I have a short piece in the current issue of Uncut about the Borderline (and another longer, very good, piece about the Flamingo).
The Borderline is due to close this summer after a rich history as a venue, hosting a huge number of US and UK bands including Amy Winehouse, REM and Pearl Jam. It was the last venue Townes Van Zandt ever performed, but it was also often used by labels hoping to break an act – its location, good reputation, atmosphere and 200 capacity made it an ideal showcase venue. For these reasons, Oasis chose to use it as the location for their “Cigarettes & Alcohol” video, before playing an impromptu set for the fans who attended the shoot.
I’ve seen loads of great shows here, the best of which was the UK debut by the Drive-By Truckers, which included a solo spot by new recruit Jason Isbell. I also saw Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent play here as Fillup Shack in front of an audience of around a dozen. Most of us were there thanks to the music editor of Time Out, Ross Fortune, who heard ticket sales were low so handed out freebies to anybody who wanted a night out. Ross loved the Borderline and made it his venue of the year. He even had a favourite seat by the bar that gave him a perfect view of the stage while also allowing him to get served without having to stand up.
Jeff Buckley was another who made his debut at the Borderline – he then played a second show across the road at the 12 Bar for fans who couldn’t get tickets. I was talking to somebody recently who saw Pop Will Eat Itself at the Borderline supported by Suicide – when the crowd booed Suicide off the stage, Clint Mansell refused to perform with PWEI. A bunch of US actors who fancied themselves at musicians all played the Borderline, among them Bruce Willis, Russell Crowe, Minnie Driver and Kiefer Sutherland. How many venues in the world can claim that?
When REM played here it was under the pseudonym Bingo Hand Job, a legendary two-night stand that saw them joined by Billy Bragg and Robyn Hitchcock as this massive band played a bunch of scuzzy covers to 200 fans under their assumed identity. For the piece, I talked to Mike Mills about the shows as well as fans who say it was the most fun they ever saw the band have on stage. That’s the power and pull of a good club venue, and one you’ll never see replicated at a larger theatre or arena.
The Borderline was also worked hard. During its peak years (1990-2005) it was open every night of the week, and after gigs hosted club nights like Alan McGee’s The Queen Is Dead – which caused some entertaining culture clashes at the doors as one group of fans left and the others arrived. The music booker was Barry Everitt, who had a fascinating career in music and whose obituary is worth a read. Incidentally, the manager during this golden period now runs the Crobar, the nearby dive bar and one of the few venues that seems to be clinging on in this part of London. He believes the current owners suffered from a “lack of experience, lack of understanding, lack of contacts”.
When I wrote about the changes to the Charing Cross Road on this blog eight years ago, I speculated about what Crossrail would allow to survive. The development of this area has cost London several venues either directly or indirectly, with the Astoria, 12 Bar and Metro all disappearing along with a number of smaller bars and clubs.
And now the Borderline is going too, leaving the 100 Club as the last decent-sized West End venue standing. Enjoy it while you can.
I was also able to attend many good shows at the Borderline featuring slightly less well known but names like Chris Smither, Fred Eaglesmith, Tom Russell and Alejandro Escovedo and many others but I will also remember fondly when looking at Twitter on a wet Tuesday evening in late winter I read something that suggested a possible appearance by an “A “lister. The advertised act was the singer songwriter Jonathan Wilson and the up and coming LA band The Dawes but at my wife’s suggestion I hi tailed it into the West End from my suburban East London home and was among those to see Jackson Browne play with them from a few feet away. Two close friends I didn’t have time to call still get very irritable if i remind of them of what they missed that night. The floor was sticky, the crowd around the bar always talked too much and it got very hot but I will miss the place
Are you sure you’re not confusing the Borderline with the time Buckley played at World Oyster Club at Bunjies down Charing Cross Road below Cambridge Circus (capacity of several), and then did an impromptu show at the 12 Bar immediately afterwards for the sizeable audience that couldn’t squeeze in?
Or did he do it twice?
I played at the Borderline once – the dressing room was a corridor, and the star dressing room was a cupboard at the end of the corridor. It will definitely be missed.
Someone somewhere decided they wanted to kill London once and for all, and they seem to be succeeding.