‘I was one day wandering about the streets in part of North Kensington, telling myself stories of feudal sallies and sieges, in the manner of Walter Scott, and vaguely trying to apply them to the wilderness of bricks and mortar around me. I felt that London was already too large and loose a thing to be a city in the sense of a citadel. It seemed to me even larger and looser than the British Empire. And something irrationally arrested and pleased my eye about the look of one small block of little lighted shops, and I amused myself with the supposition that these alone were to be preserved and defended.’ (GK Chesterton ‘Nationalism and Notting Hill’ 1936).
1978 ‘We’re di forces af vict’ry, an’ wi’ comin’ rite through, we’re di forces af vict’ry, now wat yu gonna do, wi mek a lickle date fi 1978 an’ wi fite an’ wi fite, an’ defeat di State, den all wi jus’ forwud up to Not’n’ Hill Gate.’ As the reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson made his early Carnival route expansion proposal in ‘Forces of Victory’ on Virgin, Tom Robinson’s ‘Up Against the Wall’ predicted a 1958 fascist revival, ‘consternation in Mayfair, rioting in Notting Hill Gate, fascists on the march again.’ Or it was hoped there would be a revolutionary echo of 1968. But neither of which quite happened; as 1978 failed to match the pop cultural upheaval of the previous two years, there wasn’t even much of a Carnival riot. In the Black Britain ’78 Carnival photo cheerful revellers, still with some notable Afros, danced in front of the police line. As Margaret Thatcher notoriously said British people feared being “swamped by people with a different culture”, various Rock Against Racism punk and reggae tours did the rounds and ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ by Althea and Donna was number 1.
Bob Marley returned to Jamaica for the ‘One Love’ Peace Festival, where he brought together the prime minister Michael Manley and the opposition leader Edward Seaga on stage. The Clash released ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ and headlined the Rock Against Racism Anti-Nazi League Carnival in Victoria Park, Hackney; also featuring Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, the Tom Robinson Band, the punk poet Patrik Fitzgerald and Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69. The latter’s punky skinhead outfit, of ‘If the Kids are United’ notoriety, caused a pop white riot at the 1978 Reading Festival. The punk movement generally went along with the Rock Against Racism sentiment and ignored the Socialist Workers’ Party promoters as much as possible. As the commercialised punky reggae of the Police entered the charts, ‘Safe European Home’ on the second Clash album recounted Mick Jones and Joe Strummer’s first trip to Jamaica – with them admitting to being on a cheap holiday in other people’s misery.
Bernie Rhodes quit as Clash manager, complaining that they were taking too long to complete their second album in the States, when they could have done it in a few weeks on Basing Street. The track ‘Gates of the West’ on the Clash ‘Cost of Living’ EP, which was recorded at Basing Street studios, contains the local history line, ‘the immigrants are remnants of all the glory years.’ When the Clash were in the Island studios recording ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ they frequented the Warwick Castle pub (now The Castle) at 225 Portobello Road, which subsequently became the last bastion of the Ladbroke Grove punk and reggae scene in the late 80s. As Bernie Rhodes managed the Specials, Vic Godard’s Subway Sect and the Black Arabs, Caroline Coon (of Oz, Release and Melody Maker) had a stint at the post, whilst going out with Paul Simonon; followed by Pete Jenner (of the London Free School and Pink Floyd previous), before Bernie’s disastrous return in the 80s.
Zigzag magazine, under the editorship of Kris Needs, became the un-official Clash tour programme. The former hippy music mag returned to its spiritual home in Ladbroke Grove from Aylesbury, when it was taken over by Phoenix Magazines at 118 Talbot Road. Phoenix also distributed the first Clash and Pistols books, punk fanzines including the Rock Against Racism underground press-format Temporary Hoarding, International Times and High Times. The Zigzag punk and reggae small labels catalogue included the newly founded Rough Trade Records at 202 Kensington Park Road, RAW along the same street at 74a (featuring the Hammersmith Gorillas, the Killjoys and Creation), and the reggae labels; Greensleeves at 44 Uxbridge Road, Burning Sounds at 379 Harrow Road and Lightning at 841 (featuring Althea and Donna, Culture, and the New York punk outfit Snatch), Aswad’s Grove Music and Hawkeye in Harlesden.
The Police followed the Sex Pistols to Portobello Road from their shared Oxford Street offices, when Sting’s manager Miles Copeland moved his operations into Codrington Mews, 41b Blenheim Crescent (now occupied by the XL label), round the corner from Rough Trade. Miles, who is the son of the CIA chief Miles and the older brother of the Police drummer Stewart, had previously managed the Climax Blues Band, Curved Air (featuring Stewart Copeland), Renaissance and Wishbone Ash; he also promoted tours including the Sex Pistols in Scandinavia in late ’77. His Faulty Products independent label empire, featuring Step Forward, Deptford Fun City, Illegal, IRS (USA), Spy, etc, covered the punk rock spectrum from Chelsea’s ‘Right to Work’ to the Fall’s ’Live at the Witch Trials.
Miles Copeland’s Tory anarchist approach encompassed such dubious punk acts as the Police, Jools Holland’s Squeeze, Wayne (later Jayne) County and the Electric Chairs, the Cortinas, Mark Perry (of Sniffin’ Glue fanzine)’s Alternative TV and Good Missionaries, Johnny Curious and the Strangers, the Only Ones, Kim Fowley (of Cat Stevens’ ‘Portobello Road’ song and Runaways previous), Klark Kent (Stewart Copeland’s alter ego), Blast Furnace (the Oz and NME journalist Charles Shaar Murray’s group), Lords of the New Church, the Cramps, X and REM. The Step Forward/Illegal staff included Nick Jones, who went on to manage the Sisters of Mercy, Vermillion Sands from Search and Destroy fanzine, and the reggae DJ Steve Jameson, who later turned up in Rough Trade and World Domination Enterprises.
The Rough Trade label was launched in early 1978 with the release of Metal Urbain’s ‘Paris Maquis’ French Resistance single – showcased in the squatted Flag pub in Frestonia in ’77. Mute Records began when Daniel Miller’s white label of the Normal’s ‘TVOD’/‘Warm Leatherette’ was first played in the Rough Trade shop in early ’78 and Geoff Travis agreed to distribute it. Later in the year the Rough Trade gamut of reggae, experimental electronic, agitprop political, post, hardcore thrash and comic sci-fi punk was defined in their first batch of singles; Augustus Pablo’s ‘Pablo Meets Mister Bassie’ in association with his Rockers label, Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Do the Mussolini Headkick’ EP, Stiff Little Fingers’ ‘Alternative Ulster’/‘78 Revolutions A Minute’ with Rigid Digits, Subway Sect’s ‘Ambition’ – the first post-punk single, Angelic Upstarts’ ‘Liddle Towers’ with Walthamstow’s Small Wonder, and Spizz Oil’s ‘6,000 Crazy’ EP.
After Virgin got the Sex Pistols, and all the accompanying publicity, they also started to make a profit from reggae. Having failed to get Peter Tosh or Keith Hudson on a commercial footing with Bob Marley, out of the blue Greek Chris Stylianou at Virgin exports reported an upsurge in orders from Nigeria for records by the toaster U-Roy. Following Johnny Rotten’s mutiny from Malcolm McLaren’s sinking ship en route from World’s End to Rio, the Pistols singer first resurfaced in Jamaica (under his real name John Lydon) as part of the Virgin crew put together by Richard Branson and his reggae A&R man Jumbo Van Rennen, to cash in on the African demand for toasters and the bankrupt Jamaican economy.
