Crossrail threatens three London venues

Astoria, Astoria 2 are in rail service construction path

LONDON -- London is expected to lose three central live music venues, including the Astoria and Astoria 2 venues, because of the Crossrail development, due for completion in 2017.

Construction of the new rail service across London will necessitate the demolition of the London Astoria and Astoria 2 on Charing Cross Road, as well as the compulsory purchase of the nearby Metro Club on Oxford Street. However, Parliament is still debating the Crossrail bill. Crossrail says it anticipates work to begin on the Astoria site in early 2009.

Melvin Benn, managing director of the Live Nation-owned Festival Republic, which operates the Astoria venues, is watching developments.

"It's sort of ongoing really," he said. "Maybe the government might have a change of heart (on Crossrail) with the credit crunch. There's no reason to think it isn't going to go ahead at this point in time. In a year's time it may well be that people are saying (it won't happen). We're keeping an eye on it."

A spokesperson for the Crossrail project confirmed that the neighboring Astoria 2 venue will face the wrecking ball. "Crossrail will be demolishing the Astoria entertainment venue, which includes 'Astoria 2' the property at 155 Charing Cross Road," the spokesperson said.

Although the Metro site at 19-23 Oxford Street is not proposed to be demolished, the venue is scheduled to be compulsorily acquired to facilitate the works at TCR.

The 2,000-capacity Astoria venue has become a staple of the live music scene in central London since 1984. "I've done lots of bands there, I've done David Bowie, Madonna and the Rolling Stones there," said promoter John Giddings of London-based Solo. "The Astoria is great because of the atmosphere and the locality."

The 1,000-capacity Astoria 2 -- previously branded as the Mean Fiddler -- stages shows by smaller-scale acts, ranging from Iggy Pop, Moby and Big Star to Primal Scream.

Giddings predicts that Shepherds Bush Empire in west London and the Forum and Electric Ballroom in north London will pick up the slack, but adds that "it's a shame because that location is fantastic, central London, so it's just more of a pain travel-wise."

Although Westminster Council said a replacement venue must be part of any new proposal when the underground building works are complete, Giddings said "it won't be the same" because "you can't build new, grungy venues."

Metro on Oxford Street has staged early shows by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kings of Leon and Kaiser Chiefs in recent years. "There is a fondness for the place, we do provide a service," said Paul Tunkin of the venue operator BlowUp Metro. "We've had lots of new breaking acts over the years -- and it's a good location.