Wrong Speed Records all dayer @ The Strongroom.

Saturday 8 October 2022 – London.

Wrong Speed Records is a small and vital record label created by Joe Thompson, bass player with Hey Colossus and Henry Blacker, during the early Covid lockdowns. The label is the centre of the Hey Colossus multiverse, with most of the (at the time of writing) 38 releases on the label coming from bands associated with current or ex-members of the band, and there are quite a few of those. I don’t own all those records but I have at least one by all the bands playing today, or I do now as I picked up the Gum Takes Tooth record from the merch stand after the show.

Today was the Wrong Speed Records all-day gig at The Strongroom bar in Shoreditch. Six bands, five on Wrong Speed Records and one (Gum Takes Tooth) about to be, all for the amazing price of zero pounds; yes it was free. Fantastic, and such a good line up as well.

The first band was on at 3:30 and I arrived just before The Mute Servants hit the stage, meeting Sean, a Walthamstow friend at the venue. The Mute Servants are a two piece formed around the songs of one of Hey Colossus’ three guitarists. The songs were short, sharp and fun, nothing over two minutes in length; garage punk at its finest. They did (at least) two covers, The Breeders ‘Do you love me now’ and The Fall’s ‘Industrial Estate’. It was a great start to the day.

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The Strongroom is not a bad venue, I’m not sure if hosts a lot of bands, but it is well set up for them, with a couple of bars, a huge outdoor space with loads of seating and a gig room that would hold a couple of hundred; it seemed really well air-conditioned as well which I appreciated. The one downside for day time bands was the glass fire exit doors letting in too much background light which made it hard to take photos of the musicians on a very dimly lit stage. I had a lot of trouble getting images of the next band. Shooting was hard for all the bands with my ancient beast of a camera, the light was very dim and mostly a horrible red or even more horrible blue.

Haress (prounced hairs) were second on, and the band I was most looking forward to seeing, and they didn’t disappoint; not that any of the bands did. Another of the Hey Colossus guitarists plays guitar in Haress.

Haress play a very quiet gentle gothic country, slow mournful tunes, that build slowly to a gentle peak, I play their records a lot while I work. They all play their instruments while seated, which sort of reflects the vibe of their music. There was even a sing-along with handed out lyric sheets for one of their songs.

I thought they were great and my photos didn’t do them justice, I would have loved to have been on the other side of the stage but someone else was taking pictures there and it seems a bit weird having the only two people taking photos standing in the same place.

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Thee Alcoholics were the third band of the day and the third band of the day without a bass player. Definitely the heaviest band so far (it gets heavier), a grungey-noise rock four piece with an ex-Hey Colossus drummer on guitar and vocals. There was a guest vocal by an ex-Hey Colossus vocalist/current Hey Colossus guitarist on a song that which was very reminiscent of the older sludgier Hey Colossus sound. I liked them.

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Fourth up were Nottingham punks Blind Eye, the only proper punk band on the bill. They play a fast melodic hardcore and had the crowd buzzing; there were even a small number of people slam dancing through their short and furious set. From where I was standing it was impossible to get a decent photo of the guitarist, he was mostly in the dark, one of the only musicians I didn’t get a photo of.

The venue was at ground level with the locked glass fire door on Rivington Street, opposite a restaurant and bar. It was very early evening when Blind Eye took the stage and I was amused by all the fancily dressed young folk peering in through the glass of the doors, wondering/bemused at the thunderous racket going on inside.

Four bands in, and the first band with a bass player and also the first without current or ex Hey Colossus member.

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Not owning of their records meant I was not that familiar with Gum Takes Tooth, only really giving them an online listen in the days before the gig. I liked what I heard and was keen to see them, they were the real outliers on the day; no bass, no drums and no guitars, as well as being the only band on the day yet to release anything on Wrong Speed, apparently something coming in 2023.

The played a set that sounded very techno to my electronic-ignorant ears, and they got a very good response from full venue, I enjoyed their set a lot.

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Headliners for the event were Hey Colossus, a last minute addition after another band had to pull out. I always like seeing Hey Colossus, and I guess with so many members at the venue it made sense that they played. It was a cracking set as well, with a couple of new tracks being aired as well as songs from the last three records. I enjoyed it immensely, especially the epic closer, the 16 minute Trembling Rose. Paul, the vocalist is such a fun photographic subject.

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This was the first time I’ve been to a multi-band event where every band was excellent, it was impossible to pick a favourite. They were all different enough that direct comparisons would be impossible.Big thanks to the bands, the fans, the bar team, Joe, Chris, Baba Yagas Hut and anyone else who was involved in organising the day.

Roll on the next event in mid-2023.

Big thanks to the bands, the fans, the bar team, Joe, Chris, Baba Yagas Hut and anyone else who was involved in organising the day.

Roll on the next event in mid-2023.

Amsterdam

Wednesday 21 September 2022 – Amsterdam, Holland.

Amsterdam. The final city in our three city whistle-stop holiday, which sadly was all over far too quickly; both the holiday and our stay in this wonderful city of canals and cobbled streets.

