venue reviews

Astoria Charing Cross Road, London

This is Kitten’s topppermost poppermost choice for a ginchy giggin’ night. Slightly baggy at the seams old theatre place with a domey bit on the roof and shambolic ‘forthcoming attractions’ moveable letters cinema-style signage across the front. This can be v. handy if you’re strolling past and you’re wondering what all those saddoes are queuing up outside for. It can’t be anyone who’s any good, ‘cos you’re not there a-queuin’, right?

Okay, so now we’ve admired the façade (woah, mind that tout, oh look its Kitten’s old mucker ‘Olive’ in his flat cap trying to flog tickets for Mogwai to the kids) we’ll go on in.

Hey, there are two floors and YOU get to choose which one you’re going to soak up those sensational sounds on. Why not try both? Have a bit of a sit down upstairs, then rush down to join the throng for the main event.

Right, before the bands come on, lets nip up these stairs and check out the upper level. Ah, it’s the ‘Keith Moon Bar’ (mines a Strongbow, thankyouverymuchforasking) a commodious decompression chamber where one can kick back and take in the rather, er, stylised murals of James Dean and a sort of Batman picture. Actually, lets just go on through to the ‘auditorium’, but keep this place in mind, ‘cos in between bands, it’s the most likely hunting ground for popstars and slacker music press hacks who obviously never actually enter the room the band is playing in for Gods sake.

On the tiered upper level you can sit and relax at dead sophisticated tables (which, as the signs nailed onto each stress, you should NEVER climb onto to dance, where are your manners?) some of which come complete with a softly glowing coloured sphere (which also look pretty damn cool when viewed worms-eye style from downstairs), for that cabaret supper club feel. Then up a bit higher where the tables peter out and each row has a poxy railing for you to lean your altitude-sickened body on. Obviously nobody with any sense stands up here, but its worth a visit to the remote bar at the very top for the sweeping vista spread below.

Having admired the fact that you get to sit down and still see the band, its time to go downstairs where the action really is…

We find ourselves facing the stage on a handy raised area with easy access to both the ’Bag o’ shells bar’ (bag of what?) at one end and erm that identical bar with similarily ludicrous moniker at t’other. An acceptable £2.50 for a chilled can of your fave fizzy pissdrink. If we are lucky and crowd conditions haven’t reached shuffle-along-with-your-face-being-squashed-into-some-oversized-git’s-sparkly-cardi stage, we are now allowed a majestic view of the stage and there’s a kind of wall thing for you to balance your flagon o’fizzy lager upon or even sit on as you take in the sights.

Having drunk our fill of the kids gazing limply at the support band, we progress down one of the sets of steps conveniently provided for our descending pleasure. Now we come to the true thumping heart of this venue of kings. Look! An agreeably sized ‘dance’ floor (liberally strewn with crushed plastic beer receptacles (well, they’re not glasses are they?)) of admirably proportioned dimensions, ie. not too long and thin, so everyone gets a reasonable view, you’re never too far from the stage and its as easy as slipping in a cider slick to sidle your way to the front. As if this wasn’t splendour enough to behold, the queue for the toilets never seems to be excessive. Yes, we have descended to that level quite literally as the facilities are down yet more stairs (look they didn’t have the concept of disabled access when this place was built). Just be careful your legs haven’t gone all wibbly through jumping frantically up and down/drink/getting to gaze upon Euros Childs downthefront, or you’ll be down those stairs pretty sharpish.

Anyway, look the band is about to come on, and since this is Kitten’s guided tour, Kitten gets to choose the gig. Yess! It’s the Manics on those final Richey-enhanced dates in December 1994, where the myriad choices this magical place provides meant this cat got to see them from every possible angle over the course of three nights. Ahh memories…

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