Sunday, January 28, 2007

New Cross Fire

It's that time of year to mark the anniversary of the New Cross Fire in 1981. As described in Deptford Fun City: "On Sunday 18th January 1981, 13 young black people, all between the ages of 15 and 20 years old, were killed in a fire at a birthday party at 439 New Cross Road. The police reported initially that the fire was caused by a firebomb, and many believed that it was a racist attack. On the following Sunday a mass meeting was held at The Moonshot Club, attended by over 1000 people. From that meeting there was a demonstration to the scene of the fire, which blocked New Cross Road for several hours.

The New Cross Massacre Action Committee organised weekly mass meetings in New Cross. It also called the Black People's Day of Action on Monday 2nd March 1981, the biggest mobilisation of black people ever seen in Britain. 20,000 marched over a period of eight hours from Fordham Park to Hyde Park with slogans including: 'Thirteen Dead and Nothing Said', 'No Police Cover-Up', 'Blood Ah Go Run If Justice No Come'.

Ever since the Fire, the police have leaked stories about breakthroughs, but have never charged anybody. Perhaps it will turn out not to have been a racist attack, but this was not the only issue at the time. The slogan of 'Thirteen Dead and Nothing Said' was a response to the official indifference to the deaths".

The tragedy was commemorated in a number of reggae songs and poems at the time. Sir Collins, whose son Steven died in the fire, recorded an album 'New Cross Fire' (sleeve pictured). Benjamin Zephaniah recorded '13 dead' and Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘New Craas Massahkah’. Johnny Osbourne released '13 dead and nothing said' on Simba records (see label here).

Listen to Johnny Osbourne’s '13 dead and nothing said'

See also Don't Let it Pass You By

Friday, January 26, 2007

Maudsley closure

The campaign against the closure of the Maudsley emergency clinic in Camberwell is continuing despite health secretary Patricia Hewitt refusing to come to its aid. On Wednesday 100 mental health users and supporters demonstrated at Southwark Town Hall, moving to block the traffic on Peckham Road. I know several people who might not be here now if it wasn't for the support offered at the 24 hour clinic when they were in crisis. The alternative being offered of support through Kings Accident and Emergency is just not the same. Kings A&E can be a grim and scary place, hardly encouraging access to people who may be frightened and desparate.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Venue Flyers

We've mentioned the illustrious history of The Venue in New Cross before. Here's some documentary proof that the place really was a top live venue in the 1990s, before it became more or less exclusively for cover bands. The flyer on the left is from 1994, when bands including The Godfathers, Shed Seven and Revolutionary Dub Warriors played there (I admit to being at the latter). The flyer on the right is, I think, from 1992 and is more impressive with US bands Belly and Sebadoh, the latter supported by TV Personalities and Cornershop. Anyone got any more old flyers?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Shot by Both Sides

New Cross Inn, 323 New Cross Road, SE14 6AS
9pm-2am. £4 / £3 NUS & Cheaplist. Featuring:

'Gargantuan soundscapes, psychedelic fuzz and dreamy, pastoral vocals from Sonic Cathedral favourites'.

'mix of hazey C86-esque indie, grubby swing-beat and 60's pop sensibilities'

'Down-at-heel NYC/Suicide-ish swagger and sleazy sounds from Stoke Newington 4-piece'

'Raw and thrilling new-wave/post-punk from these intellectual upstarts'

Monday, January 15, 2007

New Cross Haight Ashbury??

A breathless article in Time Out last week, Rocklands: New Cross Creatives, proclaims the wonders of 'the new New Cross underground, a melting pot of ideas that takes in music, film, theatre, comedy, visual art, performance art and art for art’s sake. The loose adopted term for this movement, centred on New Cross and the surrounding boroughs of Brockley, Lewisham and Deptford, is Rocklands. Rocklands was recently hailed by Vogue Italia, which likened the area to the more ostentatiously fabulous Montmartre district of Paris (though British Vogue has been conspicuously slow to pick up on the story). Of course, comparing New Cross to the home of the Sacre Coeur is just a facetious journalistic exercise, not to mention totally inaccurate. No, New Cross these days is much more like Haight-Ashbury, circa 1966'. Bands including The Veez, Rank Deluxe, Seeing Scarlet, The Alps and Lost Penguin all get name-checked.

