Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Me and Clare joined in on the Lewisham Walking Festival on Tuesday but tagging along on a walk around Ladywell.

I just fancied a walk around some semi-local environs as well as wanting to see the site of the actual Ladywell. There’s been some debate amongst locals interested in things like ‘healing wells’ about the actual location of the Ladywell so I thought I’d been shown by experts.

First, though, we started in Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery, they used to be separate but the wall between them was knock down in the seventies when Deptford borough was absorbed into Lewisham. We visited the grave of Sir George Grove; editor of Grove’s A Dictionary of Music and Musicians is buried (one for Neil there) and a mournful statue of a young girl which is a monument to a Victorian teenage girl murdered in Eltham.

It was paid for by public subscription which struck me as a bit more tasteful than putting flowers on the site of her murder. She’s tiny, for the pregnant seventeen year old she’s supposed to represent

The Victorians were into permanent statements like statues, I suppose, while we’re into some strange cross between sentimentality and morbid curiosity. I noticed some harden wax from a melted candle of the ground, either an offering, like Kitty Jay's Grave in Devon or the mark of that strange, graveyard dwelling nocturnal pack of creatures: the lesser-spotted morbid teenage drinker.

Can’t find a picture of the monument on the web; there were also some brilliant modernist graves, mostly in the Brockley section, that were a relief from all the cracked and sombre (but still breath-taking) Victorian angels. Once I’ve got a new battery in the camera I’ll head down there and take a few photographs to show anyone who’s interested. I’ve notices that photographs of graveyards are popular.

Local shop keepers and police chiefs were honoured and flora and fauna was admired. It dawned on me that Clare and I were just about the youngest people on the walk and probably the sanest. I think all small-interest groups have got a particular level of eccentricity among them. Friendly bunch though, the Ladywell Society; they meet once a month in the waiting room of Ladywell Station to discuss local history and issues, which all seems impossibly arcane to me.

We stopped at the grave of the poet Ernest Dowson, who I’ve been trying to find for ages, and I was pleased to see that lavender and wild flowers were growing from his dilapidated grave and a rosary had been hung from the broken headstone. The bloke giving the walk said there are often offerings left on his grave.

We left the cemetery are the Ladywell end and walked down the hill toward the Ravensbourne. The names of the streets to our right were shown to be named after relations of the developer who put these houses up in Ladywell. Hence names like Francemary Road, Arthurdon Road and Elsiemaud Road. The developer himself gave his name to Chudleigh Road.

A plaque on 148 Ladywell Road describes a well, now dry, that was visited for “medical purposes until the 19th century”. It’s in the back garden, apparently.

This, though, is not the ‘Ladywell’. That, too, has dried up and the picturesque wall and little roof, in true well style, has been knocked down and now replaced by an exact replica. It sits in the car park of a training centre run by Lewisham council and can be found just off Slagrove Place, on the left after the old workhouse gates.

Go and have a look….

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Lewisham No2ID is the local branch of the national campaign against compulsory identity cards. The law has now been passed, so from 2008 you will have to attend an appointment to be photographed, have your fingerprints taken and iris scanned, or be fined up to £2500.

ID cards could still be killed off by mass non-compliance, as happened with the poll tax in the early 1990s, and No2ID is encouraging people to pledge to refuse to co-operate. More invasive surveillance is under discussion, including contactless or radio frequency ID chips in passports which can be read remotely, enabling the passport holder to be tracked without them even having to show their documents to anybody.

There are many arguments against ID cards, like the fact that they would actually make little difference against the threat in whose name they are justified – the July 7th bombers made no attempt to conceal their identity, presumably they wanted to be known and recognised as 'martyrs'.

But for me, there is a simple test to be applied to these and similar measures, which I call the Primo Levi test. Levi, who survived Auschwitz, reminded us that similar atrocities were always a possibility, and that we 'are so dazzled by power and prestige as to forget our essential fragility... close by the train is waiting'. In his excellent Between Camps, Paul Gilroy reflects that 'Levi’s argument should not be an open licnese to indulge in paranoia. It loses none of its force when we appreciate that the trains are not necessarily being loaded right now in our own neighbourhoods. Fascism is not permanently on the brink of assuming terroristic governmental power. His point is more subtle. If we wish to live a good life and enjoy just relations with our fellows, our conduct must be closely guided not just by this terrible history but by the knowledge that these awful possibilities are always much closer than we imagine. To prevent their reappearance we must dwell on them and with them'.

