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

Monday, 4 November 2013

Battersea visions: digging deep into BAC's amazing past

Allen Ginsberg appears at Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11, in November 1981.
Just £1.10 to see the late, legendary beat poet Allen
Ginsberg and friends at the Battersea Arts Centre
 in 1981. It was a great night - so why has
it taken me 33 years to go back?
It took a visit to the Battersea Arts Centre on Lavender Hill to really nail the fact that Battersea is a more fascinating, historically rich and surprising place than any of the surrounding boroughs, and that the BAC itself is the pearl in this particularly gnarled oyster of a south London suburb.

Not that that would be too difficult - the surroundings comprise the high-yup suburbia of Clapham, Wandsworth and Putney. Battersea was always more extreme than these places, even though it has had more than its share of gentrification since the early 1980s.

Was at BAC for - of all things - a pilates class, arrived too early, checked out a tiny exhibition on 120 years of the Battersea Town Hall building which it now occupies. Displays of old leaflets and programmes in the glass-fronted frames around the room, covering the anti-closure campaigns of the 70s, through beat and punk poetry of the 70s-80s and the radical fringe theatre of the 80s and 90s.

But the real shocker for me was to discover that the Allen Ginsberg event I went to happened in 1981. That was four years before I moved to this area, I was living either in Dalston or in Croydon - both quite a hike from Lavender Hill.

The bigger, more shaming shock here was the realisation that I have only been back for one performance since - and that was a children's film club in 1992, when my son was 3, a Saturday morning screening of  old Disney cartoons.

Why was I not at BAC for all those groundbreaking performances and plays? From John Cooper Clark in 1978 to the amazing theatricals of the 1990s, I missed them all, even though - once I'd moved to Clapham - they were only a 10-minute walk away.


Still, I did enjoy the bar occasionally. Memo to self - make up for this by going to BAC regularly.

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