Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Brixton Socialist Club at Canterbury Arms (1978)

The Canterbury Arms in Brixton is facing demolition, to be replaced with flats. Its great back room has seen some amazing nights, in particular in recent years the legendary indie pop club How Does it Feel?.

Found in a copy of the Leveller magazine (December 1977?) here's listings for the Brixton Socialist Club at said pub in January/February 1978. Acts performing there included folk singer Leon Rosselson, socialist feminist writer/historian Sheila Rowbotham and 7:84 Band (from the theatre company named from the statistic that 7% of the population owned 84% of the wealth). There was also a benefit for the club at Lambeth Town Hall featuring radical avant-rock band Henry Cow.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Radical posters and stickers in New Cross

I reckon New Cross must be the epicentre of radical postering/stickering in London. Yesterday I noticed this audacious piece of subvertising at the bus stop opposite the Marquis of Granby, in the style of a Metropolitan police ad:

'We've pointlessly targeted cannabis users in Lewisham, while other people legally drink their drugs.
Enforcing Westminster's crime concerns in Lewisham #ACAB'

Other examples I've spotted this year include:

Greek anti-fascist sticker in New Cross House

German antifa/anti-Deutsch sticker by Marquis of Granby


London Antifascists

'Good night Loyalist Pride'

'Stop EDL' and Polish anarchist sticker in Fordham Park

Pogo Cafe
(Hackney vegan cafe, closed last year)

Ishiguro in Sydenham

There was an article in the Guardian last week about the author Kazuo Ishiguro in which he recalled writing his 1989 novel The Remains of the Day (later filmed starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson) while living in Sydenham.
'I was then 32 years old, and we’d recently moved into a house in Sydenham, south London, where for the first time in my life I had a dedicated study. (I’d written my first two novels at the dining table.) It was actually a kind of large cupboard on the half-landing and lacked a door, but I was thrilled to have a space where I could spread my papers around as I wished and not have to clear them away at the end of each day. I stuck up charts and notes all over the peeling walls and got down to writing...

On my first Sunday off I ventured outdoors, on to Sydenham high street, and persistently giggled – so Lorna told me – at the fact that the street was built on a slope, so that people coming down it were stumbling over themselves, while those going up were panting and staggering effortfully. Lorna was concerned I had another three weeks of this to go, but I explained I was very well, and that the first week had been a success...

I'd consumed a substantial amount of “research”: books by and about British servants, about politics and foreign policy between the wars, many pamphlets and essays from the time, including one by Harold Laski on “The Dangers of Being a Gentleman”. I’d raided the second-hand shelves of the local bookshop (Kirkdale Books, still a thriving independent) for guides to the English countryside from the 1930s and 50s'
'When Ishiguro  first became a public figure he suffered greatly from  stereotyping by critics and reviewers, who.... nicknamed him the "Shogun of Sydenham" (Kazuo Ishiguro by Barry Lewis, Manchester University Press, 2000)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

New Cross Speedway Programmes

 The New Cross Stadium stood next to the old Millwall FC ground in New Cross on the land now known as Bridgehouse Meadows. As covered here before, it featured greyhound racing, stock car racing  and speedway. Here's a selection of New Cross speedway programme covers




July 1963
The stadium closed in 1969 and was demolished in 1975.

Programmes from the huge collection of speedway memorabilia on sale at ebay by G.Williams Sporting Memorabilia. Click images to enlarge.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Gramsci Way SE6

There aren't too many streets in London named after Italian communists, but in Bellingham SE6 there is a little slice of Lewisham dedicated to Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), who died following eight years in jail as a prisoner of Mussolini. Gramsci Way is a cul-de-sac off Randlesdown Road.

I understand that 'Red Rector' Father Paul Butler, now of St Pauls Church in Deptford, was instrumental in getting the road so-named when he was Vicar at St Dunstans in Bellingham - the vicarage of which is in Gramsci Way.

Antonio Gramsci
Any other ideas for Italian communist street names - Malatesta Mansions perhaps, or Bordiga Boulevard?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Ian McEwan - 'the boundless shabby tangle of London south of the river'

I enjoyed Ian McEwan's latest novel, The Children Act (2014), continuing his close observations of the life of the higher reaches of the urban middle class. While Saturday (2005) was centred around a neuro-surgeon living in Fitzrovia, this book's central character is a judge living not too far away in Gray's Inn.

If McEwan is a London novelist though, he is certainly a north London one (I believe he lives near to the Post Office Tower). And The Children Act features a terrible diss of South London - whether the character's view reflects the author's perspective, you can judge for yourself:

'She had a north Londoner's ignorance of and disdain for the boundless shabby tangle of London south of the river. Not a Tube stop to give meaning and relation to a wilderness of villages swallowed up long ago, to sad shops, to dodgy garages interspersed with dusty Edwardian houses and brutalist apartment towers, the dedicated lairs of drug gangs. The pavement crowds, adrift in alien concerns, belonged to some other, remote city, not her own. How would she know they were passing through Clapham Junction without the faded jokey sign above a boarded-up electrical store? Why make a life here?'

In defence of Clapham Junction

Obviously this description could just as easily - and probably just as unfairly - be applied to many parts of north London. As for Clapham Junction, I found myself at the station there for the first time in years last week, and thought it was a vibrant convergence point of all the currents of London life on a late Saturday afternoon. There were football fans, wedding parties, shoppers returning from the West End, people heading home from doing sports (I'd been running  cross country). I was up the junction, and it was great.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A South London Street Art Bestiary

Fox in Burgess Park (New Church Road, SE5)

Kingfisher in East Dulwich (Frogley Road, SE22)

Lemur in Sydenham Road, SE26

The other Lemur in Sydenham Road.

Lion in the car park of the Golden Lion, Sydenham (Daniel Morgan RIP)

Panther off Sydenham Road.

Ram in Sydenham Road (opposte Golden Lion)

Seahorses in Forest Hill (Devonshire Road, SE23)

Squirrel on Bellingham Green SE6

Thursday, November 27, 2014

South London Rosettes

Some great photos of women in early 1980s style sub-cultures by Anita Corbin here, including this one captioned 'Laura and Janet, South London Rosettes, April 1981'. Anyone know more about these mod revival scooterists?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Marcus Garvey in Borough High Street

A friend told me recently that the great Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) once lived in Borough High Street, which sent me scurrying to the library to find out more

According to Colin Grant's biography, 'Negro with a Hat: the rise and fall of Marcus Garvey' (2008), Garvey first came to London from Jamaica in the Spring of 1912 and rented a room at 176 Borough High Street. He immersed himself in London life, starting his public speaking career at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, and studying in the British Library.  He got casual work on the docks, and then worked for a while for the African Times and Orient Review 'a monthly devoted to the interests of the coloured races of the world'. Garvey traveled round Europe from December 1913, using his sisters address in Stamford Hill (14 Durley Road) for correspondence, before returning briefly to London.

In May 1914, Garvey was staying at the Argosy Hotel, 71 Borough High Street, from where he wrote a letter to the Colonial Office seeking financial help with the cost of returning to Jamaica (the letter is included in 'The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers', published by the University of California Press, 1983) . He did not receive funding from them, but did return to Jamaica in June 1914.

Garvey lived in London again in the 1930s. In 1936, when Ethopian monarch Haile Selassie arrived in London following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Garvey and others went to meet him at Waterloo Station, though they were ignored - Garvey later denounced Selassie as a 'feudal monarch who looks down upon his slaves and serfs with contempt'. In 1940 he died in his home at 53 Talgarth Road, Hammersmith

I believe 176 Borough High Street was on the site of what later became Brandon House, the Overseas Visitor Records Office - a leftover of the colonial system which Garvey fought against. The Argosy Hotel at 71 Borough High Street seems to have been on the site of the Lloyds Bank building next to the George Inn.

Borough High Street 1908 - the rooms above the Argosy Restaurant at no.71
was presumably where Garvey stayed in May 1914

Friday, November 21, 2014

Deptford Dub Club back at the Duke

Deptford Dub Club is back at the Duke tomorrow night,  offering a free night of reggae, rocksteady and ska. Steve Wax reports:

'On Saturday 22nd November we’re re-convening The Deptford Dub Club at the Duke. From 7.30 to 12.30 we’ll be playin’ the best in foundation Jamaican roots music from Ska through to the present.