The pop pirates of the Caribbean came ashore, under the command of the pop Admiral Vernon himself, with the modern equivalent of a treasure chest – a suitcase full of American dollars. For the next two weeks a punky reggae Portobello market extension was set up in the Kingston Sheraton Hilton, where Rotten/Lydon and the reggae journalist Viv Goldman (formerly an Island employee) oversaw auditions and the signing of the likes of Prince Far-I, the Gladiators, Tapper Zukie and the Twinkle Brothers to what would become the Virgin Frontline reggae label. Although Branson failed in his main objective of the trip, to get John to rejoin the Pistols, he enjoyed himself so much doing the toaster deals on a tropical island that he bought one of his own, Neckar – which became the Virgin Virgin island.
Back in Notting Hill, the ‘Dread Tale’ of the dub producer Keith Hudson by the NME’s Penny Reel began ‘outside the Jamaican pattie shop in Portobello Road’, in the dreadzone of the market between Lancaster Road and Tavistock Road. As a car pulled up containing Militant Barrington Dunn, Jah Lacy, Tapper Zukie and King Saul (reputedly a former Rachman rent collector), Penny Reel (who’s male and not to be confused with the Clash photographer Pennie Smith) considered ‘whether or not I can cross the street and vanish into Tavistock Road, when I heard a large “Wh’appen, Jah Reel!”, and suddenly Militant Barry is striding over to me and pumping my right hand in greeting. “Iry”, I reply.’ Around this time a lot of the NME was written in Jamaican patois. After Hudson complained to Reel about Branson’s attempts to make him the new Bob Marley, he produced Barrington and Tapper Zukie’s ‘Pistol Boy’ reggae tribute to Sid Vicious.
As Barry Ford of Merger came up with another punky reggae track ‘Rebel Rebel’, Nick Kent’s ‘Notting Hill behind closed doors’ NME feature presented Merger’s manager, and maverick labour councillor, John Maxwell-Worrall, as ‘the reggae Malcolm McLaren.’ When Island’s Chris Blackwell was planning a film starring John Lydon, as a white boy competing in Jamaican dancehall contests, there was some speculation in the music press that Richard Branson would swap him for Bob Marley. Blackwell told
Melody Maker that Lydon would be more at home on Island: “His flat is like a Jamaican flat, his record player, the way he makes it sound, the way he plays records, is very Jamaican.” The idea of a white DJ competing in dancehall contests was later put into practise with some success by the Ladbroke Grove reggae journalist Dominic Kelly.
June 9 Wilf Walker’s Black Productions presented ‘the Grove Music Show’, an Aswad related ‘night of Grove Music’ from Anton Ellis, King Sounds and the Israelites, and Brimstone, ‘under the flyover’ at Acklam Hall. The still surviving Harrow Road reggae promoter began printing posters for Emily Young and Arabella Churchill’s Westway mural benefits in the early 70s and had an office at 1 Thorpe Close on the site of the Westway Development Trust. His celebrated Black Productions’ punky reggae party at Acklam Hall began with the Last Poets from Performance, and also featured gigs by Aswad, Merger/Barry Ford, Misty in Roots, Junior Brown, Sons of Jah, Crass, the Members, the Monochrome Set, the Passions and prag VEC.
July In the wake of a suspected National Front arson attack on Acklam Hall, there was a Rock Against Racism gig featuring Misty in Roots under a ‘Black & White Unite & Fight’ banner. Viv Goldman began her Sounds review introducing the support band Reality from Kensal Rise: ‘Reality were playing their second gig, and they’re all still at school – in fact, the keyboards player’s mother, a devout Christian, was picketing the Acklam Hall in protest against her son playing heathen music… This particular benefit – organised by the far-sighted Wilf from the enterprising Black Productions outfit – was particularly apt, as it was in aid of black prisoners, and Misty had just heard that their lead guitarist has been sent down for 18 months.’ August 11 For Carnival ’78 Wilf Walker presented a local post-punky reggae bill at Acklam Hall of Sons of Jah from Talbot Road, prag VEC from Latimer Road and Matt Stagger.
September The NME’s Adrian Thrills praised Black Productions for ‘letting the two cultures clash at the Acklam Hall with their regular punk and reggae gigs every Friday night through the summer without much credit. The community centre-cum-youth club hall is rapidly becoming one of the best medium-sized venues in town.’ Adrian Thrills (previously of the 48 Thrills fanzine named after the Clash lyric) wrote of Barry Ford getting a new band together after Merger split, two days before appearing on ‘Notting Hill’s Acklam Hall stage under the yellow lights of the Westway… Doc Ford and his sidekick, ever-steady bassist Ivor Steadman, must have exchanged nervous glances with the three young session men alongside them, at least as regularly as those who had to walk home from the gig down dingy Portobello Road at 2 in the morning.’
Barry Ford was supported at Acklam Hall by the Members’ ‘Sound of the Suburbs’ – which would land the west London punky pop group a deal with Virgin in Vernon Yard, back along Portobello Road. When the Members played the Windsor Castle pub on the single’s release there was a ‘Sound of the Suburbs’ mini- riot along Harrow Road. In the 80s the Members’ singer and guitarist, Nicky Tesco and JC (Jean-Marie Carroll), frequented the Warwick Castle pub on Portobello Road. JC went on to run the Dispensary clothes shop round the corner on Kensington Park Road next to the site of the original Rough Trade. He has recently reappeared with Nicky Tesco under the Westway at the Inn on the Green on Thorpe Close, doing what sounded like a suburban folk version of ‘Sound of the Suburbs’.
September 29 Perhaps the definitive Notting Hill gig ‘under the flyover’ was Wilf Walker’s anarcho-punk- meets-aristo-rock bill of Crass, Teresa D’Abreau, Pearly Spencer and a skateboard display.
September/October In another bad Ripped & Torn review, at the time of the Slits’ ‘have fun and experience’ white riot girl residency, the fanzine’s punk venue guide had on Acklam Hall: ‘The only time I went here I got attacked by a gang of black guys on the way home, that was last year though and things have supposedly improved (with the hand-written note: Saw the Slits there last night and it hasn’t). Due to a series of good billings it’s picked up a good reputation, and I suppose it’s worth going to if there’s a good band on. It’s a large hall type place which lacks atmosphere.’ November 10 In another historic pop incident under the Westway, at a proto-Madness North London Invaders gig in Acklam Hall, with some accompanying skinhead aggro, Chas Smash invented the nutty dance.
November 14 The Passions from Latimer Road and the Nips, Shane MacGowan’s pre-Pogues punk group, played an Acklam Hall Rough Theatre benefit for the defence fund of Astrid Proll – the Baader- Meinhof gang getaway driver, better known to the Passions as ‘Anna’ the mechanic, a youth project worker from Hackney. The Cryptic One punk club in a church crypt on Bishop’s Bridge Road, over in Paddington, received a glowing Ripped & Torn review: ‘Best gig of the month was at the Cryptic Club with Raped and Mother’s Pride. It was nearly all hardcore punks in the audience and bands. It was an event. The Cryptic Club could become the venue to see punks in.’ This venue, where the Passions and the Raincoats also appeared, is probably remembered less fondly by Genesis P Orridge of Throbbing Gristle, who apparently nearly Oded there during the TG gig with Robert Rental and Daniel Miller of Mute Records’ the Normal.
On Malcolm McLaren’s return from Brazil after the Sex Pistols split, Richard Branson was forced to go along with his idea of the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs as the ex Pistols singer from his exile in Rio. Then either McLaren went cap in hand to Branson for a £200,000 advance to finish the Pistols film, effectively signing away control of the group. Or, as Malcolm recalls it (plagiarising the story of Brent Clarke of the Atra reggae label), recounted by Mick Brown in his Branson book, he ambushed the Virgin boss outside his house on Denbigh Terrace, grabbed him by his Arran jumper and held him up against the railings, demanding the money: ‘Every week after that he would come with a man – a big man – in a huge Mercedes, pushed all the way down Vernon Yard until the nose touched the windowframes of the Virgin offices. And he and his man would take a black binliner and carry it upstairs and stuff it full of cash from the safe, and then carry it downstairs again on his shoulders, like Father Christmas.’
Sid Vicious continued his decline into cartoon punk rock notoriety at 8 Pindock Mews, the punk house of horrors in Maida Vale. In 1978 John Shipcock, a studio engineer friend of Sid and Nancy Spungen, overdosed on their bed while it was occupied by the couple. They were apparently so stoned themselves that some time elapsed before they realised he was dead. The corpse of a previous inhabitant of the house who died from a heroin overdose is said to have been dragged out into the street, as in the Lou Reed song. After Sid and Nancy relocated to the Chelsea Hotel, New York, 8 Pindock Mews was occupied by the Clash drummer Topper Headon, Billy Idol (before he followed Sid to stateside rock’n’roll notoriety) and Tony James of Generation X. During the latter’s tenancy, the house saw the launch of Sigue Sigue Sputnik and was also occupied by the punk TV presenter Magenta de Vine.
On Johnny Rotten’s return to London as John Lydon, the ex Pistols singer became a ‘Turner’ style recluse on Gunter Grove off King’s Road, as he formed his post-punk group Public Image Limited with Jah Wobble, Keith Levene (formerly of the Clash) and Don Letts. As PIL signed to Virgin, Branson telegraphed $50,000 to McLaren in New York for Sid’s bail – as the last loaded Pistol went off and was duly charged with the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Following Sid’s rock’n’roll martyrdom, the Clash played ‘My Way’ for him in New York. The Pistols’ biographers Fred and Judy Vermorel released his ‘99% is Shit’ last words single, with accompanying graffiti opposite Vernon Yard – also the site of an enduring ‘Sod the Jubilee’. John Lydon proceeded to take Malcolm McLaren to court for using the Pistols’ royalties to finance the film. This resulted in the appointment of a third party receiver to recoup the cash from chaos. As the main backer of the film, Richard Branson duly acquired the rights to The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle.
The film was finished by McLaren’s pop Situationist protégé Julien Temple as a Sex Pistols docu-drama Performance homage, featuring McLaren in a Jagger spoof bath scene and Johnny Shannon (‘Harry Flowers’) as a paedophile pop mogul. The film soundtrack features a Portobello pirate punk rock rendition of the traditional sea-shanty ‘Friggin’ in the Riggin’. As Virgin Films was founded to promote it, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle novelisation by the local sci-fantasy author Michael Moorcock (of Hawkwind previous) launched the Virgin publishing division. In the Swindle ‘Lesson 8: How to diversify your business’, Moorcock’s ‘musician-assassin’ character locates his airship on the roof of Vernon Yard and proceeds to bomb the Rough Trade shop on Kensington Park Road. According to Tom Bower’s Branson biography, when Rough Trade were caught selling Pistols bootlegs the Virgin boss only just refrained from the equivalent legal action.
Back in 1968 Tom Courtenay, as the Portobello market trader Otley, shouts “It’s a swindle!” and “God save the Queen!” As the punk rock revolution ended in commercial success, the Virgin record shop counter-revolution began. The Sex Pistols didn’t become the new Rolling Stones in the commercial sense Branson was hoping for, but they didn’t destroy his label either as they were meant to in McLaren’s plan. Ironically, it was the Pistols, more than any other Virgin act including Mike Oldfield and Culture Club, who assured Branson’s success. By giving his ailing prog rock label punk street cred, they saved it from almost certain uncommercial hippy concept album doom, and brought it on-line with the ensuing 80s singles market. At the beginning of the Thatcher years, as Branson made his escape from Planet Gong with ‘The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle’, Virgin had their most successful year on the singles chart.
In the Sex Pistols’ wake came successive waves of post-punk Virgin hits, led by the ex-Pistols as the ‘The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle’ continued; with Ronnie Biggs, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Tenpole Tudor and Malcolm McLaren on vocals, promoted by increasingly anti-music business (and Virgin in particular) Jamie Reid artwork; and John Lydon’s post-punk prog rock PIL was consumed by the avant-garde punk market. Of the legions of post-punk or punk-related groups picked up by Virgin in the aftermath of the Pistols, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, there was the northern avant-garde post-punk of Magazine and Penetration, the punky pop of the Members’ ‘Sound of the Suburbs’, the Motors’ post-pub rock hit ‘Airport’, the Piranhas’ ‘Space Invaders’, the Ruts’ ‘Babylon’s Burning’, the Skids’ ‘Sweet Suburbia’ and ‘Into the Valley’. (The Skids’ singer Richard Jobson became a local pop media celebrity after originally squatting in Notting Dale with Mariella Frostrup.)
Then there was the post-punk synthesiser pop of the Human League and Heaven 17, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Japan, China Crisis, John Foxx (formerly of Ultravox), the proto-post-punk pop of XTC, Devo, and the Flying Lizards’ label and next era defining ‘Money’. Virgin Publishing had the Police on the payroll and Carol Wilson (who signed Sting in 1976) had her own Virgin subsidiary label Din-Disc, up the road from Vernon Yard at 61-3 Portobello Road, which had a number one with Martha and the Muffins’ ‘Echo Beach’. Reggae on the Virgin Frontline label included Culture, the Gladiators, Eddy Grant, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Gregory Isaacs. In spite of punk, the Mike Oldfield oilfield hadn’t dried up and Tangerine Dream were still selling and influencing some of the above synth merchants.
1979 On New Year’s Eve ’78/79 the Raincoats with Palmolive played Acklam Hall, supported by their old drummer Richard Dudanski’s new band, Bank of Dresden, and the Vincent Units. The audience consisted of members of the Clash, the Slits, Scritti Politti, prag VEC, Rough Trade staff and music journalists. After a Portobello pub crawl, Robin Banks and Danny Baker made the Raincoats Zigzag’s ‘hot tip for ’79’ and generally praised bedsit bands. Ian Penman of NME wrote of the gig: ‘This was a good place to start ’79, an evening of comedy, parody, high anti-fashion calm, fun, radical rockers and pop feminism a-go-go.’ According to Penman, the Raincoats and Bank of Dresden merged into Vincent Units/Tesco Bombers, the post-punk 101’ers local supergroup, creating a mix of Pere Ubu, Big In Japan, Funkadelic and Lee Perry. He described Bank of Dresden (who are also notable for their local graffiti campaign) as ’sinful-rockabilly- be-bop-dread-beat’, and commended the Raincoats for not conforming to ‘male comforting roles.’
1979, the year of Rough Trade and the post-punk avant-garde grey mac brigade, began with the release of the Monochrome Set’s ‘He’s Frank’, the Mekons’ ‘Where Were You’ on Bob Last’s Edinburgh label Fast Product, and Scritti Politti’s ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’/‘Is and Ought of the Western World’ (featuring a sample of a Notting Hill Carnival riot news report) on their St Pancras label. At 202 Kensington Park Road, Rough Trade established the indie or alternative rock music tradition in most of its idiosyncratic post-punk forms. As well as the deconstructed DIY rad-fem pop of the Raincoats, Essential Logic and Kleenex, there was Swell Maps and the Monochrome Set’s male equivalent, the radical avant-garde of Scritti Politti and Red Crayola, the industrial music of Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, the avant-garde radical rock of the Mekons and Gang of Four, and radical trad rock represented by Stiff Little Fingers.
To Paul Tickell of The Face, Green Gartside’s Scritti Politti epitomised the ‘indie ethic and aesthetic’ with their ‘avant-garde but rather gentlemanly middleclass cult of amateurism’, saying ‘let’s play half a song and demystify the music business.’ Scritti made their debut under the Westway at Acklam Hall in ’78 and are described by Simon Reynolds in the post-punk book Rip It Up and Start Again as the Camden avant- garde squat scene’s answer to the Clash. After their classic Rough Trade single ‘The Sweetest Girl’, they ended up on Virgin and Green went on to pop success as a proper soul singer. Indieness in its original post-punk rad-fem DIY form was defined by the Raincoats, the ultimate Notting Hill bedsit Rough Trade group, with the release of their debut single, ‘Fairytale in the Supermarket’/‘Adventures Close to Home’ and ‘In Love’ (which also features a Ladbroke Grove mention), in the run-up to Thatcher’s election.
Summing up the Raincoats’ anti-rock rock appeal and the Rough Trade label’s anti-corporate stance, Mike Dyer wrote in Vague 2: ‘Punk’s not dead – the Raincoats live, their grass roots music is subversive activity, revolt against the bigness and sophistication of the music industry… The Raincoats often sound out of tune, play wrong notes, and scrape and grate their guitar strings, like Rough Trade they are an antidote to the over big companies which manipulate consumer taste into conformist trends.’ In Nick Tester’s Sounds review of the Raincoats at Acklam Hall, ‘songs stumble and threaten to collapse. They lull and lurch, sink and stretch and like the best tunes are superficially simple.’ In the Swell Maps’ tribute ‘The Raincoats Are Pop Stars’: ‘Well the Raincoats are quite neat, and some of their friends are swell, they hang around in Westbourne Grove, and wear silly clothes as well, they play some dancing songs, and look like real weeds, they hang around in basements and drive around in cars.’
Swell Maps were the Raincoats’ male counterpart, quintessential Rough Trade band, the foremost exponents of quirky/eccentric/idiosyncratic ‘DIY rock’ and silly names; Biggles Books, Jowe Head (possibly real?), Nikki Mattress (aka Nikki Sudden) and Epic Soundtracks. They not only defined indieness with their sub-Rough Trade label Rather and such pop psychogeography as ‘A Trip to Marineville’ and ‘Jane from Occupied Europe’, but also worked part-time in the shop. The new Rough Trade shop owner/manager Pete Donne recalls Nikki Mattress and Epic Soundtracks having interminable inter-Map rows, “regarding customers as pests, and playing records they wanted to hear, almost to the point of being a bit intolerant to reggae.”
The Swell Maps drummer Epic Soundtracks (later of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds) was also in Mayo Thompson’s post-punk incarnation of the legendary 60s avant-garde group Red Crayola (who merged with Pere Ubu). As was Gina Birch of the Raincoats and Lora Logic, the Essential Logic singer- saxophonist, who came to the post-punk Portobello market from the King’s Road Beaufort market group X-Ray Spex, of ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’ and ‘The Day the World turned Day-glo’ fame. In another defining indie moment, ‘Part-time Punks’ by the TV Personalities contains the line ‘they go to Rough Trade to buy Siouxsie and the Banshees.’ This was a pet-play of John Peel, who gave Rough Trade as much airplay on his Radio 1 show as his previous Blenheim Crescent fave raves by Marc Bolan.
At this point the Rough Trade co-operative group consisted of the founder/A&R man/post-punk guru Geoff Travis, the avant-garde managing director Mayo Thompson, Richard Scott (the former manager of the reggae group Third World, who joined the Rough Trade ranks in 1977 to do distribution), the Raincoats’ manager Shirley O’Loughlin, Delta 5’s manager Sue Johnston, the other two Patti Smith-lookalike Sues, Scott and Donne – accounts/mail-order and fanzines respectively, Jill Sheehan and Pete Walmsley – pressing and booking, the American plugger Scott Piering (previously of Island) – promotion/publicity and tours. In the shop there was Jude Crichton and Pete Donne (who founded the new shop and label), with Ana from the Raincoats, Bruce, and Daniel Miller of the Normal/Mute.
As a succession of Rough Trade/Rock Against Racism indie label package tours (featuring prag VEC, the Raincoats, Passions, Scritti Politti, Kleenex, the Mo-dettes, Monochrome Set, etc) appeared ‘under the flyover’, Acklam Hall became known as the post-punk and reggae indie venue. Cabaret Voltaire struck a classic post-punk industrial alienation pose in North Kensington, wearing grey macs, standing by a stanchion of the Westway adorned with a poster advertising their gig with prag VEC, Red Crayola and Scritti Politti (the latter’s debut). March/April Acklam Hall hosted a residency by the Psychedelic Furs, the post-punk Velvet Underground who also played the Harrow Road Windsor Castle; the punky reggae Ruts, Exodus and Satellites package tour, and the reggae ‘Roots Encounter’ tour featuring Prince Far-I, Bim Sherman, Prince Hammer and Creation Rebel.
March 26 The anarcho-punk group Crass appeared under the Westway again as their ‘Feeding of the 5,000’ EP came out on the Small Wonder label through Rough Trade, headlining a benefit for the Angry Brigade related anarchist Black Cross Cienfugos Press. A regular feature of Acklam Hall gigs started to become skinhead aggro, like that which accompanied the Passions, Crisis and Black Encounters gig recounted by Stewart Home in Cranked Up Really High. April In another good review, Record Mirror’s Chris Westwood wrote of an ill-attended post-punk gig featuring Rema Rema and Manicured Noise: ‘The Acklam Hall stinks. Like some scummy old school hall, it lacks atmosphere, facilities, everything.
Ironically, it remains one of the solitary few places in the big city where crowds of little known quality bands can assemble and present their ideas to open minded punters.’
April 26 Nick Tester’s Sounds review of the Raincoats and Passions’ gig continued the ambivalent trend: ‘Tucked squarely beneath the Westway, the clinical confines of Acklam Hall provided an exciting evening of unimpeded expansive music… Tonight, judging by the clamouring at the front, most had come to view the all-girl group Raincoats… The Passions are on last and equally impress. Vocalist Mitch had recently broke his leg nearby to this very venue so he had to be content with shouting from the side of the hall, although he did join the band for an encore of the wry ‘Needles and Pills’… then their set closes in semi- chaos when a flock of skins bent on skull-bashing half-attacked the Passions’ lead guitarist.’ May 17 The hippest Acklam Hall gig to have been at was ‘Final Solution present Music from The Factory under the flyover’, featuring the Manchester Factory label’s Joy Division, supported by A Certain Ratio, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and John Dowie. This JG Ballard atrocity exhibition took place in Interzone A subterania shortly before the release of Joy Division’s debut album ‘Unknown Pleasures’.
As ‘Rock Against Thatcher’ replaced ‘Clash Police’ at the top of the Better Badges chart, in the NME ‘Thrills election’ Joe Strummer was returned to power, on his ‘riot wing’ party pledge to move families out of towerblocks and fill them with punk rockers. The week after Thatcher was elected, the Clash released ‘The Cost of Living’ EP featuring Bobby Fuller’s ‘I Fought the Law (and the law won)’. Mark Perry (formerly of Sniffin’ Glue fanzine and Alternative TV, by then of the Good Missionaries) told Danny Baker: “The truth is a rotten cliché; I enjoy Coronation Street and drinking in karseys like the Blenheim.” Danny Baker was also formerly of the Glue, then of the NME, since of radio, TV and further local notoriety from drinking in the old Portobello Star pub with the DJ Chris Evans and the footballer Paul Gascoigne. The old Blenheim pub on the corner of Blenheim Crescent and Kensington Park Road, was a market local frequented by Rough Trade and Step Forward staff and groups. The site, now occupied by the E&O restaurant, is still haunted by pop celebrities. The indie scene eatery was the still surviving Mike’s Café next door.
In another legendary local moment in fanzine folklore, after 17 issues of Ripped & Torn fanzine, Tony D handed over editorship to Vermillion Sands (of Vermillion and the Aces, Illegal Records and the San Francisco fanzine Search & Destroy) ‘outside a pub in Portobello Road’ (probably the Blenheim). As Vermillion (who was also some sort of Ballardian hells angel) produced a post-punk postscript Ripped & Torn, published by Miles Copeland’s Insult Design company, Tony D went on a punk rock Down and Out in Paris trip. On his return to Notting Hill, he began his next venture Kill Your Pet Puppy with: ‘Reality lies bleeding in Portobello Road. Can this really be the end?… Down and Out in London with amphetamine psychosis again.’ Kill Your Pet Puppy‘s day-glo litho coverage of life on pre-pop Adam and the Ants, Crass and Tuinol led the way from anarcho-psychedelic-punk to acid-house.
Following the demise of the 1977 International Times and Phoenix Publishing, 180 Talbot Road was taken over by Zigzag magazine, and Rough Trade and Better Badges formed the Fanzine Co-op printing and distribution network. Ripped & Torn featured local ads for the Acme Surplus punk clothes and record shop at 278 Portobello Road (which would become Honest Jon’s record shop before the end of the 70s), Better Badges, up the road at 286, the Vinyl Solution record shop at 39 Hereford Road (which became Intoxica at 231 Portobello Road), and the 5th Column T-shirt shop at 64a Notting Hill Gate. The last Tony D edited Ripped & Torn contained a critical review of the local post-punk double-bill of the Raincoats and the Vincent Units at the Chippenham pub in Maida Hill (of Joe Strummer’s 101’ers pub rock previous). The Raincoats fared slightly better than the Vincent Units with: ‘Their self-effacing shy approach, swallowed by the Chippenham, any magic lost by about the third row. They are obviously capable of better things.’
According to the punk Banksy, the Clash roadie Robin Banks, in his Zigzag interview with Neal Brown and Smiler of the Vincent Units/Tesco Bombers, the former pioneered the late 70s ska revival while the latter were a more makeshift post-punk Notting Hill supergroup. The collective also featured members of the Raincoats, with whom they squatted 31 Monmouth Road off Westbourne Grove, and John ‘Boogie’ Tiberi, the Sex Pistols and 101’ers tour manager. The Vincent Units were on the bill of the first Notting Hill Carnival stage in 1979 and had a ‘Carnival Song’ number. Neal Brown cited ‘midnight movies at the Electric’ as an influence and promoted his ‘Prostar: Sex Against Rockism’ movement responsible for the fanzines True Reviews and The Vincent Units Magazine. Neal Brown has since maintained post-punk local literary associations with the likes of Will Self, Bella Freud and The Roughler magazine.
The bohemian romance of the early indie scene was captured by Chris Westwood in his Record Mirror feature on the prag VEC and the Normal (Daniel Miller) Rough Trade tour: ‘Some hell cold Friday morning I find myself standing side-by-side with a little blue Rough Trade van, down on Kensington Park Road… a shoddy, shabby affair, the only thing holding it together being the rust. It is our transport – Pete (Donne), our driver, is busy hauling seats out of Rough Trade, the shop, into the van, before we hit the road and look for the collective members of prag VEC. We crawl up to some typically urbane council flat-block and the band members emerge, carting drums, guitars, amps, sweaters and sundry.’
In the classic North Kensington post-punk photograph, prag VEC posed as if they were lying down under Trellick Tower in Kensal. The guitarist/songwriter John Studholme summed up their local high rise cred, telling the NME: “Our rehearsal space was a squat in North Kensington, but we’ve been evicted from there and re-housed in a flat 15 floors up, so we can play in the lift.” ‘prag VEC’s towerblock’, as it was dubbed in Search and Destroy fanzine, was Markland House on Shalfleet Drive by Latimer Road station, overlooking the Westway roundabout. On the cover of their ‘Spec Records Present No Cowboys’ album the group are pictured beside the Westway on JG Ballard’s Concrete Island. (Search & Destroy became Re/Search, the JG Ballard, William Burroughs and Incredibly Strange Films manual.)
prag VEC formed out of the political/commercial schism in the Derelicts, the Latimer Road proto-punk squat rock group described by Ian Penman as ‘Trotskyite r’n’b.’ As the latter faction of Mitch Barker, Barbara Gogan, Claire Bidwell and Richard Williams became the Passions, Sue Gogan (Barbara’s sister) and John Studholme went in a more radical post-punk direction. prag VEC were originally managed by Rough Trade’s Steve Montgomery and Barbara Gogan of the Passions worked at Rough Trade on Kensington Park Road, but the Latimer Road post-punk groups remained staunchly independent even within the indie scene. After Virgin found prag VEC ‘too progressive’, their own label Spec Records was set up by Gary Hill of the new Honest Jon’s record shop on Portobello Road.
The drummer Nick Cash (who had his real name nicked by the singer of 999 when he auditioned for them) explaining their debut EP ‘Existential’ track to Ian Penman: “Our bass player (David Boyd) was listening to Ornette Coleman and I was watching French detective movies, raincoats and beatniks. I’d also stolen a tape of a Francoise Sagan book A Certain Smile, the true existentialist love affairs.” However, according to the singer Sue Gogan, “the name’s derived from the local brew of North Kensington”, rather than Kierkegaard or Sartre. After the Derelicts founded the 101’ers’ Chippenham and Elgin pub rock scene, prag VEC merged into the Atoms with the alternative comedian/actor Keith Allen for a residency at the North Pole pub, along Latimer Road in furthest North Kensington. John Studholme said they held their music press interviews in the scary Golden Cross (Martin Amis’s ‘Black Cross’ in London Fields, now the Market Bar) on Portobello Road, to frighten the journalists.
But it sounds like their NME interview took place in the Elgin on Ladbroke Grove or the Warwick Castle on Portobello, as we find ‘prag VEC are seated in a reasonably large pub – not entirely through choice. The place has a confusingly regular attitude, built, it would appear, solely for the purpose of defying description (even the wallpaper is unexceptional). The people, however, are as blendedly individual as ever could be, all playing their given roles with a brave and determined furrow of the brow. Little do they realise… or perhaps, on the other hand, they realise perfectly well…’ John Studholme told the NME’s John Hamblett that ‘the greatest work of art he has ever seen was created by a greengrocer who owns a stall in a street market. The old greengrocer’s work of art is a regular Saturday night performance which involves him getting up in his local and giving a perfect impersonation of Nat King Cole to piano accompaniment.’
prag VEC also told the music press they were named after “an eastern European computer system”, “It’s Polish for toilet cleaner” and “newspeak for foolishness.” They were described in another NME review as a ‘radical combo with as much appeal as a spin-dryer full of bricks.’ Yet their ‘Spec Records Present No- Cowboys’ sounds more like proto-Lily Allen bubblegum-reggae than post-punk industrial. On the prag VEC pseudonym album Sue Gogan and John Studholme appear as the Couch Potatoes, Vince Quince and his Rialto Ballroom Detectives, and Major Eddie. prag VEC’s second single ‘Expert’/‘Follower’ had a Portobello picture sleeve and John Studholme was a member of the post-punk Portobello Housing Co-op. The prag VEC greatest hits album compiled by Gary Hill is due out soon on Mute.
July An ad placed in NME by the North Kensington Amenity Trust for the post of Acklam Hall manager announced: ‘Wanted for music venue and community hall in North Kensington. Must be able to get on well with wide range of groups and have experience in bar management and stock control and maintenance of premises.’ As an example of the various post-punk sub cults appearing at Acklam Hall, the surf-punk Barracudas’ frontman Jeremy Gluck was introduced in Sounds as a ‘Canadian singing surfing songs to Ladbroke Grove skinheads.’ ‘Hanging Ten in West London’, Sandy Robertson mused: ‘Seriously would you expect even one of the skinheads who inhabit the feral slums of Ladbroke Grove to have the slightest notion of the origins of terms as arcane as ‘woody’ and ‘ho-dad’? Neither would I, but the imp of the perverse has been at work again, and the Barracudas assure me that the shaven-topped ones who pursue them down Portobello Road are after nothing more than an autographed single.’ The Barracudas’ drummer Nick Turner had previously been in the Raincoats and went on to the Lords of the New Church.
Around the same time Wilf Walker put on a gig at Acklam Hall featuring the Edinburgh punk band the Valves, renowned for the ironic surf song, ‘Ain’t No Surf in Portobello’; unfortunately referring to the Scottish Portobello beach near Edinburgh, although it’s more applicable to the London road. The Scottish music-hall singer Harry Lauder, who like the Valves hailed from the Edinburgh Portobello, had a ‘Portobello Lass’ number and there are Irish folk songs about the Dublin Portobello dock. ‘Ain’t No Surf in Portobello’ was released on the b-side of the Valves’ 1977 single ‘Tarzan of the King’s Road’; referring to the Chelsea street, not their local King’s Road, Portobello, Edinburgh. In the glowing review on the Edinburgh Portobello local history website, ’Ain’t No Surf in Portobello’ was as if Brian Wilson had relocated to Edinburgh and lost his gift of melody, but acquired an exquisite irony. Lyrics like ‘cruising down Bath Street, surfboard in my hand’ and ‘gonna be a riot fun city tonight’ relocate the 1965 Californian dream to a blustery Porty. A superb song.’
In Cranked Up Really High, Stewart Home seems to have started a ‘red skins’ v allegedly NF ‘Grove skins’ ‘punk riot’ during an Acklam Hall Crisis gig, which spilled over Ladbroke Grove into St Charles Hospital. In a mod revival reminiscence in the Observer, Tim Moore summed up his earlier punk leanings with: ‘Whatever the logistical difficulty of fleeing the Ladbroke Grove skins with my stride length reduced to that of an infant penguin’s, I wanted bondage trousers.’ The originally pro-reggae skinhead cult re-emerged in the late 70s as a far-right Thatcher youth movement, espousing generally anti-black music sentiments.
However, in Like a Summer with a Thousand Julys, the Wise brothers insist that the local ‘Gate skins’ were non-racist/National Front, if not ‘commie skins’, who socialised with Rastas on All Saints Road. In most other accounts they were authentic enough NF, though skinheads did co-exist with the Rasta scene.
In Hollywood W10 the Acklam Hall skinhead aggro was re-enacted in Breaking Glass, the Dodi Fayed produced plastic punk film starring Hazel O’Connor as a troubled pop icon. At one point Hazel as ‘Kate Crawley’ starts a ‘Rock Against 1984’ skinhead riot under the Westway roundabout, the Breaking Glass pub is the squatted Flag/Trafalgar ‘Apocalypse Hotel’ on Freston Road and her flat is on or around All Saints Road. Freston Road also features in Quadrophenia, Franc Roddam’s film adaptation of the early 70s Who album set in the mid 60s, made during the late 70s mod revival. The mod is beaten up by rockers on the site of The Lavender Hill Mob crash again, between the Apocalypse Hotel and the Bramley Arms, as an obviously late 70s tube goes across the bridge. Another mod works in the Freston Road Steptoe and Son scrapyard and the Quadrophenia film crew had to obtain Republic of Frestonia passports to shoot in the area.
The Hollywood W10 boulevard Freston/ Latimer Road also appears in The Blue Lamp, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Squeeze, Sweeney, Minder, Sid and Nancy and Withnail and I. The poster of Chris Petit’s Radio On film featured a Ballardesque view from the Westway flyover of the British Rail maintenance depot at Paddington (which was ordained with the graffiti ‘No Extradition for Astrid Proll’ – of the Baader-Meinhof gang, who also had a benefit at Acklam Hall). In the 80s this building became a Mutoid Waste Company squat rave venue; it is now the Monsoon hippy revival fashion headquarters. Radio On is a Wim Wenders produced road movie starring Sting from the Police, who also appears in Quadrophenia doing his notorious ace face mod dance routine.
August 26/7 As Don Letts’ Reggae Film featuring Carnival footage opened, the NME announced: ‘In an effort to alleviate the problems that often arise from the Portobello Green area of Notting Hill, usually the Carnival’s flashpoint, the police and local council have agreed to the Festival and Arts Committee organising a two day concert on the green.’ This was after the Carnival Arts Committee of Louis Chase and Wilf Walker split from the Carnival Development Committee. In 1979 the Acklam Hall promoter Wilf Walker presented the first Notting Hill Carnival stage, off Portobello Road beside the Westway flyover; in order to include alienated black youth and punk rockers in the event. ‘The lions of Ladbroke Grove’ Aswad topped the post-punky reggae bill, at the time of their acclaimed second album ‘Hulet’; then there was Barry Ford from Merger, Sons of Jah, King Sounds and the Israelites, Brimstone, Exodus, Nik Turner from Hawkwind, probably the only survivor from the early 70s Westway gigs, the rad-fem singer Carol Grimes, the Passions and Vincent Units; with power supplied from Carol Grimes’ house along Portobello in an unusual show of rad-fem-reggae solidarity.
In an attempt to keep the Westway riot zone under control, proceedings were brought to a close at 8 and Portobello Road was fenced off. But it was to no avail. In spite or because of the new riot control measures, enforced by 10,000 policemen, at the Monday closedown there was more trouble. After a reputed skinhead attack on the police under the flyover along Acklam Road, Viv Goldman wrote in Melody Maker: ‘The cans and bottles glittered like fireworks in the street lights, then shone again as they bounced back off the riot shields. The thud thud thud of the impact rivalled the bass in steadiness, suddenly the street of peaceful dancers was a revolutionary frontline, and the militant style of the dreads was put in its conceptual context.’ At the time of the 1979 Carnival, the Metro youth club on Tavistock Crescent, the scene of an early 70s police siege, Alton Ellis and Aswad gigs, was occupied by the local youth in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the black community centre’s closure.
The Metro was also the home venue in sound-clashes of Dennis Bovell’s Sufferer Hi-fi sound-system. Dennis ‘Blackbeard’ Bovell was also the frontman of Matumbi and the post-punky reggae producer of the Slits’ ‘Cut’ album, the Pop Group and Janet Kay’s lovers rock hit ‘Silly Games’. By the time the Slits signed to Island, the local punk girl group had become more reggae than punk rock. Ari, Viv, Tessa and by then Budgie’s long awaited debut album best encapsulates the mood and attitude of the Notting Hill punky reggae party; featuring ‘Ping Pong Affair’ in which Ari sings ‘whilst you were cycling I could have been raped in Ladbroke Grove’, ‘Instant Hit’ referring to Sid Vicious, ‘So Tough’, ‘Spend Spend Spend’, ‘Shoplifting’, ‘New Town’, ‘Love and Romance’ (previously available in punk thrash form on the John Peel sessions bootleg), ‘Typical Girls’ and ‘Adventures Close to Home’.
The Slits were on Virgin Music Publishing and the notorious mud-people sleeve was co-designed by Geoff Travis of Rough Trade. The photos were by the Clash photographer Pennie Smith. On the tour to promote the album the Slits were joined by Bruce Smith from the Pop Group on drums (as Budgie went on to Siouxsie and the Banshees), the jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, Prince Hammer and Creation Rebel. Don’s daughter Neneh Cherry also appeared with the Slits. The album’s release was also accompanied by the opening of the Slits Shorts film by their former manager Don Letts and Mick Calvert. After ‘Cut’ and the ‘Typical Girls’/‘Heard It Through the Grapevine’ single, the Slits quit Island for Rough Trade and the Y label. Most of them also appeared as New Age Steppers and in various other forms on Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sounds label; and were on the Faction agency in Ruston Mews opposite Rillington Place.
Apart from the Slits, Chris Blackwell steered well clear of punk rock, although Island distributed and eventually amalgamated with the punk-related pub rock Stiff Records of Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera (of local previous with Brinsley Schwarz and Chilli Willi). The Stiff label encompassed the post-pub rock pop of Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Nick Lowe, the Damned, Mick Farren’s Deviants, Devo, Motörhead, Madness and the Pogues. The Stiff warehouse was 9-11 Woodfield Road off Great Western Road, the office was at 32 Alexander Street off Westbourne Grove, and their local was the nearby Durham Castle. Woodfield Road also hosted Richard Branson’s Virgin Rags fashion company and Caroline Exports, and more recently Woody’s/Envy nightclub.
All the Stiffs recorded on Basing Street and the Pogues posed on the Westbourne Park Road corner in front of the old children’s castle playground for a publicity picture. Barney Bubbles made the punk rock leap from working for Hawkwind and Michael Moorcock on Portobello Road, to become the in-house designer at Stiff, Radar and F-Beat. He also came up with the NME logo and directed the Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ video. Apart from Barney Bubbles, Ian Dury and Joe Strummer, the only other pub rocker to survive punk with his street cred more or less intact was the Brinsley Schwarz bassist/singer Nick Lowe. As well as producing the Damned and Elvis Costello, Lowe recorded the first Stiff single, ‘So It Goes’, and the more post-punk than pub rock, ‘I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass’ on Radar – Jake Rivierra’s Stiff breakaway label.
Before Nick Cave’s Basing Street ‘Murder Ballads’, Nick Lowe came up with the downbeat ‘Basing Street’ track about a murder on the street as the b-side of his 1979 Radar single ‘Cracking Up’: ‘It’s an ugly sight, by the police light, but lonely now as the innocents leave in twos and threes, cop straightens up, wiping blood off his hand, says Christ above, that’s the worst I’ve seen in more than 70, somebody says I think I remember him, used to see him hanging round, but it’s hard to be sure, looking at him now, whose hand made the boy suffer and bleed? Who did the deed on Basing Street? It’s 4.29 and out on the airwaves late night DJ plays for the lost and lonely, and their late night ways, popping pills, washed down with coffee, with a little coughing blows cigarette ash off the late news flash, the world is waiting for it now, in the palm of his hand, he raises up the microphone and says: We interrupt this programme, but out there in radioland they’re all asleep, as the firemen hose down Basing Street.’
September 27/8 Probably the worst gig under the Westway took place when Acklam Hall hosted ‘the World’s first Bad Music Festival’, featuring the Horrible Nurds, the Instant Automatons, the Blues Drongo All-Stars, Danny and the Dressmakers, and the Door and the Window. This was the brainchild of JB (Jonathan Barnett, now of the Portobello Film Festival) and KK (Kif Kif le Batteur/Keith Dobson of Here & Now and later World Domination Enterprises), who were then operating as Fuck Off Records from 243 (and then 235) Lancaster Road. In the tradition of Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies, Here & Now appeared in Bay 66 under the Westway, on the site of the skateboard park, at an anarcho-hippy/post-punk free gig with Mark Perry’s Good Missionaries, Carol Grimes, and Vermillion and the Aces.
Kif Kif’s attempted punky hippy crossover group also played a BIT benefit at Acklam Hall, the Campden Hill Queen Elizabeth College, the Latimer Road Ceres bakery in the Frestonia Community Centre (spelt ‘Prestonia’ in Sounds), and various Here & Now types started the free Fuck Off tour in Meanwhile Gardens, the still surviving community park alongside the Grand Union Canal in Kensal. In International Times volume 5, JB (previously of the NME) wrote a scathing state of the music press address in Bona’s Café on Portobello Road as ‘Jonathan Brainless’. The 1979 IT also contained ‘The Beast’ section from 2 Blenheim Crescent featuring Heathcote Williams, the ‘No Extradition for Astrid Proll’ graffiti on Harrow Road, and a review of Neil Oram’s The Warp play featuring 1966 London Free School scenes.
‘London calling to the faraway towns, now that war is declared and battle come down, London calling to the underworld, come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls, London calling, now don’t look to us, all that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust, London calling, see we ain’t got no swing, ‘cept for the ring of that truncheon thing. The ice age is coming, the Sun is zooming in, engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin, a nuclear error, but I have no fear, London is drowning and I live by the river. London calling to the imitation zone, forget it brother an’ go it alone, London calling upon the zombies of death, quit holding out and take another breath, London Calling – and I don’t wanna shout but when we were talking I saw you nodding out, London calling, see we ain’t got no highs except for that one with the yellowy eyes… London calling, yeah, I was there too an’ you know what they said? Well some of it was true! London calling at the top of the dial, after all this, won’t you give us a smile?’
December 25/6 In the last days of the 70s the Clash played Acklam Hall for the first time, previewing their third (double) album ‘London Calling’. Viv Goldman began her Melody Maker review with: ‘A cheery gent looks out of the tiny school-gym-like Acklam Hall and calls out: “Anyone wanna see the Clash? 50 pence.” They were previously billed to play but didn’t actually appear at Wilf Walker’s 1976 riot benefit. The Clash gigs under the Westway also acted as local Christmas parties and warm-ups for the post-Pol Pot Kampuchea/Cambodia benefit at Hammersmith Odeon with Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Viv Goldman added: ‘Invitation is strictly word of mouth because it’s like a block party, the kind they have in New York, where the whole neighbourhood piles into the street and has fun together.’ Summing up the gigs, she praised the local punk, mod and skinhead kids united and drew parallels with the Roxy and the 101’ers at the Elgin as the Clash played their single ‘Keys to Your Heart’. Joe Strummer also appeared at Richard Dudanski’s Ladbroke Grove All Stars 101’ers reunion at the Tabernacle in Powis Square.
As the Clash went from the Westway to the world with ‘London Calling’, if anything their local influence became more pronounced. For Pennie Smith’s November ’79 ‘nan’s flat’ photo session in Wilmcote House, the towerblock where Mick lived with his gran, they appeared in Wild West 9 hustler mode; Joe and Paul sporting porkpie hats, Mick and Topper in gambler-style waistcoat and jacket. In Sounds’ notorious ‘Give ’Em Enough Dope and watch ’em turn into the Rolling Stones’ review of ‘London Calling’, Garry Bushell (later of the Sun and the Star) called it a ‘degenerating guns and gangs outlaw vision’, inspired by their local ‘lumpen lyrical fantasy world populated by druggies, crooks, gambling dens, dingy basements and gun-toting niggers.’ The track ‘Wrong ‘Em Boyo’ tells the true story of Stagger Lee, a late 19th century St Louis hustler who shot a man dead in an argument about a hat. Over the course of the next hundred years, ‘Stack’ Lee Shelton became the ‘mack’ (from the French term for pimp, maquereau- mackerel) rapper archetype, as his story went through the blues, jazz, folk, soul and reggae.
The Clash’s ska cover of the Rulers’ reggae ‘Stagger Lee’ corresponded with the Two-tone label late 70s ska revival of the Specials, Madness, Selecter and the local Mo-dettes who supported the Clash at Notre Dame Hall. The hustler legend also seeped into the ‘London Calling’ tracks, ‘Jimmy Jazz’, ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, ‘The Card Cheat’ and ‘Revolution Rock’. The Clash’s Staggeresque character ‘Jimmy Jazz’ conjures up scenes from the 1959 Notting Hill film Sapphire. In ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ Joe ‘went to the market, to realise my soul’ – but by then Brixton’s Electric Avenue had replaced Portobello Road in the late 70s London pop psychogeography shift south of the river. In ‘The Guns of Brixton’ and Rude Boy, the documentary-style film by Jack Hazan and David Mingay, the Clash take trips across the river back to their south London roots. (Hazan and Mingay had previously filmed David Hockney in A Bigger Splash on Powis Terrace.) ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ also contains a namecheck for ‘the doctor who was born for a purpose’, Alimantado, ‘The Best Dressed Chicken in Town’ of Ladbroke Grove graffiti fame.
The Clash rock’n’roll history lesson continued with the Elvis presents ‘London Calling’ music press ads, the Montgomery Clift tribute ‘The Right Profile’, originally entitled ‘Canalside Walk’, and Paul Simonon’s rockabilly ‘Brand New Cadillac’; the original by Vince Taylor (the Ziggy and Alvin Stardust prototype ‘leather messiah’) had previously appeared on Ted Carroll’s Chiswick label, along with Joe Strummer’s 101’ers. In another rock history footnote, in the late 70s and early 80s the Clash and Ian Dury’s Blockheads were managed by Pete Jenner’s Blackhill Enterprises (of London Free School and Pink Floyd previous) from Alexander Street off Westbourne Grove and the local Durham Castle pub. On the Clash ‘Take the Fifth’ US tour the Blockheads’ keyboard player Mickey Gallagher became the fifth member. The Blockheads PR officer Kosmo Vinyl also went over to the Clash, after Mick Jones first discovered him in his original incarnation as a Portobello market record stallholder.
During the ‘London Calling’ sessions, Kosmo Vinyl became the minder of the producer Guy Stevens (of Mott the Hoople, Traffic, etc Basing Street studios previous) and was instrumental in the Clash alliances with Blackhill Enterprises, the Blockheads and the Dread at the Controls label of Mikey Dread, the ‘Sandinista’ dub producer and Clash DJ. The US ‘London Calling’ single ‘Train in Vain’ started out as a proposed NME flexidisc track organised by Kosmo. At this stage the Clash roadcrew also featured Kris Needs, the Zigzag editor recently turned DJ, Robin Banks (Crocker), also of Zigzag magazine who sold the Clash fanzine Armagideon Times, and the roadie-poet Jock Scot, who went on to local fame with The Roughler in the 80s. In recent years Ian Dury’s son Baxter, who appears on the cover of ‘New Boots and Panties’ with him, lived on Westbourne Grove and frequented the old Portobello Star pub.
The unreconstructed ‘White Riot’ Clash fan Garry Bushell also criticised the Orwellian ‘Working for the Clampdown’ track for ‘repeating the Clash’s always vague alternative – ‘Kick over the wall, cause governments to fall’.’ The more controversial ‘Spanish Bombs’ is Joe Strummer’s homage to the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War (who included George Orwell) and the good fight against fascism in the 30s, juxtaposed with the Basque separatist ETA group’s bombing campaign against the Spanish tourist trade. Although, he described the track as a love song dedicated to his former Spanish girlfriend Paloma ‘Palmolive’ Romano, from the 101’ers’ squat who went on to the Slits and the Raincoats. In the 70s and 80s the Spanish stretch of Portobello Road (on the site of the farm named after the British victory over the Spanish) featured graffiti of the Spanish anarchist First of May group and the Clash watering hole Galicia bar/restaurant.
‘London Calling’/‘Armagideon Time’ was the soundtrack of the 1979 alternative ‘winter of discontent’ as Thatcher came to power, at the time of the Three Mile Island radiation leak, the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and Pol Pot in Cambodia, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Vietnamese boat people and Apocalypse Now. At the end of the 70s, Richard Branson was in Aspen, Colorado, with his chief henchmen, Simon Draper, Nik Powell and Ken Berry, skiing into the Thatcherite 80s. The Slits were also in the States making their New York debut. Over here, Motörhead were at Hammersmith Odeon again and Here & Now played Acklam Hall with Nik Turner of Hawkwind’s Inner City Unit, the Sex Beatles and Splodgenessabounds. Killing Joke appeared on the scene as the post-punk/funk successors of the Clash, with ‘Nervous System’/‘Turn to Red’ on their Ledbury Road based Malicious Damage label. The Mo-dettes’ ‘White Mice’ debut on Mode 1 distributed by Rough Trade was described as ‘Situationalist’ in Melody Maker.
The last Rough Trade releases of the 70s were the Raincoats’ eponymous debut album, Delta 5’s ‘Mind Your Own Business’, the Pop Group’s ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ RT023, and Spizz Energi’s ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’ But, in spite of the punk rock and post-punk revolutions, the pop history of Notting Hill in the 70s concluded with Pink Floyd at number one with their next single after ‘See Emily Play’, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. The song was written by the rock Napoleon of Notting Hill Roger Waters, who lived on Pembridge Gardens, as part of ‘The Wall’ concept double-album/film featuring Bob Geldof (of future Band Aid Basing Street fame) and an adventure playground animation sequence by Gerald Scarfe influenced by the 1966 London Free School playground on Acklam Road.