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Musicians in London Coffee

Musicians in London Coffee

Coffee and music are natural companions. But the connections go far beyond the choice of playlist for café atmosphere and the occasional celebrity customers such as Jimmy Page who sometimes pops up at Flat White and Frank Ocean who visited Workshop Fitzrovia. The connections are the coffeeshop staff themselves. Of course the coffee industry attracts creatives, perhaps because it’s a creative business, perhaps because some actors, artists, musicians and photographers work in it to subsidise their art. Either way, there are a considerable number of musicians and ex-musicians in coffee.

Before we reveal the musical side of some famous coffee names, let’s feature a few perhaps lesser known baristas with current music releases. We met Elan Tamara when she made us a superb pourover at Walthamstow’s Bühler & Co. We didn’t know then but music is Elan’s main gig. She has released several Eps as a singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. Her new single Long Walks is available in iTunes. This is a distinctive soulful song that stays with you.

You can listen here

Peter Jonason has combined studying music production at BIMM London with working as a barista at Bermondsey cycle café  Machine CC where he served us frequently and introduced us to plenty of great music and more recently E5 Bakehouse. Recording under the name of CNTR, Peter combines piano, electronics and beats with his own distinctive voice on his new single Fire.

Lee Gaze is well known for his fine lead guitar work with No Devotion and previously Lost Prophets. No Devotion released their album Permanence in 2015, winning the Kerrang Album of the Year award. Lee developed a passion for coffee while playing and touring with the band and founded Silhouette with his wife Syirin, originally as a pop-up in Chinatown in 2014, then in a café in Hackney and now as a café within Hummus Bros on Cheapside.

James Bailey might be known these days as the Head of Quality at Workshop Coffee but back in Sheffield, his band Clever Girl recorded an EP and played shows and festivals. You can hear James’ guitar on Barely Regal Records plan to press a limited run of vinyl of their album ‘No Drum and Bass in the Jazz Room’ this year and Clever Girl lined up to play Arctangent festival later this year.

That even more famous James, James Hoffmann himself of Square Mile, had his own recording project, King Seven, releasing his debut EP ‘Hidden’ in 2003 which blended acoustic guitars and electronics. You can listen on MySpace which we were surprised to learn still exists.

Gary Regan left Square Mile for Dark Arts this year. Gary played guitar in a hardcore/tech metal band called Hero in Error in Ireland from 2007 until 2011. They simply have to heard to be believed and released two Eps, notably "The High Points of New Lows" which was released in 2010. Since 2015 he has begun an acoustic Irish folk solo project called “Welcome Ghosts’ that has released two singles. Gary has since re-joined Hero in Error who released their first single in six years, ‘The Hollow Truth’ and are about to release a new EP this summer.

Jeremy Challender is known as one of the leading lights of the London scene and co-founder of Prufrock Coffee. Jeremy is also a composer and pianist who studied at the Australian Institute of Music. He is currently playing with Little Horse whose 2016 album Wild Dogs of London is available on Bandcamp and iTunes. Little Horse combine jazz, folk and country influences.

Lee Harte, who performed at Prufrock’s opening party on Leather Lane and once had a musical project with Jeremy had an extensive musical career leading Wyreless influenced by Midnight Oil and The Clash. You can listen to them at .  Lee led the band from 2000 to 2013, playing guitar and keyboards and singing and still writes songs now. Lee’s Giddy Up stalls and indoor cafes some of London’s friendliest and most consistent coffee spots.

Luke Pochron of Volcano Coffee Works and Bang & Swirl and formerly of Curators and others is a gifted songwriter, guitarist and instrumentalist with a solo project Urban Silhouette. His album Goldfish Surgery was released in 2015. He is working on a follow up while playing electric guitar in a band called Marginal Gains.

Nick Mabey might be well known as the head of quality at Assembly Coffee and from the Coffee Masters but he is also a renowned fusion and jazz drummer who was part of Mooga Fooga in Wellington New Zealand and played in New York. You can see him in action at Sticking with the jazz theme, our own editor Phil Wain is a bass player who has played a range of different music in venues ranging from the Royal Albert Hall to the now defunct Notes Covent Garden, as featured in the next video.

Heidi Beeton left Prufrock to become a jazz singer. After developing the brew bar techniques at the Leather Lane store, she left to study music at the London Centre of Contemporary Music and now plans to study in Australia. Another Prufrock veteran, Mothers Milk founder Will Hilliard is known for his drumming, and yet another, Edgaras Juska, now head of coffee at Catalyst is a saxophonist. There is of course the blond haired barista with a career as a musician and producer but I promised Jeremy not to mention his name as his music career is taking precedence these days, Ask Jeremy!

Tim Schilling and Margret Kondas at Prufrock are both violinists, it’s clearly one of the cafes to be for artists and musicians. Tom Burrows of Noble Espresso plays guitar and trumpet, Eddie Hoffmann, the Brazilian barista mainstay of the wonderful Amoret Coffee is a gigging bassist who’s played with a range of bands. Drew Aveling of the legendary Black Swan Yard in Bermondsey is a singer/songwriter who formed Littl’ans who have toured the US and the UK, The White Sport and Add N to (X).  

Over in Kings Cross, Frequency is a café with musical connections. Café owner/manager/barista Justo Tripier is a singer songwriter who plans to integrate music making into the café, with plans to put a studio into the premise and have live performances. He has written songs that have been used on TV shows and documentaries. Justo’s A-boards often feature music themed quizzes with free coffee as a prize. Other music themed coffeeshops are the bar Spiritland which is a music-centred bar with fabulous DJ equipment which serves Assembly coffee and Music & Beans, a musical instrument shop and music school in Harringay with a coffeeshop on site serving coffee from Allpress.

A couple of drummers who are both leading names in London coffee and also good friends are Chris McKie and Dumo Mathema. Chris runs Red Lion Coffee Co in New Cross now,  a superb neighbourhood café serving Climpson & Sons coffee and craft beer and wine and Dumo is the highly skilled and highly original head roaster of The Roastery Department.

Then there are the owners, Gus Unger-Hamilton of Alt-J founded Dandy in London Fields – a first rate café and restaurant and one of the founders of the innovative Grind chain, Kaz James, was half of BodyRockers who had a major hit with ‘I Like the Way (You Move)’ in 2005. Fabio Ferreira of Notes was a bassplayer back in Brazil before his coffee life.

Moving on to slightly more tentative links, Jorja Smith made the BBC Sound of 2017 list and has had two spells working as a barista – for Starbucks. Smith, from Walsall is a major soulful force in UK music whose music has sampled Dizzee Rascal and Henry Purcell and indeed Drake himself has given her his seal of approval. Laura Marling is also rumoured to have worked at a London café/restaurant early in her career. The folk singer/actress from Hampshire did apparently once apply for a job at Intelligentsia at Silver Lake LA.

We must mention the playlists that European Coffee Trip have created, where coffee folks have been interviewed and selected their own playlists. Check it out at Great work by Karo Tornado to put these together.

In the meantime, here’s a playlist featuring some of the musicians named above….

Main photo – Elan Tamara

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