‘Smash’ – Wire – Rough Trade East January 2011

I have meant to pop the odd track onto the blog for a while now, and so when something of decent video quality came up I couldn’t resist. I can’t hide my age after selecting this – suffice to say that I was never into Wire back in the late 70’s, when they released the seminal ‘Pink Flag’ – but now, some 30-odd years later, I really like it, as well as their last outing, ‘Red Barked Tree’.  This is from a set they played at Rough Trade East in January.


Record Store Day – April 16th 2011

Go and support your local independent record shop – if you don’t use it, you will lose it!  Click for more details.

New Vs Old in Spitalfields

I took a trip to the big city today, and decided to eschew the tube and the vastness of commercialised London, opting instead to explore the area just outside Liverpool Street station instead.   I think we often miss the most interesting things, which are often under our noses, because we are in too much of a hurry.

I’ve wanted to have a good walk around the Spitalfields area for ages, but every time I have been into or out of Liverpool Street I have been in a mad rush to get trains because I am there for work, not play.  So today was all about heading off into the unknown, with my trusty rucksack, Clarks walking shoes and camera.

This part of London is interesting because it exists in complete contrast to its surroundings – the City of London is a sea of thrusting glass and steel, with skyscrapers reaching for the clouds and people rushing around ignoring their immediate environment.  However a quarter mile east is this lovely area, with original buildings and a completely different feeling.  Pictured above and below is Fournier Street, with its Hugenot weavers’ houses in beautiful condition.

I was reading an appropriate book on the train on the way down, David Byrne’s ‘The Bicycle Diaries’, which is writing based on Byrne’s travels, in which he always takes his folding bike to enable him to discover his surroundings as opposed to opting for the usual sterile hotel and airport routine.  He comments interestingly on the role of ‘ugly modern buildings’ and their significance:

“…maybe, I think to myself, these structures express something.  Something more than the bottom line on a developer’s budget…..maybe they represent, for some people, a new start, a new break with all the previously built things that have surrounded the townsfolk….they declare ‘We shall not be like our fathers!…..we, a modern people, are different.  We are no longer peasants…we want no part of the visual system associated with our past, however noble it might be….”

The impression you get from the bizarre juxtaposition of the new and the old in this little pocket of London is very much that of moving on; even though Spitalfields itself is packed with original buildings of historic significance, the renewal has arrived here too.  It has simply taken  on a different form.  Above is the entrance to the Old Truman Brewery, a site which has now been populated by small niche and artisan businesses where beer was once brewed.  But here, rather than sending in the bulldozers and building tower cranes to construct phallic skyscrapers to represent their aspirations, the incomers have used grafitti, modern art and ‘installations’ to forge their break with what went before.  London is a seething mass, always changing.  But I like the way the change has happened here.  It seems more organic, more human than the impassive glass palaces to money that overlook it.

The atmosphere here is lively and interesting – very much like Berlin or how I imagine parts of New York to be.  Humans rule the environment far more – although there is traffic [hey!  this is London!], the bicycle is far more in evidence than elsewhere, and pedestrians are also more numerous.  I was also interested to find a new outpost of Rough Trade, my erstwhile favourite record emporium, now proffering coffee and cakes with your Black Flag CD!

If you leave the Truman Brewery site you end up, more or less, on Brick Lane, home to a million Curry Houses all vying for the passing trade.  I preferred to find one of the many Asian sweet shops that also exist on this historic road, where Islam co-exists with Orthodox Jewry and bagels can be had as well as Shami Kebabs.  I lunched al-fresco on a corner by the Mosque, enjoying excellent and spicy street food.

As the rain began, I slowly worked my way back towards the City and a far less interesting world, where the harmonious buildings became fewer and further between as they were replaced by precincts of smoked glass and concrete, the scale altering from human to intimidating.

