23 August 2014

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London Gets The Blues


Has the recession turned Londoners into miserable stay-at-homes? Far from it. The city’s better bars are as upbeat as ever, & ‘the blues’ is making a comeback, judging by the rash of music lounges that have sprung up around town recently. Even non-aficionados will be familiar with names-to-drop such as the world-famous Ronnie Scott’s or Blues at the 100 Club, but strike out from Soho for some equally sexy saloons. Whether your tastes run to Big Mama Thornton & Sonny Boy Williamson or Charlie Parker & Billie Holiday, our musical pick is aimed at those who want to go Wang Dang Doodle – as the late Koko Taylor sang it.


Charlotte Street Blues Bar - 3633298445_44a668d242.jpg The Juke Joint at Charlotte St. Blues

Check out the resident blues band downstairs at this all-new, 30s-style juke joint where Charlotte Street morphs into Beale Street. Upstairs, the main stage hosts huckleberry friends of the calibre of Matt Schofield & early genre adopters, the Yardbirds, as well as high-profile foreign visitors including Grammy nominee John Lee Hooker Jnr. Choose from over 80 bourbons, sip Mint Julep in trad tin cups or blow out on buckets of beer from £12.50. For grub, get stuck into a Reubens sandwich, ‘black sheep’ burger or blackened Cajun chicken with sweet potato fries. If you aim to join the jitterbug & jive on a packed dance floor, avoid the Mississippi mud pie.


‘Round Midnight

Low-key, laid-back & deadly serious about the quality of its live gigs, this appealing indie bar features blues, jazz & soul as good-time gumbo along with a range of ice-cold brews, vino at recession-friendly prices, southern-belle cocktails, burgers, ribs & the like, served until the joint gets jammed around 8-ish. Rollo Markee, Bridie King & the Reasons, the Sax Pastels:  the names may not may not be as instantly recognisable as, say, Howlin’ Wolf, but the same spirit flows through their veins. One day you’ll boast how you saw them performing at a small Islington neighbourhood joint before they made the big time.


The Blues Kitchen

Bourbon Smash, Tennessee Iced Tea & Mint Julep are all present & correct at this groovy Camden lunch-to-late homage to Dixie. Pick of the nights are Monday’s ‘Here come the girls’, showcasing the best Delta lady vocalists & the ‘Sunday jam’ (6-midnight), when dozens of musicians rock up with their instruments ready to strum & blow. Register to join the Blues Kitchen band on stage for a ’Sing for your supper’ contest: the winner claims the right to be fed like a king from a soul food menu that includes Louisiana staples ‘po boy’ submarine sandwich, surf & turf, jambalaya & pecan pie.


Ain’t Nothing But The Blues

This hickory-smoked hangout resembles a real-deal New Orleans joint, but as it’s no bigger than some folks’ sitting rooms, arrive early – unless you fancy standing or queuing outside. Exotically named pros such as Gentleman Tim & the Contenders or reggae/bluesman Jerimiah Marques & the Blue Aces play nightly ‘til the wee small hours. Saturday afternoon open-mic sessions start at 4pm, & amateurs can also get involved in the Monday jam from 8pm at this buzzy shot of Southern Comfort off Carnaby Street.


606 Club

More jazz orientated, with up to ten bands featured each week, we reckon the bijou 606 will also delight blues fans – particularly for its Sunday lunches set to deep Southern gospel. Most nights, table reservations are advisable for non-members hoping to dine on gastropub grub: allow £40-50 per head with wine & cover charge. Jim Mullen, Toni Kofi & Liane Carroll are just some names that will be familiar to enthusiasts at this must-do Chelsea squeeze of a cellar dubbed ‘London’s best music venue’ by piano-playing poppet, Jamie Cullum, no less.


The Vortex Jazz Club

The Vortex Club & ‘Downstairs’ (a cocktail lounge-cum-casual restaurant below) have attracted the likes of Dame Cleo Laine & British pianist/composer Django Bates to deeply hip Dalston. Connections with the jazz scenes in New York & elsewhere ensure that a healthy mix of visiting artistes appears alongside impressive local heroes on nightly display. Daytime eats & a range of bargain cocktails are served downstairs, along with wines (from £12) & beers. The main venue – modernist, minimalist & thankfully air-conditioned – overlooks a square where alfresco performances are occasionally scheduled. 


Hideaway  Hideaway_2010_-_unknown3.jpg

Sunny Streatham is the unlikely location for the newest venue in our musical medley. Blues, jazz,  funk, soul & Latin strike all the right notes in a former pool hall recast as postmodern bar/diner/live lounge aimed at a smart-casual crowd. Easy-drinking Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc & gutsy Rioja are what to order if dining on a Brit/Euro menu that includes beer-battered fish & chips, pumpkin & pecorino risotto, calf’s liver with bubble & squeak, & puds at pub prices. The band fronted by Vince Dunn (sometime drummer to Courtney Pine), occupies a Sunday residency, & packs of jazzy cats make this a cool haunt in London’s Deep South.

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