Sunday, June 16, 2024

Pizzeria Castello and other Elephant Spectres

'Poor Fiery Blocks: four bent perspectives of the Elephant and Castle' is the latest pamphlet in Christopher Jones's remarkable ongoing explorations of the area that he has been conducting/living for more than 30 years. One day somebody needs to publish his various related writings in a big book.

'Poor Fiery Blocks' is an attempt to come to terms with the 'new Elephant' and the psychic dislocation of being in a place which is geographically in the same spot but which bears no relation, socially or physically, to what was there before. There are older people who have experienced two cycles of this here, with the old tenement blocks and terraced housing demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Heygate Estate and shopping centre, now in turn knocked down. We experience the loss of physical landmarks on which to hang our memories, leaving behind our 'melancholic reverie for a dead past that we cannot mourn and let go of even if it appears as a phantasy of longing and a somewhat presence real enough to taste'. Yet somehow the ghosts linger: 'A Spectre is haunting the Elephant and Castle - the Spectre of deep rumination and desire of what still remains in plain view. The Spectre that goes backwards in time and destroys the present'.

For instance the Strata tower at the top of the Walworth Road replaced the demolished Castle House of which Chris writes: 'Part and parcel of the late mid-60's GLC built Draper Estate, Castle House, all offices above, below though the famous Pizzeria Castello. Never forgotten all the good nights out there. We would look for the puffed up black sacks on a Sunday morning in Castello's dumpsters at Eagle Yard full of unused pizza dough and make good good bread from it. There was also Uptown Bar for a bit there in the shop units at Castle House and funny fish in Fin King Aquatics we'd go and see. Then up the other end from pizza and fishes it larged itself Latino with The Ministry of Salsa club that was a part of Los Arrieros restaurant that had taken over the old Riley's Snooker Club in the mid-90s. Here we have heard it said that by 2005 Reggaeton was first aired and popularised in London here as a these Puerto Rican bangers were gaining favour over Salsa. Again history is wild and others claim 'La Bomba' at Ministry of Sound from 2005 as London's first Reggaeton night'.

Castle House - Pizzeria Castello at left and Ministry of Salsa at right

Ah yes the famous Pizzeria Castello at 20 Walworth Road, the Pullens anarchists, students and other locals rubbing shoulders with all sorts...  Down the Walworth Road  at number 144 was the headquarters of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1997. Later Labour MP Tom Watson started working there in 1984 as a teenage library assistant and recalled that his colleagues  'regularly took me to the legendary Pizzeria Castello restaurant, which at the time, made the best pizzas in London. They also introduced me to Frascati wine, which was supposed to be sophisticated in those days. It’s gone now, but the Pizzeria Castello rivalled the Gay Hussar for political intrigue. I would often see John Prescott and other politicians caucusing in there' (30 years ago today I started working for the Labour Party, Labour List, 2014).

Conservative prime minister John Major also ate there sometimes, though seemingly not a fan: 'In 1992 Major was heard saying that the pizzas available at the Pizzeria Castello in Elephant and Castle, run by Antonio Proietti, were 'the worst in the western world'. Evidently the changing tastes of a smarter set had passed him by. 'Proietti's restaurant has served the best pizzas in London since the early 1980s,' wrote the restaurant critic Jonathan Meades, in a state of shocked disbelief. 'They are far more Italian than the mass-produced English imitations. Perhaps this was lost on Mr Major, with his love of Little Chefs and Happy Eaters.' (Alwyn W. Turner, A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s, 2013)


I went there a few times, also remember going into Riley's Snooker and American Pool Club at no.4. Back in the 1990s I was friends with a guy in Belfast (Turf Lodge) who had been an Irish Republican prisoner. His sister worked at Riley's and I went to her wedding party, a big Irish/Sierra Leonean booze up in tenants hall on Old Kent Road. Funnily enough around the same time I once 
saw Ulster Unionist MP David Trimble at a bus stop nearby. I mention this only as an example of the infinite subterranean connections linking this area to so many parts of the world. Truly all roads lead to the Elephant and its story isn't finished yet...

Anyway I found Castello's takeaway menu at flickr. It finally closed in 2006, though I think La Luna further down the Walworth Road  and still going was originally an offshoot from it.




In the 1990s, Castle House was part of London South Bank University, as Brixton Hatter remembers on twitter:



You can buy 'Poor Fiery Blocks' and lots of other great stuff from the Past Tense shop on Etsy, as well as at the 56a Infoshop, 56 Crampton Street SE17 3AE

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Southwark prisons history walk, June 2024


Coming up on Sunday 9th June 2024, Radical History Faction present a walk through the prisons and sanctuaries of old Southwark 

FREE. Meet 2pm: Tabard Street, outside St George the Martyr Church.
Nearest tube: Borough.

For more on the history of London's 'outlaw' zones in Southwark and elsewhere see John Levin's excellent Alsatia site

 

Monday, June 03, 2024

Skinheads at the Savoy Rooms in Catford

The original skinheads in Britain were quite distinct from the neo-nazi affiliated boneheads that became dominant in the 1980s. The style emerged as a shorter haired and tougher looking development from the mod scene, and was characterised by a love of reggae and soul. It would be oversimplifying things to pretend that there was no racism in this scene, but there were black as well as white skins.

One of the early skinheads was Paul Thompson who for a while in 1969-70 helped put together a regular skinhead column for the underground paper The International Times, more usually associated with those of a long hair persuasion.  Paul was attending Goldsmtihs College at the time, and one of his haunts was The Savoy Rooms in Catford, as he discussed in a fascinating interview ' Swimming in the right pond' with Maciej Zurowski in the Weekly Worker back in  2016. Here's a couple of extracts:

'Music and clothes were the two most important things to me. I was over the moon when I found a West Indian record shop in Deptford 10 minutes walk from my college. The reggae vinyl they had on sale had literally come off the boat that afternoon. When I came to London, rocksteady was still going, but shortly after, reggae arrived - that’s what I was mainly picking up at the record store in Deptford. Otherwise, it depended on the DJs. At the Savoy Rooms, they played the latest Tamla Motown singles, but they also kept playing older crowd-pleasers. ‘Same old song’ by the Four Tops was a favourite, as was ‘The clapping song’ by Shirley Ellis, to which we would chant our own rude lyrics.

My most important gig was Desmond Dekker live at the Daylight Inn in Petts Wood on the day that ‘Israelites’ got to number one in the charts. But generally, skinhead culture was more record-oriented. Sometimes, they had live bands playing at the Savoy Rooms, but people quickly got bored watching them. We found it much more fun to have DJs, who could change the music and respond to our moods.

... At the height of the skinhead time, there was always a bunch of West Indian lads at the Savoy Rooms in Catford, which for us was the south-east London place to go....  In terms of fashion, the West Indian skinheads largely imitated the British skinhead style, not the other way round. The other West Indian guys who hung out at the Savoy Rooms - the so-called rudeboys - had their own fashions, which were somewhat different to ours'.

For the International Times column, Paul recalled, 'We also got Steve Maxted involved, who, although not a skin himself, was the skins’ favourite DJ in south London and reviewed the latest reggae vinyl for us'

Maxted was resident DJ at the Savoy Rooms at this time, a larger than life character, who entertained with acrobatics and stunts. He also DJ'd for a while on SE London pirate Radio Sheila. The Savoy Rooms at 75 Rushey Green, SE6 had also been known as The Witchdoctor. The excellent Garage Hangover site has put together a list of bands who played there including in 1969 The Pyramids who under the name Symarip put out the classic Skinhead Moonstomp single that year


Steve Maxted in action - photo by Jozef Maxted from SMART

Pyramids at Savoy Rooms, 1969 (from Garage Hangover)

One of Steve Maxted's reggae review columns from International Times, no, 69, 5 December 1969

See also:

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Black Echoes - South London nights out 1987

A window into London soul, funk and reggae nightlife from Black Echoes, 14 March 1987:

A 7 day 'Black Arts Festival' at the Cultural Centre in Woolwich with dance, drama and music with Smiley Culture, Ranking Miss P, Sista Culcha, Taxi Pata Pata and more...


