THA-DUKKK! Zhzhzhzha-zhzhzhzhzha… BANG! Roxy’s “Pyjamarama,” Stevie’s “Uptight” and Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” were conceived for vinyl. And this vinyl, every last crackle, every lifting chorus, is best heard, several beers to the good, in bars.
But where? In London, Paris or Hamburg, pub music is programmed, even pre-programmed. Spontaneity is out.
Havens of sonic heaven still hide in corners where crashing waves of noise thunder out of a jukebox or from an expertly spun turntable. A random element is always in play—last night’s leftovers are never tasty, the guilty party long since left the scene of the crime. Don’t ever let an Italian near a jukebox. Terrible things can happen.
By definition, though, vinyl bars attract vinyl people. They think five plays ahead, they know a decent B-side when they see one and they’ll have a heartbreak tale to impart while Elvis wails. You might even buy them a drink.
You know that John Cusack film about a music-obsessed loser who gets the girl? Well, the original book of High Fidelity is set in narrow, vinyl-drenched Hanway Street, whose totemic sanctum is Bradley’s Spanish Bar, it is soon to go the way of Hanway Street itself, demolished for the Crossrail line to Heathrow. According to the bar’s website, under the ominous heading “Future,” we have until mid-2018 to chuck pound coins into its divine jukebox for the Supremes rule supreme. Spanish San Miguel beer never tasted so good.
Deeper into darkest Soho, the equally venerable Crobar should survive the Crossrail cull. As a hard-core rock joint, it will probably sail through the next nuclear war with its Sabbath singles unscathed. This is a metal milieu, veering into rock, with a live-music element too. Think Lemmy. Its home, dainty Manette Street, dates to the 1690s, delicately described by Dickens.
We’ll always have … Le P’tit Garage. While parallel rue Oberkampf throngs with undiscerning twenty-somethings, here beside an auto repair shop on rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, dedicated regulars flock night after night for honest tunes, heartfelt banter and no little dancing. Music is provided by long-schooled bar staff, in 33 rather than 45 form, which means you might just hear ‘Let It Bleed’ for the first time in moons, before the night gives way to Screaming Jay or the Gun Club.
Edgier Le Fanfaron, on obscure rue de la Main d’Or near Ledru-Rollin métro, is the bohemian domain of music-savvy Xavier. Recently celebrating 13 years at the decks and beer taps of this gem of a music bar, the redoubtable Xavier will enliven your night with a little Iggy, a touch of Velvets and a soupçon of raw garage punk. All is as segued and sweetly woven as fine Paris couture.
“We were born in Liverpool but we grew up in Hamburg,” said one famous former resident. The tunes John Lennon barked out on the Reeperbahn later accompanied him in his touring days on a KB Discomatic, his own personal jukebox, his private Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. What he couldn’t pack into it were the Hamburg bars those songs rang out in, some still there today, their regulars not quite grown up yet. Bars where stubby brown bottles of Astra slide down the counter as Johnny Cash hangs his head and cries.
Bars such as Zum Silbersack, ten paces from the Reeperbahn, founded in 1949, run by merry widow Erna Thomsen from 1958 and reborn in 2012 by the will of the St Pauli community, the subject of books and TV documentaries. Sea shanties still feature on its equally legendary jukebox, alongside Elvis and the German pop 45s that soundtracked the post-war economic miracle.
Mulling over Europe’s great music cities, the Hamburg that spawned The Beatles, the London of Tin Pan Alley yore, the fashion and diamond capital of Antwerp doesn’t spring to mind. But Belgium is retro at heart, hot drinks from Ealing-era England behind its bar counters, bizarre contraptions for domestic pinball in one corner. In another, there might just be a jukebox, in rare cases a vinyl jukebox. In the Café Beveren, it’s a Wurlitzer, all the way from Cincinatti, Ohio to Vlasmarkt, Antwerp, a treasure trove of Brel, pre-Clambake Elvis and post-Olympia Cloclo.
While the Beveren is authentic, right down to its pre-war fairground organ, the Bar Bakeliet on Kroonstraat, near the Diamond Quarter, is the recent creation of Julie Vrijens and Tim Mouling, a 2016 take on 1956. Its vinyl (“Bakeliet”) jukebox is the real deal, the plop of a pre-euro five-franc coin summoning The Big O or Belgian indie jangle.
‘From Soho down to Brighton, I must have played them all …’ Townshend’s Brighton was imbued with pop, all flashing lights and failed romance. Standing on the same street corner long before Tommy, the Heart & Hand pub protects its heritage behind a classic exterior of bottle-green tile. Within, a jukebox jumps into action, the eager press of a plastic button eliciting a blast of “Jumping Jack Flash” or Otis. Here, by the junk shops of North Laine, Sussex-brewed Harveys ale brings ’em in and The Kinks on 45 keeps ’em there.
If the H&H is a taste of the past then Brighton’s Shuffle Bar shows us what the future holds. On downtown York Place, Shuffle is where every drinker is a DJ, digitally selecting from thousands of tracks on the customized house jukebox by a finger slide on their own phones. It could be Roxy, it could be Presley, but it won’t crackle like vinyl.
Image: Alain Bachellier, CC-BY
Budapest-based Peterjon Cresswell is responsible for Libero, a global travel guide for soccer fans.