Monday, December 25, 2023

Music Monday: Jacqui McShee and Pentangle

Happy 80th birthday Jacqui McShee, born in Catford on Christmas Day 1943. Like many of their generation, Jacqui and her sister Pam got involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the early 1960s, and through this got involved in the folk music scene. With friends she started a folk club at the the Red Lion Pub in Sutton, and then in 1967 she started the band Pentangle with guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, joined by  Danny Thompson on double bass, and Terry Cox on drums. A  string of innovative albums from 1968 to 1972 defined a new direction for English folk music, with jazz, rock and psychedelic influences. There have been various revivals and reformation since, and Jacqui is still performing.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

2024 London Calendars

Couple of fine 2024 calendars on sale at the Word bookshop in New Cross (and other local independent bookshops). South East London pubs by Lydia Wood is the latest outcome of her project of aiming to draw every pub in London. London Rebel History 2024 from Past Tense does what it says on the tin.


Friday, December 08, 2023

A young Irish woman in Lewisham, 1959

Leaving aside the dubious framing of this story ('workaday beauties' ffs), some nice local detail of a young Irish women's life in Lewisham 1959 - Mary O'Donoghue from Cork working in the Robertson Jam Factory in Catford, living in Davenport Road with her sister (a nurse at Hither Green Hospital) and socialising at the Harp Club in New Cross.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Flaneuse/'London as a man's city'

I recently read Laura Elkin's 'Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London' which explores the act of women's public presence on the streets as a subversive practice:

'It would be nice, ideal even, if we didn't have to subdivide by gender - male walkers, female walkers, flâneurs and flâneuses - but these narratives of walking repeatedly leave out a woman's experience... I like the built environment, I like cities. Not their limits, not the places where they become not-cities. Cities themselves. The heart of them. Their manifold quarters, sectors, corners. And it's the centre of cities where women have been empowered, by plunging into the heart of them, and walking where they're not meant to. Walking where other people (men) walk without eliciting comment. That is the transgressive act. You don't need to crunch around in Gore-Tex to be subversive, if you're a woman. Just walk out your front door'.

Elkin, a New Yorker who has spent much time in Paris, lived in Brockley when she was working on the book and mentions some of her London haunts: 'I have walked everywhere, and come to know Peckham High Street and Highgate, Bethnal Green and Green Park, Holland Park and Honor Oak, the Isle of Dogs and Dulwich, Clerkenwell and Camberwell, Greenwich and Gravesend'.

I was reminded of this when browsing an old guide to London,  Clarence Winchester's 'Let's look at London: A Travelogue for the Short Time Visitor' (Cassell 1935) which asserts that London is not a place for women... and that seemingly this is a good thing! (yes Clarence is a man in case you were wondering):

'If an Englishman's home is his castle, a Londoner's home is his thrice-moated strong-hold, even though the front wall stands on the pavement and there is only a yard of grass at the back. Perhaps that is why London strikes us as a man's city... 

It is true that London is by no means short of women, but they are not predominantly noticeable unless you take a stroll along Regent Street and Oxford Street about tea-time. We do not notice women in London as we do in New York or in Paris, or in Nottingham even. There are the "castles" to be looked after, and it is the women's job to see to that, which is just as well if we consider- as we should- that the domesticated man is an anachronism and an offence against nature.

In no other city in the world are men so well provided for as in London. In no other city is there a Clubland that so adequately symbolizes masculinity'

Monday, November 27, 2023

Music Monday: Chainska Brassika songs of Brockley and New Cross

Popular South London ska band Chainska Brassika include plenty of local references on their album 'Tales of a Londoner' which came out last year (and I'm only now catching up with).

'Down the Barge' tells of nights out in the Brockley Barge, which features in the video:

Another pub, currently closed, is mentioned in New Cross Stomp: '171 on a Friday night, down the White Hart for a couple swift pints'.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Life is one big road with a lot of sign

A traffic sign in New Cross Road, near to the bus garage, has been hosting a running commentary on the state of the world for over a year.

