About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Hey, Jude! Don't make us sad...

What a strange weekend in London. So many contrasts - beautiful warm sunshine on Saturday, icy wind from the east and overall cloud on Sunday. So many contrasts, and so many confrontations, as always in this curious patch of Thames-side mud. Huge dirty city-settlement, big rats abound. Little rats come out to play and are splattered, all over the streets.

We - us, me and you, the gutter-rats of this joke-metropolis – we call on some other, higher power (maybe who, or maybe what, the world president himself, Fela Kuti? Is he really dead? Bob Dylan? Yes, the old bastard really does need to come down and do some work at the grass roots.)

 But probably the other Big Bob would be more likely to act in defence of these beautiful nether parts of a once hated building. It was his music, along with that of Big Youth and Prince Far-I, blasting out of a sound system, that attracted me and hundreds of others to this unnatural, perfect amphitheatre beneath the South Bank Centre.

So, one of the Bobs, please tell Jude Kelly that it's not a good idea to turn the undercroft of the Queen Elizabeth Hall (part of the South Bank Centre, which also includes Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, BFI etc) into more coffee shops and restaurants.

Thank Bob that there's a really tough group of campaigners fighting to save this space for the people who appropriated and cultivated it, in the best traditions of the English squatting movement. Long Live Southbank are taking the great, good, publicly funded arts organisation to the courts - it's a bitter and really very sad battle, but i support them.

This whole area has played a huge part in the lives of millions of people, not just Londoners, and in any other circumstances I would be shouting at anyone trying to attack Jude Kelly and the organisation she heads. But this time,  I just can't believe  what is happening. There's no plainer example of a direct clash between the two definitions of culture - popular versus elite or corporate.

Skateboarding doens't appeal to me at all - when my son was hooked onto it, all I did was worry about the fractures. But the way they've transformed this space is something quite rare, at least in our proft and marketing-driven culture. Its more in the spirit of the Watts towers.  Yes, it is on this level -  a very fine example of a rare species - a real cultural space that has grown entirely out of the work of an almost invisible community. 20 years back this was an ignored space beneath a building that was loathed by architectural critics, neglected by its owners, and unnoticed or even feared by most of the public walking past.

Now it is the sort of spiritual home of the UK skater community, one of many loved places for this worldwide subculture.

But, largely because of its strategic position, across the Thames from  Parliament, the Savoy etc, on the site of the 1950s Festival of Britain, they that run this world are always wanting to prettify this prime plot of north Lambeth. Luckily they usually fail to agree on a plan, or they run out of money. It almost seems that this weird amalgam of 1950s optimism and 1960s concrete brutalism has a last come into its own and won some place in the affection of the arts-spending segment of the tourist population.

So, they want to change it all again.

Jude Kelly, we've never until now heard anything bad said about you. You are a modern-day artsworld Jeanne D'Arc! You fought and fought for good theatre for the people of Yorkshire, good everything for the people of south London and all London and all the arts-loving world, you deserve your OBE, etc.

The Southbank Centre works so hard, it is almost painful to criticise an organisation that has so enriched lives - well, certainly my life, what with all those Robert Wyatt and Lee Scratch Perry curated Meltdowns, etc, ecc.

My god, I was 16 when the Hayward Gallery had an exhibition of Henry Cartier Bresson photos - this chnaged me and my life.

But - that article in the Evening Standard,  7 June 2013? You say these skateboarders should  what?
Should "budge up"?

Into some space under Hungerford Bridge? Well, nothing against this Bridge, but - please excuse me - wouldn't it be more in keeping with rules of civility, etc, to build the new education and children's centres in this space "under Hungerford bridge"? After all, these kids will not remember a dearly-loved space 200m to the East.

Forget all my words, just think - if some great and revered artist, Leonardo say, or Banksy, had set up in the undercroft and painted these frescoes and a shrine had developed - would you butcher it in this way?

If the need to raise tons of money is really, really so great, why not lease out one of your concert halls to Tesco or Asda? There's not a decent supermarket within 10 minutes walk of this ghastly cultural desert!

Remember too that most of the biggest recent tourist attractions in this venal city on the Thames' mudbanks emerged from conflict and appropriation - old Covent Garden market, saved by campaigning hippies in the early 1970s. Camden Market, created by hippies in the 1960s, saved by fashion and music and art in the 1980s, now almost completely appropriated by commerce which may or may not have roots in those earlier, idealistic days. Punk rock, created by ex-hippie-capitalism in the 1970s, folded on on itself.  Virgin Airways!

Steady on, I am now arguing against myself. As usual.

 And then I look at Brick Lane!  I look at Broadway Market. I look at Brixton Market. I look at Portobello Market. I look at the sponsorship of almost everything we used to regard as anti-capitalist, by capitalists!

Jude, I understand this dilemma.

It is horrible.

But please, whatever happens to that QE Hall undercroft, don't allow Costa Coffee to have a branch there. Please!

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