

Having been involved in the management of the Red Rose in various capacities for about 20 years up to 2004 I can safely say that it is remarkable the building ever survived that long, but, as I said the other night, that is no consolation to musicians or audiences (or organisers).

John Russell, on the mopomoso website (
After a rather hectic holiday negotiating with the current leaseholders to buy the lease of the Red Rose and so save the venue for performances, we were sadly unsuccessful in our attempt, so the concert on January 20th will be the last performance of any description at the venue, as the decorators move in on the 21st to change the room into a snooker hall. We are currently negotiating to move to a new venue, details of which will be announced shortly.

What this says about contemporary culture and Britain's attitude to advanced creative music and art is really very sad. Just think - some of the most important musicians in Britain today, as well as visiting jazzmen - the likes of Charles Gayle, William Parker, Evan Parker, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Eddie Prevost, Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper - have all appeared in this place, have all had to be shunted into the backroom of a pub between comedy acts. And now even that's too much to ask. Hopefully some people will step into the breach - they'll have to - but I suspect this could be something of a milestone (and not in a positive sense, either).

The question has to be raised, though - can this music survive merely through the efforst of a small group of individuals, however dedicated? Artist- and label-organised festivals like Freedom of the City or, in America, William Parker's hugely important Vision Festival, do a lot of good, but they are exceptions rather than rules. What seems to happen is that a small number of people manage to maintain something for a long period of time, but then, when they retire or move on to other things, new owners who don't share their desire to provide a home for improvised performance think "we could make more money as a snooker hall." Perhaps what is needed is some kind of public money - yet the amount of arts funding available for fringe music has radically decreased in recent years. Maybe it's a result of 'Cool Brittania', with its glib and gimmicky attitude (diamond-encrusted skulls, Turner Prize shock-value (perhaps it would be MORE shocking to have something not shocking win), reaching its nadir on the abysmal 'Culture Show' on BBC2) - maybe not. Whatever, it's a sad situation, and it doesn't look like it's going to get any better - the London Musicians' Collective had its funding cut in the arts council's binge of cuts this year. The "Music Unit" says about the LMC: "we do not believe they deliver strong value against the investment of public money." Is not the point of arts funding to support creative arts that the free market had no interest in?

You could argue that the music is, and has always been, by its nature, 'underground' and of minority interest - and mayhbe that's true. But since when has this meant such music should be forced nearly out of existence?

What can we (as fans, critics, musicians) do? Not a lot, it would seem. Maybe if enough people protest about this sort of thing, some pen-pusher/policy-maker in some governmental beauracratic body will put aside a few extra pounds. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But, for now, turn up for mopomoso this Sunday, the 20th January, at 8PM - excellent value, some excellent improvising groupings from musicians young and old, and the last ever gig at the Red Rose. Getting a big crowd there would be a suitable gesture.

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