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Ain't Nothing But... Blues Bar

The only seven nights a week blues bar in town, Ain't Nothin' But... can reasonably claim to be London's 'Home of The Blues'.
With a roster of excellent regular acts, carefully nurtured newcomers and occasional International visitors, their dedication to the blues means it's packed most nights with an eclectic mix of punters drawn to it's great atmosphere and top quality music.

It's small, with a house drum kit which helps create a vibe that's unique, certainly to Soho and Central London anyway, and it always seems to attract an up for it and friendly crowd. Miraculously for a blues venue, many of that crowd are under thirty and female, which is no small achievement, and one which is to be applauded.

Due to the popularity of their Monday night jams, they've just started doing one on Sunday's as well. We went down to have a bit of a blow, and to talk to the owner, Kevin, about the inspiration behind the place.

Words and pics by Ricardo

When did you open?

We opened in Oct 1993. Started slowly with just background music, and soon become very popular with the local Soho animation crowd every Friday night. We slowly started introducing live acoustic acts Saturday nights and Friday lunchtimes.

What was the idea/inspiration behind doing so?

I opened the bar solely because of my love for The Blues. I used to see bands play in grotty back rooms in pubs where you couldn't get a decent drink, which were filthy and not welcoming. One day I was having a few drinks with some mates and discussing what we would all really like to do. I came up with the idea of the Blues Bar, and from there started approaching brewers etc. for backing. I got such a positive feedback at first, but then no offers of money, so I had to go it alone.

It feels very much like a Chicago lounge bar... Presumably that was intentional?

Kevin: I designed, and partially built, the actual bar which is still standing- the whole place including the plans and layout. It was designed as I imagined a typical Chicago Juke Joint would look, with the atmosphere of a Saturday night in the cotton field shacks. It was pure imagination. The whole bar was always only going to be about the Blues so I had to reflect that. I painted the whole place and came up with the idea for the sheet music on the walls. Even did the papering!

Who were your first acts?

Kevin: The first acts were all acoustic style as we did not have a music license then, nor the money. Some of the originals were Shakey Vic, Big Joe Louis & Little George, Dino Baptiste, Stevie from Ruthless Blues.

How's business? Seems like it's pretty popular these days... Has it always been like that?

Business is pretty good these days as we are established and have a loyal following, as well as having some great write ups in magazines and web sites and tourist guides. We have never organised these ourselves but they have happened on the bar's merits, and through customer recommendations. I believe the bar sells itself.

In the beginning we were generally very quiet and built trade up slowly.
The bar evolved as custom increased and demanded more. Within a couple of years we had live music most nights, with the Monday Jam starting very early on and going from strength to strength, hence the expansion onto Sundays.

How has the London blues scene changed since you opened?

Kevin: I haven't really noticed to many changes in the Blues scene, as there really isn't one. There were a few more places for bands to play back then, but the live music scene in London seems to have died a lot. However, the quality of our bands just seems to get better and better. Our new Cd I think is superb.

The one most noticeable thing is the lack of American bands coming to London, which is why we try to fly over the occasional musician, or we would never see them. It isn't possible to do that many as they don't pay for themselves.

What are your standout memories since you've been open?

Kevin: The main events to stand out are the American gigs - some of them have been amazing. John Primer played back in 94 and the whole place was up dancing, and it was probably the first time we had a huge queue outside.

Also, when Paul Jones played we had people travel up from all over the south coast. I would just like to say that Paul was always a tremendous supporter of the bar and continually plugged us on his show. We really appreciated that.

Who are your most popular acts these days?

Kevin: I think by far the two most popular acts are the Ian Siegal Band and Jeremiah Marques. They both put on such amazing performances, and we are lucky to have them playing here. In Ian's case, he now plays in European festivals all the time, but still enjoys coming back to the Blues Bar and just loves it. He is such a talent he deserves more. West Weston is also a great band and has represented us in a couple of London's street festivals and gone down a storm.

How do you find the acts that play there?

Kevin: We find all are acts now via CD sent to us. It is so hard trying to give everyone a chance, and deciding who would be right for the bar. Some bands are really good but are not suitable for our environment.

Do you see any trends emerging?
I don't see anything changing. People still love live music and Blues
is such a popular style. It is great to see the younger age group in the bar keeping things going and I think this will continue.

The new Sunday jam is in response to the popularity of the Monday night one... Does this reflect a general increase in interest in blues?

Kevin: The Sunday Blues Jam is down to demand. The waiting times on Monday can get very long with no repeat chance, so we are trying to give everyone a go. We have always believed in the Jam being a chance for everyone to be able to get up and play and it's our most popular week night.

What's in the future?

Kevin: At this stage our aim is to keep the Blues Bar as popular as ever. It would be very difficult to expand, what with finding the right premises, the rent in London being astronomical, and the financial risk involved. I would love to organise a major Blues festival, and have been working on this in Spain, but as yet to no avail. I did mention holding one in London to Ken Livingston but he did not think it would be popular enough to invest in it.

Aint Nothing But...
20 Kingly Street, Soho, W1B 5PZ
Tel: 020 7287 0514
Full details of all their gigs are of course regularly on our pages, and you can also find more information, including band profiles at