The article provoked a couple of quite snotty letters in this week's magazine, one seeking to put up a wall between New Cross and some of the snootier serious visual artists in Deptford ('it's SE14 not SE8'), and another dismissing the scene as a bunch of well-heeled yuppie types. This is not my experience I must say, it feels like the same precariat of students, casual workers and jobless who have been the driving force behind music round here for years.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Nettleton Nexus Revisited

Our recent post on Nettleton Road in New Cross and its musical productivity in the 1980s has set a few memories working. Alec Turner, formerly of Nettleton Road and now living with family in a remote part of Norway, has told us that:

- he lived in the early 1980s at number 28. This was where Colin from Conflict was born (pre-housing co-op days) .

- Alec then lived at number 11 along with Karen and another female member of the Hagar the Womb. At this time, Alec himself was in a band with his friend Martin called The Depth Charge Souls. They released a single, The Price of Love, in 1986. It made it to second single of the week in Melody Maker and got played once on John Peel.

- members of The Mekons and a guitarist from Blue Aeroplanes also lived in the street as well as members of Test Dept and Band of Holy Joy (as mentioned in earlier post). Bob from Blood & Roses and Mitch (also of Hagar the Womb) lived at number 5. Alistair from Kill Your Pet Puppy zine thinks he lived at number 24.

All the house numbers aren't very important, as it was a co-op people moved in to one house and then maybe moved to a room in another house as it became available. All this does show though what a cauldron of music this place was, as well as some interesting continuities over time. For instance, Hagar the Womb ended up on Conflict's Mortarhate records, whose founder Colin was born in the same road. Any more memories and documents (print or music)?

Listen to Depth Charge Souls - The Price of Love MP3

Friday, January 12, 2007

Croydon Now

Following my recent critique of Croydon, I thought it only fair to check out if there's anything interesting coming out of there now, at least musically.

Well, for a start there's The Noisettes (pictured) who have been making a lot of, er, noise lately - even saw them on TV last week while eating my breakfast. New single Sister Rosetta is a catchy bit of poppy rock, and let's face it not many current bands in their position would take the risk of writing a song name checking an old gospel singer.

I was going to say something about Do Me Bad Things, but they apparently split up last year, leaving the Xfm airwaves without a Croydon 9-piece.

I was also going to say that at least there's still The Cartoon as a venue for up and coming Croydon bands, but then I checked and found out that it closed down last November (read heartbroken Croydonites laments here). Still The Ship is still going, so alternative Croydon has not died a death yet.

Anyway leaving behind the rock scene, we should also acknowledge the contribution of Croydon to dubstep scene in London, hilariously and erroneously described as 'Croydon techno' in the Daily Torygraph. Tracing the South London connections of this is a whole other post, but we will get round it at some point - in the mean time check out Drumz of the South.

Underground Cinema

FLIXATION is a new underground cinema club, formed from ex-EXPLODING CINEMA and MY EYES! MY EYES! founders Duncan Reekie, Caroline Kennedy and Clive Shaw. The next show is on Wednesday 24th January 2007 at the Miller of Mansfield, 96 Snowsfields, London SE1 3SS (near London Bridge) and promises a night of 'no-budget underground cinema, digital craft, amateur film Art, performance and music'. 8pm start membership £4/ £3 concs. If you have any work you'd like to show or a performance you'd like to do - contact clivershawathotmaildotcom.

The night before at Cafe Crema (306 New Cross Road), Class Acts presents Matewan a 1987 film by John Sayles. Set in 1920 West Virginia coalfields, the film tells the story of miners fighting to organise a union against a ruthless mining company and it's officals and has hired gun thugs aplenty. Details: Weds 24 Jan 2007. 7.30 for food, film at 8.00pm. £4 entrance includes delicious veggie meal.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Nettleton Road Nexus

Nettleton Road in New Cross is a small street in South London that has had a disproportionate impact on leftfield music, particularly it seems in the 1980s. My understanding is that at one point it was squatted and then became run as a housing co-operative (and still is).

We have already mentioned in these pages that members of Test Dept lived at 8 Nettleton Road, and it seems that members of The Band of Holy Joy did too. We also have it on good authority from somebody else who lived there that Colin Jerwood, lead singer with anarcho-punk band Conflict (pictured here), was born in the street.

Now, over at the always interesting Greengalloway, Alastair Livingstone has recalled a a few more connections:

"Although I spent most of my years in London north of the Thames (in Ilford, Islington and Hackney) I was briefly a south Londoner - New Cross... Part of the psychogeography of south London Transpontine are exploring are music links, and Neil has asked if I know of any... Got three:

Mitch of Hagar the Womb / Snork Maidens / Flack lived on Nettleton Road 10 years ago.

