Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gil Scott-Heron in New Cross

I was talking to Moonbow John last week, as he will forever be known to me despite it now being several years since he decided to move on from running cafes in Brockley, New Cross & Catford. He mentioned to me that Gil Scott-Heron, legendary American proto-rapper, had once performed at the Goldsmiths Tavern in New Cross, but acknowledged that he hadn't actually been there himself. I replied that I'd heard that story too, but neither of us were entirely sure whether it had really happened or if it was one of those urban legends compounded of rumour and wishful thinking. In fact I wondered whether I might have actually told the story to him some years ago as speculation, only for him to repeat it to me as fact - such are the feedback loops that myths are made of.

However the story has some independent verification, if only in the comments to posts on various blogs. Brockley Central mentioned the Goldsmiths Tavern in 2008, prompting a couple of relevant comments. 'Mezzer' said: 'One of the most memorable gigs of my life was here: Gil Scott Heron about 6 or 7 years ago. Apparently, he liked the inner city vibes of New Cross and agreed to come down and do a show. It wasn't until he walked on stage that I even believed that it was going to happen. Magical'. Likewise 'neanderthal d' said... I .The Gil Scott-Heron gig was in late '97 on a Sunday night. It couldn't be advertised locally because the Goldsmiths' Tavern didn't have a Music Licence on a Sunday night - hence the hush-hush nature of the gig. If i remember correctly, somebody knew the Promoter or Tour Manager for that particular tour and the gig was a kind of favour or something. Sadly, i missed the gig because i was languishing pennilessly in Plumstead at the time'.

At The Daily (Maybe), Bob from Brockley recalled 'One of the best, perhaps the very best, live concert of my life was seeing him in the Goldsmiths Tavern on New Cross Road about a decade ago' while johnhunt at Pinkfishmedia stated: 'i've seen gil a few times. the most memorable of which was at the goldsmiths tavern in new cross in 95? or close - arranged because one of his managers used to drink in there. the pub had a room out back for max 100 and quite decent sound. my friend and I arrived early , had a couple of beers while gil as, i rememeber it, stood behind the bar smoking a spliff. as gigs go it put a smile on my face for weeks afterwards'.

So we have at least three people who were present, one of whom is a friend of mine, enough to confirm that it actually happened. Hard to believe perhaps that this globally-appreciated performer popped into a pub in New Cross, but no more so than that the Chicago-born musician is the son of the first black footballer to play for Glasgow Celtic (and that's true too). Anybody remember anymore, or indeed have any good GMT memories, please comment.

Gil Scott-Heron has been responsible for some awesome tracks over the years including The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Whitey on the Moon, Johannesberg, Winter in America and The Bottle.

Gill Scott-Heron is playing at the Festival Hall on the South Bank next month


Unknown said...

very interesting! my old local would suit gil scott heron down to the ground at the time he supposedly performed there. genius. just out of prison again he has recorded a new album which you can hear in its entirety on the guardian website.

Nigel said...

Definitely happened - I heard about it through work [Goldsmiths] but was told there was no chance of getting a ticket. Later spoke to someone who went - and I missed a cracker :(

bob said...

Been off line for a while so only just noticed this. Yes, I was there; it happened. I'm guessing it was around 1996 or 1997, could have been earlier. At the time, the Tavern was in its kind of punky phase, so it would be after the Dewdrop closed down, if that helps date it. (When I was first in New Cross, early 1990s, the Tavern was very black; after the Dewdrop closed and their regulars sought a new home, it became more multicultural.)

The story I heard was that Gil Scott Heron or his manager dropped in for a drink or game of pool en route to some gig on the continent which was being reached by chunnel, and decided it was the perfect venue. Advertising was very low key, just at the venue itself, possibly because it was against the terms of some contract or other. The door price was high for the Tavern, but very low compared to places he was playing like Jazz Cafe.

He was due to go on at 9 I think, and at 10 there was still no sign, and many people began to think it was all a con. Then, as I recall, he ambled on to stage and sat down at the electric piano, started tinking, and one by one his band joined him. He played a really long set, and seemed to be into the very intimate feel, a stark contrast to the institutional, commercial feel of somewhere like the Jazz Cafe. He'd recently-ish released the fantastic album Spirits (1994) and he played loads of that.

It was an incredibly inspiring and moving performance, made all the more so by being in my local, surrounded by people I kind of recognised.

bob said...

P.S. Doesn't he have a Millwall connection? Through his father Gil Heron, of Celtic? Have I invented that?

Transpontine said...

Thanks B., a great tale - up there, if not trumping, my tale of seeing the Gang of Four in the Montague. Sadly, as far as I can see, his dad never played for Millwall - wikipedia states that after Celtic he played for Third Lanark and Kidderminster Harriers. But I would be very happy to be corrected.

Anonymous said...

I stood in front of Gil at the Goldsmith's Tavern gig..I'm lucky to have seen most of my heroes(from John lee Hooker to Bill Hicks)but that gig was something special..I still get goosebumps , thinking about it 15 years later.

bob said...

I just read something in the Goldsmiths alumni magazine that mentioned the Yow Club at the Albany - the guy interviewed (a contemporary of Damien Hirst who comes from Woolwich and does lovely paintings of pitbulls, can't remember his name) claimed to have seen GSH there in, I think, the late 1980s, and also, I think (sorry this is all so tentative) Curtis Mayfield.

Jason said...

I was at the GSH gig in New Cross' Goldsmiths Tavern. I went with my partner. I guess it must've been '97-98 as our first child was born Dec '98 and we wouldn't have been able to go if after that. My buddy Emrys Baird was also there along with a few punx from the band PAIN. It was an awesome gig, probably only about 80 people. Lots of dancing and sweat and a full band of 5-6 guys. I feel very lucky to've been there.

Jason said...

Ticket price was 10.00

John Moonbow said...

Ah, I have the reason for Gil’s gig in New Cross.

OK, so Steve, who works in Lewisham College, mate, who lives in Brockley, helped out Gil, Brian Jackson and the guys when they were in need of accommodation, years back, by putting them up at his flat. This bought them south of the river and ever since Steve’s mate has been part of the tour team.

Bit convoluted but true!!! I think.

Nigel said...

I was joint manager along with my partner, of The Goldsmiths Tavern when Gil Scott Heron played in September/October 1997, my partner(now wife), managed the bar that night.

We did have a music license and there were no contracts involved; we only publicised the gig within the pub to prevent unmanageable numbers of people turning up and to make the evening special for our regulars and their friends. Gil did not smoke a joint behind the bar but one of our staff did claim to have found his pipe back stage (upstairs), whilst clearing up following the gig.

One of our promoters organised the gig along with one of his crew who was involved with Gil's London dates at Ronnie Scotts they basically persuaded him to do the warm up for his tour at the Goldsmiths. Somewhere, I think we still have a couple signed books that were given to us that Sunday evening.

Nigel said...

New Years Eave 1996 I stopped someone coming in because they had no ticket, we were well over our limit. When my doorman got back to the door following a ciggarette break he was horrified as this person was Topper Headon of The Clash, our doorman, Andy was also a drummer and over rulled me and let Topper and his entourage in for the evening.