The independent London newspaper

Michael Kiwanuka’s warm heart for special music venues

Mercury Prize winner says Camden's famous musical training ground needs help

01 December, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Mercury Prize winner Michael Kiwanuka [Alexander Kellner]

GLOBAL-SELLING singer Michael Kiwanuka has called for fresh support for grassroots music venues in Camden – warning if they don’t recover from months of closure, everyone will suffer.

The 2020 Mercury Prize winner, who lives in Kentish Town, told the New Journal that he fears the pandemic will make it even harder for budding talents to find the spaces to improve.

He played in a host of Camden venues as he was making his way in the industry and has watched much loved venues where he cut his teeth under threat.

He said: “Those were good days. It was the joy of Camden. I moved here to be closer to live music opportunities and hone my craft. Venues need support to be kept afloat – that was my training round.”


He recalled his first ever live professional gig – in a room upstairs at the Oxford Tavern pub in Kentish Town Road.

He said: “A group of friends got together. We couldn’t get a gig so we thought, let’s do our own night. As long as they made a decent take on the bar and you told all your friends to come, you could hire out the upstairs bar. My music was pretty acoustic, so we brought in a PA and from there built up confidence.”

But as venues such as the Fiddlers Elbow in Chalk Farm, The Green Note in Camden Town and the Water Rats in King’s Cross face tougher times, Mr Kiwanuka believes the UK’s place as a world leader in music production will be under threat.

The singer, whose hit Cold Little Heart became the theme tune to Nicole Kidman drama Big Little Lies, said: “During lock down, people have desperately missed live music – and without these venues we will lose a whole skill set. It will be a whole lot harder for original talent to emerge. There won’t be the opportunities.”

“I remember playing in places like the Lock Tavern, and Lock 17 in Camden Town. he point is, you won’t get the next Adele or Amy Winehouse without those back rooms in pubs.”

Share this story

Post a comment