Thursday, September 30, 2010

Brockley Coffee 1888

Well I mentioned that I was going to write something about the history of coffee in South London, but you can read a really good overview of the wider London picture over at the excellent Classic Cafes - short synopsis:

First London coffee shop was opened in 1652 by a Greek man named Pasqua Rosee in St Michael's Alley, Cornhill in the City of London; hundreds of coffee shops sprung up in the remainder of the century, but in the 18th century coffee fell from favour, partly as a result of the East India Company (who started out from Deptford) pushing tea; in the 1880s there was a boom in coffee houses and taverns, partly prompted by the Temperance movement who wanted to offer an alternative to alcohol and partly by Arab, Turkish, Greek and Sicilian migrants running places. After World War II, Italian-run coffee houses proliferated in Soho and elsewhere, revolutionised by the arrival of the modern espresso machine - cappuccino was invented in 1946, and the first modern espresso bar in London - The Moka - opened at 29 Frith St, Soho in 1953. Coffee houses were the focus of the London beatnik and folk scenes but fell from favour and had largely died in the 1970s. Then came the 1990s coffee boom, which hasn't faded yet...

Would like to be able to trace local connections to these various waves - where was the first South London coffee house? Where were the 1950s/60s espresso bars?

As a starting point for the late Victorian coffee boom I had a look in the local historian's friend, Kelly's Directory (available in local history archives in Southwark and I believe Lewisham). In 1888, the London Suburban directory lists over 300 coffee rooms and coffee taverns in the Southern Suburbs, covering areas including Camberwell, Peckham, Greenwich, Dulwich and Croydon. However, New Cross and Deptford seemed to have been a coffee desert with none listed. Not for the last time in history, coffee lovers had to travel to Brockley where they could take their choice between Samuel Syme's Coffee Tavern at 310 Brockley Road or Henry Lanbery's coffee room at 2 Coulgate Street. The latter is of course in the same row where coffee can nowadays be had from Broca (no.4) and Browns (no.5) - so clearly the habit of grabbing a coffee before getting the train from Brockley Station on the opposite side of the road was already established at this point.

By 1900, Deptford had caught up with coffee rooms run by William Gearing at 44 Deptford Bridge and Arthur Charles Wilkins at 111 Tanners Hill. In New Cross, Bartholomew Gwaspari was running a coffee room at 1 Lewisham High Road (now Lewisham Way). I wonder where the name Gwaspari comes from? Anyway back in Brockley no.2 Coulgate Street was still going, but now run by the wonderfully named Mrs Sophia Bellchambers, while at 310 Brockley Road Edward F Lepers was now the proprietor of the Coffee Palace, no less. They had been joined at 2 Crofton Terrace by Alfred Deveraux's coffee tavern.

Coffee rooms and cafes have always been places to socialise rather than just to consume caffeine, sometimes labelled, as Classic Cafes states, as "penny universities" because of their role as forums for discussion. In Deptford for instance, the local branch of the Social Democratic Federation - the largest socialist organisation of the time held meetings in 1889 at Hadleys Coffee Shop, Deptford Bridge, as well at 20 Frobisher Street, Greenwich (source: Mary Mills,The Gasworkers of South London, South London Record No.3, 1988).

Will report back on future researches, if you want to join in you could help by trawling through some of the old trade directories available online at the invaluable Historical Directories.

See next installment, SE London coffee, 1914-1950.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How does it Feel? this Friday

This Friday at legendary Indie Pop club How Does it Feel? in Brixton the guest DJ is Amelia Fletcher, of Tender Trap and Heavenly and Talulah Gosh fame.

They say 'Amelia used to live opposite the Canterbury Arms and was our semi-regular resident DJ for the first few years of the club in Brixton, so it's always a pleasure to welcome her back. As usual, she'll be playing a set of female fronted artists and bands'.

I had a great time when Amelia was DJing there a while ago, as reviewed here.

How Does It Feel To Be Loved?, Friday Oct 1st, Canterbury Arms, Canterbury Crescent, Brixton, SW9 7QD, 9pm-2am. £4 for members, £6 for non members. Membership is free from

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lewisham Irish Community Centre

Some good music coming up next month at Lewisham Irish Community Centre (2a Davenport Road, Catford SE6 2AZ).

On Saturday 2nd October at 8 p.m. there a Traditional Irish Music concert featuring Brendan Hendry & Jim Rainey 'Exceptional fiddle & singing from Northern Ireland - Brendan’s album “Tuned Up” was instrumental album of the year 2009'. Admission £10/£8.

On Saturday 30th October at 8 p.m. there's a Halloween Céilí, a family event with music by Delga Trad/ They say 'It’s great fun even if you don’t know the steps. We have a great caller!' (Margaret Morrin). Admission £10/£8.

If you fancy learning Traditional Irish Fiddle there are classes at Saturday lunchtime ( 1- 2pm), and they are also planning Irish Tin Whistle classes on either Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m or Saturdays 2-3 p.m depending on demand.

Tel 020 8695 6264 or

Monday, September 27, 2010

Deptford X

Checked out some of Deptford X at the weekend, now self-styled as 'London's foremost contemporary visual arts festival'. There's certainly lots of interesting work and it is much more ambitious than just local artists displaying their wares to the community.

As well as gallery spaces, there's work on display in shop windows. Chrissie Stewart is showcasing her work in Gimcrack, that intriguing bric-a-brac shop at the bottom of Tanners Hill (opposite the Deptford Deli if you fancy coffee with your art, and let's face it, who doesn't?).

Feels like a good setting for her work which is assembled from bits of dolls and the kind of found objects to be discovered in that shop.

The strongest work I've seen so far was at St Pauls House (125 Deptford High Street) where Wayne Lucas and Julia Bardsley have created 'Fami-liar', a disturbing space of hair, rubber, body fluids, underwear and brown paper. I think this is only open at weekends, check the website for details.

It put me in mind of Louise Bourgeois or even COUM Transmissions, who once shocked the world with a display of hair, blood and tampons at the ICA in the far-off days (1976) when art could still shock enough to excite the tabloids

In the stairwells of Deptford Train Station Liz Harrison has put in place a sound installation of bird song, not as sweet and tranquil as it sounds. There's something urgent and piercing about the sound, reflecting her take on recent research that suggest that birdsong in urban areas is rising in pitch as birds compete with city noise to be heard.

Lot's more to see, Deptford X runs until 3 October, full details at the Deptford X website.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

London Wildlife Folklore Events

A couple of interesting folklore-inspired events especially for kids/families coming up soon courtesy of London Wildlife Trust's Wildlife Gardening Centre, a green oasis in Marsden Road, Peckham.

On Sunday October the 17th, Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle will be telling stories about harvest, growing, field boggles, London wildlife etc., all this plus a nature trail at the centre itself.

Then on the afternoon of Halloween (31st Oct) between 2 and 4pm, there will be a trip to Norwood for an afternoon of storytelling in a yurt (a spooky tale about the gypsy queen of Norwood Hill) and a chance to make your own tree spirit!

Both events are free, but booking is advised. For more information or to book your place please contact Celia Hammond on

Friday, September 24, 2010

Camber Well Open Day: This Sunday

This just in from John Chaple, who is busy uncovering the Camber Well:

We are having a second open day and the well is now more exposed so people can climb into it to see it.

If you missed the last open day or are interested to see work in progress there will be another open day on Sunday 26th September 1pm to 4pm at 56a Grove Park, off Camberwell Grove, Camberwell SE5. to view the ancient well of Camberwell.

The well that gives Camberwell its name. It is an on going archaeological dig and so far the sides of the well are beginning to emerge. As Roman coins were reputed to have been found at the bottom of the well, it is likely to be two thousand years old or earlier.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

St David Coffee House

I had an exceptionally good coffee last week at the new St David Coffee House in Forest Hill (across the road from the train station). The cafe has a slightly retro feel in terms of the decor - there's an eight track cartridge player (not sure if it works) and strategically placed iconic vinyl (e.g. Morrissey and Stone Roses). Reading matter includes a book swap scheme, a couple of daily papers and a stack of vintage Vogues.

At some point I am going to write about the history of coffee houses in SE London, but for now check out this love letter to coffee by Carolyn (all way from Detroit to Nunhead) at her I Am Not A Reliable Narrator blog:

'I remember, Coffee, how I used to struggle through a mug of you when we first became acquainted, back in 1993. I was young, my palate untested. I added creamer after creamer to you in order to hide your flavour. But, Coffee, I learned and I grew and now I understand. And I know I stopped drinking you for a few sad years in the early Oughts when my stomach was giving me troubles, but that wasn’t about you Coffee, it was never your fault, it was all me and my traitorous digestive system'.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Last Chance to Save the Skateboard Park Tonight

At tonight's Telegraph Hill Assembly meeting (Tues 21st, 7:30 pm at Aske's school lower site, Jerningham Road), there will be a public vote on whether to go ahead with plans to site a small skatepark in the Telegraph Hill lower park.

As reported here before, proposals to put this facility in the upper park proved contentious at the last meeting of the Assembly. Since then a broad group - including some who opposed the earlier plans - has come up with a second proposal which seems to address the concerns of the objectors.

At the last minute however, a campaign has been launched against the plan with posters put up today on trees around the area saying 'Your last chance to save the lower park from the skateboard park is tonight... If you care about the lovely green space of our park and don't want all the potential problems associated with such facilities please turn up and vote No to the proposal'.

This is entirely misleading - the new plans envisage squeezing the ramp in next to the existing tarmac sports area, replacing a path. There will be no loss of green space. As for the 'potential problems' this sounds like code for 'keep young people out of the park unless they are on a lead'.

Can't help thinking that the timing of these posters is very cynical - the objectors have not made their views known in the kind of places you might expect to read them (e.g. in the comments thread at Brockley Central or on the Hill discussion boards). In this way they have allowed the impression to be created that there is a consensus about the plans with their approval a formality. On this basis I am sure that some people in favour of the skatepark might have felt there was no need for them to turn up, requiring only a semi-clandestine 'anti' mobilisation along with some last minute hysteria to get the plans voted down.

Don't let them get away with it.

Upate 22 September 2010: the meeting last night voted 72 against and 196 for the proposal. Whatever else you think about it, the issue has certainly put some life into the Telegraph Hill Assembly meetings!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Kick Up the Fire

Kick up the Fire are a new locally based rock band, with a debut mini album due out in November. According to Rock Sins:

'Spawned from the murky depths of the London New Cross scene, Kick Up The Fire deliver angular rock & roll with strict ideals. The South-East London four-piece formed in early 2009, drawing influence from post-hardcore acts such as Q and not U, At The Drive-In and Cursive.
Childhood friends from Italy, Andrew and Kenny formed ‘Raid on the Arcade’ [earlier band] with art-student Thom Wicks in late 2007 after working together at a local art-house cinema in Greenwich'.

The band are on Twitter where they say: 'We are a four piece indie rock band from Deptford, London. We love SE London and want SE London to love us back. We want to play your bar/house/squat/party'. You can listen to them on myspace and they also have a blog.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Saving New Cross Library

The campaign to save New Cross Library has stepped up a notch with a meeting last week and lots of activities coming up.

There's going to be leafleting and petitioning at a few places, as follows:

- outside the library sat 18th, between 14.00 - 16.00; tues 21st 9.00 - 11.00, thur 23rd 13.00 - 15.00 .

- 'school gates' petitioning monday 20th - 8.40 am St James' Hatcham , 3pm outside Edmund Waller School, Waller Road.

- Telegraph Hill Ward Assembly, Tuesday 21 September 2010, 7-9.30pm, Haberdashers Aske's Hatcham College, Jerningham Road, London SE14 5N

There's a joint lobby of the Full Council Meeting by all the Lewisham library campaigns at 6.45pm on Thursday 23rd. September

The next Save New Cross Library meeting is on Wednesday 29th sept, upstairs at the Amersham Arms pub.

Full details at Save New Cross Library facebook page

No decision has been made about the closure of up to five Lewisham libraries, but they have been identified on a list of potential cuts. As a small library only open for three days a week, New Cross is perhaps particularly vulnerable. It is important to keep it open for its own sake, but also because if it disappears and people get used to not having a library in the area it may make it easier for the Council to back down on its commitment to open a new library on the ill-fated Briant Street site.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jane Jones at Brockley Mess

Went along to Brockley Mess last week for the launch of a new exhibition of collages and prints by Jane Jones. My favourite image was this one of 'Jim and Kit' - seemingly the artist's cool grandparents.
Tree Paper Tree continues at the cueB gallery at Brockley Mess, 325 Brockley Road, until 14th October.

Electric Eden - South East London Folk

I've been reading Rob Young's 'Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music' (Faber, 2010), an excellent overview of 20th century folk music and related scenes. It includes some good South East London connections, and indeed starts out in the area in 1967 with the singer Vashti Bunyan and her artist partner Robert Lewis living at ‘a camp in a clearing in some Kentish woods, where they had been living for several months among piles of home-made wooden stools and tables, log fires, bivouacs and hammocks. The clearing was decorated with Lewis’s giant sheet paintings, part of the diploma he was enrolled in at Ravensbourne College of Art, near Chislehurst on the fringes of south-east London. The land was just at the back of college’

Having been evicted from the land, they set off on a journey by horse drawn carriage from London to the Isle of Skye, where the singer Donovan had bought a couple of islets and offered them a place to stay (by the time they finally got there Donovan and co. had moved on, but that’s another story) . Bunyan drew on her experience of the journey and living in the Hebrides in writing songs for her beautiful 1970 album, Just Another Diamond Day.

Electric Eden includes a section on the late 60s/early 70s singers David and Toni Arthur (the latter best known in the period as a TV presenter on Play School and Play Away). Seemingly they were only two of a cluster of South East London folk luminaries at the time: 'by the end of the decade [the 1960s] they were living in Lewisham, part of a babysitting circle with Shirley Collins, who lived across the heath, and Pete Maynard and Marian Gray of Martin Carthy's former folk/skiffle group The Thamesiders. Dave Swarbrick lived nearby'.

More detail is included in an article on the Arthurs by Rob Young published in the music journal Loops ('Hearken to the Witches Rune' in Loops, No. 1, 2009), where we learn that 'Arthur found that he and A.L. Lloyd were near neighbours in south-east London, and Lloyd wound up as artistic director of the duo's 1969 album of folk songs, The Lark in the Morning, on Topic'.

That’s quite a list:

AL (Albert) Lloyd was a key figure in the 1950s/60s folk revival. He recorded albums on his own and with Ewen McColl (who as covered here before, lived in Beckenham), and wrote books including the classic Folk Song in England;

- Shirley Collins was one of the the most striking voices in English folk music and recorded landmark albums with Davey Graham, her sister Dolly, and the Albion Country Band, as well as solo albums. She married Ashley Hutchings, of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the Albion Country Band in 1971, so presumably he was also living locally (in Blackheath?) in this period.

- Dave Swarbrick is the best known fiddler in English folk music, famous for his work with Fairport Convention among others.

As for the Arthurs, they were particularly interested in looking for possible connections between English traditional song and a supposed underground pagan strand in English culture. It was a search that led them to record an album of magical-themed folk songs, Hearken to the Witches Rune, and indeed to participate in Wiccan ceremonies overseen by self-styled King of the Witches Alex Sanders. A search that ultimately led them to conclude that Wicca, rather than being the ancient religion of witchcraft, had largely been stitched together by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s from literary, occult and folklore sources (now generally accepted to be the case - see Ronald Hutton's book The Triumph of the Moon). They came to a similarly sceptical view of claims that folk songs can be read simply as survivals of pagan ritual lore. According to Toni Arthur, it was 'a total illusion, but a nice one. Most of us that bothered to research knew that this was not a continuation of anything. But it was a reinvention of something that we thought had been before. It was a look at values that we seemed to be losing' (quoted in Loops).

Anybody have more detail on where any of the above lived in Lewisham and Blackheath?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Red Cross Bards - new Southwark songs, poems and stories

Red Cross Bards - new Southwark songs, poems & stories is an early evening event next Wednesday 15th September happening in the lovely Red Cross Garden, 50 Redcross Way SE1 1HA. It runs form 5:30 to 7:00 pm.

'hosted by John Constable aka John Crow (SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES) with Nigel of Bermondsey and Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle (LONDON DREAMTIME). Floor spots: come and perform your own poem or song inspired by your local neighbourhood. Open-air poetics in the beautiful Red Cross Garden setting. FREE! This event is funded by SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES with special thanks to Bankside Open Spaces Trust'.

I'm thinking of popping along to sing a song myself.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Monster Policeman lands on New Cross, 1845

An odd tale from this day in 1845 - a model of a policeman floating over London. The last sentence says a lot about popular dislike of the new police force at that time. Minerva Place, where the 'monster' landed, was seemingly where 104-110 New Cross Road now stand.

A "Monster" Policeman (Times, September 12 1845)

'On Tuesday evening the inhabitants of Brixton, Walworth and Peckham, were considerably amused by the aerial gambols of a "monster" policeman, who was seen floating about the air for some time, and who at length fell upon the roof of a house in Minerva-place, Old Kent-road. It appears that Mr Bass, a gentleman of fortune residing in Kent-terrace, Lyndhurst-road, Brixton, has been in the habit of letting off small balloons from his pleasure grounds, for the amusement of his friends. Latterly he has caused the construction of a figure of 12 feet in height in glazed paper, with head, neck, arms and legs, and painted in colours to represent a perfect fac simile of a "peeler", with truncheon in hand; and on Tuesday night he (Mr Bass) had caused this figure to be attached to a pilot balloon, and so arranged it that it should drop from its companion upon the former attaining a certain altitude.

The experiment was very successful, and, upon ascending, the figure of the peeler had an exceedingly ludicrous appearance, and seemed as if in the act of being hung. On attaining a certain altitude the figure dropped from the balloon, when its appearance became much more comic and laughable. It had been so constructed as to maintain an erect position, and its various evolutions in the air were truly ludicrous. It gradually descended, until at length it fell on the top of one of the houses in Minerva-place, Old Kent Road, and was secured by police constable 146 P, who on Wednesday restored it to Mr Bass. It was fortunate it had not fallen to the ground, for had it done so, no exertions of the police would have prevented the public from seriously damaging the representative of the law'

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ukebox returns

Brockley Ukulele Group are back at the Amersham Arms tomorrow (Sunday 12th) after a summer break for their monthly Sunday night ukebox. 8 pm start, admission is free.
Nice flyer, featuring uke-strumming aliens in New Cross.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Up Shooters Hill with the Dover Mail

Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities opens on Shooters Hill in 1765, with the Dover mail coach struggling up the hill on the muddy road, and the travellers in fear of being robbed by the highwaymen for which the area was notorious:

'It was the Dover road that lay, on a Friday night late in November, before the first of the persons with whom this history has business. The Dover road lay, as to him, beyond the Dover mail, as it lumbered up Shooter's Hill. He walked up hill in the mire by the side of the mail, as the rest of the passengers did; not because they had the least relish for walking exercise, under the circumstances, but because the hill, and the harness, and the mud, and the mail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three times already come to a stop, besides once drawing the coach across the road, with the mutinous intent of taking it back to Blackheath...

There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all.

Two other passengers, besides the one, were plodding up the hill by the side of the mail. All three were wrapped to the cheekbones and over the cars, and wore jack-boots. Not one of the three could have said, from anything he saw, what either of the other two was like; and each was hidden under almost as many wrappers from the eyes of the mind, as from the eyes of the body, of his two companions. In those days, travellers were very shy of being confidential on a short notice, for anybody on the road might be a robber or in league with robbers. As to the latter, when every posting-house and ale-house could produce somebody in "the Captain's" pay, ranging from the landlord to the lowest stable nondescript, it was the likeliest thing upon the cards. So the guard of the Dover mail thought to himself, that Friday night in November, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, lumbering up Shooter's Hill, as he stood on his own particular perch behind the mail, beating his feet, and keeping an eye and a hand on the arm-chest before him, where a loaded blunderbuss lay at the top of six or eight loaded horse-pistols, deposited on a substratum of cutlass'.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Nunhead & Peckham Free Film Festivals

If you've ever fancied watching a vampire film on top of a car park in Peckham, you are in luck this weekend. Actually there are lots of free outdoor cinematic delights to be had as part of the Nunhead Free Film Festival and the Peckham Free Film Festival running from 8 to 12 September.

At the Nunhead end, it kicks off with World War II film A Matter of Life and Death being shown in Nunhead Cemetery on Friday 10th at 8 pm, followed by a film-themed dance night at the Old Nun's Head. The next day Blues Brothers is being shown in Peckham Rye park by the cafe.

In Peckham it starts on Thursday 9th (8.30 pm) at the lovely Centre for Wildlife Gardening (28 Marsden Road, SE15) with Koyaannisqatsi - great Philip Glass soundtrack.

And yes, it ends on Sunday 12th with Nosferatu at Frank's Cafe on top of Peckham car park (Cerise Road, SE15).

Full listings at All events free of charge.

The Sweep-Preacher of South London

William Carter was a nineteenth century sweep who gave up his job to become a full time preacher. According to the Christian Spectator in 1867, he was 'called the "sweep-preacher" by the roughs of Lambeth' and dedicated to 'pleading the cause of the destitute, the helpless, and the fallen on South London, with its half million of inhabitants nearly all belonging to the poorer classes'. Indeed his aim was to 'perservere in this line of things until I shall have preached Jesus to all the subdivisions of the working-classes in the south of London'.

Carter organised large scale free teas in Deptford and elsewhere:

'Mr. Carter mentioned that he had given five thousand free teas to companies of thieves, prostitutes, and drunkards, who had been thus drawn within the sound of the gospel, and many of them permanently converted. They had given proofs of this by maintaining honest and virtuous behaviour in spite of severe temptations to the contrary. He had engaged for sabbath services, chiefly for these classes, the Victoria Theatre, the Deptford Dancing Rooms, and a hall at Kennington' (Thomas Shillitoe, the Quaker Missionary and Temperance Pioneer, 1867)

In 1864, he opened the South London Refuge as night shelter for 250 homeless people on Southwark Bridge Road, where in addition to a bed for the night, people were given 'half a pound of bread and a pint of coffee' (Christian Spectator).

Thieves, prostitutes and drunkards in Deptford. Who knew?! I wonder where the Deptford Dancing Rooms were, I've never heard of them before.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Templars in London

Coming up this week at South East London Folklore Society, the very erudite Rob Stephenson will be givng an illustrated talk on the Templars in London, discussing places in London that were either occupied, owned or had some connection with the Knight Templars and their dramatic downfall, including the sites of their imprisonment and interrogation.

All at the Old King's Head, Kings Head Yard 45-49, Borough High Street, London, SE1 1NA (by London Bridge), 8 pm start, all for the price of a pint.

Not sure what South London sites will be featured. As Brockley Central reported a while back, Brockley once belonged to the Templars along with the manor of Deptford (or West Greenwich as it was then known)

The manor of Paris Garden, on the South Bank, also belonged to the Templars for a while.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Nothing is Forever

A couple more weeks left to see Nothing is Forever, the first exhibition in the newly expanded South London Gallery (65 Peckham Road, SE5). The exhibition includes works which have been made directly on the walls, and which will be painted over at the end of the show and thus embedded in the fabric of the building. Mark Titchner's 'Another world is possible' (above) is in the main gallery.

Ernset Caramelle has decorated the walls above the new cafe space (below) - where incidentally I had an excellent coffee.

Sam Dargan has drawn a cartoon 'Brief and Idealistic Account of the Paris Commune of 1871' on a bathroom wall. Nice to think that the spirit of Louise Michel will be secreted in that room for years to come - in exile she lived for a while in East Dulwich.

The exhibition closes on September 19th (not 5th September as I erroneously stated in an earlier version of this post)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Memory of a Free Festival

Memory of a Free Festival by David Bowie is a song I've known for years - it's on his 1969 Space Oddity album - but I've only recently discovered it is a true South London song.

Bowie's Beckenham connections have been documented here before, but I didn't realize that this song was apparently inspired by the Free Festival held in Beckenham Recreation Ground, Croydon Road on August 16 1969. The festival was put on by Bowie and others involved in the Beckenham Arts Lab held on Sundays at the Three Tuns pub in Beckenham High Street. As David Bebbington recalls at Beckenham History, 'Bowie played solo, and the bill also included singer-songwriters Bridget St John, Keith Christmas and Toni Visconti'. Comus and The Strawbs also played.

Here's the lyrics:

"Memory Of A Free Festival"

The Children of the summer's end
Gathered in the dampened grass
We played Our songs and felt the London sky
Resting on our hands
It was God's land
It was ragged and naive
It was Heaven

Touch, We touched the very soul
Of holding each and every life
We claimed the very source of joy ran through
It didn't, but it seemed that way
I kissed a lot of people that day

Oh, to capture just one drop of all the ecstasy that swept that afternoon
To paint that love
upon a white balloon
And fly it from
the toppest top of all the tops
That man has pushed beyond his brain
Satori must be something
just the same

We scanned the skies with rainbow eyes and saw machines of every shape and size
We talked with tall Venusians passing through
And Peter tried to climb aboard but the Captain shook his head
And away they soared
Climbing through
the ivory vibrant cloud
Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
And We walked back to the road, unchained

The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party."

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Nunhead Soul

The Twisted Wheel.... Wigan Casino... and now.... the Old Nun's Head .

Northern Soul in Nunhead - what's not to like? Saturday 25th September sees Downtown Soulville bringing the noise to the pub on Nunhead Green, SE15. Further information at their Facebook page. I went to the Brockley Soul night some of these folks put on at the Wickham Arms earlier this year, and can confirm they have great record collections. Bring your own talc.