Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Farewell Steve Wilson

The funeral took place in Beckton on February 10th of Steve Wilson (1955-2017), who died recently after nearly two years of serious illness.

A man of multiple enthusiasms including Leonard Cohen, Crystal Palace FC, and folklore,  it was in the pagan/occult scene that Steve was most active. Among other things he was at various times an Archpriest in the Fellowship of Isis,  Archdruid in the Druid Clan of Dana, and SE London regional co-ordinator of the Pagan Federation, as well as working for a spell in the famous Atlantis bookshop. In his druid capacity, he was involved in the campaign for access to Stonehenge, and as described in this 1996 article in the Independent, helping conduct summer solstice ceremonies at Parliament Hill and watching the 'sunrise at Plumstead Common Burial mound'. I have seen mention of  his involvement too in the delightfully named Plumstead Occasional Druids.

In his book 'Robin Hood: The Spirit of the Forest' (Neptune Press, 1993), Steve mentioned another important campaign from that period, the successful fight to stop the construction of a major road through Oxleas Wood 'where once the King of England and his Queen, along with the Guilds of the City of London, once watched Marian and Robin in their Mayday Revels... By involving ourselves in these battles we can let the spirit of  Robin and his band live on in ourselves'.

I met him through his involvement in the South East London Folklore Society. SELFS was established in the early 1990s (I believe), starting out at Charlton House, and Steve was active in it from early on. In its first incarnation it was primarily a regular meeting (moot) of local pagans and fellow travellers. Although it has subsequently broadened out to include a wider range of folklore, local history and fortean themes, the format of a speaker on an interesting topic followed by beer and discussion has continued down to the present. Steve himself gave a number of SELFS talks over the years, including one on  'Chaos, Conjuring and Combat' at a 1999 SELFS conference in Charlton House ('Thee Event -Thee Last Magickal Conference ov thee So-Called Millennium') and another entitled 'The Brockley Thing' at a SELFS event at the Brockley Jack during the 2005 Brockley Max Festival. The latter touched on another of Steve's interests - the history of the Woodcraft Folk and associated youth groups such as the Kibbo Kift Kindred and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry which he saw as linked to the 20th century neo-pagan revival - and in whose story SE London was an important focus.

Steve was a driving force and frequent MC at similar occultural 'moots' including Talking Stick, Secret Chiefs and The Moot with No Name (which he founded in 2003). He was thus a key contributor to the great London alternative university of esoteric talks in pubs - as well as organising and speaking he could always be guaranteed to have a question at the end of anybody else's talk! The debating and public speaking skills he no doubt first polished at Dulwich College were frequently put to use. He was a big man with a big voice.

Steve was an enthusiastic participant in the annual Deptford Jack in the Green/Fowlers Troop procession, including sometimes taking turns in the toughest job on the day, carrying the Jack - a heavy frame covered in foliage. The photos here are all of Steve in his May Day costume, the two below by Sarah Hannant.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Monday, February 06, 2017

Neil Innes, Desmond Dekker, John Motson & Learie Constantine - in one Lewisham street

This row of houses in Slaithwaite Road, Lewisham has some interesting connections - I believe the white house on the left is number 22, with number 20 to its right followed by number 18 and 16.

I am grateful to 'Kobra' for a recent comment on a post here about singer Desmond Dekker's time in Lewisham:

'I spoke to my Dad about Desmond Dekker as I had some sort of memory that he used to rehearse next door to where I lived in Lewisham. I lived in 20 Slaithwaite Road and the family in number 22 were the Powells. This was back in the 60s and next door the other way at 18 lived Neil Innes of the Bonzo dog doo dah band and Rutles fame.... The Scaffold used to pop in and out all the time with John Gorman and I think Paul McCartneys brother... Lilly the pink... etc....Opposite before I was born I believe John Motson lived too. My family name is Smith and the property was owned by my parents and my Dad's parents I think since before the war...'

Neil Innes, a sometime Goldsmiths student, was a member of the 1960s groupThe Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and also wrote songs for Monty Python. The Bonzos sometimes played with The Scaffold, the Liverpool band that included  Mike McGear (Paul McCartney's brother), Roger McGough and John Gorman.  So its not surprizing that they might have visited Neil Innes, and indeed The Scaffold played at Lewisham Odeon in May 1968, with Paul McCartney and then girlfriend Jane Asher in attendance.

The young Neil Innes
But what of football commentator John Motson? He apparently also lived at 18 Slaithwaite Road in the 1950s, between the age five and 11. His father, the Rev William Motson, was the Methodist minister at the Deptford Methodist Mission, having previously been Minister of Plumstead Common Methodist Church (the family lived in Burrage Road, Woolwich at the time). Whatever his religious affiliations, Motson senior was decidely non-sectarian in football, taking the young John regularly to both Charlton and Millwall games. John Motson went to Ennersdale Primary School in Hither Green, and he remembers queuing to get football legend Stanley Matthews' autograph when he appeared at a shop in Lewisham. 

As Motson recalls in his autobiography, Motty: Forty Years in the Commentary Box (2009), 'On one side lived Ada Smith - I saw Jackie Milburn win the FA Cip for Newcastle on her flickering set in 1951 - and on the other, another Methodist minster called Walter Ridyard; who had been minister of Albion Road Methodist Church in Lewisham, destroyed in the 1941 Blitz and then rebuilt.

The Ridyards 'often offered lodgings to West Indian cricketers when they were playing in England; and Motson remembers 'having tea with Colin Smith, the Jamaican all-rounder killed in a car crash, and also having a conversation over the garden fence with Learie Constantine, the former West Indian captain and fast bowler'. Constantine (1901-1971) was famously described by his friend CLR James as belonging 'to the distinguished company of men who, through cricket, influenced the history of their time' (among other things he won a legal case in the Second World War against a London hotel that refused to let him stay on racist grounds).

So if Motson lived in Number 18 (like Innes after him), and the Smiths were at Number 20 (according to our commenter), then the Ridyards and their cricketing guests must presumably been at Number 16. All of this plus Desmond Dekker popping into number 22.