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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 08:03 GMT
My London: Facing the music
Vincent Hayes
Mr Hayes runs the only full-time music hall in Britain
East Ender Vincent Hayes has just opened the Brick Lane Music Hall for the third time - after rocketing rent twice forced him to pack up the whole theatre and start again at a new venue.

I have always lived in the East End. The East End to me is community, I don't want to live anonymously in London.

If I walk down Bethnal Green Road I will have half a dozen conversations, at least, and if I walk into the local supermarket I'm always getting people talking to me. It's down to earth and I like it.

To my mind, music hall belongs in the East End, its ancestral home, and it is part of the area's culture. Music hall also reflects East End humour, that tongue in cheek approach to life.

I had a pub in the 1980s called the Lord Hood with the late Alan Roberts, MP for Bootle, and we re-established music hall in the East End in the pub's function room.

Brick Lane Music Hall - in Silvertown
The hall's new home is a Grade II listed church near City Airport
It was very popular but we realised we weren't making any money because you can't charge people to go into pubs.

So we decided to sell the pub and build a music hall.

Sadly he (Mr Roberts) died and that knocked the stuffing out of the idea for a couple of years and the hall did not get built.

People would come up and ask me: 'When are you going to open up another music hall?'

I began looking for premises in which to build it and in 1992 I found a derelict building in Brick Lane which used to be part of Truman's Brewery.

It had been empty for 20 years, so I took a lease on it for 15 years and built the theatre.

Although it was known as an area of crime, prostitution and drugs, I took a chance.

I made a commitment to myself to never have a commercial landlord again
Vincent Hayes
It (the area) was perceived within weeks as being much safer because people were walking in the door and I lit the outside of the building. Brick Lane started to become quite fashionable for a night out.

But unfortunately, as I neared the end of the fifth year, Bass Charrington sold the whole site to a private landlord, so when the rent came up for renewal he doubled it.

So I packed up the theatre into boxes and, in 1996, moved into premises in Curtain Road, in Hoxton - a disused button factory occupying the entire ground floor of a six-floor building - and it was hugely successful.

That was until 2001, when, at our first rent review, the private landlord quintupled the rent without any negotiations.

When I went to Curtain Road it was full of artisans plying their trade and when I took the premises the landlord was practically turning somersaults because I took on a space no-one wanted.

After I was there a couple of years there was a waiting list for people to move in and as a result the rent went up as Hoxton took off.

Flats in Silvertown
Silvertown, like many Docklands areas, has seen much development
By the time I was coming up to my fifth year it was the most fashionable place in London.

I felt like a mug. To do all that work and then wreck it a second time, to pull down the tabs and take down the spotlights and pull out the footlights for the second time for no good reason was hard.

It meant I was a vagabond again. I made a commitment to myself to never have a commercial landlord again, ever.

The theatre closed in February 2001 and it was all in boxes in storage.

A friend of mine said I should speak to Newham Council.

I went in to see them, having been in the doldrums for so long, and they said: 'We know all about your theatre and we want it in our borough. We just need to find the right place' - that took three months.

Silvertown is a diamond which has been hidden for generations, certainly since the closure of the Royal Docks.

This is a vibrant East End community, so creating a theatre here can only shed light on the whole area.

But I decided not to change the name of the theatre. Lots of work has gone into Brick Lane Music Hall and to change the name would wipe out that history. It would be like when they changed the tail fins on BA planes.


My London is a series of features about life in the city which will be on News Online every Monday. If you have a story suggestion please send an e-mail to: londonnews@bbc.co.uk.




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