Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Areas: Balham (text)

First in a series where I revisit the places where I've lived in London (SW, W, E, N and SE) and offer a historic and contemporary snapshot of the area but also where my head was at the time. CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE AREA

Late 1996 and Dave and I were dead excited as the Big Move finally approached. It had been almost 18 months since we’d finished university and we’d outgrown our provincial Surrey pubs – ‘proof’ of that ample as we’d chant ‘Balham Boys’ in an objectionable sub-hooligan/Oi! way to the others. We finally moved just before Christmas, but weren’t settled in into the new year. Just keen to move to the smoke, I took a rent cut for the tiny boxroom – a decision that would quite literally go on to haunt me.

My wider London experience had generally been limited at that time to warehouse raves four or five years back, football matches, art galleries and record shops – nothing of permanence. I’d been to Balham once before but knew little of SW12 beyond Hancock’s reference to it being the ‘gateway to the south’ but it looked a decent area, not too poncey or gentrified despite good residential streets. We got a nice terrace house on Bellamy Street five minutes from Clapham South station. There was a decent local on the corner (which I’d only frequent when inebriated) and a no-frills chippy round the corner. On the high street were the standard issue retail shops, Balham market a bit like Brixton’s and up to Balham tube/BR the Wetherspoons and Woolworth’s. Beyond that was the Polish social club and the nice looking Du Cane residential development from the 1930s. I knew about this from a friend at the guns ‘n ammo publishers I was working at, a white guy who helped run the town’s soca carnival with his Caribbean wife. It seemed a good area, not too earnest and not too out to impress its multicultural nature, and while like many a zone 2/zone 3 area could come across quite suburban was actually solidly metropolitan in spirit. Yes it had been attracting ‘young(ish) professionals’ priced out of nearby Clapham or Fulham to those nice back-streets for a while, but we were perhaps in the vanguard of a much more substantial but nevertheless transient inflow looking to place themselves close to the action; Balham would go on to be transformed as south-west London became the place to be (in the narrow minds of some).

Straight away, however, we got a taste of unscrupulous London ways as the landlord, spiv shades and all, got caught for low-level fraud. But that turned out to be a blessing as his maintenance man Kev took over the flat and actually got to work on some of the jobs the former would never have authorised. Yet it was what Dave and I did on our first day that proved to be the key to my first year or so in London – we went to the Duke of Devonshire from the early afternoon, and got shitfaced playing pool and keeping an eye on the sport. Then we went back in the next day to be told how pissed we were and took it as a compliment. This was how I would mainly utilise my new-found ‘freedom’.

Balham embodied much of the personal dichotomies I was wrestling with at the time – sartorially I settled on a basic jeans and coat (Duffer) with Reebok classics as I often felt the pull of prole as my mark of difference even as the others were happy to fit into the mostly bourgeois milieu we were swimming in. Balham was my gateway to new social-cultural areas but I often used it just to meet up with friends from Leeds University, or just have the home counties boys up. Another group was emerging, Dave’s sporty pals from Swansea, who were all heavy social drinkers, though they did at least know some girls. Brixton, Stockwell and other little pockets offered the nightlife I craved but more often than not I settled for getting pissed in ‘the Dev’ or somewhere in Clapham. ‘Garridge’ was immanent in the area but almost as a mirage - my involvement in it restricted to riding in Dave’s car on a Sunday with the pirates on. Tina Moore, Scott Garcia and all that we were down with but were never at any jams. My record purchases were still drum and bass and house/techno, but I was a year or so away from regular immersion in either circle.

I did not just feel contained in that one area, however, as there were two regular, and instructive, lines of flight. Through the Swansea crowd I ended up playing football for Winchmore Hill in N21, so most Saturdays Matt and I headed there. This did not hinder our alcoholic progress but, with the aid of the club bar, and cans for the train/tube back, merely exacerbated it (used to love the pissed rush of the Victoria Line). We went to Amsterdam three times in a year, having a great and utterly indulgent time – the odd paranoia attack especially on plunging into Antwerp motorway tunnels notwithstanding. The ‘caning’ ways of the 90s were beginning to ensnare me even though it was not clear I was mentally able to cope with such excess.

