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The Magpie Lands and Brixton’s Bank Holiday Feeling

23 Aug

The French take a day off work to let off fireworks on Bastille Day, on 14 July, to commemorate a key symbolic event in the French Revolution. The Americans get all pyrotechnic on 4 July in celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And the people of the Philippines celebrate their independence from the USA, and Spain, with fireworks and a public holiday on 12 June.

As a nation, Britain is in the rather embarrassing historical position of generally being the ‘oppressor’; looking through the list of national days on Wikipedia, most countries seem to be celebrating their independence from us. So the UK’s designated ‘fireworks day’ on 5 November, rather than a commemoration of the glorious achievement of nationhood, is in honour of some disgruntled Catholics who tried to blow up the government, and were then executed. What exactly we’re celebrating here is a bit of a grey area, but unless the government suddenly grants us a public holiday to do it, I reluctantly mention that this weekend coming is the last Monday off until (shhh) christmas. So let’s use it wisely, eh?

The refurbed Upstairs at the Ritzy is having a free relaunch party  on Friday featuring music from awesome skiffle band The Severed Limb. The Windmill (sticky floored music venue not historic mill) are planning to barbecue on Sunday to the sound of their 1992 ‘Retrospectacular’  – with various bands covering songs from this year. Dressed in global hypercolour, hopefully. Also on Sunday, Radio6Music’s Gilles Peterson has been confirmed for the roof terrace at Brixton Clubhouse. Or head over to Myatt’s Field for a picnic to learn about Remakery and Makerhood, skills swapping and local craftiness from 1pm.

Also taking place this weekend at The Brick Box’s temporary home at the old Angel Pub is Magpie, a mini-festival of music, art and performance, weirdness and wonder, kicking off on Thursday night (£3 entry) and carrying on through Friday and Saturday evenings (£5 entry).

The Angel is destined to become a development of four houses and four flats once planning permission is received by the property company, Lexadon. Until October however, they have been renting the space out to The Brick Box, a grass-roots arts organisation who put on various community-based shows, workshops and interactive arty experiences from their usual locations in Brixton and Tooting markets.

There’s a veritable artistic buffet of performers lined up for this weekend’s festivities. Local artist and curator of Magpie David Nevin will be displaying his work, and Aerial Sparks has made a house out of dolls. Creepy. There’ll be poetry from acclaimed poet Dan Holloway on a roof, as well as in a very small ‘Eritrean Hut’, where, for the brave and, er, probably those whose courage comes by way of Holland, more intimate performances will be taking place. That’s not a euphemism. (Apart from the bit about Holland, that was).

Music tonight comes from the London City Reggae Choir and Brixton DJ Geoff Parker, who I think is behind the Catch a Fire nights Upstairs at the Ritzy. Tomorrow night is Gothic rock from Andi Sex Gang and Chris from United 80 will be DJing on Saturday.

If you’re there at around 10pm definitely look out for weird, absurdist comedy from Annie Bashford and Grumpy Lettuce. Having trained at clown school in Paris (where she met her comedy partner) Annie’s just back from performing right wing cabaret  with Frank Sanazi (say it out loud) at the Edinburgh festival. As you do.

Hungry? There’s veggie curry on offer tonight, and expect fantastic LA-inspired meat sandwiches on offer from London French Dip on Friday and Saturday. Get there quickly because odds are they’ll sell out.

Right then. I’ll start the Weekend Countdown Clock then shall I?

Brixtonia on Holiday – is the East Village New York’s Brixton?

7 Jun

Travel broadens the mind, apparently. Or perhaps it narrows it, making you compare everything with something more familiar at home. At uni in Canada I knew an Australian called Dave who couldn’t see anything without telling us about its equivalent ‘back in Adelaide’. So, forgive me if I sound a bit like Adelaide Dave, but New York’s East Village did sort of remind me of Brixton.

Originally part of the working class and largely immigrant Lower East Side, the term ‘East Village’ was coined in the sixties, when artists and musicians started to move in. But the first residents of the tenements built here from the 1840s onwards were mostly German, to the point where the area was became known as Little Germany. Which is somehow not as poetic as Little Italy, but the omnibuses probably ran on time.

Further groups of immigrants arrived after the Second World War, from Poland, Ukraine, Puerto Rico and many more. Allan Ginsberg lived here in the fifties. In 1966 Andy Warhol showed his work here, using music by the Velvet Underground. In the 1970s Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and the Ramones played the famous CBGB club. But by the eighties Tomkins Square Park was mainly attracting the homeless and disenfranchised. Policing was heavy-handed and in 1988 a riot broke out. To a tourist like me, the East Village now seems like an exciting and energetic neighbourhood, but I’m sure it’s been a difficult process, with long-standing residents finding themselves priced out along the way.

So, an area that owes much of its vibrancy to groups of immigrants; nucleus of the punk scene; the setting for protests and clashes with police; somewhere that’s had its share of social problems; was once branded ‘edgy’ but is increasingly referred to as ‘gentrified’. And a lot of people here seem passionate about their community. Sound familiar?

Well, of course the East Village is in New York, not London, and they do things differently there. But still it’s an interesting comparison. And there are definitely some things I’d like to borrow for Brixton. For example, according to Wiki there are 640 community gardens in NYC. Tucked behind wire fencing and greenery on Avenue B, we could just catch a glimpse of one, with kids playing, sunbathers and, later in the day, some sort of festival. Space might be at too much of a premium for the likes of Brockwell Park, but it was great to see these scraps of land being used and enjoyed by so many people, who evidently see it as their own in a way a larger park can’t be.

If there was ever anything on the scale of the Brixton Academy in the East Village, I imagine it would have long since been lost to the city’s notoriously ruthless developers. The area’s once pioneering music scene has dropped off considerably in recent years, so points to Brixton for Hootenanny and the Windmill. However, the small East Village bars are individual and quirky in a way we don’t have so much in Brixton. Many even have a street terrace or even a garden out back that, oddly enough, give a laid back, European feel that I wasn’t expecting to find in Manhattan.

Of course, I’m sure someone visiting Brixton from the East Village would have a completely different take. I’d love to hear their thoughts on gentrification for example: so many in Brixton feel strongly about the issue, and the East Village seems to be some way further down this path. Perhaps during the Olympics I’ll try to flag down a passing New Yorker and ask.

(They can keep the bloody subway though. Victoria line – all is forgiven.)

How Does It Feel To Be Loved at the Canterbury Arms

1 Jun

How Does It Feel to Be Loved is back at the Canterbury Arms tonight for one last time before a three month hiatus, while they play at festivals and go on holiday. So why not grab the opportunity to start the weekend as you mean to go on and head down for a bit of a dance to an eclectic mix of cheerful tunes at this essential Brixton night.

From the Smiths to Dusty Springfield, Hole to The Temptations, via Aztec Camera and Dexy’s Midnight Runners; How Does It Feel is essentially an indie and soul night, although the music policy is hard to define exactly. The emphasis is on indie pop rather than indie rock with northern soul, Motown and a load of sixties stuff thrown in. Requests are encouraged.

It’s £6 on the door, but if you email them this afternoon with your name there will be a PERSONALISED, LAMINATED membership card waiting for you on the door, which will earn you admittance for the valueous price of £4. The lamination alone wins me over. Oh, and seeing as how the Canterbury Arms is a pub, the drinks are pretty reasonable too.

Brixton resident Ian Watson first brought How Does It Feel To Be Loved – named after the closing lyrics of ‘Beginning To See The Light’ by the Velvet Underground – to the Canterbury Arms back in November 2003. I always thought that the pub’s deco was a hundred percent unreconstructed 1970s, but this photo from the first Brixton HDIF proves that that its current look is in fact an update! Bring back the green flock wallpaper and illuminated New York skyline I say. (The year-round Christmas lights are still there of course, contributing the essential Phoenix Nights factor).

