It was with great sadness that we recently learned the Borderline, a mainstay of the live music scene in central London, will permanently close its doors this summer. It seems that spiralling Soho ground rents coupled with the seemingly never ending disruption caused by the wholesale redevelopment of the Tottenham Court Road area (plus Crossrail, when it eventually arrives) has finally taken its toll on this iconic and historic live music institution.
The Borderline closure will see it join other Soho venues such as Madame JoJo’s, The Astoria and The Marquee as a relic of the past and will leave Oxford Street’s 100 Club as practically the only small central London venue with any claim to history. This is perfect for people who don’t think there are enough shops and offices in the West End and for people who prefer their new music talent to be honed by Simon Cowell via banal Saturday evening light entertainment programmes. For the rest of us, it’s very depressing news.
The list of artists who made the Borderline their home before they became ubiquitous in the public conscience is a roll call of rock and pop royalty. Opening its doors for regular live music in the mid 1980s, the last thirty-five years has seen amongst others: Texas, Debbie Harry, The La’s, Blur, The Lightning Seeds, Kula Shaker, R.E.M., The Verve, Counting Crows, ZZ Top, Feeder, Squeeze, Crowded House, Stereophonics, Muse, P J Harvey, Sheryl Crow, Jeff Buckley, Belle & Sebastian, Bloc Party, The Cribs, Razorlight, Mumford & Sons, The Wombats, Ryan Adams, Frank Turner, Amy Winehouse, The 1975, Scouting For Girls and Catfish & The Bottlemen grace the Borderline’s cramped subterranean sweatbox of a stage.
As RockShot Mag likes to champion new music as well as established artists, our writers and photographers have practically made the Borderline their second home in recent years and here follows a selection of photographs from some of our favourite nights out.
For many years the backdrop had been a simple red velour curtain and the lighting was often sparse. Strip lights above the curtain served up blue washes of colour. If you were lucky, you got a white spotlight. If you weren’t, the talent took on the appearance of performing blueberries.
One enduring feature of the Borderline and a top landing spot for urban band portraits was the backstage ‘autograph alley’ graffiti corridor. These walls contain many famous (and ultimately not so famous) names.
In 2016 the venue was purchased by DHP Family (festival curators, national tour promoters and the name behind other legendary venues such as Rock City in Nottingham and Thekla in Bristol). A major investment was made in the Borderline, resulting in a period of closure whilst significant refurbishment works were carried out. The result was a space that had more of a night club feel than the dive rock venue it replaced. Many felt that the spirit of the place had been lost, but whilst upgrading the lighting and sound systems made for a less nostalgic live music experience, it arguably became a more dynamic one.
One feature of the refurbishment was a disorientating corridor that led to the toilets, which was equipped with concentric lighting . This was soon nicknamed the ‘toilet tunnel’ and became a new rich vein for interesting band portraiture.
Managing director of DHP Family, George Akins said of the Borderline closure: “This has been a difficult decision, but given intentions by the landlord to increase the rent significantly for a second time since we took it over in 2016 as well as plans to redevelop the building housing the Borderline, we now know the venue doesn’t have a long term future so it makes no sense for us to continue to invest.
“We’ve had an amazing two years at Borderline with some fantastic shows and want to thank everyone for their support from agents, promoters and artists to all the thousands who have come to the gigs and club nights. We’ve put our all into trying to revive this iconic venue but unfortunately, it has been impossible to turn into a sustainable operation due to so many external factors. This is a sad day for all of us who love live music and believe in grassroots venues.”
“DHP is still committed to creating and running the best grassroots music venues in the country. However I don’t see how it is possible in the West End when faced with all the difficulties from business rates, increasing rents and licensing pressure.”
DHP Family have retained the Borderline name and it is possible that they may find another location for the venue, but sadly yet another major slice of London’s live music heritage and history will soon be lost for good.