Sunday, December 31, 2006

Irish Dance Halls in London

My friend Myk had a Christmas leftovers party last night where people brought along unwanted presents and put them into a lucky dip. As a result I came away with a book I've been meaning to read since it came out, Joe Boyd's 'White Bicycles: making music in the 1960s' (Serpents Tail, 2005). Its a good read, covering his adventures in the US and British blues, jazz and folk scenes as a producer of Fairport Convention, Nick Drake and Vashti Bunyan.

Boyd was also one of the people behind the legendary UFO psychedelic club in Tottenham Court Road (1966-7) with the early Pink Floyd as the house band. One thing I hadn't realized before was that UFO was held in an Irish dance hall called the Blarney Club. This got me thinking about the untold influence of Irish dance halls on wider popular culture in London, as large places outside of the main music industry circuits and therefore available for people to use for more marginal and emerging musics.

In New Cross, the Venue was previously The Harp Club, and even before it changed names was being used for gigs and indie clubs. In Camden, The Electic Ballroom also started out as an Irish dance hall, whilst the Kilburn National has hosted The Pixies, Nirvana, The Smiths and The Sex Pistols (I saw The Wedding Present there once).

So endeth the final Transpontine post of 2006.

Drive carefully

It is traditional at this time of year to warn people to drive carefully. I would like to add that particular care should be taken if you are anywhere near cars being driven by the police in South East London, especially in the Shooters Hill area

Last week a 16 year old girl was killed just off Shooters Hill after a police chase 'Teenager Samantha Clark died after accepting a lift home from a party in a stolen 4x4, police said. The trainee legal secretary, 16, was killed when the Jeep Cherokee careered into a tree and burst into flames following a high-speed police chase... Flowers have been left at the scene of the crash in Plum Lane, Woolwich, alongside messages from family and friends. A spokesman for Scotland Yard confirmed that the silver vehicle was being followed by an unmarked police car with its blue lights and siren on (more)

There have been a number of other incidents in the same area. For instance, in June 2002 a 29-year-old female pedestrian in Shooters Hill was killed when hit by a police car.

A year later in June 2003 'Two police officers and a Kent man suffered serious injuries when their marked police car collided with the man's car... at the junction of Shooters Hill Road and Marlborough Lane, SE18. The two police officers, both men, suffered leg and chest injuries. One of the officers has been discharged from hospital, and the other officer is now in stable condition. The 53-year-old man, from Orpington, was cut from his car and taken to Kings College Hospital, where he remains in serious condition'.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Band of Holy Joy

We have lots of writing about music here at Transpontine, but not enough actual music. To correct this we are now going to try and include links to MP3s, concentrating on South London obscurities and otherwise unavailable stuff.

First up, The Band of Holy Joy, decribed in The Rough Guide to Rock as follows: 'Amidst the glossy, superficial optimism of a lot of mid-80s chart music, Band Of Holy Joy were lauded by the music press for bringing the dirt and hurt back into pop. The ramshackle line-up – acoustic instruments ranging from accordion to toy trumpet, and not a guitar in sight – invited comparisons with The Pogues, but there was something very English about a group steeped in lowlife London and happy to make something of it. What they made of it fitted the band’s name. Singer/lyricist Johny Brown supplied the words for strangely uplifting songs of urban angst that brought comparisons with Brecht and Brel, but were firmly contemporary, with privatization, Prince and E-type hedonism all targets for the densely detailed lyrics. The band grew out of a group of friends living in the New Cross area of south London, although Brown was originally from the northeast of England. A south-London indie label, Flim Flam, released their first records, the mini-album THE BIG SHIP SAILS (1986) and the full-length MORE TALES FROM THE CITY (1987)'.

As Deptford Fun City notes, Band of Holy Joy emerged from a squatting (later housing co-op) scene centred around Nettleton Road in New Cross. Vocalist Johny Brown told Melody Maker in 1987: 'It was at a time when New Cross was really brilliant... Me and Max used to live in a big house with Test Department. That was how Holy Joy were formed... in Test Department's basement where they rehearse. We found an old organ there. It was this big house with no windows. They had a black door with a wreath on it and the house was haunted’ (Melody Maker, 1987).

