Hoo-har at Hoodoo’s, down at Matthews Yard

By - Monday 20th March, 2017

Is the venue that brought cool to Croydon in serious trouble?

Last gig at Hoodoo’s? Chloe Ray performs.
Photo by Chloe Ray, used with permission.

Matthews Yard is still there. Having arrived in 2012, it’s approaching its fifth anniversary. But will it make it that far?

The place first appeared as a café with a work space, a studio space and Croydon Radio renting an HQ it could call home. Holding it up were the people of Croydon themselves, donating money to keep it afloat, investing and even taking out loans with it. The place was kooky. You could have a coffee in an alcove that used to be a lift shaft. There were vintage curiosities dotted about the place. Artist/arts administrator Alice Cretney sorted various pieces to adorn the walls. It was just what Croydon needed, and everybody wanted it to work.

I myself tried to make it work as a theatre space, and it did work! Sort of. There was an occasional rumbling from the 99p shop above, and Wednesday nights meant regular live acts in Croydon Radio’s not very sound-proofed booth, but with a bit of talking to each other, it could be sorted.

Saif Bonar looked as though he had an albatross round his neck

Then, things weren’t looking good all of a sudden. More money was asked for, with people pointing out that they had donated already. Noses were looking to be out of joint. The owner, Saif Bonar, looked visibly troubled, as if he had an albatross around his neck, but by tooth and nail, he hung on.

The venue was saved, it seems, by the support of Saif’s friend, Leoni Descartes. It is she who is now in charge of what art goes on the walls. Also contributing to Matthews Yard’s survival was the idea to rent out each of the spaces, and have other outfits provide the food and drink as concessions. Jamal Chong took on the studio space and got busy with door blocking, painting and soundproofing, the end result being Theatre Utopia. The work-space gave way to a music venue, initially the Air Balloon and later Hoodoo’s, which was also now in charge of cakes, coffee and breakfasts in the main café area, expanding from its humble beginnings as a barnacle business at Scream Studios.

It looked like Matthews Yard had finally cracked it, and here was the arts venue that Croydon had always dreamed of having. Hurrah! But with all of this came fresh issues.

One time I arrived to present a show only to find that I could not gain access

Firstly, Croydon Radio, which had been there since the start, now found that its presenters were complaining about noise pollution. The music venue also served as a rehearsal space for local bands, and I myself have first-hand experience of presenting a radio show with local rockers Junk Time Party quite audible just the other side of the plasterboard. But that wasn’t Croydon Radio’s biggest problem. There were several incidents where the Hoodoo’s folk would go home of an evening and double lock the premises, forgetting that they shared the building with others. One time I arrived to present a show only to find that I could not gain access. Some presenters even found themselves locked in. Eventually, Croydon Radio departed in search of new premises.

It struggled on. The theatre went from strength to strength with every improvement, and I only heard good things about events at Hoodoo’s, with regular open mic nights, live gigs, and sometimes comedy. They had a bar in there, but with only ciders and spirits available. This was because another concession, BRGR&Beer, had initially been given the sole right to sell all beer. And so Hoodoo’s was finding that of an evening, attendees would leave the gig to go through to the main café to buy a beer, and then return. With bands to pay and other outgoing costs, a few quick sums would tell anyone that this might not be viable.

There had better be an almighty contingency plan

Fast forward to this last week, and the band Death to the Pixies has announced that its forthcoming April gig will no longer be at Hoodoo’s due to reasons undisclosed. Pirate Project’s Saturday launch night is now to be held at Project B. It seems that Hoodoo’s has left. And so now there are no breakfasts, brunches and lunches. A friend tells me he is baking goods to bring to the Sunday book group meeting.

