The Warehouse in Leeds, Switch in Southampton and a third Birmingham property are the latest addition to MJR's UK venue portfolio
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The Columbo director has criticised the capital's attitude towards licensing, but is confident The Camden Assembly – a "new home for music in London" – will be a success
By Jon Chapple on 06 Sep 2016
Columbo Group founder Steve Ball, whose latest acquisition, The Barfly in Camden, will reopen as The Camden Assembly next Friday, has said more needs to be done to foster London’s nightlife if the city is to compete with other global music capitals.
Speaking to IQ, Ball poured cold water on previous predictions of a small-venue renaissance in the UK capital, stating unsympathetic local authorities and restrictive licensing laws are putting the kibosh on any true recovery for London’s club scene.
“London is a global city,” he comments. “We’re competing with New York, Ibiza… [but] most local authorities don’t want new venues. New late-night licences aren’t being granted.”
The Columbo Group – whose portfolio also includes The Blues Kitchen chain, Xoyo in Shoreditch, The Old Queen’s Head in Islington and a number of other venues, bars, clubs and restaurants – bought the 420-capacity Jazz Café (which will keep its name) in January and the 200-cap. Barfly in May, both from Live Nation/MAMA.
Despite its turning The Barfly/Camden Assembly into a “completely new venue” (“I’ve seen some grotty buildings in my time but [The Barfly] was by far the grottiest!” he jokes), Ball says he’s concerned about the lack of truly new venues opening in London. “Many ‘new’ venues were already there – they’re old venues under the new management. What London needs is new venues.”
“The way licensing is in London means the decision lies with the boroughs, not with City Hall… When you put licensing at a borough level you get a NIMBYish attitude”
Does Ball see new mayor Sadiq Khan, who has pledged his support for beleaguered superclub Fabric and vowed to make the cultural sector one of the “top priorities” for his mayoralty, as being true to his word? Or are they just empty platitudes?
“It’s not an empty platitude, but it is just rhetoric,” he comments. “The way licensing is in London means the decision lies with the boroughs, not with City Hall – and I’d argue that licensing authorities can often be backwards in their views… When you put licensing at a borough level you get a NIMBYish attitude.”
Ball points to the path taken by cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin, where venues and clubs are frequently given 24-hour licences and dedicated night mayors oversee the cities’ nightlife, as a potential way forward for London.
Khan is currently recruiting a ‘night czar’ for London – but if much of the responsibility for nightlife and licensing is still devolved to the boroughs, what will the successful candidate actually be able to achieve? “That’s a very good question!” laughs Ball.
Still, for all its licensing woes London is still a great city in which to see live music, and Ball is optimistic ahead of the opening of what he calls a “new home for music in London”.
“The young music consumer of today has very broad tastes: they’ll listen to rock, indie, grime, dance… The Assembly is going to be broad in the music it showcases”
Why ‘The Camden Assembly’, IQ wonders? “We wanted a new name – The Barfly conjures up an image of noughties indie, and the young music consumer of today has very broad tastes: they’ll listen to rock, indie, grime, dance…
“The Assembly is going to be broad in the music it showcases.”
Ball says he thinks young people are listening to a wider range of music as a “byproduct of people not purchasing music” and instead streaming it. “Before, you were really invested in something,” he explains, “because you’d bought it. But now, if everyone’s listening to the latest Stormzy record, for example, you can just check it out.”
So the Assembly is a music venue for the streaming generation? [laughs] “I’m stealing that!”
The Camden Assembly will reopen on 16 September with a seven-hour ‘pub rave’ with dance music duo The 2 Bears, followed by Mikeq, Teki Latex, L-Vis 1990 and Rushmore on Saturday 17 September and Soweto Kinch, Andrew Ashong, Binker & Moses and Laura Misch on Sunday 18th.
The venue will also host the International Festival Forum‘s Opening Party on Tuesday 27th September, which features the ITB showcase of emerging artists from the agency’s roster.
Other upcoming highlights include The Horrors’ Farris Badwan on 23 September, Temples on 25 September and a DJ set by The Streets’ Mike Skinner on 25 November.
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