Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Goldsmiths Tavern Remembered

An earlier post on the history of the Goldsmiths Tavern/New Cross House generated some great recollections and discussion. Now Rhian Jones has kindly offered her article 'Elegy on the Death of a Good Pub' first published in Smoke magazine (#7, 2005):

Number one on absolutely no one else’s list of Good London Pubs is the sadly defunct Goldsmiths Tavern. When I lived in New Cross as a student I didn't go near this place for months - it was open past 2am but was extremely dodgy in look and reputation, you heard various stories about plans hatched and deals done that would've made Guy Ritchie come on the spot.

My first Tavern experience came, like so many others, at the end of a very good night up and down New Cross Road when all other pubs had decisively shut up shop. So in we went, and yes, it was as skanky as it looked. You stuck to the floor. The gig/dance floor/backroom bit was too dark to see anyone who engaged you in conversation. The other backroom was reached by a system of connecting doors that led you through the women's toilets. The pool table never had all the requisite balls.

And yet. Good music and good people make for a good pub. The jukebox at one point seemed to have every single Clash album on it - even Sandinista. Hell, even Cut the Crap. And the jukebox was free. And there were random ska nights and punk nights and fetish nights and open-mic nights all over the shop.

In terms of clientele, the Tavern felt a bit like a scuzzier version of the canteen in Star Wars. I had some of the most interesting, strangest, scariest and most amusing conversions of my life in there. Everyone was a refusenik of some sort: students who hated students, local petty criminals who wished they ran a bookshop in the West Country, struggling artists who really should've been civil servants (and vice versa). And you know what? No one even pretended they were minor celebrities of any description. That wasn't the point of the place. The most famous regulars I encountered were Eastenders’ Joe Absalom, the unnameable Only Fools and Horses actor who played Mickey Pearce, and someone who claimed to be the Super Furry Animals' sound engineer, but probably wasn’t. There were even moments when you and your companions would feel like the most celebrated people in there. It was gloriously unpretentious and accepting. If you wanted to pose, you could bugger off to East London.

I must admit that the Tavern appeared to degenerate in its final months. More than once I'd walk up New Cross Road and have to keep on walking, seeing its corner cordoned off in black-and-yellow tape and, once, a pool of blood outside the entrance. Finally there came the Tavern's Last Stand, when a probably justified but somewhat gratuitous looking police raid shut it down during the early hours of an otherwise nondescript night in the spring of 2003. The street filled up with ejected punters and bemused onlookers. Rumours persisted after the event that a couple of die-hard regulars had linked arms and attempted to form a protective cordon across the entrance, to no avail. A now highly-respected figure in the anti-fascist wing of student politics was said to have climbed up the drainpipe of the squat across the road, whose Trustafarian occupants resolutely refused to send reinforcements, shouting rebukes along the lines of 'Call yourselves fecking bohemians?' All it needed was Bogart standing on the stairs while we all sang La Marseillaise.

So that was that. And they could have left the shell of the Tavern alone, but to add insult to injury, if you're ever down SE14 way these days, you'll see it’s become one of several creepingly gentrified salsa-class-and-tapas bars, plastic, sterile and catering for townies downing overpriced beer before staggering off to the Venue, and for students who know no better. And they call it the Goldsmiths Tavern, still, but it's not and never will be.

Rhian Jones (XRhianJones on twitter) now publishes Velvet Coalmine blog.

7 comments:

Rhian said...

Thanks for this! Just one point - I'm a she, not a he :).

Transpontine said...

oops sorry about tht, have corrected it.

Anonymous said...

