Stage Dives and Sticky Carpets

The current Summer 2023 edition of Alternative Strategies fanzine includes a great interview with Chris Tipton of Upset The Rhythm (UTR) records, who has been promoting shows in London and releasing records for 20 years, including cracking recent releases from Es and Terry.  The interview concludes with a map of the 117 different venues that UTR have booked shows at over the past two decades.  Of these, 55 are no longer venues, and one in particular brought memories flooding back – The Grosvenor in Stockwell.

In its days as a venue, The Grosvenor was a pretty traditional south London pub, with a function room out the back that provided an excellent spot for gigs.  Windowless, sticky paisley carpet to the rear, and sound monitors propped up on beer crates in front of a low stage.  The Grosvenor closed its doors in 2014, before re-opening again in early 2019 but without its function room – a living embodiment of the remorseless grip that real estate capital exerts on London, and a very rare example of push back from Lambeth Council.

Anyone who knows the area will know that Lambeth Council rarely cover themselves in glory. They have relentlessly waged war for over a decade on the residents of Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill estates with threats to demolish their homes against their democratic wishes, and even established a now-failed property development vehicle (‘Homes for Lambeth’) to accelerate their attempts to force working-class communities from the borough.

However, the planning department has largely resisted attempts by property developers to redevelop pubs, spurred on by fierce local opposition in the case of The Grosvenor. Nevertheless, an unfortunate consequence is that once a pub is sold to a developer, it can sit vacant for years until it finally dawns on them that for once, the Council means what it says.  So, after five years, the pub re-opened, but – as part of the planning compromise – the function room was lost to redevelopment, bringing The Grosvenor’s illustrious history as a venue to an end.

The most intriguing thing was the range of bands who played there.  Of course, up-and-coming bands, but it also seemed a regular stop for bands on a downward trajectory, who then found themselves on an upsurge of popularity again soon after, most notably DRI in 2011. Now there were many nights of hardcore chaos, such as a truly demonic performance from vocalist Larissa Stupar (now Venom Prison), who raged amidst a swirling mosh-pit, as if protected by her own force-field.  But the two nights that stand-out in my mind were in many respects more self-reflective affairs.

The first was Blacklisted in 2008.  I had caught Blacklisted supporting Terror a couple of years earlier at The Underworld, but for some reason their brilliant second LP Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God had not quite yet grabbed the attention that it deserved.  And so, they were playing to an enthusiastic, but by no means jam packed crowd at The Grosvenor.  Ultimately, Blacklisted enjoyed a longevity that few hardcore bands achieve (four LPs over 13 years before they bowed out in 2018).  Core to this, alongside a continual process of musical evolution and experimentation, was vocalist George Hirsch.

Now emotional catharsis clearly features in many hardcore vocal performances, but there was always seemed a depth to Hirsch’s delivery that went beyond simply anger.  And that night, yes there was rage, but there was also humanity, the inner strength to reveal vulnerability and self-doubt.  Literally nowhere to hide. It was a privilege to witness.

Now around the same time (2007/2008), I was also lucky enough to catch the rarity of a solo performance from Leatherface’s Frankie Stubbs, supported by Snuff’s Duncan Redmonds.   I’ll admit even now that I was unreasonably excited at the prospect.  Leatherface had a huge formative impact on me – uniquely gravel-raw vocals, melancholy drenched melodicism, poetic lyrics that evoke beauty amongst the desolation, and an unerring eye for those details of everyday life that enable communities to survive.

A single chair sat just in front of the stage and as Stubbs took his place, a silence impregnated with intense anticipation descended.  If anything, the already hefty emotional punch of songs, such as Springtime and Heaven Sent, was amplified and heart-swelling in their defiance.  Little was said between songs bar some light-hearted exchanges, the buzz of a busy Saturday night pub filtering through into the function room.  The show reached its crescendo with an utterly compelling rendition of Dead Industrial Atmosphere.  A night that still lives vividly in the memory.

So, the memories live on, even if The Grosvenor as it once was does not.  And while thankfully The Grosvenor is once again thriving under the stewardship of a local landlord, it still serves as a reminder of how the fabric of our cities is too often distorted.  Twisted to meet the demands of the capital that exploits them, rather than the needs of people who call them home.

Alternative Strategies can be found at priced £7.50.