These days Ian also puts on HDIF at the Phoenix in Cavendish Square, Central London, but he says that the combination of having a bit more space to throw some shapes on the dancefloor, and the fact that people seek out the Canterbury Arms, rather than stumbling on (and into) it makes the atmosphere at the Brixton night particularly great.

The uninitiated might associate Brixton exclusively with reggae or punk, but How Does It Feel’s long tenure at the Canterbury Arms means it’s right at home here. Ian says, ‘I remember on the first night someone saying that they’d never danced to Simon And Garfunkel in Brixton before, and that made me really happy. It feels good to be putting on something in Brixton that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

‘The night’s perhaps not something that people would expect from Brixton, but that diversity is what makes Brixton so exciting for me. It’s somewhere where anything can happen. And we’re living proof of that.’

So head on down tonight, or you’ll have to wait til September.

And to get into the extra-long weekend spirit Ian has kindly recommended some appropriate songs to listen to as you get ready to head down to How Does It Feel tonight:

A Sweet Summer’s Night On Hammer Hill by Jens Lekman – upbeat, feelgood … and people singing and dancing in the background 

Let’s Dance by Jimmy Cliff –  Jimmy Cliff might be more familiar from reggae classics like ‘The Harder They Come’, but this is a supercharged northern soul dancer

A Summer Wasting by Belle And Sebastian – a carefree start with a big, euphoric end. Very summery indeed.

Up on the Roof at Brixton Clubhouse

25 May

The crowd on the roof terrace – pleased to escape the heat at street level ­– tapped their feet to the jazz band while sipping some quite lethal cocktails, as the Jacuzzi burbled in the background. It was all very Gossip Girl – rather surprisingly, as we were in fact on a roof above Brixton KFC.

Technically the party was to launch the Gold Room, a bechandeliered new VIP area in Brixton Clubhouse. And very smart it is too. But on the hottest day of the year most of the guests naturally headed straight for the roof.

The Clubhouse is unashamedly pitching itself as a high-end venue, with an international flavour. The main club room with its small stage is capable of hosting cabaret or comedy, but it sounds like glitzy club nights will be the thing. Sunday roof parties – called, er, ‘Up on the Roof’ are kicking off soon and the midweek Discotec night is taking up residence as of September. It’ll be nice to have the gays back in force. Please someone correct me below if I’m wrong, but has Brixton hosted any regular gay club nights since the heyday of the Fridge?

Theatre producer and Clubhouse owner Bronia was keen to tell me how much she loves Brixton. She’s proud of the work she’s put in over the last year and a half, and that she now employs 14 members of staff. Different to anything else currently on offer in Brixton, the Clubhouse is certainly going to bring something new to the area’s nightlife. And the roof terrace absolutely rocks.


May Bank Holiday Weekend in Brixton

4 May

Happy Star Wars day everyone. How do we know it is Star Wars day? Well, May the 4th be with you. (And it’s on Wookiepedia).

The weather is bad but the force is strong within you Luke, so brave the weather, and try out one of these Brixton bank holiday suggestions…

Here’s something a bit different: head to the Transition Centre (on Robsart Road, opposite Brixton Jamm) on Saturday between 1pm and 9pm and find out this Brixton group and their friends are reducing carbon emissions and energy needs in community-based projects that everyone can become involved in. Did you know that Brixton has it’s very own locally-owned energy company, for example? Yeah, take that EDF. I met some of the guys from TTB (as the cool kids call it) on Wednesday at Meet Brixton, and it’s absolutely fascinating what can be achieved.

Get ready for some words: it’s the fifth Modern Movement event on Saturday and Sunday at Brockwell Lido featuring the Big Jump! [mandatory exclamation mark]. Now, it has taken some time but what I think this means is that there will be stalls set up around the pool selling antiques and collectables from the middle bit of the twentieth century, which I am sure will be lovely in the thirties surroundings if the lido. On Saturday at midday, while some gently peruse modern design classics, some people (presumably the losers of some sort of sadistic bet) will be jumping into the very cold water of the lido all at the same time. Let’s hope nothing goes wrong with this combination of activities; we don’t want a tiffany lamp going for a burton.

