It was the first time I’d seen Tim play; the set was full of jaunty numbers, interspersed with some more introspective pieces. The gig took place at The 12 Bar Club, an iconic establishment close to Soho, and being quite 'cosy', I thought it might be just Tim and his guitar, but the stage did allow room for a drummer, bassist and guitarist in addition to Tim, beefing out some great songs. The musical style was reminiscent of the halcyon days of Britpop, with a ring of Blur and a smattering of Ray Davies, blended with a quality that was all Tim's own - catchy ditties belting out one after the other and performed with energy and enthusiasm.
Tim described the club as a place he'd loved playing at over the years and would often try out new songs there, as indeed he did at this gig, treating the audience to several brand new numbers. Behind all the jollity lay the poignant reminder that The 12 Bar Club was due to close just days later. So it was Tim's last ever gig there and must have been an emotional experience, as indeed I'm sure it was for many of the audience.
For me, another bittersweet aspect was that, to my shame, having worked in London most of my life, I'd never been to the club before. And here I was, at the venue for the very first time, really enjoying it, but knowing I'd never be able to experience it again. I will say in my defence however, that the main reason for this is that I rarely attend music events these days because I suffer with tinnitus, ironically caused (I believe) through noise damage during my own days playing in bands (nearly twenty years on and off). But this gig sounded extra special and I didn't want to miss it.
Why is the club closing? The age old reason; the owner wanting to sell up to big business. I spoke to the club manager, Andy Lowe, who had managed the venue and booked all the excellent acts that had appeared there for the past 20 or so years. He was understandably very sad at the prospect of leaving, but informed me that The 12 Bar Club will resurface again at another location very shortly. It had been there, in Denmark Street, for 20 years and had been a launching pad for a number of now well known artists, such as KT Tunstall, Regina Spektor, The Libertines, Seasick Steve, Adele and the late Jeff Buckley. One positive note was that Andy believed the building would not be razed to the ground by whoever ended up in ownership, because it was now protected after a successful campaign to get it listed. It was once, he informed me, a Jacobean forge, which was in use right up until the beginning of the First World War. The original forge fireplace is still visible at the back of the stage. It first became a music venue in the early 1990s, as 'The Forge Folk and Blues Club', but in 1994 it was expanded and renamed The 12 Bar Club.
While Andy acknowledged that there was still a tiny glimmer of hope that the club might return to this location, it seems unlikely in reality. And so it goes, with other parts of London's cultural and creative heritage also under threat. One prime area under particular threat at present is Soho itself, with the recent closure of Madame JoJo's and the uncertainty of other venues as developers eye up the area in the upheaval caused by the ongoing Crossrail project.
And this is also where Tim Arnold has a strong connection and influence. A Soho resident himself, he recently founded the 'Save Soho' campaign, which describes itself as 'a coalition of performers, residents and politicians who have now come together out of concern after the closure and repossession of world renowned club Madame JoJo's'. Famous faces aplenty have lined up to become involved, including Stephen Fry, who is the campaign chair. It has already resulted in what is hoped will be a positive dialogue between campaigners, businesses, Westminster Council and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, keen to keep the uniquely bohemian vibe that Soho has been so well known for, nurturing new creative and artistic talent for decades. If you love the area yourself, I'd urge you to take a look at the website, leave comments and spread the word. London simply wouldn't be the same without Soho.
Tim is currently in the process of recording a single to help promote the campaign, a song he's written called 'Don't Go Changin' Soho', which includes contributions from a number of famous faces in the music world; already confirmed to appear on the track are Marc Almond, Gary Kemp, Boy George and Adam Ant. More are expected to be announced shortly. A certain Mr McCartney has even been approached (his MPL offices are in Soho)!