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The new Water Rats is a Bright Young Thing
The new Water Rats is a Bright Young Thing
Thu, 24/03/2016 - 12:34
Published:24 March, 2016
by ROISIN GADELRAB
DOWN in King’s Cross, nestled towards the top of Gray’s Inn Road, is a pub with a unique history – and a message of hope for small music venues.
The Water Rats, previously the Pindar of Wakefield, claims to be the site of Bob Dylan’s first UK performance (1962), the Pogues’ first UK gig (1982) and where Oasis first introduced their Manchester tunes to London back in 1994.
The venue took its unusual name when it was taken over by the Grand Order of the Water Rats in 1992, the entertainment industry’s charitable fraternity, which counts Charlie Chaplin among its alumni. While the Order is no longer involved with the venue, it retains floors above the pub and counts Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, as one of their recent leaders – King Rat.
In recent years, The Water Rats lost some of its glory and, while it continued to attract up-and-coming artists such as Katy Perry and The Courteeners, it fell into disrepair. The stage was shut a couple of years ago after the ceiling caved in during a soundcheck but it is now in new hands who hope to revive its fading reputation. It was taken over last year by Soho nightclub veterans Sally and Tony Fox, who have given the venue a complete refurb, with new bar, kitchen and souped-up stage. They have drafted in Nicholas Barnett, of Dead or Alive Promotions, as booker. He previously promoted at Oxford Street’s now defunct Metro club, putting on the likes of Bloc Party, The Cribs and The Magic Numbers – and he has big plans.
The programme is already packed and Nicholas is working on bringing in new acts and promoters all the time.
He said: “We’ve got external promoters and we’re booking our own acts. We want to encourage new bands back into The Water Rats because it’s traditionally where they start. Record label 25 Hour Convenience Store, from Gary Powell, The Libertines’ drummer, is doing a monthly night. Their next is on April 21. They’re good at picking up on hot new bands. They have Bright Young People playing. There’s also a band night called This Feeling, whose strapline is ‘The UK’s most rock ’n’ roll night out’ – the first Saturday of each month. There’s Spooky Ghost, Gerry Leonard, who worked with David Bowie (May 5) and we have promoter Parallel Lines, who brought Arcade Fire to the UK. They are big. They do stuff at Alexandra Palace and Shepherds Bush Empire but they also bring bands that are starting out.”
There are also plans for comedy, book launches, spoken word and even an Oasis-inspired play is on the cards. Too High, Too Far, Too Soon (April 27-28), is based on Simon Mason’s rock ’n’ roll diary about becoming a drug dealer to the stars and being an Oasis “hanger-on” and charting his own drug-fuelled demise and later redemption.
“Simon was at Oasis’s first gig at The Water Rats in 1994 and has turned his book about being a hanger-on into a theatre show, which has already run in the West End. Because of the history with The Water Rats and Oasis, it gives it some artistic legitimacy,” said Nicholas. “We’re getting a lot of interest, specially from Oasis fans.”
The new owners, who used to run Greek Street nightclub Moonlighting, made a strategic decision to exit Soho, says Nicholas.
“Seeing the writing of the wall with the demise of the club scene and the gentrification of Soho, they got out of the nightclub trade and took on the Water Rats,” he said.
“Now the music business is shifting eastwards. It’s sad to see what’s going on in Soho and the West End. So it’s exciting to see a revitalisation of the arts and culture scene in King’s Cross. Universal Records are moving from Kensington to St Pancras Square in 2017, which is really symbolic, showing the shift from west London. Music people feel they have to be on this side of town. Sadly the music scene has died a death in west London. It’s all been developed and everyone’s been priced out.”
He added: “I was promoting Metro from when it opened until close and that got shut down due to Crossrail. I was at the Buffalo Bar and that shut. Every month I read another venue’s shutting down. The 12 Bar Club – the new one on Holloway Road has closed down. The will isn’t there for venues to carry on doing music because it’s such a tough game now. The difficulties of keeping a live music venue in business is such that they’d rather have a sports bar, restaurant or block of flats, so it’s important to have people who are willing to keep music venues going.”
Happily, that is where The Water Rats steps in.
“The acts don’t have the funding to support the touring, so it’s harder than ever,” said Nicholas.
“But fortunately, because of the history of The Water Rats, we think we’re in with a good shot. People have a lot of affection for the place. Everybody’s got a story of who they last saw there and we want to let people carry on telling these stories.”
The venue is doing its best to corner all genres, from 80s acts like Toyah and Marc Almond, who recently appeared as part of a monthly night recorded for Vintage TV, to bringing in promising, much more current promoters.
Nicholas said: “The vision is to bring it back to its former glory, it has an amazing history, pretty much anyone who’s anyone has passed through there. In the past few years, it has kind of fell of the radar, our aim is to put it back on the map.”
The programme is varied, including comedy from Alex Zane (April 1) and radical comedian Bridget Christie on May 8 and 13 and the launch of poetry night Penned in the Margins launch (April 11).
Nicholas said: “We just want people to know we’re open. We’ve been working flat out for the past three months. We’re just about there now and getting bands lined up.”
He has high hopes for the location, given the changing face of King’s Cross.
Nicholas said: “We’re very excited to be in King’s Cross. I used to go The Water Rats 15 years ago and it was the kind of place where you would be watching your back on your way there. Previous to that the area was almost a no-go zone. Now it’s all changed and it’s been done sensitively. A lot of offices have opened up and brought in an office crowd, which has meant a burgeoning of bars and restaurants and the atmosphere is more exciting. And now there is the Tileyards, it all helps to create a destination.”
More info from www.thewaterratsvenue.london