BoHJ’s 1986 album ‘More Tales from the City’ was recorded at Chocolate City in New Cross, a now vanished recording studio on New Cross Road (think it was where that now equally defunct night club stands between the White Hart and Besson Street). The band split up in 1992, although they did reform a couple of years ago.

Mad Dot, from 'More Tales from the City' includes the immortal lines: ‘I get the madness in my head, when I lie for days in bed, or when I walk up the New Cross Road, When I’m starved and I haven’t been fed'

Band of Holy Joy - Mad Dot (MP3)

Some of their later stuff is available at ITunes but not 'More Tales...', which defintely deserves a re-release.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Greenwich Solstice

I went along to a Winter Solstice celebration in Greenwich Park last week (22nd) arranged by the Tribe of Avalon. They very kindly asked me along to sing a song I have written, 'On Snow Hill', which refers to that hill in the Park. In his book, 'Goddesses, Guardians and Groves: the Awakening Spirit of the Land' (Capall Bann, 1996), Jack Gale associates Snow Hill with a Winter Goddess, a Snow Queen linked to the Saxon deity Holda. What is undeniable is that there are Saxon burial mounds on the hill, and nearby a filled in, but still noticeable well. It felt special singing the song at the well (the well gets mentioned in the song too), one of a number of site-specific singing sessions I've done this year. These have included singing 'Georgie' (a poachers ballad set in Shooters Hill) in Oxleas Wood at the top of Shooters Hill at the start of the South East London Folklore Society walk there in the summer, and singing with Juleigh 'The Only Living Boy in New Cross' as part of the Telegraph Hill Festival at Page Two in Nunhead. Next year I am planning to get the music project off the ground on a more regular basis with 'Winterland' (watch here for details).

Greenwich Park felt like a fitting place for the turning of the year, as this year a lot of threads of my life seem to have run through it. Back in April, there was Tom McCarthy and Rob Dickinson's excellent Greenwich Degree Zero exhibition at the Beaconsfield gallery in Vauxhall, based around an alternative history perspective on Martial Bourdin's death in Greenwich Park in an 1894 bomb explosion. I gave a talk at the exibition, 'Stargate SE8: time, space and parklife' which combined my local history and Association of Autonomous Astronauts interests. Jem Finer, Pogue and sound artist, was also on the bill and through meeting him we both ended up taking part in Brendan Walker's wonderful Fairground Thrill Laboratory at the Science Museum in the Autumn, an event that combined space-themed talks and music with a go on the Booster fairground ride.

Then of course there was the unforgettable wedding of fellow Transpontinians Scott and Clare in Greenwich Park, an event which showed that it was possible to have a ceremony in keeping with your beliefs without frightening the horses or the relatives. Jacqui from Tribe of Avalon conducted the wedding, Jack Gale talked briefly about the history and spirits of the Park, Scott & Clare led the leaping over the broomstick.

Frost Fair

I went to the Frost Fair at Bankside in the week before Christmas. Not quite up there with the historic fairs held on the frozen Thames, but there were lots of stalls and the Globe opened for a pound, with a short George and Dragon play on the stage. Angels were spotted on the Millennium Bridge (photo above). Of course this year a number of people have claimed to see a Thames Angel for real - there is even a Friends of the Thames Angel fan club (see also). Men in white frocks may not have been what they had in mind - but what else is an angel?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

James Brown

So farewell James Brown... dead on Christmas Day, what an exit. I made a Christmas CD for friends this year and included his great 'Santa Claus go straight to the Ghetto' (could have put the Belle & Sebastian version on, but much as I love them no one can really cover James Brown).

The James Brown sound will always remind me of my early days in South London, just after I'd moved to Brixton in 1987. I used to go to Dance Exchange at the Fridge, with Jay Strongman DJing. It was the pre-house 'rare groove' period, with the music dominated by James Brown and his associates - among the biggest records were Brown's own 'Get Up Offa That Thing' and others made by members of his band, particularly Maceo Parker (Cross the Tracks - Maceo & the Macks) and Bobby Byrd (I know you got soul).