The latest iteration photographed today  includes the very timely 'ceasefire now', along with 'Just Stop Oil',  'A wealth tax could easily fund the NHS' and 'support workers  when they strike - tax the rich'

From April of this year 'Boris Johnson should pay his own f*cking legal fees':

November 2022 and there's a call for 'general election now', in smaller print underneath 'Rishi Sunak has too much money' (later somebody not so keen on the electoral road sprayed a black @sign over this, you can see a trace of it on image above)

September 2022 - 'say no to tory tax cuts, F**k the fat cats' complete with cat


Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Small Worlds - Caleb Azumah Nelson

Like his previous novel 'Open Water', 'Small Worlds' by Caleb Azumah Nelson is a beautifully written slice of young London African life, set in South London. In this instance the story of the unfolding family and intimate relationships of a young jazz musician living in Peckham - and visiting Ghana - is set between 2010 and 2012.

Narrator Stephen's parents have come to London in the 1980s in hard times: 'Mum says, when she arrived in winter she was so sure that in London, everything would be possible for her. What Mum didn't realize was that she was moving to a city in the wake of the Brixton riots and New Cross fires, a London living in the wake of explicit violence, a London in which there were people who might explicitly wish death upon her. Still, her older brother was already living here, so she quickly found accommodation halfway between New Cross and Lewisham, and work as a cleaner in Brix-to. To get to work, she would walk to Lewisham bus station, riding the P4 until the last stop, her hands thrust deep in her pockets to protect from the cold'.

Now Stephen has grown to be a young adult in the city. There are nights out in Deptford and Peckham, including at what was then peak period Bussey building and Peckhamplex cinema (not to mention Camberwell Nando's). One of the more evocative scenes for me though take place in one of my favourite places with Stephen jamming with some of his fellow jazz musicians:

'One time, we crammed into two cars and drove a little further south, to Beckenham Place Park, with its grounds which sprawl endlessly. It was spring and new life seemed to be blossoming, everywhere. Everything was possible. We dragged our instruments, deep into the wooded area, and formed a circle, sending sounds into the trees. Just before we started playing, someone placed a recorder in the middle of our small gathering, not because we didn't think we would remember, but because we didn't want to forget. As we were playing, my fingers slipped, an odd note coming from my horn. The mistake didn't go unnoticed, but we continued on. It made me grateful for the freedom to be in that space, to make a mistake; and how that mistake might be beautiful to the right ear; how Del heard that odd note and followed with her own, adjusting her thrum; how the rest of us followed that twist and shift, surrendering to whatever unknown we were going towards. It was there that I noticed I only really knew myself in song. In the quiet, in the freedom, in the surrender. Afterwards, as we trailed back to the cars, spent and yet still so full, we said things like 'I didn't know I needed that' and 'that was a spiritual experience.''

Put me in mind of those sweet jazz sessions you would stumble upon during Covid lockdown, in Peckham Rye or Hilly Fields or wherever.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Music Monday: Laura Misch 'Sample the Sky'

East Dulwich-raised Laura Misch has been marking the release of her new album, Sample the Sky, with some interesting local events in the last few weeks. There was a sound walk in Sydenham Woods, an event in the Brockwell Park greenhouses and, on 21 October 2023, a 'cloud bath' in the old waiting room above Peckham Rye station.  The latter featured an improvised set with Laura's saxophone accompanied by Slow Moon on guitar. People were invited to bring cushions so they could relax on the floor while artists Holobiont projected cloud imagery. Lots of lush reverb drenched tones approaching a spiritual jazz vibe, it was a lovely event.

There's an interesting interview with Laura at The Line of Best Fit where she talks about her musical and woodland inspirations.

The album is more song based, including the previous single Portals -  the video of which, I am reliably informed, was styled with the help of Bleak House Flowers in Brockley Cross

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Tidal Year


Freya Bromley's 'The Tidal Year: a memoir on grief, swimming and sisterhood' sees the author travelling around Britain's tidal pools in the aftermath of her brother's untimely death. Along the way she visits some of my favourite swimming spots including Walpole Bay in Margate, Clevedon Marine Lake (on the Severn Estuary) and Dancing Ledge in Dorset.

