Monday, March 19, 2018

Folk in the Woods (and at the White Hart SE14)

I hope the weather warms up for next weekend in time for the free Woodland Folk Music Festival on Saturday 24th March 2018, 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm in Brockley Nature Reserve, Vesta Road, SE4 2NT. The event, that is part of the Telegraph Hill Festival, features the South East London Folk Orchestra, Grande Scheme and The Flatfoot Boys.

Also definitely worth checking out is the Irish traditional session in the White Hart on New Cross Road, held every Sunday from 2:00 - 4:00 pm I believe. I caught it a couple of weeks ago and there was some great musicianship.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Strike and Corruption at New Cross Steam Engine Factory

Bunnett and Corpe was a 19th century engineering firm with a factory in New Cross Road. The Post Office London Directory, 1843, described them as 'engineers and patentees of the concentric steam engine, and of revolving iron shutters' with an office at 26 Lombard Street and factory in New Cross.

In 1865 there was a strike at the factory, as recorded in the Kentish Mercury (18 November 1865)

'It is with regret that we record that a “strike" has taken place in the well-known, and for very many years past, well conducted firm (now a limited liability company) of Messrs. Bunnett and Corpe, New Cross Road. Under the new management, a certain code of rules has been adopted, hitherto unknown at the works (although in vogue at a neighbouring firm), and which rules were felt to be repugnant to and subversive of the interests of the workmen, the principal objection to which is that any defect in the work done is to be made good out of the wages of the person employed. A general meeting of the men employed was held on Tuesday, at which the new roles were generally condemned, and as the company refuses to yield as regards the points in dispute, a “turn out” has taken place, and some 150 workmen remain idle'. 
Interestingly a decade before, the firm's foreman at the New Cross Road factory was accused of a fraud that involved him personally pocketing deductions from workers' wages. John William Stuart had been working there for 18 years for at least 12 of which he had been on the make. It seems he was in control of the firm's payroll, and received a sum each week to pay the workers at their full wage. But many of the workers had payments deducted for stoppages. So with some creative bookkeeping he was able to siphon of the difference between what the 200-300 workers were actually paid, and the wage budget provided by the company. No doubt this also gave him an incentive as manager to maximise the deductions from worker's wages. On top of that he actually paid the workers a lower wage than he was declaring to the company owners.

Illustrated London News, 22 November 1856
He was also said to have 'been in the habit ofemploying the men and material of the firm in the construction of lathes, &c., and disposing of them for his own individual benefit. The most heartless portion of the fraud, however, is the receipt by Stuart of a sovereign from Mr. Bunnett for an injured carman, which was never paid ove. A search warrant having been obtained, the police proceeded to Stuart's residence, 4, Amersham-road, New-cross, and brought away half a cart load of property (recognised by Mr. Bunnett as belonging to him), consisting of house chandeliers, gas lamps, corrugated iron ornamental articles (including two aquaria well stocked with fish), manufactured from the material of his employers, with which the house was decorated.(London Morning Post, Tuesday, November 18, 1856).

Bunnett and Corpe  was one of a number of engineering firms which flourished in the area in this period. As described by  Geoffrey Crossick in 'An Artisan Elite in Victorian Society: Kentish London 1840-1880' (though I think it is may be aerror that he names the firm as Bunnett and Forbes in this section):

Source: Google Books

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Music in Telegraph Hill Festival 2018

There's already been lots of music in this year's Telegraph Hill Festival, not least last weekend's community production of West Side Story with an all ages cast of 250 and some fantastic singing from the leads including Lucinda Freeburn (playing Maria) and Xavier Starr (playing Tony) - pictured below.