As the drinking increased, making three heavy nights from Thursday the rule rather than the exception, Sunday nights in the box room became unbearable. Granted I didn’t help myself by tuning into dark techstep on the pirates (didn't know the name of the tune at the time, but i had Nasty Habits' Shadow Boxing going round my mind in ever intensifying circles for months on end - defunked techstep may have killed the d&b dream but that Doc Scott number was certainly an effective emblem of oblivion). Yet nothing was going to alleviate acute intoxication so I would admit defeat and end up watching and eating crap downstairs until daylight. A couple of Mondays at the Surrey office they said go home I looked so terrible then at the workplace I’d moved to in town the Sabbatical Terror became a bit of a cult subject among confidantes.

By late 97/early 98 Balham was a known place and booming (new supermarkets and restos, trendy pubs, even the one near Clapham South that used to say ‘no students’ had revamped), but I knew I had to move from the boxroom and the area. The connections I was making, as nice as everyone was (on the lash at least, I didn’t know them outside of that) were not helping me to discover anything at all, or make use of the capital outside pubs and bars, and the spliff inbetween (how cool!). That was not their fault, but I could at least help myself. My cousins had a room spare in their flat in Battersea and I thought that would be a good restart: I had made all-too predictable use of my first stab at parent-free and single life in the city. Photos here
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My Areas: Balham (images)

(click here for text)

The goosebumps on returning to the area of my London birthing were minimal. I started at Clapham South tube, designed by Charles Holden and built in 1928, benevolently named for estate agents who want to lie and call the area ‘south Clapham’.

Can’t resist a tube descent shot, and I have always liked the metal, mosaics and fixtures at Clapham South.

Considering we’re in zone 2 not Reigate, the size and scale and it now being a literal front for a Tesco stupidmarket, I always thought you could take or leave these neoclassical former wards of the South London Women’s Hospital (now extended onto the site of the demolished gothic structure next to it).

Down Balham High Road, this was an Odeon cinema on its opening in 1938, but it’s been a booze vendor since at least the time I moved there in 1996. This will not be the only building near which Wandsworth Council planners insist on planting trees, in the belief that suburban Balhamites cant possibly bear to look at modernist structures.

It’s the Duke of Devonshire, the erstwhile ‘Dev’, now renamed as the mere Devonshire. This was where all the problems of alcohol misuse leading to creative and cultural despond started! Twenty yards up is the long established mosque (we fondly called the area ‘Balhamistan’ not as a racist tick but because I was on a Mideast journal at the time). Then there’s ‘AL kebabish’, where my fondness for economical eastern snacks flourished. On that journal, the l in Al would have been lower case, the K upper case and the whole hyphenated. Standards, guys!

Then the property speculators came, making out that househunters could only understand the process as an ‘experience’ akin to being in a trendy bar. Knobheads. And I haven’t even mentioned the minis.

Balham market is no longer a market. It’s a highly optimized consumer space. There’s bars and cafes. And some more bars and cafes, and probably an expensive babywear store too.

Through its Banana Cabaret (never went but saw Arthur Smith in the Dev once or twice, drinking not performing), the Bedford has a reputation as one of the founders of the live comedy boom, but it is also a massive weekend meatmarket.

The Exhibit has a reputation for being an award-winning independent cinema space, but it’s also a massive weekend meatmarket.

That’s another Holden tube. Dead handy for Surrey and the City.

And just south en route to Tooting is the prestigious Du Cane Court, with the prospect again sullied by too much foliage.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Knights of the internal realm

When I finally saw the vision again, inevitably it lacked the intensity my mind had stretched it to in near-30 years of frequent re-imagining. In fact, it had no intensity, and I scolded not only my fanciful imagination but also my childhood mind for letting something so patently weak seem so terrible and portentous.

I’m talking about the ‘Tall Knight’. And I’m talking about a TV broadcast for primary schools in the 80s. For such a long time, I was under the impression that the programme was the Black Prince or the Dark Knight or something similar and had never found it on the web. Then an especially slow work week enabled a few more crucial keywords and I finally found the programme – it was Dark Towers, a 10-part series made up of six-minute episodes for BBC’s Look and Read children’s learning programmes. ‘Malvolio80’ had whacked the whole series and quite a bit of other cult children’s TV up. That was my Friday night sorted then.

I swore that when the Tall Knight appeared he did so glowing and golden, emblematic of his fiery and fantastic role, dominating the foreground as he advised the good guys on the righteous path and then scared the wits out of the bad guys (among them Christopher Biggins). But then I swore one of my childhood homes was over-run by a demonic cast who turfed us out for several hours when in reality I’d probably just been at the cheese late doors and had a particularly fecund dream about they ghost and ghoulies. Reality was well and truly overturned then and now it was time to come to terms with another (if far more long-cherished) delusion.

