The Black Heart, as many of you already know, is a classic dark rock club located in the dead center of Camden. It offers craft beers in the downstairs pub and ripping music in the often tightly-packed club upstairs. We love to catch bands playing there or just hang out or end a night with a last drink, ears still ringing from having seen a gig somewhere in Camden. You could hear all kinds of music there before the Lockdown. Now the pandemic may cause this place to close.
If the Black Heart can’t meet its full crowdfunding target of £150,000 by the end of March, it will shut down with a whimper, smothered by the Lockdown. Don’t let that happen – join thousands of people who have so far donated money to give the Black Heart team money so that they can make it. Donate on their fundraising page here.
It was reported that Amy Winehouse, when winning her Grammy Award in 2008, ended her acceptance by saying “Camden town is burning down.” Which actually never made sense to me as she was always more of a fighter. She was referring to the blaze that hit her local Hawley Arms. But I think if you listen closely to the recording you can make out that she is saying “Camden town ain’t burning down” (check the video here at 1:29) in her triumphant tone implying that the Camden spirit cannot be reduced to ashes permanently.
Now the impact of the UK’s covid strategy threatens to do what no fire ever could – extinguish key parts of the live music scene. Once the small clubs shuts, maybe they won’t come back. Then the proving grounds for the next wave of bands will disappear, eliminating a key part of the music ecosystem that has fostered many stars and given excitement to many music lovers.
The UK government put together a £1.57 billion fund to protect the arts – of which 0.002% has been handed out to 135 grassroots music venues so far. Of the almost two dozen live music clubs in Camden only seven received emergency money:
- Dublin Castle – £78,583
- Camden Assembly – £16,900
- Fiddler’s Elbow – £30,000
- Jazz Cafe – £18,000
- Hampstead Jazz Club – £4,000
- Kings Place – £562,000
- The Roundhouse – £775,000.
The London Venue Group (which is now operating the Lafayette in Kings Cross as well as venues in other locations) got £2,358,902. Ronnies Scotts -£1,272,631, Troubadour in Chelsea- £647,172. All the data for the funding can be downloaded here. All of London so far has received about 28% for all kinds of activities from museums, to theatre companies, to events companies, to educational groups. There’s another £400 million available soon as well.
It’s hard to guess the logic of how what money was given out. Older venues seemed to be preferred. Apparently, there was a very long application involved, so maybe some were better presented than others.
So where does this all leave the Black Heart? –without enough money to operate and in dire circumstances.
It first opened in 2009 in the alley near the Camden Tube to focus on craft beer and live music. Their approach was to be open to all kinds of music and build a welcoming place. It’s been host to more than 2,500 gigs since starting. The capacity is 170 and when it’s full, it’s heaving.
Lyoness playing at the Black Heart in 2019 – amazing set!
So many UK bands have come to the stage there to send their sounds blasting into the audience. You can feel the afterglow of gigs from bands including The Idles, Bronx, Lightning Bolt, Crowbar, Orange Goblin and Ike Willis (Frank Zappa’s guitarist). The Black Heart also was a great host to festivals like Desertfest and Camden Rocks as well as tons of after-parties and special events. Recently, we filmed sets with Healthy Junkies and Tiffany Twisted there which will give you a taste of what it really is like on a good night (check out the full digital gigs here)
Yet this thriving place could disappear soon. And even if it survives through to the end of restrictions, the business will be laden with debt.
According to Mel Doumbus, the Black Heart general manager, “We didn’t get any government funds and our landlord isn’t giving us any rent relief. We could have 400-500 people in during busy time and maybe more than a 1,000 coming through over an evening.” That’s a lot of cashflow not to have and still have to pay big bills. The furloughs have helped to keep the staff available, but that doesn’t help cover the overhead when the bar is shut.
They made a lot of efforts to try to operate within the various lockdown tier restrictions. They hosted some socially distanced shows to audiences of 45 seated on what look like church benches. “It isn’t the same thing, but actually it was good to get a seat for a gig and have table service,” says Matt the venue booking manager.
Through a lot of effort, so far they have raised a bit more than half of their £150,000 fundraising objective. In the first 48 hours, they nailed £40,000 in donations. Frank Turner ran a live stream to support their cause and generated £6,000 alone. Now it will be hand-to-hand combat for the Black Heart on social media to close the gap. Part of their fundraising effort is to raffle off some cool items. Check them out on their fundraising page here.
Dive in now and help push this fundraiser over the line! Don’t have a few beers tonight and send what you would have spent over to the Black Heart so we can enjoy a few drinks together in the future.
The Black Heart is an independent venue owned by Graceland which has a small portfolio of six London pubs including: N16’s The Axe, The Kings Arm’s in E2, The Black Heart in NW1, E5’s The Mermaid, and The Earl of Essex in N1.