Monday, September 29, 2014

New Cross Party in the Park

The 1990s Urban Free Festival in Fordham Park was a major London event, bringing together people from what at the time was a big free party/squat/punk/rave scene. 20 years later (13 September), similar sounds were to be heard in the same place at the  Party in the Park - including Back to the Planet who were on the bill there in 1992. Quite a few of the people organising sound systems etc. were also veterans from that scene, as were some of the crowd.  But there were also lots of new young bands in the event organised by New Cross Learning, the Madcap Coalition and others.

Unlike last year's Party in the Park which was cursed by bad weather, this year it was sunny enough to bring out what may well have been the biggest crowd in the park since the final Urban  Free festival in 1995 - nothing like on the scale of  that event, which attracted about 30,000 people in very different times, but a decent free community festival.

Shocks of Mighty

Siren Sound System

Step 13 on the Siren stage by the Moonshot - great breakbeat anthems

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Post-Punk at Goldsmiths

An interesting series of talks and film screenings coming up at Goldsmiths in New Cross on Thursdays starting next week and carrying on through to December on the theme 'Post-Punk then and now'. Some key people from that time will be appearing including Green Gartside (Scritti Politti), Gee Vaucher (Crass),  Lydia Lunch and zine innovator Tom Vague.

Post-punk was my formative teenage time. I loved Scritti in both their early scratchy punk and their pure pop phases, thanks to them I first heard of Jacques Derrida, even if thanks to them too I mis-pronounced his name for years. I listened obsessively to Lydia Lunch's version of Some Velvet Morning with Rowland S Howard from the Birthday Party. And I had Gee Voucher's Stations of the Crass poster on my bedsit wall as a young anarcho-punk.

So I will surely be trying to get to as much of this as I can... and yet part of me is ambivalent about the endless raking over of the embers of the punk/post-punk period, and indeed the later rave period which likewise tends to get fetishised as some kind of sub-cultural high tide mark against which the middle aged judge subsequent generations and usually find them wanting. Maybe everyone likes to think that their youth was the coolest time in history, in that respect the once future-facing punks and the ravers ended up just like the hippies before them, forever harping back to 1977 or 1992 as surely as their long haired forerunners droned on about Pink Floyd at the Ally Pally in 1967. What seems like a period of plenitude, as post-punk does, can also be seen as a period of lack. If we looked to people with guitars and synthesisers for political and cultural inspiration it's because to a large extent we didn't have anywhere else to go for information or ideas. It's interesting to talk about these times, but in a critical way that doesn't reinforce myths. There was no golden age, then, since, or now. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Private Widdle Social Club in Brockley

A night of 'comedy, music and alcohol in pleasant surroundings' this Saturday 27 September at Brockley Social Club (240 Brockley Road) with 'The Private Widdle Social Club': 'Malcolm Head and Trevor Lock will provide top line comedy, with dancing from Dolly Doowop, plus music and the legendary Amy Winehouse Memorial Meat Raffle! All this plus an open spot and the random moments that only happen at Private Widdle. Make this your Social Club Broccolites at an introductory membership offer of £7!'.  The Private Widdle Social Club started out in Deal in Kent, and is 'named after the character played by Charles Hawtrey, in the Carry On films. Hawtrey was Deal's most notorious resident: geriatric; drunk; depressed; foul-tempered; gutter-mouthed and gay as a yellow duster' (read the great 'All the Devils are Here' by David Seabrook for more on that). 

At their Facebook page they very helpfully provide a map of South London for people to find their way to Brockley 'it's between Boho types and here be dragons...', and not too far from 'People who like nice food live here'. The map is from Tom Phillips' Definitive Stereotype Map of Central London (Buzzfeed 2014): 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Story of the London Bus: history talk

Coming up tomorrow, Friday 26th September (7:445 pm), Lewisham Local History Society present a talk on the history of the London Bus by John Wagstaff. It takes place at the Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way SE13.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Cross Graffiti

Some recent messages from the diverse graffiti artists of the New Cross area.

'Blue Borough' (that's Lewisham) /  'South Side' - by Fordham Park

Justin Bieber in Drakefell Road - old skool tipp-ex graffiti

'Meat is Murder' 'Go Vegan' in New Cross Road
(same site as the vanishing UKIP poster earlier this year)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Music Monday: Aphex Twin and legendary Elephant & Castle

Major junctions attract folklore as well as traffic, as those who pass by take their choice of the road less travelled or the road not taken, and wonder whether the guy with a stick and a dog is actually Papa Legba, guardian of the crossroads. This is even more so with a junction close to the heart of a major world city, so no surprise that the Elephant and Castle is the  location of many legends. There's the matter of its name - is it really a corruption of the  La Infanta de Castilla,  a supposed Spanish princess? (its seems not, most probably the area was just named after a local tavern). Then there's Shakespeare's Sister buried underneath the Elephant, isn't there?

And of course there's the legend of Richard James, better known as Aphex Twin. The techno/ambient pioneer's Cornish origins are well-known, but the story goes around that at one time he owned, or even lived in, the stainless steel tructure in the middle of the Elephant and Castle roundabout. Of course it isn't true, said structure is the Michael Faraday Memorial, built in 1961 and designed by the architect Rodney Gordon to commemorate the Victorian scientist who was born nearby. It houses an electricity sub-station for the London Underground.

photo from Atlas Obscura

James came up to London to study at Kingston Polytechnic in the early 1990s, and by 1994, when he was interviewed by David Toop, he was living in Stoke Newington. But not long after that he seems to have moved to somewhere near the Elephant. In 2001, he was interviewed by the Guardian in a cafe in the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, and in the same venue by John O'Connell in the The Face (October 2001). The latter seems to be the source of the tale: 'He's lived in Elephant & Castle for six years, in a converted bank vault. He likes it here. He's just bought the strange silver building, a 'third house' to add to the vault and his Scottish cottage, in the middle of the roundabout just down from the shopping centre. 'It used to be a sub-power station,' he explains. 'I'm exchanging contracts later this afternoon'. This is of course a classic piece of James mischievous misinformation, whether the journalist was clueless enough to believe it or in on the joke I do not know.

Of course that may mean that the bank vault story is not true either, but there's no reason to disbelieve that he lived in the area. Another interview from that period, seemingly conducted in the Italian cafe in the shopping centre, says that he lived on the top 3 floors of a converted bank, with another floor occupied by musical fellow traveller Cylob (Chris Jeffs). James is quoted as saying: '"Yeah, it's a cool neighbourhood. I like it here. It's quite not trendy here, that's why I moved here. There are no young people - nobody recognizes me here. I think in five years I only got recognized two times. Where my girlfriend lives, in East-End, it all became  pretty trendy, lots of people visit you. It's like: 'Oh, you live in a cool neighbourhood  so we'll come around and visit you.' Down here it's like this: 'Oh, you like down there?!  I never got there." He also says that the he used to be able to throw water bombs from his roof on to people queuing for the Ministry of Sound, which narrows the location down to somewhere north of the Elephant and on west side of Newington Causeway.

[Update - in a comment the Ruinist has identified the building as located at 89-93 Newington Causeway, an old bank now demolished and replaces by The Signal Building]

At some point he seems to have relocated to Scotland, but his Elephant period would have included the recording of his Windowlicker EP and the Drukqs album. The beautiful Avril 14th from the latter has featured in a number of film soundtracks and also served as the basis for Kanye West's Blame Game. 

Update, November 2021:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lewisham '77 photos by Chris Schwarz

I have mentioned the Deptford photographs of Chris Schwarz  (1948-2007) here before. The Albany has now created a digital archive of his work, Every Picture tells a Story. Lots of great images from the 1970s and 1980s, including some from the 'Battle of Lewisham'  in August 1977, when anti-fascists mobilised against a National Front march from New Cross to Lewisham (see detailed account here)

The first image shows the anti-NF crowd in New Cross Road. The speaker is standing near the Clifton Rise corner, the buildings opposite are on New Cross Road, including corner of Laurie Grove:

This shot shows New Cross Road looking up to bottom of Lewisham Way - building on left is Marquis of Granby pub:

Police in Lewisham town centre, where clashes continued at the end of the march. This was the first time police had used riot shields in Britain.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hatcham Liberal Club 1891: New Cross Meeting for Jailed Union Leader

From the Evening Express, 9 April 1891, a report of a public meeting held at the Hatcham Liberal Club, New Cross Road in support of Joseph Havelock Wilson (1859-1929), secretary of the Seamen and Firemen's Union. J H Wilson had been nominated as the Liberal parliamentary candidate for Deptford, but was unable to attend this meeting as he had been jailed for "unlawful assembly" after being arrested during a strike in Cardiff. The meeting was presided  over by Dr Richard M. Pankhurst, the Liberal Candidate for Rotherhithe (he was unsuccessful), founder of the Women's Franchise League with his wife Emmeline Pankhurst and father of suffragist militants Christabel and Sylvia. Richard Haldane MP, also there, was a Liberal then an Labour politician and one of the founders, with the Webbs, of the London School of Economics. Edward Grey MP was Liberal foreign secretary at the start of the First World War.

After release from prison, Wilson transferred his candidacy to Middlesborough where he was elected as an independent labour MP in 1892, though he later became a Liberal MP. 

(the Hatcham Liberal Club at this time was at Portland House, 202 New Cross Road, which I believe was more or less opposite what is now New Cross Gate station. Not sure when it moved to its later location on Queens Road)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Nunhead Fox

I like the wooden fox of Nunhead Green, placed there recently alongside the new children's play area. The sculpture is the work of artist/woodworkers Arthur de Mowbray, also responsible for the 'Camberwell Beauty' butterfly bench at Walworth Garden Farm.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

P J Harvey and Peter Tatchell at Goldsmiths

Polly Harvey and Peter Tatchell were amongst those awarded Honorary Degrees and Fellowships by Goldsmiths (University of London) in New Cross today, along with writer Neal Ascherson, architect Zaha Hadid, cartoonist Martin Rowson, and ex-Goldsmiths student and poet George Szirte.

Yes I know honorary degrees are a little bit cheesy, but love these people

Monday, September 08, 2014

Music Monday: Pigeon Heroes in Goldsmiths Music Studios

Pigeon Heroes are a South East London-based folkish band who I was lucky enough to catch at the Kit and Cutter event at the Albany earlier this year. They have just posted a video of them recording a new song 'People and Trees' in the recently opening Goldsmiths Music Studios in New Cross Road. So take a look if you wonder what it looks like inside - or if you just want to hear some sweet melodies.

Friday, September 05, 2014

99% Darkness

'99% Darkness' is a new novel by Jacob Stringer 'featuring South London evictions, Occupy, student protests, 15M, FARC guerrillas and dysfunctional relationships.'  With a strapline of 'You are fucked. They are fucked. We are fucked. Experience the fuckedness in London, Bogotá and Madrid' it sounds like it is in line with my current political mood.

 The novel is partly set in South London, here's a scene describing something I used to do a lot - putting the world to rights over a pint in the Prince Albert in Brixton's Coldharbour Lane:

'On the second night I cycled to meet Ahsan in Brixton. At London Bridge I looked up through the rain to see the Shard, now complete, an enormous lit pyramid splitting the sky.

“It looks like the headquarters of our future dystopian overlords,” I said as we 
sat down with our pints in the Albert. “Most of the office space has been taken by hedge funds,” replied Ahsan. “So the word ‘future’ is unnecessary: it is the headquarters of our current dystopian overlords.”

I shook the last raindrops from my head. “And how is London? How’s it been going while I’ve been gallivanting in Latin America?”

“Well you’ve probably seen the figures. The City is booming. Property is reinflating. Everyone else is living a depression. Not enough jobs, not enough hours, high rent, food prices up.”

“A normal day in dystopia.”

Ahsan nodded and suddenly looked serious. “It feels different than it used to. The politicians and the media are stirring up anti-immigrant feeling in a much more poisonous way. Disabled people are being thrown off benefits for the sake of statistics.” He lifted his pint. “And the beer’s expensive, the squats are gone, the poor are being thrown out the city. It feels like the people in charge have no limits to their actions.”

“You know how to cheer up a new arrival Ahsan.”

He grinned. “Come on, you love the feeling of doom.”

I shook my head. “I might love resisting the feeling of doom.”

“Same thing.”

Perhaps Ahsan was right, but neither the Boom London nor the Depression London were my London. My London changes only slowly, at a rate set by myself as I inscribe myself across it. I am not entirely defined by my resistance, however much I may choose to talk about it.


The Albert was becoming noisier by the minute and as we drank – the taste of English ale after so long! – our ability to stay focused on serious matters diminished. The Albert has always had a dynamic of increasing chaos as the night goes on. We drank more, I bumped into old friends, we gave ourselves up to the night'.

There's a launch for the novel tomorrow night (Saturday September 6th) at The Field, 385 Queens Road, New Cross SE14 5HD. 7:00 pm start - facebook event details here.

Brockley Ukulele Group back at Amersham Arms

Continuing their tradition of fine uke-themed flyers, Brockley Ukelele Group are back in action at the Amersham Arms  SE14 on Sunday 14th September 2014. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tales from the Riverbank with London Dreamtime + Irish tales at South East London Folklore Society

Really enjoyed 'Faeries of the Minesweeper' on 22 August from London Dreamtime. A tale of the fairies in a mill at Deptford Creek from Vanessa Woolf was interspersed with songs from Nigel of Bermondsey; costumes and settings were designed by Lucy Williams. Starting out by St Pauls Church we wound our way to a railway arch by Crossfields Estate and then across the Creek to finish up on the Minesweeper Boat.

Vanessa and Nigel on the Minesweeper, sadly didn't manage to get a good picture of them
with the many twilight ducks flying over.

They are back in action on another boat on Sunday 21 September (3:30 pm - 5:00 pm) with 'A Trip down the Thames in Story and Song' on HMS President, the 1918 ship redecorated as Dazzle Ship London by  artist Tobias Rehberger.The event is sponsored by the Londonist and is part of this months's Totally Thames season of events on and around the river. HMS President is moored at  Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0HJ.

Nigel is also busy next Thursday 11 September (8 pm) - hosting South East London Folklore Society at the Old Kings Head in Borough High Street. Guest this time is Thomas McCarthy, the Irish Traveller, Folk Singer & Storyteller. He has a repertoire of over 200 traditional songs that he sings unaccompanied. He also has an extensive story repertoire from which he shall be drawing from at SELFS. Expect to meet fairies, hunchbacks, banshees, druids, Finn McCool and Cuchulain (Facebook event details)  I've caught Tom singing a few times, including at Kit & Cutter, and he's a great talent.

Thomas McCarthy

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

El Impenetrable at Peckham & Nunhead Free Film Festival

Lots of great stuff coming up at the Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival, which opens tomorrow. The full programme is here.

First night tomorrow (Thursday 4 September, 8pm) there's a free showing of El Impenetrable, 'a contemporary western where all characters are real'.

'In El Impenetrable (Dir Daniele Incalcaterra & Fausta Quattrini, 2012, Argentina/France, 95 mins), director Incalcaterra inherits 5,000 acres of land in one of the most remote areas of the world: the Paraguayan Chaco, a harsh, sparsely populated environment where landowners and their thugs run the show. An unwanted gift from his long deceased father, Daniele decides to give back this land to the indigenous people who have always lived in this territory. But his neighbours - oil companies, transgenic soybean and livestock farmers who clear the forest and do not like intruders, do not seem very supportive of this idea'.

Read more about the film here. It will be screened in its original language (Italian/Spanish), with subtitles in English.

 At the Back Room Cinema of The Montpelier pub, 43 Choumert Road, London SE15 4AR.

New Cross in Time Out

If you haven't picked up this week's Time Out London, look out for its 'Great bits of London' feature on New Cross with its strapline of 'creativity, cheap thrills and chicken shops in the south-east student belt'. Written by Goldsmiths student Andy Hill it accurately characterises local pubs/bars New Cross House, New Cross Inn, Hobgoblin, LP Bar and Amersham Arms. Foodwise Cummin Up, London Particular and Chinwag get a mention, with a recommendation too of a walk to the top of Telegraph Hill to look over London. Other readers recommend Smokey Jerky, No 178, Little Nan's, Birdie Num Num's, the Royal Albert and the Venue - 'you're not a south-easterner if you haven't had the Big V experience'.