‘We Both Have Long Hair!’ The Boisterous Rock Bar CommunityPosted by Mike Schumacher
It’s a Friday night at Black Heart, a rock and metal pub nestled away on a Camden side street in north London. The walls and ceiling are painted black, the beer taps are adorned with antlers, and Metallica’s Enter Sandman is screaming from the speakers. As soon as the chorus begins, the whole pub bursts into song, and the bartender lowers the level so that all that can be heard is a room full of happy metalheads singing out: “We’re off to never-never land!”
The scene is poignant as pints splash and voices echo: pandemic lockdowns left rock fans wondering when they’d get another chance to experience moments like this, with the Black Heart nearly closing down until it was saved by a crowdfunding campaign with prize draws that raised more than £150,000 in seven weeks.
“It was incredible,” recalls Mel Doumbos, manager of the Black Heart. “One guy had a hand-painted Obituary leather jacket, which he gave away.” [Guitarist for Iron Maiden] ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I asked Dad if he could sign a picture for you,’ Adrian Smith’s son remarked. People volunteered their time to make unique jewelry for us. We learned how much this site meant to the people.”
“I gave what I could, and when it reopened, I was there right away,” recalls regular Seán O’Farrell. “It’s so warm and inviting.” The amount of support they received demonstrates how much people like it; we need to keep places like this alive.”
The rock and metal bar is an underappreciated but important part of British culture, where the drinks are strong, the music is loud, and you can attempt to decode unreadable band logos with other fans as your feet all adhere to the floor. David May, who has been attending to the Solid Rock in Glasgow since the early 1990s, says, “You come in, sit down, and take all the pressure off.” “I don’t have to be concerned about who comes in or who starts a fight. I can’t think of a better term to describe this location than “home.”
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The Solid, as it is called among its residents, has been in operation since 1987. It sticks out with its 80s metalheads painting, only a short distance from Glasgow Central station.
Inside, the walls are adorned with framed CDs and guitars, and there is a monument to Lemmy from Motörhead over the entryway. It’s a Saturday evening, and the pub is packed with regulars and students as the night progresses, with many of them ending the night at the Cathouse rock club nearby.
The atmosphere is friendly, and it doesn’t take long for two ladies to ask me to sit with them. “It’s one of those bars where if you come in alone, you won’t be sitting alone for long,” one of them, Lorna Benson, observes.
“It’s very eclectic: you’ve got people from 18 to their mid-60s or older,” says Solid Rock’s owner Robert Alexander, who began working there as a youngster and loved it so much that he decided to remain instead of getting a law degree. “It shouldn’t work, but it does because we have this thing that connects us all.”
I believe it is unique to the rock scene because late-night events and clubs welcome individuals as elderly as grandparents!” He goes on to say that wedding receptions have been held here.
Whether you’re a doomhead, a grindcore fan, or simply want to listen to Van Halen on a Saturday night, music is what brings our community together. Many pubs host performances, such as Scruffy Murphy’s in Birmingham, which is renowned as the cradle of heavy metal due to Black Sabbath.
“I used to be in a band, and I remember how difficult it was to get anywhere,” says Scruffy’s manager Oliver Hunt, who is gearing up for the band’s 20th anniversary event in November. “When I took over, I wanted to give unknown bands a chance to perform in a decent venue and watch them grow.” You can’t suddenly start playing Wembley and expect to be successful.”
The Gryphon in Bristol plans to host three shows every week in its upstairs theater, which seats 50 people. “It’s difficult to find a venue for a small local band – that’s where I stepped in,” explains landlord John Ashby. In September, he celebrated the bar’s 11th birthday, although despite the lifting of Covid regulations, he remained cautious, limiting audience capacity at performances and promoting mask-wearing. “It’s difficult to social distance in such a small venue,” he explains.
Because rock bars are generally self-contained, they have been particularly heavily struck by the epidemic. Some, but not all, of the tenants had the backing of their landlords. Many asked for government cultural funding, although some were denied, such as the Anvil in Bournemouth.
Manager Ryan “Bear” Mills explains, “We were told we weren’t culturally significant enough.” “We were down to two employees and losing thousands of dollars per week.” The second shutdown turned out to be a gift in disguise since we were on the verge of going bankrupt.”
Crobar, a Soho rock venue frequented by everyone from Dave Grohl to Lady Gaga, closed after 19 years; the space is currently occupied by Simmons cocktail bar. However, the Crobar’s owner, Richard Thomas, just launched a successful crowdfunding effort, indicating that he is looking for a new site. He adds, “It warmed my heart that so many people believe the Crobar is worth saving.”
With its campaign, The Gryphon raised £16,000. “Because there are so few rock and metal pubs across the country,” adds Ashby, “I had people donating who had never even been to the pub.” “All they wanted was to keep places like this going.”
The Anvil in Bournemouth chose against crowdfunding. Bear continues, “Our idea was to come out the other side and do a membership scheme.” “However, the business has been so good since we reopened that we haven’t needed to.” We were able to re-hire employees, set new bar sales records, and are doing better than ever.”
The outpouring of support for these rock bars has shown how vital they are to their respective communities. “We’re a safe space,” the Black Heart’s Doumbos explains. “I frequent the Dev [the nearby Devonshire Arms] – you do feel like you can go there on your own as a woman.”
David May, a member of Solid Rock, agrees. “People saying things like, ‘Look at him with the long hair,’ made us [rock fans] feel a little persecuted.” But then you go in and say, “You have long hair, I have long hair!” But, hey, you’re wearing that band’s T-shirt, which is fantastic! “Have you listened to their most recent album?”
“You get people who come in and say they thought we were going to be scary – like it was going to be like a horror movie!” laughs Bear at the Anvil. “We may appear threatening, but we’re actually nice people. People may feel welcomed and protected at rock bars and alternative groups. “You get far more judgmental people in a lot of commercial places.”
Rock and metal’s popular moments have waxed and waned throughout the years, from 80s glam to the 00s nu-metal explosion. However, as the popularity of these rock bars demonstrates, there will always be a committed subculture of individuals of all ages. “You see articles saying rock’n’roll is dead,” says Jackie Murphy, a teacher who is a frequent patron of Solid Rock.
“Then you go to a concert, where there’s a diverse audience and the venue is packed. There’s a whole scene going on, but it’s not in the public view.”
Thanks to Hannah May Kilroy at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.
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