Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Specials at Lewisham Odeon

Nice piece in the Guardian today by Jon Dennis on the Specials as 'the music that changed my life': 'The Specials' Gangsters symbolised the fight against the fascists at my front door'. The author grew up in Lewisham, and recals:

'London was drab and frightening in the late 70s, nowhere more so than Lewisham, where I lived. In 1977, Lewisham had been the scene of a riot when the National Front attempted to march. There were coaches full of far-right thugs parked outside my house. My adopted sisters are black, and so for my family the NF represented an existential threat. Racism was rife among my predominantly white classmates. The Lewisham march represented a political awakening for me. I was glad of any ally, and the Specials defined themselves against the far right...

In December 1979 I attended my first gig: the Specials at Lewisham Odeon. The support acts were the Selecter and Dexys Midnight Runners. The audience were frenzied, dancing continually, with frequent scuffles breaking out. For years afterwards I assumed that violence was a normal part of going to gigs. The experience was frightening, but also exciting. It illuminated a world that was violent and hard, shone a light on the grimness of late-70s London, but also provided gleeful escape...'

That gig at Lewisham Odeon was on 1 December 1979 - quite a line up! The Selecter also played there in March 1980 (there's a recording of that gig out there somewhere)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Day of the Dead Silent Disco/New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival 2015

Planning is already starting for next year's New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival. The last couple of years have seen thousands of people watching interesting films for free in all sorts of unusual locations (parks, churches, tattoo parlours...). If you want to get involved at any level - showing films, publicity, suggesting venues - come along to the first planning meeting on Monday 10th November, 8 pm  at the Job Centre pub on Deptford High Street (details here).

To raise funds for the film festival, the Hill Station Cafe (Kitto Road SE14) is hosting a Day of the Dead Silent Disco:

'Saturday 1 November 2014 is Mexican Day of the Dead and to celebrate The Hill Station Café will again be teaming up with the Silent Disco crew to create a Fabulously Fluorescent, Luminously Lovely, Ultra Violet, Psychedelic Disco. A top line-up of local DJ’s will keep your feet firmly on the dance floor with a selection of the best banging party tunes, decadent disco hits and old-skool hedonism.

It’s a fancy dress thing - the more skulls the merrier (but of course you don't have to). The best dressed Senor and Senorita will be crowned "King and Queen of the Dead". Everybody gets a free cocktail on arrival, and there'll be lots of extra scary stuff too'.

Tickets from:

Monday, October 20, 2014

'Blacks Brittanica' in New Cross

This Thursday 30th October, 7pm in the Cinema (room RHB 185) at Goldsmiths, University of London, SE14 6NW:

'South London Anti-Fascists are proud to host a screening of David Koff's 1978 documentary 'Blacks Britannica'.

Blacks Britannica shows the realities of race and class in 1970s Britain with rare honesty and is a powerful base for thinking about racism and the state today. The film charts the history of black people and black struggle in Britain from colonialism and migration to the Notting Hill Carnival and the Spaghetti House siege. The film has been described as "a harsh, relentless and passionate indictment of the British ruling class for manipulating and exploiting British blacks in the interest of profit". Originally produced for US public television, the film was re-edited and censored by TV station management who then tried to sue the director to prevent him distributing his version of the film (we are showing the original cut).

There will be a chance to discuss the film after the screening with Colin Prescod, one of the writers and activists who features in the film. Colin himself made the acclaimed series 'Struggles for Black Community'. The evening is free and all are welcome. If you have any specific requirements please message us on facebook or email David Koff passed away earlier this year and we would like to extend our thoughts to his friends and family'.

Blacks Britannica in 'seedy' New Cross, 1980

Blacks Britannica was seemingly shown locally not long after it was released. A dubious article in the right wing Spectator magazine, 'The Black Spokesman Industry' by Roy Kerridge (2 August 1980), mentions a poster for the film in 'seedy' New Cross where the writer was checking out what the local 'negro youth' were up to:

'Buying a return Tube ticket to New Cross Gate with reckless abandon, I set out to see for myself if negro youth were being 'got at'. New Cross, in south-east London, is a rather seedy area, varying from outright shabby to shabby-genteel, with some pleasant tree-lined streets off Lewisham Way. It is full of West Indian immigrants and their English children. The first thing I saw as I stepped into the street was a poster which read 'Revolution Youth! Free film - Blacks Britannica. Presented by the National Union of School Students. Speaker: local black activist, Fitzroy Maclean.'

