Friday 13th 2017, as good a day as any to start putting out requests for anything anyone has. The first lot were varied, starting with a tweet:
I could probably write an entire book!
A short Facebook message:
First night in the Forum – February 1996. Bis supported by the Super Furry Animals…I was hooked! What a wonderful venue
A photo of an early days business card, sent in by Dan Goodfellow (who has lots of bands on stage photos I need to sort through)
Last, but not least, a 1,000 words from David Smith
I was about yay big (holds hand palm up at hip height) the first time I stepped inside the building now known as The Forum, probably no more than four or five years old and chaperoned by one of my older brothers or sisters. If a sister she would have been waiting outside for me, because the building was then a rest room and public convenience for visitors to the common – the latter a connotation it has never quite been able to distance itself from. These early visits would have followed a trip to “Rocky Tom’s” funfair, which appeared as if by magic every Easter Bank Holiday weekend throughout my childhood, so I may well have been swinging a half-dead goldfish in a plastic bag as I peed, or perhaps ridding myself of a less than wholesome hotdog or hamburger before the long trek home.
My memories of the building’s interior from this time conjure images of dark mahogany, gleaming brass, pristine polished tiles and white-coated, moustachioed attendants with Brylcreemed hair and sharply creased pinstripe trousers, though it is entirely possible I am confusing the building with the town’s other Posh Pissoir, which once graced the junction of Lime Hill Road where now stands that bloody ugly clock. It’s also entirely possible that neither Establishment of Easement was quite as grand as I remember – I was but a child, after all, and one whose idea of luxury would have been shoes and socks without holes in and an uncracked gazzunder to call his own. The glamour of it all may well have overwhelmed me. But I digress…
Between Piddle-Palace and music venue the Fonthill building, to give it its official name, served the town in many ways, including a brief incarnation as a brass-rubbing centre, but I don’t recall ever having occasion to use it during those intervening years (well, other perhaps than its outer shell in a manner recalling its original purpose when caught short on the way home from a night’s revelling).
As far as I can remember my next visit wasn’t until 1993, when I attended a gig in what was by now The Forum for the very first time. I think, it was ’93, anyway (the year The Forum launched), though it’s possible the year had just turned the corner into ’94. Either way, I was there to see an all-female band called Sidi Bou Said that I was confidently predicting to be the next big thing on the back of a single track I’d got as a freebie on the front of a music magazine.
You’ve probably not heard of Sidi Bou Said (well, the band at least; the Tunisian seaport the band named itself after may be a very different kettle of fishing village), because my confidence in them proved somewhat overstated. Suffice to say their debut album, Broooch, failed to live up to the sonic promise of the freebie single, or indeed to capture the power and spirit of what I remember as being a very exciting and energetic live presence. Looking at reviews online while checking dates for this, it seems that the failing may well have been down to the record’s producer rather than the band themselves, but either way I remember being very disappointed when I got Broooch home and gave it a spin.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t named the track that originally drew SBS to my attention. There’s a reason for that, and that reason is I’VE LOST IT! How the hell I lost it I’ve no idea, because I NEVER throw out music – even the shit stuff like Phil Collins and Dire Straits1 (don’t ask) – but this little freebie disc, which contained a couple of other little gems if I remember correctly, has defied all efforts to hunt it down.
I’ve changed home around eight or nine times since 1993, and I suspect there’s a box in an attic somewhere with this and a couple of other CDs in it, but the chances of ever finding it again are pretty much non-existent. Which is a great pity, because I remember it as being a bloody excellent song. Looking at the band’s Wikipedia page I suspect it might have been called Vapona, as it kind of rings a bell and none of their other early material does. Annoyingly, the one tune of theirs I really liked isn’t on Broooch, but that’s the law of sod for you, ennit?
Anyhoo, enough of Sidi Bou Said and my first gig; suffice to say I thought they were reminiscent of The Breeders / Throwing Muses etc, and that with the right promotion and support they could have been contenders. But who knows?
Anyhow, having written about 800 words of this old waffle I should probably give it a rest, lest I get an ear-bashing from my good friend Carolyn Gray for overdoing it.
Carolyn, on the off-chance there is ANYONE left in Tunbridge Wells who doesn’t know it, is the tiny little bundle of atomic energy that careens around the town being incredibly supportive of any and all strategies to develop the cultural and artistic identity of the place. I first got to know her around five or six years ago when she was asking, as editor of Grosvenor and Hilbert Park newsletter, for people’s memories of The Satellite youth club. If you’re wondering why I mention all of this it’s because live music at The Satellite was the seed from which The Rumble Club and, ultimately, The Forum sprouted. In the words of James Murphy of LCD Sound System, “I was there,” and I hope to be there for many, many years to come. Thanks Carolyn, and thank you to all the staff, all the bands, all the volunteers, and all the supporters who keep “The Best Small Venue in the UK” (not just in 2012 but every year) up and running.
1 I heard recently that Dire Straits have reformed with Chris Rea as a second guitarist. They’ve called themselves Dire Rea.