How can we revitalise Croydon’s music scene?

By - Friday 13th November, 2015

Jonny Rose beholds the death of the local music scene in Croydon, and envisions the resurrection

Croydon has lots of bands and lots of talent. The people I’ve spoken to work very hard to put on gigs that surprise and delight attendees. There are clearly distinct gatherings of Croydonians who enjoy the same music: you only have to go to The Ship to see how tight-knit Croydon’s metal community is, for example. But apart from small groups of kindred musical spirits hanging out in pubs across the borough, I’d suggest that Croydon lacks a ‘scene’ in any kind of meaningful sense.

I’d love for this to change. In the same way that Croydon is becoming renowned for tech, arts, and maybe even food, why can’t Croydon one day be as recognisable for music as Motown?

What is a music scene?

First, let’s get a working definition of what constitutes a ‘music scene’.

Once upon a time, sounds were attached to places. Rock ‘n’ roll travelled the Atlantic and docked at Liverpool, giving birth to Merseybeat. Manchester married raving and rock music, and spawned Madchester. Grunge formed under Seattle’s gloomy skies and then took over the world. The local scene – the notion of several bands and musicians from the same area appropriating a similar style of records – would begin with friends listening to the same music and forming bands that would play in the same clubs, before record labels, DJs and writers would take note, at which point a city’s bands would find themselves the centre of worldwide attention.

Beyond an ‘area-defining sound’ that is widely-renowned, I’d also suggest that a proper music scene involves nightly gigs, a plethora of recording studios, a critical mass of musicians and gig-goers in close proximity to local venues. Perhaps there is a media element to it, too: scene fanzines (or the new media equivalent) and a few ‘big personalities’ that everyone knows.

The slow decline of the music scene

Before we look at revitalising Croydon’s music scene – let’s see what we’re up against.

Firstly, the slow death of physical music. Where scenes coalesced in the past, it was often around a record shop or a club where people could hear particular sounds. The internet, and all it entails – MySpace, social networking, file-sharing, blogs – has destroyed the importance of the physical ownership of music.

I remember spending my teen years in the mid-2000s at Big Apple on Surrey Street: a regular haunt for South London’s grime, garage and DnB aficionados. Older Croydonians speak fondly of Beanos, Diamond Records, Wax City, Bonapartes, and Goodness Records. Now, everyone has access to every kind of music, digitally and instantly; all of these record stores have closed. We no longer depend on other people and their imports, club nights and mixtapes to discover new sounds.

We are the borough that invented dubstep – we deserve a better music scene

Local music scenes were built on bands who had honed their skills in the clubs of their hometown before the wider world even knew of their existence; bedroom musicians are now finding success through the internet before they’ve even stepped outside their front door.

These factors all lead to a simple commercial imperative: if people aren’t turning up to gigs, it just doesn’t pay to have a music venue anymore. Hence Croydon’s larger gig venues such as The Greyhound closing.

Let’s also not ignore the impact of successive local government legislation that has brought in more stringent licensing laws. It also doesn’t help that Croydon social housing and other residential developments necessarily preclude the presence of music venues and live acts.

Practical ideas for revitalising Croydon’s music scene:

Whilst fully cognisant of the above issues and that it may be an uphill endeavour (not that such an endeavour has stopped Croydonians before), here are some practical ideas that emerged from discussions I’ve had recently:

  • Join this Croydon gig-going society: An excellent suggestion by @OpportunityLand on Twitter was a social group where locals get together and visit a different gig each month. If you’re interested in participating, be proactive: tweet her to say so.

  • Form a Croydon music committee: Perhaps the nature of music and creativity means that it defies the strictures of committee, but I can’t help that feel if a band (ha!) of locals got together with a single focus of labouring to improve the quality of Croydon’s music scene then good things would happen. The group’s aims could be lobbying, promotional, or something else. Either way, I’d be happy to give anyone interested in doing this a step-by-step blueprint to getting a group like this off the ground.

  • Centralise all of Croydon’s gigs online: There are lots of brilliant Croydon listings sites – can these listings be consolidated on one URL? If this has already been done, apologies – please drop the link in the comments box below.

  • Go to one gig per month on your own – A personal challenge to help the war effort, attend a local gig in the borough. Whether you like the music or not. Who knows: you might discover an unrealised penchant for djent.

Perhaps the current state of Croydon’s music scene is what locals want (and that’s ok if so…), but I’d hate for us to settle for less. Croydon is the borough that invented dubstep: we deserve a better music scene.