A few steps down the road took me to a shop called 'Babaji', which was closed. However the entire window was filled with apparatus used in marijuana-smoking: pipes, scales for weighing the stuff when selling it, and a product lalled 'Maggie -  the only way to clean your grass'. There were also several books on growing  the weed and on Rastafarianism.'Legalise Cannabis' posters and a sign reading 'Member of the Chamber of Commerce and Trade, Borough of Lewisham'. I do not suppose that the shopkeeper was a negro. Nevertheless, his customers must have been local youths.The effects of long-term weed-smoking seem to me to be spiritual rather than physical, resulting in change of character. Dark thoughts, arrogance and cynicism soon go hand in hand with stupidity and forgetfulness... [I] wandered back to New Cross and a pub called The Star and Garter. No longer was I in search of self-conscious 'blackness', and despite all the propaganda, the coloured youths I passed did not seem unduly revolutionary'.

(can't believe that in 1980 some thought it was still OK to refer to 'negroes' and 'coloureds', but there you have it)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Spiritualized at the Venue: 'Trendy Spot' in New Cross, 1991

Came across this in archive of LSE student magazine, The Beaver, 9 December 1991. 'Baby Lemonade' reviews a gig at the New Cross Venue by Spiritualized - 'a band for the post rave 90s' no less'.  The bands at the Venue at this time were only part of the night out, as the author notes: 'The night wasn't over there though. The post show club featured sounds as diverse as New Model Army and the Shamen. Trendy spot it must be too, as at one point I found myself dancing on the heels of Mikki from Lush'  (see previous post on Lush at The Venue).

The gig was on Friday 29 November 1991 - see flyer below (more Venue flyers here)

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Common Greene - Reading Deptford History through Peter Linebaugh (in New Cross on Monday)

Radical historian and theorist of the commons Peter Linebaugh is the author of The London Hanged, The Many-Headed Hydra (with Marcus Rediker), The Magna Carta Manifesto, and introductions to a Verso book of Thomas Paine’s writing and PM’s new edition of E.P. Thompson’s William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary. Linebaugh works at the University of Toledo, Ohio, but London features significantly in his writings. In fact last year I gave a history tour of Deptford to the fine people of New Cross Commoners which I subtitled 'reading Deptford history through Peter Linebaugh' (see below). 

Linebaugh is in town this week, giving a talk tomorrow (Saturday, 3 pm) at the Anarchist Bookfair in Mile End and then at Goldsmiths in New Cross on Monday 20th October. The Goldsmiths talk runs from 5pm - 7pm in the Professor Stuart Hall Building (formally New Academic Building) LG 02, with the title 'The Commons and the True Commons'. Linebaugh will talk about 'the value of what we hold in common, how it can be threatened by private interests, and the possibilities for resistance'. The talks will draw upon his new collection of essays, 'Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance' (PM Press, 2014). Should be good, last time I saw him at Goldsmiths in 2008, he managed to weave the Hobgoblin pub into his talk!

Reading Deptford history through Peter Linebaugh
(notes from May 2013 history walk with New Cross Commoners)

‘the commons is an activity and... it expresses relationships in society that are inseparable from relations to nature’ (Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All  )

1623 map of Deptford, with Thames on left  note ‘The Common Greene’ (Deptford Green)
Chips 'consisted of wood scraps and waste created during the work of a hewing, chopping, and sawing ship timbers. The term refers not to the wood itself but to the right of the worker to appropriate a certain amount it... In 1702 the Deptford men maintained the right to take chips out of the yard three times a day and to enlist the assistance of their families in their appropriation... In 1767 letters were published which explained the 'many Evils' arising from "upwards of two thousand, mostly Women" who entered the dockyard on Wednesdays and Saturdays' to collect wood scraps for fuel and other uses. High walls were built around the docks, not for national security, but to prevent the workers and families taking wood
(Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged:Crime And Civil Society In The Eighteenth Century )

Deptford Dockyard painted in the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century by Joseph Farington
'The ship… provided a setting in which large numbers of workers cooperated on complex and synchronized tasks, under slavish, hierarchical discipline in which human will was subordinated to mechanical equipment, all for a money wage. The work, cooperation, and discipline of the ship made it a prototype of the factory’

