This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 20/03/2017
Hoodoos on the move and the future of Matthews Yard
Is the venue that brought cool to Croydon in serious trouble?
Matthews Yard is still there. Having arrived in 2012, it’s approaching its fifth anniversary. But will it make it that far?
The place first appeared as a café with a work space, a studio space and Croydon Radio renting an HQ it could call home. Holding it up were the people of Croydon themselves, donating money to keep it afloat, investing and even taking out loans with it. The place was kooky. You could have a coffee in an alcove that used to be a lift shaft. There were vintage curiosities dotted about the place. Artist/arts administrator Alice Cretney sorted various pieces to adorn the walls. It was just what Croydon needed, and everybody wanted it to work.
I myself tried to make it work as a theatre space, and it did work! Sort of. There was an occasional rumbling from the 99p shop above, and Wednesday nights meant regular live acts in Croydon Radio’s not very sound-proofed booth, but with a bit of talking to each other, it could be sorted. That said, I eventually gave up in favour of spaces with proper lighting rigs and so on. Alice left to pursue Turf Projects.
There were questions asked about the beer being sold. The bottles didn’t seem to have expiry dates on them. I had heard someone was barred for complaining that their bottle of beer had gone off. I’d bought such a beer a week earlier and thought the same. I kept my mouth closed, not wanting to get barred myself. Things weren’t looking good all of a sudden. More money was asked for, with people pointing out that they had donated already. Noses were looking to be out of joint. The license holder and owner, Saif Bonar, looked visibly troubled, as if he had an albatross around his neck, but by tooth and nail, he hung on.
The venue was saved, it seems, by the support of Saif’s friend, Leoni Descartes. It is she who is now in charge of what art goes on the walls. Also contributing to Matthews Yard’s survival was the idea to rent out each of the spaces, and have other outfits provide the food and drink as concessions. Jamal Chong took on the studio space and got busy with door blocking, painting and soundproofing, the end result being Theatre Utopia. The work-space gave way to a music venue, initially the Air Balloon and later Hoodoo’s, which was also now in charge of cakes, coffee and breakfasts in the main café area, expanding from its humble beginnings as a barnacle business at Scream Studios.
It looked like Matthews Yard had finally cracked it, and here was the arts venue that Croydon had always dreamed of having. Hurrah! But with all of this came fresh issues.
Firstly, Croydon Radio, which had been there since the start, now found that its presenters were complaining about noise pollution. The music venue also served as a rehearsal space for local bands, and I myself have first-hand experience of presenting a radio show with local rockers Junk Time Party quite audible just the other side of the plasterboard. But that wasn’t Croydon Radio’s biggest problem. There were several incidents where the Hoodoo’s folk would go home of an evening and double lock the premises, forgetting that they shared the building with others. One time I arrived to present a show only to find I could not gain access.
Others had the same problem, and worse, some presenters even found themselves locked in, and ended up calling the local police to get out! And so, for reasons of health and safety, Croydon Radio departed in search of new premises, leaving Matthews Yard with that money no longer coming in.
It struggled on. The theatre went from strength to strength with every improvement, and I only heard good things about events at Hoodoo’s, with regular open mic nights, live gigs, and sometimes comedy. They had a bar in there, but with only ciders and spirits available. This was because another concession, BRGR&Beer, had been given the sole right to sell beer. And so Hoodoo’s was finding that of an evening, attendees would leave the gig to go through to the main café to buy a beer, and then return. With bands to pay and other outgoing costs, a few quick sums would tell anyone that this might not be viable.
Fast forward to this last week, and the band Death to the Pixies has announced that its forthcoming April gig will no longer be at Hoodoo’s due to reasons undisclosed. Pirate Project’s Saturday launch night is now to be held at Project B. It seems that Hoodoo’s has MYexited. And so now there are no breakfasts, brunches and lunches. A friend tells me he is baking goods to bring to the Sunday book group meeting.
And the reason? Still unknown, but someone who played with the band at what looks to now be the last Hoodoo’s gig at Matthews Yard tells me that beer was definitely available at the Hoodoo’s bar last Saturday.
If, if this is all true, it seems so silly. Firstly, a gig venue that can’t sell beer. Surely something could have been worked out. BRGR&Beer sells a range of craft beers. Why not allow Hoodoo’s to offer a more standard beer, for the less fussy gig goer? From its start, Matthews Yard got by via people working together, talking to each other, negotiating with one another to ensure the survival of all. With Croydon Radio and now Hoodoo’s no longer there, there’d better be an almighty contingency plan in place to see them through to year six. Matthews Yard has been an essential hub for so many in Croydon. It would be a real shame to see it fall apart now, just it was looking to finally establish itself as something permanent.