Our special guest selectors for this session are David Katz and Dub Plate Pearl. David is an acclaimed author and broadcaster on all things reggaematic and a wicked selector. Pearl is also an a great selector, well known on the circuit, who’ll be sure to rock the house. Not forgetting yours truly; I probably need no introduction for Soft Wax regulars and will be delving deep into my musical dub basket for this edition of The Deptford Dub Club.

Our MC for the evening will be rising star Sun I Tafari. Sun I has already graced the stage at the annual Brockwell Park Reggae Festival. This young lion has released a number of acclaimed records and has a fresh LP due; check him on He’ll be joined by Eli Love. Also live on the mic, we’re warmly welcoming back Jaz on Reeds.

There’ll be a vintage record stall for your continued listening pleasure. Expect the usual simultaneously up for it, yet chilled vibe. Deptford Dub Club is now on Facebook too.  where you can check last months blazing session'

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lewisham McDeez

Lewisham McDonalds gets its dues at last in this grime track from Novelist - 'I wanna sit down with my fillet-o-fish bruv'

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Focus E15 Mother Benefit at Montague Arms

This Saturday 22nd November there's an all day benefit for the Focus E15 Mothers campaign, who have been fighting in East London to retain social housing. Lots of great punk rock/riot grrrlish musical action, plus cakes, zines, stalls and a raffle.


The Dykeness - 'feminist comedy cock rock band'
Skinny Girl Diet - 'Fierce grrrl gang from London'
Rabies Babies - 'The funnest, angriest punk band of East London'
Colour Me Wednesday -'four piece DIY punk/indie pop band based in West London'
Joykiller  - 'Punk rock from Norwich. Formed from local bands Compact Pussycat, PMT and Driving Holden/Arcadia Lake'
Petrol Girls - 'Local favourites playing melodic hardcore infused with feminist rage'
Beverley Kills - 'Riotous femmepunkrockahula!' 
Depresstival - antifolk from Lottie Bowater
Werecats- 'Bubblegum party punk'

Stalls House of Astbury - 'reflective clothing for women urban cyclists'; Love Sex Hate Sexism; South London Anti-Fascists.

Saturday 22nd November, The Montague Arms, Queens Road SE15, 3 pm – 1 am. Tickets £6 advance (£8 on the door)  from 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Monday: Charly Records and New Cross Records

I've got a few great 1960/70s soul compilations issued on Charly Records in the 1980s. Looking at the back of one of them, Stan's Soul Shop (released in 1982), I noticed that the label was based at the time  at 156-166 Ilderton Road SE15.

Charly is a label dedicated to reissuing classic old music, starting out in the 1970s putting out early rock'n'roll from Sun Records. Not sure when they moved from Ilderton Road, last reference I have to them there is on 1993 Howlin' Wolf album

Also based at the same address in the 1980s/early 1990s, and linked to Charly, was reggae label New Cross Records. They put out albums by the likes of Dillinger and Prince Jammy, and a couple of compilations of Black Music in Britain in the Early Fifites

From the latter, here's Lord Beginner's calypso observations of the 1950 General Election in Britain:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Two Book Sales

A sign of a good secondhand booksale is when you come home with as many books as you can carry but still finding yourself thinking about a book that  you wish you had bought. In my case that would be a nice hardback edition of 'Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition' by Frances Yates which I once left behind at the Amnesty International booksale in Blackheath. Never mind they've got another one coming up next week:

Amnesty Book Clearance Sale, 10am-4pm Saturday 22 November
Church of the Ascension, Dartmouth Row, London SE10 8BF (10 minutes walk up Lewisham Hill from Lewisham National Rail and DLR Station).

'Simon Ware, Vice Chair of Amnesty's Blackheath and Greenwich Group , said :“The local group has collected thousands of books from a variety of sources, including publishers and book reviewers as well as individual donors. The quality of books – many of which are brand new – is exceptionally high, and there will be plenty of bargains to be found, from second-hand paperbacks to review copies of recently-published novels.”  The group’s book sales, now in their 40th year, are established as Amnesty International’s most successful local fundraising event in the UK, raising more than £275,000 over the years. They are a much loved event for many in the local area and often there is a queue of people waiting to get into the event when the doors open'

Meanwhile New Cross Learning are having a Big Book Sale tomorrow from 2 to 5 pm. They promise: 'Thousands of books from 30p! Second hand, vintage, antique and new. Also CDs and DVDs. Come to NXL on Sunday 16th November and go home richer'. At 282 New Cross Road.

