Friday, January 16, 2009

Local interest

A lot of you will know STN is Leicester based, and so we have to comment on the news that the (formerly Princess) Charlotte has gone into administration and could shut by the end of the month. The levels of irony inherent in the fact this has happened at a time when the local council are plunging millions into creating a "cultural quarter" are off the scale.

Thing is, there's a lot more to say than can be funnelled into one blogger brainstorm. The venue itself... well, nobody ever said it was perfect. A renovation a few years back to knock the pub and back room into one left variable acoustics, a sound desk halfway down the room and a compromised general air, and the bar was almost celebrated for its lack of quality. But you feel that losing the Charlotte would be more than losing this grand old name, as Simon No Rock pointed out to us when we alerted him to the story one of the few remaining stalwarts of the '90s indie circuit. Much as the local community remain upbeat, even during STN's nearly four year lifespan the tour bookers' attentions have moved gradually away from Leicester in terms of the East Midlands stopover, and while they often went to Nottingham anyway with its greater range and sizes of venue Derby and Northampton have become preferred hosts for many mid-sized bands. If the Charlotte does go belly-up the sum total of touring bands playing the city in the first three months of 2009 will be Frightened Rabbit and Mumford & Sons (and the venue aren't even listing the latter yet); even with it there's only the Rumble Strips and the Wonky Pop tour with Dan Black headlining of note among the locals, tribute bands and weary chancers (no offence), even the odd club nights disappearing over the last year. You can't think that bookers and managers will look on the city any more favourably if the city's largest regular touring venue goes under. The two universities have cut right back on their live nights and the Y Theatre has seemingly stopped altogether, which leaves the popular Sumo (200 capacity), Firebug (100) and The Donkey (don't know, it's relatively new to regular live music so we've never been to a gig there, but we've been there when it's empty and we'd be surprised if it's more than about 100) plus The Shed (200) for all your revivalist punk needs and The Musician (140) which specialises in roots, folk, blues and acoustica. The Charlotte (400), as you'll have seen in the press for this announcement, has a mighty history (Husker Du in 1986? The Minutemen in 1985? (and both Mould and Watt later came back) In Leicester? It can't be comprehended) that, much as being the mecca for many a young band it is - and Leicester has been an up and coming city for new bands on several seperate occasions over the last couple of decades without ever really making the scene break, not even to follow Kasabian's solo venture into the chart wilderness - the present is struggling to live up to. We're not against the idea of just abandoning the thing and encouraging Andy to set up elsewhere, but especially in this climate you can't just click your fingers and produce an excellent live music room.

And ultimately it's our fault. No, not us, honest, more a product of... well, we never told you about seeing Chris T-T and Thomas White's joint gig at the Musician last June, and that's because we made up one fifth of their total audience. We should have swapped addresses and agreed to meet up every anniversary. Quite often in the last few years at venues across the city we've marvelled at the lack of people showing up to see artists who while not massively obvious chart stars or bands with established fervent fanbases (The View were the last band to sell it out in advance, The Maccabees and The Cribs before then; not even Igly & Hartley or the Mystery Jets managed it) would easily sell out similar sized rooms elsewhere in the country - indeed we remember gawping at a GoodBooks Myspace blog about their selling out shows on the same tour where we'd been one of 18 at the Charlotte (the city's current post-rock titans Kyte were third on the bill) We remember the promises made in the last two or three years by a couple of young cut and thrusting promoters moving into the city and promising to bring the new exciting talent in, followed months later by a quiet exit and a growing debt. Andy Wright, who's run the place for more than twenty years, has partly blamed the tendency to go to bigger venues and some people on the inevitable Facebook groups have suggested the area needs an Academy-sized regular room and all will be well but who'd go that doesn't already? Not even the student crowd can be bothered most of the time, and the main De Montfort University building is literally across the road. It isn't seen to attract the crowds, and ultimately that's led to its downfall.

But, ultimately, The Charlotte to outsiders is Leicester live music and for all its *ahem* foibles it's where we've spent more of our time out for the night than probably anywhere else and it'd be a local cultural disaster if it disappeared without hope or recompense.

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