More music to come including:

Friday March 17th

The Commie Faggots and The Four Fathers

'The Commie Faggots and The Four Fathers return to The Telegraph for a night of marvellous music, mayhem and singalong fun. Frustrated by Brexit? Furious with Boris? Singing about it makes you feel so much better! Both political protest bands have had a busy year, appearing together in front of a lorry at The Arms Fair Blockade and a Housing Benefit Gig at The Birds Nest. The Faggots bring anarchic, cross-dressing comedy and cabaret to the political party. The Fathers vent their spleen through punky, folky reggae and rock'

The Telegraph, Dennett’s Road, SE14 5LW, 8:00-10:00pm

Saturday March 18th

BRÅK #6 – An Evening of Improvised Music

BRÅK is a regular improvised music night which takes place in Telegraph Hill beer shop waterintobeer, where local improvisers Cath Roberts, Colin Webster and Tom Ward pair with musicians from around the country to create spontaneous compositions. March’s evening is the sixth in the series and features the following pairings: Cath Roberts & Seth Bennett/Tom Ward & John Macedo/Colin Webster & David Birchall

waterintobeer Unit 2, Mantle Court, 209-211 Mantle Road, SE4 2EW, 6:30-10:00pm, £5

St Patrick’s Day at Skehans

Pop along during the day for a free bowl of Irish Stew with Soda Bread (while stocks last). From 9pm The Clarkes will rock the joint in their customary style. It’s going to be a good day, and a lovely evening. Please join us.

Skehans, Kitto Road, 8 pm - FREE
Telegraph Hill Sings

An evening of local choirs singing everything from pop to gospel, jazz to protest songs, and classics to soul standards. Participating choirs include The Hasty Nymphs, Trade Winds,  Nunhead Community Choir and Highfield Community Choir

St Catherine’s Church, Doors open at 7:30pm), 8:00-10:00pm £6 (£3)

Wednesday March 21st

Sonic Imperfections

'Sonic Imperfections returns to The Telegraph Hill Festival with another line up of stunning musicians working in the experimental area.

Charles Hayward - This local boy needs no introduction, An endlessly inventive musician who has spent decades at the forefront of the cutting edge music scene. There are simply too many songs, groups, recordings, gigs to mention. This will be a truly special performance.
Extext - Renowned Harpist Serafina Steer and singer Catherine Carter bring their improvised Operetta to The Telegraph Hill festival.

Rotten Bliss - Cellist Jasmine Pender plays a unique brand of darkly brooding weird-folk and drones. It is our absolute pleasure to welcome her to The Telegraph Hill Festival.
Nostalgia Blocks - Mark Browne (Reeds and Percussion) is one of the most striking improvising musicians working today. Richard Sanderson is fast becoming one of the most influential people in the South East's experimental music scene. A record label owner, a promoter and a musician. Tonight he plays Amplified Melodeon and Electronics in a duo with Mark. Two musicians at the top of their game, expect 100% commitment, invention and a few surprises'.

St Catherine's Church, £8/£4.

Friday March 23rd

The Collective – Local Record Label Error 343 & Friends

'Come listen to the collective which includes record Label Error 343, The Vintage Group, Blakie & Cellar Door amongst others talk about how they are forging their way into the music industry. From the DIY route and the infamous Shed Studio hear all about the label and its first Album Release, to touring and Music Video making and the sheer dedication and determination to follow their creative passion. This event will include visuals and headphone listening on three channels, as well as a chance to get those burning questions answered'

The Hill Station, 8:00-10:30pm £3

Punk Rock Karaoke at The Five Bells

'Back again, but this time at The Five Bells, punk vagabonds My Midlife Crisis provide the adrenalin charged accompaniment for any budding delinquent troubadours.  Join our Punk Rock Karaoke page on Facebook to view latest news and choose your song in advance of the night'

The Five Bells, New Cross Road, SE14 5DJ, 8:30-11:30pm £5 (Venue until 2:00am)

Tickets for events and further details at:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Plague of Toads on Telegraph Hill?

Walking up Kitto Road SE14 last night, alongside Telegraph Hill upper park, I saw a toad. Then a few metres along another one, and then another. In fact I saw five toads in procession all on the pavement heading up hill in the direction of St Catherine's hurch, where people were queuing to watch the community production of West Side Story. Whether the toads were Sondheim fans or just migrating from one pond to another I cannot say. There is of course a big pond in the lower park, but they would have to make a perilous road crossing to get there. According to Froglife: 'Common Toads are very particular about where they breed and often migrate back to their ancestral breeding ponds each year. They follow the same route, regardless of what gets in their way, which sometimes leads to them crossing roads'. In some parts of the country volunteers have arranged toad patrols to help them cross the road, and I gather that this has sometimes happened here on Kitto Road.

Must admit I did post on twitter that they were frogs, but people there were quick to correct me so unless some amphibian expert tells me otherwise I am going with the Common Toad.

(Just to be clear I love toads and frogs, the reference to 'plague' was a biblical allusion as they were churchbound, not a negative comment!)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Telegraph Hill Festival 2018: The Lost Island of New Cross & other local history events.

The 2018 Telegraph Hill Festival kicks off today (Saturday 10th March) with the first of the sold out community performances of West Side Story. Between now and 25th March, there's lots of artistic, musical and other cultural events taking place in this corner of SE14 (well and a bit of SE4). You can check out the full programme here

On the local history front, John Price from Goldsmiths has already done a couple of walks today - one a New Cross radical history walk, and the other Deptford walk based around Charles Booth's description of the area in 1899. He will be repeating these two walks next Sunday 18th March - book your place at

Tomorrow - Sunday 11th March - Malcom Bacchus will be leading a Telegraph Hill Walk from 11 am to 12:30 pm, meeting in St Catherine’s Churchyard for  'A stroll around the core of Telegraph Hill, looking at our architecture and galloping through some of the history' (free

Then at 2 pm Malcolm will be venturing further afield into New Cross with a walk exploring the history of its residents and buildings, meeting outside Haberdashers’ Aske’s at the bottom of Jerningham Road  (no need to book for either of these walks)l

On Tuesday 13th March at the Hill Station, Kitto Road SE14 (next to church), Neil Gordon-Orr will be talking on the 'Lost island of New Cross Road':

'The junction by the White Hart pub, London SE14 marks the divergence of two ancient trackways – now known as Queens Road and the New Cross/Old Kent Road. Major currents of London history, literature and mythology have swirled around it. It has been the location of a tollgate, and before it vanished beneath the waves of the A2 in 2010, of a traffic island whose toilets were both a grandiose example of Victorian public architecture and a place for illicit encounters. The lost island witnessed bombs, political protests and dreams of a New Cross pirate republic. All of this and more will be covered in Neil Gordon-Orr’s talk, illustrated with maps and photographs. Tickets (£2) need to be booked in advance here:

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Strike at Goldsmiths

I've been down to the picket line at Goldsmiths in New Cross a couple of times in the last week to show support to the striking lecturers and other college staff. They have been taking part in a national strike which will continue next week unless there is some movement from employers in the next few days over their threats to reduce pensions.

'We are taking strike action to defend our right to a fair pension. University employers want to end guaranteed pensions and reduce retirement income for all. University staff have always accepted pay levels that are lower than comparably skilled professions, partly because we had a decent pension. Now our right to a well-earned retirement is under attack.

What employers' hardline proposals would mean:

Final pensions would depend on how the stock market performs not on contributions.

A reduction in retirement benefits by between 20% and 40% depending on grade and length of service. A typical lecturer stands to lose around £10,000 a year

The worst pensions in the education sector, far worse than those available to both school teachers and staff in 'new' universities

A recruitment and retention crisis as staff seek better financial security elsewhere'.

The strike at Goldsmiths have been well supported, with talks and appearances from Paul Mason, Dawn Foster, Gary Younge and others, performance art from students and lots more. Follow Goldsmiths UCU on twitter for details.

'Against the slow cancellation of our future'

Women's Suffrage Talk at Lewisham Library

Coming up this Saturday 10th March 2018 at Lewisham Library (199 Lewisham High Street
Se13 6lg), 'It’s not all about the suffragettes'.

The free event, which runs from 10 am to 12 noon, .will feature  Dr Claire Eustance  discussing some of the women – and men – with connections to Lewisham and the wider local area who challenged inequality in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Claire is a historian and lecturer at the University of Greenwich who has researched and published on the women's suffrage campaign

Previous women's suffrage posts at Transpontine:

Lewisham Suffragette Banner

See also some great related posts at Running Past

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lewisham Swift Talk

Tomorrow night (Thursday 22 February) at Lewisham Town Hall there's a free talk by swift expert Edward Mayer about swifts and enhancing urban biodiversity, including what can be done locally to create swift-friendly environments.  The event is courtesy of Forest Hill & Lewisham Borough Swift Group in partnership with Swift Conservation and Lewisham  Council (free tickets here)

Personally the very fact that there is such a thing as group of people locally focused on this fine bird gives me a good feeling.  Swifts make a mockery of our human borders, migrating freely between Africa and Europe. Watching them in the west country TIm Dee observed: 'To watch their combing of the matted air is soothing. They don’t seem to be feeding, they don’t seem to be on their way anywhere; they are at rest in motion. They have flown from Bristol to Southern Africa and back to Bristol without touching anything, carrying nothing, never perching, never landing, never tired' (The Running Sky).

They also fly at incredible speed: 'The highest migration speed recorded for swifts over a long distance is (a plainly wind assisted) 650 km (404 miles) per day… Measured by tracking radar, the flight speed of swifts on spring migration was 10.6 m (35 feet) per second, which, if maintained over 24 hours, would be 916 km (569 miles) per day. The fastest human runner, Usain Bolt, clocked 12.4 m (41 feet) per second' - but of course he only kept this up over 100m! (Charles A Foster, Being a Beast).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Funeral Farewell to New Cross Post Office

Protestors gathered in the rain on Saturday 10th February for a funereal farewell to the New Cross Post Office, due to close this week and be replaced by a counter within a local convenience store.

From the Press Release:

'From 15 February, New Cross Gate post office services will be run as part of a One Stop shop nearby. New Cross Gate Crown post office is the third London Crown post office to be axed under plans unveiled last year to sell off a total of twelve Crown post offices. Earlier this week campaigners and councillors went to Downing Street to hand in a petition against the closure signed by 3,000 people.

Kirsten Downer, local campaigner said: “We’re concerned about this downgrading of services. There will be fewer counters in the new shop, and vulnerable people will have to queue past lottery tickets and alcohol. There are no guarantees of a long term service under a private provider – up the road in Deptford post office services are in the back of a shop which has since closed, and it looks like a junk shop. How can it be right that the Post Office, a government company with a duty to act in the public interest, can pay its CEO £600,000 while lecturing local communities about the need to cut costs?”'

Among other things, there will be a loss of the free cashpoint at the post office, compounding the previous loss of cashpoint at the adjacent ex-Barclays Bank.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Elvis Costello at Deptford Albany with Squeeze

In August 1980, Jools Holland played his last gig as keyboardist with Squeeze at The Albany in Deptford. In fact they played three nights at the venue (12,13,14 August), a deliberate return to their roots at a time when they were riding high commercially and selling out much bigger venues than this one, which Danny Baker characterised in his NME review of the gig (reproduced at Elvis Costello Wiki) as follows:

'For those — and there are some — who've never been to the Albany Empire and are ignorant to the venue's overwhelming size, maybe the following local joke will illuminate: a fella goes to the Albany and opens the door. "Can I come in?" he asks, and the bloke behind the desk says, "Only if I come out." (NME, 23 August 1980). This was in the Albany's original location on Creek Road - badly damaged by fire in a suspected right wing petrol bomb attack  in 1978, it was in limited use until new building was built in Douglas Way in 1981 (see here for picture of new building under construction).

The gigs featured support acts including Alexi Sayle, John Cooper Clarke and 'mystery' act  'Otis Westinghouse And The Lifts' who were in fact Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Elvis Costello also joined Squeeze for their encores (pictured below):

Review from Smash Hits, 4 September 1980

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Aladdin's Cave demolition threat

From the Murky Depths reports that a planning application has been submitted to build flats on the site of the Aladdin's Cave' second hand shop.  (72 Loampit Hill SE13).

The streetscape would never be the same without its assortment of statues and furniture, but the locally-listed building is a rare slice of vanishing  railway history. It was once a railway station on the lost Greenwich Park line (1871-1917) which ran between Nunhead and Greenwich Park, via Lewisham Road and Blackheath Hill.

View from the railway line, from Abandoned Stations (2003)

Image of proposed flats

You can read the planning application here. The Heritage statement has lots of information about the history of the site, even if this developer funded document unsurprizingly concludes that there's nothing worth saving...

[insert your own rant about blandification of London and the squeezing out of quirky,  'marginal' spaces by identikit developments]

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Save New Cross Gate Post Office picket on Saturday

The Post Office's Valentine's gift to New Cross is its plan to close the Post Office at 199 New Cross Road on 14 February 2018. Some Post Office services will be available instead as franchise at the back of local convenience store One Stop, but the loss of a busy dedicated Post Office has been widely criticised locally and there must be fears that the adjacent sorting office is also under threat. There are no plans for a free cashpoint/ATM at One Stop, unlike at the current Post Office, and with the Barclays Bank next door with its cashpoint also closed down,  this is another loss of a local amenity.

The  Defend New Cross Gate Crown Post Office campaign has called for a last ditch picket of the Post Office this Saturday 20 January from  9:30 AM - 11:30 AM .

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mark Fisher remembered at Goldsmiths

It is a year now since the sad death of  Mark Fisher, writer, critical thoughtist and lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths in New Cross. I remenber seeing him talk there around the time his best known work, Capitalist Realism, was published. Personally I was most fond of his work on K-punk blog (and then Dissensus forum) in the early/mid noughties when Fisher was at the forefront of a wave of thinking and talking about music and politics in the post-rave/early dubstep era.

On Friday 19th January the always interesting Kodwo Eshun will be giving the first annual Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture from 6:00pm - 8:00pm in the Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Whitehead Building at Goldsmiths. No need to book, just turn up - full details here.

Quote from Mark Fisher on wall of  Margaret MacMillan building at Goldsmiths on Dixon Road SE14: “Emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable”

Monday, January 01, 2018

Music Monday: A View from a Hill - sounds from Telegraph Hill, Point Hill, Catford, Dulwich and beyond

Hither Green-based experimental/improvisational label Linear Obsessional Recordings has released its annual compilation album. 'A View from a Hill', released on Christmas Eve 2017, includes more than 100 artists from across the world each contributing two minute tracks. It was compiled by David Little, who records as smallhaus. Several of the tracks feature field recordings at South London locations, including the following:

Catford Gyrations - Bandstand
'The track was based around a recording I made while stood under the bandstand in Mountsfield Park, London SE6 – this also happens situated directly under a flight path, but despite the roaring jet planes, I still managed to capture some birdsong and barking dogs.I've also added some guitar, a Farfisa organ and a little bit of brass and Woodwind'

Alison Henning - A View from Point Hill
'Beautiful morning, rise and fall of piccolo sounds inspired by the A2, flight paths, Greenwich below and the early birds'.

Neil Gordon-Orr - Boney on the Hill
'Sound recording December 2017: Telegraph Hill Park, formerly Plow'd Garlick Hill, site of Telegraph during Napoleonic Wars; list of stations on the Admiralty shutter telegraph line (1795–1816), used to send messages between the Channel (Deal) and London; treated mandolin, 'Boney was a Warrior'

Z.AvTes – Le Scelte
'Written by Zuleika AvTes in London, December 2017. Original field recordings: Recorded at West Norwood Cemetery and Dulwich Park. Z.AvTes plays in Glass Isle and lives in South East London'.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Dennis Bovell - Lovers Rock as 1970s X-Factor

Earlier this month, Dennis Bovell was made an Honorary Fellow at Goldsmiths, a recognition of his contribution to music and his links to the South East London area. Bovell is probably best known for his many reggae/dub productions, including producing Linton Kwesi Johnson, helping to establish the Lovers Rock genre (including writing Silly Games for Janet Kay)  and being a member of Matumbi.  But he also had a key role in the punk/post-punk period, producing The Slits and The Pop Group among others.

Bovell wrote the film score for the film Babylon (1980), which as discussed here before was filmed in SE London. Earlier this year he devoted his Soho Radio show to music from the film in dicussion with Les Back from Goldsmiths, prompted by the death of the film's director Franco Rosso.

Much of Bovell's work in the late 1970s was recorded at Dennis Harris's Eve Records studio at 13 Upper Brockley Road, SE4, the base too for Harris's Lovers Rock label. In the Soho Radio show, Bovell recalls 1970s auditions here:

'we used to have an audition every Sunday afternoon after 3 pm. There was a programme on BBC London called Reggae Time and that was presented by a man called Steve Barnard, it was the only chance of listening to reggae for two hours on  the BBC, and so directly after that we'd hold our auditions. We'd get him to say if you want to audition get down to Eve Studios in Brockley and
one day came three girls that became Brown Sugar and Caron Wheeler was one of them, and so was Kofi and of course Pauline Catlin who now goes under the name of Shezekiel (and her son Aaron Soul, big talent). This is where the youngsters of South East London came to audition- this was the X Factor!'

(Brown Sugar's debut single 'I'm in Love with a Dreadlocks' was released on the Lovers Rock label in 1977).

Les Back abd Dennis Bovell at recent Goldsmiths Graduation Ceremony

Check out Dennis Bovell's recent A to Z compilation at his bandcamp site

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Snow on Nunhead Scouts Memorial

Snow in Nunhead Cemetery today, here on the scouts memorial. This is the burial place of eight boy scouts aged 11 to 14 from the 2nd Walworth troop who were drowned on 3 August 1912 when their boat capsized at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey. Among those who survived was Edward Beckham, great grandfather of footballer David Beckham. His brother William, aged 12, was amongst the dead.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Rick Gibson - a police spy in 1970s South East London Troops Out Movement

The latest undercover police spy in radical movements to be profiled by Undercover Research is 'Rick Gibson' (not his real name), who infiltrated Irish solidarity and other groups in South East London in the 1970s.

'Gibson' was actually unmasked at the time after activists discovered that he was using the identity of a dead child (a common tactic), and seems to have been pulled out by his superiors after being confronted with evidence. The case is now being looked at again in the context of the official Undercover Policing Enquiry.

A genuine activist from this time,  Richard Chessum (who lived in Burrage Road SE18 in this period), had helped set up a South East  London branch of the Troops Out Movement  in 1974, a campaign which called for British withdrawal from the north of Ireland. Chessum recalls:

'At the time I was a student politically active in Goldsmiths. I had in fact been a candidate for President of the Students Union. I had also been involved in a previous organisation campaigning on Northern Ireland, the Anti Internment League. In this latter capacity I had been one of the main organisers of a march to Woolwich Barracks protesting against internment without trial and had been the person negotiating the route with the police. I therefore had a high profile, which I think may have made me of interest'.

He was joined in the SE London branch of TOM, which held most of its meetings at Charlton House, by someone who called himself 'Rick Gibson'. By making himself useful and avoiding some of the sectarian infighting from rival left wing groups, Gibson became secretary of SE London TOM in 1975, going on to become London organiser then one of two national secretaries in 1976 - a position that would have given him  possession of the names and addresses of all members across the country. He also triend to join the revolutionary group Big Flame, but they were suspicious and it was their checks that led to him being exposed. 

1975 Troops Out poster

Like several other exposed spycops, 'Rick Gibson' was in relationships with women while undercover who would surely not have consented to them if they had known the position. According to Undercover Research, he was 'in four relationships that we know of. The first longer-term relationships were with two women Richard knew, and active in the Troops Out Movement South East London Branch. The women were friends sharing a flat, and active as students at Goldsmiths College. After Chessum found out that Gibson had disappeared, he visited them. Without having heard of the investigation, they told him they had figured out between them that Gibson had to be a policeman. They had no evidence, but had decided this was the only explanation for his behaviour - always leaving before the morning, never visiting at weekends - which suggested he was going home to a wife and family'.

Incidentally part of Gibson's cover story was that  he  said he had signed on as an evening student at Goldsmiths to learn Portuguese - at that time Goldsmiths had an extensive adult education programme.

Reflections of a later Troops Out Movement member:

We asked a former South London TOM activist for some thoughts about this:

'Hearing about this episode has made me reflect on my own time in the South London branch of the Troops Out Movement in the early 1990s, which met at a community centre by the Elephant and Castle (in Rodney Place if I recall correctly). Arguably it was a less dangerous time to be involved in Irish politics than in the 1970s, with the peace process unfolding towards the first IRA ceasefire in 1994. But there were still some terrible events occurring, like the murder of 6 people watching the World Cup in a pub in Loughinisland in June '94, carried out by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force. The Troops Out Movement argued at the time that members of the police and secret services were colluding with loyalists in such attacks, something that has since been confirmed by official inquiries.

