Unearthings: On and Off Watling Street with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kötting

Just under a year after the premiere of our film, London Overground, Iain Sinclair mentioned joining him out on the road again with my camera. This time he was walking a section of  Watling Street, the Roman road said to have much older origins, in the company of the great film-maker Andrew Kötting, from Canterbury to London. I joined them one morning along Shooters Hill Road in South London where they were accompanied by artist Anne Caron-Delion. This first walk followed the road to Westminster (another branch goes across London Bridge to the City) – passing over Blackheath, through Deptford (the ‘deep ford’), New Cross, Peckham, Elephant and Castle, along the way.

Enroute Iain had mentioned a second passage that related to Watling Street but branching off from Shooters Hill to take in the Shrewsbury burial mound and follow cult author Steve Moore’s ‘psychic circuit’ down to Woolwich. This brings Alan Moore into the story and led to a second walk. Steve Moore had been Alan Moore’s mentor, teaching him both the arts of magick and comic book writing. Alan had celebrated Steve’s territory of Shooters Hill in an essay published in London, City of Disappearances, entitled Unearthing. This seemed like the perfect title to appropriate as the title for the film.

 

The film that I made from the two walks ‘on and off’ Watling Street with Iain Sinclair was premiered at an event at Kino-Teatr in St Leonards-on-Sea last October, where Andrew Kötting also premiered his film of the whole walk, A WALK BACK TO THE LAST LONDON BY WAY OF WATLING STREET.

The event was called, Lights Out for the Last London: Down Watling Street with Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kotting and John Rogers.

“To pull away from its gravity, he sets off on a Watling Street pilgrimage with long term collaborators (and filmmakers) Andrew Kötting and John Rogers.
Their adventures, told through differing and contradictory memories, become a live performance, a conversation, a film of record.
The collision at Kino-Teatr in St Leonards is a unique coming together for the three walkers. Anything could happen.”

Kino-Teatr John Rogers Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting

The video above captures the discussion with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kötting after the screenings.

Northbound – walk from St.Pauls through Islington to Highgate

It was an odd walk in a way, but one that has stayed with me over the Christmas period since. There was just the desire to walk – to be out. I knew where I didn’t fancy and with only around 3 hours of daylight I wanted options for walking in the dark. The pivotal moment was at the ticket barriers – east or west.

Roman Wall City of London

I alighted at St.Pauls and let old instincts guide me. A look at the Roman London Wall in Noble Street, the on to Golden Lane Estate where there was a recent protest against the redevelopment of former Police accommodation into a block of luxury flats.

Golden Lane development

Up Goswell Road and across Northampton Square, one variation on my daily walk home from work at the South Bank when I lived up at the Angel, and also our route to Ironmonger Row Baths. Andrew Kötting’s expression ‘the noise of memory’ came to mind, when there is so much memory attached to an area that it almost becomes overwhelming. This territory on the slopes of Islington and Finsbury is like that for me, the sound intensifying as I made my way up Chapel Market, the Christmas tree seller having a furious argument down the phone kicking empty boxes. There’s a For Let sign above the iconic Manze’s pie and mash shop, the one featured in The London Nobody Knows, let’s hope I don’t add to the ‘Dead Pie Shop Trail’*.

Manze's Pie and Mash Chapel Market

On through Barnsbury to Holloway Road as the sun starts hitting the glorious Holloway Odeon. I sorely tempted to give up the ghost and while away an hour or two in the Coronet – a beautiful old cinema converted into a Wetherspoons. Something keeps me plodding on towards the Northern Heights, an image I’d conjured in my head at the beginning of the walk of ending up in Highgate.

Coronet Holloway Road

Faced with the Archway Tavern I think of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity that I first read some 20 years ago when music played a far bigger part in my life than it does today and I would routinely pass a happy hour thumbing through racks of vinyl on dusty old record shops. At the time I felt the Archway Tavern must have been the pub/venue in the book where the record shop staff watch bands. The shop, Championship Vinyl, is located in on Seven Sisters Road (so is the Harry Lauder actually the World’s End instead?). There’s a secondhand book stall in front of the old Archway Tavern and sure enough they have a slightly battered copy of High Fidelity that I pick up for £2.50 and have been reading over Christmas. It’s funny how the book has aged in that time.

Gatehouse Highgate

Highgate Village was every bit as festive as hoped with chains of Christmas lights looped across the High Street. I make for the Gatehouse, an old coaching inn with a resident ghost. I tell the young barman about the spectral guest that haunts the pub and he fixes me with a look of disbelief. ‘It’s true’, I say, ‘look out for it when you’re locking up later.’

 

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* this was an essay I wrote for Jake Green’s photobook documenting the surviving Pie and Mash shops in London. My essay was a walk linking sites of several former Pie and Mash shops. There are copies of the book in each of the remaining Pie and Mash Shops in London. Get yourself a double pie and mash and settle down with a copy.

Lights Out: Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kotting and John Rogers

Andrew Kotting Lights Out

Looking forward to presenting the film of the excursions I made with Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kötting, and Anne Caron-Deline along Watling Street with a fascinating detour following the trail of Alan Moore from Shooter’s Hill. The event will also include a new film and performance by Andrew Kötting, plus readings and conversation with Iain Sinclair and whatever else occurs on the night.

Here’s the information for the event at Kino-Teatr, Saint Leonards 29th October 6pm:

“Lights Out for the Last London: Down Watling Street with Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kotting and John Rogers.

The Last London, described by Alan Moore as ‘the masterpiece in a career of masterpieces’, is Iain Sinclair’s final reckoning with a city stretched beyond its limits.

To pull away from its gravity, he sets off on a Watling Street pilgrimage with longterm collaborators (and filmmakers) Andrew Kötting and John Rogers.

Their adventures, told through differing and contradictory memories, become a live performance, a conversation, a film of record.

The collision at Kino-Teatr in St Leonards is a unique coming together for the three walkers. Anything could happen.

The collaborators will be happy to sign copies of books (including Last London) at the event.”

Tickets are £12 available from Kino-Teatr box office and online from Ticketsource

The Last London – in conversation with Iain Sinclair

Last week at the Wanstead Tap I had the great pleasure to talk to Iain Sinclair about his new book The Last London.

He read a passage about a walk along the Barking to Gospel Oak branch of the London Overground, a walk that I accompanied him on for a short section through Leytonstone, on the morning of Donald Trump’s US election victory.

“My theories at the time of Lud Heat, deriving from E.O Gordon, Alfred Watkins, John Michell, Nigel Pennick, were about lines of force connecting the churches, making patterns, and provoking crimes, rituals visitations, within an unregistered sphere of influence. What I now understood, in steady rain, on this morning of political madness, tracking an inoperative railway to a place nobody wants to go, is that the walks we are compelled to make are the only story. Walks are autobiography with author.”

Iain Sinclair the Last London

photo by Keith kandrphoto.com

Iain Sinclair’s work has had such a profound influence on London writing over the last 30 years at least, an influence that has stretched into film and visual arts. He synthesised a way of understanding the city and helped codify a new form psychogeography, distinct from its intellectual French roots. He expanded on the background to his hugely influential book Lud Heat:

“There was a period when you were able to absorb so many eccentric influences from all over and it goes back for me to a kind of collision for me between cinema and poetry which were my twin obsessives when I was very young and coming to London to be in film school and beginning to do long rambles and wanders and generally just to find one cinema to the next, whatever it was, and later as a gardener realising that the structure of these churches were enormously powerful and were in some ways, if you looked from the top of Greenwich Hill, connected. London was an irrational city but with rational plans put on top of it at various times generally doomed to fail in their own way but to become part of the story of the city.

I got very intrigued by that and from those kind of interests emerged a hybrid form of writing that was live day-to-day reportage of what I was doing as a gardener in an exciting part of London that I was only beginning to discover. And secondly then having the time to research the churches and their history in places like the Bancroft Road Library, which is sort of more or less gone now, which is a huge resource of local history and the librarians were so knowledgeable, they’d open up dusty boxes and show you all this stuff. It all fused together into a kind of writing that combined wild speculations, satires to do with the awful way the workers were treated down there and the idea that these jobs would disappear and that the landscape itself would disappear because we were treading on the ghosts of the future Docklands, ghosts come from both sides you know, ghosts of the things you find in the past, the ‘scarlet tracings’, but there were also ghosts of the future and they met in that landscape.”

Listen to the full audio of the conversation above.

Iain Sinclair and John Rogers

photo by Keith kandrphoto.com

 

Photos by Keith Event photos by Keith www.kandrphoto.com
https://www.facebook.com/kjmartin88

Alan Moore and Iain Sinclair on London mythologies and the power of place

“Everything that we are is reflected in place and we reflect everything that is in the locations that are around us”

– Alan Moore

“All this is about place and about intersections of place, people, collisions, collaborations, the whole thing”, adds Iain Sinclair referencing The House of the Last London where this fascinating conversation took place.

A sketch map by Brian Catling hanging amongst various images from a 1974 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, Albion Island Vortex, featuring Catling, Iain Sinclair, and Renchi Bicknell, provides the original link between Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore. They talk about how fellow writer Neil Gaiman had sent Alan Moore a copy of Sinclair’s early self-published book Lud Heat which Alan found hugely inspiring. Lud Heat drew Alan Moore into the world of London mythologies at the point when he was starting work on From Hell.

Lud Heat map - Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling

Lud Heat map – Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling

“You could unpack an awful lot of From Hell from these lines on this drawing” – he says gesturing to the map.

Iain Sinclair explains how he’d sketched out the map on a napkin in a pub and handed it to the artist Brian Catling to turn it into a proper drawing – the one that hangs on the wall in Whitechapel. It’s a map that not only inspired Alan Moore but a whole generation of psychogeographers.

The conversation takes so many twists and turns through various stages of their careers, delving into their practices and inspirations, recalling previous expeditions and excursions, happenings and events. Iain talks about the recent walk we did from Shooters Hill to Woolwich that will form part of a film we’re making about Watling Street. They also preview the poetry event they would perform that evening in Lambeth alongside Catling and Allen Fisher. It was a real joy to behold and capture in this video.

 

Iain Sinclair – The House of the Last London

The House of the Last London

Last Thursday to the opening of Iain Sinclair’s installation at Gallery 46 in Whitechapel – The House of the Last London. The double fronted Georgian terrace behind London Hospital converted into a gallery is in prime Sinclair territory, the ideal spot for a gathering of artworks and artefacts mapping the great London chronicler’s collaborations from the 1960’s onwards. Among those in the house are Andrew Kötting, Chris Petit, Susan Stenger, Brian Catling, and Effie Paleologou.

The House of the Last London

The Cave of Memory – Iain Sinclair

I’d delivered some reproduced pages from my journal when Iain Sinclair walked through Leytonstone for his book The Last London (the exhibition is timed to coincide with the book’s publication) with photos of Iain stapled in celephane wrappers. Iain gave me a walk through with the artworks lying on the floor waiting to be hung. The wall in the photo above was a partial recreation of exhibition Iain staged with sculptor Brian Caitling at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1973 – Albion Island Vortex. Chris Petit arrived to install his House of Memory in an attic room – we carried furniture from his family home up the narrow flights of stairs discussing the state of London.

The House of Memory Chris Petit

The House of Memory – Chris Petit

Lud Heat map - Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling

Lud Heat map – Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling

I predict Room 7 – The Cave of Memory, will become an Iain Sinclair shrine over the course of the exhibition which runs till September 17th. People will sit on the floor beneath Brain Catling’s sketch map of the sacred geometery of London reading re-issued copies of Lud Heat, originally published by Iain Sinclair’s own Albion Village Press in 1975. We passed the site of the printers just off Balls Pond Road on the nightwalk for our London Overground film January last year, Iain lamenting that he no longer possessed any of the original editions.

Lights Out for the Territory Image Journal - Iain Sinclair

Lights Out for the Territory Image Journal – Iain Sinclair

If you want to have an understanding of the evolution of English psychogeography – or more accurately neo-psychogeography – you could do worse than pay a visit to The House of the Last London. There are missing links of course – the copies of the London Pyschogeographical Association newsletters that Iain picked up at Compendium books, Camden for example – but you probably knew all that stuff already. The Lud Heat map is almost a key artefact – the merging of earth mysteries, mythology, folklore woven into the built environment, the lingering sense that there are hidden forces surpressed beneath the pavement, choked by property development and loss of memory. Iain Sinclair The House of the Last London

Iain’s 1960’s-1970’s Super 8 diary films spool round in one of the attic rooms with Sinclair’s voice collaged into a soundtrack. You look out of the window onto Whitechapel streets earmarked for demolition, as Iain remarked to me that day, ‘the perfect place for the House of the Last London’ as it too will soon be swept away and consigned to an archive of memories.

Waves of Disappearance: cinematic topographies of the North Eastern frontier

This is an article I wrote at the end of 2006 for University of East London’s Journal of East London Studies – Rising East 6. Tonight’s Ian Bourn programme at Close Up seems a good time to republish.

