Congratulations to one of London’s key, established gig and festival promoters, Cherry Cola. Not only the capital’s biggest established rock and roll club, widely respected and still going strong, but getting even stronger with a weekly event at one of Camden’s venues of legend – Dingwalls. Our musician x writer x promoter, Monefa is the perfect person for an interview with creator, Alan (more of a conversation between the music passionate, really)
When some people think of a club night, maybe one of the first names to pop into their head is Ministry of Sound. Overall, their target audience are those people who are into music with a pure electronic touch. But what about other genres, and their club nights?
Go even deeper, and more memorable club nights started or continued in Camden Town; Stay Beautiful, Subverse (it was 14+, ended at 8pm – more of a club day!) – these are just a couple that have cemented their history.
One night that has left its indelible mark on the area, with the party goers, is the legendary Cherry Cola.
As a Camden woman, I have observed and experienced the changes affecting live music around here. Some have been good, others had very little incentive progression.
The ‘Cherry Cola’ nights were held at the classic Purple Turtle (now closed). Venue changes and closures are affecting so many things right now. Then in comes Alan with his smarts, a very reputable brand and the tools required to find a new home for the Cherry Cola club.
Dingwalls is the iconic Camden venue, that has been blessed with many many talented faces such as: Foo Fighters, REM, The Clash and The Sex Pistols. (I actually missed out on seeing The Strokes there, due to them using their pseudonym, rather than band name).
So what is Alan’s secret? How has he built on his success? Where did he go right, where others went wrong? I’m sure there’s more to it, other than the fact he is a born and bred Camden man. The other Friday, Alan managed to squeeze in a bit of time and have a chat with me at the venue.
Monefa: “Alan thank you, for taking the time out to talk to me. I know you’re a busy busy man”
(slight pause, and a laugh due to the slight traffic in one of the bars)
Alan: “Cool, cool thank you for coming down”
So, what inspired you, to keep your club night in Camden? I know you had it at the Purple Turtle, then that shut down-unfortunately.
“I just don’t feel like scenes, outside of North London, properly get what happens in Camden. Like the kind of rock ‘n’ roll scene, I guess.
Obviously Hackney, is very cool, but it’s very niche in terms of events. I think people there, are more into the electronic side of things. I’ve done some events in Hackney, and they’ve worked well.”
You organised ‘Hackney Wonderland’ (TheZineUK review) didn’t you?
“Yeah, that’s the festival. That works well, because people want to watch bands wherever you are. But, I find Camden has the heritage. And Dingwalls is such an amazing venue for it. It’s perfect for the club, and that’s why but I’ve always been wanting to come back to Camden. Just waited for the right venue to come up.”
How long was your club running at the Purple Turtle?
“Four and a half years. Every week”
That was a long while!
“Yeah. Good old stint.”
It’d probably still be in there, if it was still open then?
“Yeah, it was only ’cause they shut down. That was the only reason I left.”
Still can’t believe it shut down actually…
“It had so many good, and different nights…”
“…It’s sitting there empty now…”
Yeah, it shut down beginning of this year as The Crowndale. Complete waste of money, and time really.
“I know, it’s fucked…”
…They should’ve kept it as it was. It was absolutely fine. It was always making, a steady flow of money
“People get greedy.”
On the Cherry Cola wavelength, newer wave rockers and punky musical activists, Sisteray, at their packed out, Spring 2018 Dingwalls headline set for the club. Image by Rhona Murphy.
Monefa : “I know that you do Margate Wonderland as well. What gave you the idea, of doing a festival down there?”
Alan: “I started Hackney first, and I just thought, apart from ‘Field Day’ which is massive, there were no smaller scale live music festivals there.”
They were being kind of neglected in that sense?
“Yeah. And it worked really well, and I’ve done Hackney Wonderland for a couple of years, ’cause it was a bit of a target market there, Obviously people who live there still like it, but they won’t really come to Camden so I thought I’d start a festival there. Then everyone was telling me “you should do something out of London”, and I didn’t want to go to any obvious towns like Leeds, Manchester or whatnot.”
Mmm, they’re quite saturated at the moment.
“Yeah, and then in Margate… I’d been to Margate there a few times, ’cause I’d heard about the properties being really cheap there. People from London, moving down there…”
…Especially younger people, because they can afford it.
“Yeah, and there was a cool little scene going on down there, and then Dreamland is the most amazing venue, so I just hired a theme park for the day, as you do.” (laughing)
Bit like a lightbulb idea!
“Yeah, I thought “there’s a theme park there, I’m gonna book a load of bands and…”
…Well it looked like it was a success anyway. The line-up was stellar so…
…Yeah, it was one of my finer moments. I was very proud of that.”
Monefa: “Where do you see the ‘Cherry Cola’ night going, now it’s at Dingwalls?”
Alan: “I’ve only been here since January, so just building it really. Just building it again because, club scenes change quickly, very quickly.”
In what way?
“When I was at the Purple Turtle, that was three or four years ago, I’d have two sets of people come in. So it’d be packed for the bands, and everyone would leave. And then people would come, and it’d be packed for the club. I find it’s quite difficult to sustain the club side of things now.”
You mean like as soon as the bands finish, some are inclined to go home and party on there instead?
“Yeah. It’s not empty. Don’t get me wrong”
“But, where as I’ve been used to, for the past ten years, it just being rammed till the end. Plus, Dingwalls is a big venue. So it’s just going to take time. I’ve never ran before I can walk.”
