Forest to the Lea Valley – walking video diary and ‘psychogeographical sound sandwich’

Here’s a video of the walk I did last weekend from Leytonstone to Ponders End. I’ve collaged a soundtrack from some old records, field recordings I made on my phone and some music I quickly knocked up on my laptop using Garageband – it more accurately reflects what’s going on in my head as I walk. Bob and Roberta Smith talked of creating a ‘sound sandwich’ when I interviewed him at the Barbican during the Cultural Olympiad where he was performing with his Apathy Band, and he related the idea, using lots of overlapping records playing, to the psychogeographical walks I was undertaking – but in audio form – a ‘psychogeographical sound sandwich’.

Eric Simms BBC

Eric Simms

The first ‘found sound’ on the video is from a gem of a record in the BBC Wildlife Series featuring recordings of birdsong made by Eric Simms originally broadcast on the Radio 4 Countryside programme. It’s a selection of Spring choruses – ‘a busy rookery’ recorded in Sussex, 1960. In the sleeve notes Simms writes, “For me perhaps the quickest way to evoke memories of places is to listen to recordings that I have made of their background sounds”. For me when I walk the sounds of the present are mingled with sounds, voices and memories of other places.

There was a serendipitous moment when I grabbed a bit of a recording of ‘If It Wasn’t for the ‘Ouses-In-Between’ performed by John Foreman when I just happened to skip to the lines:

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And Chingford to the Eastward could be seen
Wiv a ladder and some glasses
You could see to ‘Ackney Marshes
If it wasn’t for the ‘ouses in between

Which is a fairly accurate description of the view from the footbridge over the North Circular between Walthamstow and Woodford, except the song was talking about the overcrowded East End of the 1890s, harking back to some rural idyll just beyond the rooftops. Is this what draws me out into the forest?


Read the blog post about this walk here

The sound of: Plumstead covered market

This is a short field recording I made whilst wandering around Plumstead covered market on the walk from Woolwich around Crayford Ness for chapter 3 of This Other London

Here’s a snippet from the book:

Moving up along Plumstead Road my momentum is broken by the covered market. There’s been a market on the site since the 1600s – the poor forgotten cousin of the more famous Covent Garden. Thursday is early closing, which probably accounts for the lack of activity. It must be a hard life grinding a living out of the stalls here. The Gurkha Café has a few punters sup- ping tea on its outside tables. I do circuits, soaking in the atmos- phere: the narrow ways between units, the coloured lettering all around, pulsing reggae music bouncing back off the glass ceiling. There are echoes of Grand Central Market in Los Angeles that provided the inspiration for scenes in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner. A mash-up of ethnic influences coming together into a hybrid street culture, a Himalayan- Afro-Caribbean-Indian-Jutish cocktail.”This Other London – adventures in the overlooked city

The sound of: Lewisham High Street

I recorded this on Lewisham High Street at the beginning of the walk to Herne Hill Velodrome and on to Tulse Hill in search of the birthplace of astrophysics. The journey is recounted in Chapter 4 of This Other London.

I’d meant to follow the Ravensbourne from the DLR to Ladywell Fields but had been coaxed into the High Street by the bright hand-painted sign for Lewisham Model Market. It was a sedate September Sunday morning with a few early drinkers sucking on fags outside the Wetherspoon’s. There’s a gentility to the High Street hiding behind the identikit shopfronts – Currys, Primark and Poundworld all mask fine modernist-looking buildings.

The sounds of a loud, joyous chorus of evangelical singing backed up by a pulsing rhythm section wafted across the High Street from a room above a shop next to Primark  A one-legged man sitting on a folding stool outside has the look of a fella who’s seen it all.

Birdsong at Leytonstone Station

Recorded this on my Blackberry whilst waiting for the train this morning on the frosty platform at Leytonstone Overground Station. The singing bird was sat in a bare tree looking over the rooftops of E11.

Wish I could learn to identify birdsong and/or find my glasses and get them fixed. This was a small bird but at a distance of 20 yards just a blur so I couldn’t see if it was the Robin I guessed it to be.