Archive for October 2008
And if you saw your local council bend over backwards for the gigantic shopping centre that’s been plonked on your doorstep, would you be happy?
Much, much too much has been said on the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand farrago, so I’m not going to add any more to the acres of piffle (although this Guardian piece is worth a read if you’re really interested, and Paul Gambaccini on Radio 5 Live also has a refreshing take on the issue if you’ve a couple of minutes to listen.)
The affair saw Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas leave the BBC – which could mean interesting times ahead for its sister network, 6 Music, which she also ran. Remember that? The music station which was going to take its sound seriously? Oh yeah. It’s now the network which seems to prefer employing comedians over music fans, which has shrunk so far back from its original remit of promoting new talent and mining the archives for lost gems that it’s almost faded from view. It must be a source of frustration at the BBC as they wonder why the relatively well-funded 6 Music lags behind in the ratings to Planet Rock, a commercial station run on a shoestring and saved from closure earlier this year.
Lesley Douglas tried Brand (represented by John Noel Management) out on the station first, but her most reviled change to 6 Music was booting out muso Gideon Coe from his morning slot and replacing him with mockney comic George Lamb (represented by John Noel Management), whose interview with Ray Davies earlier this month just about sums up the decline of 6 Music. Afternoons sees Nemone (represented by John Noel Management) try to whip up enthusiasm for phone-in quizzes, while other relatively recent Douglas recruits have been stand-up comic Jen Brister (represented by John Noel Management) and – at last! – DJ duo Queens of Noize (represented by… you get the picture), and not forgetting breakfast host Shaun Keaveny (him too) .
Actually, the most baffling import of all was Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems from Radio 1 – why would anyone think that your average indie snob 6 Music listener would appreciate hearing that on their station? And would Pearce’s audience enjoy the rest of 6 Music? (Facebook group: 99 members)
In February, Douglas explained her thinking for changing 6 Music: “What was true of its first few years was that its audience was very male biased. I think it’s only right that you make it as open to female listeners as it is to male. That is something we have tried to address over the years.
“Men tend to be more interested in the intellectual side of the music, the tracks, where albums have been made, that sort of thing.
“We want to broaden it out – there is absolutely no reason why women shouldn’t love 6Music as much as men love 6Music.”
Which basically told 6 Music’s core listeners they weren’t welcome. It’s was a horrible echo of the destruction of the original Xfm (when Capital Radio bought it and put on Bob Geldof and a breakfast DJ from Invicta FM) and the BBC’s killing-off of GLR by parachuting in bigoted gobshite Jon Gaunt to front what was then London Live.
Daytime 6 Music is now no different in style from almost any other station. Which is a shame, because the evenings contain gems – Steve Lamacq remains authoritative, Marc Riley‘s evening show is a tremendous listen and Gideon Coe‘s nurtured his audience in the evening. (In fact, with Mark Radcliffe on Radio 2 and Colin Murray on Radio 1, there’s an embarrassment of riches on BBC radio in the evenings.)
But hopefully the change at the top will see a fresh look at 6 Music. NME radio‘s been on a trial broadcast in Inner London (87.7FM until Sunday) and it’s been refreshing – very similar to the old Xfm; with more music and less chatter (which is good, because the chatter on there is wincingly awful). So it can be done.
There’s plenty of room to expand 6 Music beyond jangly indie without going for the lowest common denominator – if you want some dance music, the brilliant Gilles Peterson languishes at 2am on Thursdays on Radio 1 while Rob Da Bank and Chris Coco‘s The Blue Room is much missed. Or Patrick Forge, recently departed from Kiss? Or how about Sean Rowley’s Guilty Pleasures?
This is a real chance to wipe the slate clean with 6 Music and start again to build a popular, diverse, yet credible music station. But whether anyone at the BBC, with their boxes to tick and remits to fufil will take any notice, is another matter.
“But what I found a little odd on looking through my mobile phone address book was that there were at least four people in there who are now dead. Obviously they were alive when I put them in my address book, I’m not sick. Well, I’m not that sick. Nor that stupid. There’s no point in having the email address or phone number of someone who is already dead. But I still have the details of four friends or acquaintances who have passed away in the last couple of years. And the issue I was presented with is what should I do with those entries?
I also realised how I don’t have the numbers of loads of comedians who I would like to ask to do gigs, and so I should probably get better at collecting them. But was surprised to find that I do have the number (or at least a former number) of Russell Brand (I met him at a gig in Bristol maybe four years ago before things just broke for him). Maybe I should give out the number to you all so you can ring him to tell him you have fucked his grandma.
No, I’m classier than that.” (more)
It’s funny working in London’s trendy west London. People bust a gut to move somewhere like Shepherd’s Bush, but invariably find that it really isn’t all that. I’ve nothing against W12, I’ve spent a great chunk of my waking hours there and I even developed a sneaking liking for Queens Park Rangers for a bit. Hey, I even remember seeing Pete Doherty saunter around in a tunic. While the Bush was once famous for Steptoe and Son, Stan Bowles and the White City dog track, it’s now stuffed full of twonks who call it “SheBu” (right – you’re banned from London for life) and grizzle like children when one of their five Tube stations closes so it can be dragged into the 21st Century.
In reality, there’s not a lot there these days. A crappy parade of pound shops and mobile phone re-chippers, some drunks, a rubbish shopping centre and some hideous traffic congestion. It’s like Plumstead but with Tube stations. Gentrification? The local Slug and Lettuce became an amusement arcade. Shepherd’s Bush Green is truly on its uppers, and it’s not a pleasant sight.
And things are about to get worse – looming over W12 is the Westfield London development, due to open on Thursday and due to suck the living daylights out of what remains of Shepherd’s Bush. How the hell a huge shopping centre in inner London, complete with its own junction on the old West Cross Route, ever got the go-ahead has got to be one of life’s mysteries. Increased traffic congestion? Check. Killing off local shops and services? Absolutely. Insane? Definitely. A recession, the threat of BBC TV Centre closing, and now this. I wouldn’t want to be running a small business in that area right now.
It’s only recently, now the hoardings have come down, that it’s become clear how profoundly this part of London will change. With such shopping luxury on offer, why would anyone want to go out in the rain and trip over drunks outside William Hill? It’s not just the Bush – Notting Hill will suffer as its well-heeled car-driving shoppers switch to Westfield to avoid the congestion charge, the border of which the new mega-mall sits just outside. Hammersmith, which has thrived as the Bush has sunk, will also take a hit. In an era when we’re supposed to be appreciating our own local communities and supporting nearby businesses, Westfield London’s going to be a huge backward step.
Here in my own part of south-east London, we can see that small businesses have been hit by the opening of retail parks in Greenwich and Charlton, which add little but traffic congestion and pollution. Now west London’s going to suffer – and it isn’t going to be pretty.
(Art Deco by Tirfor.)
Want to see what’s inside Woolwich’s old Co-op department store, a beautiful old art-deco building left to rot for about 15 years, and now awaiting the wreckers’ ball? Well, there’s the Flickr photos above, or there’s this fascinating thread on urban exploration site 28 Days Later.
14 months ago this was Essential Music, the best record shop in Greenwich. After a year empty, it’s now a posh baby shop.
While I genuinely wish the people behind Beauty and the Bib well – hey, it’s not a crap chain store, at least – there’s something a bit depressing about Greenwich Market’s slow shift into selling lifestyle accessories. A sign of the times we live in, I suppose. I hope the new shop thrives, but another bit of the old Greenwich seems to have faded away.
Worth a look if you’re on the South Bank, especially after dark – celebrity photographer Rankin’s exhibition of pictures from a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which manages to be both sobering and uplifting at the same time. He talks about it here.
Not a top enough Rankin for you? Well try this… “I once killed a pig by getting it drunk, reveals Ian Rankin.” Thank heavens for the Scottish Daily Record. “That was the end of my career as a swineherd.”
Spiky female-fronted northern pop’s generally going to go down a treat around these parts, and married to sharp lyrics and frontwoman Kate Jackson’s sense of style and humour it became a winning combination for me. I wasn’t sure their second album Couples – produced by club DJ Erol Alkan – quite worked as well as it might have done (single Guilt being the far-and-away highlight), but debut Someone To Drive You Home was a fabulous, raw, statement of intent and contained the brilliant Separated By Motorways, which you’ll find above (albeit in its less punchy single version).
I was lucky enough to see them twice – at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival in 2007, where they seemed to surprise themselves at how quickly they won over the crowd on a beautiful day by the Mediterranean, and again this March in front of a much smaller crowd at the Amersham Arms in New Cross, previewing that second album.
But three months after that show, after returning from, guitarist Dorian Cox had a stroke, and he’s still unable to play the guitar – a terrible blow for someone so young. Fingers crossed he’ll go on to make a full recovery. In the meantime the band have split, with Kate Jackson planning solo material. Hopefully she, and the other band members, will soon be able to scale the heights the Long Blondes did – good luck to them.
I took a walk along the Thames the other day – I hadn’t been well, and I needed to get out and get some exercise. I walked up to Thamesmead – this might not strike you as the most attractive of walks, but on a sunny afternoon it’s peaceful, and when you get to the tip of Thamesmead (well, the Greenwich/Bexley borough boundary, more or less the last chance to leave the walk before you end up in the wilderness of Crossness) you can get a stunning view like that above.