The low-pixel YouTube clip provided my reality check; the Tall Knight was a pathetic, knock-kneed apparition, not burning bright but cold and off-white. The special effects employed seemed to be turning daylight dark whenever he showed up by turning the picture negative (hence the cod-spectral image), and slowing his speech down so as to connote mystery and gravitas. Clearly all the money had gone on location and the cast, and Derek Griffiths for the theme toon.

Fair dos, he rolls with a bit more dread here. It’s possible to blame my youthful darkening of the Tall Knight for my fear of horror movies or anything where suspense and supernatural activities are involved, even when I respect and am interested in the genres and devices involved within them. I recoil when something deliberately scary combines with an imagination ready to make it even more so, even as I acknowledge that process being part of the whole purpose of horror.

Nevertheless, it was good to see the series again – Dark Towers came out in 1981 and I’m guessing my primary class would have seen the first transmission. The story involved a wandering prole girl + dog teaming up with the posh boy who lived in Dark Towers to save it from damnation by evil-doers intent on nicking a sacred book that is the gothic pile’s life-force. A friendly ghost reactivates himself to provide advice and hokum spells from his four-poster bed, Biggins and co are architects and booksellers on the make who try to derail the counterattack by planting property on the girl. It’s all riveting stuff played out with the usual hammy acting as you can imagine (or maybe there’s no spirit to the dialogue because it was meant for seven-year-olds); the Radiophonic Workshop’s Roger Limb provides the soundtrack. As interest continues in the BBC’s output from less post-modern, more culturally ambitious times this is a great curio even as I doubt the Wiki claim that it is still used a lot in schools.

Interest may be greater, however, in some of the other Look and Read material such as the Boy From Space and the Magic E (cheap animated geez helping with spelling but now clearly a precursor to our post-rave drugged off times).
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Urban manna: a car that 'chooses you', to a dubstep soundtrack

Distended siren (could be La Roux?), well placed bass spasms, nicely dramatic synths and a decent post-garage riddim - it's nice to see dubstep (and I use the term in the widest possible sense rather than the wobble stereotype) has finally infected the tastemakers of the advertising world. The artists in question, French act The Film, have certainly been doing their 'nuumwork.

There's a nice moment towards the end where the new Peugeot RCZ is driving up and round a flyover past the ever changing landscape where the music's inclusion provides a perfect triangulation moderne - man, machine and dubstep in syncretic bliss. Or so the creatives thought. In that spirit, I’ve come up with a few other recurring urban settings and activities that ‘chose me’ but would benefit from a ’steppa soundtrack
* popping down the road because I forgot to get milk
* cycling like mad to the station because I’ve left it almost too late to get to work on time
* interminable waiting in queue as the local library’s soporific central heating (whacked up high even in May) claims another staff victim
* inability to attend to the admin or get anything done of substance at home as I look at the news, the forums, the tweets, the clips, tumblrs, blogs, etc, etc.
* hanging around the ‘Bankside Mix’ office and retail development for want of any decent places to go by the time I get to take my break

Scenesters shouldn't worry too much that they missed out on a blazin joint/hot new act, as The Film are an eclectic group who tend to make more song-based house/glam/rock music and who dont update their MySpace. Must have known someone at Peugeot's ad team though, as they also blagged the music for another advert of theirs in 2004.
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bombcom blows up preconceptions

He’s only gone and done it now – Four Lions shows a quartet of small-m muslim twats whose shambolic course is still devastating enough to direct the shitscared into the hands of the EDL. However they go about it, these caliphaters will stop at nothing to wreck our nation, including putting on an upside down fancy dress costume and detonating during a marathon – proof be sure be that it’s time to lock the border gates and open them only for ‘Asians’ on a one-way trip out of here. While the BNP is being wiped off the electoral map Chris Morris is doing its rejuvenation and recruitment drive, nice work son.

That’s one (erroneous) interpretation, about as misplaced as all the columnist inches lauding the team, which includes Peepshow writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, for their ‘bravery’ and ‘creative freedom’ full in the face of the threat of a fatwa if they overstepped the mark (as ever, not quite sure who this commentary on the upholding of our freedom of expression really serves – still feel free and unthreatened enough to take this for granted. actually). And in totally discrediting the jihadi course he’s incited the real Islamists just by touching on the subject in a way that avoids laughable Amis-like opprobrium. He’ll pay for that.