Got an idea or comment of how to revitalise Croydon’s music scene? Drop it in the comments box below.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • Carol Anne Whinnom

    suggestions Jonny makes are already in place but it needs people to
    signup, take part etc. Join Croydon Arts Network and receive a monthly
    events newsletter. You can do this, and submit our own events by signing
    up to and ticking the “Join CAN” option. The framework is already there-it just needs people to use it!

  • burt wallace

    you seem to forget croydon folk and blues club and croydon folk club .why?

    • Anne Giles

      It has been mentioned twice.

      • burt wallace

        what sort of reply am i suppose to provide ?

        • Anne Giles

          No need to reply at all.

  • Sean Creighton

    Well said Carol.

    CAN is meeting on Thursday 26 November to discuss the Fairness Commission
    interim report. A quick discussion will also be needed on responding to the
    Council’s Local Plan consultation section on culture and heritage.

    Jonny you need to take into account the story reported by the Croydon Advertiser about
    police preventing black music gigs taking place:

    Hopefully the CAN meeting will have time to briefly discuss this. The meeting takes place at the offices of the Campaign Company at Suffolk House College Green entrance round the corner from Sainsbury’s.

  • Sean Creighton

    There are other aspects of the music scene which need to be taken into consideration.

    Firstly, the lack of suitable venues for some types of gig, which with the demise of the
    Warehouse it has not been possible to have Tayo Aluko’s Call Mr Robeson show
    back in Town.

    Secondly, there is the risk promoters take when they do not get support or venue costs are very high, which is why the jazz package I was involved in offering to the Ambition
    Festival and then Fairfield Halls did not take place. Which is why you did not
    get to hear Daniel Bechet, son of Sidney Bechet, and Gary Crosby.

    Thirdly, as Burt points out don’t forget the folk centre centred at Ruskin House.

    Fourthly, there is a vibrant classical music and choral scene, which include two events coming up by Surrey Opera, the group led by Jonathan Butcher based at Clyde Hall. They were the backbone of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival in 2012 and gave the world premiere of his opera Thelma.

    A holistic view of music, especially given how increasingly the different genres influence each other. The discovery of the score for Thelma in an uncatalogued box in the British Library came about because a postgraduate student was researching the composer having heard a lot about him from interviewing reggae musicians.

  • Croydon Radio

    Croydon Radio is poised to launch a music gig guide. We already curate many hundreds of hours of independent music tracks from thousands of artists through our WeLoveNewMusic initiative. This includes an amazing rosta of artists from the local area and those further afield in every genre imaginable willing to come play here.

  • Leena Sowambur

    Interesting… To add to Jonny’s definition. A music scene is where people want to be “seen,” where acts come to get influential fans and meet creative professionals, maybe even get discovered and signed (whether is happens like that or not.) Where others wanting to get into the creative industries hang out whether you’re a aspiring model, band, artist etc. It’s where the grassroots innovation happens. It’s where people come to get ideas and get inspired as well as have a good time. A music scene is where people want to be “seen,” in the sense that it is prestigious to be there. It’s where you get in with the right people and the right circles. A music scene also draws people from outside the area. At the moment, as Jonny correctly suggests, Croydon has none of this. What we have is folk, blues, some metal and community music. None of which is attractive to anyone who wants to be part of a scene, be “seen and move forward with any creative endeavour other than being a hobbyist in what is already here. An underground music scene is a vibrant mini economy, there’s money changing hands which is why as Jonny says, ” record labels, DJs and writers would take note, at which point a city’s bands would find themselves the centre of worldwide attention.” At the moment the area is out of balance with too much emphasis on community arts projects. Unfortunately, if you’re a typical artist today wanting to gig this makes the area unsuitable in terms of audience. A typical act today wants to do what they love and get paid for it, this starts by playing in front of the right crowd. As it stands Croydon can’t keep it’s talent in the area let alone attract the right talent to play here bearing in mind the BRIT School is in Selhurst. I read this draft report a while ago and would be interesting is getting the final version it is about shaping the cultural sector in Croydon – I’m in agreement with it and have been saying the same thing for years. To kickstart a “scene,” make Croydon attractive to creative businesses and creative professionals. If the creative businesses are here, then those jobs are here which means the innovators/early adopters are here which means their wallets/purses are here. As the report says, ” Croydon is not just standing still when it comes to providing a home for creative businesses, it
    is seemingly go backwards compared to other London Boroughs…Croydon has a reputation as a monoculture (bars and nightclubbing and fighting).
    To lift ourselves out of it, we need to embrace all areas of culture (e.g. dubstep,
    grime and folk as a few) and provide platforms and support for emerging artists and
    creative businesses to PROFESSIONALISE their practice. Without professionalisation, Croydon either will just have hobby artists who don’t or cannot get very far, or frustrated artists who leave to pursue other opportunities in other areas.” From a personal perspective, I have attempted to kickstart this myself via a a group and radio show but honestly I have found the focus on community arts far too overbearing and very much a hindrance. I am in the process of researching and revamping the project though to be honest I have been working on this for a few years now and we may just have to accept that Croydon just can’t be all things.

