Subculture Uncovered

The Five Bells, New Cross, London

Thursday 8th November 2018

Witch Fever at The Five Bells, New Cross, London. Photo: Derek Bremner

Located on New Cross Road, South East London, The Five Bells is an unassuming yet handsome building, originating from 1850, although there are accounts of the site on the corner of what is now Hatcham Road being an Inn as far back as the Doomsday book. More recent mentions of New Cross include a glorious name check by Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine listing some the subcultures residing there, "The grebos, the crusties and the goths". Blur also set up shop in New Cross in the early '90s and the area was later credited with being the nursery in which the British nu-rave movement got going, with Klaxons and Bloc Party among its noughties residents.

On a more serious note, New Cross also felt the full force of London's countercultural revolution in 1977's summer of punk, when the so-called Battle Of Lewisham saw far-right groups, anti-fascists and police clash violently on its streets at a time when the whole nation was experiencing a politically stressful period.

Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising with all that has gone on in the area, that The Five Bells has become one of those great places where convention continues to be challenged.

Gentle Stranger at The Five Bells, New Cross, London. Photo: Neil Anderson

Reassuringly underlit, with affordable bar prices, people often point out that The Five Bells is just a pub, but this is one of its greatest strengths in the landgrab culture of property development and gentrified bars. You can watch football there, there's a kids' menu with chicken nuggets, chips and peas, but there's also a gig programme that includes some of the most interesting and innovative bands and artists currently coming out of the UK.

The front of their website features a collage of great disruptors such as Mark E. Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nick Cave, and it's in this spirit of these explorers that The Five Bells continues to encourage and promote new innovators, with recent gigs including Witch Fever, Drugstore Romeos, Gentle Stranger, Lice, Honkies and so many more.

"...we played there a few times, most notable show was a zine launch (5.18 x FRUITCAKE) at the start of summer, and it was a total sweatbox, such a fun show though with some amazing art being showcased."
- FREAKOUTS, Guildford

Like Brixton Windmill, The Five Bells isn't just a small venue, it's a space that has allowed a scene to form and grow. Away from the judging eyes of the mainstream, the bands that play here prove that the spirit of punk still exists in the UK, in varied mutations and forms, and shows no sign of conforming or disappearing.

Primordial Soup at The Five Bells, New Cross, London. Photo: Neil Anderson

"The Five Bells is about freedom of thought and expression, a place in the guts of South London where cultures clash and merge in many strange and beautiful ways. It’s kinda like Indian traffic, nobody quite knows how it works, but it does…

Mashing a mixture of strong local identity in a traditional boozer with a vast spectrum of alternative music, art and film that people give a shit about, we’re a platform for bands, promoters, artists and art collectives to put on intimate shows in a space that feels more like a house party than a venue.

All being well, it’d be nice to destroy nihilism, but we’ll see how it goes…"
- Samuel Huxley, The Five Bells, New Cross

"We definitely loved our shows with Sports Team, Fontaines DC, Matthew Maltese, The Rhythm Method, Whenyoung, Yowl, Crewel Intentions, Hotel Lux, Our Girl & more!"
- So Young Magazine

"The Five Bells has been a central hub for the ever-expanding music scene in South East London for the last few years. Memories that stand out include the numerous parties from So Young magazine, compiling brilliant line-ups which have included the likes of Lady Bird, Sports Team, Sistertalk, Crack Cloud, Adults, Honey Hahs and Crewel Intentions.

The Five Bells is also a regular haunt for the more experienced local musicians. The Fat White Family guys have used the venue to try out various new projects. It would also not be uncommon to see Goat Girl and Nervous Conditions playing in more relaxed forms on a rainy Thursday night."
 Ryan Wills, London

In today's troubled times, four decades on from the Battle Of Lewisham, when opposing ideologies came up against each other so explosively, it's encouraging to know that there is a place where left-field ideas can find a place to grow, and a place that people can experience the music and art that those ideas become.

It's not just the preserve of galleries and theatres. The Five Bells successfully caters to locals as well as students; entertains gig-goers as well as sports fans; and accommodates bands looking for a practice space as well as a Sunday lunch.

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