Four hosts of Scaledown, then and now, photo by Peter Tainsh

SCALEDOWN Turns Fifteen: the Hidden Music Club of Fitzrovia

in Latest/Music/Spotlight

When Richard Sanderson and Mark Braby started a small music club in Fitzrovia, in the shadow of the Post Office Tower (I’m never calling it the BT Tower, sorry) who could have predicted that Friday 28 June 2019 would see the celebration of the 150th gig.

The idea of Scaledown was simple but beautiful. It was a response to gig opportunities that had complex set ups, ticketing and were generally a pain in the neck to those that put bands on and to bands who are compelled to turn up early for sound checks. (A good book helps with the boredom). Bands and other artists were encouraged to scale down their acts, to 15minutes maximum, and to something that would be acceptable in a room above a pub with a small PA. It was like a folk club, but it was not a folk club. Scaledown has always had an eclectic music policy.

The gigs have taken place in the same venue for 15 years. The upper room at the King and Queen public house at 1 Foley Street. Bob Dylan himself played here, back in the day. So all the acts can feel aglow with that reflected glory from the folk-blues singer songwriter.

The Irisistables at Scaledown #140, photo by Peter Tainsh

Scaledown has a reputation for being chaotic and imperfect, but with a unique music-family atmosphere that’s appreciated by its core audiences. New faces appear each month but the regulars come back time and time again. Sanderson left a while ago to go onto other musical things, and now is the head honcho of an experimental music label that he runs out of his house in SE London, Linear Obsessional.

Over such a long period the club has been through changes and challenges. Definitely not always easy. These are musicians, following their passion in crowded London. Some bands did not follow its minimalist spirit but turned up with large amplifiers and tried to recreate a stage sound in the small space.  That, and some other challenges have pushed the ingenuity of the hosts quite far, but with good humour the night has always bounced back. Today, the night really feels like a family. Many people have known each other for at least those 15 years, or if they have not have known each other personally, they have been part of the same extended scene for decades.

Hannah Rose Kessler at Scaledown, photo by Peter Tainsh

Scaledown is family. Today Mark Braby and his girlfriend Victoria Hurr have taken this literally producing a Scaledown baby, little Louie, who has already been to his first club night, Scaledown #149. Named after the song Louie Louie, we have high hopes for his musical future, like doting godparents. Mark himself is a talented musician playing with Subway Sect, Beeching’s Axe, Thee Potato 4 . . . and Shaun Hendry, his longterm friend is a music publisher whose label Vacilando 68 puts out many acts that have featured at Scaledown itself, including Haymanot Tesfa, the Ethiopian singer and krar-player whose new album is imminent together with the re-release of a classic album by the Kenny Process Team. The KPT recently lost their much-loved guitar player Simon King but Rhodri Marsden has stepped in for a series of appearances to promote the album. The third member of the host team is Jude Cowan Montague who has made it her mission to try to bring women acts to the bill and new artists who have never performed at Scaledown before including Simon Lagnawi, Hannah Rose Kessler, Jemma Freeman, Shay Khan, and poets such as Michelle Fisher, Matthew Caley and Mark Waldron.

Acts confirmed for the 150th anniversary Scaledown include the founding figure of Richard Sanderson and also experimental vocalist and interdisciplinary artist Sharon Gal. Regular friend of Scaledown, Bob Constant, who always wows with his emotive vocals is on the bill, hopefully with his band The Goodbye Horses.

Alex Paxton’s Dream Musics – with David Zucchi – photo by Peter Tainsh

Shaun Hendry is from the Medway region and has brought many artists from there to perform at the tiny club, bands sometimes making a huge effort to be part of this valued intimate evening. Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society have been particularly impressive, with Stuart’s deep, gravelly alternative-blues vocals dominating the room, and they were kind friendly too, the people who make Scaledown such a family-feeling environment. Because it is the audience who alongside the acts who make the evening feel so good. People listen attentively. There is chaos and fun between the acts, and lots of East End banter in a tradition that seems to come directly from Music Hall, but when the acts are performing there is silence and respect (mostly!).

Mal Robinson, photographer Peter Tainsh and others have documented many of the Scaledown performances some of the magic can be witnessed online as a memory of some of those incredible but ephemeral performances. I would like to list all the people who have performed but I’m not sure the documentation exists. Pulling some highlights out of my own memory I’d like to give a special mention to Robbie Judkins aka Left Hand Cuts off the Right for what I found was a particularly moving piece using cassette tapes of from language education in colleges.  It reminded me of the objects we had in my house growing up as my dad was a lecturer of English and education and loved modern technology aids to learning. And also to Bettina Schroeder and James A Smith for a very fun poetry homage to the night with electric mandolin. Other irregulars include Minny Pops, Justin Paton, Rosie Okae, Doomed Bird of Providence, Matt Scott (of the Klinker) with and without amazing vocalist Ali Warner, Roshi and Pars Radio, Graham Dowdall and the much missed Hand of Stabs, currently dealing with life after James Worse moved inconveniently to Australia.

It remains to say, Happy Birthday to Scaledown, Now We Are 150, and to wish the club at least another 150 Scaledowns to come. Buon compleanno! Selamat ulang tahun! Many Happy Returns.

And send you off with videos of a couple or so of my personal Scaledown favourites documented by Mal Robinson:

Latest from Latest

Go to Top