As well as the Fridge, there were other smaller clubs playing similar music in the area - there was Wear it Out upstairs in the Loughborough Hotel in Brixton, and Dance Chase above the Alexandra at Clapham Common. Another important night was Wendy May's Locomotion at the Town and Country Club in Camden, playing a mixture of funk and northern soul.

Soon electronic beats would begin to squeeze out the 1970s funk sound, but James Brown provided the DNA for the next wave of dance music through the endless sampling of loops from his band (where would Public Enemy and many others have been without them?). There is always hyperbole when somebody dies, but I can honestly say anybody's who's been out dancing in the past 40 years should raise a glass tonight to the Godfather of Soul.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Back to 1995

As a compulsive hoarder of flyers and other ephemera from many years of parties, gigs and rampages through the streets, it is gratifying to have finally found a use for them in the last couple of years since I got my scanner working - yes, posting them on sites for other obsessives to go, wow, that was quite a night etc. etc.

I've just posted a mid-1990s batch over at Urban75 in their Lost Squats of Brixton section, including some from the legendary Cool Tan parties in the former dole office on Colharbour Lane and one from the Bar Sate industrial night at 121 anarchist centre on Railton Road.

I've also been sticking up photoes at UK Decay, an absolute treasure trove for anybody interested in punk rock in Luton (mainly ex-Luton punks like myself).

Flyer for a 1995 party at Cool Tan in Brixton, featuring Luton-based free party drum'n'bassheads Exodus Collective. I recall that Luton electronica outfit Click Click played that night. This is a real period piece with a reference to the recently passed Criminal Justice Act (clamping down on raves) and 'cold taps turned on' referring to unscrupulous clubowners trying to force e'd up dancers to buy water from the bar by turning off the taps in the toilets.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Music Monday: Status Quo

[post updated September 2021, following death of Status Quo bass player Alan Lancaster]

Status Quo were one of the most successful British rock bands from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, 'Rocking All Over the World' but with roots in Forest Hill and Peckham

Lead singer and guitarist Francis Rossi spent his early years in Forest Hill (Mayow Road and Perry Rise), where he attended Our Lady and St Philip Neri RC primary school. His Italian extended family ran the local ice cream trade with vans and a shop, Rossi's Ice Cream in Catford Broadway. In his autobiography 'I Talk Too Much' Rossie mentions going to 'Len Stiles Music on Lewisham High Street. This was a record shop that also sold musical instruments including electric guitars. Len Stiles was the place where you hung around smoking your Nelson cigarettes and yacking about music'.  Later Rossi moved to Balham where his family ran a sweet shop, but after getting married at Peckham Registry Office he set up home in Forest Hill.

Bass guitarist Alan Lancaster meanwhile grew up in Cator Street, Peckham. He and Rossi met at Sedgehill Primary School in Beckenham where they first started a band - initially in a Kenny Ball style trad jazz trio! Switching to guitars they played their fist proper gig at the Samuel Jones Sports Club in Lordship Lane SE22.

Rehearsing in a garage next door to the RAF Air Training Corps centre in Lordship Lane (not far from the Horniman museum in what is now Highwood Close) they poached drummer John Coghlan from another band rehearsing at the barracks. Coghlan was from Dulwich and went to Kingsdale school. Now known as The Spectres, the band played other local venues such as El Partido in Catford, the Bromley Court Hotel and in 1967 Abbey Wood park with Pink Floyd.

After hooking up with guitarist Rick Parfitt while working at Butlins in Minehead they became 'The Status Quo' in 1967, later dropping the 'The'.  Their first gig with new name was at The Welcome Inn in Eltham and their first hit 'Pictures of Matchstick Men' came the following year in 1968, a slice of English psychedelia-lite. In the early 1970s the band began adopting the denim-clad rockier image and sound that they became famous for.  

There’s a 1972 Status Quo photo shoot in Peckham, this one is by the Peckham Unionist Club which was apparently on corner of Peckham Hill Street and Commercial Way

Must admit I had an early teens Quo moment before I got into punk. Their style/sound became a bit of a cliche, but is is time for a critical re-appreciation? Some of their peak period stuff has this almost Krautrock drone like repetition and is pretty powerful.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Gone to the Dogs

Went for a walk along the River Ravensbourne from Catford to Ladywell last month, came across the remains of Catford Dogs Stadium - the sign and the entrance block seem to be all that's left, with the rest demolished. Can't say I was ever a regular punter, but I did get taken there once as a leaving present from a job. I quite like the current melancholy dereliction, no doubt soon it will be a building site.

Further along the river was looking beautiful, towards the Catford end it does feel quite rural, if you screen out the buildings at the edge of your vision.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Punk in South London

I wasn’t sure about reading ‘Punk Rock: an oral history’ by John Robb (Ebury Press, 2006). Sometimes your love for things can be ruined by them being over-mythologised and analysed, and I’ve rationed my reading of punk books on this basis. This book is quite refreshing though as it is entirely in the words of people involved in British and Irish punk up until about 1984. Along the way, some of the myths about punk are quietly demolished. For instance the notion of punk emerging in opposition to all previous musical trends doesn’t hold water when you find out that most of the key players were obsessively involved, if only as fans, in all kinds of pre-punk scenes – not just Bowie and Pub Rock (the approved influences), but also the 70s underground of Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies.

So what about South London connections? Well the Bromley Contingent of Siouxsie, Billy Idol and co. has been well documented before, as have the Croydon connections of The Damned, but I hadn’t realized that the latter’s Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible met while working at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls, taking in everything from Jerry Lee Lewis to Mrs Mills. The Damned rehearsed in a Bermondsey warehouse owned by their early manager, John Krivine (who was also behind the shops Boy and Acme Attractions)

The Sex Pistols first proper rehearsal was upstairs in the Rose and Crown in Wandsworth (John Lydon had earlier made his way to the Crunchie Frog pub in Rotherhithe for a rehearsal in August 1975, but the rest of the band failed to show up). A key early gig was the following February at Andrew Logan’s Valentine’s Night warehouse party at Butler’s Wharf in Bermondsey, featuring Jordan jumping on stage to have her clothes ripped off by Lydon, who then started smashing up the equipment. The gig had an electrifying effect on Mick Jones and Brian James, seeing the Pistols for the first time and inspired to follow suit (eventually forming The Clash and The Damned respectively).

TV Smith and Gaye Advert of The Adverts started out in a flat in Clapham when they first moved up to London from Devon, while Colin Newman of Wire lived in a ‘very rough squat in Stockwell’. Don Letts, a key figure in the punk-reggae crossover as DJ at the Roxy club ‘lived in a house in Forest Hill with five other rasta brethren: Leo Williams who was later in Big Audio Dynamite and Dreadzone, JR, Tony and my brother. We were really the staff, the doormen at the Roxy’. Mark Perry of Sniffin’ Glue and Alternative TV gets his say (‘We were working class kids from Deptford. We weren’t middle class ponces from Bromley or Chelsea’).

The book follows through to second wave of punk bands and its various sub-genres such as anarcho-punk. It also attempts to rescue the reputation of Oi bands, misunderstood as right wing skinheads when they were actually working class socialists if the book is to be believed. In this category come Deptford’s The Business, whose guitarist Steve Kent recalls ‘I was living in Deptford in the early punks days. Some friends of mine found out that punk groups were playing at the famous Kings Head in Deptford, which later went on to be the subject of the Conflict song. We had a punk gang down there on Friday and Saturday nights, which was the punk night, and there would be bands in the punk room’.

Above all the book conveys the excitement of rapidly expanding possibilities, of Do it Yourself mayhem and violent reaction from shocked patriots and passers-by.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Solstice Satire

Saturday 23rd December 3pm

Bring a song, story or poem. Cozy up around a campfire or inside our yurt. Hot chai and mince pies on the go. Food donations or other welcome.

One Tree Hill allotments(KEEP OFF PLOTS). Entrance half way up Honor Oak Park Road beneath the trees. Ring the bell.

Friday, December 08, 2006


The Monkees' movie HEAD is being shown next Wednesday 13th December in New Cross. The film, plus delicious veggie food, costs a mere £4. At Cafe Crema, 306 New Cross Road. 7.30pm for food, 8.00pm for the film.