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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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear