Looking back on it, we were never going to be big. We were never going to be the indie club that everyone wanted to go to. We were never even going to be Artrocker. All that was too much like hard work.
Not that we didn’t put the hard work in. We sat in the doorway of the club on too many rainy February nights, shivering while seedy men came in and asked sideways questions to try and figure out whether we were running a clip joint, while at the same time trying not to make themselves look desparate.
On one particular such February night, we had one solitary paying punter. One. Who’d bowled up from deepest Northamptonshire just to come to an indie club in Big London. We gave him his door money back and bought him drinks all night. That was the nadir. Usually we at least managed to break even.
But doing more than that would have been too much like hard work. It takes a lot to put on a club night – more than you’d think – but it takes even more to promote it and make it a success. And we had day jobs, and gigs to go to, and pubs in which to drink. Those things take time.
London Loves began when Paul and Ant were running their own show on one of Virgin Radio’s short-lived digital stations, before anybody had figured out what you were supposed to do with a digital radio station, and presumably before the accountants had a look at the station’s books. They roped in James, Matt and me, and found us a willing club around the corner from Virgin’s Golden Square offices.
In future, we’ll be able to take our children to the ticket office by the Dean Street entrance to Tottenham Court Road’s Crossrail station and tell them that we used to DJ there. “Well, not there, obviously. There were some record players. And a large mirror covering one wall. And a toilet that resembled the one from Trainspotting. And fewer leaflets advertising river cruises. And fewer people. But yes, here.” For that’s where the Push Bar was, in the basement of a building at 93 Dean Street in Soho.
B, the owner, appeared to be some sort of escaped Serbian war criminal. He had the gruff manner and the scars to match. The prosaic truth was that he was a respected sports journalist and football agent who’d come over in the 1960s from what was then Yugoslavia. Some of his players (Sasa Curcic! Come back!) would even turn up at the bar when we were playing, which gave us the closest thing we ever got to the allure of celebrity. B kept odd company, to be sure.
Large gunmetal Mercedes-Benz cars would pull up outside, engines idling in the middle of Dean Street while red-faced cabbies puffed threats through their wound-down windows in the traffic behind, and the passenger would get out and unload some boxes which would make their way into Push’s ‘kitchen’ (a ramshackle cupboard piled high with dangerously old-looking appliances and tins of beans. No-one ever cooked there).
The Serbian bar staff, once they’d decided they didn’t dislike you all that much, would be quite friendly. If you really got into their good books, after hours and once the upstairs doors had been locked they’d break out the šljivovica, a filthy but oddly compelling creation distilled from damson liqueur, which would give you the same reaction Roger Rabbit had on drinking whiskey.
On the best nights, we’d see a hundred paying clubbers through the door and down the narrow stairs. The fire limit was probably something like 50 but we were young and invincible. Once we’d finished the music at 1am, the good stuff would come out from the fridge behind the bar and Joe the bar manager would put on some reggae.
Joe was always good to us. Push never had anything like a hit night, but even then London Loves probably wasn’t one of the most profitable, when you averaged out our best and worst times. Joe never seemed to mind.
One night, a friend of a friend was enjoying the music when she noticed B’s name on the license sheet above the door. She worked for Westminster City Council and said: “I know that name. He owes us 150 grand.” Whether it was true or not I don’t know. But if it was, Westminster was doing a pretty poor job of tracking him down. We’d even have given the bailiffs 2-for-1 entry if they’d turned up on a slow night.
We left Push when B sold the lease for Push, and moved to The Albany by Great Portland Street station, but it wasn’t the same. Downstairs at The Albany did have a small stage, however, which led to our sole foray into gig promotion, when the wonderful MJ Hibbett agreed to come and do a solo acoustic set for us, which went down extremely well.
But by then we were getting on, and the grind even of doing a monthly night was taking its toll. Whether it was deliberate or not, it became more and more difficult to raise The Albany’s promoter on the phone to book our nights, and in 2009 we moved on to a one-off at the Torriano Arms in Kentish Town. The idea was that we’d do something every six months which would give us a chance to recharge in-between. But as with most such ideas, it just meant that things fizzled out.
SO what have we learned? What did five years of endless clubbing*, hard partying** and heroic amounts of line-chopping*** teach us? Well, to borrow the closing line from the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading, “it taught us not to do it again”.
**sedate pub quizzes
***watching the cricket