IN these desperately difficult times for music venues and musicians, it’s heartening to see that there are some hardy souls that are determined to keep battling on – and keep live music alive and very much kicking.
One such venue is The 606 Club in London’s Chelsea, run by the wonderful Steve Rubie (an accomplished musician himself). Through a lot of hard graft, Rubie has turned this basement venue – situated at 90 Lots Road – into one of London’s must go-to music scenes. It’s atmospheric, bohemian, dark and intimate. A place where lovers can come to share a bottle of wine, enjoy a spot of hearty food, and on a Friday and Saturday night boogie the evening away. New friends are easily made and hangovers are guaranteed.
Although jazz is its heartbeat, Rubie offers an eclectic choice of music – be it groove, funk, gospel or rousing R&B. Musicians love playing at The 606 Club – and come back time after time. The likes of Jamie Cullen, Hamish Stuart (ex Average White Band), Sarah Jane Morris (Communards), the charismatic Ian Shaw and entertaining Lianne Carroll can’t get enough of The 606 Club vibe.
Of course, coronavirus has thrown a horrible spanner in The 606 Club’s works, but Rubie is a tough cookie. Having devoted his life to the club since 1976, there was no way coronavirus and lockdown were going to defeat him. The result is a scaled back club which can now house less than half of its previous maximum number (120). A traffic light system governs when people can go and use the somewhat cramped loos.
It’s lost a little of its intimacy, but there are many constants. Club manager James still maintains order with lashings of acerbic humour while Esther Bennett (a talented jazz vocalist) marshals the tables with aplomb. Rarely is a glass allowed to remain empty for long. It’s a shame Niki Bracken is not there to help out Esther in his quietly efficient way – he died in May this year of a heart condition – but his spirit lives on inside the club’s four walls. Whenever I eat a sausage or three, I see Niki handing me a plate of the club’s finest sausage and mash.
OK, the spontaneous dancing has gone for the time being and tables no longer mingle, but a night out at The 606 Club is still guaranteed to thrill and blow away low-lying depressions. It’s life enhancing – and don’t we all need a bit of that at the moment.
Sarah Gillespie’s recent performance at The 606 Club (October 22) proved that the current social-distancing friendly format is not a hindrance to musical enjoyment. While the night drew in no more than a score of guests, it was still an experience to lap up and devour like the club’s rather tasty Thai chicken and rice.
Supporting Gillespie on stage were Kit Downes on piano, a beaming James Maddren on drums, Conor Chaplin on bass and a quite brilliant Chris Montague on guitar (boy can he play).
Gillespie is a unique talent with a string of successful albums behind her – starting with Stalking Juliet in 2009, In The Current Climate (2011), Glory Days (2013) and most recently Wishbones (2018).
A successful painter and writer of some acclaimed poetry, her music is infused with witty lyrics.
Her words are often based around tales of her personal life – whether going through the financial and emotional pain of divorce (You Win), bringing up a child (Susannah Threw A Helicopter and Babies And All That Shit ) or harking back on a mother much loved and missed (Glory Days). Indeed, her witty aside about her late mother’s last trip to The 606 Club to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary triggered much laughter – mother Sue and father Maurice were presented with a cake by the club.
Gillespie also likes to veer into social commentary – with witty songs about romantic jealousy in an era of smart phones (Signal Failure), hard drinking (Moonshiner) and the lonely hearts adverts people used to write in order to find a partner (Lonely Heart Sads).
And there are forays into politics, epitomised by How the Mighty Fall – a song written at The 606 Club and usually dedicated to Donald Trump, but this time sung for the benefit of Rudy Giuliani in light of his embarrassing behaviour in Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest mockumentary: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Naughty Rudy.
For the record, Montague’s guitar purred like a cat throughout – a bit like Rudy did in the film when invited back to a hotel bedroom by a young lady posing as Borat’s daughter. Naughty Rudy.
All these songs formed the heart of Gillespie’s two-part set at The 606 Club. But they were interlaced with a number of tracks from Wishbones, all rich with thoughtful lyrics – Russian Interference, the epic that is The Ballard Of Standing Rock, and the loud and raucous Coup D’état. There was also a marvellous version of St James Infirmary Blues, a song made famous by Louis Armstrong. Downes, Montague, Chaplin and Maddren thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
With ballad Million Moons – written when she was 19 and taken from Stalking Juliet – a fitting finale, Gillespie showed all of us privileged to be at The 606 Club on a drab winter’s night in London why live music is so precious.
Long live Gillespie. Long live Rubie (not Rudy). Long live Montague’s guitar and long live The 606 Club.
Stay safe and please support live music.