The Primo Levi test involves simply asking whether a power would make persecution (and maybe worse) easier if it fell into hands so inclined. It should be obvious that very few Jews in Europe would have survived the Holocaust if the Nazis had simply had to press a button to identify who and where they all were. Of course no one imagines that fascism is on the cards here (anymore than many imagined the possibility of the Holocaust in Germany beforehand), but recent history in various parts of the world hardly give grounds for confidence that anywhere is immune to the possibility of mass repression and state terror. In any event, Levi is surely right that the safest course of action is to assume that it could happen (even if in the remote future) and act accordingly.

All of this is quite apart from how similar powers are already being used within this country to criminalise human beings whose only crime is to be born to parents without permission to exist here – witness the fingerprinting of children under five in asylum centres in Croydon and Liverpool.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Brockley Max

Brockley Max is on from June 2 to the 10th with various arts, music and other events happening across SE4.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Is there Life on the New Cross Road?

Alexi Sayle once asked 'Is there life on Mars? Is there life in Peckham?'. Sometimes I ask the same question about the New Cross Road in the day time when not much seems to be happening except the traffic and Sainsburys. However there are some hidden gems. Yesterday I had a fine cup of coffee at Cafe Crema (306 New Cross Road). The Cafe itself is hardly hidden, but did you know it's got a big outside space at the back where you can sit in the sun on a summers day? They also have film showings there, with something coming up tomorrow night (Thursday).

Then there's Morph records in the basement of the Rising Sun cafe at 275 New Cross Road (between New X gate station and New X Library). Morph has a good selection of low price vinyl and CDs, especially indie stuff, and you can also pick up music from local bands, flyers etc. Definitely worth making the trip down stairs for.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Walk the Line

Lots of interesting strolls around South East London this month as part of the Lewisham Walking Festival. Among the highlights still to come are a Ladywell history and nature walk tonight (meet 7 pm at the Gatehouse, corner of Ladywell Cemetery at Brockley Grove and Ladywell Road), a New Cross allotments walk tomorrow and a wade through the mud of Deptford Creek at low tide courtesy of the Creekside Centre. If you'd prefer to arrange your own walk when its more convenient, you can download lots of guided walks from London Footprints, including some Deptford walks.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Seager Sunday Session

Seager Distillery Sunday 21st May, a squat party/free festival vibe upstairs in the old gin factory in Deptford... bands playing at a stage in the corner, the best I saw intriguing angularists These New Puritans, Southenders apparently raised on a diet of This Heat, Can and Mark E Smith, missed The Violets but I am sure they were good because they are... projections on the wall, computer animations ('Mortal Kombat animations of a morris dance' says Scott), tv sets, fabric hangings, obligatory man walking around with rat on shoulder, chill out area with massage table and cups of tea for a donation ('did you put that bottle top in'/'No I put a pound in'/'In an ideal world they'd be equivalent'/'in an ideal world we wouldn't need either'), big sound system downstairs in the Mashed Potato Gallery blasting out 'Welcome to Jamrock', messy, busy, noisy, smoky, fun.

9 Days That Shook South London

South London Radical History Group are discussing 'The General Strike: History and Myth' this week on the 80th anniversary of the nine days when millions went on strike in support of the miners. The meetings will feature short presentations on how the strike was organised in South London, followed by a discussion about what it was all about. It takes place on Thursday 25th May, 8 pm at the Pullens Centre, 184 Crampton Street, SE17 (five minutes from Elephant and Castle). Admission is free.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Next month's Scumfest 2006 promises three days and nights of international anarcho-punk madness, with gigs at the Grosvenor in Stockwell (17 Sidney Road, SW9) to benefit Women Against Rape and other worthy causes, plus a Pirate Punx Picnic. It all happens from Friday 16th to Sunday 18th June.

Deptford Through the Looking Glass

More stuff happening in SE8 this weekend than I've got time to put down here let alone go to - the full programme is at Made in Deptford.

This afternoon sees 'Deptford Through The Looking Glass' a fashion wonderland in St Pauls Church Yard featuring Rubbish Fairy, Ragz N Bone, Holly Berry aka Reclaim Fashion, Artmongers & Prangsta Costumiers.