Friday, November 14, 2014

'Partisanship' & 'Unsportsmanlike action' - Dulwich Hamlet supporters, 1903

With their stickers, radical fan contingent and even Transpontine banner, Dulwich Hamlet's supporters have been getting quite a reputation - featured recently in the Independent as the Rabble vanguard of the rise in non-league football support: 'Far, far away from the £2,000 season tickets, the officious stewarding, and the airline-stadium sponsorship of the Premier League, a football revolution is underway.In this otherworld, supporters can buy a craft ale and drink it standing behind the goal. Here is a place where crowd segregation is unnecessary and where fans, quite of their own volition, take up banners calling for an end to racism and homophobia in football and display them from the stadium walls'

More than a hundred years ago, the team's supporters already had a fearsome reputation, judging by this article in the South London Press, 7 February 1903:

'Perhaps without unduly prolonging an unsavoury subject, I may be permiited to quote from one letter sent me this week from a Hamlet supporter, judging by the gist of his remarks. He writes:  "... I have only watched them (Dulwich Hamlet) a few times this season, my chief reason for absenting myself being their strong weakness for fouling and the unsportsmanlike action of their supporters. The latter show far too much partisanship, and rarely give the opponents the slightest credit for good work. This kind of thing does the club concerned a lot of harm. Once get a strong and determined referee who will not put up with the insulting remarks made to him so often on this ground, but report the matter, and the ground will be closed... The Dulwich Hamlet are undoubtedly a fine team, but their reputation is likely to be tarnished unless the players mend their ways and the spectators behave like English sportsmen".

I believe the behaviour of certain sections of the Champion Hill crowd has already engaged the serious attention of the club committee... A few summary ejectments by the police and severe measures by the referees would quickly kill this pest that often brings humiliation and disgrace to a club morally, but not legally, to blame in this matter'.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Of River Crossings and eco-magic in Oxleas Wood

New roads crossing the river Thames, by bridge or tunnel, are back on the agenda nearly twenty years after the Government's major road building programme of the 1990s fizzled out amidst sustained opposition to its environmental impact. In South East London, the most advanced plan is for the Silvertown tunnel from the Greenwich peninsula to the Royal Docks across the river. Opponents of the Silvertown scheme argue that this would 'actually make congestion worse, not better, as building new roads attracts new traffic. With extra congestion comes extra pollution... Already, the A102 and A2 can’t cope with the volume of traffic from the existing southbound Blackwall Tunnel, with queues through Eltham, Kidbrooke, Blackheath, Charlton and Greenwich'. Meanwhile Greenwich Council is advocating a new road bridge at Gallions Reach to replace the Woolwich ferry.

Back in 1993, plans for an East London River Crossing were abandoned. The scheme would have involved building a new road through Oxleas Wood and it was this in particular that galvanised the movement against it, spearheaded by 'People Against the River Crossing'. A wide range of tactics were used including lobbying, legal action - the 'Oxleas Nine' who appealed against compulsory purchase orders - and the threat of direct action, with thousands pledging to block any attempts to bulldoze a road through the trees.

Oxleas campaigners including David Bellamy outside the High Court
An unusual added element was the use of 'eco-magic' by pagans and occultists as part of the movement, with Oxleas provided the main initial focus for the new Dragon Environmental Network. A newspaper report described one of their gatherings to oppose the road:

'There is magic in the air at Oxleas Wood in Eltham, south-east London. More than 70 people are dancing in circles, banging drums and singing to the pagan goddess Freya. 'Ancient mother, I taste your tears,' they chant. Then the circles pick up speed and move closer before the dancers collapse on to the meadow grass, ready for meditation.These are the people of Dragon, a pagan group that brings together witches, Odinists, druids, magicians and the many other elements of the neo-pagan revival now taking place in Britain...

