Monday, August 21, 2017

Red Stage: the 1930s Workers Theatre Movement in South London

Some interesting material in the University of Warwick's digital archive on British Political Theatre 1930s to 1950s, including some newsletters from the 1930s from the Workers Theatre Movement, associated with the Communist Party. As mentioned here before, South London was a focus for this kind of theatre, with performances of agitational sketches and songs given in the streets, at meetings and at shows.

According to 'Class against class: the Communist Party in Britain Between the Wars', (Matthew Worley, 2002): 'Communist theatre groups had begun to appear throughouth the country by the turn of the decade [the 1930s]. In London alone, ten such troupes, including the Red Star Troupe of West London, Red Radio of Hackney, the Red Magnets of Woolwich, the Red Front of Streatham, the Red Players of Lewisham, the Red Blouses of Greenwich and the Yiddish-speaking Proltet, existed by 1931’.

The Lewisham Red Players performed in Lewisham High Street and elsewhere, with their group chorus going:

“There is a word you mustn’t say – revo-lution
All the same it’s on the way – the workers’ revolution
Every day the world turns round - revo-lution
A few more turns, it will resound - revo-lution
It’s coming here, it’s coming there - revo-lution
The ground is tumbling everywhere – the workers’ revolution”.

(source: Raphael Samuel in  Performance and Politics in Popular Drama: Aspects of Popular Entertainment in Theatre, Film and Television, 1800–1976, edited by David Brady, 1980)

The Red Players included in their ranks Charlie Mann,  son of the veteran Communist and trade unionist Tom Mann, the latter who lived in Brockley in the 1920s  (in 1927 his address was 1 Adelaide Road).

Charles B Mann (1905-1989) was editor of the Workers' Theatre Movement journal 'Red Stage', with his address given in the November 1931 issue as 61 Sydenham Park SE26.

Red Stage (November 1931) mentions new groups being set up in Croydon and Woolwich and 'the revival of the Deptford Group',  and open-air 'Red Radio' shows in Bermondsey and Greenwich. The January 1932 issue includes a report from the Streatham-based 'Red Front Troupe, South London' stating that it had 'nine effective members, three of whom are women' and that in November 1932 they had given five shows and set up an unemployed troupe linked to the National Unemployed Workers Movement. The South London 'Red Players' reported that they had helped set up new groups in Croydon, Woolwich and Camberwell and were planning 'full WTM shows in Croydon, Lewisham and Woolwich'. The folowing month's issue (February 1932) includes reports from Red Blouses in Greenwich, Red Magnets (Woolwich) - planning a big show at Plumstead Baths - and Red Players, planning shows in Croydon, Lewisham and elsewhere.

The movement, which argued that 'Our theatre awakens the masses', presented theatre that condemned capitalism and promoted the workers movement, but there were disagreements about the best way of doing this. Within the pages of these publications we see some healthy debate about the role of the theatre and other issues. For instance the Jewish communist theatre troupe Proltet mounted a strong defence of doing performances in Yiddish, against criticism from some in the Party (WTM Monthly Bulletin, February 1933). There was a debate about jazz, with a letter arguing that 'it seems a great pity that, when so  many fine revolutionary and other great melodies are available, it is found necessary to descend to the level of the American jazz exploiters' (Red Stage, January 1932) and a response that to reach the masses it was necessary to use tunes from popular culture - 'jazz brings us nearer to the workers' (February 1932).

A critical review in the Communist Party's Daily Worker attacked the tendency to 'individual self boosting' in the Workers Theatre Movement, provoking a firm response from the Red Players of South London: 'If Comrade Bennett's ideal state is one in which the individual is prohibited from personal expression, then that is not the state we are fighting for' (Red Stage,  January 1932). There is a tragic historical irony that in Stalin's USSR - celebrated by the Workers Theatre Movement - such views could lead to the Gulag in this period.