Tomorrow (Sunday 3 pm) I am doing my 'Deptford fun city' talk at the Albany, covering the musical history of New Cross and Deptford with sounds and images(admission free). After that I will be hot footing it to the Open Arts Platform at the Old Seager Distillery (opposite Deptford Bridge DLR) where between 4 pm and 12 there will be live music including Klaxons, Man Like Me, The Violets, 586, These New Puritans, Team B & Cleckhudders Fax 'with a support cast of performers, magicians, poets & fools filling the gaps in between' (bargain £1 entrance).

Friday, May 19, 2006

Music for One

Interesting sounding night tomorrow (Saturday 20th May) at the Pullens Centre, 184 Crampton Street SE17. Music for One features sound artist Sherry Ostapovich collaging experimental guitar with filmscape narratives by Neng Yu and Mari King. Also on the bill are John & Carina and Butchers Boy. It all starts at 7 pm.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

How does it feel to be loved?

Finally made it down to London's premier indie pop club How Does it Feel to be Loved? on Friday. The dancefloor of the Canterbury Arms in Brixton was packed with people gyrating to the likes of Belle and Sebastien ('Dog on Wheels'), The Smiths ('Bigmouth Strikes Again'), Decemberists, Velvet Underground, and strangely, Nick Drake (I love Nick Drake but would not put him at the top of a DJ list of dancefloor anthems!). Guest DJ was Clare Wadd, once of Sarah Records. The club plays Motown and Girl Group classics as well as indie pop, which is very welcome as a lot of indie/alternative music is based on an imagined rockist trajectory back to punk which denies soul/pop influences. For me there is a definite thread of broken hearted yearning for a better life from a female (or non-blokey male) perspective linking Diana Ross and Dusty Springfield to Morrissey and Stuart Murdoch.

Recently I've been reading Sunset Song (1932) by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, a (the?) great Scottish novel which includes the following reflections on melancholy music: 'it came on Chris how strange was the sadness of Scottish singing, made for the sadness of the land and sky in dark autumn evenings, the crying of men and women of the land who had seen their lives and lovers sink away in the years, things wept for beside the sheepouchts, remembered at night and in twilight. The gladness and kindness had passed, lived and forgotten, it was Scotland of the mist and rain and crying sea that made the songs'. Take away the references to Scotland and this is as a good a definition of soul music (or maybe before that the blues) as you will find, and indeed of much later music dismissed by the compulsively chirpy as twee miserabilist shoegazing.

A singer must die

Sad news reaches us of the death of Grant McLennan, singer/songwriter with legendary Australian band, The Go Betweens. Listen to 'Spring Rain' or 'Streets of Your Town' and see if you can find anything better. Yeah I know Australia is a bit far South to be included in a South London blogzine, but hey we're not parochial, and anyway The Go Betweens did play at the Deptford Albany and the Half Moon Herne Hill in their time (see list of gigs here).

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Made in Deptford Music Talk

Loads of stuff going on in two weeks time at the Made in Deptford festival weekend, with music and arts action galore.

As part of it I will be doing a talk (with music and pictures) at the Albany on 'Deptford Fun City: a ramble through the musical history of New Cross and Deptford', from music hall to the present. It takes place on Sunday 21st May at 3 pm, and admission is free.

By the way has anybody come across a CD called 'Sing Out Deptford'? Last time I gave a version of this talk somebody told me that this exists and includes a version of 'the Deptford Dip' - a 1930s dance hit. I would love to track this down.

On a more up to date musical note, our attention has been drawn to this interview with Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley about his time living in these parts, even it wasn't such a happy experience: "'I fucking hated it,' he says. 'London just beat me down, man. I was working in a pub in London Bridge for two years and taking the bus home to New Cross every night. I was just working, trying to meet the rent. I didn't see the sun for, like, three weeks and I was broke and single. It wasn't what I expected.'"

Monday, May 01, 2006

Deptford Jack in the Green

May Day was seen in fine style in Deptford today with the Jack in the Green procession through the streets and pubs of the area, with the Jack (that's the foliage pyramid above) accompanied by dancers, musicians, drinkers and of course a bear. Fowlers Troop have been doing this for a few years now, but this year they were joined by some new faces such as the Prangsta crowd, creating a big sprawling carnival atmosphere. Lots more pictures at Baggage Reclaim.

Shape Moreton

Tomorrow night at the Amersham Arms in New Cross sees 'Shape Moreton: forward sound' a night of 'songs, instrumentals, soundfields, improvisations' featuring Charles Hayward and other free music luminaries. It starts at 9 pm, entrance is £5 (£3 concessions)