I deliberately chose to go to Amsterdam on a Monday rather than over a weekend, I’m not a party person and the thought of a city full of stag-dos and hen parties was horrifying. I want some semblance of peace and quiet while I holiday and don’t want to be lumped in with the louder drunken English tourist.

All our inter-city travel has been via train, it’s long been my favourite form of travel. Headphones on and gazing out the window as we move through the world is one of the true joys of travelling. I like to take photos through the window as we go, mostly unsuccessfully; a lot of attempts went into a virtual bin to get a couple that I liked. The countryside is mostly flat and rural, I was looking for olde worlde windmills but didn’t see anything other than large modern wind turbines; though there is a beauty in those as well; I’m glad I don’t live near them though.

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We loved Amsterdam, as in Brussels and Gent we stayed outside the centre but within easy walking distance; though we really didn’t do much in the centre, a quick walk through and that was it. We missed all of the central city attractions, mostly deliberately. I’m not that sort of tourist.

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We walked past Rembrandt’s house, I knocked, though he wasn’t in.

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The view from our hotel room in the Jordaan.

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We spent most of our time walking around the canals that fringe the centre of town. Canal side walking was such a joy, just like Gent the inner suburbs were dominated by cyclists and pedestrians. There were cars, but few and they all seemed to give way to those not in tin boxes, it was quite civilised. I don’t recall the constant blaring of horns at any minor inconvenience caused by someone cycling slowly up a cobbled single lane road. The Heineken sign is above the door of my favourite bar of the whole trip.

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One of things that I found very amusing was the number of (often white) vans parked on bridges, I have so many photos with unexpected and unwanted vans in them.

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I took a lot of photos of canals and bridges. Did you expect anything else?

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There were some great houses here, though not all of them were straight. I like the variety of residential architecture in the different European towns and cities I’ve visited over the years; different weather and environmental conditions has led to a different style of building. This makes urban walking so much more interesting.

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I loved these tiny cars, there were a lot of them about, some powered by cranky old petrol engines that sound like they’re held together with gaffer tape and ancient congealed grease and street dust, the newer ones are electric and silent; neither seem to move very fast. I’ve not seen these anywhere else.

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As in Gent and Brussels we found a number of quite chilled cafes and bars (not the ‘special’ kind’) to hang out in, mostly out of the main tourist areas. There was a bar round the corner from the hotel that I spent a couple of hours in over a couple of small beers while I read my book and listened to the dub reggae they were playing. It was the local bar I dream of having where I live but have never found. I guess everything looks better through the rose-tinted glasses of a holiday. On our last night we found a whisky bar that had a nice range of whisky based cocktails, we stayed for a couple; the music was good and they place felt nice; admittedly there weren’t many other customers. Like the gin bar in Gent on our first night this place also had ladderlike stairs going to the toilet, not a place for cocktail wobbly legs.

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When we planned the trip we intended to visit the world renown Rijksmuseum art gallery, but wow, it’s expensive!

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We decided we would visit the MOCO Modern Art museum instead, it was a bit cheaper and was focused on street and pop art rather than the classics. Amongst the Banksy and Warhols they were exhibiting a couple of Stik paintings, the kind of thing you normally see painted on city walls.

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MOCO was in the same precinct as the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, another nice part of Amsterdam about 30 minutes from where we were staying.  There were quite a few people here, probably the largest volume of other tourists we’ve seen. A lot of accents and languages being spoken around the coffee and waffle cart tables.  It was nice and I miss that sort of thing quite a lot; I find a joy in being amongst strangers, who have all come to somewhere else to gather a drink coffee. Of course I don’t talk to them, that would be madness.

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All too soon it was time to head back home; a week away was enough to refresh, and enough for a taste of the low countries, but I left wanting more; which is a good thing. Like most other places I’ve visited, I would willingly come back.

The train back to London was really busy and I really should have checked out seats before we left, our view was, um, limited. At least we were near the bar.

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Brussels, Belgium, where I turn 60.

Monday 19 September 2022 – Brussels, Belgium.

I was 60 on Saturday 17 September, a milestone that pretty much snuck up on me. I don’t feel 60, it sounds old and most of the time I don’t feel old; I feel like a young 59. This trip was primarily to celebrate my birthday and I wanted to, and should have, spend more time on planning it. I’m good at planning holidays and get almost as much pleasure from the planning as I do from trip.

I struggled with organising this trip, possibly due to being too busy, but I mainly think it’s a Covid hangover; a lack of trust that we will actually be able to go mixed with a nervousness about being in crowds again and not being in the mood to ‘have fun’. I had a few attempts at making a trip work but couldn’t get time, location and budget to fit. In the end I just thought ‘fuck it, let’s go to Brussels’. I chose Brussels as it isn’t Berlin or Amsterdam, Rome or Paris; it’s not a city you go to celebrate something and it’s the centre of the ‘hated’ EU. It sounded perfect, and I don’t hate the EU by the way. I would rejoin tomorrow if it was my choice.

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We arrived in Brussels after two great days in Gent on Friday afternoon, it wasn’t raining then, it saved that for my birthday. Not that rain put us off roaming the streets to check a place out. As with Gent we stayed a little off the beaten track in what seemed to be a largely residential area in the suburb of Ixelles, a thirty minute walk from the old centre and a similar distance from the EU Parliament sector. It was a great spot, close to some good places to eat; a critical consideration when I book a holiday. We had three great meals in Ixelles, all different; including a very nice birthday dinner I had booked before we left London.

We enjoyed Brussels; of course it’s a big city, and it isn’t particularly touristy though it has a number of interesting attractions. I took a few photos, as you would expect.

On Saturday, we took a walk into the centre, it rained off and on during the morning, getting quite heavy at times. It didn’t put us off too much; it also kept the crowds down.

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We took a break from the drizzle over beer and cider in a small  bar before visiting the Magritte Museum, an adjunct to the art gallery. I quite like some of his work; especially his later ‘apple’ series.

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There is a bit of art around the place, both modern street and the more traditional sculpture, including Brussels number one tourist attraction, the Manneken Pis fountain.

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I especially liked this terrible statue of Jacques Brel.

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We went into a couple of churches, one had the most amazing modern abstract stained glass windows, which is very difficult to see in this photo.

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I was really surprised to find a Phlegm painting in the city; one of my favourite British street artists.

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We spent Sunday walking to and then around the European Parliament area and up to the Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Triumphal Arc. The walk through the lovely old cobbled streets of Ixelles towards the EU Centre was so quiet and pleasant and we wondered at the absence of cars and the abundance of pedestrians and families on bikes.

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It was not till we were in the centre that we realised it was Brussels annual car free day… It explained a lot, we thought this bit of Brussels was just like this all the time; a dream for me is a mostly car free city.

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Sadly the Royal Court of Justice was covered in scaffold.

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I want trams back in London.

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Gent, Belgium.

Friday 16 September 2022 – Gent, Belgium.

There won’t be a lot of text in this, nor the following couple of posts, though there are quite a few photos in all three. Gent, Brussels and Amsterdam are photogenic in their different ways.

We loved Gent, I think we possibly could have done with one more day, though we saw most of the things we planned on seeing. The main thing we missed was the ‘Adoration of the Lamb’ altarpiece in St Bavo’s Cathedral. Something for next time; I like to think we will go back one day, it is a place to return to.

Gent is a medieval town surrounded by canals, very similar to the more classically beautiful Bruges. Gent had the edge for me as it has a student population and is a little more ‘grunge’ than Bruges; there is street art and some graffiti and student type bars with decent music. It’s not just a tourist town, though tourism must be one of its primary income sources, it’s a lived in and loved place. For an ancient town it is young and it felt right.

Some highlights.
Gin.

Le Alchemist. We popped in because it was raining and stayed for two very nice, and expensive, glasses of gin and tonic each. They had a nice range of different gins and tonics, the music was great and we were the only customers for a while; it was mid-afternoon. The steps to the bathroom were not for the faint hearted; nor the drunk.

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t’Druepelkott. A number of people advised us to visit this tiny canal side bar in the tourist area, and all those people were right. What a place! The (I assume) cigar smoking owner only serves hots of flavoured gin, poured into a large or small shot with a shaky hand. The glass is filled to brim and you have to sip from top before lifting it from the bar to take back to your seat. 70s and 80s funk sound tracked our couple of drinks and it is up there with the top moments of the trip.

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The food was great as well, vegan food is common, we found a couple of places that were 100% vegan; it’s not overly cheap, but it was very nice and we ate well.

Walking.

Gent is an easy town to walk and cycle, there were definitely fewer cars than most other places. The narrow and cobbled streets twist and turn and cross the canals that edge the town. We walked a lot, an awful lot. It’s the only way to see and feel this place.

I took a lot of photos. Castles, cathedrals, wonky ancient houses and street art from throughout the ages, who could ask for more?

Street art. 

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Castles and cathedrals.

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Streets and canals.

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S.M.A.K. The museum of contemporary art is lovely gallery with a great exhibition featuring some small works by Derek Jarman part made from items found around his Dungeness Beach home. As a recent Jarman convert these were the first pieces of his I had seen up close.

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A 60th birthday treat to Gent, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Wednesday 23 September 2022 – Gent, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Theoretically there’ll be individual blog posts with photos from all three places, though I can’t promise anything as I’m not enjoying the blog that much anymore. I feel it’s time is done, so we will have to see how it goes over the next few weeks. This could be the last one for a while, but then again it might not who knows.

I’m in a small neighbourhood bar a short way off the beaten track in Amsterdam as I type these first words into the laptop I’ve been lugging around for a week and not used until now. I like this bar, it’s small and dark, other than the Heineken the tap beer is all new to me so there is plenty of choice and the music playing at a sociable volume is some obscure (to me anyway) reggae. It’s all quite conducive to scribbling a few notes. In fact we haven’t been into a bad bar in the three cities we’ve visited on this, my 60 birthday trip away and the first time we’ve been to Europe since July 2018 when we last visited Valencia, a situation we have to change this coming year. I love and miss Europe, especially places off the beaten track like this small backstreet bar. Experience says bars in Europe are different to bars in the English speaking world, and different in a good way.

I spent far too much time to work out an affordable and sensible break for my birthday, initially trying to link a stay in a town to a concert by a band I liked. Nothing really made economic or time sense so I stopped trying and chose a simple train based trip to three towns in close proximity (read cheap) to England. I’ve not been to Gent (Ghent) or Brussels and last visited in Amsterdam almost exactly 35 years ago, very close to my 25 birthday. Eleanor’s experience of these places closely mirrors mine; she’s been to Amsterdam but not Gent or Brussels.

It’s now a number of days later and we’re back in London, Eleanor’s house sale and purchase is getting close to being finalised and we had a good weekend down at my flat. Work has been as busy as you would expect after two weeks away and I’m just getting my head back into writing a bit more of this post. Thankfully all the photo editing is done. I still stand by my earlier thought of winding the blog writing down, but aim to at least upload some of the edited photos I took in each city. There isn’t a lot of point in taking photos if they just stay on a hard drive in a dark drawer somewhere. Anyway….

It was a fabulous, awesome, wonderful holiday. It was so nice to be out of the UK for a few days and to spend that time in three great cities. We had nothing planned, other than the train back to London and a birthday meal in a restaurant in Brussels. We could do what we wanted, when we wanted; perfect.

It’s impossible to name a particular highlight and there is no way I can nominate one city over each of the others, I liked them all. So, here are some overall impressions and things I learned.

Cities with lots of cycling and walking and fewer cars are so much more pleasant than cities dominated by cars. In all three places non-car based transport was king.
I like trams.
Lots of young people smoke cigarettes in NW Europe; there was very little vaping going on. I was surprised.
The music in all the bars we went into was way better than most bars in London and Auckland.
The gin in Gent is lovely, as were the bars we drank gin in.
Every bar we visited I felt like I could rock up on my own, order a small beer and read a book in a corner on my own and the other customers would not make me feel like I was weird.
Canals are awesome.
Walking 20,000 + steps a day seven days in a row is tiring; though not walking up steps meant my knee survived the trip.
Neither Gent nor Brussels are dead flat.
Brussels had a car free day on the Sunday and I loved it.
Everyone speaks English; my constant shame is not speaking another language.
Good coffee can easily be found everywhere.
Excellent vegan food is easy to find.
The trains in Europe are cheaper than the UK by a long way.
In Amsterdam vans park on canal bridges.
I still love castles and cathedrals and cobbled street and anything that is a bit old.
I still love mainland Europe a lot and feel I’ve wasted years not coming here as much as I should have.

A favourite photo from each city; not for the quality of the photo, just for the memories.

Gent
Gravensteen Castle and the lovely Le Alchemist, a gin bar over the road from the castle that we nipped into as it was raining.

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Brussels
Car free Sunday

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Amsterdam
Vans parked on photogenic bridges over equally photogenic canals.

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Enablers with Van Coeur @ The Piper

Friday 02 September 2022 –  St Leonards.

This is only the third UK gig I’ve attended this year and it’s also the third with a direct or indirect relationship with Wrong Speed Records, the label that headline act Enablers released their new album ‘Some Gift on. The record came out today, which provided little time to cement any tracks in my head before the gig started. Not that this was to be a sing-along show anyway.

I’m gonna take a little bit of credit/responsibility for the gig happening at The Piper. The label did a call-out on Twitter for a venue in the south of England who would be up for show on the Enablers UK and Europe tour, and I suggested St Leonards. Somehow it happened, and I was very happy with that. The more tours that come through St Leonards the better, though of course small town SE England isn’t an overly attractive place to tour. Hasting/St Leonards may not be small geographically, but it’s small in other ways…

Arriving at The Piper at 8:30 (doors at 8:00) I wasn’t surprised to find the upstairs venue still closed. There a few people gathered in the bar below, and most of those were just Friday night drinkers, though there was the odd bloke (mostly blokes) on their own who looked like gig attendees. I think I was the only person in attendance in a band t-shirt (NZ band Die! Die! Die!), this is highly unusual behaviour, obscure band t-shirts are almost compulsory at obscure band gigs. Obviously the t-shirt shouldn’t be from the band/s you’re seeing, that would be very uncool indeed. Maybe things have changed? As Eleanor will attest I’ve been trying to wean myself off of obscure band t-shirts as I approach 60; with limited success. I’m wearing one (Southern Death Cult) as I head back to Walthamstow on a Saturday morning train.

A couple of very loud drunk/wasted guys came into the bar so I climbed the stairs to the venue and joined three other people waiting for the support band, Van Couer, to take the stage. It was a bit of a wait, I assume they were waiting for more people to arrive. Just before the band took to the low stage the two drunk/wasted loud blokes arrived in the room and looked around for somewhere to sit. Finding nothing they liked they dragged a small bench into the middle of the venue and plonked themselves down right in front. I’ve never seen anyone do that before, I quietly admired their confidence.

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Van Coeur are a three piece from Brighton; comprised of two guitarists and a drummer; all contributing to the vocals, their music is a very slow almost folky post-rock; think Slint, mixed with Low and Haress and slow it down some more. They reminded me a bit of Deathcrash, who we saw in a church in Islington last year. They are a very quiet group; as they played their opening track (You have the benefit of all my doubts) I heard the fizz of an illicit can of lager being cracked open by someone sat further along the bench I was on.

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I hadn’t heard of them prior to the gig being announced and only started listening to them yesterday. I really like them, and am listening to them on the train as I write. I don’t know the names of many of the songs they played, one stood out in particular though and I hope to stumble across it again as I listen (I didn’t (sad face emoji) ).

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Enablers are a Texan four piece, and like Van Coeur before them they had no bass player, just two six-string guitars, drums and vocals. I don’t know much of their music; they are touring the UK and Europe to promote the new LP. The audience only got to hear the songs that made up most of their set for the first time just before the show started. I would describe them as a post-punk/post-rock band backing a poet/story teller, the lyrics are mostly spoken rather than sung. They are delivered with passion and style, this isn’t a book reading.

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This was the second show on their current tour and the set was crisp and enthusiastically delivered and I thoroughly enjoyed their set, as did the small appreciative crowd. I think my favourite track was called ‘Willard to Kurtz’, a clear reference to the film ‘Apocalypse Now’. It’s very much my favourite from the record.

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Pete Simonelli is an engaging front man, difficult to photograph as no part of his body was ever still, I took a lot of photos that were plain rubbish. The light was significantly more photographer friendly than it was for Gnod a few weeks back which meant I managed to get a couple of quite crisp images. I moved closer to the centre of the stage and shot these photos between the head and shoulders of the two Van Coeur guitarists.

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it was great show and there are now another couple of LPs to add to my wish list.

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There was a small piece of exciting news this week. New Zealand (I think, though he lives in Canada) author, Matthew Goody, has written a book, ‘Needles and Plastic’, documenting the 1981-1988 period of New Zealand music label Flying Nun; their most fertile and influential period. I have more records and CDs on Flying Nun than any other record label. I’ve been waiting for the release announcement for some time as Matt has used some of my photos from the period, which will be the first time any of my photos have appeared in a book. The book comes out in November and I’m quite excited by this.

I never link to products for sale, but will make this a rare exception.

In NZ the book can be ordered from here 

and from here for the US and UK/Europe.

Trellick Tower.

Sunday 21 August 2022 – London.

I went out with the camera again today. That’s twice in two days, which is not something I’ve done in a very long time, and I enjoyed it very much. It’s good preparation for the holiday we are taking in three weeks where I imagine/hope I will be taking lots of photos. Eleanor and I have two weeks off work and will spend seven of those nights in Europe, taking in Ghent and Amsterdam, and celebrating my 60th birthday in Brussels in the middle. As someone who was, and remains, staunchly anti-Brexit, there was not a small amount of ‘fuck you’ when I decided I’d celebrate an important milestone in Brussels, the administrative heart of the dreaded European Union.

I haven’t done a photo walk with Steve for quite some time, nor have we caught up in the six months since I got back from New Zealand. The brutalist Alexandra Rd Estate is convenient for both of us and looked like a great spot for some photography, so we agreed to meet at nearby South Hampstead Station and wander about taking some photos and chatting on what has gone in over the last year.

Unfortunately when we arrived at Alexandra Estate we came across signs warning that photography was not allowed.

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As this is a residential community we agreed to respect the wishes of the people that live there and just walk through. I did take one photo from the footpath as we left. A bit of a shame, it’s a very cool looking place; but they are people’s homes and not movie sets and it was important that we comply with their very reasonable request. It does look to be an amazing place.

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Steve suggested we walk to Trellick Tower, another brutalist icon, about 30 minutes away. I readily agreed, I don’t know this part of London, so an opportunity to walk around was also welcome, with the bonus of a piece of classic brutalist architecture thrown in for good measure.

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Construction commenced on the grade 2 listed Trellick Tower in 1968 and was completed in 1972, it had been commissioned by the Greater London Council and designed in the Brutalist style by architect Ernő Goldfinger. The tower was planned to replace outdated social accommodation, and designed as a follow up to Goldfinger’s earlier Balfron Tower in East London (a photo walk for another day). The building celebrated its 50 years recently and there were lots of signs talking about it. It’s still predominately social housing, though there are a number of privately owned flats, which are eagerly sought after as you would imagine. It is quite a unique building with an interesting and occasionally troubled history.

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 Trellick Tower was the inspiration for J G Ballard’s disturbing dystopian novel ‘High Rise’, and has frequently be seen in film and music video.

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There are plans to build new towers nearby which threaten the area, including the large graffiti wall. I know there is a need for more housing in London, but potentially ruining what is a historically important building and area is not the way to go about it, and it’s not as if what gets built will complement what is there already.

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I was quite taken with the graffiti all around the base of the building, some of it is new and commemorates the buildings 50 years, but equally a lot feels quite old. It is part of the building and community’s fabric, something that some outsiders are not always willing to accept. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste but tags and graffiti are part of urban living, particularly in long established inner-city working class areas. Yes, graffiti is not appropriate in the beautifully preserved Georgian and Edwardian parts of the city, and it’s not something you see there much either, but it has its place. Here was one of those places.

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Though the gate on the steps down into the grassed area and onto the basketball court, both surrounded by graffitied walls was open, we didn’t stay there long, nor stray too far from the steps. It’s private property after all, though there were no signs saying we couldn’t be there.

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We walked around the outside of the building and I took a few photos from different angles. Perhaps if we were with photographers more experienced in working in private/public spaces I would’ve been more inclined to explore further. I just don’t know the protocols, so am cautious in my approach to these sorts of the places. The separate access tower with the walkways across is so visually appealing. It’s such a shame that more residential buildings are not built with such an aesthetic view, particularly those that are built for social housing; possibly even more important for social housing.

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After Trellick we walked along the Grand Union Canal to Paddington Station where we stopped for a refreshing ale before going our separate ways, me; I went back home. I’m quite keen to explore the area around the Westway at some stage as well. The Westway is the raised section of the A4 motorway exiting London to the west, made famous by bands like the Clash and the Ruts. 

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I guess this boat met its Nemesis in the Grand Union.

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It was another good day out, I should do more of this!

Walthamstow Forest

Saturday 20 August 2022 – Walthamstow.

The thrum hum of cars moving along the A406 was broken by a solitary helicopter passing overhead. I’d taken my headphones off as I entered the forest at Beacontree Ave, planning to use the underpass to get to the other side of the motorway. I expected to hear some birdsong, but other than an occasional and seemingly half-hearted tweet the birds were quiet; either that or they were non-existent. I was on my way to the supermarket; the long way.

I haven’t walked here for over a year, in fact I haven’t been near this distant corner of Epping Forest since we returned to London, and Walthamstow Forest is only a 15 minute walk from home. The cloudy light filtered through the yellowing leaves was excellent and it felt like a good day to be wandering aimlessly (in the general direction of South Woodford Waitrose) and taking photos.

I was a little surprised at how many leaves had yellowed and were falling from their tree, it seems too early in the year, it could be the fault of the drought we are experiencing, or the early start to summer, the trees may well be thirsty and are not being satisfied. It’s far too early to be autumnal and temperature wise it is still in the high-mid 20s.

I walked here once during lockdown to take photos of a couple of pieces by street artist, Phlegm, and they have taken a bit of a battering from the weather.

Once in Walthamstow Forest proper I put the headphones back on again as the traffic noise was so constant and so irritating and with so little forest sound I may as well listen to music. I’ve a very good playlist for this kind of day. I don’t usually listen to music in the forest, perhaps some primeval defence mechanism requires me to be listening out for danger, though the only probable danger in London’s edgeland is accidently coming across some low-level drug deal.

I bumbled around in circles in this small section of wood, I wasn’t in any great rush and the forest has changed shaped inside its borders so for a while I had no idea of what direction was what. A reasonable summary of my life at the moment; bumbling, aimless, directionless and a bit, but not badly, lost.

Other than the traffic the forest was very quiet, I barely saw another person until I starting trying to find the path that would take me towards the tunnels under Waterworks Roundabout, which will get me back on the streets and on to the supermarket.

The shedding and browning trees, grasses and ferns made the forest a lot more interesting than the summer normally is; summer is my least favourite time in the forest, it is just too green. I like the variety of colour and textures that autumn and winter brings.

I found a neat little grove of silver birches, one of my favourite trees for photography, especially in a dense green forest. I took a slow walk round and though the trees; though the forest floor was densely overgrown with brambles, making walking in shorts a very irritating, if not painful process. Worth it though as the last of these three is my favourite image of the day.

I came across about twenty of these small, brightly coloured plastic balls near the silver birch. They were scattered over a small area, and I had no idea of why they were there.

This part of the forest was subjected to a lot of mis-aimed or dumped German bombs and V1 and V2 rockets during the Second World War, leaving a number of bomb craters here and there. It is good that these reminders of man’s recklessness and greed are there for all to see, perhaps a lesson is to be learned.

I had used a tunnel crossing below the A406 to enter the forest and it felt almost symbolic to use a tunnel to cross back into the real world of houses, people and cars. Reality in other words, this moment of idyll was over.

Scorched Royal Parks

Sunday 7 August 2022 – London.

‘Imagine your favourite city as a wasteland’ opens the final chapter; ‘Coda’ of ‘Shadowlands’, Matthew Green’s excellent book about disappeared UK villages and towns. I finished the book this afternoon (Friday 12 August) accompanied by a glass of red wine after a busy week of work, a decent way to unwind.

Looking back at the photos I took on Sunday, it is quite easy to imagine London as a wasteland. The green spaces are bone dry and there have been a number of grass and scrub fires around the fringes of the city already. It’s been over a month since there was any substantial rain and we are a small number of days away from a drought being declared in large parts of England and a hosepipe ban in London. The use of hoses is already prohibited in St Leonards, where we are now which is a shame as the car is in desperate need of a wash.

After a sustained period of no rain a few days ago and a drought now predicted to last at least until the end of October, the UK recorded the highest day time temperature; in excess of 40 degrees. It’s hard to believe that some among us deny there is any sort of climate emergency.

After Eleanor and I walked through Kensington Gardens a few weeks back we arranged with some friends to come back for a picnic lunch and take an afternoon stroll through the park. At the time we were not expect this ongoing heat-wave, nor expecting to see the parks looking so dry.

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We found some shade from one of the many wonderful of trees in Kensington Gardens and unloaded the bubbles and food we had carried with us from home. It was a very enjoyable lunch.

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The walk was not as long as we would have liked, it was too hot to be out for long. We stuck to the shady paths were we could, but that was not always possible.

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I had brought the camera along, though I wasn’t really feeling it that much, which has been reflected further as I write this very short post. I’m going through a very demotivated period at the moment, possibly due to my pending 60th. 

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There were the occasional, heavily watered oasies,

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and some of those bloody parakeets.

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We walked through Hyde Park, then onto Green Park to get the tube home. Hyde Park was almost desert like in places. 

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I’ve not seen the parks as dry as they are now, and with no end in sight, I hope they get a chance to recover. Much as I hate the royal family the royal parks are a wonderful part of London.

Docklands

Sunday 24 July 2022 – London.

Empty boulevards, blown desert dry by a Saharan-like wind, sand dusted cars and relentless heat from a clear blue sky. A young woman walking in the opposite direction scurries past on the far side of the weed-edged footpath. She’s wearing a mask and black sun glasses under her hijab and though I can’t see her eyes I can tell she looked at me like I was mad. “Mad dogs and Englishmen”, as the old saying goes. I suspect few people walk these streets at any time, let alone on a windy day under a strong mid-day sun. This is not really a walking place at the best of times.

I pass through a wind-tunnel created by poorly thought through blocks of flats, my hat is blown off twice in a hundred yards. Emerging onto one of the older streets, I catch, then pass a young couple taking photos of each other on a shared mobile phone; they laugh. I guess they are visitors too, the area seems devoid of residents. I see windows wide open, washing drying on balconies and bikes changed to fences, so there must be people here, somewhere. It feels lifeless, soulless and other words ending in ‘ess, it’s not the place for me.

Surprisingly I’m in Docklands, east London, not the back streets of Dubai, or some other desert state where the non-billionaire classes are moved out to the fringes. I’m walking from Canning Town Station to Trinity Buoy Wharf and man has it changed since I was last here.

There was an article in the Guardian by Ollie Wainwright (my new favourite feature writer) a few weeks ago exposing a (so far) failed Chinese funded office development in Docklands and it sounded just like the sort of thing I should see for myself. This is a bit of London I’ve visited on occasion, but never properly explored, so the article was a good prompt to get out for a photo walk. Sadly these days, I need reminders to get out and do the things I enjoy.

I’m going to say I was a bit shocked, maybe even a little upset by what I discovered while I was out as it’s all a bit of an urban planning disaster. I guess the area was never going to be beautiful, not without major surgery. Carved up by the River Lea, empty docks, crossed with A roads and with City Airport in the middle of it, this was designed to be a commercial and industrial zone; which it was until time ran out for the docks that supported London for decades. Now it is a bit of a wasteland, and with an urgent, if not desperate need for more housing in London then logic says build houses; which is what is happening, just not very well.

This was highlighted as I crossed the pedestrian bridge from Canning Town tube station on to the small isthmus formed by a tight loop in the River Lea/Bow Creek just before it flows into the Thames. I walked straight into a new housing estate that seems to be called City Island (City Isthmus doesn’t have the same ring to it). In some ways it is an island I guess, river on three of the four sides and a flyover crossing the fourth which makes it feel disconnected from the its neighbours.

It wasn’t an unpleasant looking area, The National Ballet is homed here and the apartments are not unattractive; but it was so empty of life and the buildings had created an artificial canyon which the wind howled through, I had to put my hat in my bag as there was no point in attempting to wear it on my head.

Once through the estate and under the Lea Crossing Flyover there were some familiar old Docklands buildings, though I’m not sure how long they will last as more flats are, or were being built.

I walked around Trinity Buoy Wharf, it was good knowing that this tiny bit of land was largely untouched, and the café is still open. There was a large group of artists sketching and drawing in notebooks, this place still attracts the art community at least. I wonder what they think of the changes?

To get to the rest of Docklands I had to leave this small area and use the Lea Crossing bridge, it was pretty unpleasant. It feels like these new micro-communities are being dropped into little bits of old London, then deliberately kept disconnected from neighbouring communities by the major roads that proliferate away form the centre. These roads are unpleasant to walk alongside and in some cases difficult to cross. You almost have to have a car to get any enjoyment from living in some of the places, and that joy is to be found in getting out. Though to be fair the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) system runs through here and it is a great piece of public transport investment.

I walked past the Excel Centre, I should have stopped for coffee and some lunch, but thought I would find something further along my walk. Though there was nothing on in the conference centre the place was fairly busy, the buzziest place I passed as I walked.

I crossed the Royal Victoria Dock using the quite fabulous footbridge (I regret not taking a photo), though the steps didn’t do my knee any favours. I took some photos from the top, the view is pretty immense from up here.

I’ve always wanted to visit the Millennium Mills building, but was never able to get tickets to the rare tours to the site, sadly those days are past and this huge, ugly/beautiful building will be converted into expensive flats to go along side all the other flats that no-one who lives now here can actually afford. I sense another residential desert coming. The building is magnificent, especially now as it slowly decays.

My next stop was Thames Barrier Park, for it’s view of the barrier built to save parts of London when the floods come. Like Millennium Mills I’ve long wanted to come here, but haven’t managed to in the past. Getting there was the tricky part, there was another road to cross and a long line of barrier fencing preventing crossing.

I made it over eventually, passing under the DLR and yet another place I should have stopped for coffee at but didn’t. I never did get that coffee.

Thames Barrier Park is really nice, a lovely green and shaded oasis in the sea of apartments, it was quiet and cooler than the heat attracting/reflecting streets. There were quite a few people here enjoying the peace, you can see that the council look after the park well. Other than Trinity Buoy wharf it was the only place I visited today that seemed to be loved by the community that lived nearby.

After almost ten years of construction the Thames Barrier was completed in 1982, it’s a retractable barrier designed to close, blocking the river to protect the centre of London from flooding due to tidal surges on the river. I am assuming the water that doesn’t go up river is then forced into the streets of working class outer London, but at least the banks in the city centre will be safe. It’s a remarkable piece of engineering and looks amazing. I will try and come back one day when it is closed as I’ve no idea what it would look like then.

Athena by Nasser Azam is on a roundabout at the entrance to City Airport, at 12 metres it is the tallest bronze sculpture in the UK, I’m ambivalent about it, but it is huge!

After saying farewell to Athena I approached Connaught Bridge and was horrified to see there was no footpath on the side of the road. I quickly discovered, to my relief, that I could walk underneath, but this was not immediately obvious as a newly visiting pedestrian, for a brief moment I saw myself backtracking all the way back to the Excel centre to get to the other side of the dock.

Given my antipathy to cars and roads I actually quite like being underneath these vast concrete constructions. There is something simple and practical and almost beautiful in the design and build of a flyover; clean lines, gentle curves and huge amounts of pale and austere concrete. From beneath they are cathedral-like, some have tables and chairs, almost like an altar, created by the homeless, street drinkers, graffiti artists and other street dwellers who congregate in these drone filled shelters.

Arriving in Royal Albert Dock I was surprised at how big it was, the runway of City Airport runs down one side with a long concreted promenade down the other. Like Royal Victoria Dock, there are small scale leisure activities on or in the water at one end. I’m not convinced that an airport runway provides the cleanest air for boating activities, but a least there are some activities for the young from the surrounding suburbs.

This area, between the railway and the dock was I guess an empty, fenced off wasteland for a number of years. Under Boris Johnson’s mayoralty there was a drive to open up a new commercial zone in Docklands and there was some logic to this, the airport is here, the huge Excel Convention centre next door, there are hotels and bars and restaurants nearby. The supporting infrastructure was largely in place and business would generate loads of new jobs, though possibly not for those pesky working class folk who lived in the 50s and 60s housing estates that surround the area and whose work ended when the docks were closed.

Sensing opportunity Newham Council joined the bandwagon and they now part occupy the first building I come to in this new utopian, ‘third business centre’ of London. It’s pretty bleak, what grass has been left in the sea of concrete is a sun scorched yellow brown, weeds grow through the pavers and for some reason this section of walkway is taped off. There is no-one around so I cross the tape and walk along the side of the building, looking in the windows as I go, some of the offices look occupied, most appear to be fitted out with workstations that no human has yet worked at.

Finally I arrive at Advanced Business Parks’ (ABP) failed venture to build something of lasting value, and the reason I left home this morning with my camera in my bag. Touted in 2013 as a new start for this bit of Docklands, the massive investment (tax break?) by ABP was to lead the way for Chinese and pan-Asian business investment in London, a new 24 hour business precinct giving opportunities to overseas companies to use the best British workers to service their needs in local time.

200 yards multiplied by two of empty low rise office space. The boulevard of dreams, not turned into the boulevard of reality when it all came crashing down; starting in 2018 and ending when Covid struck in 2020. At least the road leading to the locked road gates sees some use.

The site is open to pedestrians so there was no fence hopping to get in. I saw a couple of people walking along the side of the dock, but there was no one walking between the buildings other than my refection in the clean office windows. The site is obviously being secured and looked after, there were no smashed windows, no graffiti and no sign of anyone squatting.

The only life being a few forlorn trees; though most of the trees were dead.

Mandarin Street is the single main thoroughfare between the four buildings; in two rows of two blocks. One of the buildings seems to house a small local gallery; though it was closed when I was there. Most were just empty. It was weird walking around where there was even less signs of life than in City Island.

I wonder what will happen to this place and it’s big wide promenade, looking over an empty expanse of dock to an airport. Plenty of real-estate companies though.

Hungry, hot and a bit dehydrated I caught the DLR and then the Overground ending the afternoon in a bar in Shoreditch drinking a couple of beers and eating a burger with Aiden. Three hours of walking in the sun pretty much did for me so a seat, some food, cold beer and relaxing chat with my son was a pleasing way to end an interesting and not entirely uplifting day. it was nice to see there is still some street art to be found in Shoreditch.

I read the other day that London is a city containing a million smaller cities. Today I visited more than one of those smaller cities and next time I’m here they will be changed, or gone completely.