Red Stage, January 1932 giving contact addresses for the Red Front troupe (16 Buckleigh Road, SW16 and for the Red Players (S. Banks, 22 Campshill Road, SE13)

Music Monday: Vision Crew - 'Coming from the Blue side, that's SE'

Lewisham-based Vision Crew aren't shy about representing the 'blue borough'. The video for their latest release, Forever, was shot at St John's Station, while on their earlier 'Walk the Walk' (built around a haunting piano line) they proclaim that they are 'coming from the blue side, that's SE'.

According to Complex magazine (June 2017): 'Meet Vision Crew, The South London Grime Bandits - There's something in the water down in Lewisham, South London, because the Blue Borough has been funnelling a plethora of music acts making their voices heard. Penetrating with devastation akin to the Wu-Tang Clan, Vision Crew is a collective on the rise: established in 2014, Ezro, Pascall, Tyzz, Whackeye, Goldie and DJ Kay C are a group of close friends, made up of emcees, producers and DJs taking their ends to higher heights'

Sunday, August 20, 2017

SE London Women Against Rape - Lewisham demo, 1980

I found this browsing at the interesting digital archive of feminist magazine, Spare Rib. The July 1980 issues records a 300 strong march through Lewisham on May 10 1980, called by South East London Women Against Rape - a group set up 'by Lewisham women after some of them had become involved in helping a woman who had just been raped. They had been shocked not only by the rape but at the harsh and unsympathetic treatment the woman had receivd at the hands of police and doctors'. The group contacts were given as Gill Chambers and Linda Stewart at Deptford Women's Centre, 74 Deptford High Street, and feminist singer Frankie Armstrong was also mentioned as being involved. The photo shows placard reading 'Stop Crimes Against Women Now', sadly as relevant in 2017 as it was in 1980.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sound System: Dave Randall talk at Rye Wax

Coming up tonight (15 August 2017) at Rye Wax in the Bussey building on Rye Lane Se15, a Q&A with Brixton-based musician Dave Randall (Faithless, Slovo) about his new book 'Sound System: the political power of music':

'Musicians have often wanted to change the world. From underground innovators to pop icons, many have believed in the political power of music. Rulers recognise it too. Music has been used to challenge the political and social order – and to prop up
the status quo.

Dave Randall explores what makes music so powerful. In his talk, he’ll look at examples ranging from Beethoven to Beyoncé and pose the question: how can we make music serve the interests of the many, rather than the few?

Dave Randall is a musician and activist. He has contributed to multi-million selling albums and toured the world playing guitar with Faithless, Sinead O’Connor, Emiliana Torrini and many others.
Dave will be taking your questions and selling his book on the night'

7:30 start, admission free.

More information

Monday, August 14, 2017

Music Monday: from Versailles to Peckham Rye with Kele

'From the palace of Versailles
To the streets of Peckham Rye
You craved the dizziest of heights
But were caught out at the lights
The streets been talkin'

So starts Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke's new solo single 'The streets been talkin'. A new acoustic direction for Kele with an album to follow in October. Don't know what signfiicance Peckham holds for Kele, but he was recently interviewed in his 'new South London home', saying “I needed a change of scene. I couldn’t walk around Shoreditch without bumping into someone I knew. I was fed up with the grey and people vomiting in the streets. I wanted some green and some anonymity, to insulate myself from that world".  Welcome to the green and lovely transpontine streets!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

318 New Cross Road - a little shop on a big day, 13 August 1977

The currently empty shop at 318 New Cross Road, next door to the New Cross House, was an important location in the 'Battle of Lewisham' forty years ago this weekend, when anti-fascist demonstrators confronted the far right National Front as they marched from New Cross to Lewisham.


The shop, most recently 'The Allotment' which closed earlier this year, had been empty too in 1977 when, shortly before the demonstration, it was occupied in the name of the Lewisham 21 Defence Committee. This was a campaign to support local young black people arrested in  police raids as part of an 'anti-mugging' operation and whose march through New Cross in July 1977 had been attacked by the National Front (the arrest of NF members on that day in turn prompted the NF to call their 13 August demo). As the local paper the Mercury reported (4 August 1977) the Alcoholic Recovery Project was due to move in:

'Squat  shock at a shop for charity

Squatters have taken over the new home of a charity for alcoholics. The squatters, members of the Lewisham 21 defence committee. took over an empty shop in New Cross Road, New Cross, last week.They broke in and cleared the place up to serve as campaign headquarters. But when they heard the shop was to become a centre for Lewisham's Alcoholic Recovery Project, the squatters said they would leave… shortly.

The project, a council-adied charity, had been negotiating the lease of the property for four months and was preparing to move in next week. It wants to use the shop as a reception area where alcoholics could go to receive advice and encouragement. The present owners of the property, Courage Breweries, sent a representative to speak to the squatters. He said "we will pursue our normal course of action was squatters, which is to go through the legal channels".

But it would take at least six weeks for the court order to go through, and the defence committee is prepared to "leave quietly". Members have agreed to get out after August 13, the date of the National Front demonstration in New Cross. The house is close to where the Front is due to congregate.

The committee is "defending" a number of young people charged with conspiracy to steal and loitering. It was named after the original 21 picked up in dawn raids by police on May 30'.


With the NF assembling in Achilles Street by Fordham Park, the shop overlooking Clifton Rise was a perfect place to act as HQ for anti-fascists on the day of the demonstration. It was probably for this reason that the police raided it on 13 August, sparking the first clashes of what was to be a long and violent day. According to the Mercury (18 August 1977),  at ten past noon police 'moved in to evict SWP squatters occupying a shop opposite Clifton Rise. An incident that lit the fuse for an explosive timetable of violence.... The SWP were occupying a derelict shop next to the New Cross House pub. Police broke down a door and evicted the squatters, arresting 7 people and taking a quanity of propaganda and banners' (not sure whether all those arrested were members of the Socialist Workers Party,  press reports from the time tended to label all the militant anti-fascists as SWP when in fact they were members of many groups and none - though the SWP did play a significant tole in the demonstration that day).

The Alcohol Recovery Project did move in to the shop later and remained there for at least the next twenty years.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Remembering the Battle of Lewisham weekend

I went along last week to the launch of  What Are You Taking Pictures For? an exhibition of photographs documenting the events of 13 August 1977,  a day of riotous demonstrations against the far right National Front often referred to as the 'Battle of Lewisham'. There are some great images and archive material, so do get along and take a look. The exhibition is open from 9 am to 9 pm for all of August in Goldsmiths Kingsway Corridor in the main old building on Lewisham Way.

This weekend sees a whole series of events to mark the 40th anniversary, organised by Goldsmiths in partnership with Lewisham Council, the Albany and Lover Music Hate Racism. All events free unless otherwise stated, full details here:

Friday, 11 August 2017

Spirit of '77: protest poetry and song
A night of protest music and poetry featuring Attila the Stockbroker, Robb Johnson, Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson, and more.
6:45 - 11pm | The Stretch, Goldsmiths SU | £5 in advance, £7 on the door

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Walking the Battle of Lewisham
Historian Dr John Price leads a history walk taking in key locations from the Battle of Lewisham.
11am - 1pm & 2 - 4pm,  Goldsmiths.

Spirit of ’77: Protest films
Screening of newly rediscovered documentary, AUG 13, produced by the Albany Video Project chronicling the events of the Battle of Lewisham. Followed by 'The Depiction of Blackness', a new film by Nacheal Catnott. Screening followed by a Q&A with the film-makers and DJ set from Lezlee Lyrix. 7 - 11pm, The Stretch, Goldsmiths.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Battle of Lewisham plaque unveiling
Lewisham maroon plaque unveiled on Clifton Rise in New Cross (by New Cross Inn), gathering point for anti-fascists on the day. 12pm |Further information
Battle of Lewisham 40th Anniversary Community Festival,
from 1 pm to 6 pm at the Albany, Deptford, including:
DJ sets
Featuring Rock Against Racism co-founder, Roger Huddle, and the Deptford Dub Club’s Soft Wax joined live by Tim from Top Cats (South London's favourite Ska band ) and Setondji Spirit.
1pm – 6pm | FREE
Goldsmiths presents a history of the Battle of Lewisham, including rarely seen photographs, first-hand accounts, and community led designs for a new public mural
1pm – 6pm | FREE
Food, drink and local organisations presenting their work. Including Indian street food from Hulabaloo, Love Music Hate Racism, The Word Bookshop, Bookmarks, Lewisham Anti-Racist Action Group, Lewisham Local History Society and Lewisham Pensioners Forum.
1pm – 6pm 

