Socially conscious coffee at the Trew Era Cafe

Thursday morning Russell Brand launched the Trew Era Cafe in an empty shop on the New Era Estate, Hoxton. The cafe is a social enterprise aiming to provide support for people recovering from addiction whilst also serving up fresh locally sourced food and drink at reasonable prices (£1.80 for a cappuccino in Hoxton is a rarity). As Russell explains in the video above, the long term aspiration is for the Trew Era to grow its own food locally and Hackney Council have donated land to that end. And the coffee is bloody good as well.

Amongst the opening day throng I spotted Chunky Mark The Artist Taxi Driver who’d driven Russell to the opening that morning and shot a video for his essential viewing YouTube channel. Although I’d only taken my camera along to take a few snaps I couldn’t resist the opportunity to grab a quick chat with Mark in what is now one of my favourite episodes of Drift Report with Mark’s section pretty much unedited.

 

 

Russell Brand and the Sweets Way Revolution

I was back in the Rotten Borough of Barnet on Tuesday night as my old pal Russell Brand staged a sleepover at the Sweets Way Estate in protest at the planned demolition of the houses by Barnet Council and Annington Homes to make way for … yes you guessed it … luxury flats.

The brutality of the eviction process, which has been going on for weeks, has been shocking as families have literally been thrown out onto the streets. Residents who have been Council tenants for years have had their homes taken from them and offered emergency accommodation elsewhere out of the Borough. Barnet are clearly embarking on a large scale privatisation of their housing stock and a thorough, psychopathic social cleansing project.

The Sleepover was a way of using Russell’s profile to draw large scale attention to the cause which has oddly had little attention in the mainstream press. And it seems to have worked gauging by the number of camera crews and dictaphone toting journos that followed him around like a cluster of ducklings everywhere he went.

And he turned up with an ice cream van dispensing free ice cream of course.

The atmosphere was fun, jocular, playful. They were loads of excited kids running around. One fella had come all the way from Plymouth, others came from Bristol, and Coventry … and there I was thinking about the long journey back to Leytonstone from Totteridge and Whetstone.

Now the fun night has finished we have to keep the pressure on Annington Homes and Barnet Council to end their social cleansing plans for the Sweets Way estate and let the families return to their homes.

Sign the Petition here

More info:

https://sweetswayresists.wordpress.com/

‘Art as a Weapon’ / National Gallery Strike against Privatisation – Drift Report

Last week staff at the National Gallery, London held a 5-day strike against privatisation of 400 gallery staff. This is a report I made about the Day of Action against heir to the Getty family fortune Mark Getty, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Gallery who has steadfastly refused to meet with staff and PCS Trade Union representatives. The day started with a rally outside the Sainsbury Wing of the Gallery, currently staffed by a private security firm, followed by a loud and colourful march across Leicester Square, through China Town and Soho, along Oxford Street to the Getty Images Gallery in Eastcastle Street.
The protest in the driving rain was also in support of National Gallery Trade Union Rep Candy Udwin who was suspended by the gallery on trumped up charges merely because she asked how much it had cost to bring in private security firm CIS to the Sainsbury wing of the National Gallery.

 


Shot and edited by John Rogers
Title sequence and channel artwork by Danny Kairos
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Save Soho and the Battle for Tin Pan Alley

It was when I was walking round Soho with Geoff Lloyd recording for his Absolute Radio show that I noticed the closure of Madame JoJo’s, that great icon of Soho nightlife to the extent that closing it could be as catastrophic as releasing the ravens from the Tower of London.

I later connected with Soho resident and musician, Tim Arnold, one of the co-ordinators of the Save Soho campaign that includes local residents, small businesses and luminaries such as Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch. Tim offered to take me round some of the venues under threat and also the ones needing to be preserved if the Spirit of Soho was to survive.

Although not actually in Soho we decided to start outside the 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street and were there the day it closed. Almost immediately afterwards it was squatted and occupied by the Soho Bohemians so again I went along with a camera to capture the moment.

Denmark Street (known as Tin Pan Alley) is the historic heart of the music industry in London (and indeed Britain). It was where the early sheet music publishers were based, the music press, management companies – it gave us rock’n’roll and pop music, the Top 40 and the Sex Pistols. It’s probably more famous now for the guitar shops. Many of the buildings date from the 18th Century with the street plan being older still.

But this all now risks being swept away by development, driven by the destructive force of Crossrail and that fact that it sits in the heart of a parcel of land worth around £980million.

If action isn’t taken now a precious ancient district of London will be erased from the map and replaced with a characterless complex of steel and glass blocks. The soul of Central London is being squeezed in the talons of rapacious development.

Sign the petition to Save Tin Pan Alley

 

Thousands March for Homes in London

Yesterday saw thousands of people take to the streets of London in the March for Homes. This builds on recent high profile housing campaigns such as Focus E15, the New Era Estate, and Our West Hendon. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, as one campaigner from Feminist Fightback told me there are 70 social housing estates undergoing ‘regeneration’ which is often just a means of demolishing the existing homes, displacing the tenants and privatising some if not all of the land. The group has calculated that there are around 160,000 tenants facing eviction and/or rehousing. The land value of these 70 estates is estimated to be in the region of £52billion.

Fred & John Towers banner

There was a great spirit amongst the diverse range of Londoners traipsing through the rain from the congregation points of St Leonard’s Church Shoreditch and the Elephant and Castle – converging on City Hall, Boris Johnson’s Death Star. A lady thrust a yellow flier into my hand whilst I stood on a peddle-dash plinth trying to get a decent shot of the procession from a higher vantage point. ‘Fred & John Towers Not For Sale’ – Leytonstone’s own iconic tower blocks beside Wanstead Flats that played host to snipers and anti-aircraft missiles during the London Olympics. The E15 Campaigners have joined forces to help the residents who face being rehoused while Waltham Forest Council sell off one of the blocks and dispose of 70 Council homes in the process.

Fred and John Towers Leytonstone

Next week the residents of Earls Court will be demonstrating to save the heart being ripped out of their area with a £8billion development. New battle lines are being drawn all across London every day in the fight for the soul and the future of this great ancient city.

 

 

London’s Prophet and the death of Peter Cook

Rainbow George Weiss texts me at least once a week. The other day I received one which read, “The Quest for LondonWonderCity will …. all being well begin at the General Election when the People of London will be gifted the opportunity to Vote for their City to become its own WonderCityState with its own electronic Wonder Currency … and much more beside”. Just another Monday.

I first met George in 2007 when I was asked to be a guest on Russell Brand’s Radio 2 show. Russell had asked me to debate against George, who was waging a campaign to get Russell to run for Mayor of London in 2008. He’d successfully enlisted the help of The Sun newspaper and was attempting to get one million people to pledge their support. I confess I gave George’s WonderCity based in Hampstead short shrift but somehow our on-air encounter bound us together.
He continued to badger late-night phone-ins with his vision of London as the centre of an Isles of Wonder. He is unrelenting in his prophesying.
I sat in the Heathcote Arms and watched Danny Boyle unveil his Isles of Wonder to the world at the Opening Ceremony of London Olympics. George was sanguine – he’d seen it all before of course, in one of his many visions while tramping over Hampstead Heath.
When he texted me again on Tuesday to flag the article in The Independent about the 20th anniversary of Peter Cook’s death on 9th January, I decided that the occasion should be marked and proposed filming an interview.

It was my mate Russell, then a lanky Drama School graduate venturing onto the London fringe scene, who’d told me all about George back in 1999. How he’d made a pilgrimage to Peter Cook’s London home in Perrin’s Walk  with his comedy partner in crime Karl Theobald (one of the funniest people I’ve ever been in a room with). George had encountered them in the street then invited them inside where he played them some of the hundreds of hours of audio taped conversations he’d had with Peter in 1985. Russell and Karl have never been the same since.

I’d interviewed George before, but he’d been more into pushing a film idea where Russell plays the Wizard of Wonders with George taking up the role of Apprentice Prophet. I was keen to hear about his father, Leopold Weiss, said to be the finest diamond cutter in Hatton Garden and also stories about the ‘real’ Peter Cook. But what I got instead was the tale of George’s lost years in Ireland and dealings with an exorcist in Chalk Farm referred to him by legendary psychiatrist RD Laing.

Finally with the anniversary of Cook’s death looming George was ready to open up on the final days – the dash to the Royal Free at Hampstead hours after Ian Dury‘s son was born (‘one in, one out’, my Nan would say). He had an agenda – the revival of Peter’s What Party with Russell taking on the role of President and leading the people of London into a glorious future. I sat and patiently listened to his plans for a peaceful take-over then read out the text message I’d just received from Russell telling me to make sure George played me some of his famous Cook audio recordings. He relented – but on the condition that I include it in the final cut of the video, ‘Of course I would’, I told him.

He spooled through the tape to these never-before-heard words from the comedy hero’s mouth. A great moment of comedic riffing? Some biting satire? A political diatribe? Revelations about his relationship with Dudley Moore? No. It was Peter Cook calling Robbie Coltrane a cunt. George’s eyes lit up and he laughed.

He texted me this morning to make sure I’d included the clip. I was unsure – what if Robbie Coltrane heard it and was hurt? Also was this the memory of Peter Cook we wanted to give people? ‘

Do you want that to be Peter’s message on this day?’ I replied.
‘One of them, yes definitely!’ he confirmed.

There was much that had to be left out – I got home at 5pm and crashed through the edit whilst still somehow attending to family duties. The rumours of top flight football match fixing, George was a serious gambler in the 1970s and played cards with Lord Lucan. There was also the Captain Kinky story that appeared in the Daily Star and George’s incarceration for selling LSD to a couple of undercover coppers, being labelled one of the king pins of the nascent Acid House scene. I’ll have to dig it all out some other time – once I’ve finished dealing with George’s torrents of texts.