At the same time as ‘sailors made the Atlantic a zone for the accumulation of capital, they began to join with others in faithfulness, or solidarity, producing a maritime radical tradition that also made it a zone of freedom. The ship thus became both an engine of capitalism in the wake of the bourgeois revolution in England and a setting of resistance’
(Linebaugh and Rediker, The Many Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic)

The 'St Albans' Floated out at Deptford, 1747 by John Cleveley the Elder
'The pirate ship "might be considered a multiracial maroon community". Hundreds were African. Sixty of Blackbeard's crew of a hundred were black. Rediker quotes the Negro of Deptford who in 1721 led "a Mutiny that we had too many Officers, and that work was too hard, and what not"'
(Peter Linebaugh, Magna Carta Manifesto)

Skull and crossbones at gate of St Nicholas Church, Deptford -
popularly, but probably erroneously believed to have inspired the Jolly Roger pirate flag

The Magna Carta limited the enclosure of the river banks as well as enclosure of woodland as 'forests': ‘All forests that have been created in our reign shall at once be disafforested. River-banks that have been enclosed in our reign shall be treated similarly. All evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters, warreners, sheriffs and their servants, or river-banks and their wardens, are at once to be investigated in every county by twelve sworn knights of the county, and within forty days of their enquiry the evil customs are to be abolished completely and irrevocably’ (Magna Carta, 1215, quoted in Linebaugh, Magna Carta Manifesto). 

What would it be like to treat the river and its banks as commons? What would we do here? As part of the ‘Right to the City’ what would the ‘Right to the River’ look like?

(at this point on our walk we had a picnic and chat on the beach of the Thames next to Convoys Wharf)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rivoli Fundraiser for Save Lewisham Hospital

A couple of weeks ago I was out for a run, and we came across somebody on Ladywell Fields who had fallen off her bike and cut her head. There was no panic - we knew we were just around the corner from Lewisham Hospital's A&E Department, and when we called for an ambulance it turned up a few minutes later. Luckily there was no serious injury, but afterwards I reflected on how quickly we take for granted having a fully-functioning local hospital.

Two years ago, the government announced that the A&E at Lewisham was facing closure. A large and determined campaign saw off that threat, but the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign is still going to make sure it stays that way. As they say: 'Although we kept our hospital open we still need to keep on campaigning  about threats to our hospital and NHS. Over the next 5 years the government is expecting all hospitals to make at least 20-25% cut in their funding. For these reasons we are asking you to continue to support our campaign'. 

They are having a 'Disco Bingo' fundraiser at the Rivoli Ballroom on Friday 24 October. The nights includes bingo and music from Edinburgh award winner Tina Turner Tea Lady, plus Hoola DJ Da'Lynne and DJ Lord Anthony.

Tickets (£10, £5 concessions) available from

or from New Cross Learning (283-285 New Cross Road SE14 6AS) or ‘You don’t bring me flowers’ Café (15 Staplehurst Road, Hither Green) 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Burston School Strike 1916: a meeting in Bermondsey

The Burston School Strike in Norfolk was arguably the longest running dispute in British history, and a cause celebre across the country. Tom and Annie Higdon, teachers at the village school in Burston, Norfolk, were sacked in 1914 in a dispute with the school's managing body. Children at the school walked out in support of them, many of them never returning to it. The Higdons and their supporters set up an alternative Burston Strike School which the children moved to, and further generations of children from the village likewise went to the strike school which continued until the death of Tom Higdon in 1939.

As this advert shows, a meeting in support of the strike  was held at Bermondsey Town Hall in Spa Road in February 1916: 'Burston School Strike! A Village in Revolt! A Fight for Freedom and Justice... Ladies are specially invited'. It was chaired by Alfred Salter, and featured the Higdons and some of the children.


Michael Walker has sent through some additional information about this. It seems that support from Bermondsey to Burston went well beyond this meeting. In November 1915 for instance, the fife and drum band of the Bermondsey NUR (National Union of Railwaymen) took part in a demonstration in Burston.

The same Bermondsey Branch NUR also presented the plaque pictured below to Burston Strike School in May 1917.

