Category: music

OffBlackheath – festival delayed until 2013

Yeah, yeah, last with the news, but here it is from the horse’s mouth.

Sad news, but it can’t just be the demands on Blackheath this Olympic year – it’s already going to be a packed summer for events in London (the Blur/ Specials / New Order closing ceremony gig looks something very special) and it’d be hard to get a decent profile for the festival.

But come 2013, and the post-Olympics malaise… and it could shine. Hope to see you next year, chaps.

Seatwave shop opens near the O2 – but will there be bargains?

A pal of mine used to live near Brixton Academy, and used to have to negotiate crowds of ticket touts on gig nights. But every now and then, he’d turn up at 9pm, and get into gigs for a fiver because the touts couldn’t shift their wares for full price.

I can’t help wondering if we’re about to get the same opportunities at the Dome, with the opening of “secondary ticketing” company Seatwave’s first shop just around the corner. It’s tucked away in Pier Walk, just behind Wagamana, so isn’t exactly in a prime spot, but bosses at the O2 aren’t impressed

The O2 distanced itself from the firm and encouraged people “wanting to attend gigs to buy tickets through the official O2 website”.

The venue said it did “not allow third party sellers or touts on the premises” and that it policed the Peninsular Square area outside the O2 to stop the practice.

I peered through the window on Sunday afternoon and tickets for last night’s Snow Patrol show looked to be selling for about £6 below face value. I don’t know what hours the shop will keep, but if you’re passing through on an event night soon, it might be worth taking a look to see if there are any bargains.

Uncovering Greenwich’s Northern Soul secrets

Wednesday’s news of singer Dobie Gray’s death reminded me to ask a question I’d meant to ask a long while ago. What did happen to the Northern Soul club in Greenwich? Confused? Read on…

Every month, my chum Ian Watson runs Great Big Kiss, a Northern Soul/ Motown/ sixties girl groups night* at the Buffalo Bar, up at Highbury Corner. It’s a damn good night if you like that kind of thing, and should you ever be free on the second Friday of each month (like tonight) and don’t have to get up the next day, I suggest you head north and drop in. A few months back, I remarked to Ian that I’d just come from the Pelton Arms in Greenwich, where Glenn Tilbrook was playing some of his occasional shows.

“I remember going to a Northern Soul night in Greenwich once,” Ian told me, and rummaged around in his box. He pulled out a CD marked “Greenwich Northern”, full of tracks he heard that night. As well as, mysteriously, Five Get Over-Excited By The Housemartins. Neither of us could explain that one.

Anyway, here’s seven of those songs – and the Housemartins – on a Spotify playlist.

So what about this Greenwich Northern Soul night? Well, I certainly remember one happening a few years back, but never visiting it. All I know is that it was downstairs at the William IV on Trafalgar Road, but that’s about it.

I saw no flyers or any other promotion for it, although the old pub’s reputation – it was a tip – pretty much stopped me from investigating further. If I’d known when it was on in the first place, that is.

I also remember seeing a night advertised upstairs at the Spanish Galleon Tavern by the market, although with it ending at midnight it hardly seemed worth the bother. I’d also heard the club had cropped up at the venerable Greenwich Town Social Club on Blackwall Lane – a venue I’d only visited on a couple of boozy bank holiday Sundays to be hushed down by bingo lovers.

But that was where my trail had gone dead. So what had happened to Greenwich’s Northern Soul nights?

A gentle Googling later, it turned out that the Greenwich Town Social is still SE10’s own version of the Wigan Casino. The London Dossier (where “fans of vintage black music can discover London’s nightlife”) lists Boogaloo Soul as happening from 9pm-1am this Saturday**. A little bit more digging, and they’ve got a YouTube page – and yup, that is the Town Social…

It doesn’t look like the Boogaloo Soul nights are every month, but now I know Greenwich still has its Northern nights, I’m going to have to pop in some time. Here’s a Facebook page with more info.

It’s definitely not the only night of its kind in south-east London – I’ve heard of clubs at the Wickham Arms in Brockley and the Alma at Crystal Palace – but I’m amazed this has gone on under my nose with me barely noticing it, bearing in mind Greenwich has had some of the direst nightlife in inner London for as long as I can remember. If you’ve been, I’d love to hear more.

Still, between Great Big Kiss in Islington, Boogaloo Soul in Greenwich and the great Nitty Gritty in Camden*** on Sunday, if you like your old soul music, you’re spoilt for choice this weekend. Who’s in with the in crowd?

*Great Big Kiss, Buffalo Bar, Upper Street N1 1RU (next to Highbury & Islington tube/rail) tonight (Dec 9) and every second Friday of each month from 9pm-3am. £6 non-members/advance, £4 members.

**Boogaloo Soul, Greenwich Town Social, Blackwall Lane SE10 0AN (Maze Hill rail) tomorrow (Dec 10) and on these dates in 2012: January 7, April 7, June 2, September 1 and December 1. 9pm-1am. £5 on the door.

***The Nitty Gritty, The Constitution, St Pancras Way NW1 0QT (Camden Road rail/ Camden Town tube), this Sunday (Dec 11) and the second Sunday of each month from February. 4.30-10.30pm, £5 on the door.

Living it up at Leefest

An antidote to the troubles of the past week or so…

The story goes like this. A few years ago, a young man called Lee decided to hold a party in his back garden in West Wickham while his parents were away. He called it Leefest for a laugh, and got some bands to play along with DJs and a comedian. The 150 guests enjoyed it, so he did it again the next year. And then the year after that it moved to a field next to a nearby school. Two years later, it moved again, to a field further out of town. Now Leefest can hold 2,000 people, has a stellar line-up, and donates its profits to charity. What’s not to like?

There’s so many references to Lee at the festival, I came away thinking this figure didn’t exist. (“If you see Sid, tell him.”) But he certainly does, and it’s a brave man who puts his name to a festival these days, for fear of the curse of Field Day. Now in a field between Biggin Hill and New Addington, Leefest lasts two days, blends local acts with a few big names, but feels like attending a private bash. Diving down into the valley at the top of the North Downs, it certainly seems like the best secret party you’ll ever go to.

While next year’s On Blackheath can rightly claim to be south-east London’s music festival, Leefest – still run by Lee, his family, and a band of volunteers – was here first.

I’d only been dimly aware of the festival before, and only went because some pals with Saturday tickets suddenly couldn’t go. Even though I ended up investigating it on my own, I certainly didn’t feel alone and it’s the only music event I’ve ever been to where the security guards are actually friendly. Hell, they even cracked jokes. I was so won over I even had a pink heart painted on my cheek by Kids Company volunteers. I now remember why I had some strange looks later coming home through Catford.

The acts? A real mixed bag, from the ska-meets-the Streets sound of Man Like Me to the catchy folk of The Lost Cavalry to the harder rock of Tin Soldiers and Dinosaur Pile Up.

It was also great to see Get Cape Wear Cape Fly on the main stage, but the biggest reason for going was to see British Sea Power. I wasn’t the only one – you could spot BSP’s older fans a mile off among the predominantly young Leefest crowd.

A few years ago I’d seen them play to thousands on a crystal clear night by the Mediterranean at Primavera Sound in Barcelona – last night they played to a few hundred in a field near Biggin Hill. If you like your rock majestic, with men wearing foxes’ heads and plenty of onstage pranks, they’re your band.

Leefest was terrific fun, and it’s the only time I’ve left a festival feeling slightly jealous of those camping over. It’s amazing Leefest doesn’t have a higher profile, but then more crowds would rob it of its charm. So next year, get the shuttle bus from Bromley or the 464 from New Addington, and tell your friends if you think using an Oyster card to get a festival won’t be too daunting for them. But let’s keep it our secret, eh?

On Blackheath music festival gets court go-ahead

Plans for a two-day music festival on Blackheath have been upheld by magistrates, who threw out an appeal against it being granted a licence.

Bromley magistrates dismissed the appeal brought by the Blackheath Society against Lewisham Council, which granted a 10-year licence to Nimby Events Ltd last year.

The society now faces an £80,000 legal bill following the seven day hearing, the longest appeal ever heard under current licensing laws.

This year’s festival, due to attract 50,000 people over two days, was abandoned because of the lengthy court case, but organisers are now planning to hold the first On Blackheath festival in September 2012.

Despite the rejection of the appeal, Lewisham Council came in for criticism in the magistrates’ ruling. They said there was “little evidence” the council conducted its consultation into the festival licence in an “open and transparent manner”.

Lewisham approved the event at a licensing sub-committee meeting in October – but a large number of local people in both Lewisham and Greenwich boroughs were “totally unaware” of the application, they said.

The festival is due to be held on the western side of the heath, between the Territorial Army base at Holly Hedge House and Shooters Hill Road, on the boundary of the two boroughs.

Furthermore, the magistrates branded Lewisham’s failure to formally notify Greenwich Council of the application “astonishing”. Festival organisers had informed Greenwich of their plans – but officers at the neighbouring authority, whose boundary runs just metres away from the festival site, were left waiting in vain for Lewisham to inform them when a full application was made.

While it had complied with the Licensing Act 2003, magistrates Roger Mills and Dr Patrick Davies said “Lewisham, through its licensing sub-committee, as not acted in an appropriate manner and has not had the interests of some of its residents at heart”.

But concerns about public order and noise at the event were dismissed by the magistrates, who noted the “days when events would have banks of speakers on a stage facing the audience” were gone, and were confident sound control firm Vanguardia would be able to mitigate any problems with noise.

Counsel for Nimby Events had asked the magistrates to award the full £140,000 costs of the hearing to the Blackheath Society, but the magistrates declined, saying the appeal had been “properly brought and Parliament had intended residents to have a say in the licensing process”.

It was revealed in the hearing that the society, which has a membership of 980 families, has assets of around £400,000, partly tied up in local property. Nimby Events’ Tom Wates, Terry Felgate and Alex Wicks were described in court by their counsel Simon Taylor as “local family men” who were funding their legal costs from their own pockets – they will be liable for most of the remainder of the costs.

Speaking before the costs ruling, Nimby’s Alex Wicks said he and his fellow organisers were “pleased” the festival could go ahead.

“We’re looking forward to working with the whole community, including the Blackheath Society and the Blackheath Joint Working Party. We very much want this to be a community event.”

He added that they were looking to hold concerts at Blackheath Halls during the winter as a build-up to the festival. “The halls need all the help they can get, and hopefully we can get it sold out for three nights.”

Blackheath Society chairman Howard Shields said that Lewisham’s decision to revise its policy on holding events on the heath showed the appeal had not been completely in vain.

“Our grouse all along has been with the way Lewisham has handled it,” he said.

“We have never said there should never be anything on Blackheath. But if we’re going into an era of having big commercial events on Blackheath, then there should be proper scrutiny.”

The decision to begin the appeal was taken by its management committee after an overwhelming response against the festival on its e-mail list, he added.

Asked about those who backed the event, Mr Shields said: “Nobody has written to us asking, why did you do this?”

However, he conceded there was a feeling the society had lost touch with younger people, and needed to “broaden our communication abilities” in future. (A full statement is on the Blackheath Bugle.)

Festival organisers will now be looking to find a suitable date for On Blackheath, with the Paralympic Games equestrian events taking place in Greenwich Park during early September 2012. Earlier this year, Tom Wates told this website the event could bring up to £1m of custom for local firms.

(Read past stories about the On Blackheath Festival saga.)

Protests, cock-ups, and emotion at Primavera Sound 2011

So, did I miss much while I was away? Doesn’t look like it. I took myself off to Barcelona to revel in the Primavera Sound festival, and took my time getting back. I stopped off at Salvador Dali’s birthplace Figueras to investigate the museum dedicated to the artist’s honour (but found myself much more charmed by the nearby toy museum). I also spent a night and day in Paris, purely because it was better value to get a cheap hotel than pay Eurostar’s mickey-taking fare to get home immediately.

It’s the sixth time I’ve been to Primavera Sound, and this year’s magical moments will live on. The first Pulp show for nine years had shades of Blur’s reunion a couple of year ago – a merry romp through a a back catalogue that’s deeper and better than many would recall. But there was also stellar performances from Interpol, PJ Harvey, Of Montreal, and a Mercury Rev show on the Sunday night, a day after the festival proper had finished, which blew me away.

But it also felt like the year the festival got too big and struggled to cope. A card system designed to make bar purchases quicker and easier failed to work – it appeared to depend on iPads and wi-fi – leading to massive queues and very little beer at an event whose full title was San Miguel Primavera Sound 2011. Facing a loss that must have run into hundreds of thousands of euros, organisers eventually threw the towel in and decided to accept cash, and money loaded onto the cards was refunded later.

Faced with hundreds of thirsty punters, often ranting in a foreign language, the bar staff coped admirably, but the organisers did less well, releasing a stiffly-worded statement the day afterwards which lost something in translation. Which may have been fine in 2006 when Brits, Irish and Americans were in a tiny minority – but really didn’t work in 2011, with tickets sold across Europe and English speakers making up what felt like about half the audience.

With a host of other little niggles – and a horror story about a photographer attacked by security guards for documenting a stage invasion – Primavera Sound will have to raise its game next year if it is to cope with a festival that is only going to get bigger.

(*cough* If the organisers need help with English-language communications, I’m free and can move to Barcelona at very short notice… *cough*)

Usually, a trip to Barcelona provides an escape, but after that difficult first day of the festival, troubling news on the second day provided a new backdrop – and put some of the organisational issues in perspective.

In the lead-up to the festival, young people had occupied city squares across Spain to protest against cuts being made by prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s government, urging people to spoil their ballots in regional elections. One in five Spaniards is out of work, and there is no sign of a recovery.

In Barcelona, hundreds had camped out in Plaça de Catalunya, a few minutes’ walk from my hotel, with stalls, talks, and posters criticising corruption and greed in government and banking. It reminded me of the Climate Camp that arrived on Blackheath two years ago.

Very early on Friday, I was woken by the sound of helicopters. The roar continued all morning as I tried to sleep. I later discovered police had raided the occupation, beating protesters who refused to move.

The pretext for all this was Saturday’s Champions League final – the square would be a focal point for city celebrations if Barca won, and it needed to be cleared of stalls.

But the police actions were as futile as they were violent. I witnessed the end of the police operation early in the afternoon, with the helicopter hovering low over the square and police vans roaring around it in an attempt to intimidate protesters, who simply declared there should be a new rally at 7pm, and busied themselves re-erecting the stalls.

Back at the festival, banners appeared backing the demonstration. Would any band have the guts to mention the day’s events? Proud Scottish socialists Belle and Sebastian (above) didn’t bother. It was left to Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, responding to a banner reading “SPANISH REVOLUTION – SING ALONG WITH THE COMMON PEOPLE”.

“When police go into a square and put 100 people in hospital, that’s not good,” he told the crowd, dedicating Common People to the protesters.

The Parc del Forum exploded with emotion as a traumatic day came to a close.

By Saturday, the square was busier than ever, and packed with stalls again. The police had merely managed to antagonise and ostracise the protesters further – who were now demanding the sacking of Catalonia’s interior minister for authorising the beatings, with graffiti appearing around the city over the weekend.

The one thing Primavera Sound’s organisers did get right, though, was screening the Champions League final on one of the stages. But that was kept quiet, with a football match-sized gap in the programme the only clue. In 2009, Uefa threatened to sue PS after it advertised a screening at a pre-festival gig – the secrecy was presumably to avoid further action from European football’s joyless guardians.

As everyone knows by now, Barcelona played Manchester United off the park, the place went wild, and the celebrations brought a happy tinge to the festival’s remaining hours. I taught one man the words to We Are The Champions, before heading back to the bands and the mental shift of watching PJ Harvey.

Sunday saw the FC Barcelona victory parade – full of ecstatic families, following the bus to the Nou Camp. The champions will be getting ready for their holidays, the festival has been dismantled for another year. But the demonstrators remain in Plaça de Catalunya. I suspect the consequences of what’s happened over the past week or so will still be felt around the city when the bands next take to the Primavera Sound stages.

Greenwich Summer Sessions slot for Squeeze

It was a nice day for it, to put it mildly. The sun shone on the naval college this morning as this year’s Greenwich Summer Sessions shows were launched to the press. Playing this year are The Divine Comedy and Jose Gonzalez (July 26), Mark Ronson and the Business International (July 27), Status Quo and Nine Below Zero (July 28), Squeeze (July 29) and the Pogues (July 30). It’s a stronger line-up than last year, with more acts to come and one further show on July 31 to be announced later.

There’s plenty of local links behind the Summer Sessions – just like last year when Deptford’s Athlete played. Promoter Peter Conway lives locally, while Status Quo can also boast solid neighbourhood credentials – Francis Rossi was born in Forest Hill, founded the band with a Catford schoolmate and played an early gig at the Welcome Inn, Eltham. Their support, Nine Below Zero, boasts Charlton-based guitarist Dennis Greaves.

But you don’t get much more south-east London than Squeeze – into their second summer of playing shows after their recent reunion. Glenn Tilbrook still lives locally, but for Chris Difford, it’s a return to old haunts. “I was just looking at the estate agents in the street where I used to live – King George Street – and it’s extraordinary. It’s a neighbourhood that I don’t think I can afford,” he said after posing for photos on the naval college lawn.

“The last time I stood in that ground was when I was about five years old, and the Queen about to meet all the local schools. I shook hands with somebody but it wasn’t the Queen, it was somebody who’d been on a yacht around the world,”
he continued. But what about the famous Painted Hall of the naval college? “The rumour is that there’s 367 breasts on the ceiling, according to a schoolfriend who spent far too long in there.”

Squeeze are playing the Royal Albert Hall next week – with the orchestra from Trinity College of Music – but Chris is looking forward to the homecoming. “We’re like the village cat, whenever we come back everybody strokes us,” he grinned.

The first show marks a year until the Olympics opening ceremony, so Charlton-based Team GB judo hopeful Gemma Gibbons was also at the launch. Tickets for that and all the other shows go on sale from Thursday.