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“Geographically Leytonstone is just a case of in one end and out the other. It’s not the end of the road like Whitechapel, nor is it the beginning of the end like Southgate. Leytonstone, if it’s like anything it is the urethra of London.”
—Lenny’s Documentary’, Ian Bourn (1978)

Leytonstone Houses

Not long after I moved to Leytonstone I found myself transfixed by the view from the small window in my bathroom. It was a fairly non-descript panorama of the red-tiled rooftops of terraced houses, chimney pots, and in the distance, poking out from behind a tree, a large slab-like tower block. At times I found myself gazing at it for long periods. It felt somehow both exotic and familiar at the same time. Eventually the penny dropped.
John Smith’s film The Black Tower charts a man’s mental collapse as he believes he is being pursued around his neighbourhood by an ominous black tower that seems to appear looming above the roof-line as he goes about his daily business. A detail in the landscape leads to an odyssey, an obsession, and ultimately oblivion. As his tries to escape we traverse the streets of workaday Leytonstone. The humorous, laconic narrative guides us through the man’s psyche whilst we see the seasons change on the street outside, hear ice-cream vans, kids ride tricycles along the pavement, tree surgeons lop a lime tree. Smith establishes a steady rhythm of locked-off shots, lush and perfectly framed. The tower ultimately consumes the narrator, trapped inside its black walls.

The film is a testament to the power that fine details in the landscape can have over the imagination. As a filmic dérive, it achieves the aim identified by Greil Marcus of revealing “the unknown facets of the known, astonishment on the terrain of boredom, innocence in the face of experience”. The Black Tower’ produces a mental topography of Leytonstone that colonises your imagination.

John Smith is one of the most widely screened British artist film-makers, and as one-time drinking buddy, artist Cornelia Parker noted, “Most of John’s films have been shot within a few hundred yards of his front door, or inside his house.” In fact the house itself became the centre of one of Smith’s most poignant films Home Suite, a video love poem to his home of 12 years.

Composed of three thirty minute single take video monologues Home Suite presents us with an intimate anatomy of Smith’s home in Colville Road prior to its demolition to make way for the M11 Link Road. The first two parts of the film examine in detail the toilet, then the bathroom, comically describing the life of each room, unpacking its history, zooming in on a crack in the toilet bowl, panning across an eccentric Artex job on the walls. The house seems to be coming apart from the inside out, slowly giving up the ghost, merging with the landscape as Smith shows us where the Russian Vine has forced its way through the window frame in the kitchen and has snaked its way across to the gas pipes.

In the final third we emerge from the respectful silence of the condemned house and step out into the street where the mass ranks of police move in with bulldozers to evict the die-hards camped out in Claremont Road. Smith passes by with his video camera, shaken by the scenes he has witnessed, before crossing the road to walk around the corner to his new flat in Twickenham Road where all is calm and as Smith notes, where you’d probably never realise what upheaval was happening over the road.

All that remains of the side of the street where Smith lived in Colville Road is a long brick wall half-heartedly buffering the deafening drone of the Link Road. At one end the motorway signboard showing the way out to Chelmsford, casts a shadow over a row of newly built hermetically sealed bungalows of the sort that would make John Prescott beam. Claremont Road exists only as a street sign where a large billboard above advertises the new Ford Ranger 4×4 as if to rub the road protestors’ noses in their defeat.

Colville Road Leytonstone

Colville Road Leytonstone

The dying days of Colville Road are also captured in a more formal piece of work, Blight. Still using the style of lushly composed static shots, Smith collaborated with composer and fellow Leytonstonian Jocelyn Pook to create a soundtrack of residents’ reminiscences. We watch the house next to Smith’s being carefully, almost gently demolished, as bricks are dislodged by hand, wooden beams lifted off, the house is forensically dismembered.

This act of disappearance offers a brief moment of revelation as exterior walls are removed to lay bare a private realm, an Exorcist mural revealed on a bedroom wall. The pile of rubble that is left is reminiscent of images of wartime bomb damage – this peacetime blitz accounts for more houses in Leytonstone than the Doodlebugs that landed here. With the mood music this film becomes an elegy for a dilapidated dwelling, a more meditative form of protest than the barricades and tree camps in Claremont Road round the corner.

John Smith’s films not only capture this uncelebrated landscape in loving detail but are also a product of the spirit that prevailed in Leytonstone at that time. Cornelia Parker met Smith in 1984:
“Leytonstone at that time was a great place to be. A thriving community of artists lived in dilapidated houses that were due to be demolished for the promised M11 Link Road…..The cheap rents and abundance of space created a fertile breeding ground for ideas. Cross-pollinations and collaborations abounded, ground-breaking works given birth to – creativity thrived under the threat of imminent eviction.”

