Apocalypse now: celebrating the end of an era. Photo by Su--May, Flickr
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Farewell to the 12 Bar Club

Another Soho landmark bites the dust.

When it was built in 1635, it was a stable. Then it was a forge. A grainy, black and white photograph taken in 1914 shows three blacksmiths working metal there while a fourth looks into the camera in a curiously languid pose. Surrounded by tools that hang from the walls, he stands beside the furnace – a hot, black box raised a few feet above ground and lodged in the solid brickwork. I would come to know this place well, 90 years later, as the stage of the 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street in north-east Soho, the furnace reduced to a gaping hole with a wooden sign above it: “The forge, 1635”.

Perhaps “reduced” is the wrong word. It was transfigured, turned into the heart of a different kind of forge. Jeff Buckley sang there, fully formed and beautiful, back when he was best known as Tim’s boy. Pete Doherty tore through a set with the Libertines when he still had something to prove. And Joanna Newsom introduced Londoners to her weird world in 2004, opening her set with an a capella wail. Voices were found and reputations were made. Since it opened in the early 1990s, the 12 Bar Club was what boxers might call a “stepping stone” – you punched for a knock out in that ring before you could go on to the title fights. 

It was hardly a conventional location for music. The capacity was small – some 150 could fit in, if not comfortably – and the balcony level made it difficult for those below it to see the heads of standing performers. It was too poky for loud bands and if there were more than three members, musicians had to expect a guitar head in the eye, or worse. But this sense of shambles brought with it a clubhouse mentality: the stakes were low, so why not have a high time of it?

But that was then. In half a year, Soho has lost the nightclub Madame Jojo’s and now the 12 Bar Club, both casualties of the area’s seemingly relentless regeneration. Madame Jojo’s had its license revoked last November after an altercation outside the club; it soon emerged that plans to demolish it had been approved by the council months earlier. The 12 Bar was served a “break clause” of 30 days notice in December (the venue will continue, if only in name, at a new site on the Holloway Road). To the Consolidated Group, the company in charge of the Denmark Street redevelopment, the area is a “run-down corner of London”. To those who know and love the street, it’s “Tin Pan Alley” – where the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix first recorded and every other shop sells guitar strings and plectrums. It’s no wonder that more than 25,000 people, Pete Townshend and Marc Almond among them, have signed petitions protesting its destruction.

On 11 January, the 12 Bar Club held its send-off show, an all-day party soundtracked by dozens of bands. When I arrived at 7pm, queues stretched around the building and the corridor of scaffolding by the back entrance was full of revellers, all marking the end of an era with booze and cigarettes. Among the familiar faces from years of playing at and going to the venue, I saw the 12 Bar’s music manager, Andy, his wild hippie hair wilder than usual. “Glad you could make it,” he said. Thanks, Andy, and goodbye for now. 

Yo Zushi’s new album, “It Never Entered My Mind” (Eidola Records), is out on 19 January

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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