Mouse of Psychic TV lived at 10 Nettleton Road mid/ late eighties (at no. 10)

Bob of Blood and Roses also lived at no. 10 in late eighties".

The bands mentioned all deserve a post of their own, and I will supply more detail when I finish reading The Day the Country Died. Alistair himself was involved in the seminal punk zine Kill Your Pet Puppy and has described a 1983 New Year's Eve party in Nettleton Road:

'Year started with a party at Mouse's house (Nettleton Road/ New Cross) where we listened very intensely to first Psychic TV album. Mouse later became a Psychic TV person (played on Godstar single) . Min was also at party, and by September had moved to Beck Road- next door to PTV Temple HQ. As per previous blog, Min became Zos Kia singer/ wrote words for song Rape. Zos Kia in turn evolved into Coil'.

Some other local music connections


Transpontine has received this message about a planned picket of local Starbucks:

As part of our ongoing solidarity campaign with sacked Starbucks workers in the US. the Solidarity Federation, ex-Use Your Loafers (former occupied social centre in Deptford High Street) and London Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) will be holding a picket of Greenwich and Blackheath Starbucks on Sat 20th Jan 2007. Starting at the Greenwich Starbucks next to the Cutty Sark at 12 noon.

We will picketting Starbucks in South East London and the City every fortnight thereafter. As we call for an end to the anti-union campaign waged by Starbucks and for the reinstatement of all unlawfully fired workers.In addition we are calling on Starbucks to give Ethiopia control over it's coffee.

We will be encouraging Starbuck workers to organise to make their jobs better and finally have a real independant voice at work. By organising a union, baristas in the US have seen wages increased, schedules stabilised and respect from the bosses.

Starbucks have consistently responded to workers organising with threats, intimidation, harassment and illegal firings and since Dec 2005 five workers in NYC have been sacked fo engaging in protected union activity.

For details on the day ring 07984513577

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Goodbye to the Hatcham?

The Hatcham Liberal Club (also known as the Hatcham Social Club) in Queens Road is the latest New Cross music venue under threat, with 'For sale' signs up outside. The building pictured is an old working men's club and is apparently a listed building. Probably not listed, but a great space in its own right is the hall out the back where many gigs, parties and film shows have taken place (including among the latter a great Exploding Cinema show I went to where Mark Perry ex-Alternative TV performed).

Ben Gidley of Goldsmiths has written of the development of a ‘proletarian public sphere’ in 19th century London, with working people developing their own clubs and institutions where they could meet, talk and socialise on their own terms. Among the examples he gives is the Hatcham Liberal Club 'one of the largest working men’s clubs, where Fabian and SDF socialists debated with secularists, progressives and radicals’ (see The Proletarian Other: Charles Booth & the Politics of Representation). The Hatcham was also, incidentally, the venue for Charlie Chaplin’s mother’s last public performance (she had been a music hall singer) and of course has given its name to a current indie band - Hatcham Social. It has a past - but does it have a future?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

One Grey Eye: Transpontine Drift

"One Grey Eye: Transpontine Drift" (Transpontine being a word whose time has surely come) is a collection of ghostly, folklore-inspired stories set, mostly, in south London and is published by Walworth Road based organisation FandM Publications. I've not read my copy yet but the D.I.Y venture itself (Deptford worms?) is worth celebrating.
What's not to love?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Back to the Plough

Tomorrow (Monday 8th January) is Plough Monday, in ye olden days in England the day every went back to work in the fields after the 12 days of Christmas. For me its more back to the computer than back to the plough, but the principle's the same and to mark the occassion local morris troupe 'Fowlers Molly' will be dancing out between pubs in Greenwich as follows:

8pm: Ashburnham Arms, Ashburnham Grove, Greenwich

8.45pm: Prince Albert, Royal Hill, Greenwich

9.30pm: Richard I, Royal Hill, Greenwich

Friday, January 05, 2007

Above the pub

I’ve been reading a couple of books recently which have led me to ponder the importance of that great institution – the room above the pub (or sometimes the room behind the pub).

Firstly in a Peckham charity shop I came across 'At the Dog in Dulwich: recollections of a Poet', an autobiography of Patricia Doubell edited by Clive Murphy (London, Secker & Warburg, 1986). This describes the activities of the Dulwich Group of poets who met at the Crown & Greyhound (the ‘Dog’) in the 1960s and 1970s – where indeed poetry meetings had been held since the 1940s. Among those who gave readings there were poets Adrian Henri, Brian Patten, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Stevie Smith and Ivor Cutler.

Then in George Melly’s 'Owning Up' he talks about rehearsing in the 1950s in 'the upper rooms of various pubs. I suppose that most of early British revivalist jazz emerged from the same womb. Rehearsal rooms existed, of course, but we never thought of hiring one at that time. They were part of the professional world of which we knew nothing.. Many of these pub rooms were temples of 'The Ancient Order of Buffaloes', that mysterious proletarian version of the 'Freemasons', and it was under dusty horns and framed nineteenth-century characters that we struggled through 'Sunset Cafe Stomp' or 'Miss Henny's Ball'.

I had a number of 'upstairs' experiences myself only last month, DJing upstairs at the Birdcage in Stoke Newington at my friends’ Jon & Lorna’s party, and singing upstairs at the Royal George in Tanners Hill at the South East London Folklore Society Yule Night. Over the years I have taken part in numerous political meetings, music sessions and other events in similar settings. Most memorably for a while in the 1990s I regularly spent Sunday lunchtimes above the now-demolished George pub next to St George's Cathedral on Lambeth Road, learning Irish tunes with some other beginners before getting the confidence to move downstairs and play sessions in the public bar.

People have experimented with various autonomous education projects over the years, such as the London Free School and the Copenhagen Free University, but it seems to me that free discussion, learning and culture can be found on a regular basis by circulating through the various upstairs rooms of pubs across this town and many other. The question is will they survive? As old pubs close, new places such as bars and cafes emerge but usually without any spare room for anything interesting to happen. Space tends to be planned and utilized to the nth degree with nothing so ‘uneconomic’ as a room upstairs to be used a couple of nights a week by passing radicals, freethinkers and balladeers.

So lets make the most of those upstairs rooms and hold on to them wherever we can.. As an example of the multiple treasures to be found there, I note that next Monday 8 January 2007, starting at 8.00pm, The Horseshoe Pub, 24 Clerkenwell Close, EC1 is the temporary home of a Greek music session hosted by the very fine Institute of Rebetology.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Suburban Relapse

Slightly Lost is the latest in a long line of people queuing up to slag off Croydon as 'a soulless, concrete homage to pure capitalism'. In fact one time Croydonites Kirsty McColl and David Bowie are quoted expressing similarly wrathful sentiments about their one time home.

I would be the last one to argue with this, Croydon is exactly as Slightly Lost describes it. One of the few redeeming feature of the town centre is the famous second hand record shop Beanos, and even that it threatened with closure. And if Croydon is dull for many of us, let’s not forget that for some it is a real hell-hole as the home of the notorious Lunar House immigration office. As a recent enquiry highlighted, this is a place where asylum seekers and other migrants face at best a bureaucratic nightmare and at worst detention and deportation.

Jamie Reid, most famous for Sex Pistols art work, was previously involved in a Croydon-based anarcho/situationist printing press The Suburban Press (based at 9 Sidney Road, SE25). An early edition of their zine includes a picture of Croydon town centre and the caption 'Lo! A Monster is Born - Croydon redevelopment 1956-1972 (see cover here).

A Jamie Reid design - Destination Boredom & Nowhere = Bromley & Croydon?

One of the best dissections of South London suburban life is Hanif Kureishi’s novel, 'The Buddha of Suburbia' (1990), a depiction of coming of age in the 1970s by the Bromley-raised author. The narrator, Karim Amir, is 'from the South London suburbs and going somewhere'. Amir/Kureishi is scathing about where he lives: ‘a dreary suburb of London of which it was said that when people drowned they saw not their lives but their double-glazing flashing before them’. And, again: ‘In the suburbs people rarely dreamed of happiness. It was all familiarity and endurance: security and safety were the reward of dullness'. In the suburbs he does find some sub-cultural oases – at one point he goes to see Kevin Ayers at the Three Tuns in Beckenham where 'my friends that I loved were standing at the bar, having spent hours in their bedrooms preparing for the evening, their gladdest moment being when a pair of knowing eyes passed over their threads'. But ultimately he has to go further into London and indeed New York to find the excitement he craves.

Still, Michael Bracewell also makes a good point in 'England is Mine: Pop Life in Albion from Wilde to Goldie' (Harper Collins, 1997): 'That the suburbs, as opposed to the city, have been the prime incubator and kindergarten for principal players in English popular culture is as certain as the equally strong role of the provinces. Around the extreme south-east of London, along the Bromley, Croydon and Sutton belt (a suburban curve, linking the urbanity of Lewisham and New Cross to the quasi-ruralism of Epsom and Leatherhead), the suburbs would become famous as a launch-pad for punk rock’.

Croydon has certainly giving birth to plenty of music over the years. As well as Kirsty McColl and David Bowie (the latter actually born in Brixton), Croydon was the birth place of Ralph McTell, writer of the 'Streets of London' – recently designated as the no.1 London song by Time Out. The no.2 song on their list, Waterloo Sunset, was also apparently partly inspired by Ray Davies's journeys to Croydon Art School. Several members of The Damned came from Croydon (see previous post), and Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne also hail from there. One of my favourite songs of all time, Saint Etienne’s Hobart Paving takes its name from a Croydon-based company. Let's not forget the Purley Queen herself, Kate Moss – more of a muse than a musician, though she did contribute vocals to Primal Scream’s excellent version of Some Velvet Morning.

So is there something about the comfortable dreariness of places like Croydon that inspires people to leave and create something better? For Amir/Kureishi 'our suburbs were a leaving place, the start of a life' leaving him 'looking for trouble, any kind of movement, action and sexual interest'. If this restlessness is one source of creativity, there might also be a more prosaic reason for the suburbs’ contribution to the culture industry, namely that they are full of middle class kids with the cultural capital (education, equipment, confidence, connections) to make it in music and publishing.

Either way, 'So fuckin' Croydon' (a phrase coined by Bowie) remains apposite.

For a different take, see Weird Croydon or even Strange Croydon.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Test Dept

Next up in the roll call of great South East London bands is Test Dept. To quote from Deptford Fun City: 'Test Department were formed in 1981 from a group of people living at 8 Nettleton Road [New Cross]. They broke new ground with their ‘metal bashing’ industrial sound, using scrap metal for percussion. Their support for the Miners' Strike is documented in their 1984 LP, ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’, recorded with the South Wales Striking Miners Choir'.

In his book 'Queer Noises: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth Century Music' (Cassell, 1995), John Gill describes the experience of an early Test Dept performance:

"One sunny Saturday afternoon early in the 1980s, a colleague and I found ourselves wandering the streets of south of Blackfriars Bridge, on a caper that was straight out of Thomas Pynchon. A band who had given us a tape of their music, crashing industrial gamelan music battered out of steel springs, oil drums, sheets of metal, vast tanks, drills and buzzsaws, had invited us to one of their performances. The precise address of the concert had to be kept secret. They hired industrial premises – railway arches, warehouses, industrial depots – under the guise of anonymous charities… We were told to keep an eye out for their initials – TD, for Test Dept, a collective from New Cross in South London…

It was probably the only concert I’ve attended where I wondered if I was going to die. Test Dept were (and remain) stunning, breathtakingly noisy and quite terrifying… As they drummed up metal thunder on an adventure playground’s worth of industrial detritus, violent electronic noise was bled into the mix and grainy Russian revolutionary films were projected on to band and stage… The smell of oil was everywhere, and when they began applying cutting machinery to their instruments, producing volcanic spurts of sparks 20 feet across, people stubbed out cigarettes and backed towards the door". At a similar event nearby some time later, Test Dept were arrested before starting.

I saw Test Dept much later, at the last big night at Brixton squat venue Cool Tan in 1995.

Watch Test Dept - Compulsion (1984) at YouTube

Band of Holy Joy on YouTube

Following our recent post on the Band of Holy Joy, I came across this great video for their song 'Tactless' on YouTube, featuring them being introduced by Vic Reeves. See it here.

Monday, January 01, 2007

South East London Synagogue

This must be one of the great lost buildings of New Cross - the South East London Synagogue in New Cross Road, where the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall now stands.

According to Jewish Communities & Records, this building was consecrated in March 1905 and was destroyed by a German air raid on 27 December 1940. After this the congregation moved temporarily to 117 Lewisham Way (recently known as the Elephant house and demolished just last month). It 'returned to its original site in 1946, first to a temporary hut and then to new purpose-built synagogue in 1956'. However the congregation went into decline and it closed in 1985, by which time it only had 56 male members compared with 294 in 1939.

Afterwards the old synagogue was squatted for a while and used as a rehearsal space for Test Department, among others. I assume the 1950s building must have then been demolished, because the Jehovahs Witnesses hall looks more recent (correct me if I am wrong).

The synagogue seems have been started by Ashkenazi jews from eastern Europe living locally. Services started in a house in 452 New Cross Road in 1888, and then moved to two rooms in Nettleton Road, followed by a hut in in 1889 Lausanne Road until the building above was opened.

Credits - picture comes from South London Liberal Synagogue - I believe this is the earlier building rather than the 1950s one.