Fingers crossed it doesn’t rain on the Annual Brixton Windmill May Day Parade  on Monday 7th. Starting form Windrush square at 1pm everyone’s invited to join in on the walk down to Ashby Mill in Blenheim Gardens where there will be music, food, activities and probably cake. The theme this year is recycling, so should the weather be unkind you can at least put on one of those orange bags and say it’s a costume.

The Resurrection of the Crown and Anchor, Brixton Hill

22 Apr

Brixton Road, formerly a bit of a pub wasteland, got a new, reinvigorated drinking establishment on Thursday when the old Crown and Anchor reopened. With a focus on providing a great selection of real ales, proper cider, and what I believe is known as craft beer, when I popped along on Friday, there were no less than 23 of the above on tap. Food service starts this week, and with brickwork exposed and quite a dazzling array of light fittings it’s looking very handsome indeed.

According to Urban75, the pub has a history as a 1950s rock n’ roll venue. But the old pub was looking pretty sad by the time Martin Harley bought it. The landlord of the Rose and Crown in Stoke Newington, Martin is an experienced publican. But I got the impression that the road to reopening the Crown and Anchor has not always been an easy one, particularly as the pub needed a whole new roof. ‘We had to go to court to get rid of the squatters,’ he said. ‘They were quite organised for anarchists.’

Now, all beer to me tastes like soggy bread that has been left in a corner for some weeks. So, considering the number of proper ales available, and in the interests of good blogging, I recruited Mr Liz to come down and help me out.

Round One

Mr Liz: This is a lot better than the things you usually ask me to do. Like getting the suitcase down, taking the bin out, or having opinions on dresses.
Me: Make the most of it. So what’s that?
Mr Liz: It’s called Guardsman, brewed by Windsor and Eton. Do I have to give you tasting notes?
Me: Have a bash. What’s it like?
Mr Liz: It’s, er, really nice. Smooth. Mellow. Er, strawberries and cream and suchlike. I would happily drink it all night.
Me: You’d happily drink anything all night.
Mr Liz: This is true. But I would be particularly happy to drink this beer all night. Try it, it’s lovely.
Me: Eurgh, that’s vile. My Devon Red cider’s bloody fantastic though. It was worth the walk up here just for that.

Round Two

Me: Here you go, I got you a Hewitt’s Gorilla. What’s this one like?
Mr Liz: It’s good. Stronger, maltier … bittererer. Definitely a manly beer. One to impress the father-in-law. What an earth is that you’re drinking? It’s almost colourless.
Me: Broad Oak Perry. I thought I’d try it. It’s 7.5% though, so I may well fall over soon. It’s definitely one of the better perries I’ve had. It tastes a bit like cordial.
Mr Liz: And yet it looks like pure alcohol. Or the urine of the well-hydrated. [has a sip] Mmm, tastes nice though.

Round Three

Mr Liz: You know I have to drive at 5am right?
Me: Yes, sorry. What’s you D Star Revelation like?
Mr Liz: Great. Er, like fruity apricots. Stop writing everything I say down.
Me: Fruity apricots?! If your beer were an actor, who would it be?
Mr Liz: What?! You know my brain doesn’t work like that… Ok, someone deep-voiced who always plays the baddy maybe.
Me: Is your beer Alan Rickman?
[short interlude where we perform tipsy Sheriff of Nottingham impressions: ‘I’ll rip your heart out, with a SPOOOON’ etc]
Mr Liz: Ok, yes. What about that cider, which actor would that be then smart arse?
Me: Reese Witherspoon.
Mr Liz: Really? Can I try it?!
Me: Because it’s a scrumpy [Sanford scrumpy] and it’s quite sweet and wholesome-tasting. It’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t want all the time, but definitely enjoy from time to time. For example, it’s great in Walk the Line, but it was a bit much in Sweet Home Alabama.

And at that point folks, we quite wisely went home.  But stay tuned for part two, where we make our way through the wine list! (I kid, of course).


The Bank Holiday Feeling – Easter in Brixton

5 Apr

Hurrah and hurrah, it’s buy one get one free on bank holidays this weekend, in celebration of the first public holiday of the year (National Hangover Day on 1st January doesn’t count). So Brixton, what are you up to? Here’s a few options, starting with more wholesome activities and working down, down, down…

The Windmill reopens for the summer this weekend (habitual point of clarification: historic mill, not sticky-floored gig venue). Tours of the building itself are pretty much booked up by now, but it’s still worth heading down on Easter Sunday for the Easter Egg Hunt and various crafty things. It’s £1 per sprog to hunt the eggs, from 3pm to 5pm.

Or alternatively join egg-hiders The Commercial in Railton Road for an Easter Sunday roast and further hunting. From 11am until all the eggs are successfully located. They are also opening at 11am every day over the weekend for Easter brunch. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

The Ritzy’s year of centenary celebrations is coming to a close this weekend, with the final instalment of the A-Z of Cinema. Z being for Zombies, obvs. A triple bill of the films from the Night of the Living Dead trilogy kicks off at 9.30 on Saturday night. And find out what the best of local film makers have been up to for only five Great British pounds at the short film festival , Easter Sunday at 4.30.

Into the slightly-less-wholesome category falls Jay Rayner, cooking pork belly at French and Grace in Brixton Village from 11.30 on Saturday as some sort of task set by employers at the Observer Magazine . Get there early to avoid queues of previously-reviewed chefs with rotten veg doing warm up exercises. And let’s all hope he wears a hairnet.

Moving further down the scale of respectability, there’s loads of great nights planned in Brixton this weekend, whatever toots your horn. Committed hedonists may wish to consider the following sources of debauchery:

Tonight! How Does It Feel arrives at the Canterbury Arms. Sixties to eighties indie and motown type stuff from about 9pm.

I don’t get Carl Cox, but lots of other people do as he’s sold out the Electric tonight. If you’re not going you can still join in the ‘spot the clubber still trying to eat their own face’ game around Brixton on Friday morning. It’s fun.

And it’s all about Latin sounds at the Hootananny on Saturday. Los Chinches, Cumbe and Orquestra Voadora are playing a mix of Samba, Latin beats, carnival rhythms, dancehall and tropical bass. I’m not entirely sure what that combination will sounds like, but at least there will be a bit of sunshine at Hootananny, if nowhere else this weekend.

From the rather debauched to the slightly unsavoury, Pete Doherty is back at Brixton Jamm on Friday. Yes, again. I actually think he has moved in. For reasons of greed we assume, he is doing three solo sets in a row, with an afterparty to follow. A pretty long night if you buy tickets for the 6.30 set! £10.

And if you’re still standing onMonday, the Windmill (sticky-floored gig venue, not historic mill) are optimistically planning to have a barbecue, with bands playing all afternoon. Free entry, shuffle up from 3pm onwards.

So Happy Easter everyone; may your Easter eggs be plentiful and your waistbands elasticated.

Boqueria Tapas, Acre Lane

15 Mar

The more I think about our evening in new restaurant Boqueria the more I’m impressed. The wilderness of Acre Lane is not where you’d go looking for great modern Spanish food, expertly served in smart but low key surrounding. But you should. 

Named after the famous Mercat de San Josep de la Boqueria in Barcelona (I’d totally heard of it), the dishes here are in fact inspired by cooking from all over Spain. This is not cheap and cheerful mounds of tomatoey fried potatoes to put in face while drinking. There were no straw donkeys and nothing made of terracotta appeared to be mounted on the wall. In short, La Tasca it ain’t. It is however run by people that clearly care about what they are serving. Questions were answered, dishes freely described and recommended – although I thought the waiter might cry when my friend asked for ice in her sherry.

