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Made in White City

Bush Hall's Musicians to Watch

Dance hall, World War 2 community kitchen, snooker club, bingo place: Bush Hall is a chameleon of a place. Yet by some miracle it has endured with original decorative detail intact, marking it out as an early 1900s ballroom venue. 

As we explore Sound of the City, we paid a visit to this artefact of West London's musical history and asked what the future sounds like.

08.05.2017

When Charlie Raworth was looking to buy a music venue in 2001, his mind went back to a late-night drinking haunt from his university days. In those days, pubs closed at 11, and as students he and his friends would move on to 24-hour snooker clubs – for a game, or more likely not. 

“Hadn't been there for years,” he tells me, sitting in a booth in the Bush Hall Dining Rooms next door. “It was very different to how it looks now. All the ceilings were very dark and the lights very low over the snooker tables, so it was almost black in there. Nicotine-stained. It had this very dark brown ceiling, partly because it had been painted that way and partly because of the nicotine.”

Bush Hall Shepherd's Bush White City

Like its ceiling once was, Bush Hall's history is shrouded in a certain mystique. Its origin reads like a fairy tale. In 1904, a wealthy Irish publisher commissioned three dance halls to be built, one for each of his three daughters. Bush Hall, then known as the Carlton Dance Hall, is the only one that remains. Converted to a British Restaurant to feed the hungry during World War 2, attempts to revive the place as a dance hall after the war failed. By night, it became a bingo hall, but by day it was a rehearsal space hosting the likes of Adam Faith, The Who and Cliff Richard. By the time Raworth and his wife Emma Hutchinson took over, it had been a snooker hall for twenty years, its ornate plasterwork spongy and leaking.

Bush Hall Shepherd's Bush White City

Today Bush Hall is an eccentric and intimate venue. Although restored, the air of faded grandeur remains. It's The Shining crossed with Henlow Parish Hall: elaborate swirls, brown carpet, huge chandeliers, thick red curtains. “A shot in the dark” is how Raworth describes the decision to buy the place. Without any public backing or arts funding, banks and the press alike were sceptical that his and Hutchinson's venture would make it through the first six months. Yet like its once-decadent décor, the place is a survivor, a Methuselah of the music venue world. Now 16 years old, it's taken over the next-door buildings and also runs a music school, Music House for Children. 

Bush Hall Shepherd's Bush White City

The Hall's first big break was an R.E.M. gig in 2003. Amy Winehouse, Adele and Lily Allen soon followed, and so did some who'd rehearsed in the space in the 60s: Mark Knopfler, Chris Rea, Pete Townshend. After two decades of close listening, Raworth can spot the signs of a musician who's going places if luck is on their side. “Amy played here, you immediately knew. Kings of Leon, you immediately knew. Lily Allen, she did three nights and just captivated the audience with her being and self confidence.”

Here, then, is the future. Bush Hall's general manager, Sophie Asquith, has selected four artists she thinks you'll be seeing a lot more of:

Babeheaven

“These guys headlined Bush Hall last October and it was their biggest London show to date. They are moving on up to play the Scala later this month, and I can’t wait to see them there! They are a five-piece from just down the road in Ladbroke Grove: young, super tight, beautiful melodies. A blend of trip-hop, soul and hazy electronics, set against the gorgeous voice of their front-woman Nancy.”

Angel

“A Shepherd’s Bush guy, he’s one of these artists whose vision and talent seems to know no bounds! He sold out two nights at Bush Hall in February and is clearly on track to huge venues. He pulls together hip hop, soul, rap and reggae roots, and his performance was spectacular – such a showman! He had the crowd in the palm of his hand all night.”

Flo Morrissey

"Flo Morrissey is from Notting Hill, and played Bush Hall back in December 2015, when she had just released a debut album, Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful. Her voice evokes all those beautiful freak-folk artists like Joanna Newsom, Coco Rosie, Devandra Banhart. This pure, shimmering voice coupled with her tender age makes everything magic and wonderful! She’s been doing amazingly well, and just released one of my favourite records of the year so far, Gentlewoman, Ruby Man, with Matthew E. White."

Childhood

"Childhood aren’t all West Londoners, but one of them is, and he’s friend of Bush Hall so I’m going to include them! They have an album coming out in July, Universal High. They have an addictive psych-pop sound, but recently came back with a 70s soul edge to their groove. Definitely one to watch."

Photo at top: _marqs / iStock.

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