Blur’s Parklife on the Greenwich Peninsula: 20 years on

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
It’s 20 years ago today that Blur’s video for Parklife was shot outside the Pilot pub on the Greenwich Peninsula. Directed by Pedro Romhanyi – who’d later shoot the promo for Pulp’s Common People – it remains one of the most fondly-remembered of all British music videos.

I remember it well – the filming took place on my 20th birthday. After hearing Blur were filming on the peninsula, I walked up to take a look. Of course, what I didn’t take was my camera.

If anyone has any memories of the filming – or photographs – I’d love to hear them, along with any corrections to anything I’ve got wrong. (Here are some production shots along with some other Blur snaps from the time.)

It was filmed over two days – 8 and 9 August, 1994 – with most shooting taking place in River Way, a street containing the Pilot pub, some cottages, an industrial estate and the remains of the old Blackwall Point Power Station. In those days, if you travelled up Blackwall Lane onto the Greenwich Peninsula, River Way was a turning on the right before Blackwall Lane ended at the junction of Boord Street and the gates to the old gas works. It was a dead end, leading up to the Thames and the original base of Greenwich Yacht Club.

River Way from Blackwall Lane, taken in autumn 1998. The Pilot would have been out of shot on the right, I think.

River Way from Blackwall Lane, taken in autumn 1998. The Pilot would have been out of shot on the right, I think.

River Way, some time in 1998 - the Pilot would be on the left.

River Way, some time in 1998 – the Pilot would be on the left.

River Way’s days were numbered, though. Less than two years later, the Greenwich Peninsula was chosen as the site for the Millennium Experience. Two years after that, the street was gone, although the pub and the cottages remain. Remarkably, the Pilot’s landlord resisted offers to sell the place until well into the 21st century – it’s now owned by Fullers and was refurbished last year.

The Pilot’s not marking the anniversary of its little entry into British pop history – it’s staging Shakespeare in its beer garden instead.

Left and centre: The Thames-side end of River Way, spring 1998. The arrow was left behind by the Parklife crew. Right: River Way facing the Thames

Left and centre: The Thames-side end of River Way, spring 1998. The arrow was left behind by the Parklife crew. Right: River Way facing the Thames

It’s hard to imagine what the peninsula was like before the turn of the century – and trying to get an accurate “then and now” record of what’s changed is impossible as the most of River Way is now being built upon. So the Parklife video is a reminder of a Greenwich that’s being erased before our eyes.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
This is River Way looking away from the Thames – you can see the silo of Tunnel Refineries in the background, which were demolished in 2010.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
Sun-in-the-Sands, 8 August 2014
Here’s an odd one out – this is the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout at Blackheath.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
River Way
River Way looking towards the Thames. The pub and cottages are just behind, the buildings on the right are the remains of Blackwall Point Power Station.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
Ordnance Crescent, Greenwich
These shots were filmed on Ordnance Crescent, which was an emergency escape route for traffic which couldn’t fit in the Blackwall Tunnel. The road was stopped up a few years ago. In some of these shots, you can see the grey hoardings of the Jubilee Line construction project, which had just begun. The street was closed off a few years back, and it’s now used as a vehicle inspection station.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
This is River Way. In those days, the Thames Path didn’t run all the way around the peninsula – walkers had to go via River Way and cross the A102 at the footbridge. There was a sign outside the pub reading “Riverside Walk East/ Riverside Walk West”, which inspired the sign in this scene.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
Boord Street
This is Boord Street, close to the Blackwall Tunnel approach. Back then it was a neglected turn-off from the approach road, a remnant of the old community destroyed when the second Blackwall Tunnel was built in the 1960s. Now, if you take the 108 bus through the southbound tunnel, this is the street you’ll pass down to get to North Greenwich.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
Site of River Way, Greenwich, August 2014
This is the former end of River Way. The film-makers also painted the words “PARK LIFE” and an arrow on the road at this point, which lasted until the street was destroyed. Greenwich Yacht Club’s old base was just to the right of Phil Daniels. Just in shot on the left is the old coaling jetty, which is now being used for arts projects.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
River Way, Greenwich
The cottages. I think the tenants were turfed out in the late 1990s and replaced with Dome staff, including its effervescent French boss PY Gerbeau.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
Boord Street, Greenwich
I’m a little uncertain about this, but I think this is Boord Street – the yard behind used to be for school buses. Again, you can see Tunnel Refineries in the background.

blur11
River Way, Greenwich
This is River Way once again – and a reminder that for most of the 1990s, One Canada Square at Canary Wharf stood alone as the only Docklands skyscraper.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
River Way, Greenwich
Looking down River Way towards the Pilot. You can see how the street curved slightly, this was to pass underneath the gas works’ old railway line, which vanished in the 1980s.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
The Pilot, Greenwich, August 2014
This was the old front beer garden of the Pilot, in the curve of River Way.

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI
Dreadnaught Street, Greenwich
And one last shot – this is Dreadnought Street, which used to come off the Blackwall Tunnel approach to meet Blackwall Lane. If you got the 108 bus from east London, you’d come out of the tunnel and travel down this road. Most of it was ripped up in the 90s and a bigger slip road was installed – the recent picture is facing the other way towards that slip road.

The Parklife video isn’t Blur’s only connection with this part of south-east London. The band met at Goldsmiths College, and Alex James’s book Bit Of A Blur: The Autobiographydocuments his time living in a squat on the New Cross Road.

Back in the 1990s, east Greenwich’s derelict sites were favoured spot for videos and photoshoots – a Kylie video was shot at Lovell’s Wharf; while a few bands used Anchor Iron Wharf, which used to be an old scrapyard between the Cutty Sark pub and Greenwich Power station.

But Parklife’s the most enduring reminder, and it was all 20 years ago today. Where did the time go, eh?

Blur's Parklife video, 1994, copyright EMI

14 comments

  1. maryorelse

    I’m sure you don’t want a blow by blow commentary on all those great pix (well you might). One comment and one only because I talk too much anyway.
    Sometime before 2000 I was interviewed by John Dunn on the history of the Peninsula for his Radio 4 show. When I mentioned Park Life they stopped the recording with a horrified gasp and said I was to re-record it mentioning only a pop group suitable to my age group – like – they said – Janis Joplin.

  2. Deptford Dame

    I’m embarassed to admit that’s the first time I’ve seen that video! In my defence I didn’t have a tele at the time for about 8 years so it’s not the only thing I missed…!

  3. Barry

    Remember that shoot very well.I used to work in a print finishers in River Way Industrial Estate,a few yards from the shoot and,as i used to cycle to work,everything had to grind to a halt on the film set to let me through.By bike was ancient and,as i rode past the cast and crew,there were some playful jeers and some applause,to which i replyed with a royal wave and a big smile. :-)

  4. maryorelse

    I guess you don’t want a blow by blow commentary on all the pix. So only to say that when interviewed about the peninsula by John Dunn for his radio 4 show I mentioned Park Life they stopped the recording and said I was to think of a pop group more suitable to my own age group, like, er Janis Joplin. 5

  5. JK

    Brilliant – however after 20 years I’ve still not worked out what Graham spray painted on that window…

  6. joe mc clory

    the one with the comms mast is in front of an old school now used for storing and restoring artefacts for hornimans museum

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