About Me

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

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

An old punk and a new determination to come to terms with my neighbourhood

Main point of last post was to remind myself that, yes, truly, this thing called  the self was back in SW London, the fourth part of.

Point was rammed home on a chance listening to an interview with a man quite well-known to that London generation who were young in  1976, and even in 1974.

Man in question is one Paul Gorman,  a writer and generally well-grounded navigator of London's music scene in those deeply boggy years, 1974-78.  I always imagine he was involved all over place with likes of McLaren (the clothes and bands one) and the nameless fashion lady, the Pistols and the Clash, travelling with them on their various escapades, and other things like magazines. He was always up there at the front, on stage eve, while most of us shuffled around in the shadows.

Well, point being, this interview began with that sort of strange revelation - one that I already knew, and which still surprised. The interviewer (Robert Elms, of course - this is the podcast version of a 'Listed Londoner" interview from the BBC Radio London show) was most struck by how Gorman's latest work, a map of punk London, focused on three areas - Chelsea, Soho and Notting Hill. All west of centre. "That would't happen now…" No it wouldn't. Probably not.

The next revolution in youth culture or any sort of culture will not come from west London, nor east London. Nor London, I fear. But that's another parallel blog…..

Anyway, the thing that struck me harder was Gorman's answer to first question, what was his favourite area? The answer was a well-sprung surprise: Ealing.  It wasn't Clapham - although he did admit he had lived in this area for about 30 years, having  become "transpontine" in the early 80s…same time I did in fact. Until about four years ago, when he wisely moved back north and west.

So, odd. Not very odd, just personally odd. I've never read any of his books but I will, I liked the sound of the guy, he knew so much about things that matter to me, and he was both perceptive and modest.

I loved the way he heaped praise on the queen of suburbs, and reminded me of so many of my own childhood treks across the city, from deep south to Camborne Avenue, W13, where my old gran and my aunt lived with their corgis.

I also liked how underwhelmed he was about  Shoreditch etc ("ridiculous") while at the same time agreeing it had plenty of good things going on.

Strange that we lived in the same post-code for so long…and I do remember another acquaintance asking me, as she poured out more wine, if I knew Paul Gorman, the one from that Clash film*, who lived in Clapham?

Of course I didn't. He could have lived next door to me and listened to the same music at the same time and shopped at the same supermarket, we might have sat next to each other on the tube or met in the same evening classes in Elms Road (OK, maybe not, and btw that's Elms Rd Adult Education centre, rip, nothing to do with the erstwhile Blitz Kid), and I still might not have known him at all!

Turns out, if you read his very good blog, he was surrounded by the illuminati of the time. I knew McLaren lived in Clapham for a while, with Westwood I think, but how come I didn't realise Charlie Gillett also lived here? I became a Gillett devotee: he was that other eminence of BBC Radio, who replaced John Peel in my affections once the latter became a TOTP character. Gillett was on BBC Radio London, or GLR as it was for a while, as well as World Service. The quality channels. Late night shows featuring brilliant mix-ups of African, Jamaican, Cuban, rare groove, funk, reggae, punk, indie….you name it. This was I first heard Blue Canary by the weirdly wonderful Japanese duo, Frank Chickens, but also (I think) Suicide, Laurie Anderson and Courtney Pine.

His book - the Sound of the City - taught me most of what I know about the roots of pop.  And his GLR programmes formed my music tastes from about 1979 onwards to the late 80s…I think. He definitely got me listening to African music, beyond the Fela Kuti and Osibisa stuff I was already into. I especially remember Dudu Pukwana and District Six and the Indestructible Beat of Soweto, as well as a lot of Latin stuff, lots of reggae, jazz, the Last Poets, the beginnings of hip-hop, soca, Cuban music, and on…and on.

 I remember meeting Gillett in the middle of an edgy carnival Sunday in about 1986 and trying to tell him how much I owed him…he said something nice and melted into the crowd.

I had no idea he was living in the same borough…apparently.

Anyway…all this is by the way of saying, well it would seem I am back here now and probably for good. So it is always good to find retrospective insights into the area, and to realise that it really did have a bohemian edge, not so long ago…Just don't look too hard now.


Hats off to Mr Gorman, late of this parish, and now proud resident of the Queen of the Suburbs.

 Punk London: In The City 1975-78, Paul Gorman in collaboration with Herb Lester Associates.
Copies of the map are available at £6 each from:

* Of course my memory (or my friend) was wrong. It wasn't Gorman who was in "that" Clash film (Rude Boy) but another character out of that blurry punk past, Ray Gange. A very different kettle of fish….? Or maybe not so different…he's still kicking as well, it seems. Read this interview, it's excellent. I have no idea if Gange ever lived in Clapham (why should he have? He seems to suggest a Brixton childhood, though) ...but wouldn't it be odd if he had?

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