At the North Peckham Civic Centre on the Old Kent Road, Southwark Leisure present 'Art and Soul - a multi-cultural season on events; including Linton Kwesi Johnson and Jean 'Binta' Breeze


Jah Shaka sessionsa the Self Help Centre, 10a Melon Road in Peckham


Soul nights with Bob Jones at the Royal Oak on Tooley Street SE1 (where the Hilton hotel now stands):


Round up of club nights including Chris Nat's under 18 soul parties at the Peter Piper Nitespot (10a Melon Road - same venue as Shaka above) and an under 16s event at the Oneway club in Catford (10 Brownhill Road). There was also an 'under 18 jam' at Steppers, 414 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton (I went there myself when it was Club 414).



And from August 29 1987, Jamaican legend Delroy Wilson appearing at the Golden Anchor pub in Nunhead and La Plaza nightclub in Peckham High Street.



Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Thomas McCarthy at the Goose is Out

An Irish flavoured event coming up at the Goose is Out at the Ivy House pub next week (31 May 2024) with headliner Thomas McCarthy. I first heard Tom sing at another  fine South London folk night, one of Kit and Cutter's great events at the Old Nun's Head way back in 2011. Since then his reputation has grown as one of the foremost collectors and performers of Irish Traveller songs (Ticket details here- advance booking recommended).

 

Nyge and Sue have built up The Goose is Out to be one of London's leading folk nights, attracting some of the best known acts on the circuit to a usually packed out room in Nunhead. In the last couple of years for instance I've seen Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, Stick in the Wheel, Burd Ellen and Fay Hield among others. The club has also provided a bridge between the more established folk scene and some of the new wave of queer/pro-feminist folkies - I've also seen Sonny Brazil (Goblin Band) and both Jacken Elswyth and Mataio Austin Dean (Shovel Dance Collective) perform there recently.  They also nurture local singers at their monthly singaround sessions where everyone is encouraged to stand up and sing a song, I've done so a couple of times myself.

So get along to Goose is Out!

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Becket House - an immigration prison in SE1

At present there are major building works going on next to London Bridge station in St Thomas Street with the construction of a 27 storey 'EDGE London Bridge' office block well underway.  Whatever you think of it, nobody is going to much miss the Home Office building it replaced, known as Becket House. Before the latter vanishes from historical memory it's important to record what happened there as possibly the last designated prison in a part of London that has seen many prisons over the centuries.




Protest at Becket House in 2010

Becket House's purpose was probably unclear to those fortunate enough not to have to use it, including the many commuters passing by as they exited the south entrance of London Bridge station. The only clue was the daily queue of people from all corners of the world stretching around the building each morning.

Becket House was an an Immigration Reporting Centre where asylum seekers were required to attend regularly.  In most cases this would involve a long queue and a short signing on but the terror underlying this was never really knowing when you left home that morning whether you would be coming back again. Asylum seekers could be detained when they turned up and for this purpose Becket House had what was called a 'short term holding centre' where people could be locked up until they were moved to a longer term detention centre and then potentially deported.  This was officially designated as a prison and subject to HM Prisons Inspectorate (see for instance this critical report of a 2009 inspection). It consisted of two adjoining secure 'holding rooms', one for single adults and one for families. As well as being used for people detained when signing it was used to lock up people arrested in immigration raids in the community organised from Becket House.  People were usually moved to a removal centre on the same day, though sometimes they were moved overnight to local police station cells. The centre was run for  some of its time for the then UK Borders Agency by Group 4 Securicor (G4S).

At one time Becket House was processing 15,000 appointments a year. How many people were detained in total is unknown but one report shows that between August and October 2009 alone 255 people had been detained, including 39 children (15%) and 59 women (23%). Among those who were  locked up there was Amir Siman-Tov from Morocco. Detained when he reported to Becket House in January 2016 he was transferred to Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre where he died the following month (see Inquest report). 

As part of the Government's Hostile Environment, Becket House was designed to intimidate - in 2018 the Guardian reported that an official there had been filmed saying 'We are not here to make life easy for you. It’s a challenging environment we have got to make for people. It’s working because it’s pissing you off'.