Northcote Arms Leytonstone

The hub of this E11 avant-garde was The Northcote Arms on Grove Green Road. Whilst similar bare-knuckle boozers were the haunt of East End ‘faces’ and Saturday football firms, The Northcote played host to Smith, Parker, Graeme Millar and Ian Bourn.

Like Smith’s, Ian Bourn’s films are rooted in the psychogeography of Leytonstone. His first major work, Lenny’s Documentary, is an acerbic, drink-fuelled monologue on the nature of the area. The film opens with the caption: “11pm, Leytonstone…..” Lenny lines up a row of beer cans on his desk, cracks one open and slurs out: “Gateway to the East”. He abuses imaginary people off-screen. Captions read “5 minutes later…”, “2 minutes…..” Each time he appears progressively more drunk. He talks of taking pot-shots with an air-rifle at old ladies and arseholes from the top of his high-rise block. “This is where my friends and I have tolerated our existence for far too long. Where small changes have devastating effects”. Pre-empting Smith’s tale of E11-induced insanity, Lenny informs us: “…people here are always cracking up, after which they go to Claybury Hospital”

Lenny finally escapes; we share his windscreen view as he drives up the High Road to the strains of Sinatra singing ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, and fades out at The Green Man Roundabout.

Eaton Park

Eaton Park 2006

The theme of change, decay, and disappearance is always with us. The next wave is on the way with the Olympic redevelopment just over the border in the Lower Lea Valley. The moment of calm before the storm is being captured by a new breed of topographical film-makers.

Following the success of their debut full length film, Finisterre, Paul Kelly and Bob Stanley set their follow-up in the Lower Lea Valley on the day after the announcement that London would host the 2012 Olympics. Kelly has described the film, What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day?’, as being like an obituary to the birthplace of the 20th Century. Stylistically it is similar to many of John Smith’s works, a style that influential born-again flaneur-film-maker Patrick Keiller has identified in the city films of the early years of cinema, “ – the single, long takes; static camera or the phantom ride – “.

What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? uses the fictional device of a paper boy doing his rounds who allows his sense of curiosity lead him on a journey through the ruination of an area that gave the world plastic and petrol. A radio news bulletin establishes the time and place, 7th July 2005, a day of national celebration and disaster. “The Lea Valley. A river runs through it. You can catch a Kingfisher if you’re lucky. Catch it while you can, it’s all gonna go”, narrates Canning Town’s David Essex.

Paul Kelly’s camerawork frames this blighted landscape in all its rusting glory. The wide skies calling to mind more epic landscapes of Russia and Outback Australia. Aerial shots of the Stratford skyline predicting the mini-City that is to come. A Geoffrey Fletcher-esque recording of small features such as letterboxes, drainpipes, and graffiti (Fletcher was fond of gas lighting and the fittings in public lavatories). Quick flashes of street signage – Pudding Mill Lane, Marshgate Lane Industrial Area. Derelict red-brick factories manage to look like the ruins of ancient Rome as Mervyn cycles past on his rounds; paperboys themselves being an anachronism.
Mervyn Day’ neither condemns the Olympic dream in the name of misguided nostalgia, nor does it bury the past.

As Mervyn gazes across the Thames at the Millennium Dome the warning is clear enough, but as the narration reminds us “The Lea Valley has always been about change”. In calling forth the memory of the Bryant and May Matchgirls’ strike that arguably gave birth to the Labour Party, it also reminds us that these brick and corrugated tin behemoths were engines of oppression as much as technological progress. Ultimately it is left to the viewer to decide whether London’s last wilderness would be better off without the Olympic circus.

These films are united in being subjective responses to the changing topography of the city. Sympathetic witnesses to banality and dereliction; almost dutiful in their logging of the endangered landscape and culture of this end of East London.

Another instalment in the cinematic topography of the north-eastern frontier is currently being created as the towers of the Beaumont Estate that I see from my bathroom window, are now the stars of their own film; captured 24 hours a day on webcam – a real-time documentary of decay into regeneration, as they too slowly join the catalogue of disappearance.

Northcote Arms Leytonstone

Northcote Arms Leytonstone

References
1. Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit


2. John Smith: Film and Video Works 1971-2002, Cornelia Parker, A.L. Rees, Nicky Hamlyn

3. In short: a guide to short film-making in the digital age, John Smith p.77-86


4. John Smith at www.luxonline.org.uk


5. Ian Bourn at www.luxonline.org.uk


6. London Calling, Frieze.com, Brian Dillion


7. Hymn to the East End, Daily Telegraph 26.11.05, Sukhdev Sandhu
© John Rogers 2006

Leytonstone A12