In reality Four Lions, a Warp Films and Film Four effort, succeeds as an uneasy comic drama that does a good job of sending up the British milieus where such Islamofascism can breed, the kind of people it can ensnare and the dreadful results (not always predetermined) it can generate. Though you have Omar (Riz Ahmed) and Waj (Kayvan Nowak) blowing up the ‘Arab emir’ (Bin Laden?) by mistake while at training camp in Waziristan or somewhere, this film does not denigrate the ‘cause’ outright, as witnessed by a few moments of impassioned oratory from Omar in acknowledgement that it is the fate of ‘the brothers’ in certain areas of the ummah that will always drive this resentment (and it wont always take such pathetic turns). It would have been dramatically pointless and factually unrealistic to deny this, and such balance makes the film more credible as social commentary.

Omar aside, who is presented as burning with hatred at the treatment of Muslims and with a genuine desire to be a martyr, we’re left with no doubt that the three or four others are typical of the kind of marginalised cranks that jihadism can inspire. Most of the comedy from which Morris cultural stakeholders depend on (we won’t let him do straight yet) is derived from the interplay and dialogue between the members of the cell. Waj is backward, lonely, easily manipulated and needs the final phase of the plan explained in terms of getting on the Alton Towers big dipper; Barry ‘Azzam al-Britani’ is Nigel Lindsay’s white convert whose reading of the situation is Revolutionary Clash of the Civilisations – so his plan is to bomb the mosque and blame it on MI5 in order to get the moderates to rise up. He’s a conspiracy theory freak who is not sufficiently converted to stop using the term ‘paki’. Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) is another outsider whose mission has been to buy up the local supplies of bleach in disguises that fool no-one (he’s the first to autoblow when shifting the bleach to another house, though his crow was martyred first); Hassan (Arsher Ali) is young, disaffected and gullible – Barry groomed him after he disrupted a lecture with a fake suicide bomb. He’s just a kid in it for the crack, which is why he analyses the situation in terms of gangster-rhyming. During these scenes we hear debate on what is haram and what isn’t (being filmed isn’t, for Faiz, hence the box), woeful attempts at martyr videos, differences of interpretation on the final goal and a general lack of any disciplined adherence to Actually Existing Islam and its key tenets.

As the preparation continues in a house in the shadow of the M1, in the CCTV room of Meadowhall and in houses on hilly Sheffield streets, there’s well worked scenes that hint at the ramifications of such a plan. Liberals may not be too comfortable with the fact that Omar’s wife is pretty much in on the plot and helps embed it in the family fabric and that Omar’s son is now having his bedtime stories thinly veiled in shaheed talk. And while the cell moves a shitload of nails and H202 from house to house, the crackdown begins on the devout, Koran-reading Muslims of the area, which include Omar’s brother.

Omar wavers but gets enough signs to go for it. As the team of crack mujahideen head down the M1 in the van for their date with destiny, they get in the mood for the shot at paradise by having it to Topbloater’s Dancing in the Moonlight – Oliver eat your fat tongue out – which only Al-Britani out of the group and the audience disdains (Barry’s a bit Wahabbist). It’s a funny scene but not the last as the film pleasingly does not change tack to pure didactic even as the four lions go off in their pathetic ways. The crackdown on the usual suspects (after rendition) begins as the credit rolls. Four Lions is a film that succeeds by wider implication: As The Sauce says: “the really sick, dark, nasty, spiteful joke is that so many people in Britain have quietly acquiesced to a narrative about Muslim extremism which has led to our civil liberties being stripped away.”
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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Song for City and the failure of fifth

All choked out this season but still here. Release the dirhams Abu Dhabi!
(Filmed at the Wordsworthian site of Tintern Abbey BTW)
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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

This blog has moved

This blog, subtlely retitled the Original Sonic Truth because some nonce who did just one post has sonictruth name, is now located at
You will be automatically redirected within 30 seconds or you may click here to get to the Original Sonic Truth.

Many thanks for visiting over the years to Cinestatic, a great portal back in the day, and I echo Nina's thanking of Mike on her already successfully redirected post. Keep checking him for tech innovation and music in equal abundance.

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