Established: Early 1980s; Closed: 4 May 2013.
Notable acts: Coldplay, Manic Street Preachers, Keane, Nirvana, Blur, Bloc Party, Muse, The Libertines
“Anyone could get a gig at the Bull & Gate. Even my band played there. We were shit.” (Goldhanger 2013)
The Bull & Gate was a sectioned off area of a pub. Upon entering through the separate venue doors, there was a long corridor on the right hand side of which were the toilets, accessible also through the main pub. At the end of this walkway was the ticket booth. Past this was an open drinking area, with chairs and tables. An archway led into the venue. The main auditorium was a long dark car- peted room, open plan with no internal structural barriers, with the mixing desk in the far back corner. The backstage area was cramped, only a small square room with toilets. The venue was enclosed, with little ventilation, aiding the sweaty and energetic gigs and meaning that prior to the smoking ban the room frequently had a “wall of smoke.” The venue has since been cleared. The toilets are no longer on the west side of the building, the bar has been opened up and the venue room is now a separate dining area for the Bull & Gate gastropub.
The North-East London bastion of alternative rock and indie-pop for over 30 years and one of London’s totemic venues (Hann 2011), the Bull & Gate closed its doors on Saturday 4 May 2013. As was said at the time, “Since 1980 a small, slightly smelly, part of the Kentish Town Road has been a home-from-home for hundreds of young hopefuls seeking to make their way in the musical world” (ClubFandango 2013). In 1544, the “Boulogne Gate Inn” opened in Kentish Town, being the first inn for visitors arriving into London from the North. During the Victorian era the building was a notable gin palace. The venue carried on as a public house until the early 1980s when it started hosting live music performances, with the venue thriving during the Britpop days of the 1990s (NME 2013). On 1 June 2010, pro- moters Club Fandango took over the Bull & Gate while in 2013 long-term landlords Pat and Margaret Lynskey sold the venue to the Young’s chain and it was fully refur- bished. The Bull & Gate hosted many significant gigs, with the venue renowned as a hub for labels looking for new talent. Coldplay performed a number of gigs there in 1999, including the five-song set that got them signed to a major label.
“I went in there once during the afternoon, and it really does smell of the gorillas cage at London zoo. It’s great and its kind of weird how venues create their own culture and there’s something about the Bull and Gate means that its constantly creating new bands.” Simon Williams, Panda Records. (ColdplayChronology 2008)
“And, in a way, just as important as the bands were the punters. At its very best the Bull and Gate [sic] was a meeting point for the fraggle rockers, the indie shysters, the gothic dreamers, the popstarship troopers; it gave the loners a home and the hopeless a cause, because these people were part of Generation Vexed.“ (MacLeod 2013)
You could never tell what was coming, that was what made it so enjoyable at times. Muse played to a dozen people one night, The Libertines to forty on another. Some local group ripping off Pink Floyd would then pull in over 100 mates at the weekend. (Andy Clarke, Promoter)
I’ll miss its excellent PA system (for a pub, it has powerful and crystalline sound). I’ll miss the oddity that you can get to the live music room from the main bar by going through the gents’ toilets. And, of course, I’ll miss the chance to see bands in a venue that, however scrotty, has history. (Hann 2011)
Simon Williams of label Panda Records described the Bull & Gate as the “absolute definition of the Toilet Circuit” (ColdplayChronology 2008). Other commenters reminisced of the ritualistic elements a visit to the Bull & Gate entailed, elements such as going to the shop next door and “sneaking in cans of Red Stripe.” The building was Grade II listed in August 2005, being described as, “[A] fine Victorian pub in the Gin Palace tradition.” However, the contribution of the music venue to the build- ing’s significance is not recognized in the listing documentation.
“One of the few …old toilets to have a big stage, good sound, a cool heritage, wise promoters and still function as a decent pub. That said, I missed all the really good gigs, and only went on the occasions that my own set of no-hopers trod the boards.”
“The Bull and Gate [sic] offered the chance for no-hopers like us to play with a great sound system. It was dark and grimey, so proper indie rock venue.”