Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Peanut Factory: squatting in South London in the 1970s

I really enjoyed reading 'The Peanut Factory' by Deborah Price (Guts Publishing, 2022), her memoir of life in South London squats in the 1970s and early 80s - and specifically the scene in the Crystal Palace/Norwood area. Must admit that despite myself being a Brixton squatter later in the 80s I had no idea how much squatting there was around that nearby part of London. But this was in a period when there were plentiful empty private and council homes for people to live in if they could cope with disrepair and no hot water.

She particularly mentions a triangle of streets lower down Gypsy Hill where many of the houses were squatted and a warehouse known as the Peanut Factory became an informal community centre: 'There was big rockabilly scene down at the squats, with King Kurt and other fledgling bands, and a lot of quiffs and hair-gel. Parties happened every weekend. It was amazing how many people could cram into a small Victorian terrace'.

People living round Upper Norwood will appreciate some of the hyperlocal detail, including memories of working in local pubs, the zoo and Crystal Palace Adventure Playground. But there is a lot here for anyone interested in alternative scenes in London and their cultural history. 

Price really evokes this time through her relationships with a shifting cast of friends, lovers and flat mates. There is freedom and affordable living, but also addiction and sexual abuse.

Price moves through the sub cultures of the time, leaving aside her former hippy clothes and records to enthusiastically embrace punk and then moving on to clubbing at places like the Fridge in Brixton, the WAG and Le Beat Route: 'Getting dressed up and partying was a living protest against cuts and poverty. It was fingers up to the Government'. Sometimes cultural/music historians treat these scenes as a succession of completely distinct moments, when the fact is it was sometimes the same people involved just changing their clothes.

The Fridge is probably best remembered now for its long term location at the bottom of Brixton Hill, now home of Electric Brixton. But for a couple of years in the early 1980s it was above the Iceland store on Brixton Road. Price remembers it at that time as being 'glittering white, decorated with lots of fake ice stalagmites and stalactites... lit up with silver and blue lights to get a cold icy backdrop' (I went there once to see Rubella Ballet). She also recalls regularly getting her cut at one of the famous gay squats on Railton Road. 

The author is giving a talk at the Bookseller Crown bookshop in Crystal Palace on 26th May 2022, details here

Monday, May 23, 2022

Music Monday: Naima Bock - 'Toll'

Naima Bock was the  co-founder and bassist with Goat Girl, but has left the band to pursue a solo career. Her debut album is due out on Sub Pop on 1 July 2022. Naima spent her childhood between Britain and Brazil and indeed has just completed a tour of Europe supporting Brazilian singer Rodrigo Amarante. But her London years have been very much SE London, in fact she lived in my SE14 street for years and went to Edmund Waller school.

Toll is a track from the new album and features a kind of psych-folk sound, little bit Vashti Bunyan but with a languid melody that also puts me in mind of slowed down Stereolab. Great folk horror video too.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Music Monday: Belle & Sebastian video on Ladywell Fields

The music video for the latest Belle and Sebastian single “Talk To Me Talk To Me” features scenes shot in and around Ladywell Fields.

The video was written and directed by 15-year-old south London siblings Freya and Rosalie Salkeld.  According to singer Stuart Murdoch, “we put out an open call to filmmakers who would be interested in making something for the existing budget, requesting an image encapsulating their idea and a 100-word pitch. The directors’ mother got in touch saying her daughters are fans of the group and keen filmmakers, and they sent in a treatment that we loved. They co-wrote and co-directed it, and got a bunch of their friends involved, and made a fresh and funny take on the song.”

The Salkeld siblings added, “Our idea had come from photos we’d taken of our friends for art projects. Casting mates we’d recently seen in a school drama production was really fun — filming them was even better!”

I believe the school that features in some scenes is Kingsdale in West Dulwich.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Airship over Nunhead

The Goodyear Blimp airship has been in the skies of London and Kent this weekend, here seen over Lausanne Road in Nunhead on Saturday 14th May 2022