i worked there in the last days from 2000 - 2002. i left when i started to find needles all over the place and almost pricked my finger on one taking coats into the side bar. i loved the place when i first started it was an amazing experience. my best memories are the numerous lock-in until the following afternoon - all the staff i worked with being so drunk and high that i had no idea who or what i was serving - getting good at pool!!! the bizarre and hardcore fetish club that used to hire the tavern which was an eye-opener, the had a crucifix and electrodes on the main stage overlooking a boxing ring and men dressed as nuns collecting glasses for me! the management hired drug dealers to work there!!!! the main reason for its popularity!! it took me a year to realise that the resident glass collector was an employed drug dealer! if you worked in the tavern you were protected by the tavern and the gangsters who ran the door. many times i was threatened especially when snogging other guys over the bar and the bouncers ran in to protect me from the onslaught of local blk geezzers. i remember mopping up the floor in the dance room because someone spilt a drink and everone was slipping in the beer only to come into the light to see a mop scarlet with blood! i was so drunk and stoned it took me a while to realise how bad it had become until the manager was stabed with a srewdriver and was in a bad way for a very long time. many occasions when i worked closing time also involved police and forensic tape. was this place a good place to be? full of wonderful eclectic mixes of people? no it wasnt im afraid, it was just full of lost souls and people that needed to feel a sense of rebelion for their own personal reason. the tavern was connected by a community of squats and im sure it was a great place b4 i worked there maybee i just saw the darker days, but an amazing eyeopening experience nontheless

Brockley Nick said...

What an amazing account, thanks Anon

Anonymous said...

I helped put on the gigs and played there in numerous bands from 1989 to 2001. I can name a few acts from the hundreds who played there showing how popular it was regardless of its downtown demeanour. Conflict, UK Subs, Underdog, Radical Dance Faction, Back To The Planet, P.A.I.N., Whip The Minister, Sunsnake, Headjam, The Brain of Morbius, Lefthand, Lord Snooty, Transducer, Senser, The Offshore State Circus, AOS3, Ponophobia, Sister Mary Elephant, Nuke, Placebo {who formed in Goldsmith's College} and the cherry on the cake was when the Godfather of Rap Gil Scot Heron went to The Tavern to score coke and decided on the spot to move his band in there for a truly historic musical event that led to both me and my partner becoming his roadies. If any sound engineers claimed to work with bigger bands it is likely to be true since a lot of dudes went on from The Tavern to make their name on bigger circuits but would always fight over each other to get back in there for a night. The Friday Ska nights towards the end of the 90s were packed to the gills. The two original managers from my time in there were replaced by a guy who was the reason it grew darker and eventually reopened as a yuppie bar and his involvement in its downfall should not be underestimated. He'd banned so many original movers in there by the end it was hard not to speculate as to his involvement in its final bust. Do a search on some of the acts. Most are still playing. The venue was also tied up with Music City {a recording and rehearsal complex in New Cross Road} which, up until 1995, helped organize The Deptford Urban Free Festival in Fordham Park which attracted up to 60 000 people a year in the six years it ran. Goldsmith's Tavern was a big deal in the history of South East London subculture and Gil wanted to play it because as far as he was concerned it was the heart of the area. Many many live recordings and videos exist of evenings there so check band names and geographical place names on youtube and see what you come up with.... you never know what you'll find. Lastly the management at Goldsmith's College {I think it's called Goldsmith's University now} perpetually tried to have the place knocked down and turned into a car park because they saw it as a threat to their standards. I remember an art exhibition in there one night by some unemployed Punkette and we all laughed cos it made Damian Hurst's stuff look like crap. We speculated on the fact that he too popped round from the college when he studied there to "glean" inspiration from its clientelle. In the light of his recent excesses he obviously missed the point entirely. The College did eventually get a court order banning the use of the pub garden because it was seen as a subversive influence on "their" students when it was packed with Punks, Rastas, Bikers, Ravers, Anarchists, Reclaim The Streets organizers, Anti Criminal Justice Bill organizers and radicals of all kinds throughout the warmer months. The College's collusion with the authorities was a shame because The Tavern provided many students with invaluable life changing experiences which, in years prior to the pub's reputation as a venue, they would have been able to get as a result of it's own Student's Union. When the College stopped putting on decent events {I put a few on in there from 84 to 94} the Tavern filled a gap. Nightlife is essential to the cultural health of a society and even though there were tragedies surrounding the Tavern it became a second home to many disenfranchised and dispossessed people. Some mates have tried to put on events there recently as one night hits so maybe it will gradually return to the fantastic cultural boiling pot it once was.

arnold lane said...

Damian Hirst's stuff is crap.

When I played there once the main band didn't show - we had to do our set twice!

Transpontine said...

Thanks Anon & Arnold, don't know if you saw the other discussion thread about GMT here

There's also some stuff about the Gil Scott-Heron gig here