Saturday, May 31, 2008

1968 in South London (4): Lewisham Floods

Photo by David Wright showing the flooding on Bromley Road, Catford, outside the Robertson Jam Factory. The latter closed in 1970 with the loss of 350 jobs.
Probably the biggest event in Lewisham in 1968 was not related to global political movements but to the weather. In September 1968 there was flooding across the South East of England, with the Lewisham area badly hit: ‘Hundreds of families were… trapped in their homes in Lewisham, South London, which was one of the parts worst affected. All the families could do was to shore up their doors with planks, chairs, and carpets as the water swept into their homes. The worst affected part of Lewisham was the High Street. The River Quaggy, normally only 6 inches deep, rose in some places to 15ft. In Carthorn Street the water rose to 4ft. Traffic was halted as it stretched from Catford to New Cross. Extra police were called to filter some of the traffic through side roads’ (Times, 17 September 1968).

Bromley Road facing towards Catford in 1968.
Photo by David Wright on Flickr (he has a couple of other flood photos there)

[last updated with additional pictures 28 December 2013]

1968 in South London (3): Brixton Squatters

The following report of a 1968 protest in Brixton was published at the time in the radical newspaper Black Dwarf:

'Squatters seized an empty five-storey office block in London's Brixton Road on Saturday, 29 March. About a dozen squad cars, black marias and motor cycle police surrounded the building just before 9 a.m.) minutes after the “invasion squad" otherwise known as the South London Squatters, had got in through a back way.

A detachment of police headed by an inspector from the nearby Brixton police station and a plain-clothes man clambered over a ten-­foot hardboard fence at the back of the concrete and glass building and tried to get the squatters to leave quietly. They refused. A few minutes later large banners appeared over the balconies of the block reading: 'Homes not offices' and 'Enough room here for eighty families'. Plus a red flag.

The building is next to Brixton Register Office. Astonished wedding guests watched as police tried to get the squatters out. According to a leaflet handed out by supporters outside, the building - 40,500 sq. ft of it - has been empty for three years. 'Why can't Cathy come home to this'!' the leaflet asks. 'We have occupied this building to expose the housing shortage. A building this size could be converted at only £1,000 a unit to house eighty homeless families. Eight million sq. ft of office building stands empty in London alone - enough to house all the homeless in Britain.'

The operation, the first carried out by the group, was surprisingly simple. The glass in a door at the back of the building was cut and Hey Presto! The next they heard were the sirens.
Said Ray Gibbon, travel agency manager and father of two, of Shakespeare Road, Heme Hill, “We intend staying here until 5.30. Then we'll leave quietly after we've made our point.”

The squatters, all local people, passed their time listening to the radio, playing football and putting records on a record player they'd brought with them. At lunch-time fish and chips and bottles of beer were hoisted up by rope from outside. Rubbish was put in a Lambeth Council paper sack they had brought in with them. 'We want to be as tidy as possible,' said Mr Gibbon.

During the day, the squatters gave out over 7,000 leaflets in the Brixton shopping centre. One West Indian bus conductor said, 'Give me a heap man. I'll give them out to the lads when I get to the garage at Croydon.' The leaflet said: 'Some people try to blame immigrants for the housing shortage but we know we had lousy houses in Britain before we ever saw a black face or heard an Irish accent. The real for the housing shortage is that a small group of people make millions of pounds out of our need for a decent home.'

Source: David Widgery, The Left in Britain 1956-1968 (London: Penguin, 1976)

Friday, May 30, 2008

1968 in South London (2): Brockley school students

In Lindsay Anderson's 1968 film If, Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) leads an armed revolt in a private school. Events at Brockley County School in Hilly Fields (now Prendergast School) were not quite so dramatic, but there was discontent nevertheless:

“Three boys at a South London grammar school – all members of a national campaign to get greater freedom for pupils –were suspended yesterday after a boycott of the school prizegiving. Mr H.I. Jones, headmaster of Brockley County School, told them they must stay away until he has seen their parents.

One of the organizers of the boycott, aged 15, said last night: ‘We hoped to have the entire school of about 550 pupils staying away’. But about 30 in all, from the fifth and sixth forms stayed away. ‘We did not object to the prizegiving as such, just to the fact that attendance was compulsory’ he added. ‘We do not like the suppression of the individuality of pupils. At present they are not allowed to think for themselves. I agree there has to be some discipline and organisation in schools, but I do not think it should be carried on the way it is now’.

He complained of ‘stupid traditions such as speech day’. Some masters were also sympathetic with their campaign. ‘All the boys who boycotted the evening were punished in some way, unless they gave a good reason for not being there. Some were given a large imposition, and I understand, some were caned’. One of the other boys said: ‘Our campaign is for the abolition of examinations and uniforms’".

(Source: Times 9 November 1968)

1968 in South London (1): Students

There has been a lot of coverage elsewhere of the anniversary of 1968 – just as there was in 1998, and no doubt will be in 2018. Some people seem to have made a lifelong career on the basis of their late 60s press notoriety and standing next to Mick Jagger on an anti-Vietnam War demonstration. Clearly there were some historically significant events in 1968- the May movement in France, the massacre of students in Mexico, the Prague Spring, the beginning of the civil rights movement in the north of Ireland. Equally clearly, some fairly minor events in England have been somewhat over-dramatised by their nostalgic baby boomer participants. People do go on and on about the Grosvenor Square anti-war demonstration as if it was a bloody civil war, when in reality it seems to have been little more than a giant rugby scrum compared to the violence of, say the Miners strike in the 1980s or the 1990 Poll Tax riot.

