The other week Earls Court Area Action Group laid on a colourful Victorian themed to protest against the planned destruction of Empress Place and two adjacent pubs. Thankfully the Prince of Wales pub has been given ACV listing which should give it some protection but the architecturally and culturally important street of terraced housing in Empress Place is under serious threat. I went along with my camera to make a record of events and help spread the word.
25th March (which happened to be Good Friday) marked the first anniversary of the opening of the Trew Era Cafe so it seemed like a good time to meet up with some of the residents on the New Era Estate in Hoxton plus Russell Brand, to get an update on their situation.
There was so much widespread support for the campaign to save the New Era that I’m often asked how things are going now for the residents once the estate was bought by Dolphin Living. By all accounts everything is working out well with the new landlords and the spirit of the New Era Estate is as strong as ever.
There’s a great message for everybody from the residents in the video above – stick together and never give up.
It was just over a year ago that I visited Denmark Street with Tim Arnold of the Save Soho campaign. Tim was giving me a tour of venues under threat and those that still give live music a home in the West End. We decided to start outside the 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street – a venue Tim had played many times. As I started filming we noticed crates and boxes leaving the building in a steady stream – the 12 Bar Club had hosted its final gig in Tin Pan Alley, forced out by the Crossrail sponsored destruction of this corner of Central London.
When I met Henry Scott-Irvine of the Save Denmark Street campaign outside the boarded up venue last month, news had just filtered through that the 12 Bar had just closed its doors again at its new home on Holloway Road. As Henry put it – music needs a hub, Denmark Street/ Tin Pan Alley was the beating heart of London’s live music community and when that heart is damaged you can’t expect things to survive out along the arteries (I’m paraphrasing but Henry explains it more eloquently in the video above).
Superficially for now Denmark Street retains the guitar shops and a couple of venues. This is undoubtedly a good thing, particularly when you consider the way that the iconic Astoria was brutally erased from the map with a few swings of a wrecking ball (I couldn’t think of a Miley Cyrus gag there but insert your own).
Andre in Hanks Guitar Shop was upbeat about the situation – thinking that the surrounding developments could bring new trade to the street and lead to a revival of the shops and venues. Although he did sound a note of caution that the developers – who are also the landlords – needed to keep the rents at realistic levels for the traders in Tin Pan Alley. The various music industry offices occupying the upper floors of this historic 17th Century street have already been forced out – gone are the music publishers and agents who brought the music to Denmark Street in the early 20th Century – who invented the music press and the pop charts, then the pop stars and punk rock.
Good news arrived this week that the house where the Sex Pistols lived and daubed graffiti on the walls has been given a Grade II listing. Finally official heritage recognition for at least one chapter of this richly storied thoroughfare. Henry would like to see the London Borough of Camden give it the same protected status for music that Hatton Garden has for its jewelry trade.
Without dogged campaigning the developers could already have destroyed this vital part of London’s heritage – thankfully people such as Henry and Andre are keeping the music alive in Denmark Street and long may Tin Pan Alley rock on.
I hadn’t been back to the Trew Era Cafe since its opening back in March 2015 so I was keen to see how this inspiring project was progressing. The cafe was one of the outcomes of the successful campaign by residents of the New Era Estate in Hoxton to fend off developers. My old mate Russell Brand opened the Trew Era Cafe as a social enterprise with the aim of supporting people in abstinence based recovery. The aim was also to provide a community space for local people and to source as much produce as possible from the surrounding area.
The herbs used in the delicious range of vegan and vegetarian dishes are grown in pallet planters in the walled garden at the back. All the produce is organic. They plan to find allotment space to grow their own vegetables which will form part of the training programme.
The coffee is roasted by Mission Coffee nearby in Clapton, who also provide barista training. The jams and granola are produced locally. Edit Hats beanies are on sale, for each purchase Edit donate a hat to the homeless. For every postcard bought from the selection hanging on the wall a tree is planted in Scotland and you can even go along and help with the planting. There are free Sunday morning meditation drop-ins and regular evening meetings.
There’s a great friendly vibe around the place and the coffee is fantastic. The plan is to hopefully expand into an vacant unit next door to provide a more diverse range of training and support. Hopefully the Trew Era message will spread beyond Hoxton to the wider world. To badly paraphrase Billy Bragg – the revolution is just an organic soy milk cappuccino away.
