Do you remember that period around the turn of the century when hotel bars in London stopped being somewhere one used primarily to meet business associates or well-to-do aunties and suddenly became hip? A queue to get into a hotel bar? Who’d have thought? The Met Bar on Park Lane started it. Ian Schrager’s St Martin’s Lane and Sanderson Hotel followed suit, going someway to democratising the situation but the undisputed apex of hotel bar chic came in 2001 with The Blue Bar at The Berkeley.
A space that had previously been little more than a hotel corridor became the place to be. Sure, the bar only had 50 seats but the central ones were covered in lilac leather with backs set at the perfect angle for seduction and were suddenly the hottest in London. Arguably, the world. John Galliano threw a party there. Madonna was a regular.
The bar needed a sexy soundtrack that would appeal to its sophisticated, international audience and in 2002 released The Blue Bar Volume 1. To call it a compilation doesn’t do it justice. It comes boxed in solid card, like a gift from Smythson. It contains what appear to be three oversized books of matches. The first is covered in a sort of fibrous cross-hatch pattern, the second a crocodile print and the third, ostrich. Each represents a textile used by David Collins Studio in its original design of the bar. Within each 'book’ sits a CD. The artfully resolved detail of the packaging created by Pentagram, echoes beautifully the obsessive detail of Collins’ design.
The bar only had 50 seats but the central ones were covered in lilac leather with backs set at the perfect angle for seduction.
The Blue Bar Volume 1 is muzak in its very highest form. The first CD opens with a disarming burst of trip hop but is largely filled with hypnotic, gentle beats that have the power to lull even the most frantic human. Rachel’s Song by Vangellis is a musical passage to heaven while Misti Blu sits on the sweet balance point between melancholy and joy. Part Two is jazzier. Chan Chan makes you feel like you’re in Little Havana in Miami, Talamanca evokes memories of Parisian cafés and Channel Suite 1 has drum patterns and melody samples that will finger your soul. The Sensual Woman has a witty, intimate spoken lyric, the likes of which would not be written today. If the first disc is designed to seduce you and the second to get your ankle swinging, the third is surely constructed to get your hips moving. It’s a mix of deep, sophisticated house that wouldn’t be out of place poolside Ibiza. The track Life Rhythms is a prayer-like, soul lifting call to arms. On Up is sexy house music with a disco backbone. The CD climaxes with Groove Armada’s club mix of Madonna’s Music, quite a coup because Madonna is so rarely seen on compilations.
The box set isn’t available on iTunes or Spotify. The digital gods offer us choice beyond our imaginations but this is a good reminder of the value of curation. The exquisite packaging, the refined musical choices, the moment in time it represents and the fact it’s in CD format, make it a collectible object of desire.