Moonbow Jakes Coffee Bars were created in derelict spaces across South East London from 1998-2009, becoming a Mecca for artists, performers academics and creative people seeking a safe, bohemian, relaxed space with live performance, exhibitions, talks, record store and an outdoor theatre.
At The Forefront
It is difficult to believe now in London, but in 1998 there were no Starbucks in the UK, Costa had three stores and Café Nero had only just opened their first outlet.
Platform-7’s founder, John McKiernan’s vision was to create a relaxed space, providing for art and discussion, which was comfortable for women, free from harassment. Having five older sisters, there was acute awareness of the hassle and annoyance women faced in that period just finding a public place to sit, have a coffee and read a book without disturbance. There was limited choice beyond the pub or greasy spoon, outside pockets of Central and West London.
There were three bars converted from derelict properties, New Cross, Brockley and Catford, all in South East London. Each site provided space for exhibitions, performance, talks and art presentations, Brockley had its own outdoor theatre and New Cross had a franchise of Morph Records, a vinyl specialist.
“- MORPHS MUSIC UNDER MOONBOW JAKES ROCKS!!!!!!!!!The Knowhere Guide
– Morph Music under Moonbow Jakes coffee shop (next door to Iceland) is small but packed out and features a nice selection of local bands. Lots of electronic stuff and bands that sound like the Rapture. Cheap too.”
Changing The Rules
Moonbow’s was at the forefront of pushing for an al fresco revolution in a city strangled by regulations and over zealous enforcement. It took a lot of time, effort and sometimes sheer bloody mindedness to challenge some very dated views within local government and the Metropolitan Police. For those within these organisations understanding the benefits of a café society, Moonbow Jakes became the standard-bearer when arguing for change to outdated regulations. 20-years on, it is difficult to imagine quite how difficult it was to buy an espresso outside Soho or watch live performance for free with only alcohol and fizzy drinks on sale.
Thousands performed, exhibited, gave talks or presentation over the decade of Moonbow’s. There were a few rules. No-cover songs rule was inflicted on most performers and the team were only allowed to play complete recorded albums from start to finish. With reputation building the bars became places for artists to experiment with their music, exhibit unusual shows, have film nights (although licensing was very difficult at that time), perform dance, poetry, theatre and developed careers. New Cross was a hotbed of radical and political groups with daily discussions on philosophy and life, Brockley had a more mature art crowd with Catford having a hard, down at the heal following. Gigs in the local park were just big parties.
What made Moonbow Jakes so special were the teams who worked there. Often students studying in the arts, performance or humanities, with occasional engineers, many would begin the Moonbow life before starting first year BA and not leaving until post MA, and sometimes PhD. Relationships formed at Moonbow’s became life-long friendships, sometimes even marriage.
The Emergence of Platform-7
Besides the music rules and ‘if you don’t smell you can come in’ rule, anything else legal was encouraged. The business established strong bonds with artists, local businesses, academics, tutors, students and local people. with even with its determined no drug policy, Moonbow’s openly embraced local gangs, dealers, addicts and many more living on the margins to take time out from their tough world and chill with a coffee. It was a rare space that allowed people of differing backgrounds to meet, whether intentionally or not, and from there respect grew. Moonbow Jakes was certainly not for everyone, but those who liked them, often loved them, and that affection continues to this day and became the genesis of the Platform-7 artist network.
In 2011, John McKiernan, with the assistance of the platform-7 network, used his experience to create a temporary Moonbow Jakes in Cliftonville, Margate, one of the most deprived areas in Southern England. This 3-month intervention became a bellwether event, leading to publications and still referenced up to the present day. Read more on Moonbow Margate here.