There seems to be a problem in the Rotten Borough of Barnet – the vanguard rogue state of rapacious property development. This time last year I met the residents being turfed out of their homes on the West Hendon Estate as the Council gifted the land to Barratt Homes, Mrs Thatcher’s favourite builders. Then there were the murky goings on at Sweets Way that I still don’t fully understand but it seems that a large ex-military housing estate that had been leased to a housing association was then sold to a private developer for about 99p with a 1000-year lease.
The latest call I heard from the gallant Barnet Bohemians revolved around a Care Home in Church Walk, Child’s Hill bought by a charity for £1 to run as a care home and homeless women’s refuge but two years later sold on by the charity to a private developer for £12 million to demolish and replace with luxury flats.
What the hell is going on in Barnet – why does premium building land command no more than a solitary pound when sold by the local authority or charitable bodies but then miraculously increase by the millions once in private hands?
The positivity of the Bohemians and rainbow people recently crash landed from the Camden Mothership shines a beacon of hope through the gloom. They occupied the building seeking a Meanwhile Lease so they could provide shelter for the cold winter months and food for the hungry both in belly and spirit. They would also use the space for workshops, discussions, artworks. Utilise it as a base to explore an alternative to the rat race consumerism gnawing away at the soul of modern life.
Turns out the charity that still own the building aren’t as keen on actual charity as the sound of 12 million pound coins rattling in the till. They promptly took legal action, even seeking punitive custodial sentences to which the police thankfully gave short shrift. Even so, 3 days after I shot this video the occupants of Church Walk House were evicted by bailiffs.
All is not lost though – they have since landed once again in Barnet, in an abandoned nightclub on Whetstone High Road.
Yesterday I went down to Whitehall to join the protest outside Downing Street against the government’s planned bombing of Syria. The banners seemed more creative than usual. Sure there was the sea of Stop the War ‘Don’t Bomb Syria’ placards and whatever the SWP had on theirs but among the homemade signs I spotted:
‘Bombing for Peace is Like Fucking for Virginity’, referencing a famous anti-Vietnam War placard
‘Whores Against Wars’ – by the English Collective of Prostitutes
‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Cameron’ – complete with Dad’s Army style opening title graphics.
‘With Jeremy and John Against War & Trident’, which I liked because of the informality of the use of first names – ‘Jeremy and John’ sounding so much more civilised than ‘Bill and Tony’ who you know are up to no good.
There was a dog called Caspar as well who barked for the camera – or maybe he was barking at the camera but the effect was the same.
Should the government take the issue to a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday, we’ll be back out there again on Tuesday night.
My old alma mater is under threat. London Metropolitan University (formed from a merger between City of London Polytechnic and the Polytechnic of North London) is proposing to close all the sites of the old City Poly campus around Aldgate and relocate all courses to the Holloway Road campus (the old North London Poly).
For me this is basically shutting down my beloved City Poly – where I learnt so much more than Politics. It’s where I formed a (terrible) band and made my first film (ironically about saving Central House – featured in my video above). It’s where my student mates included a 45-year old ex-armed robber, a gay indie pop star, and a retired trade union shop steward. As an 18-year old fresh out of A-Levels I was in the minority with the bulk of the student body made up of ‘non-traditional’ students. The handful of public school kids formed a protective posse before they learnt that the great unwashed were actually quite civilised.
Being in the East End at such a tender age was an education in itself. At night I used to sit and share a can of Tenants Super with the men outside the Salvation Army Hostel. We learnt about the Battle of Cable Street not in the classroom but on Cable Street itself. We munched salt beef bagels and Lamb Balti – all new tastes for my provincial palette.
But this protest isn’t about my memories – it’s about the destruction of a precious historic educational institution in the heart of London’s East End – a University that has strong ties to one of the most under-privileged Boroughs in the country. It will mean the closure of totally unique courses such as the BSc Musical Instrument Making, shown in the video, the only course of its kind in Europe and possibly the world. This will have a profound effect on musical instrument production in Britain.
The Arts subjects taught at The Cass School of Art and Architecture will be crammed into smaller spaces – the unique fusion of Arts disciplines that happens at the Aldgate Building will be lost. It seems crazy to close an Art School in the East End of London – a globally recognised centre of contemporary art – even if you calculate the value of education in purely commercial terms you’d have to recognise what a fantastic asset that is.
Cranes crowd the skyline all around the university. These buildings are prime real estate – they’ll be demolished and tower blocks raised in their place. Where there was an art school will become a block of luxury apartments, where there was the Dept. of Humanities at Calcutta House will become some other form of monstrosity. It is part of the hollowing out of London – the gutting of its life and culture for the sake of a quick return.
Please watch the video and also sign the petition to Save the Cass.