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Club: 12 Bar Club
Location: Europe | United Kingdom (UK), Great Britain | England | London | Central London
Author: heyoka
Date: 30 January 2002
Rating: 4
Address: 22-23 Denmark Place London WC2H 8NL
Phone: 020 7916 6989
Getting There: Just off the Charing Cross Road, within moments walking distance from Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square tube stations.
Opening Hours: Evenings, 7 days a week. Times vary depending on events and bands playing.
Price: Free to some pounds, depending on fame of musicians and availability of flyers.
Reviews - Most Recent First ADD REVIEW
30 Jan 2002 17:28 GMT
A tiny music venue, with an eclectic line up of performers. 4/5
Music. Food. Two bars. Lovely little space. The 12 Bar Club is one of my favourite London venues.

It's hidden away along a urine-scented winding passageway, off Denmark Place (or Tin Pan Alley), carved out of a seventeenth century forge. It's minute: the stage holds about four people if they don't move around much, a balcony lurches out over the main space, so low and close the performers can reach up and touch it. The total capacity, at a squeeze, is about 120 really good close friends.

You can't bluff it at the 12 bar. When you are singing and playing inches away, when every breath and every note curls into your audience's ears you haven't got a chance of faking it, flaking it, or not-quite-making it. You can see the sweat on a guitar player's fingers, and that's when you sit in the back row. The beer is fine, the nachos are vast. The booze prices are only a shiver above pub prices (though in London that's no bargain).

The only downside is that chattering gits can take over the space. Hisses and grouching have little effect--sharp words from the performer can sometimes shame them into shutting up.

The little tables up against the balcony railings leave creases in your knees (pressed against the wood) but give you a lovely view down onto the top of the singer's head. No inch of space, and everyone tesselating together as they lean over and peer.

All sorts or performers turn up there, from the shiny new and tentative, the obscure and the edgy, and the old hands who inhabit everyone's record collection. It's a venue that people fall in love with: audience and musicians. Robyn Hitchcock played a summer residency there for several years.

I've seen bands there on their first outing at a real venue with a paying audience (with the singer in tears and gasping after a furious row, and the guitarist struggling on bravely). I've seen big famous bands stripping down to the basics (three men, two guitars, and a toy drum slung around a neck). I've seen crap support bands inching through their moments of glory. I've heard heartbreakingly lovely pop rock country punk and hymns. I've sweated and frozen and danced and fallen asleep there.

If you see a band that's even halfway interesting playing there, I'd recommend you take the chance to go.

+ + + + +

The 12 Bar started life as a stable, in 1635 but was converted to a forge for the St Giles parish area. It stayed in this incarnation till after the first world war when the need for blacksmith had all but faded away. It mutated into a carpenter's shop until World War II, then faded away to be a storeroom.

It edged towards its current life years later, when it was set up as a social club for the staff of Andy's Guitar Centre. They would hang out and play together, and word began to spread. In 1994 it launched as the 12 Bar Club and began scooping up awards and love. It's about time I went thre again. It's been a while.

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