NHS Strike - 'Pay Midwives some respect' at St Thomas' SE1

Protest outside St Thomas' Hospital, SE1
 Health workers across South London took part in yesterday's national strike action over NHS pay, braving the rain to protest at hospitals across the area during the four hour walkout. Like many workers, those in the NHS have seen their real income fall in the past few years. This year, 60% of NHS workers will get no pay rise at all while the cost of living continues to rise - especially in London where rents and house prices are already beyond the reach of many health workers. 

'Pay midwives - some respect'
- today's NHS strike was the first ever to include the Royal College of Midwives

'Midwives 0%, MPs 11%' - banner at St Thomas'
with the Houses of Parliament just the other side of Waterloo Bridge

strikers at Lewisham
(photo from @midwifecrisis)

I also saw pickets out at Deptford Ambulance Station (at the Old Kent Road of New Cross Road), but didn't get a picture. Any other pictures from here or around the area, send them to

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sonic Imperfections at Montague Arms

New Cross has a good tradition of experimental music (remember the Gluerooms at the Amersham Arms?). Latest in this continuum is Sonic Imperfections, 'South London's leading experimental night' at the Montague Arms. Next one is tomorrow night (Tuesday 14 October), with Barrel, Iris Garrelfs and Webster & Dunning.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Transpontine Ten Years Later

Can't quite believe that this blog is ten years old. The first posts were on 9 October 2004, covering a talk on witch trials at South East London Folklore Society, a gig by our then favourite local band The Swear at the Montague Arms, and another gig by The Fucks at Goldsmiths . The blog really grew out of a period of being involved to a greater or lesser extent in some interesting but disconnected scenes locally - South East London Folklore Society itself (then meeting at the Spanish Galleon pub in Greenwich), the South London Radical History Group and other stuff at the Use Your Loaf social centre in Deptford (evicted in September 2004) and the New Cross music scene centred around Angular Records and the Paradise Bar (now the Royal Albert).

Now would probably be a good time to stop, I'm not particularly feeling 'the local' at the moment, and blogs have partly been superseded by other social media platforms. But sure I would regret having somewhere to post things that do interest me, or to let people know about some good and bad stuff going on. And if nothing else the last ten years of Transpontine do serve as an archive of a decade in the life of  South East London.

In the early days, Blogger wasn't very photo friendly so there weren't many pictures on early Transpontine. To redress this here's some New Cross-related  images from 2004 I found on flickr.

Art Brut getting ready for a photo shoot by the Paradise Bar in July 2004
(photo by Adie Nunn from flickr)

A 36 routemaster bus to New Cross Gate
(photo taken at Victoria by Bingley Hall on flickr)

Fear of Music flyer for a night at Montague Arms

Footsteps in the snow by Goldsmiths, January 2004
(by Li-Chuan Chong on flickr)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Lewisham Pensioners Forum Big Book Clearance Sale

From Lewisham Pensioners Forum:

'The six monthly Lewisham Pensioners Forum Big Book Sale has come round again.  And this time it's even more of a bargain bonanza. With donations from our elderly members (so we get in really quite interesting stuff) outstripping sales we need to do a massive clearance.  So rather than the usual five paperbacks for £1 and hardbacks 50p to £2, we're offering bags of paperbacks or hardbacks for £2 and £4 respectively, and you can fill as many as you want of supermarket fruit/veg. boxes with the same for £5 (paperbacks) or £10 (hardbacks) each.

If you've an Amazon account - come and stock up - likewise if you're geared up to e-bay sales.
If you've connections to any library - just think how far a budget of even only £30 would go.
For anyone in the least bit tempted by books it's an event not to be missed.
There is unrestricted parking in the area at weekends and vehicle access to the very doors of the Saville for ease of loading'.

Lewisham Boundary Marker by Hilly Fields

Spotted this last weekend in Tressilian Road by the junction with Montague Avenue opposite north west corner of Hilly Fields. I must have walked or run past this hundreds of times, don't know how I never noticed it before. I assume it marks the boundary between the Metropolitan Boroughs of Lewisham and Deptford, before they were combined as the London Borough of Lewisham in 1965. The Metropolitan Boroughs were created in turn in 1900, so the marker probably dates from around the time - before that it was all Kent round there. The park itself was once part of Deptford Common, saved as an open space following a campaign in the late 19th century.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

White Stag in Lewisham

Another spotting of the 'Lewisham Natureman' white stag, location is described as on the River Ravensbourne from Ladywell Fields to central Lewisham 'on the culvert wall at the back of the anodyne two tone terra cotta building next to Riverdale House'. Thanks to Mark D. for sending in photos. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Deptford Fun Palaces

Fun Palaces is a  'celebration of arts, sciences and culture' taking place at venues around the country this weekend (4th and 5th October). Based on the premise of 'Everyone an Artist, Everyone a Scientist' the idea was first concieved of by Joan Littlewright in the 1960s. As mentioned here before, Littlewood was born in Clapham a hundred years ago this week, and lived for part of her life in Blackheath

As part of Deptford Fun Palaces there's loads of free events happening at venues across the area, most of them on Sunday 5th, including:

- the Make Believe Arts Giant Science Playground by Deptford Lounge;
- Teatro Vivo present - Grimms’ Collecting Agency- shared stories;
-  Hunt & Darton Food Fight in the  Albany Garden;
-  Dean Blunkell, Fibonacci Divine Principal, Goldsmiths, Sunday 12.15pm & 13.15pm: 'The performance starts with performers appearing and encouraging the audience to view the architecture, apprentices begin to place models of baroque style buildings while other performers mark out on the floor Fibonacci plans gradually a model cityscape is created under the direction of the architect. At the end the ensemble all dance the Fibonacci, created especially for the performance;

Fun Palaces Co-Director and Author Stella Duffy by the Deptford Lounge
(Tom Parker Photography)
- Khiyo - Market Square, Sunday Midday & 1pm - 'a London band that gives Bengali heritage music a modern, fresh sound. Its radical interpretations draw from rock, folk, and Indian and Western classical music. Khiyo';
- Stefano Di Renzo 'Hold O'n, Giffin Square, Sunday 1.30pm -  'a circus theatre show using slack rope as the base of the theatrical language, exploring the relationship between a man and the system that governs his life';
- Cirque Bijou and Nutkhut Source, Market Square, Sunday 3pm- 'When London’s sewers and underground system were first created, six tunnellers were sent underground in a secret mission to find and save the sources of London’s rivers before they became buried forever. Now, 158 years later, during building works for London’s new super-sewer, these curious long-forgotten tunnellers emerge, travelling with their giant mobile water-spurting laboratory in a burst of song, dance and acrobatic displays.  Cirque Bijou and Nutkhut invite the people of Deptford to join them as they seek the Source, in a mobile, free, outdoor show for all the family.
- Deptford Community Party, The Albany, Sunday from 4pm - 'A Bring-What-You-Can Party for all the community with live music and performance'

Map and full listing here

Monday, September 29, 2014

New Cross Party in the Park

The 1990s Urban Free Festival in Fordham Park was a major London event, bringing together people from what at the time was a big free party/squat/punk/rave scene. 20 years later (13 September), similar sounds were to be heard in the same place at the  Party in the Park - including Back to the Planet who were on the bill there in 1992. Quite a few of the people organising sound systems etc. were also veterans from that scene, as were some of the crowd.  But there were also lots of new young bands in the event organised by New Cross Learning, the Madcap Coalition and others.

Unlike last year's Party in the Park which was cursed by bad weather, this year it was sunny enough to bring out what may well have been the biggest crowd in the park since the final Urban  Free festival in 1995 - nothing like on the scale of  that event, which attracted about 30,000 people in very different times, but a decent free community festival.

Shocks of Mighty

Siren Sound System

Step 13 on the Siren stage by the Moonshot - great breakbeat anthems

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Post-Punk at Goldsmiths

An interesting series of talks and film screenings coming up at Goldsmiths in New Cross on Thursdays starting next week and carrying on through to December on the theme 'Post-Punk then and now'. Some key people from that time will be appearing including Green Gartside (Scritti Politti), Gee Vaucher (Crass),  Lydia Lunch and zine innovator Tom Vague.

Post-punk was my formative teenage time. I loved Scritti in both their early scratchy punk and their pure pop phases, thanks to them I first heard of Jacques Derrida, even if thanks to them too I mis-pronounced his name for years. I listened obsessively to Lydia Lunch's version of Some Velvet Morning with Rowland S Howard from the Birthday Party. And I had Gee Voucher's Stations of the Crass poster on my bedsit wall as a young anarcho-punk.

