Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nunhead Cemeteries

If you have any time tomorrow (Sunday) you must get down to the 'Nunhead and District Municipal Museum and Art Gallery' at 80 Gellatly Road SE14 - your last chance to see it between 2 pm and 6 pm. Coming under the umbrella of the Telegraph Hill Festival Open Studios it so much more than 'come and look at my etchings and have a glass of wine'. It is a vastly ambitious reimagining of the history of the local area, with tales of archaeology, music hall, space exploration and much more. All this and artefacts from The Nunhead Cemeteries complete with fanzine and this text purporting to be from Simon Reynolds' Rip it Up and Start Again: post-punk 1978-84:

'Looking back at the post-punk landscape we see a zone dominated by the tower blocks built by the successful career bands, skyscrapers made from albums, music paper cuttings, CD reissues, and adoring retrospectives in glossy magazines. What is often overlooked are the derelict buildings, abandoned vehicles and urban detritus left behind by the many outfits who flickered briefly in this explosion of creativity and just as quickly vanished without trace.

The paradigmatic example might be The Nunhead Cemeteries, a band who have disappeared from the record just as surely as if they had been interred in the vaults of the South London Victorian burial ground from which they took their name. Their existence is only attested to in contemporary local fanzines with micro-circulation (notably the equally obscure Thy Nunheed Chronicle), and they seemingly left behind no sonic echo whatsoever. Recently however, a few demo tracks from late 1978 have surfaced online, providing a tantalising vista of one of the many lost highways of the post-punk period.

If some post-punk bands relished the careful cultivation of an intellectual aura, even they still bore the marks of an insular Anglo-Saxon culture of hostility to critical thought. Reference points such as Dostoyevsky (Magazine) or Wittgenstein and Gramsci (Scritti Politti), all long dead, hardly attested to an engagement with the cutting edge of contintental debates around feminism, Marxism, post-structuralism and psychoanalysis. Even when Scritti got around to mentioning Jacques Derrida, in their 1982 song of the same name, they mispronounced his surname.

On the evidence of these few poorly recorded morsels, The Nunhead Cemeteries were precociously up to date. (Disco)urs Amoreux takes its name from Fragments d’un discours amoreux by Roland Barthes, only published in France the year before (1977). Presumably they themselves translated the parts of the text they read in the track, since this was several months before the appearance of an English translation published under the name A Lover’s Discourse.
Skank Bloc Brockley also suggests a Parisian connection, quoting from Toni Negri’s ‘Marx beyond Marx’ talks on the Grundrisse given at the Ecole Normale Superieure in ’78. The track seems to be an oblique answer to Scritti’s Skank Bloc Bologna, citing a chunk of that groundbreaking work on racism, Policing the Crisis (1978) by Stuart Hall and others – to hint perhaps that antagonisms between police and black youth on the streets of South London were at least as important as the Euro-Communist town halls ‘somewhere in Italy’. Brockley is the area immediately adjacent to Nunhead, the birthplace of Lovers Rock and close to the scene of the violent anti-National Front protests of the 1977 Battle of Lewisham.

What caused the demise of The Nunhead Cemeteries is unknown. Perhaps they were just too clever by half in a time of Peter and the Test Tube Babies and ‘Batman in the Launderette’. It was to be almost twenty years before such intelligence was again to find even a marginal foothold on the fringes of popular music and it is perhaps no surprise that members of The Nunhead Cemeteries are believed to have been involved in Dead By Dawn, the Brixton-based mid-1990s speedcore-Deleuzian war dance machine that combined club nights with intense practico-theoretical discussions'.

The Museum is playing a demo tape from the band - we hope to put up the recordings here shortly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll put the letter from Mrs Trellis up too. Fine stuff.