    • Stephen Giles

      I think it’s a great shame that young people prefer to prance around in establishments formerly known as discos listening to records, rather than watch a live band play – that, I believe is the problem.

      • Leena Sowambur

        Young people have been prancing around in “discotheques,” since the 1940s and buying “records,” since the 1880s. Of course widespread radio broadcasting started in the 1920s. However, I think you’ll find that if you can find a band of musicians virtuosic enough to play an EDM e.g. DNB record live (and I’ve seen it done many times,) then yes young people will attend such an event.

        • Stephen Giles

          Mmmm Electronic Dance Music, not really my cup of tea at all, but then I come from this:

          • Anne Giles


          • Anne Giles

            I have only just discovered this, Steve. Lovely music. So much better than what we have now! Reminds me of my dancing days in Buenos Aires.

    • Stephen Giles

      The problem is that the younger generation need loud to deafening pre-recorded noises generated by electronic gobbledegook as a background to their iphoning and chatter. How many would want to listen to a live performer or band anyway?

    • Stephen Giles

      I’ve just read through your post again Leena. You say “A music scene is where people want to be “seen,” in the sense that it is prestigious to be there. It’s where you get in with the right people and the right circles” – what ever makes you think that? Who are these “right people” and what are the “right circles”???

      • Leena Sowambur

        15 years in the music industry makes me say that! People go to SXSW because of the scene, it’s the place to be, in the same vein we go to Brighton, or N. and E. LDN. There’s a big difference between a local community of musicians getting together and a “scene.” If I was managing a blues/folk band I wouldn’t play them here I would go to Brighton. Honestly, when I was playing in bands we would “live rehearse,” at the Royal Standard in Walthamstow to iron things out. That’s what I would do in Croydon. Then I would gig the band elsewhere. A younger act is generally in music to forge a career, Croydon can’t provide that for them for a variety of reasons that is why the ones we have move on elsewhere. Additionally, I wouldn’t limit my act to a scene it stunts an act’s growth.

        • Stephen Giles

          Yes I can now relate to what you are saying from my experiences in the Borehamwood/Watford area during the 1960s!

          • Leena Sowambur

            If Croydon stays as it is, I see no problem. With great transport links the music loving fans of the area can simply go elsewhere to enjoy what they prefer. I’ll personally, just go to where my peers hang out in LDN, why care? I get what I need and can forget dedicating free time/energy/money to a CR0 project, I can pull back all my time and resources and plough them into myself rather than dividing my time to charitably helping the area. Young energetic talent can simply take their sophisticated bedroom creations to other parts of LDN, the UK, heck… even Ibiza if they want. Other options are plentiful for new music creators. It’s a shame for Croydon, because the same CR0 acts that are playing out of the area are taking their CR0 fans with them. If there is no real passion for making the area attractive to these people in terms of what they are looking for rather than what anyone else thinks they should be doing then maybe there’s not a lot that can be done. I guess it’s basic business, find the need and meet it.

          • Leena Sowambur

            Yeah, like Studio 54 was a scene, like bands wanting to play Camden etc…

          • Stephen Giles

            In the mid 60s after I had left school, Borehamwood had a just couple of pub venues where local bands played, and the Lynx Club – a purpose built youth centre which booked pro bands like The Who, Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers etc. It was very difficult to get booked for a support slot.
            Watford and the surrounding area had many pubs which put on bands, and my band played regularly at The Fisheries in Harefield which was one of the most popular. All good things came to an end though as I was studying for accountancy exams!

  • Ian Marvin

    Surely Croydon is too diverse to have just one scene? We’ve not done too badly without a ‘scene’ have we? Just off the top of my head we can claim Benga, Skream, Ariwa, Ralph McTell, Matthew Fisher, St Etienne and Status Quo.
    Where I do agree is that there is a sad lack of larger venues, and also underrepresentation of certain genres in the venues that we do have. Part of this is down to a shift towards different ways of music production but I’d welcome a bit more diversity in live music all the same.