Remembering the ‘Battle of Lewisham’ panel discussion
Hear first-hand accounts and explore the contemporary relevance of the Battle with Dr John Price, John Rees and John Lockwood.
2 pm, the Albany
The legacy of Rock Against Racism panel discussion
Roger Huddle, Co-founder of Rock Against Racism
Rhoda Dakar, lead singer of The Bodysnatchers (performed at RAR/ANL carnival in Leeds with The Specials)
Saskilla, Grime artist (performed at Love Music Hate Racism events)
Zak Cochrane, Love Music Hate Racism

4pm , the Albany 
Battle of Lewisham 40th Anniversary Gig
Love Music Hate Racism presents a night of rebel music to mark the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham. With live music from Afro B (Hit track ‘Juice & Power’), IQ (Afro Beats), YGTV & Guests (Hosted by Saskilla), & Smokey Joe (Beat London Radio).
7 – 10pm, £10

John Price launches the photography exhibition at Goldsmiths

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

And Did Those Hooves in Ancient Times

An interesting talk coming up at South East London Folklore Society this week - Thursday 10th August 2017 - looking at all kinds of magickal and folkloric aspects of the goat. No less than 'a journey through goatish manifestations by way of Snowdonia, Avebury and Crouch End: Alexander Keiller's Pan worship, daimonic encounters, haunted abandoned rail lines, and cough syrup hallucinations'.

The speaker is the erudite and quietly influential Gyrus, 'a writer based in south London, obsessed with animism, altered states, depth psychology and archaic revivals. Creator of the journals Towards 2012 and Dreamflesh, and author of North, an epic cosmological history.'

The talk takes place in the upstairs room of The Old King's Head, just down the road from London Bridge, across which Cilla Black and Cherie Blair walked goats for charity not so long ago. Also only five minutes away from Queen Elizabeth Street SE1 where in July 1944, a Nazi rocket destroyed The Goat Public House, killing 18 people. I am sure there must be lots of other local goat connections... any ideas?

Entrance is £3/1.50 concs, in King's Head Yard, 45-49 Borough High Street, SE1 1NA (facebook event details here)

Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks dressed up for the Pagan goat dance in Dragnet (1987)

Monday, August 07, 2017

Music Monday: Joel Culpepper

SE London soul singer Joel Culpepper has been getting lots of attention recently on the back of his new Tortoise EP. He was on Gilles Peterson's BBC 6Music show a few week ago and gave a shout out to Lewisham.

His collaborators on the EP include legendary Chicago house producer Roy Davis Jr. (responsible for garage anthem Gabriel), with whom he has written 'Afraid to be King', newly released as a single this week and already getting lots of airplay from Lauren Laverne and others.

'It don't mean I'm in love' was produced by Jimmy Hogarth, who has worked with Duffy and Amy Winehouse among others. The video features Blackheath and the LP Bar in New Cross Road - and an implicit message that when a guy say 'let's take it slow' he actually means 'I can't commit as I have a string of women across town'.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Horns of Taurus over New Cross Gate

My current favourite phone app is SkyView (I have only used the free version so far). Essentially an astronomy aid if you point it at the night sky it will tell you the names of the stars, planets and constellations that you can see. But of course the stars are still there during the day, it's just too bright for us to see them - other than the sun.  And SkyView does work in the day by showing what is currently invisible to the naked eye, enabling you to create some striking montages.

Here's Virgo over the old Deptford Town Hall on Sunday afternoon...

.... and Taurus over New Cross Sainsburys.

During a dull moment at work I did actually point it at my keyboard and spot that the international space station was currently in line with the middle of it - but I'm not going to subject you to that photo!