08 August 2016 – Sam Gelder
Passing Clouds is the latest music venue to be targeted by developers who want a piece of Hackney’s thriving reputation. Protesters were outside court on Friday morning as the landlord applied for an eviction notice. The Gazette was there too.
Anyone who’s walked around Hackney in the last few months will have seen signs in shop windows reading “Passing Clouds forever”.
Passing Clouds is an independent music venue in Dalston, one of the few left in the whole of London. More than 5,000 musicians from 100 countries have performed there in the last 10 years and it’s got huge support from the community, politicians and the music industry.
On Friday morning, that support was out in force at Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court, where the landlord, Landhold Developments, was making an application to evict Passing Clouds from the building.
Spirits were high as dozens of protesters lined Gee Street and director Eleanor Wilson was given a rousing reception on her arrival.
There were people of all ages outside as musicians strummed away and others tried their best to create a genuine carnival atmosphere complete with face painting and fancy dress.
The only thing missing was records playing as people danced (and hula-hooped) in the street in front of bemused builders.
Some then went into court for the hearing, which was swiftly adjourned until Friday.
Sadly, this is just the latest development in a long legal battle between the two parties that started with the “secret sale” of the venue in November – after management had spent years trying to buy it from the previous landlord.
A lease extension was initially granted until August, but on the night of June 16 bailiffs were sent in to change the locks.
What they didn’t count on was 200 people, mostly musicians, arriving within hours of the discovery to force them back out in a defiant act of people power.
The building has been occupied 24/7 ever since by the Passing Clouds community, who are desperate to stop it going the way of so many other independent music venues. A three-month, 10th birthday celebration featuring concerts from Mercury-prize winning artist Speech Debelle, Lee Scratch Perry, and Maxi Jazz of Faithless has carried on as planned.
Gary McKenzie is the private hire boss at Passing Clouds. Speaking outside the court, he told the Gazette: “It [the venue] is so important for the community and for world music.
“Venues like ours are what attracts people to the area. No one would have wanted to come if the culture wasn’t here in the first place and now they want to destroy it for flats. It’s not just us either, there’s lots of us going under. Everywhere is gonna look like Canary Wharf.”
Supporter Paul Clarke has been going to Passing Clouds since it opened and has witnessed Dalston become a hive of creativity in the last 10 years.
He said: “The transformation of the area is largely down to a small number of businesses that acted as catalysts and Passing Clouds is the longest running, most successful of those. The regeneration is down to them.”
A petition to save the venue has gathered almost 13,000 signatures so far, while a crowdfunder has received £10,000 in donations.
MP Meg Hillier has also thrown her weight behind the campaign, saying the venue was part of what made Dalston a “magnet for creatives”.
She said: “It is vital developers and planners recognise it is venues like these that contribute so much to make areas desirable. If these are lost, some of the very reasons why Hackney is such a popular place to live and work are undermined.”