So I will surely be trying to get to as much of this as I can... and yet part of me is ambivalent about the endless raking over of the embers of the punk/post-punk period, and indeed the later rave period which likewise tends to get fetishised as some kind of sub-cultural high tide mark against which the middle aged judge subsequent generations and usually find them wanting. Maybe everyone likes to think that their youth was the coolest time in history, in that respect the once future-facing punks and the ravers ended up just like the hippies before them, forever harping back to 1977 or 1992 as surely as their long haired forerunners droned on about Pink Floyd at the Ally Pally in 1967. What seems like a period of plenitude, as post-punk does, can also be seen as a period of lack. If we looked to people with guitars and synthesisers for political and cultural inspiration it's because to a large extent we didn't have anywhere else to go for information or ideas. It's interesting to talk about these times, but in a critical way that doesn't reinforce myths. There was no golden age, then, since, or now. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Private Widdle Social Club in Brockley

A night of 'comedy, music and alcohol in pleasant surroundings' this Saturday 27 September at Brockley Social Club (240 Brockley Road) with 'The Private Widdle Social Club': 'Malcolm Head and Trevor Lock will provide top line comedy, with dancing from Dolly Doowop, plus music and the legendary Amy Winehouse Memorial Meat Raffle! All this plus an open spot and the random moments that only happen at Private Widdle. Make this your Social Club Broccolites at an introductory membership offer of £7!'.  The Private Widdle Social Club started out in Deal in Kent, and is 'named after the character played by Charles Hawtrey, in the Carry On films. Hawtrey was Deal's most notorious resident: geriatric; drunk; depressed; foul-tempered; gutter-mouthed and gay as a yellow duster' (read the great 'All the Devils are Here' by David Seabrook for more on that). 

At their Facebook page they very helpfully provide a map of South London for people to find their way to Brockley 'it's between Boho types and here be dragons...', and not too far from 'People who like nice food live here'. The map is from Tom Phillips' Definitive Stereotype Map of Central London (Buzzfeed 2014): 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Story of the London Bus: history talk

Coming up tomorrow, Friday 26th September (7:445 pm), Lewisham Local History Society present a talk on the history of the London Bus by John Wagstaff. It takes place at the Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way SE13.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Cross Graffiti

Some recent messages from the diverse graffiti artists of the New Cross area.

'Blue Borough' (that's Lewisham) /  'South Side' - by Fordham Park

Justin Bieber in Drakefell Road - old skool tipp-ex graffiti

'Meat is Murder' 'Go Vegan' in New Cross Road
(same site as the vanishing UKIP poster earlier this year)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Music Monday: Aphex Twin and legendary Elephant & Castle

Major junctions attract folklore as well as traffic, as those who pass by take their choice of the road less travelled or the road not taken, and wonder whether the guy with a stick and a dog is actually Papa Legba, guardian of the crossroads. This is even more so with a junction close to the heart of a major world city, so no surprise that the Elephant and Castle is the  location of many legends. There's the matter of its name - is it really a corruption of the  La Infanta de Castilla,  a supposed Spanish princess? (its seems not, most probably the area was just named after a local tavern). Then there's Shakespeare's Sister buried underneath the Elephant, isn't there?

And of course there's the legend of Richard James, better known as Aphex Twin. The techno/ambient pioneer's Cornish origins are well-known, but the story goes around that at one time he owned, or even lived in, the stainless steel tructure in the middle of the Elephant and Castle roundabout. Of course it isn't true, said structure is the Michael Faraday Memorial, built in 1961 and designed by the architect Rodney Gordon to commemorate the Victorian scientist who was born nearby. It houses an electricity sub-station for the London Underground.

photo from Atlas Obscura

James came up to London to study at Kingston Polytechnic in the early 1990s, and by 1994, when he was interviewed by David Toop, he was living in Stoke Newington. But not long after that he seems to have moved to somewhere near the Elephant. In 2001, he was interviewed by the Guardian in a cafe in the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, and in the same venue by John O'Connell in the The Face (October 2001). The latter seems to be the source of the tale: 'He's lived in Elephant & Castle for six years, in a converted bank vault. He likes it here. He's just bought the strange silver building, a 'third house' to add to the vault and his Scottish cottage, in the middle of the roundabout just down from the shopping centre. 'It used to be a sub-power station,' he explains. 'I'm exchanging contracts later this afternoon'. This is of course a classic piece of James mischievous misinformation, whether the journalist was clueless enough to believe it or in on the joke I do not know.

Of course that may mean that the bank vault story is not true either, but there's no reason to disbelieve that he lived in the area. Another interview from that period, seemingly conducted in the Italian cafe in the shopping centre, says that he lived on the top 3 floors of a converted bank, with another floor occupied by musical fellow traveller Cylob (Chris Jeffs). James is quoted as saying: '"Yeah, it's a cool neighbourhood. I like it here. It's quite not trendy here, that's why I moved here. There are no young people - nobody recognizes me here. I think in five years I only got recognized two times. Where my girlfriend lives, in East-End, it all became  pretty trendy, lots of people visit you. It's like: 'Oh, you live in a cool neighbourhood  so we'll come around and visit you.' Down here it's like this: 'Oh, you like down there?!  I never got there." He also says that the he used to be able to throw water bombs from his roof on to people queuing for the Ministry of Sound, which narrows the location down to somewhere north of the Elephant and on west side of Newington Causeway.

At some point he seems to have relocated to Scotland, but his Elephant period would have included the recording of his Windowlicker EP and the Drukqs album. The beautiful Avril 14th from the latter recently served as the basis for Kanye West's Blame Game. This week James releases Syro, his first Aphex Twin album since those heady Elephant days of 2001

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lewisham '77 photos by Chris Schwarz

I have mentioned the Deptford photographs of Chris Schwarz  (1948-2007) here before. The Albany has now created a digital archive of his work, Every Picture tells a Story. Lots of great images from the 1970s and 1980s, including some from the 'Battle of Lewisham'  in August 1977, when anti-fascists mobilised against a National Front march from New Cross to Lewisham (see detailed account here)

The first image shows the anti-NF crowd in New Cross Road. The speaker is standing near the Clifton Rise corner, the buildings opposite are on New Cross Road, including corner of Laurie Grove:

This shot shows New Cross Road looking up to bottom of Lewisham Way - building on left is Marquis of Granby pub:

Police in Lewisham town centre, where clashes continued at the end of the march. This was the first time police had used riot shields in Britain.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hatcham Liberal Club 1891: New Cross Meeting for Jailed Union Leader

From the Evening Express, 9 April 1891, a report of a public meeting held at the Hatcham Liberal Club, New Cross Road in support of Joseph Havelock Wilson (1859-1929), secretary of the Seamen and Firemen's Union. J H Wilson had been nominated as the Liberal parliamentary candidate for Deptford, but was unable to attend this meeting as he had been jailed for "unlawful assembly" after being arrested during a strike in Cardiff. The meeting was presided  over by Dr Richard M. Pankhurst, the Liberal Candidate for Rotherhithe (he was unsuccessful), founder of the Women's Franchise League with his wife Emmeline Pankhurst and father of suffragist militants Christabel and Sylvia. Richard Haldane MP, also there, was a Liberal then an Labour politician and one of the founders, with the Webbs, of the London School of Economics. Edward Grey MP was Liberal foreign secretary at the start of the First World War.

After release from prison, Wilson transferred his candidacy to Middlesborough where he was elected as an independent labour MP in 1892, though he later became a Liberal MP. 

(the Hatcham Liberal Club at this time was at Portland House, 202 New Cross Road, which I believe was more or less opposite what is now New Cross Gate station. Not sure when it moved to its later location on Queens Road)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Nunhead Fox

I like the wooden fox of Nunhead Green, placed there recently alongside the new children's play area. The sculpture is the work of artist/woodworkers Arthur de Mowbray, also responsible for the 'Camberwell Beauty' butterfly bench at Walworth Garden Farm.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

P J Harvey and Peter Tatchell at Goldsmiths

Polly Harvey and Peter Tatchell were amongst those awarded Honorary Degrees and Fellowships by Goldsmiths (University of London) in New Cross today, along with writer Neal Ascherson, architect Zaha Hadid, cartoonist Martin Rowson, and ex-Goldsmiths student and poet George Szirte.

Yes I know honorary degrees are a little bit cheesy, but love these people

Monday, September 08, 2014

Music Monday: Pigeon Heroes in Goldsmiths Music Studios

Pigeon Heroes are a South East London-based folkish band who I was lucky enough to catch at the Kit and Cutter event at the Albany earlier this year. They have just posted a video of them recording a new song 'People and Trees' in the recently opening Goldsmiths Music Studios in New Cross Road. So take a look if you wonder what it looks like inside - or if you just want to hear some sweet melodies.

