With due respect for the last-minute efforts of Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly’s Sam Duckworth, who has organised a valedictory charity bash, the London Astoria looks set to go out with a forlorn strum rather than a feedback-drenched bang this week.
The central London venue will host its final gig on Wednesday (January 14) – but a line-up featuring My Vitriol, Mansun’s Paul Draper and JJ72 feels like a poor eulogy for a venue that, for many thousands of UK music fans, is the hallowed site of their most cherished, formative musical memories.
Big enough for any gig there to feel like an event, but compact enough to generate a febrile atmosphere, the Astoria was the venue giant bands (U2, The Rolling Stones) played when they wanted to reaffirm their rock’n’roll authenticity.
The 2,000-capacity former pickle factory also became a yardstick for measuring when a new band had ‘made it’. Witness the astonishment in the media when Arctic Monkeys sold out the venue before they’d even released a single (although The Darkness had actually managed the same thing two years earlier).
Arctic Monkeys, ‘Mardy Bum’, London Astoria, October 8, 2006
Will the Astoria’s closure impoverish British music? In practical terms, perhaps not. But, as the Carling Academy chain prepares to rebrand under the O2 umbrella, the loss of another much-loved venue raises the spectre of an increasingly antiseptic live scene, controlled by an ever-shrinking group of big-money sponsors.
Beyond the rational arguments, though, there’s a sentimental attachment. The Astoria was the site of my very first gig, age 14: Green Day on the ‘Dookie’ tour, 1994. Later that year I witnessed a camouflage paint-smeared Richey Edwards obliterate his Telecaster at the end of his penultimate gig with Manic Street Preachers.
More recently I’ve felt the floor shake during a Valentine’s Night gig by Justice, watched a riot break out following a Pete Doherty no-show – and, on one freezing December night in 2004, had my eardrums power-drilled by Swedish death metallers Arch Enemy (so they’re not all happy memories).
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I wonder how many Astoria acolytes have similar recollections, all of which end with their teenage selves emerging sweat-soaked into the chaos of Charing Cross Road, eardrums screaming, pushing past the T-shirt sellers and talking excitedly about the life-changing gig they’ve just witnessed.
With apologies, then, to those who don’t live near London and therefore couldn’t give a toss about the Astoria or its plight, think of this blog as a book of remembrance. What are your standout memories of the venue?