Friday, 23 January 2009

Saving The Charlotte

There’s been a lot of talk in the Leicester Mercury lately about fears that legendary gig venue The Charlotte is to close. Local heroes Kasabian have offered their help to save it, the letters pages have been full of it, and so it goes on.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love The Charlotte (I can remember when it was still The Princess Charlotte). Or at least, I used to, back when it was a pub with two smallish drinking areas and a tiny gig space out back. That eventually got enlarged a bit, but the character remained the same, and I spent many a happy evening there, both through choice and when reviewing bands for the Mercury. The pleasure, of course, was in being able to get really close to the bands, who would emerge from a tiny dressing room/broom closet at the back. But the sound was OK, too, the beer good, and in the old days, they used to keep a pot of vegetable chilli bubbling in the front bar. I’ve been trying to remember all the acts I’ve seen there, and some of the most memorable were Prolapse (Leicester band with two singers who should have been huge), Julian Cope, Sugar (Bob Mould’s post Husker Du outfit, while they were still fresh and interesting), The Wedding Present (ear-gratingly loud, around the time of the underrated Seamonsters), and my old favourites Yo La Tengo. When they played, I’d seen them the previous night in London, but they did an almost totally different set, and I was stood a couple of feet from Ira Kaplan as he wrestled with his guitar like a man struggling with a fire hose just after the tap’s been turned on. Oh, and how can I forget my old friends Supereight (later The Freed Unit), one of Leicester’s best-kept secrets.

Unfortunately, to increase the capacity and revenue, they knocked everything through a few years ago, so that now it resembles a long shed, with poor acoustics and a restricted view from a lot of areas. They struggle, too, to attract the names that they used to, and a lot of the time the bill seems to be made up of emo bands, usually local. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it doesn’t pack ‘em in like it used to.

I can’t help thinking, though, that the response to the rumours of closure is a bit hypocritical. If all the people writing in went to a gig there now and then (and I’m as guilty as them), there wouldn’t be a problem, I suspect. It's similar to what happens when a poetry mag is facing closure, or a publisher gets rid of their poetry list. It's all very well thinking that it's a nice thing to have around, but in the end it needs people to put their hands in their pockets and actually support it. Still, maybe this is the scare we need to get us off our backsides.

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