Boqueria’s location puts it in a no-man’s land between Brixton and Clapham. It doesn’t at all fit in with Brixton’s food scene; there’s no sense of the Village’s enthusiastically amateur or charmingly makeshift, for example. So are we in Clapham? we asked, looking around suspiciously. Well, no actually. The décor is grown up and minimalist, the crowd a little dressy on a Friday. ‘It’s like we’re at a restaurant in town’ my friend said. And she was right. So it was a bit of a surprise when we stepped outside and realised we were stood right opposite a boozy night at Grand Union.

I noticed that one or two people on Twitter mentioned that they found it a bit pricy, but I’m afraid I have to disagree.  Tapas dishes range from £3.90 for the excellently smoky fabeda, made from white beans, chorizo and bacon, up to just under eight quid for monkfish and prawns. The belly of pork was probably the highlight, and fortunately the second portion we ordered arrived quickly, or our table might have fallen out with each other. I’d love to go back and try the paella, which at £10 each for a minimum of two people seems like good value. But, being realistic, it’s highly unlikely I’d ever get past the small plates menu. Tapas restaurants are my sweetie shops.  I WANT IT ALL.

House wine starts at £13 a bottle, which is when we knew we definitely weren’t in central London. We had the Verdejo (at £19), which was marvellous and seemed to go with everything we ordered. There’s plenty of sherry and cava (replacing Prosecco as a trend this summer?) on the menu too, which lots of people were enjoying in the small bar area as well as the restaurant.

So thanks for a lovely night Boqueria. Now the rest of you just need to get there before Jay Rayner reviews it. You know what happens then…


Thanks Rosie Birkett (@rosiefoodie for taking the photos)

Where am I? Brixton Hill

10 Mar

Geographically speaking, the answer to the question ‘Where Am I?’ on Saturday morning was ‘at the café that used to be called Paulo’z Way at the top of Brixton Hill’. ‘What’s going on here?’ demands a somewhat more involved answer. Where Am I? has been open for just two weeks. It is a both a licensed café and vintage clothing, furniture and knick-knack shop. It also has a ceiling that is entirely covered by a hand painted Portuguese flag.


We sat down at a table next to a stuffed cockerel, a small carriage containing an empty bottle marked ‘gin’ and a 1981 copy of The Joy of Sex. My kitch-ophile friend shouted ‘Amazing!’ a few times and ordered an omelette. I decided – in the interest of good blogging you understand – to confront the full English. While waiting for the food to arrive we entertained ourselves browsing the old records for sale, coming across such gems as Gilbert and Sullivan, Simon and Garfunkel, and, rather more dubiously, the Black and White Minstrel Show. We were confused but then so was the coffee – my friend’s cappuccino came with a question mark on the top.

The full English arrived with (deep breath) fried egg, two bacon, mushrooms, three thick bits of buttered bread, black pudding, beans, tomato and chips. For £4.50. The only questionable thing about the whole experience was the sausage, which was essentially a long stick of reconstituted animal (?) fat.  But for that price it seems silly to quibble over a sausage. Particularly as I didn’t need to eat again until approximately 6pm that evening. All in all it was a breakfast that really deserved a hangover; next time I’ll be sure to take one.

Before we left had a quick chat to Sergio who was serving behind the counter. He explained that the café’s brilliant decoration, much of which is comprised of torn up Look and Learn magazines, was largely a team effort. He also was able to shed light on the ceiling flag – it’s a relic from the previous incumbent that Sergio and friends, being Portuguese, couldn’t bring themselves to paint over. I’m afraid to say he shed no light on the café’s name; his story about this just left us more confused.

At the moment Where Am I? is open during the day only. All being well they may start opening on Friday and Saturday evenings, and, excitingly as it would be a great venue, are open to the idea of private parties. They don’t have a website as far as I can tell. But then you try Googling ‘Where Am I?’


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