That’s probably why, you’ve been able to build everything up so well.
Like you can see the big picture, what’s ahead.
“…Yeah. I find a lot of promoters, they do a couple of good things, then they get a bit greedy and want to do loads of stuff. I just want to focus on this, because it’s such an amazing space. And it’s got so much history, so all bands want to play here. They work harder, and it’s a nice little family unit where everyone wants to work together.”
Smiling faces. Always a sign of good times to be had. Elliot Neal Photographic.
What do you think promoters in general could do, to improve things for bands/solo musicians?
“I think so many people are “a promoter” these days, and it’s completely ruining the club culture massively. People are DJing in local pubs going “ohh it’s a fiver to get in”, and they don’t do anything. They just put a post on Facebook, like promoting is a dying art.”
It’s like people don’t appreciate the actual sweat and tears that has to go into, making a night a success…
“The amount of bands that have come to me, and gone ‘I can’t believe, what actually goes into it’. People think they just rock up to a club, with bands playing, without realising there’s a person behind it.”
I think a lot of people don’t realise, all the details that have to go into it to make sure you can come in and enjoy it.
“Yeah. There’s time, and you’ve got to invest in paid posts, targeting the certain right people…”
…Then there’s checking the band’s schedule, payments, stuff like that,
“Absolutely. Dealing with agents, as well. Actually, dealing with agents is the most difficult part of the job. I spent five years, trying to tap on the window to get into the agent world. Which I am in now, but you know…”
Do you think it’s harder to get their respect in some ways?
“Absolutely. Well they don’t trust, because there’s so many shit promoters out there. They don’t trust people. Because they’re dealing with huge bands, they’re not going to trust anyone. They’d normally go to Live Nation, SJM, that sort of thing. So for me, for example when I book someone like The Kills, it’s a massive confidence boost that they trust me with a band like that. Jagwar Ma last October, another band that the agents trusted me with so yeah, it’s nice.”
Well you’ve got Twisted Wheel coming up.
“That’s gonna be wicked”
Again, you can see it’s building
“Well they came to me”
…Shows how good your reputation is
“That’s it, long as you just work hard. But yeah going back to the previous question, I think a lot of people don’t do anything. They just put a Facebook post, and think their mates are going to come. It’s really, really frustrating. And what it does, it spreads people. Say 300 people come in here, but their mate’s playing down the road. ten of them will go there, ten will go to another place. I’m not saying everyone should just go to one club, but, don’t bill it as a club night, it’s a bit of false advertising.”
(having a quick joke and a laugh, about the meltdown promoters get just before a gig or festival)
“…Try doing a festival. 50 bands. 7 venues. Literally I have a meltdown”
But you get a massive buzz, when you see people enjoying it. The bands are having fun.
“Two months before Hackney Wonderland, it was so stressful it was unbelievable. But yeah it’s really rewarding, at the end of the day, and for the past two to three months you’ve been stressed out to the max. Loads of new grey hairs, seriously. And then you see the headliner, and there’s 2-3,000 people just buzzing off it, it’s wicked.
It’s hard financially as well through. It’s a strain, big time. Because people see it being busy, and think that you’re earning fortunes and that’s just never the case. Never the case.”
I think that’s why, you see a lot of people don’t do it for very long if that’s their primary job, as you can go into a deficit very quickly if you’re not careful.
What’s the last gig you went to?
“You know what?, I don’t get to go to many gigs…”
“No. I shouldn’t really say that” (laughing)
Mind you though, if you’re putting on so many bands, I suppose it’s not in the front of your mind to do it.
“I do like seeing my big favourite bands. I’ve got a kid as well, so that makes it very difficult for me to go out on a Tuesday night. My priorities have completely changed, since I’ve had a kid so it’s hard to do that. I am going to see Rolling Stones next month. I went to see The Rifles at The Garage, went to the first night as I quite liked their first album. That was the last gig I went to.”
Are there any new bands at the moment, that are sticking out for you?
“I had a band the other week, wicked, called Khartoum. They’re very good. There’s a band from Essex called Electric Child House, they’re really good. They’ve got a bit of a Primal Scream vibe going on. There’s loads of good bands, knocking round in London at the minute. It’s quite nice actually.
here’s something for everyone at the moment…I think
“Yeah, hopefully rock and roll’s coming back.”
Monefa Walker : “Fingers crossed. Guitar music is definitely not dead. Well I’ll leave it there, but thank you for taking the time to talk to me, much appreciated.”
Alan Cherry Cola: “Cool! You’re welcome.”
It’s easy to say, if you want to be one of the best club promoter’s in the business, one must have a good set of stones in order to do it. Cherry stones.
Long live ‘Cherry Cola’!
#cherrycolaclub Please bring ID for entry
Tickets for all events via fatsoma.com/cherrycolaclub
pssst! Rock and rolling stones; Not just, Twisted Wheel (see above) and festival faves, The Wholls, among the buzzing bands coming to play/slay. (Rising Newer Wave rock icons from TheZineUK tale, False Heads (who will headline one of our own co-pro stages at The Great Escape Festival this month), have just announced the biggest UK/Europe tour of their story so far. With everybody from Ramones manager, Danny Fields to Iggy Pop highly recommending them, their October 5th return to Cherry Cola at Dingwalls is already a hot ticket).
Multi-talent Monefa is Caffy’s assistant PR Princess at ArtBeat and a piano playing star. A regular contributor to The Zine UK both online and at our socials.