The Brixton pub that became the centre of innovative music - whynow

A Conversation with  Tim Perry

Tim has been welcoming artists, bands and music lovers to the Windmill, a small Irish pub off Brixton Hill, for most of this century so far. In those years, he has created the open arms and creative free-for-all space that so many people adore and utilize to their advantage, catering for the likes of Fat White Family, Black Midi, Shame, Goat Girl and many more. This has resulted in the venue becoming a musical mecca for people worldwide.

I sat down with Tim to speak about the venue and his time here.

Hi Tim! You’ve been doing the matinee shows for…?

I think this is the third weekend now. We came in with them mainly because we had to. What with the 10 o’clock closing, we had to think of something else. So, I suppose it’s something we should have done before. We’ve always had a history of doing all dayers and barbecues. So it seems like the natural thing to do.

Yeah, it’s wonderful! It feels great to see live music again and I think these types of shows really suit the place.

it feels like a little sleazy jazz club or something doesn’t it? You just wouldn’t expect The Windmill to have furniture that matches! Hahah.

Before coming to The Windmill, Tim spent time as a travel journalist in America writing for Rough Guide. (“it was good, it was the year of Britpop so I could go to America and get away from all that shit and actually listen to good bands.” ) He then went on to hold nights at The Railway Hotel, aka Brady’s Bar, a landmark of Brixton’s outline and  popular spot of the music and drinking scene. Jimmy Hendrix and The Clash were rumoured to have stepped inside the place so, it makes sense that someone of Tim’s musical flavours did the same.

After Brady’s it became a Wahaca and now it’s gone…there wasn’t enough yuppies to eat Mexican street food during Covid! The place was a wild, dive bar! Me and another friend just thought we’d do something a bit mad and put on country and hip-hop themed nights.

Why Country & Hip-Hop???

Because we were really fuckin’ mashed one night and we asked each other “you can only listen to one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be?” And that’s too hard, you know, so what about two genres? So, we just defined it down into…Country & Hip Hop. 

And was Brady’s your first foray into putting on live music?

We were only doing it like once a month or every fortnight but yeah, I’d maybe helped with shows at uni before. And later, we were journalists thinking “we’re living off other people’s art, you know, let’s try and do something a bit more creative. And let’s get fucking wacked at the same time!” 

So how did you go from Brady’s to ‘The Windmill’?

So, Brady’s got closed, and one night, one of the bar men and Jake from Alabama 3 came up to me and said  “Tim, come here! We need you to do your night at The Windmill” and I said “Ok”. I chose Sundays and they let me call it ‘Twisted AM Lounge’. It started monthly, then fortnightly , then by demand it was weekly and then I got the job.

Do you remember the first time you actually stepped into the place?

Alabama 3 were doing a gig at what used to be ‘George The Fourth’ up the road and none of us could get in because it was some squatters benefit and they’d sold all the tickets to their mates. So, the band go, “y’all have to come to the after party though?”Where’s that?” “Six o’clock at the windmill.” “Alright, ok”. So, we went up to the Telegraph, took a few pills and then came down for six and, oh god… it was just surreal coming into this little Irish bar, six in the morning and everyone pilled out of their heads. But I remember thinking, I like this pub. It reminded me of American dive bars, the ceilings and stuff… I don’t really like the traditional English pub.

Can you recall the first nights you held at The Windmill?

Hm… I remember having a birthday party very soon after taking over. And I had ‘Goldrush’ on, who were an Americana type band who got signed to Virgin. And a guy called ‘JC001’ who at the time was the fastest rapper in the world!

How does the inside compare now to back when you first arrived?

It’s gradually got tidied up and more art and stuff put in. But it’s still the same sort of vibe. Equipment wise, it’s a lot better.

I’m sure a lot of bands will agree that you guys have a solid backline of gear. 

Yeah, it’s important and it’s not that expensive. You know, I think you easily get your return on what you invest in the backline and monitoring system. And, well, if you haven’t got the band, it doesn’t really matter what it is. Nobody’s going to spend five quid to fucking listen to DMV speakers.

I think today’s gig really shows the power of your backline. You had a band on and then some electronic stuff. Both had absolute weight to it!

A Sound Engineer always helps as well!

How do you go about finding acts to book? 

I usually get tipped off by people. You know, I think that’s one of the recommendations you always get from other bands. “Oh, we played with this band, they’re really good” or “my mates starting a band” I think it’s important to listen to musicians that you like.

Is there anything in particular that you won’t put on?

I tend to dislike music that seems to have a uniform. We used to have country music on but it got abit too copycat. I heard somebody say about Punk music, which we used to put on, that “as soon as the beards got into it, then it all finished.” The Americana guys were wandering around as if they were Civil War generals and the punks had their flesh holes and five grands worth of tattoos on their arms! When it becomes a bad fashion vibe, the music becomes redundant. The looks are a little bit of a twist on the ordinary in here. This brings me round to the whole “Windmill scene” thing… There isn’t a fucking scene! There are certain linked people but that’s it.  The bands are so different anyway! I just try to be eclectic and not get bogged down into titles.

Apart from what musicians recommend to you, what have you been listening to recently?

God, this is going to sound weird, but mostly fiddle music. From the Appalachians from 1927 – 1939 Wow. It’s very good. I also really like the Smithsonian archive Alan Lomax did with all the field recordings too. Whatever equipment they had in the 1930s, it sounds absolutely brilliant because it really feels like you’re there. That’s about all I’ve listened to really recently, except for demos or whatever.

Have you ever had any moments of writing your own music? Or are you just an admirer of music?

No… I always think of it as like, you know, if you go for a good dinner, you don’t have to be able to cook it.

Despite our conversation being light and fun throughout, the current climate for venues during COVID still weighs heavy. The slow response to helping venues has left people feeling like the arts are not of high priority to our government. 

How have you found the governments attitudes and attempts at support for the venue? 

We got enough in grants to cover costs up to the end of September but now we have a capacity cut to 30 seats and with a 10pm closure, we’re unable to get anywhere close to covering rent and standing orders. We’ve done everything they asked of us, such as giving artists an opportunity to play and providing jobs in a Covid-safe environment yet there seem to be no more money forthcoming. We were ineligible to apply to the Cultural recovery Fund as the business is not run as a limited company. If we had been able to it would have got us through to the end of March. But it didn’t. I don’t wasn’t to talk about this anymore.

Um, you might find this a bit cheesy, but I thought I’m just going to mention some bands that have played here. And I’d like for you to sum them up in 3 words but…

Okay. Okay.

Wow, I wasn’t expecting you to be up for it!

Just don’t ask me to rank them out of 10!

Okay, first one. And I’ll say this one because you and me have had numerous conversations about this band. Black Midi.

The house band. 

Scritti Politti

very special night. You’re looking for the adjectives aren’t ya??

Fat White Family

Pioneering, Hard-working, DIY.

Just to round things up Tim, if you could think of one song to encompass 2020… what would it be?

(long pause)

I still feel like 2020 is 3 months old, I still think we’re in March! I dunno…. Maybe ‘Sunglasses’ by Black Country, New Road. They’re a great band and they were supposed to come to our SXSW show. You just said 2020 so, I’m not thinking about Covid, I’m thinking about before. There’s that line “and there are so many roadmen on this street, and you cannot tell that I am scared, I am invincible in these sunglasses.” I’ll just wear sunglasses and hope for the best.

Rampa  They Will Be