Tucked away in a quiet part of Mile End Park, The Palm Tree is both a treasured boozer and a unique music venue. On weekend evenings, proudly old-school publicans Val and Alf Barrett invite a tight-knit troupe of jazz musicians to perform Great American Songbook favourites for loyal punters and curious passers-by. Because The Palm Tree occupies a fantastic standalone spot right by the Regent’s Canal, there are no uptight neighbours to whinge about noise.
Having survived the Blitz, The Palm Tree fends off a different menace, today. Namely gentrification. Despite being on prime land for a development or two, The Palm Tree has been under the same independent ownership for decades, and they wouldn’t dream of selling artisan scotch eggs. In fact, The Palm Tree has retained such authentic cockney charm that one TripAdvisor reviewer wrote: ‘You expect to see Pat Butcher behind the bar.’ Ask for tap water instead of a ‘proper drink’ and you risk a tonguelashing from Alf Barrett. Try to pay by card and you’ll find yourself trudging ten minutes to the nearest cashpoint.
Now, this veritable East End institution is being celebrated with a live album and accompanying photography exhibition. On Saturday April 21 ‘The Last of the Crooners’ will be launched at The Palm Tree, alongside intimate portraits of the musicians taken by renowned photographer Tom Oldham. The album’s title wryly acknowledges that The Palm Tree players are repping a dying breed of authentic East End musician who play purely for love. There’s no entry charge for the launch event, which will naturally include performances. Live music at The Palm Tree is always free.
The vinyl-only album contains versions of chestnuts like ‘As Time Goes By’ and ‘God Bless the Child’, recorded with the warm hum of pub chatter in the background. When singer Robert dedicates ‘The Lady Is a Tramp’ to ‘Avril’ instead of Karen (the actual name of the punter who requested it), he shrugs off his flub by joking that ‘Beethoven was deaf’. It looks destined to become a cult classic as only 500 copies are being pressed and sold solely from the pub. If you don’t experience this music in person, you can’t take home the souvenir, which basically tells you everything you need to know about The Palm Tree.