The arrival of this brand new performance space and bar in the heart of King’s Cross is down to a combination of lucky connections. The former chapel is home to creative criminal justice charity Only Connect, which offers young offenders a range of more positive endeavours to pursue after spell in custody.
Based in Cubitt Street, their community centre includes a glorious vaulted main room with a stage; however for the majority of the time this perfect theatrical space was chronically underused.
Enter visionary Gavin Fernback, who knows a thing or two about turning quirky locations around, having established ever-popular café The Fields Beneath in a former cramped booking office under Kentish Town West Overground station.
Spotting an opportunity, he enlisted one of the café’s regulars, playwright and comedian Rebecca Jones, who by her own admission would “buy a single flat white and use the café as my office for the day. Every day.”
Pooling their talents, they opened SLAM this summer, bringing a flurry of new comedy, live music, spoken word and theatre events to liven up this elegant space and really do it justice.“Our mission is to curate to enable creators to create,” says Gavin, tongue-twistingly. “We want to offer minimal fuss, maximum facilitation in providing a sturdy, damn right cool platform from which they can showcase their stuff.”
That means offering an affordable way for musicians, writers and performers to get on stage in the heart of King’s Cross, creating a bit of a community and a hub of “back-scratching opportunities”, as Gavin likes to call it.
“I want SLAM to put the festival back into the fringe scene,” adds Rebecca. “A kind of hair-down, beer-poured, affordable night out for people of any age to come and discover something new. Things are generally too rigid and Tory and boring these days, so we don’t want what we do to ever be stuffy. We want it to be great fun, and great quality.”
Very much in this spirit, there’s free comedy on Thursdays from the Funny Feckers gang and a monthly ‘pay as much as you feel’ spoken word night from poetry collective Spit The Atom, as the venue starts to get into its stride with regular events.
They’ve already enjoyed success with debuting new plays and also playing host to uber-cool secret gigs in the SofaSounds series, “which has been a really great way for bands and musicians of all kinds to discover this space,” says Rebecca.
And discovery is paramount to the SLAM project. “As a creative you can put all your heart and soul into a show and then find there’s nowhere to actually do it live,” says Rebecca, with the bitter twinge of first-hand experience. “Pub theatres and gig venues charge what they have to, but it means before you even see it come to life you have to fork out. SLAM is affordable in that as long as we all make sure enough people come in any buy enough beer, we can make things work.”It’s an enviable position to be in, which is why the duo are so keen to share their good fortune at stumbling upon such a space with a community, not just of emerging artists, but with a regular local audience too.
And as well as currently serving up decent beers, Gavin is keen to bring a stronger food element to the nights too. “We’d like to link up with the food training programme that Only Connect run as much as possible,” he says, plus developing an educational workshop strand to feed into live events too. Rebecca meanwhile is keen to expand beyond their current Thursday – Sunday opening and incorporate full runs of plays soon.
It’s early days, but things have been going very well, proving the desperate need for such spaces in our city’s nightlife patchwork.
“Being at capacity for our opening comedy night was a definite highlight so far,” says Rebecca. “And selling out for new writing made me actually cry. But probably the best was when I overheard one woman say it felt like the Edinburgh Fringe before the show even started, because that’s exactly the atmosphere were going for every night.”