  • Stephen Giles

    Just a thought Jonny, there has been an excellent Folk Club meeting weekly for many years so for my taste in music, Croydon has a vibrant music scene!

    • Anne Giles

      The Croydon Folk Club at Ruskin House, on Monday nights.

  • Esther Sutton

    Trying my very hardest up at The Oval, Jonny! A diverse range of amazing musicians both local and touring; extremely robust contemporary Jazz strand; opportunities for everyone to get involved through Blues Jam night and Oval Tunes and a strong emphasis on original material. But live music is an expensive gamble for pubs (if like me you believe in paying a reasonable fee to your acts) and pub audiences don’t like door charges.
    I’ve long said Croydon should have a central listings site, and that all listings should go out in the Council’s ‘Your Croydon’ publication.
    If we want to re-invigorate and promote the Croydon ‘scene’ as a collective of artists, promoters and venues (and I think we should!) then we should meet and share ideas and cross-promote rather than operating in our little bubbles….

    • Stephen Giles

      The Oval is a great venue Esther – and your food is wonderful too!

  • Y Bachgen

    Interesting and challenging blog from Jonny (as always).

    Unusually, I’m not as pessimistic about live music and scenes as he is. Sure digital music is reducing the “hubs” and “centres” of buying music in any locality but I’m not convinced that alone is the biggest issue.

    I also think trying to impose a “scene” or a genre is a mistake – rarely works. You need to work with culture, diversity and interests that you have. Let them find the space to pollinate and cross-pollinate interests so something unique is brewed.

    I think the big issues are: information; working together; venues and experimenting.

    On information, I think the big issue you highlight is information on bands playing. It is currently disparate and ill-coordinated. This is where I think tech can play a part, either low in the form of media like this; or venues and bands using established music sites like , or in the form of a new app which allows venues/bands to advertise their live music.

    On working together and venues, is part of the problem that established venues don’t work together with interested live music fans to try and better match what people want to see with venues. This is where north and east London (groan!) have done well. There are lots of little venues that are trying to specialise as quirky for big bands, eg look at St John’s Church in Hackney who even have Coldplay (not my cup of tea but they are big) playing a gig there AFTER the Royal Albert Hall. Is there something similar? Something we can capitalise on its uniqueness?

    Finally, experimenting. How about encouraging Croydon-based bands/musicians to have nights where they meet others and see what happens? Let them take the floor for free? See whether they cross-pollinate. At worst, it’ll be awful. It is likely to form stronger bonds between musicians of different genres, who can support each other. At best, we might create a new sub-genre.

    And, finally (finally!), let us use some established routes to get Croydon’s name on the map. Why not crowdfund, a few up and coming bands to appear in Croydon venues? Get Croydon known as the hackney or shoreditch of South London – NOT tech – where bands want to go as they go up the ladder, rather than focussing on Fairfield Halls, where bands/acts who are established (at best) or are falling (usually) go to play?

    Anyway, a few thoughts from a muso.

    I hope this is taken up.

  • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

    From having gone to a few events at Mathews Yard and then becoming part of the team behind Beats & Eats I feel people do want or would if asked like Croydon to have a music scene. When I mention my event colleagues from other parts of the London ask about stabbings. I guess the problem is (as Plastician said in his article) our towns night time economy on cheap booze and thus brawls. A move to a music scene would change the vibe after dark and I know a lot of Croydonians I know avoid the town centre cause of this. I guess the problem is we

    More venues is a good idea but I wonder if the amount of residential being built in the town centre will hamper any attempts to open such venues. I have to admit I never went to Black sheep bar but read the residential development being built above it and similar developments across London have closed or threatened the future of established music venues.

    One thing I hate about Croydon is when things are going on or there is a venue for some reason you talk to fellow locals and they have no idea it exists or that anything goes on here apart from shopping, crime and redevelopment. I know we have Just Croydon and various other internet based sites with listing but I’d like to see event heavily promoted or given the chance to heavily promote in prominent physical locations. For example millions of people use East Croydon station and see the old sorting office which would make a highly visible advertising board be it a billboard/s mounted on the side or projections at night like the way St Annes house has been used in the past to promote the Croydon College fashion show.

    Maybe there needs to be a freemium publication to capture the attention of the wider population of this town about such an issue and the fact we do have a lot of musical talent. The Advertiser and Guardian review music but would be mice to read something that is music from the outset and not found after reading about countless varieties of crime.