We had no doubt therefore that anything to do with Irish politics in London, as elsewhere, would be the focus of state surveillance. We simply assumed that there would be infiltrators in our midst, that went with the territory. I remember there was at least one guy who completely fitted what we now know to be the spycop profile - drove a van, very cagey about their address, no obvious previous political involvement  - who we used to joke about being a cop even then (but of course maybe he wasn't). We didn't spend too much time worrying about it, partly because organisations that obsessed about uncovering spies usually descended into recriminations and sometimes misplaced allegations, and partly because there wasn't actually anything much to hide - just a lot of usually quite dull meetings and the hard slog of leafleting and lobbying. Troops Out was close to Sinn Fein, and through our annual delegation to Belfast many of us had friends in the Irish republican community (one member of South London TOM, who I remember used to live on Kinglake Estate, is now a Sinn Fein councillor in Dublin). No doubt these connections were of interest, though knowing what we now know about the extent of infiltration of the republican movment too I am sure they didn't find much of interest from infiltrating TOM. I think there was just a massive security services industry that was all over anything that moved to do with the north of Ireland whether or not it was involved in anything illegal, which TOM definitely wasn't.  

I guess police spies exploit the positive human tendency to want to think the best of people and include people who seem a bit out of their depth. People need to be wary, but not to create a  cold, calculating, hostile political culture where everyone is constantly suspecting everyone else. When people are exposed, you can't help but get caught up in the human drama of these situations and wonder whether, amidst all the subterfuge, loyalties and sympathies were ever blurred; whether there were ever any moments that could pass for genuine friendship. I have friends who went to gigs and festivals away from pollitics with people now known to be undercover cops. Maybe the shared musical taste was real, maybe it was all a cover story - this kind of thing messes with your sense of memory and self. But we shouldn't lose sight of the real damage done by mixing up policing, politics and personal relationships - particularly where sexual relationships and even children are involved. The damage was mainly inflicted on the activists who were deliberately deceived, but it's clear that many of the police involved have also been left pretty screwed up in the long term. No doubt much more of this will be heard as the Undercover Policing unfolds, even if the early signs are that much will be still be swept under the carpet'.

Update, February 2018: 'Mary', one of the women Gibson was involved with metioned above, has given a statement to the Undercover Policing Inquiry:

'From September 1972 to July 1975 I was enrolled on a teacher training course in the Education Department at Goldsmith College. I was politically active in the student movement and a member of the Socialist Society. After I finished my course, I remained in my flat and active around student politics for another year.

The first time I met Rick Gibson was at Goldsmith College when he approached me while I was distributing political literature. He came up to me and showed an interest in our political campaign.

I rented a flat that I shared with another Goldsmith student who was also politically active. I was involved in various campaigns and student solidarity work. My flatmate was active in the Troops Out Movement. Rick Gibson befriended her as well, socialising and talking politics. Due to the fact that the flat had a landline, lots of organising was happening from our flat. I often hosted meetings of the International Marxist Group (IMG) branch in my flat. Various people with leading positions in the organisation would visit. Rick Gibson very quickly became a frequent visitor to the flat to see me and my  flatmate to coordinate TOM publicity and planning - as well as for socialising and conversation... 

At one point while he was still a regular visitor, Rick Gibson and I became sexually intimate for a short period of time...  I feel very used by him, and by the state, invading my privacy and my body. I do onder how many other people he has deceived and hurt over time... In  the public interest, I think we are entitled to know who he was and to what extend he was operating on instruction from senior figures in the police of the government of the time. Was he acting on his own initiative? If so, what steps will be taken to hold his senior police officers who sanctioned this activity? If senior civil servants of previous government ministers sanctioned this, or knew about these activities they also need to be held accountable'.

see previously:

Jim Sutton - undercover in East Dulwich

May Day 2001 - a police spy at the Elephant and Castle

Undercover - police spies in South London (including their sometime Camberwell HQ)

Undercover with the Millwall Bushwackers

A police informer in Lewisham during the 1926 General Strike

Monday, December 04, 2017

Music Monday: Down on Deptford Creek by The Alan Tyler Show

Alan Tyler was the lead singer of The Rockingbirds, who in their early 1990s indie/country rock hey day put out a couple of albumns and a series of singles and EPs on Heavenly then Cooking Vinyl records.