Becket House was the focus for a number of protests from migrant solidarity groups. The building closed in 2022 and was demolished soon afterwards.

s
Several hundred people paused at Becket House during the March for Migrant Rights in October 2006
 which went from Imperial War Museum to Tanner Street park


No Borders protest in 2009


SOAS Detainee Support, Migrants Organise and These Walls Must Fall at Becket House in 2021

The only Immigration Reporting Centre for South London is now at Lunar House in Croydon. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Russell Dryden RIP

Sorry to hear today of the passing of Russell Dryden. Familiar to many from his fish stall in Bermondsey's  blue market, which he ran  for more than 30 years, he championed music through his involvement with Bermondsey Beat and Bermondsey Carnival.

He also had a lovely singing voice himself. Back in June 2011 'Nigel of Bermondsey' hosted Southwark Folk, a night of South London themed songs at the Cuming Museum on Walworth Road. Nigel/George performed, I sang a few songs as did John Constable, and Russell charmed us with some of his own compositions including one I remember prompted by hearing an American accent in the market and reflecting on the ever changing area.



Sunday, May 12, 2024

Hate is a Drag! - Honor Oak protest exhibition in Catford

Hate is a Drag! is an exhibition at Catford Constitutional Club's Gallery SE6 of art from and inspired by last year's Honor Oak anti-fascist counter protests. It includes placards and signs from the movement as well as other work by Kate Emblen who curated the exhibition and who was herself targeted online by the far right for her participation in the events.

From February to July 2023 there were monthly far right protests targeting a Drag storytelling session at the Honor Oak pub. The first one saw 500 people turn up and block the road to oppose them, and that set the tone for an ongoing community mobilisation which outnumbered the far right each month until the final one in July 2023. By this time the storytelling session had stopped anyway, it's in the nature of events in pubs that they come and go over time though I think that the company running the pub may have brought pressure for it to take a break and no doubt the police had a word in their ear too. 




The exhibition at Catford Constitutional Club runs from 10 May to 5 June 2024



I've written an account of the protests at Datacide magazine, here's an extract:

'The protests were first called by Turning Point UK, a Trumpian ‘anti-woke’ group, and amplified by right wing influencers like GB News TV presenters Calvin Robinson and Laurence Fox. Both of these attended the first protest in February 2023 where their 30 or so supporters were heavily outnumbered by community opposition, with several hundred people occupying the road by the pub to stop them getting near. Since then there have been monthly face offs with anti-fascists as the far right has tried and mostly failed to occupy a space directly outside the pub for its protest.  In the most serious confrontation in June intelligence that the far right were planning to arrive very early led to an to an even earlier counter effort. By 6 am people had gathered to defend the pub and soon afterwards the Turning Point mob turned up and piled in. Scuffles continued for a while before the police turned up, a few people were injured and a window broken in the pub but the line held. After the early departure of  the far right there was dancing in the road before the police cleared the impromptu street party.  Giving evidence against a protestor who was arrested, a cop claimed that the sound system had been louder than Rampage at Notting Hill Carnival – a slight exaggeration.

Since then events have settled down into a routine with 100+ anti-fascists outside the pub, large numbers of police (12 van loads at most recent count) and a hard core of around 20-30 anti-drag activists, mostly older white men with long term involvement in far right street politics. Among those identified have been people previously associated with Combat 18, Blood & Honour (white power skinheads) and the British National Party. One regular attendee spent years in jail for being part of a neo-nazi gang that nearly killed a man in a racist stabbing in Essex.

Opposition to the far right at the Honor Oak has come from a mixture of  younger queer and trans activists, long time Lewisham leftists and trade unionists and other local people just outraged at the presence of bigots in this diverse part of London. Despite some political differences some interesting connections have been made and a tentative South London antifascist community of struggle has emerged over seven months. Large banners have proclaimed ‘South London Loves Trans People’ and ‘South London is Anti-Fascist’. 



 

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Electric Sweat at Venue MOT

Coming up next Friday May 3rd at Venue MOT, Surrey Canal Road SE14 - Electric Sweat, a night of 'underground electro and jacking grooves'


They say:

'After a long hiatus, Electric Sweat has returned on it's promise to providing a serious session of Electro and jacking grooves all night long. Experience a more specialist and old-school approach with longer set times from the DJs, in a warehouse setting!

Resident Controlled Weirdness has teamed up with Lex G (Gunfinger Food) for this mega return and the pair have invited down UK electro don, Phil Bolland aka Sync 24.

Phil has been a key part of the resurgence of electro the past few years. An amazing DJ, producer and mastermind behind the renowned record label Cultivated Electronics, which has been running since 2007. He has worked with and released many tracks from key figures of the underground electro community such as Radioactive Man, Morphology, The Hacker, Silicon Scally, The Exaltics, DeFeKT, Assembler Code and Jensen Interceptor as well as many others. Expect plenty of new and unreleased music to be played by the artist on the night and experience the sweaty warehouse experience you've been missing, down at the wicked Venue MOT.

Support from residents Controlled Weirdness & Gunfinger Food...

Controlled Weirdness is a veteran producer and DJ who's been at the front line of all aspects of club and sound system culture since the early 80’s. His musical CV includes playing everywhere from plush clubs to dirty warehouses as well as mixing tunes on a variety of iconic London pirate radio stations. He has released music on numerous underground record labels and runs Presence Unknown, a vinyl and digital record label dedicated to releasing music influenced by his love of Electro, Acid House and Rave. He also has a monthly residency on Threads radio and has recently started a podcast called "Tales from a Disappearing City", which is a platform to educate and tell some untold subcultural stories from past and present, joined by friends from his lifelong journey through subterranean London.

Gunfinger Food is an independent record label, platform and DJ advocating underground vinyl culture, with a core focus on Electro and Breakbeat styles. Lex G has been running and DJing under the brand for 5 years and through this journey has pushed his sound through radio residencies (bloop, Threads), features (Rinse, Balamii, Netil & more), countless mix/podcast contributions (Dark Science Electro, Typeless, Das Booty & more) and rocking the party with his vinyl sets across UK and Europe. At Electric Sweat we always promise to play you some amazing music that you have never heard before.

Inspired by and always remembering Nacho'.


Monday, April 01, 2024

Women in Revolt at Tate Britain

'Women in Revolt! Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990' at Tate Britain features a huge amount of archive material from different 1970s/80s feminist currents alongside the art works which taken together give a strong sense of the visual culture and politics of the period. 

Lots of South London content included, here's a few I spotted:


'Shrew - Women's Liberation Workshop' (1970)- I noticed on the cover that this copy was at one time held in 'The Fawcett Collection, temporarily at 67 Barry Road SE22'. The Fawcett Collection later became the Women's Library. Barry Road in East Dulwich just across the road from Peckham Rye, where as discussed here previously one of the first London Women's Liberation groups was formed, a group that was involved in the production of Shrew.

'In Print' - newsletter of Peckham Black Women's Group, at one point ran Peckham Black Women's Centre, 69 Bellenden Road SE15

Leaflet for a demonstration from Brockwell Park called by the Groce Family Support and Community Defence Campaign. Cherry Groce was shot and seriously injured by police during a raid on a house in Brixton in 1985, sparking off a riot.


'Defend the black community! fascists off the streets' - a leaflet mobilising for the anti-National Front demonstration in New Cross/Lewisham in August 1977, that became known as the Battle of Lewisham. Would like to see the back of this leaflet to see who produced it.


The exhibition includes issues of Rock Against Racism zine 'Temporary Hoarding', one of which features this picture of Adam and the Ants playing a RAR gig at Elephant and Castle'. This was at South Bank Poly (now Uni) on 17 June 1978.




Chain Reaction at the Market Tavern in Vauxhall, 1980s women only SM/fetish club 

 


Quite a few visitors delighted in spotting images of themselves or friends, or things they had been involved with and by the end I was doing the same with pictures from the Clause 28 demonstrations and copies of Shocking Pink zine which my friend Katy Watson was involved with and which was based for a while at the 121 Centre in Brixton.



The exhibition closes on 7 April 2024.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Music Monday: Hope 4 Justice with Eska and John Stainer School Choir

In 2022 over 1,000 young people, including students from 27 South London schools took part in Hope 4 Justice, an urgent call to action on the climate emergency highlighting issues such as air quality, ‘throw-away’ culture and housing inequality through performances of music, dance and spoken word. Created and produced by Trinity Laban as part of the Lewisham London Borough of Culture, it culminated in a performance in Mountsfield Park on Saturday 18 June 2022.

Now, to commemorate the project, five songs composed by Mercury Prize nominated artist Eska (with lyrics from Young People's Poet Laureate for London Cecilia Knapp) have been recorded at Trinity Laban with Brockley's John Stainer Community Primary School Choir and students from the TL Jazz Department.  The first track. Air, was released on 15 Feb 2024, the eleventh anniversary of the death of Lewisham resident Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi Debrah who died aged nine after a fatal asthma attack.  Ella was the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on their death certificate.  

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Nunhead and District Municipal Museum 2024

It's Telegraph Hill Open Studios this weekend, I went to the launch last night of the legendary pop up 'Nunhead Municipal Museum and Art Gallery' at 80 Gellatly Road SE14. If you've never been to this temple of kitsch and outsidery art you better get down there today (Saturday 23 March 2024, 11 am - 4 pm) or tomorrow (Sunday, 1 pm to 6 pm).






The Museum will include a short interlude of Neil Gordon-Orr reading from his 'New Cross Park Life: a year in the life of Telegraph Hill Park' (Saturday 3 pm - 3:30 pm)



 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Acoustic Anarchy

Martin Howard's Acoustic Anarchy has been running since 2017 at waterintobeer in Brockley (209 Mantle Road SE4), an acoustic live music night focusing on folk, punk and indie. There's a couple of events coming up in next few weeks.

As part of the Telegraph Hill Festival this weekend, on Saturday 23rd March 2024 there's a special featuring artists including:

  • Joe Bitter is an acoustic punk rocker with songs celebrating cider, football and punk rock.
  • Shouting into the Dark are a prog-folk duo with heartfelt songs of love, life and grief. Their latest song features a middle English section, which will be a first for the night.
  • Drew Margot is a queer singer songwriter from LA whose work tends to revolve around gender, mental health, and often, dogs.

Then on Saturday 6th April 2024, headliners are The Water Chorus 'a young folk trio with an array of instruments tackling a mix of Irish and Scottish folk with plenty of tunes from further afield. They are exciting musicians with wit and zest and quite a dry sense of humour. Support comes from Neil Gordon-Orr, who will be playing some specifically South London folk songs. Regular host Martin Howard is joined by Max for some interpretations and originals'. More details here.



Monday, March 18, 2024

Music Monday: Sahra

Brockley-based singer Sahra is another graduate of the great South London jazz finishing school that is Trinity Laban. She's been getting increasing attention for her new material, including an excellent live session on Gilles Peterson's show on Worldwide FM last week. 

As she told Gilles, her soulful new single 'Alone Again' was recorded at Theo Erskine's studio in Forest Hill.


Saturday, March 16, 2024

Goldsmiths: Redundancies protests/Palestine occupation


A rally in the rain at Goldsmiths College last night (15 March 2024) brought together the fight against job cuts and the ongoing 'Goldsmiths for Palestine' occupation.

 
Job Cuts


The ongoing financial crisis at Goldsmiths seems to be reaching a critical point with senior management announcing on 28th February that as part of its 'Transformation Programme' it is planning compulsory redundancies for 130 full time equivalent posts (likely to affect many more than 130 people, as many are on part time contracts). Goldsmiths management certainly deserve the criticism it is getting but the bigger picture is inadequate national Government funding of higher education which is driven not just be economic considerations but by culture war hostility to arts, humanities and social sciences subjects. As stated on this poster, 'This attempt to erode our university represents a broader assault on critical, cultural and political education across academia': 




Goldsmiths for Palestine

Meanwhile the 'Goldsmiths for Palestine' occupation of the College's Stuart Hall building looks set to continue into its fifth week, having started on 19th February





See previously: