Sunday, November 26, 2017

Music Monday: A-ha in Sydenham

There are lots of  80s pop hits which all the cool indie kids mocked at the time but which with hindsight sound pretty good, and which today's cool nobody-worries-about-being-indie-kids-anymore just get on and dance to. But there are other pop tracks which surely even the coolest shoegazers had to recognise at the time were destined to be classic songs, including at least a couple by some Norwegian likely lads: A-ha's 'The Sun always shines on TV' and their debut 'Take on Me'.

So what's the South East London connection? Well back in 1983, A-ha were living in London as poverty-stricken artists with dreams of pop glory, hanging out at the Camden Palace. With funds running low, they booked themselves in April 1983 into a small Sydenham studio, Rendezvous (107b Kirkdale, SE26), run by a man called John Ratcliff - an interesting character with experience of playing in bands himself, not to mention once having been a successful international athlete - the world double decathlon champion, no less.

107b Kirkdale - John Ratcliff confirms on twitter that the whole building was Rendezvous

According to the Quietus: 'Rendezvous was chosen simply because it offered equipment when they had little of their own. But, setting out to lay down three or four songs per day, they in fact only needed one before Ratcliff’s ears pricked up.  “He said, ‘That sounds really interesting. Do you have more?’ And we said, ‘Yeah, but we can’t afford to pay.’ ‘Well, why don’t you come in on off time?’ He started talking about, ‘I know people in the music industry. I can get you a singles deal’ (Talking Away: A-Ha On The Making Of Take On Me by Wyndham Wallace, 2015)

John O'Connell notes that Ratcliff's contribution went further than just offering studio time:

'A-ha had ended up at Rendezvous almost by accident, allegedly booking it because it had a Space Invaders machine. But Ratcliff proved a generous patron when the band were at a low ebb, paying for them to make additional demos of the songs he thought were strongest and renting them a flat at 221 Dartmouth Road, about 200 metres from the studio. Furuholmen and his bandmates Pal Waaktaar and Morten Harket would make the daily journey from flat to ‘work’ by jumping across the roofs of the neighbouring houses and entering Rendezvous through a rear window'.

221 Dartmouth Road, next to Mr Pizza by Sydenham School - where A-ha once stayed

Thanks to John's music industry connections, the band were soon signed to Warner Brothers with global success to follow.
One of the demo tracks recorded at Rendezvouz was called Lesson One. Before long it had been reworked into their breakthrough hit 'Take on Me' - a great song helped by a groundbreaking 1985 video combining animation and live action filmed in Battersea at Kim's Cafe (later the Savoy Cafe) at 390 Wandsworth Road, SW8 (corner of Pensbury Place). The song reached number one in the USA and number 2 in the UK.
inside the cafe in 'Take on Me' video - Bunty Bailey, the young woman in the video,
became the girlfriend of a-ha singer Morten Harkets

Bunty Bailey flees the cafe in the video and, below, the cafe today

Thanks to Adrian Lobb on twitter for posting a photo that set me off on this. Thanks too to Laugh Clown Laugh, who also recorded there, for confirming location of Rendezvous.

Some more Forest Hill/Sydenham music connections:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Music Monday: Oh Wonder, made in Brockley

Electro/alt pop duo Oh Wonder played a sold out gig at Brixton Academy this month, part of a massive international tour to mark the launch of their second album Ultralife.  Their track Without You has had 44 million views on YouTube. Not bad at all for an outfit who started out putting songs up on soundcloud in 2014 and have recorded both their albums in their flat in Brockley.

Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West recently explained to the BBC:

'Our studio is on a busy main road, on the corner of two bus routes. henever we’d start recording, another bus would go by. We couldn’t do vocals before 10pm... But some buses do sneak in. The album opens with a bus, an ode to the fact that the entire album was compromised by London transport. There’s also a police siren from New York, where we had the same problem with traffic. We could have made our lives easier by going to a studio with soundproofing, but that isn’t us. Our lives are in these songs and it didn’t feel fair to leave the night buses out'

Josephine has also discussed how the song High on Humans on Ultralife was written on the way back home from Brockley Station after an encounter on the tube home from Heathrow with a guy :'covered in blood [with] no teeth, looking sorry for himself.  I tentatively went up to him and his girlfriend and said, 'I just wanted to let you know you'll be fine', Go to the dentist tomorrow, don't panic, you'll be great'. And he was like, 'Oh, thank you so much!'.

'And then this guy opposite us piped up, 'I broke my nose, too!'. And suddenly this whole little carriage was talking about their injuries, which was remarkable.  When I got off the Tube, I was so excited. Chatting to strangers gives you such a buzz because there's that element of fear before you talk to someone. So I walked from Brockley station back to my house, singing into my phone. And I've got this really funny voice note, which is like, 'I'm getting high on humans!' (Josepine had herself smashed teeth and broken her nose in an accident a couple of years ago).

High on Humans joins that select list of songs written on South London public transport - including Bowie's Life on Mars (written on the bus to Lewisham) and The Red Flag (written on the train to New Cross)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Little Richard at Lewisham Odeon (1963 and 1975)

American rock'n'roll legend Little Richard played in Lewisham on at least two occasions.

The first time was on 31 October 1963 as part of an amazing line up that also included the Rolling Stones, the Everly Brothers, and Bo Diddley. But on that Halloween night there were some famous or soon to be famous names in the audience too.  According to 'History with the Beatles' by Bradford E Loker (2009), George Harrison attended this concert  having earlier that day arrived from back with The Beatles from a trip to Sweden and been greeted by thousands of fans. This was to prove to be a fateful day in pop culture history - American TV presenter Ed Sullivan was passing through the airport and on the strength of witnessing this outbreak of Beatle-mania booked them to appear on his TV show, the legendary appearance on 9 February1964 kicking off the 'British invasion' of the US pop charts.

Also in the audience in Lewisham was a 17 year old David Jones, later Bowie: 'After seeing the Rolling Stones perform on the same bill as Bo Diddley and Little Richard at the Lewisham Odeon in October 1963, he was desperate to perform R&B rather than teen pop' (The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie And The 1970s by Peter Doggett, 2011). As was common in those days, the acts performed short sets twice over the course of the evening - according to this advert there was a 6.30 and a 6.45 show.

The advert for the tour mentions Little Richard, The Everly Brothers and Bo Diddley and 'special guest star' to be announced. As the Bowie story above illustrates, also on the bill was The Rolling Stones on their first tour.

Little Richard's return to Lewisham Odeon in July 1975 seemed to have been memorable though for all the wrong reasons. Mick Farren's review in the New Musical Express described 'The debut date of Little Richard's UK tour at the half empty Lewisham Odeon' as 'little short of a disaster. Possibly the person least to blame was Little Richard himself'.

Support band The Wild Angels were said to 'not score too highly on either originality or technique, but they play with such energetic determination that they more than keep the customers satisfied. They don't leave space for even the most aggro prone ted to start yelling for the star of the show'.

Booing there soon was though as after lengthy delays the back up band took to the stage and played for too long without sight of the singer:  'Before the riot could start the warm up man announced Little Richard. With one bound he was on top of the piano, accepting the adulation of his loyal fans in a nifty one piece, red, spangled creation that showed everyone that after 26 years on the road, his figure was still built to please. It looked as though everything was going to be alright. The band kicked off into a tight, functional 'Good Golly Miss Molly' that was traditional enough to mollify the grease. Then Little Richard sat down at the piano and started to sing. The awful truth became apparent that both his voice and piano were totally inaudible... After a few more tries he finally had to instruct the band to turn down. At least, after that he could be heard, although his voice still sounded as though it was coming from deep under water. From then on, all thoughts of music went straight out the window... At the end, nobody asked for an encore'

Farren concluded: 'Nobody likes to schlep all the way to Lewisham to be let down. For me, it was the second time. The first was the Chuck Berry debacle. That was mainly due to Berry's towering meanness. In the case of Little Richard, the majority of the blame must rest with the people who brought in a potentially top line act like Little Richard and his Band, then saddled them with a Mickey Mouse P.A., joke continuity and a terminally ham-fisted stage operation'.

(I believe the Chuck Berry gig at Lewisham referred to was also in 1975 - when Berry died earlier this year, Boy George tweeted that he 'met him outside Lewisham Odeon in the 70s').

See previously on Lewisham Odeon:

Rod Stewart with Paul & Linda McCartney, Lewisham Odeon 1974

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Halloween: the pumpkins after the night before

Maybe not quite so spooky in daylight, but the surviving pumpkins on the  morning after Halloween have their own horrors...

Malpas Rd SE4

Drakefell Rd SE4

Drakefell Road SE4

Asylum Road SE15