And the reason? Still unknown. If it is still about who is selling what beer, that would be silly. Isn’t BRGR&Beer selling a range of craft beers and Hoodoo’s selling more standard beers for the less fussy gig goers a workable solution? From its start, Matthews Yard got by via people working together, talking to each other, negotiating with one another to ensure the survival of all. With Croydon Radio and now Hoodoo’s no longer there, there’d better be an almighty contingency plan in place to see them through to year six. Matthews Yard has been an essential hub for so many in Croydon. It would be a real shame to see it fall apart now, just it was looking to finally establish itself as something permanent.

This article was amended at 5pm  on Monday 20th March and 6:30pm on Tuesday 21st March to correct some incorrect factual claims in the piece.

Rob Preston

Rob Preston

Rob was a co-host on Croydon Radio's Encyclopaedia Croydonia, and hosts the popular bi-monthly tribute nights at The Oval Tavern on Oval Road. As a writer / photographer his work has been published in Doctor Who Magazine, Dreamwatch, Auton, Dog's Breakfast, Bulletin Your Head and SoHo Life & Technology Today. His short stories have been read at Tales of Croydonia at The Oval Tavern, and he is currently working on two anthologies of his own short stories, one crime, the other horror. He has written and directed seven plays at various Croydon venues, and survives today as a jobbing actor.

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  • https://www.shakinghands.co.uk Laurence Grant

    To be clear, having assisted Hoodoo’s with a number of introductions, I can confirm that the business is not in serious trouble. This is a temporary venue change, and you can be very confident that Hoodoo’s will resurface with a bang in 2017.

    They are in talks with the owners of a much larger, more exciting venue, which will offer them much more control over the space that they occupy, as well as what they can and can’t sell.

    • Terry O’Stereo

      Hi Laurence. I should point out that this piece is very much about Matthew’s Yard, not Hoodoos. The title of the piece (which I didn’t actually come up with) refers to Matthew’s Yard, not Hoodoos.

      • https://www.shakinghands.co.uk Laurence Grant

        Thanks, Rob. The piece is very informative and highlights a number of unknown, informative snippets.
        Who knows what will happen to Matthew’s Yard, as you say. Just thought I’d add that Hoodoos are excited for what’s to come.

      • Anne Giles

        It refers to both.

        Hoo-har at Hoodoo’s, down at Matthews Yard

  • Anne Giles

    What a pity. I didn’t know about a lot of this. Alice Cretney used to produce some wonderful folk music evenings, but we were told that she had to leave because there was no more money to pay her and she was unemployed for quite some time after. We were also told that Croydon Radio were told that they had to leave and it took them a while to find a new venue.

    • Terry O’Stereo

      Hi Anne. Croydon Radio were not told they had to leave. Matthew’s Yard asked for more rent, and Croydon Radio declined, and left, as they had already planned to due to the safety problems their presenters faced.
      Why would Matthews Yard ask them to leave? They needed their money. I fear their answer now Hoodoos have left will be to try and squeeze more cash out of the remaining concessions, and this will backfire on them in the same way.

      Let’s hope not.

      • Anne Giles

        You are right. I was wrong about Croydon Radio. It was the rent hike, as you say.

  • Anne Giles

    We can’t understand the obsession with beer, as neither of us drinks it. We would never go to a gig venue that didn’t sell wine, as well as soft drinks.

  • Patrick Blewer

    There comes a point when a business that has a smart idea at its core but reports consistently negative fundamentals (eg no profit, limited cash balance, limited objective projections of success) will run out of liquidity providers.

    Effectively their equity has diluted to have limited or no value, they’ve mortgaged or sold their physical assets and their balance sheet is leveraged beyond acceptable limits.

    If this is the case potential liquidity providers have a simple set of questions to ask when considering what is obviously rescue funding:

    1 – was it ever actually a good idea?

    2 – if the idea retains value, is it the management team that has failed to fulfill potential and are therefore the problem?

    • http://matthewsyard.com Saif Bonar

      Hi Patrick. More than 50k profit on less than 150k turnover last year. Our model is sound as is our management team. This is much ado about nothing!