But it’s also a depressing walk – full of monuments to decades of bad planning. Trouble is, we have to live with the legacy of crap decision making from the 70s through to the 90s. Start at King Henry’s Wharf, the rather miserable 1990s Barratt-style development as you enter Woolwich from Charlton, and you’ll start to see why. It’s cut off from decent transport links by a rotten strip of industrial yards, giving it an oddly isolated feel. Yes, there’s great views of the Thames Barrier (and, er, of Tate and Lyle’s Silvertown works), but what’s the point in an inner London housing development that seems to encourage car use? You get the feeling nobody really thought this through properly. With the property boom just starting 10 years ago, they probably didn’t.
Sadly, this mistake was made before – walk further along and you get to the Woolwich Dockyard estate, built in the 1970s (by the GLC). It came with an aquatic centre, which is now rotting away (with obligatory England flag hoisted up in protest). Again, it’s cut off from the outside world by the old dock wall. I’m sure the people who designed this are living lives of happy retirement. Presumably not behind a huge brick wall on Woolwich Church Street. Further along (and behind the aquatic centre) is the Mast Pond Wharf blocks – which look pretty well-designed, and sit on stilts in anticipation of flooding, another risk of living on the Woolwich Dockyard estate… Still, things were a bit more stylish around here once.
Cross the ferry approach, and you’ll see where great chunks of Woolwich have been flattened for future, mystery development – was the Crown and Cushion pub really not worth saving then, Greenwich Council? Did the last remnant of the old Woolwich riverside not mean anything to them? But there is a horrible, windswept park, Royal Arsenal Gardens, which opened in 2000 and just seems to be a place to walk through as quickly as possible.
The proposed Greenwich Waterfront Transit (if it ever gets built) might make the Royal Arsenal redevelopment feel less isolated – yes, it’s behind a brick wall, and some people have paid serious money for these pads. Their residents’ forum is members-only, but I remember when it wasn’t, and some people seemed a little surprised to find their bought off-plan developments were actually in Woolwich… maybe the sign on Building 50 above will help them. It’s a puzzling development – so many historical buildings, but it just feels like someone’s built some flats on a retail park – and sad to see wealth stuck behind a brick wall when Woolwich itself has some of the worst poverty in London. Just at the end of building 50 is a ventilation shaft for the Docklands Light Railway extension – that’s someone’s river view buggered up, then…
Into Thamesmead, and the gleaming blocks of the Royal Artillery Quays – it looks impressive, but it sits next to the horrific Broadwater Estate. You can’t escape the contrasts here. But after here, you get to more traditionally-built new housing, you’re on bus routes, and things get a bit more settled.
Until you get to… Gallions Reach Urban Village.
Let’s read that blurb, shall we? “The area is unique as an award winning new build development in London and is characterized by an abundance of green space and waterway…” and plastic bags all over the streets, grass that hadn’t been cut, homes seized by baliffs, uncollected rubbish, kids on motorised bikes, handy-looking blokes walking mean-looking dogs…
…and the ROAR of planes heading to London City Airport over the Thames. You wouldn’t imprison people in a place like this. Well, actually, we do – HMP Belmarsh provides hope for the youth of SE28, just over the way. A glance through the residents’ forum shows what’s happening there at the moment – a cannabis factory catching fire, lead thefts, robberies… mind you, at least there’s residents there trying to sort things out. But somewhere between the developers, the housing association and Greenwich Council, something’s gone badly wrong. And this development’s only a couple of years old. How much is it costing the police and other agencies to put extra resources in here? Maybe the crowing architects and developers (award-winning development, remember) could put a bit of cash in to ease the pressure here…
It’s a tragedy – and criminal, really. From crap council estates of the 70s to poorly-thought-out 21st Century developments, we’ve got to live with these terrible decisions, and pay for them in terms of increased pollution, increased policing costs, and the environmental and social harm that’s caused by them. Can anyone involved in any of these places say they’re truly proud of them?
After the Urban Village horror story, all is peaceful. A rabbit ran out in front of me as I approached Tripcock Ness, on this undeveloped piece of Plumstead Marshes. Unfortunately, this is roughly the point where Ken Livingstone wanted to build the Thames Gateway Bridge. It’s not clear whether Boris Johnson will go ahead with this or not, but it’s certain that this undisturbed corner of Thamesmead, where human beings haven’t moved in to bugger it up, is under threat. Maybe this corner should just be left to nature, as a reminder of what Thamesmead once was.
It’s not all bad. As I turned off to find a bus home, a beaming African fella rode past on his bike, just behind his two equally happy kids, also pedalling away. We said hello to each other, and I realised that living on the river can’t all be bad up there. Maybe the Woolwich and Thamesmead riverside is rescueable. But it’s clear that neither the politicians in charge now, nor private developers, are up to the challenge.
Until we can fix this, we just have to make the best of a bad job, like the Gallions Reach residents on their forum, and the dad on his bike.