They assemble at a boarded-up cafe on top of a hill overlooking Oxleas Meadow; a high-spirited, straggling group of men, women, children and the inevitable dogs.A few crusties with army greens and muddy boots mingle with grannies in bobble hats, young mothers with pushchairs, youngsters with names such as Cherokee, and a core of slightly intense, baggy jumpered people in their thirties. Some have drums, one man has brought an electric guitar with portable speakers, one woman has a flute' ('If you go down to the wood today: In the moonlight, witches and druids throw a magic ring around a piece of south-east London', Independent, 27 May 1993). Among other things, 'To protect Oxleas, London Dragon buried talismans in the wood.We each spent a lunar month preparing our talisman in our own way. They were then buried together during a ritual' (The Dragon Guide to Campaigning Ecomagic)

Did the spirit of W.B. Yeats help save Oxleas Wood?!

There's an interesting participant's account of all this at View from the Big Hills blog, which recalls that the Fellowship of Isis also became involved via a circuitous route. FOI founder Olivia Robertson believed that she received a message via a spirit medium from the poet W.B. Yeats which prompted her to undertake a number of rituals to protect Oxleas Wood.  Yeats was, incidentally, among other things an occultist with sometime South London connections. Caroline Wise likewise recalls that with another member of the FOI  she  'ritually placed [notices] on trees at the four quarters of the woods, with a spoken proclamation. The notices said that the Noble Order of Tara would not allow the destruction of the wood and that its guardians duly protected the wood.  We posted these at the entrance gates to the wood form the road at Shooter’s Hill as well'.

Did all of this have any effect? If nothing else it all added a colourful angle to the campaign and helped generate some publicity. As Adrian from Dragon said at the time 'All you can say is that if Oxleas Wood is saved, we hope we will have contributed. We would never claim it was our spells that did it, but it's important that people involved with magic are putting their spirituality behind the campaign'. It's not necessary to believe in supernatural forces to see that spending time in the wood communing with trees probably strengthened the emotional connection of those involved to the place, and this in turn inspired their wider activism. Some of the people involved in the eco-magic side of things were also the most active in the mundane but essential work of community organising and awareness raising.

No doubt if a new generation of road protestors emerges they will find much to inspire them in the movements of the 1990s, including the successful one to save Oxleas Wood. Whether magic in the moonlight forms part of their tactical armoury, we shall see.

The proposed route of East London River Crossing and related roads
(from E-Shooters Hill)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Music Monday: SE4-Real at Montague Arms

Coming up next Monday 17th November at the Montague Arms, a night of bands from New Cross/Brockley area with some great punky/garagey/riot grrlish noise, some of them so lo-fi that they have released cassettes (and in the case of  PAMs recorded at Brockley Studios in Arabin Road)

'From the Burning Streets of Brockley! The ‘Boss’ from the ‘Cross! An SE4-Real showcase with

Flemmings: Future ‘90s rock heroes! Take the money you’d otherwise spend on a sub-par Thurston/Mascis solo album, and GIVE IT TO THESE GUYS INSTEAD.

PAMs: Short! Fast! Loud! Stupid..? You be the judge, they’ll be the executioners.

Charla Fantasma: Long-rumoured new trio emerge from practice room cocoon as magnificent butterfly! Expect fuzz, melody, chaos, eternal love, etc.

Cat Smell: Barbed disaffection hides beneath sugar-coated joy as Give It Ups veterans shift gear toward garagey, two-guitar kerfuffle.

MONDAY 17th NOVEMBER at THE MONTAGUE ARMS, Queens Rd, SE14 2PA (Overground: Queens Road Peckham / New Cross Gate). £3 on the door. Music begins from 8ish.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Paying Guests - a novel of 1920s South London

Sarah Waters' latest novel, The Paying Guests (Virago, 2014) is set in 1920s South London, where a mother and daughter fallen on hard times after the First World War take in lodgers in their once grand home on the Camberwell/Dulwich borders: 'Champion Hill, on the whole, kept itself to itself. The gardens were large, the trees leafy. You would never know, she thought: that grubby Camberwell was just down there'.

The lodgers are of a lower class, moving over from Peckham Rye, and with one of them the daughter of shopkeepers on the Walworth Road. Most of the action takes place in this Champion Hill/Camberwell/Walworth Road area, with Ruskin Park featuring significantly. If you know Sarah Waters' previous work (including Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet), I don't think it would be giving too much away to reveal that the plot includes crime, class and lesbian romance in a meticulously recreated historical context (she thanks Lambeth and Southwark local studies archives for their help). The author lived in Brixton for many years, then Kennington, so knows this part of the world very well.

The novel also features a paean to the joys of wandering through London:

'She loved these walks through London. She seemed, as she made them, to become porous, to soak in detail after detail; or else, like a battery, to become charged. Yes, that was it, she thought, as she turned a corner: it wasn't a liquid creeping, it was a tingle, something electric, something produced by the friction of her shoes against the streets. She was at her truest, it seemed to her, in these tingling moments - these moments when, paradoxically, she was also at her most anonymous. But it was this anonymity that did it. She never felt the electric charge when she walked through London with someone at her side. She never felt the excitement she felt now, seeing the fall of a shadow of a railing across a set of worn steps... It was like being a string, and being plucked, giving out the single, pure note that one was made for'.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Votes for Women 1913 - action in Bromley

A couple of stories from the Bromley Record (1913) illustrating two different approaches in the campaign for votes for women at its height just before the First World War.

In June there was a 'letter box outrage' in Bromley 'High Street, near the Royal Bell Hotel', with 'An attempt to destroy letters - presumably by Suffragettes'. It seems that 'liquid of a fiery nature had been placed inside', damaging several letters. A message left at the scene read 'Asquith, do your duty and give votes to women'. This took place ten days after the death of Emily Davison, the Blackheath-born Suffragette who was hit by a horse in the 1913 Epsom Derby.

Bromley Record, July 1913

Meanwhile, in July 'the Kentish suffrage pilgrims arrived in Bromley', holding a meeting in Westmoreland Road 'attended by a very large number of people'. This was organised by the 'non militants' of the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies, who disapproved of the direct action of the Pankhurst-led  Women's Social and Political Union ('the suffragettes'). The pilgrims 'wore a sash of red, white and green and carried a flag'.

Bromley Record, September 1913

See also related posts:

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Field Opens Tomorrow in New Cross

If you've been down Queens Road SE14 recently you might have noticed a lot of activity going on at the single storey building next to the Doctors surgery. The building at 385 Queens Road has been semi-derelict for a while, but a group of people have been renovating it having struck a deal with the landlord to use it rent free for a while in return for doing it up. The project is called The Field,  'an experiment in collective local research, education and action. We have taken over a previously derelict building in New Cross for five years, which we hope can become a shared resource for the neighbourhood'.

The collective, which includes people who have been involved with New Cross Commoners,  have put in new windows, ceiling and floor and knocked through the two rooms into one space.

Although the building itself is small it has a large yard/garden which they have cleared. Previously it was waste deep in every kind of rubbish.

Tomorrow - Saturday 1st November - sees the launch of the space from 4 pm. They say: 'Join us to celebrate the opening of The Field! There will be some displays and publications to peruse from 4pm. At 7pm there will be brief presentations to give you all a bit of an insight into what's been happening here, how it's happened, and what might happen in the future. Following this we will move onto food, drink, music, fun and frolicking together to celebrate all the hard work that has gone into the project so far, and to mark the start of a new phase in the life of 385 Queen's Road. We'd love to see as many of you wonderful people as possible, especially those who have helped in some way or another. So please do come down--it'll be fun! We promise!'.

Some old punk graffiti in the building before the redecoration -
lines from the Crass song  'So What?'

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The boots of history - an 'anti-sexist' response to the 'Battle of Lewisham' 1977

An interesting online archive has recently been assembled from the 1970s/early 80s libertarian Marxist group East London Big Flame. Feminism was a big influence on the group, including the men within it, some of whom were involved in establishing the magazine/group 'Achilles Heel: for a men's anti-sexist politics'. The site includes a special issue of the magazine (no.5) on the theme of 'masculinity and violence'. One of the articles in it is a personal account of the 1977 anti-National Front demonstration in New Cross, sometimes referred to as 'the Battle of Lewisham'

Published a little while after the events (the magazine isn't dated, but believe it was published in 1979/80), it's interesting because the author, Andy Metcalf, uses his experience to reflect on the wider issues of political violence and masculinity.

Thank God I Remembered my Boots! by Andy Metcalf (Achilles Heel, no.5)

I drove the car fast up the outside lane into New Cross, looking for a place to park. I was late for the demo, and it looked like being a big one. Up at the junction, nothing much had happened yet: the big crowd blocked the road causing a traffic jam; on the speakers’ stand, Darcus Howe was winding the temperature up . . . “The black community will not allow the National Front to mount these sort of provocative actions - make no mistake about that." As he finished, the chant roared out: “The National Front is a Nazi Front. Smash the National Front." I looked at the punters in their cars; they just wanted to get home for Grandstand, that's all. But this was our reality, not theirs, and for once they were trapped in it.

Near the crash barriers, where the road divides, I asked a black guy if he knew where the Front was. He didn't know but showed me his preparation - a long steel chain wound round his waist. There was going to be some heavy action going down this afternoon.  Later, much later, a man ran down New Cross Road, shouting, “They're lining up to march through.” I couldn't see a thing. Another false alarm probably. Suddenly a mass of police appeared a hundred yards away. “Block the road — form a line."

Christ, where is everyone? They look as if they've got the whole force out for this. Nobody's getting it together — who’s meant to be co-ordinating this anyway? They’re going to march them right through us. “Link arms." Who said that? Was that my voice? Shit, I'm in the front row . . . a woman to my left, man to my right. We look so small. Still, zip up the jacket, no loose clothes; check boot laces and hold on tight. One figure in blue advances:

“This is a lawful march. Disperse from obstructing the road at once. This is your last warning — if, you do not disperse, the police horses will he sent in.” The riders leant into their charges, shouldering them forward. The horses, high stepping all the way, accelerated as they came close to us. One moment it was link arms, the next I was knocked sideways by a horse breaking our line. Its massive chestnut thigh, rich with a thick gloss and wider than a man's frame, surged past my me; It was big, animal, and unpredictable. And I discovered, when I found myself on the pavement panting, it had just STOOD ON MY FOOT. The leather had a fresh gouge, the imprint of a hoof, taken out of it. Thank God l remembered to wear my boots.

Political violence is a serious issue; it's been at the heart of much debate between socialists for along time; reform or revolution, armed struggle or peaceful road, Allende or Ho Chi Minh. But the discussion has echoes beyond that of strategy. The gestures, the tones, the postures, all imply the choice is between milk and water suburban-safe reform and red-blooded steel-hearted revolution. If you’re man enough, revolution is the road for you. A host of masculine meanings attends the debate. But, like gate-crashers at a private function, they are acknowledged but never directly addressed. 

All too often, what has been lost in this little world, is the sense that whether you like it or not, politics is about violence.  At its core, a political practice revolves around the control and authority of ruling groups and the rebellion and revolt of subordinate ones. Oppression will always engender revolt. And those who have chosen the “peaceful road” may well find  themselves on a battlefield, with the rhetoric of violence, but with none of its tools. There is a photograph of Allende on the last day of his Presidency. All his efforts to appease the Chilean Military had come to nought. He had let the army crush dissent within its own ranks, disarm militant workers, and prepare for a coup, and still they wanted to overthrow him. He is entering the Moneda Palace for the last time, surrounded by a few young men - his bodyguards. On his head, a steel helmet, and strapped to his waist, a leather hand gun holster. Not really enough against tanks, artillery, Hunter jets, and a battalion or two of assault troops. But at least he died like a man. Precisely, exactly, like a man.

After the horses, in trooped the marchers, dwarfed by their police escort. And with the Front’s appearance came the rocks, half bricks and pieces of timber from the other side of the road. The marchers, crouching under this hail, holding bleeding heads, looked thin and rneanly fed. Terrified, they scuttled along, shying away from the brick throwers, so that they were only three or four yards away from us. All the while, the chanting poured down on them: “Fascist scum! Smash the National Front!”

Could this ragged crew be the principal threat to life, liberty, and multi-racialism? Next to rne a gangling white man had his own private message: “See, see, see how it feels." He screamed. “How do you like that, eh? Hurts, doesn’t it? How do you like a taste of your own medicine. Next time you go round beating up Asians, you'll know how it feels, won't you.” This was it. Vengeance is mine. I reached down for a brick. The NF were only spitting distance away.

