London Overground Q&A with Iain Sinclair at the East End Film Festival

After working on London Overground for almost exactly a year it was a special moment to see it fade up on the big screen at the Rio Cinema in the East End Film Festival on 2nd July. It was the first time I’d watched the film all the way through without changing it and tinkering in the edit.

I sat next to my 13-year old son in the 4th row and out of the 170+ people in the auditorium it was his reaction I was most attuned to. He fidgeted in the way you’d expect a teenager to but at the end he said, almost surprised, “I enjoyed that”.

Iain Sinclair & John Rogers

The Q&A with Iain Sinclair afterwards covered the basics of how the film evolved and then towards the end into the territory of discussing ‘the state of London’ and various responses to it. When I’m doing these events with Iain I always feel like I’ve got the best seat in the house to sit and listen to him talk – but with the added bonus that I get to contribute.

The film now takes on a life of its own – once screened it is liberated. There are more screenings planned for the autumn and winter as I start to turn my mind to future projects.

Mayesbrook Park, Barking and Dagenham

One sultry Friday morning the other week I jumped on the first bus that swung through Leytonstone Station with the aim of just riding it to the end of the line. But I didn’t make it to the terminus of the 145 at Dagenham Asda as I was so beguiled by the autumnal colours lining Longbridge Road that I spontaneously disembarked without a clue where I was. It was a fortuitous decision because within 10 minutes I wandered through the gates of Mayesbrook Park, where the Mayes Brook gently trundles through the mile long parkland on its way to meet the River Roding at Barking.

Exploring the park left me starving, so I headed for Upney Station to make my way home. I passed Upney Fish Bar that had a sign boasting of being voted best Fish and Chip Shop in London one year. I’m normally skeptical of such claims but was prepared to wait 10 minutes for my fish to be freshly fried. I took the steaming hot parcel back to the park and cracked it open on a bench by the lake surrounded by eager geese. My god, the batter was so crispy each bite scattered the birds from the trees, and the chips were just the right side of perfect. So that boast turned out to be relatively modest.

The old psychogeographical trick of taking random bus journeys delivered in spades.

Iain Sinclair – London Overground + Black Apples of Gower interview

I’m looking for somewhere to set up my camera near Hoxton Station, I could also do with a second coffee. Do I gamble that Iain Sinclair will not turn up early or do I delay that additional caffeine hit. I gamble and as I return to the station 5 minutes before our rendezvous time there he is.

We find a bench that allows me to have the station sign in frame. I go to reference my two pages of typed notes, carefully assembled from a binge back-to-back reading of London Overground and Black Apples of Gower but an easterly gust of wind hoists them into the sky and over the high wall into the garden of the Geffrye Museum. Iain laughs. Don’t worry I assure him, the impressions of both books are firmly stamped on my mind, I probably had too many questions anyway – we’d freewheel it, follow the drift of conversation.

Iain Sinclair London Overground

When the wide-ranging chat was done Iain wanted to walk along to Haggerston Baths, a much-loved local resource awaiting the next developer. He was also keen to show me the railway arch mentioned in the book, ‘a good symbol of what swims through these caverns beneath the railway, multi-coloured fish quotations, three or four thousand quid a pop instead of a plate of jellied eels. You can go from your flat, dump your bicycle, have a good work-out, get an appetite, make yourself a better person with some artisan bread, which brings you neatly to Haggerston Station.’

Iain Sinclair John Rogers

The Cyclist and the City: Cyclogeography interview in the saddle with Jon Day

When I opened the envelope containing Jon Day’s Cyclogeography (a beautiful object – pink cloth cover with embossed white and electric blue text) I wondered whether it was a provocation. I’d been sent the book on the basis of my writing about London walking and here was a text penned from the point of view of the one of the natural enemies of the urban rambler. With cycle couriers able to obtain speeds around the tight grid of Soho streets that even Jeremy Clarkson could only dream about you are more likely to be mown down by a bike in some parts of London than a motor vehicle. Puce-faced commuting cyclists shrink-wrapped in lycra and riding the Tour de France in their imagination have now rendered the towpaths of the Regent Canal and the Lee Navigation unwalkable. But I was intrigued by the occluded world of the bike couriers – you see them flash by like sprites but rarely is their society penetrated.

Jon Day makes the solid case for this book up front. After starting to learn London from the saddle during stints working as a cycle courier he began to read the city too and soon noticed that London had been claimed as a walker’s city with precious little from the perspective of the cyclist. As militant a pedestrian as I am, Day soon convinced me that whereas a walker will seek out London’s buried rivers by reading the runes of old maps, for the cyclist the contours of the river valleys are unavoidable, detected not by a dowsing rod but by tightening calves at the end of 80-mile day on the pedal. Not only does the Courier’s livelihood depend on an intimate knowledge of every street and alleyway between the Elephant and Camden and the East End to Hammersmith, but also their very physical survival. They are compelled to live in harmony with the city.

Cyclogeography portrays an intense relationship between the cyclist and the city – nearly elevating the courier to the status of the great hoarders of London lore – the Black Cab driver. Day makes such a beguiling case for the city of the cyclist that I asked him to take me for a ride, at my insistence away from traffic through the Olympic Park and beside the River Lea. It was one of the more challenging interviews I’ve filmed, but that was the point.
This is an important and unique London book – you should read it.

This article originally appeared in 3:AM Magazine

Psychogeographical intervention in the General Election

With the General Election looming it seems an apt time to post this video of an psychogeographical intervention I was invited to stage by artist Bob and Roberta Smith in Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency where Bob is challenging him on May 7th.

Employing an algorithmic derive seemed like a good way to unlock hidden aspects of the principle town in the constituency – Camberley. The Situationists had developed the derive as a form of reconnaissance mission for the eventual transformation of everyday life – in this case it would be launching Bob’s election campaign.

psychogeography algorithm

The algorithm (above) that we used, and the overall idea of algorithmic or Generative Psychogeography was developed by Dutch artists Social Fiction who experimented with the process over the Summer of 2001. I’d used these in a psychogeographical remapping of High Wycombe working with my sister throughout 2004-05 to great effect. What would happen in Surrey Heath?

In their essay, Algorithmic Noise as Free Culture: The Hot Summer of Generative Psychogeography 2002, Social Fiction write of the experience, “Participation in a generative psychogeographical experiment forces you to adopt the characteristics of a machine, you are pushed through streets like an object in almost closed loops which are connected by sudden rushes straight forward.”

Camberley

As the algorithm took us into a series of carparks linked by flytipped alleyways this prediction appeared to be borne out – Camberley was perhaps a perfect ‘generator’ of psychogeography.

The process does come with the warning that, “the algorithm which should be able to produce a walk without navigational friction repeatedly produces more confusion than certainty: the algorithm becomes chaos.” Which certainly seemed to be the case as we crossed and re-crossed roads, and skirted a multi-storey carpark that Bob sketched.

IMG_1475

I had stated that we would follow the algorithm for exactly one hour. Our final turn took us off the main road opposite Sandhurst Military Academy and into the carpark behind Argos. And there at the very end of the derive, dead on 1 hour of walking, we found ourselves outside Camberley’s one and only Art Shop. From the chaos the algorithm had produced the perfect conclusion to the exercise.

Vote Bob for More Art

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