Pennyblackmusic began sometime in 1998 or so, when in a room somewhere in south London a plan was hatched to launch an online zine and record store (the latter since discontinued). Since then, PB has evolved to a site read by more than 40,000 users a month, now run from living rooms in Edinburgh and Balham. In the process, and over the following fifteen years, thousands of bands have been interviewed, concerts reviewed, and albums evaluated for the site.

In 2003, the website began to promote concerts to go with the site, with each concert previewed on Pennyblackmusic. The venue chosen to host the PB live nights was the Spitz, a glorious and much-missed venue in Spitafields, East London; the multi-floored venue had a jazz-themed restaurant/bar on the ground floor opening out to the market and an art gallery, as well as running an in-house Trust and record label. But the real musical action took place in its top floor loft-like gig space, where we promoted from 2003 onwards the likes of Jim Reid (The Jesus & Mary Chain), Vic Godard & The Subway Sect, Glen Matlock (The Sex Pistols), Bikini Atoll / Joe Gideon & The Shark, Rothko, the Telescopes, Bitter Springs, and a host of others. It sweltered in the summer there, but we didn’t mind.

The Spitz then closed in 2007, a victim of the area’s rising rents, with even then-mayor Boris Johnson adding his voice to the campaign to keep the place open. It didn’t, and is now a gastropub. For our part, we decided to go south of the river, pitching up for one-offs at venues such as the Brixton Windmill and Brixton Jamm before finding our natural home nearby at the Half Moon Herne Hill – a glorious old theatre-like back room of a pub. Since an opening gig there with the Television Personalities, PB grew in strength with a number of nights there. Sadly this ended abruptly last year when Herne Hill was hit by floods. The Half Moon was gutted during the flooding, and has been closed ever since.

Hence our long-mooted 15 Years of Pennyblackmusic night, featuring only bands who have played PB previously, finding its way to the Lexington, a glorious, ornate venue on the first floor of a pub at the top of a hill on Pentonville Road, north London, recalling the Spitz during its prime. Draped in red blinds and tasteful decor, and with a packed bar downstairs moving to the sounds of a DJ till the early hours, the Lexington is a suitably grand venue to celebrate the last 15 years of the site.

The perfect setting to see Rotifer start the evening, then, with an unpretentious, mod-blues blast through a back catalogue that includes a number of classics from albums such as 'The Hosting Couple', 'Before the Water Wars', and the current The Cavalry Never Showed Up. With former Death in Vegas member Ian Button pounding the drums and the Television Personalities' Mike Stone on bass (replacing Darren Hayman of Hefner), the stage is set for Robert Rotifer to tear some serious guitar shredding while laying down deadpan vocals on tracks such as 'I Just Couldn't Eat as Much (As I'd Like To Throw Up)' and the glorious 'Black Bag', as well as songs about visiting Canvey Island as a youth. Rotifer could be a soundtrack to a perfect mod-themed party in a Soho nightclub, with the clientele dressed impeccably.

Morton Valence, meanwhile, who previously played as an expansive five-piece at a previous PB night, are here stripped down to the core two members of Robert “Hacker” Jessett and Anne Gilpin, on guitar/vocals and vocals respectively. With their quintessentially south London songs stripped back to their bare minimum, it's a wonderfully hushed set that sees Gilpin coming out with some beautifully haunting vocals. Despite the inevitable talking at the back that greets quiet sets, they leave to applause from an entranced audience.

Taking over the headline slot, Madam have been a highlight of a number of PB nights. Brandishing an acoustic guitar, frontwoman/chanteuse Sukie Smith still commands a powerful, brooding stage presence as she has previously, bringing to mind PJ Harvey and Cat Power at their best. Madam's music – a heady mixture of noirish, nocturnal songs about love abandoned and betrayed – sounds best in a hushed live setting with a glass of red wine, Smith onstage joined by haunting bowed cello accompaniment, hushed percussion, and tremeloed-up guitar and e-bow to spellbinding effect. While the music swirls she plays a brilliantly lyrical set of songs dense with allusions from their forthcoming third alabum, 'Back to the Sea', which will be out later in the year. The real highlight, though, is the encore, in which the music swells from silence to a deafeningly loud cacophony, backed up by flailing arms from the drummer. Smith, meanwhile, is left enraptured, whispering the lyrics over and over again with her eyes half-closed as the music subsides, leaving an enraptured audience in applause.

And with that, over beers, the celebrations over the last fifteen years of Pennyblackmusic continue into the evening.

















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