It must have been 1969-70. The union meeting was packed eight or nine hundred people. I could hardly see her from the back. A small woman with black hair; the Representative of the People's Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam. She spoke quietly and in Vietnamese, translated by a man. Outlining the present stage of the struggle and the PRG’s platform, her words absolutely lacked any rhetoric. The hall was quiet, but here and there little eddies of disquiet spun up, searching for some inspirational phrase to latch on to.

Against the pulp of my finger tips, the brick had a rough grainy feel. A scurry of movement caught my eye as three policemen banged through the crowd to pounce on a man a few yards away. Arm lock, knee in the nuts, and they were gone with him. Shitting hell — they’ve got snatch squads out. It's getting more like Belfast every day. My fingers held the brick, my eyes watched the Front, my mouth shouted, but my arm wouldn't throw. They were close, so close. I put it down. Picked it up after a moment, and then put it down again. OK. So I chickened out. I could have thrown it but I didn't. I was scared, sure. But couldn't overcome the fear. They were just too close. And a police horse had just trodden on my foot.

Zing sing, like ice along the veins, the stream of clarity poured out of his mouth. Our power, the hot beauty of its crystalline analysis. History in his hands. Hands pounding, fingers jabbing; he stood at the rostrum, denouncing police harassment, decrying a state within a slate. He pulled this thin thread of thought from clenched teeth and concluded: “comrades, we must never forget that the state will inevitably block the transition to socialism with all the violence at its disposal.” It stirred: it was right.

Outside, a big sky dwarfing the street, I felt confused. Riots may come and riots may go, but the labour movement remains silent. Demonstrations are met with bullets in Derry, but parade through London in ritual peace. The police intelligence computers whirl on untroubled by socialist activity. There was something missing . . . was it an AK47 machine gun under the stairs or a sense of myself?

In this confusion words take on different meanings. Political violence can never only be a question of political strategy. Between head and hand there can be an echoing void, that no amount of theoretical debate will fill. Into such hollows, the rhetoric of the left swirls and buffets, but leaves unmoved a strange gallery of scenes. Family tableaus of anger and authority; the corridor outside and duty master's office; father carves the Sunday joint, his sons finger their knives; the brotherhood of playground rites.

I've kept the boots. I'm very fond of them. You can still see the mark on the side of them. I'm convinced it's the mark of history.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Music Monday: The Spaceape RIP

Stephen Gordon, who recorded as the Spaceape, died earlier this month after living with cancer for several years.

This is from Melissa Bradshaw's obituary of him in the Guardian (24 October 2014):

'The Spaceape, who has died of cancer aged 44, was a poet, vocalist and MC from London who took the Jamaican dub poetry tradition into a new and experimental age. Born Stephen Gordon, he made a series of recordings as The Spaceape – both in his own right and with others including the pioneering DJ, producer and academic Kode9 and the Mercury Prize-nominated electronic artist Burial – that defined “dubstep”, the bass-heavy soundtrack to much of 21st-century youth culture...

His longest-term collaboration was with Kode9 (Steve Goodman), the founder of the Hyperdub record label that became synonymous with the rise of dubstep in the early 2000s. Gordon had never performed or recorded music until Goodman, his flatmate, suggested that they should try doing a track together. Gordon chose a cover version of the Prince song Sign O’The Times, and the result, Sine of the Dub, became the first single to be released on Hyperdub in 2006...

Gordon was born in Peckham, south London, to Joyce, a healthcare worker, who died when he was 12, and Hubert, who worked for Ford. He attended the William Penn secondary school [now Charter School] in Dulwich. After leaving school aged 17, he worked in clothes retail, and did an access course at the London College of Fashion, followed by a degree at Goldsmiths, University of London. His father returned to Jamaica when Gordon was 21, but he stayed in London, working at the British Film Institute, and then as an image researcher at the BBC, leaving shortly after being diagnosed with cancer in 2009.

He is survived by his wife, Luciana, their daughter, Cleo, and his father. Stephen Samuel Gordon (The Spaceape), poet and MC, born 17 June 1970; died 2 October 2014'

His final EP with Kode9 The Killing Season, has just been released.

Hyperdub's 5th birthday at Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle, 2009
- I saw Kode9and The Spaceape there