But her home turf swimming spot is Brockwell Park Lido, even through the swimming there does not always come easy: 'Getting in the lido felt like a punishment, which something inside me needed. Getting out felt like a rebirth, which everything inside me needed. I took short, sharp breaths as the water burned my ankles, thighs, stomach, then chest. Crying happens on an inhale, and swimming gives me that same breathless sensation. I swam three laps, then at the deep end screamed underwater. When I emerged, I couldn't stop crying. Witnessing someone having a breakdown in a public pool must be a good way to see British manners'.

Along the way friendships and romance play out against a backdrop of familiar South London landmarks. East Dulwich Picturehouse, the Prince of Wales in Brixton, Myatts Fields, Herne Hill market, the Camberwell Arms and the Silk Road restaurant (also in Camberwell) all feature, not to mention a first date checking out the Lime Kiln in Burgess Park.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Cider with Joyce

Delighted to have the first pint to be served of the new 'Joy is an Orchard' cider at Joyce in Brockley tonight, blended by them at Ross on Wye cider.


Friday, October 13, 2023

Peckham Taser Death Protest

A demonstration took place on Saturday 30th September to protest against the death of Zodoq Obatolah, a 52 year old man who died after being tasered by police in Peckham earlier this year. People marched from the Rye Hill Estate, where the man died in April apparently after falling from a balcony following being tasered. The protest ended in a rally at Peckham police station where people sat in the road to hear speeches from the United Friends and Families Campaign, which brings together people affected by the deaths at the hands of the police.  Speakers included Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean Rigg died in Brixton police station in 2008, and Germaine Phillips whose son Adrian McDonald died after being tasered by police in Staffordshire in 2014.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

La Discotheque/Bouncing Ball/Kisses/Chicago's in Peckham

La Discotheque in Soho's Wardour Street  opened in around 1961 and was perhaps the first place to use 'discotheque' as the name for a club in the English speaking world (there had been clubs of that name in Paris since the 1940s). The Soho club earned some notoriety as the 'Soho nerve centre' of 'the purple heart racket' (Times 10 June 1964) but that didn't stop it expanding with other branches opening up in  Oxford Street, Streatham High Road and Peckham High Street. 

Not sure of the source of the advert below promising 'The West End comes to Peckham' with 'the accent on Rhythm and Blues, and Twist' to 'Hi Fi Stereo featuring the famous Nite-Sounds':

This advert from Streatham News suggests that the Peckham club ('London's most fabulous dancing club') opened in June 1963 and was open every night until 2 am:

I found a memory of the club on Facebook: 'Went a fair bit when around 15... can remember Frankie Fraser selling purple hearts and black bombers from his car parked outside. Probably around 1964'.

Location is given as 'facing the Odeon cinema' wh ich was where the Job Centre now stands. I assume the club was in the same location as the later Bouncing Ball/Mr B's/Kisses/Chicago - 43 Peckham High Street. Originally built in 1890s as the Central Hall, it was originally the base for a Christian organisation, the People's League, and then housed various churches including the Church of Strangers. In the early twentieth century it also housed a cinema. After the Second World War it seems to have been an Irish social club before becoming  La Discotheque, then was known for for a while in the 1960s as the Maverick club, becoming Mr Bee's (maybe around 1970) and after that The Bouncing Ball.

Think this Bouncing Ball flyer is from 1979, mostly reggae including Delroy Wilson and lovers rock girl group Brown Sugar (with young Caron Wheeler later of Soul II Soul). Bob Marley and the Wailers are believed to have played there in 1973 though there is a story that the band refused to play on one occasion. Don Letts took Joe Strummer from The Clash to the club.

Although best remembered as a reggae club, the Bouncing Ball also hosted a regular heavy metal Monday night in the early 1980s with resident DJs The Bailey Bros - two black former Yorkshire miners (flyer below from December 1981):

Known as Kisses in the mid 1980s, regular DJs there George Power and Gordon Mac (McNamee) named their new London dance music pirate radio station after it - Kiss FM. In that period the club was closely linked to the pirate radio/soul scene - Solar Radio put on events there and LWR (London Weekend Radio) did a a live broadcast from there in 1986, shortly before the club changed ownership and was renamed La Plaza. This prompted 'Blues & Soul' (25/2/86) to  note that  "Kisses, that long time funk oasis in the hinterlands of Peckham, is no more." 

Delroy Wilson at La Plaza Nightclub, from Black Echoes, 29 August 1987

Later it became Chicago's, there's a short Channel 4 drama from 1992 called 'We the Ragamuffin'  (directed by Julian Henriques) that was filmed there and on the now demolished North Peckham Estate. For a while in the early 1990s there was a Vaders club night, featuring DJ Seduction and Grooverider among others.

In July 2000 a gunman opened fire on people queuing to get into Chicago's, injuring nine. The club closed shortly afterwards.

The building is now divided up into several units. The unit on right is currently (2024) Strong Arm Steady barber shop. Comparing with 1935 image below, that seems to have been the main entrance in to the hall.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Looking History and other walks

A couple of walks coming up in the 'Looking History' series. My walk 'Peckham Against Racism and Fascism' takes place at 11 am on Sunday October 1st and will hopefully do what it says on the tin, exploring the history of anti-racist/fascist/colonialist moments and movements in the Rye Lane area.

Before that on Sunday 24th September there's 'A Kaleidoscope Walk of the Elephant and Castle' with people being encouraged to share stories about particular places with meaning to them.

One of the best things about these kind of walks is the contributions and memories of people who turn up. On the 'Dirty Walworth' walk in July there were was a nice moment where walk guide Chris passed round some sarsaparilla, a drink taken as a health tonic for many years in that area and famously sold on East Street market and at Baldwin's herbalist/health food shop on Walworth Road. That sparked off childhood memories from somebody present who also recalled being sent by her mother to pick up orange juice from Walworth health centre which was provided free to babies - she sneaked her first taste of orange.

On that same walk as we passed Husky Studios on Amelia Street I mentioned that I'd once read in South London Press that Destiny's Child had rehearsed there prior to a performance on Top of the Pops, so Beyonce had been in Walworth.  A guy who had been a regular drinker in the nearby Tankard pub for years said that lots of people using the studio had popped into the pub in the past including John Lydon and Stevie Wonder! Somebody else chimed in with the tale of Drake being spotted in Walworth Road bagel shop. Folklore or facts? Tell me more...

I also enjoyed the Radical History Faction walk around Newington Green, one of a series around Hackney and Islington. Visiting 29 Grosvenor Avenue - home to a radical commune in the early 1970s and raided by police searching for the Angry Brigade - one person on the walk remembered visiting for anarchist meetings (there was a print shop in the basement) while somebody else lived there now. They have one final walk this season coming up around Angel/Upper Street on 15th October

I also went on the Rye Lane film locations walk on 10 September, part of the Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival. It told some of the history of the area taking in locations from recent Rye Lane movie, including a park bench on Holly Grove, the Peckham Soul shop and the indoor market.


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

South London Street Art Gallery, September 2023

Refugees Welcome - Nettleton Road SE14

Refugees Welcome - Nunhead

'Now playing Stereolab Parsec' - Station Passage SE15

'Stop lying' - Peckham

'South London is Anti-Fascist' - Peckham High Street

'Edelweiss Piraten' sticker, Nunhead (name of underground youth subculture in Nazi Germany)

Multilingual radical posters Bellenden Road SE25

'Transphobia belongs in the bin' - sticker, Brockley

'Justice for Chris Kaba', New Cross Road (shot dead by police in Streatham in September 2022)

'Black Lives Matter' - Choumert Grove Car Park, SE15

'Black Lives Still Matter' by Aliyah Art from her exhibition 'Anime through Black Eyes' at Peckham Levels (OK not actually street art, but thematically linked)

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

New Cross Gate Rainbows

Glorious double rainbow over New Cross Gate recently (26/8/23), here seen from New Cross Road:

And here from Sainsbury's car park. Failed to find any gold in the supermarket though.


Monday, August 28, 2023

Kick Out Cars in Croydon (1973) and the Croydon Libertarians

'Croydon Libertarians' were an anarchistic radical left group in the early 1970s. In 1973 they planned a 'Kick Out Cars in Croydon' action involving closing Church Street to traffic (this was more than 20 years before Reclaim the Streets tried similar tactics in Camden, Islington, Brixton and elsewhere).

The action was advertised in the anarchist paper Freedom (7/4/73, notice above) to take place on Saturday 7 April, but it seems that it actually took place the day before on Friday 6 April. Perhaps this was a cunning plan to get a step ahead of the police who were no doubt aware of the planned action. Unfortunately the police knew exactly what was going on as there was an undercover officer from the 'Special Demonstration Squad' ('spycops') infiltrating the Croydon group, known as Michael Scott. He was presumably responsible for the Special Branch report of the demo which was revealed in the ongoing Undercover Policing Inquiry:

 'On Friday 6 April 1973 at 11 am in Church Street, Croydon, a demonstration was held which was intended to alert public attention to the need for that particular road to be made into a pedestrian precinct.  It was organised and executed exclusively by members of 'Croydon Libertarians' and took the form of a length of chain being suspended across the road and secured at either end by padlocks.  In the event the road was closed for little more than five minutes and disruption of traffic was light. It was not quite clear even to the participants why it failed, especially as the event had not been publicised outside the immediate confines of those involved. The participants did not wait to see the immediate effect of their protest but disappeared, to return a short time later to find the chain so longer in position. It was therefore assumed that padlocks had not been securely fastened or that an unsensitive  lorry driver had been responsible for sabotaging the event. Police were absolved from blame as they had not been in evidence'. Plainly the attempt to close the road had been derailed as a result of the undercover police operation. The report named 5 people who took part, though their names were redacted in the report disclosed to the Inquiry.

Croydon Libertarians were one of a number of similarly named groups around the country in this period. An interesting 1989 article on this movement by Max Farrar describes their politics as follows 'What were the libertarian movements of the 1970s? In the late 1980s a clear distinction has to be made between libertarians of the left and the right. Today, the expression has been hijacked by people around Margaret Thatcher, and has been thrust into the headlines by young conservatives who champion a form of complete ‘freedom of the market’ which would include the legalislation of heroin. In the seven- ties, those of us on the far left used the term to distinguish ourselves from Leninists and Trotskyists. It ran alongside the word ‘Liberation’ in the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Gay Liberation Front; it identified us with the historical critique of authoritarianism in the conventional marxist parties but it consciously distinguished us from the antiquated and male-dominated practices of English anarchism'.

The Croydon Libertarians were up and running by 1969 when a notice in Freedom (12/7/1969) said that they were meeting on the 2nd Friday of each month. The contacts given were Laurens and Celia Otter, 35 Natal Road, Thornton Heath, CR4 8QH and Keith McCain, 1 Langmead Street, West Norwood, S.E.27. The Otters were lifelong radical peace activists - he died in 2022 aged 91 (see Guardian obituary) and she died in 2014.

The Croydon Libertarians co-operated with other radical groups locally, including Suburban Press (which the late Jamie Reid was involved in) and the White Panther Party- more to come on that.

That late 60s/early 70s political generation is getting elderly and many have passed, we would love to hear from any people involved in groups like this and the various radical community papers in South London at that time.

See previously:

White Panthers in SE2 - Abbey Wood and the 1970s counter culture

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Village charity shop, Nunhead Green

Sure, you know about the The Village, Nunhead's friendly Salvation Army charity shop and community café. But did you know it now has a whole room upstairs, full of books, DVDs, CDs and vinyl?


Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Kender Street killing

Shrine on corner of Kender St SE14 and Queens Road where 20 year old Julian Ebanks-Ford was stabbed and killed at weekend (Friday 4th August 2023), so sad.