A couple of years ago the Alan Tyler Show recorded their song 'Down on Deptford Creek':

The water’s rising with the tide
That comes in twice a day
The city streets are always near
But now we drift away

From muddy beds we’re lifted up
In boats that crack and creak
It’s time to strain the ropes again
Down on Deptford Creek

And though the wind is blowing low
And though my light is weak
I’ll see a moving picture show
Down on Deptford Creek

And when the tide begins to turn
And go back to the sea
A mossy wall shows velvet green
That used to be the quay

Where bigger boats had once come to
When Ha’penny Bridge was raised
Unloading cargo from afar
Back in the older days

Below the rumbling dockland train
Down in the waters bleak
I see the ages ebb and flow
Down on Deptford Creek

And when the sea has left the scene
It leaves a shallow flow
Where duck and wader, gull and grebe
And heron come and go

To pick among the rank remains
For filthy foraged fare
In tangled twine a Christmas tree
A broken office chair

Up on a rung my fisher-king
Above the sea-birds’ shriek
Surveys the silver in the stream
That swims in Deptford Creek

A flash of blue, a dip, a dive
A tiddler’s in its beak
I hope that I’ll see you again
Down on Deptford Creek
I hope that I’ll see you again
Down on Deptford Creek

from The Alan Tyler Show, released March 17, 2015
Words and music by Alan Tyler (published by Bucks Music

Definitely one more for the South London aongbook

Friday, December 01, 2017

The Walworth Beauty

The Walworth Beauty (2017) by Michele Roberts is a novel featuring two entwined stories set in the same area of south London over a 160 year period. One thread concerns a man working for Henry Mayhew carrying out research into the lives of prostitutes in the early 1850s. Unknowingly retracing some of his steps in 2011 is a recently redundant lecturer who has moved to Walworth.

The novel is partly a reflection on what has changed and what has not changed over this period of time and also on how the ghosts of the past haunt the present both figuratively and perhaps sometimes literally.

The precise setting is a fictional Apricot Place (described as being near to John Ruskin Street) where the Lecturer now lives and where in the 1850s another key character, Mrs Dulcimer, runs a home for young women with secrets: a black woman who when questioned about where she is from replies 'from Deptford, Mr Benson. My family roots in London go back generations. Further than yours perhaps'.

Walking into town, Madelyn in the 21st-century is aware of her predecessors:

'Walworth Road felt sleepy, some shops still shuttered, a few people about. The scent of warm spice, yeast and sugar drifted out of the Caribbean bakery. The newsagent’s door swung open and shut. She plunged westwards, through cramped backstreets of 19th century artisans dwellings each with its little bootscraper on the pavement just outside the front door. She headed towards the Imperial War Museum rearing in the distance. The tap of a boot on paving stones; the flying ribbons on a bonnet. Women walked out of the pages of books and accompanied her. Mary Wollstonecraft, briefly domiciled, as a young woman, in Walworth, fretting about what to do with her life’. The Elephant and Castle roundabout and East Street market (or East Lane as commonly known and referred to in the book) are among the other locations that figure.

With concerns like these it is perhaps no wonder that the novel features a description of a Halloween Crossbones gathering which presumably the author must have witnessed, as it is very accurate (and I am sure Crossbones MC John Crow/Constable didn't mind the description of him!):

'A small crowd, 40 or so strong, has gathered, spread along the strip of pavement in front of the fence sealing off the ancient burial ground. The wind rustles the ribbons and strings of beads laced to the wire barrier, the bunches of dried flowers, the gilt streamers. People cup lit candles in their gloved hands. A few children jig from foot to foot. A musician in a striped woollen cap strums a guitar...

The fence separating off the burial ground in Redcross Way purports to divide the living and the dead. Does it? Perhaps the dark air on either side teems and flickers with spirits… A man in a brown tweed coat steps forward from the group of women bunched near the stone Madonna. Clear eyed; open face; his attention focused like a beam of light on his listeners… A shaman with golden wings he seems, beating through smoky air, wielding the sword of dissent; slashing through hypocrisy, praising prostitutes, his beautiful, misunderstood sisters.…The poet–priest drops his arms, turns back into an ordinary man, merry and sexy, full of jokes and cheek'.

Michele Roberts moved to South London in the 1970s, living in a semi-commune in Talfourd Road SE15, something she has written about previously and which I might get round to posting about another time.

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: