Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Tales from the City

Ah Brixton. The bustle. The hustle. Skunkweed mate, skunkweed? Popped over to my old mate Tone's squat in Coldharbour Lane last week. Clifton Mansions retains a faded boho glamour, crack whores notwithstanding. The architectural details that were lovingly crafted are still in evidence, even though the paving stones are now split by rampant weeds and too much London rain.

Another old mate, Natty Bo - eclectic DJ and frontman of Ska band the Top Cats - was also there. We got to talking about the crazy misspent days of our youth, the 80s, that seem so distant now, like something out of myth. How we dabbled, foolishly, in things beyond our ken.. magick.. mystery.. madness..

Natty recalled a typical day, when he lived in his old squat in the Pullens Buildings in Kennington. This was before we barricaded ourselves in and fought a pitched battle with the police and the bailiffs...

It might help you if you visualize Nat sitting at Tone's kitchen table in his Che Guevara beret and zoot suit, gold front tooth glinting, smoking a spliff as he recounted this tale (that's Natty in the pic below)..

Jim Vane – the Morrison-like lead singer of Ring of Roses and the New Apes, was sitting on the floor of Nat’s front room, singing toneless, repetitive nonsense, using the grab-handle from an old tube train as a microphone. In the background, Nat’s Teac 4-track added a backwards looping wallpaper of slurred sound..
There came a knocking at the front door. Abadab Terry (or Terry Dactyl as he was sometimes known) burst in, followed by a bunch of his gormless acolytes. Abadab Terry was one of those self-styled gurus that seemed to abound in our early 80s milieu.
Terry pulled out seven ready-rolled joints and commanded all present to smoke. He then began a toneless chanting of his own, a weird counterpoint to Jim Vane’s odd bleating.
All of a sudden, Terry leaps to his feet, grabs a dusty jar from the shelf and turns to Nat.
“Can I have these?” he asks.
Nat was dumbfounded. How on earth did Terry know where his magic mushroom stash was? Without waiting to be told, Terry stuffed the entire stash into his gob and began munching them manically, eyes popping, grinning like a madman. The background droning continued. Nat eyed Terry nervously. Terry sat back down, eyes streaming and cheeks bulging like a bullfrog as he inhaled hash smoke from a red plastic bong. Suddenly he leapt up again and grabbed a book of spells from the shelf. He began reciting one at random, then let out a piercing scream, pointing at Nat. Then he ran out of the door. Moments later, his acolytes followed. Jim was still droning into the tube handle. Relieved, Nat headed to the kitchen..

The following day, there came a hammering at the door.
“Let me in,” pleaded a voice, “the police are after me”.
Nat edged open the door, and Abadab Terry burst in. In one movement he punched Nat full in the face and then pulled out a large kitchen knife.
“I know you are in league with the Devil!” Terry screamed. I saw it all last time I was here. I’m gonna exorcise this flat!”
Nat had a kind of mandala patterned carpet. Terry pointed towards it.
“This is the source of your magic power!” He fell to his knees and proceeded to cut the mandala out of the carpet with the knife. Pulling this up with one hand, he grabbed the book of spells with the other and ran out of the door.
Apparently Terry then ran down to St Agnes Place at the back of Kennington Park (they used this as the location for the Buddha of Suburbia) and held up two Rasta drug-dealers at knife point, before legging it over to Lefteye Lee’s place. He kicked Lee’s door down and demanded Lee submit to his superior will. And give him all his money. Lee eyed him carefully for a moment and then knocked the fucker out with a smart left hook to Abadab Terry’s jaw.

So as I say, a typical day in the life, back in the day. I was telling a similar story, recounting the wild late 70s/early 80s Richmond nightlife and the crazy characters who inhabited it to someone l met on a date a few weeks back.
“You make me feel like I’ve hardly lived” she said. Well she did seem to have led a sheltered life..

It’s been an intense, edgy, lurching rollercoaster these last thirty years or so. But who would swap it for safety and suburbia? I wouldn’t.

Laters prudes.