Friday, September 05, 2014

99% Darkness

'99% Darkness' is a new novel by Jacob Stringer 'featuring South London evictions, Occupy, student protests, 15M, FARC guerrillas and dysfunctional relationships.'  With a strapline of 'You are fucked. They are fucked. We are fucked. Experience the fuckedness in London, Bogotá and Madrid' it sounds like it is in line with my current political mood.

 The novel is partly set in South London, here's a scene describing something I used to do a lot - putting the world to rights over a pint in the Prince Albert in Brixton's Coldharbour Lane:

'On the second night I cycled to meet Ahsan in Brixton. At London Bridge I looked up through the rain to see the Shard, now complete, an enormous lit pyramid splitting the sky.

“It looks like the headquarters of our future dystopian overlords,” I said as we 
sat down with our pints in the Albert. “Most of the office space has been taken by hedge funds,” replied Ahsan. “So the word ‘future’ is unnecessary: it is the headquarters of our current dystopian overlords.”

I shook the last raindrops from my head. “And how is London? How’s it been going while I’ve been gallivanting in Latin America?”

“Well you’ve probably seen the figures. The City is booming. Property is reinflating. Everyone else is living a depression. Not enough jobs, not enough hours, high rent, food prices up.”

“A normal day in dystopia.”

Ahsan nodded and suddenly looked serious. “It feels different than it used to. The politicians and the media are stirring up anti-immigrant feeling in a much more poisonous way. Disabled people are being thrown off benefits for the sake of statistics.” He lifted his pint. “And the beer’s expensive, the squats are gone, the poor are being thrown out the city. It feels like the people in charge have no limits to their actions.”

“You know how to cheer up a new arrival Ahsan.”

He grinned. “Come on, you love the feeling of doom.”

I shook my head. “I might love resisting the feeling of doom.”

“Same thing.”

Perhaps Ahsan was right, but neither the Boom London nor the Depression London were my London. My London changes only slowly, at a rate set by myself as I inscribe myself across it. I am not entirely defined by my resistance, however much I may choose to talk about it.


The Albert was becoming noisier by the minute and as we drank – the taste of English ale after so long! – our ability to stay focused on serious matters diminished. The Albert has always had a dynamic of increasing chaos as the night goes on. We drank more, I bumped into old friends, we gave ourselves up to the night'.

There's a launch for the novel tomorrow night (Saturday September 6th) at The Field, 385 Queens Road, New Cross SE14 5HD. 7:00 pm start - facebook event details here.

Brockley Ukulele Group back at Amersham Arms

Continuing their tradition of fine uke-themed flyers, Brockley Ukelele Group are back in action at the Amersham Arms  SE14 on Sunday 14th September 2014. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tales from the Riverbank with London Dreamtime + Irish tales at South East London Folklore Society

Really enjoyed 'Faeries of the Minesweeper' on 22 August from London Dreamtime. A tale of the fairies in a mill at Deptford Creek from Vanessa Woolf was interspersed with songs from Nigel of Bermondsey; costumes and settings were designed by Lucy Williams. Starting out by St Pauls Church we wound our way to a railway arch by Crossfields Estate and then across the Creek to finish up on the Minesweeper Boat.

Vanessa and Nigel on the Minesweeper, sadly didn't manage to get a good picture of them
with the many twilight ducks flying over.

They are back in action on another boat on Sunday 21 September (3:30 pm - 5:00 pm) with 'A Trip down the Thames in Story and Song' on HMS President, the 1918 ship redecorated as Dazzle Ship London by  artist Tobias Rehberger.The event is sponsored by the Londonist and is part of this months's Totally Thames season of events on and around the river. HMS President is moored at  Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0HJ.

Nigel is also busy next Thursday 11 September (8 pm) - hosting South East London Folklore Society at the Old Kings Head in Borough High Street. Guest this time is Thomas McCarthy, the Irish Traveller, Folk Singer & Storyteller. He has a repertoire of over 200 traditional songs that he sings unaccompanied. He also has an extensive story repertoire from which he shall be drawing from at SELFS. Expect to meet fairies, hunchbacks, banshees, druids, Finn McCool and Cuchulain (Facebook event details)  I've caught Tom singing a few times, including at Kit & Cutter, and he's a great talent.

Thomas McCarthy