THERE CAN’T BE MANY VENUES IN THE UK AS ODD AS THE MOTH CLUB, OR GENERAL BROWNING M.O.T.H. CLUB TO GIVE IT ITS FULL, HISTORICAL NAME. TUCKED AWAY ON A HACKNEY SIDE STREET, THE OUTSIDE WALL FEATURES A CAST OF A POPPY, A GIANT VERSION OF THE ONES SOLD EACH YEAR TO MARK THE END OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR.
Despite being the place to see anything from the latest heavy guitar groups to documentary screenings, you could also find a local pensioner sipping a pint of Five Points pale in the front bar, or playing bingo in one of the upstairs rooms. This is thanks to the MOTH Club’s unique history. It was originally a social centre for former servicemen and women, which is where it got its name - the M.O.T.H. stood for the ‘Memorable Order of Tin Hats’, after the helmets worn by British soldiers.
Open for 40 years, the General Browning M.O.T.H. was the last of its kind in the country but ran into financial difficulties in its original form. This is when the people behind other Hackney venues, like the Shacklewell Arms, stepped in to save the place from full closure. They agreed to maintain the decor, fixture and fittings, ensuring that the original members could still come in and enjoy a drink in the front bar or upstairs in a beautiful wood-panelled room where a portrait of Winston Churchill peers down from the wall.
Downstairs, the venue has a barrel-vaulted roof that sparkles with gold glitter paint. There’s gold behind the stage too, in fluttering curtains that look like an old showbiz variety club.
Around the room are old-school booths to watch the music when legs get tired and on the walls there are still pictures of former servicemen and women and military awards, connecting the modern venue with its community past.
The look of the place is partly what gives its appeal, according to Clemence Godard, whose Bird On The Wire promotions company regularly use the MOTH. "It's not a tacky venue at all - the contrast between the new venue and the members club is what's really cool about it,” she says; “it doesn't have a disco ball or anything like that, just the amazing gold on the ceiling”.
Godard has been working with MOTH Club since it opened as a venue in 2013, putting on Ceremony and Bad Breeding as the first gig. She praises the team behind the MOTH Club for their independent spirit and supportive attitude. "It's always a good show there, we know that. Bands really like it because it's a bit different from an average black box of a venue," she says. Recent highlights for Godard include a gig by Tuareg desert rock group Imarhan, which she describes as “a proper party, it was packed with everyone dancing and really good vibes".
MOTH Club is also part of a musical heritage that stretches right back into the earliest years of Hackney’s history, when fields and gardens started to disappear under rows of houses, pubs and factories.
The Hackney Empire theatre, just across the road, was built in 1901 as a music hall and featured concerts by the likes of Charlie Chaplin. Over in Dalston, The Four Aces was a focal point for the area’s West Indian immigrant community, with regular reggae nights that attracted Bob Dylan, Debbie Harry and The Clash.
From the 1970s to the present day, Hackney has been a home for underground music. Industrial Records, one of the first independent labels, was founded by Throbbing Gristle around the corner in Martello Street. For years, cheap rents and abundant space meant that artists came here to live and work.
This spirit continues today with MOTH Club’s diverse programming that won it the accolade of Hackney’s most loved venue in a Time Out magazine poll. The venue has hosted regular screenings of classic music documentaries, and one Halloween a live soundtrack was performed during a screening of 1992 horror film Begotten. The venue shook with deathly noise and clanking chains. On a similarly nu-goth theme, Cave Club is a long-running night of debauchery and obscure 7” records set up by Rhys from The Horrors, and attracts one of the most sharply-dressed crowds you’ll find in London.
Most of all though, the MOTH is a great place to catch feral amplified rock musicians, as a recent programme of gigs by the likes of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Terminal Cheesecake, Japanese psych maestros Bo Ningen, and punk icon Lydia Lunch attests. It hosts big names too - Jarvis Cocker chose MOTH to launch his live solo comeback, and who can forget the time when Lady Gaga rocked up for a decidedly sweaty secret gig back in 2016.
According to Godard, there are a few ingredients that make the MOTH Club a place where a great atmosphere is guaranteed. “People know there will be good music when they go there,” she says. “It's always a venue that you know when you bring people down they're going to think it's really cool - everyone likes gold!"