So how was South London affected by the global wave of revolt? From what I’ve found so far, not too dramatically. There were some stirrings amongst art students following the occupation of Hornsey College of Art at the end of May. ‘A group of Hornsey students last night visited Goldsmiths College, New Cross, SE, to appeal for support’ (Times 1 June 1968), but there does not seem to have been an occupation at Goldsmiths itself. Later in the year ‘Sixty students from Goldsmiths’ College of Art, New Cross, SE, invaded Hornsey College of Art on the first day of its new term… They crowded into the corridors of Hornsey and chanted ‘We support you. We support you’. Hornsey college authorities called police, who dispersed the students and ejected them’ (Times, 5 November 1968).

There was a ‘sit-in by students’ at Croydon College of Art, with an occupation of ‘an annexe at South Norwood for six nights’ (Times 11 June 1968). The students don’t seem to have been too clued up on tactics though – they left the occupation unguarded and then were surprised to find themselves locked out: ‘Three hundred of them had left the annexe and were at the main college building for a meeting between deputations of staff and students to discuss the students’ grievances. When they returned to the annexe in Selhurst Road, South Norwood, afterwards, they found the doors locked and the building in darkness’ (Times 12 June 1968). Jamie Reid – who later designed Sex Pistols record sleeves – took part in the occupation, as did The Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McClaren.

If none of this was quite on the scale of events elsewhere in the world, the authorities were still interested: ‘The actions of a plain clothes police officer in visiting Goldsmiths College, New Cross… to discover the names and addresses of three students for inquiries into a forthcoming Vietnam rally, is deplored by Dr D.R. Chesterton, college warden, in today’s issue of Smith News, the college paper’ (Times 11 October 1968).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Easycome Acoustic Club

Went along to the Easycome Acoustic Club in Nunhead last night. After years of running at the Ivyhouse it is now firmly established at the Old Nun's Head. Indigo Moss are probably the best known of the numerous acts who have graced the Easycome stage, so it was good to see them back last night with Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou's lovely folk songs. They played a beautiful version of Crazy Man Michael as an encore.

The club, hosted by Hank Dogs, is on every Wednesday, 8:30 - 12:00 pm. Forthcoming appearances include No Frills Band, Kite Season, & English Martyrs (4th June), Mendicant, UK States, Boycott CocaCola Experience (11th June), Milkwood, Paul the Girl & Woodlarks (18th June) and Hanging Ropes, Lodmouth Soup and Lorcas (25th June).

Here's Indigo Moss's video for their song Dang Nabitt:

Saxon on the Southbank

There’s lots of good music coming up at the South Bank as part of Massive Atttack’s Meltdown, but best value for money is definitely a free event on Sunday 22 June 2008 with South East London’s legendary Saxon Sound System, with guest appearances from Tippa Irie, Papa Levi, Trevor Sax and Musclehead. It starts at 3 pm at Queen’s Walk on the South Bank.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another Nickel in the Machine

Another Nickel in the Machine is a great London blog, focusing on the musical history of various parts of the city, mixed up as it is with sex, scandal and politics. All the posts are well researched and lusciously illustrated with photographs.

On a South London tip, he has a great post about the Elephant and Castle, including the history of Teddy boys and girls and the link to early British rock'n'roll through Tommy Steele. He mentions that 'Just ten minutes walk away from 'The Elephant' on the Waterloo Road was a cafe called The Cave (so-called because it was under some railway arches). Three young musicians played there in a skiffle group called The Cavemen and named after the cafe. They were Lionel Bart, local boy Tommy Hicks and Mike Pratt. They'd all met at a party at a sort of pre-hippie Beatnik commune called The Yellow Door next to The Cave'. Hicks was soon to be renamed Tommy Steele and Lionel Bart went on the write Oliver. I would like to know more about the Cave and the Yellow Door.

There is also a post on Vauxhall and the Albert Embankment - into which he manages to weave the Angry Brigade, Jeffrey Archer and a remarkable Julie Driscoll song called Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge.

The latter is another one for the South London Songs collection with lyrics including: 'I walked down by the Thames, Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge... I look down into the lapping water that’s dark and black, When I look up I see a man standing all alone and he too is looking into the water that’s dark and black, What are you thinking of man, what are you searching for? I hope you find you answer, but I don’t think you'll find it there'.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Florence and The Machine

A great review from Kitty Empire in yesterdays Observer for Camberwell's Florence and The Machine. There's been a growing blog buzz about Florence Welch, here she is singing live 'The Girl with One Eye':

Brockley Housing Graffiti

I am intrigued by this graffiti in Brockley. It's on a hoarding on a building site where the Maypole pub stood until recently in Mantle Road (Brockley Central reports that private flats are being built there).

The slogan 'I will never buy a house thanks to Gordon Brown' might be just as it appears - the anguished cry of somebody whose hopes of getting a mortgage have been dashed by the credit crunch. On the other hand the speed with which this slogan has been publicised by Conservative publications such as The Spectator makes me wonder if it was more directly politically inspired. Either way there is a Conservative assumption underlying the slogan, namely the myth of 'property owning' as the uinversal solution to housing need.

I guess everybody wants a home that is affordable, in good condition and big enough for their needs plus the security of knowing they can't be kicked out on the streets at the whim of a landlord. But this has never been delivered to everybody by the private housing market. Many people have never been eligible for a mortgage, and many of those who do have a mortgage soon find out that their property effectively belongs to the bank. Recently there was a repossession of a house in my road in New Cross and no doubt if recession kicks in there wil be more, just as under the previous Conservative government.

Meanwhile many people in Lewisham, as elsewhere, are struggling to have a decent home at all, let alone a mortgage (there are apparently more than 3000 families in overcrowded accommodation in the borough). Whatever anger they may legitimately feel for the government it doesn't take a genius to work out that Tory policies of reducing targets for affordable housing aren't going to be much help to them. Nor is the building of luxury flats on that Mantle Road site. Though if previous recessions are anything to go by flats like these, which are often bought to let by landlords, could end up being rented out to them after all.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Walking New Cross (8): Waller Road

Waller Road runs down hill from Kitto Road, opposite Telegraph Hill Park, to Queens Road. Most of the houses are in the familiar Telegraph Hill Victorian terrace style, and one in particular must be the best documented house in the area. Number 123 Waller Road was the home of Eileen Elias, who wrote about her childhood there in her book ‘On Sundays we wore white’ (London: WH Allen, 1978). Her time was there between 1910 to 1920, when in her view New Cross was a ‘desirable district’ whose affluent households were serviced by ‘daily girls’ and ‘an army of step-ladies’ cleaning the local door steps twice a week, not to mention ‘little street boys’ bringing round ‘buckets of horse manure’ to the tradesmen’s entrance (you can see that many of the houses have a main front door at the top of the stairs and another one at ground level) .

Interestingly, while she mentions Telegraph Hill Park she does not describe where she lives as ‘Telegraph Hill’ – it is simply New Cross. This confirms one of my pet theories – that the name Telegraph Hill for this area (as opposed to just the hill as geographical feature) has come to prominence as householders and estate agents have sought to distance these streets from the rest of more down at heel New Cross. A theory which was further confirmed during this year’s Telegraph Hill Arts Festival when an old woman who came to look round the Telegraph Hill Centre was overheard saying that she’d lived round here all her life but never knew she lived in Telegraph Hill. But I digress.

As elsewhere, gaps in the Victorian housing mark WW2 bomb damage – see the more modern houses at numbers 146 to 152 and the Lydney House council block. This is also a street on hidden houses – set back from the road at the top, just behind the church on Kitto Road, is a white house which I didn’t notice for years. I wonder whether it was originally built for the minister of what was then the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel? Further down next to the school is the entrance to Coach House Mews, presumably former stables/garages which were converted to flats a few years ago. Then there’s this interesting little house at the bottom (picutred), another converted outbuilding?

Edmund Waller Primary School, as it is now called, was originally built by the London School Board in 1887 and was simply Waller Road School. Today it is the primary school of choice for many local parents, but it was not always so. Elias refers to it in her book as 'the Council School' - posh kids like her went to Haberdasher's Askes instead, which in those days wasn't just a secondary school but catered for children from kindergarten age updwards.

The original railings outside have recently been painted - they are indentical to the railings outside Monson Primary School in New Cross, built in the same period by the London School Board.

Waller's most famous ex-pupil is glam rocker Steve Harley, who had hits in the 1970s including ‘Come Up and See Me, Make Me Smile’. He lived in Fairlawn Mansions in New Cross Road. Harry Price the ghosthunter also went to the school.

Tony Robbins has written about his memories of the school just before the Second World War including the arrival of refugees from Nazi Germany. Robbins was evacuated out of London, but Robert George Hatton moved to the schoil during the War, recalling that 'During these war days we as children, especially the boys were always looking for trophies, if that what you you would call them, pieces of shrapnel bullets, fins from incendiary bombs and sometimes the bomb itself, that had failed to explode. We were now going to Waller Road School which was nearer and we did not have to cross the dangerous New Cross Road. Waller Road was not to bad because on many occasions we had no Teachers so we played and also gave us boys time to rake around for any more relics from the Air Raids, us boys did not know what danger was until it directly involved us".

Several of the wheely bins in this street have been decorated by Artmongers. This is one of my favourites, with the flowers on the bin fitting in perfectly with the nicely planted front garden.

At the bottom of the road, on the corner of Queens Road, stands the fire station. It was built in 1894 and includes a look out tower from where fires could be spotted before other tall buildings obscured the view.

Deptford Beach Babes/Nouvelle Croix

A couple of gigs featuring local bands that have crossed my radar...

SE8 surfists The Deptford Beach Babes are playing The Gypsy Hotel Club at the Millers Bar near London Bridge (96 Snowsfields, SE1) on June 7th.

Still on a Gypsy theme, SE14 Gypsy swing enthusiasts Nouvelle Croix are playing at the Montague Arms in New Cross tomorrow night (Tuesday 27th May), with guests including violinist Bobby Valentino - once of pub rock band The Fabulous Poodles. Valentino famously wrote the fiddle hook on The Bluebells' hit Young at Heart, successfully winning a court case for a share of the royalties.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Brian Eno in Camberwell

Roxy Music were the greatest of early 1970s glam rock bands, and they were at their best with Brian Eno on keyboards. When Brian Eno moved to London in 1969 he and a group of friends lived as an artists commune at 100 Grove Park in Camberwell, next door to his friend, the artist Tom Phillips (who lived at 102). Eno played with the experimental Scratch Orchestra at Morley College in Westminster Bridge Road, SE1. A chance encounter with his old friend Andy MacKay on a Bakerloo line train at Elephant and Castle led to him being asked to join the embryonic Roxy Music, who were soon rehearsing in Grove Park on their way to Top of the Pops and beyond. They played South London gigs in 1972 at Croydon Greyhound and Crystal Palace Garden Party.

Tom Phillips, incidentally, did the cover art for Eno's Another Green World album as well as for King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

All Hallows Church Gardens

I recently mentioned the former Blackwing studio in Southwark (used by Yazoo and many others), based in the converted All Hallows Church on the corner of Copperfield Street and Pepper Street, SE1.

I went to visit the site this week and was surprized to find a hidden gem of a little garden, open to the public, where people were relaxing in the sun.

According to Southwark Cathedral: 'The original All Hallows Church was built to a design by George Gilbert Scott junior in 1879-80. The building was gutted during the Second World War, and only the northern part (the Lady Chapel) was incorporated into a new church by T.F.Ford in 1957".

The disused 1950s church building - which housed the recording studio in the 1980s - is not particularly impressive, but there are some remains around the garden, which is actually where the nave of the old church stood. The site is owned by Southwark Cathedral who have had plans to sell off the site of the building to be replaced with new flats (while leaving the garden) - the latest plans were refused planning permission early last year.

The plan of the site shows that it includes a disused crypt, as well as the 1950s church, church hall and remains of the original church.

Racists in the area

A number of bloggers have discussed the far right's performance in the recent London elections. Studio living notes that the National Front 'got 8,509 Assembly votes in Greenwich and Lewisham, and 11,288 in Bexley and Bromley'. The larger British National Party didn't stand in these constituencies. As discussed here before, the NF are organisationally miniscule - failing to muster more than 25 people for a recent Eltham 'march' - but they clearly have some brand recognition for racists from the period when they, rather than the BNP, were the main far right party in Britain. As Tom Royal puts it: 'we’re left with the prospect that thousands of people in this city genuinely want a political party that actually wants to deport non-white people from the UK (or “repatriation of all coloured people currently resident here” as it puts it). And that - however it might be caused - is both a terrifying and depressing prospect'.

Still overall the vote for the far right was not as big as they had hoped and minute in some areas. Brockley Central has done a detailed analysis of Mayoral election votes in four local wards - Brockley, Ladywell, Telegraph Hill and Crofton Park. The numbers voting for the far right here were very small. In Telegraph Hill ward for instance, the BNP candidate for Mayor only received 47 first preference votes out of 3642 votes cast and it was a similar proportion in the others.

Let's not imagine that there is any chance of the BNP coming to power. The real risks as I see it are (1) that a bigger vote for the far right can increase the confidence of racist thugs and spill over into more racist attacks and (2) that their success shifts the wider political spectrum to the right, with other parties putting in place increasingly more hysterical anti-immigrant policies on the premise that they have to stop people drifting off to vote BNP (see for instance Labour plans to build new detention centre places, including at Yarl's Wood where children and families are locked up). People who want to seriously challenge racism (including its institutional forms) need to consider this this rather than imagine that all racism in London is embodied in the laughable figure of BNP London Assembly member Richard Barnbrook.

Anyway there's a National March Against Fascism and Racism starting in South London next month: 'On Saturday 21st June there will be a national demonstration and carnival parade against fascism and racism in London celebrating the diversity of our society and making it clear that racism and fascist organisations like the BNP will not be tolerated. There will be a march and carnival parade, with floats, marching bands, speakers and banners from every organisation opposed the BNP's racist hate... Saturday 21st June 2008, Assemble: 12 noon, Tooley Street, London SE1(behind Greater London Assembly building, near Tower Bridge, nearest underground station London Bridge).March to Trafalgar Square, W1... Called by Love Music Hate Racism and Unite Against Fascism, supported by trade unions and other organisations'.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Seven Songs

I have been tagged twice to take part in this (by Andrew and Richard):

'List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to'. A bit slow off the mark, but here we go:

1. M.I.A. – Paper Planes – ‘If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name’ – Clash sampling (Straight to Hell) classic from Kala album. There’s a remix featuring Woolwich’s Afrikan Boy on his myspace.

2. Jonathan Richman – Buzz Buzz Buzz (go the honey bees) – this is an old song that I’d forgotten about until I heard it earlier in the year at the memorial for Paul Hendrich. Despite this sad association this is a spring/summer twee classic.

3. Shortwave SetNo Social – from their new Replica Sun Machine album, they’ve upped the ante since the first album with strings on some tracks arranged by Van Dyke Parks and production by Dangermouse (of Gnarls Barkeley fame) – perhaps they reminisced about South East London with the latter, as they hail from Deptford and he used to live in New Cross. John Cale’s on some tracks too and he also went to Goldsmiths in New Cross. They are playing at Massive Attack’s Meltdown on the South Bank next month.

4. Kode9 and Spaceape– Konfusion – caught some of Kode9’s set at The Amersham Arms in New Cross last Friday. What I like about the stuff he does with Spaceape is the languid MCing, it puts me in mind of the first Massive Attack album, particularly the tracks with Tricky on. Of course both the early 1990s ‘Bristol sound’ and dubstep have in common that sonic collision between reggae sound system culture and other dance musics.

5. Portishead – The Rip – no longer sounding like early 1990s Bristol, this track of the new Portishead album starts off as folky but dark-sounding ditty about horses before driving minimalist synth riff kicks in.

6. Laura Gibson – All the Pretty Horses – more gee gee action, not nearly as creepy as Current93’s version of the same song – well she was growing up in a logging town in Oregon when the latter’s David Tibet was squatting in Vauxhall. Laura’s playing in London next month.

7. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Seafarin’ Song – from their new Sunday at Devil Dirt album. I still miss Isobel from Belle and Sebastian, but her two albums with Mark Lanegan more than make up for her absence from Glasgow’s finest.

See also Baggage Reclaim and Bob's selections. Most people I know seem to already have been tagged for this one, but I will throw it open to the following in case they want to play (no obligation of course): Uncarved, Ruinist, Last Bus Home, Pecknam, Grievous Angel, Dub and Sonic Truth.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Data 70/West Norwood Library

I have been checking out Data 70's gorgeous electronica. So far I've only heard the tracks on their myspace site, but it makes me want to track down their Space Loops Volumes One and Two.

They record at their self-styled West Norwood Cassette Library studio, which they describe in a Gutterbreakz interview as being 'located in sunny SE27, London, where the streets have no lightbulbs and the pavements are lined with dog excrement and KFC aftermath. The ‘studio’ itself is a cosy basement with everything we need in one room - if you look carefully, you’ll find boxes of old cassettes waiting to be archived on to microfiche.... Inside it's like a big, orange, womb-like bubble with every creature comfort one could wish for. A home from home - if your home is Saturn'.

Reviewing this at Blissblog, Simon Reynolds mentions that 'West Norwood/West Dulwich was where I lived for about a year when I first moved to London from Oxford. And I recall that the local library's unusually good record section was one of the few redeeming things about the area (at least in 1986; maybe it's improved). That and the excellently serene cemetery'.

Strangely enough I actually worked in that library when I first moved down to London (to Brixton in January 1987) so presumably may have crossed paths with Simon Reynolds. The record collection was indeed excellent thanks largely to a librarian called Tad who was a leading authority on English psychedelia and made sure he ordered lots of obscurities in line with his taste. I remember it was well-stocked with all the Paisley Underground bands (like Green on Red and Rain Parade), Nick Drake etc. As for the original West Norwood cassette library - yes they still had cassettes in libraries in those far off days - I think I've still got a copy somewhere I copied from there of the excellent industrial compilation If you can't please yourself you can't please your soul. In the summer I used to spend my lunchbreaks in West Norwood Cemetery - there really wasn't much else to do. There was a bit of excitement that year when a multi-million pound cocaine dealing operation was found to be operating from there, storing the gear in the catacombs.

I had a couple of weird nights out in West Norwood though - in August 1993 I went to a rave in a gym across the road from the library. Then in 1994/95 I was listening to a South London pirate radio station and they put a call out for a party in West Norwood. I phoned up and got the address (and of course 'a big shout out to Neil and the Brixton massive') and ended up with my girlfriend in the basement of a restaurant on Norwood High Street dancing to garage. Still that Norwood/Croydon scene has kept ticking over the years like a musical micro-climate occasionally erupting into wider London nightlife - with dubstep being the most obvious example.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Bloody Valentine and Blackwing Studio

There's an article in today's Observer by Sean O'Hagan about My Bloody Valentine which mentions a couple of South London links to their story - including recording in a studio in Southwark and MBV main man Kevin Shields living in Streatham.

Following up on these it seems that MBV began work on their second Loveless album in early 1989 at Blackwing recording studios. This was one of many studios used during the famously lengthy and expensive recording of this album, which was finally released in 1991. All of this contributed to the financial crisis of Alan McGee's Creation Records and O'Hagan mentions that "It was during this time that Alan McGee claims he went to visit Shields in his house-cum-studio in Streatham, and found a reclusive-to-the-point-of-paranoid figure whose abode was ringed with barbed wire and overrun with chinchillas. Shields has subsequently claimed that the barbed wire was there only to deter intruders from stealing his equipment, but admitted that for a while he 'totally lost it'."

Not sure where the Streatham house was, but Blackwing was in the deconsecrated All Hallows Church, 1 Pepper Street London SE1 0EW (off Copperfield Street in Southwark). Mute Records founder Daniel Miller used the studio for his Silicon Teens project, and it was also used by Depeche Mode (for their first single, Dreaming of Me), Fad Gadget, Erasure and Yazoo. The latter's first album, Upstairs at Eric's, refers in its title to Blackwing owner and album co-producer Eric Radcliffe.

Maybe these recordings don't count as South London Songs proper, but there's certainly a connection. Anyway here's Kevin Shields talking about Loveless:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Star of Brockley

Long before Broca, Moonbow Jakes and Toadsmouth Too, non-alcoholic drinks were to be had in Brockley courtesy of the Victorian temperance movement. According to the South London Observer, 24 August 1889:

'a new lodge of the Grand Order of the Sons of the Phoenix to be known as the Star of Brockley will meet at the Temperance Refreshment Rooms, 312 Brockley Road, opposite the cemetery'. The Sons of the Phoenix were apparently a friendly society promoting abstinence from alcohol.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Kelly: South London is the Place to Be

Last Tuesday's South London Press mentioned that Kelly Rowland (Destiny's Child) had cut the ribbon at the opening of St Aubyn's Holistic Centre in Cleaver Street, Kennington. What's more she said "I'm told South London is the place to be and I am considering Battersea" (how about considering New Cross? There's a house for sale on my road that would suit a global r'n'b superstar).

I remember reading that Destiny's Child once rehearsed at the Husky studios in Amelia Street (up by the Elephant) - think they were getting ready for a TV appearance. In years of wandering up and down the Walworth Road though I have never bumped in Beyonce, Michelle or Kelly.

Close Encounters of the Brockley Kind

The Ministry of Defence this week released formerly classified documents on UFO sightings in the UK. The files are available free of charge on the National Archives website for the next few weeks, after which you have to pay. As David Clarke notes in a very helpful overview of the material, the military have been recording unusual air activity since the early 20th century, but things really hotted up after the 1947 'flying saucer' excitement in the USA. The majority of 'Unidentified Flying Objects' actually do get idenitified 'as bright stars and planets, meteors, artificial satellites, balloons, aircraft seen from unusual angles and space junk burning up in the atmosphere. However, there are some cases on record where no common explanation can be found' sometimes known as 'unidentified aerial phenomena'. Of course the fact that they are unexplained is not evidence that they are spacecraft from other planets – that is only one of numerous conjectures.

Having trawled through some of the files (some of them are 300 page pdfs) I have found a somewhat sketchy report of a Brockley sighting: at 9:30 pm on 3 May 1986 a secretary walking outdoors in misty conditions saw a green light in the sky above the 'railway line at Brockley' described as 'In a vehicle – of sorts. A ring, brilliant’ which moved 'In an arc. Very fast'.

Other South London reports include:

- an 'orange sphere' moving rapidly above Stockwell on 10th July 1986;
- a 'shimmering silver' object 'bright and reflective' seen by an Air Traffic Controller from Waterloo Bridge on 19th July 1985, with at least 12 other witnesses (also reported by somebody on the South Bank outside the Chrysanthemum floating pub who noted its 'high speed movement in several directions');
- A 'large flashing light' spotted by a Home Office civil servant on 19th May 1985 from Hungerford Bridge apparently moving from 'over the Festival Hall at considerable height' to 'over the National Theatre gradually appearing to get smaller';
- 'One large dart shaped object, silver in colour' spotted from Streatham on 3rd May 1985 moving over Wimbledon (Heathrow airport reported that 'they had a silver aircraft on approach to land at that time').

Of course we also had the Peckham Rye 'was it a plane? was it a balloon thing?' thing last year.

Brockley and Stockwell reports are in file DEFE 24/1924, the others in DEFE 24/1923. There's really not much more detail than I've included here, but let me know if you find anything else in the other files.

Update (17th May 2008): the South London Press also covers this story. They mention a sighting in October 1984 when a “circular, saucer shaped” craft with a “dark band pulsating light” was spotted at 10.30pm over Waterloo Bridge before flying down towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Chords - Maybe Tomorrow

Following yesterday's Woolwich mods photo, I was thinking about the late 70s/early 80s mod revival. One of the key bands was Deptford's The Chords. Their first gig, in 1979, was at The King's Head in Deptford (they rehearsed at Silver Sound Studios in Sydenham). This is them on Top of the Pops in 1980 with their big hit Maybe Tomorrow:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Woolwich Photos

The Guardian website today highlights the photography of George Plemper, a great collection of pictures of life in Thamesmead and Woolwich in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There's even more of them on his excellent flickr collection.
A lot of the pictures were taken when he was working as a teacher at Riverside School, Thamesmead (now Bexley Business Academy) and there are also various images from Woolwich Tramshed and other places in the area.
My favourite is this picture of a couple on Woolwich Dockyard Estate in 1981. Where are they now?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Plough Sessions 3

The third of the East Dulwich Jug Band's monthly Plough Sessions last Wednesday ended up with 28 people performing a song written on the night to celebrate children's writer Enid Blyton (1897-1968) who was born near to the pub at 354 Lordship Lane. Noddy, Big Ears and the Magic Faraway Tree all get a mention.

(see here for last month's session)

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Scandal in A Brixton Market

Well I was wondering what Laurel Aitken's A Scandal in A Brixton Market sounds like, and now thanks to John L (who sent me the mp3) I know. You can hear it too, bad man! murder! police! and all - it really does sound like people having a row in the market.

Laurel Aitken (1927-2005) was a Cuban-born and Jamaican-raised singer, who started out in calypso and then became a well-known ska artist. He moved to England in 1960, settling in Brixton and later in Leicester. A Scandal in A Brixton Market (1969) is one of the numerous singles he recorded for Nu-Beat, Bluebeat and other labels.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

South London Villages?

A new Ladywell Village Improvement Group has been set up, with of course its own embryonic blog (thanks to Green Ladywell and Andrew for the link). Well good luck to them but I have to ask is Ladywell really a village? Is anywhere in London?

Obviously it's true that London is made up of many former villages, sucked into the metropolis as it expanded. And within the greater London area there are certainly some genuine villages - for instance in the rural parts of The London Borough of Bromley that aren't really London at all. It may also be true that even within London proper there are some small areas that retain a village feel - though they are not really small, discrete communities geographically distinct from surrounding areas.

I must admit I am a little suspicious of attempts to rebrand urban areas as villages. London is a city above all else, and sometimes the use of the term village is an attempt, usually by more affluent residents, to deny the fact and declare some implicit 'Passport to Pimlilco'-style independence from urban realities.

There are some cases where the use is semi-fraudulent - for instance rebranding part of Peckham as 'Bellenden Village' when there never was such a village in the pre-urban period. That's just a transparent attempt to deny the stigma of an SE15 postcode. Others, such as Blackheath and Dulwich, perhaps have more of a case, though it can certainly be overstated. Once I was in a shop in Dulwich 'Village' and somebody said to the owner 'there's a lot of outsiders in the village today'! I wanted to remind them that they lived on the South Circular five minutes from both Brixton and Peckham but I refrained.

What about Ladywell? Once upon a time there was a Ladywell village proper but it's long gone - I see it as an area round the corner from Lewisham High Street, not exactly ducks on the village green territory (though Ladywell Fields is a very pleasant park). A quick google search does show that most references to Ladywell Village are on estate agents' websites, usually an indicator of wishful thinking rather than geographical accuracy. Still there was apparently a Ladywell Village Society in the 1980s which does at least suggest that some people have been calling it that for more than 20 years. Over to you Ladywellers.

Brixton Songs

Songs about South London is a Transpontine perennial, and one area that has more than most is Brixton. Urban 75 has a good list of 26 Brixton songs, and there are a few that aren't on their list in the Wikipedia Brixton article. Some of these are well known (Guns of Brixton by The Clash, Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant), others I haven't heard but would like to (e.g. Scandal In A Brixton Market by ska artist Laurel Aitken), and then there are some that you just know are going to be terrible and probably racist - such as 'comedian' Jim Davidson's 'The Devil Went Down to Brixton'. Alabama 3 (of course), Renegade Soundwave, Angelic Upstarts and Rancid have all had a go.

Neither list specifically mentions Linton Kwesi Johnson's Sonny Lettah, with its opening line 'Brixton Prison, Jebb Avenue, London South West Two, Inglan'. Here it is:

Excentral Tempest

Excentral Tempest is a William Blake-quoting, New Cross-based hip hop MC who sounds like she is going somewhere. Read an interview with Excentral Tempest (Kate) at UK Hip Hop, but more importantly listen at her myspace site. She also contributed to the Peace Not War London Mix album (2006): 'Peace is More than the Absence of War' by Excentral Tempest and the New Cross Philharmonic Orchestra. She's playing at the Big Chill, Bestival and other festivals over the summer.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Green spaces

The sun shines and everyone's thoughts turn to the wide open spaces of South East London. Luckily there's a few events coming up to help you enjoy them.

Next Saturday, May 17th, is the annual Nunhead Cemetery open day, with lots of stalls, guided walks and refreshments courtesy of the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery.

Then on June 8th there's an open day at the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve (on the railway cutting between Forest Hill and New Cross Gate). There will be guided walks around the wildlife garden, meadows and woodlands and the East Dulwich Jug Band will be there too - bring along your instruments and help compose and perform a song on the day.

On June 28th, there's a fesitval at Blythe Hill Fields, while on July 19th Hillaballoo will be happening in Telegraph Hill Park in New Cross.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Nathan Persad

I heard about Nathan Persad through the great Modculture - they like him, not surprizing as his sound is very much 1960s beat group (The Hollies, Merseybeats etc.) with a South East London twist. Lyrics on his website include 'I love Deptford' and 'Ivydale' - the latter presumably a hymn to Ivydale Road in Nunhead with the line 'If you're not really sure, Just catch the 484.'

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Shakespeare's Sister

Tlon is a fantastic second hand bookshop in the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre where I have discovered many treasures. I noticed today that there is a bust of Virginia Woolf in the shop, which I thought was highly appropriate given the author's imagining of a fictional Shakespeare's sister who 'killed herself one winter's night and lies buried at some crossroads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle' . The context, in her book A Room of One's Own, was a reflection on the difficulties a woman writer would have faced at that time and were still facing in her time.

Virginia Woolf would have known the area as she used to teach English literature and history at Morley College, just up from the Elephant and Castle, before the First World War. Towards the end of her novel Orlando, the heroine, having undergone multiple transformations over several hundred years, drives through the area: 'The Old Kent Road was very crowded on Thursday, the eleventh of October1928. People spilt off the pavement. There were women with shopping bags. Children ran out. There were sales at drapers' shops'.

Whatever the future holds for the Elephant & Castle will it include a cool bookshop with a Virginia Woolf statue?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Deptford Properly

Finally made it down to Deptford Properly cafe in Tanners Hill on Saturday. They immediately scored top points as they were playing Belle and Sebastian's 'The Boy with the Arab Strap' when I went in. Then I sat outside in the sun with a pot of tea - real tea leaves and only £1.30 - and a very nice chocolate cake.
They also had lots of quirky and interesting books to read - I had time to read some short pieces by Jorge Louis Borges before going on my way. Yes indeed something for your mind, your body and your soul. I believe it's open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10 am - 7 pm and Sunday 11 am - 7 pm. I will be returning.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Dissident Distribution

There's been lots of interest in newish techno/house/electro label Dissident Distribution and its limited issue 12" singles. Walking past Rubbish and Nasty in New Cross Road today I noticed they had one of their records in the window (Colombia) with a note extolling Dissident Distribution and saying 'and it's all based in New Cross'. Just been listening to Zombie Raffle by Ali Renault, kind of early 80s Italo-disco film soundrack style.

Notes from The Island

After a long period of semi-dormancy, a flurry of posts at Notes from The Island, documenting life on a traffic island in New Cross Road.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Suffragists and Post Boxes

Between 1912 and 1914 campaigners for votes for women sabotaged post boxes in Deptford, Greenwich, Brockley and elsewhere, as well as starting fires at Dulwich College and, in January 1914, at a cricket pavilion in Burnt Ash Road. They were also suspected of starting a fire at St Catherine's Church in Pepys Road - although this was never proved.

In January 1913, a 24 year-old Suffragist was jailed for 8 months at the Old Bailey for damaging a post box in Tanners Hill, Deptford. Louisa Gay, a teacher from Broadway, South Croydon, was said to have posted a white package of a 'deleterious fluid [black dye], and thereby injuring the said letter-box and its contents'.

May Billinghurst, aged 30, of 7 Oakcroft Road, Blackheath and Grace Mitchell of St Stephens Road, Lewisham were charged with a similar offence in Aberdeen Terrace, Blackheath, as part of the campaign for votes for women. Lewisham-born Billinghurst (1875- 1953) was disabled, but being in a wheelchair did not stop her campaigning. In 1910 she founded the Greenwich branch of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Jailed for 8 months for damaging post boxes she went on hunger strike and was force-fed - being released two weeks later on grounds of ill-health.

The Lewisham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union was very active in this area. In the space of a couple of weeks in May 1908 they ‘spoke to a crowd of 4,000 – 5,000 working men and women in Deptford Broadway’, held a similar size meeting on Blackheath, and had a meeting on ‘the Enfranchisement of Women’ in the New Cross Hall on Lewisham High Road. The latter, held on May 6th was advertised as chaired by ‘Mrs Bouvier, speakers, Miss Christabel Pankhurst, Mrs Baldock, Miss Naylor. All the above have undergone imprisonment for the cause’ (South London Observer, 2 May 1908).

Sources: Proceedings of the Old Bailey; Times 27 December 1913, Irs Dove, Yours in the cause: suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich and Woolwich (London: Lewisham & Greenwich Libraries, 1988)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

More Tales From the Crypt

St Paul's Church in Deptford has recently had a major restoration project, including the crypt. Twenty years ago though the latter 'was a damp , mildewy, run down place with dirty walls and dirty floor and a dodgy loo without doors' (from here). It was also a major subcultural centre.

Pyschedelic Club

In the mid-1980s there was a regular Friday night Psychedelic club. The flyer, left, is from 1985 - note the enticement to 'Be early - people are dying to get in'. Run by Andy More, the club was more like an indoor festival featuring regular appearances from free festival favourites like The Ozric Tentacles and The Magic Mushroom Band. It became known as a place where people could drink and smoke dope all night without having to worry about the police - I am sure this had nothing to do with the promoter being an ex-policeman.

Born2Rant has posted her memories of club there on her interesting hippiecounterculture blog: 'with the dope smoke , the fantastic lightshows, the colourlful drugged up crowd dancing like maniacs, and of course the amazing music , it became a magical place. There were very few public places in London you could smoke dope safely... The Ozrics were playing and the vibe was amazing. All these girls were on stage and dancing with them... the place was packed solid and everyone was doing mad psychedelic dancing and bumping into each other under the strobes' (she also mentions there being a separate gay night in the Crypt).

Bands who played there included The Ozric Tentacles, The Magic Mushroom Band, Treatment, The TV Personalities, The Invisible Band , The Cardiacs, Space Pirates, Wooden Baby, Nukli, Mighty Lemondrops, 1000 Violins, The Trogs, The Pink Faeries, The Shamen and The Stone Roses (I was surprised by the latter but its confirmed here).

Reggae Sound Systems

In his Short History of Music in South London, John Heathcote mentions reggae sound systems playing in the Crypt. This is confirmed in William (Lez) Henry's excellent What the Deejay Said, which includes a detailed account of an early 1980s soundclash there featuring his own Ghettotone sound system, Revolutionary Hi Power and Frontline International (the latter apparently victorious after turning up with a truck load of speakers to literally blow away the opposition). He says: 'a popular venue at the time was the 'Crypt' in Deptford... where the spirits of the dead were regularly replaced by the spirits of the living-black, tomb-ravers'.

Other clubs

The Band of Holy Joy played some of their first gigs at at an early 1980s club called The Stomach Pump in the crypt. Johny Brown from the band recalls that 'the club was run by two extremely groovy guys called Slug and Chin and some of the best times of my life were had in there'. Charles Hayward's Camberwell Now also played at The Stomach Pump in November 1983, so I am guessing it was a fairly leftfield kind of place.

There were also punk gigs - anarcho-punks Virus played there in 1986. Then in 1998 there was an early acid house club Boomshanka on Saturday nights. The picture - of a Psycho's Mum gig in 1988 - gives a sense of the space.

Tell us more if you have any memories/flyers etc. Also, I believe scenes from Interview with a Vampire were filmed at St Pauls.