The visual aspect turns from unique – when you are in a dark street full of weavers’ houses you are aware of the unique nature of the buildings – to ‘could be anywhere’.  Every city has these skyscrapers jutting upwards like crooked teeth; all you notice is that each time there are more new cranes on the skyline, meaning yet more aggressive new structures are being thrown up.  Some high ranking architect will be behind it, their superstar ‘brand’ ensuring that the project makes the papers for six months or so.  Then another one, bigger, more ambitious, will be commissioned.  As Byrne notes, depressingly,

“So instead of a small number of really impressive ‘monuments’ such as those that survive from the disdained historical past, our century will leave, across the planet, a sprinkling of almost identical structures…..One city, in many locations”

The Word

It is my tendency to enjoy the comforting sound of the radio, no, to be more specific, talk radio, whilst I am about my business.  It may be a sign of increasing age, but Radio 4 is increasingly the station I turn to when driving.  When, in my luckier, non-traveling days, I initiate my breakfast at home ritual of toast and espresso, I fire up the iMac (as opposed to the Quattro, if we are to be topical) and nine times out of ten I will play a podcast of my choosing (unless I fancy a drop of Steely Dan to wake me up in the morning).

The best one I have subscribed to recently is The Word – the podcast of the magazine, a publication that I think my readership might appreciate, assuming you have tolerated my ramblings for a sustained period.

The particular edition of the podcast I am currently listening to is the one featuring David Hepworth, Mark Ellen and Danny Baker talking about music and life – an enormously entertaining rant.  Each edition is pretty much a ‘pub conversation’ that appears to have been recorded for posterity.

Now if, like me, you happen to have grown up in the 1970s and 80s, and count among your reference points such luminaries as Radio Caroline, the John Peel show, NME and Sounds, and later Smash Hits (Ellen’s initial foray into muso journalism), then you will either already read the Word, or you should do.  It’s the natural home for middle-aged, music-obsessed and sadly balding chaps like me.  The rich seams of conversation that are currently washing over me – stories about Viv Stanshall, Elton John crouching behind the counter at a 1970s record shop, and Rutland-based World Conker champions all mix with a genuine love (and an un-ironic appreciation of) what might be called ‘Classic Rock, mate’.

Old guys chatting on the radiogram - just what Marconi intended!!!

I have followed a number of the leading lights of The Word over the years – Hepworth from the broadsheet press, Ellen via Smash Hits to Q and now to the Word.  In many ways, they encompass the musical journey of a whole generation; now, it is ok to admit that you really liked Chicago IV after all, and those King Crimson remasters on iTunes are actually rather desirable…..

And so it continues.  The podcast informs us that the origin of Stephen Fry’s upper-class English diction can be explained via said Viv Stanshall.  Trivia you might call it, but for those of us with a tendency  towards rock facts, this is pure gold.  I urge you to subscribe to it and seek out the Danny Baker edition – it is worth it for the Ian Dury on tour story.

Interesting Magazine Online

I just thought i’d post this link to an online magazine I discovered recently, called selectism.  It covers music, clothing, and some cycling-related articles too.  Worth a quick look if you’re bored of your Facebook.

Tenuous Link – MTB’s and SM5D!!!

In Bristol in the late 80’s, the punk/skating scene had diversified and a few early MTB’s were also in evidence, most notably by the creators of a fanzine called Skate Muties from the 5th Dimension – a loose clique formed around the band Chaos UK by a guy known as Bear Hackenbush.

Well there are a few links of the web to sites that mention this mag, notably this one.  As myself and Mark were producers of our own fanzine in those days, it is good to see some reminiscences on the web.

Just a note to follow up on a previous posting I did on the subject of punk and cycling – the courier scene.

That’s a fairly tenuous link to cycling, but Bear did have a nice mountainbike as I recall.

Behind bars

Nice kit – just seen this update from velosolo, which is the new name for London Fixie Bike.  As alluded to in my recent post, this site is the virtual shop window for a very cool, undoubtedly trendy (since it manages to fulfil the twin goals of being both fixed-wheel-centric and also based in East London) bike shop.

Cool bars from Squeeze

Cool bars from Squeeze

Punk Rock, Tweeds and Cycling!!

1. Punk Rock:

Musically and culturally I’ve always been something of a left-field kind of chap. And in many ways cycling is one strand of that general approach to life – the desire to travel around under one’s own steam and not require anything more expensive than constant cups of strong coffee and cake is a statement of coolness.

So it’s no surprise that I have been mining the web for blogs and websites that share this world view. My dubious heritage, such that it is, stems from my teenage years in the early 1980’s when, stupidly punk and incontestably gangly, my only option was to bike and ride the train. I’ve never lost the love of cycling and now, quarter of a century later, it’s still with me and helping me keep fit, lose weight and have fun.

So when I stumbled across recently, I was fascinated to find that the counter culture is still alive and kicking. Started many yeears ago as a photocopied fanzine by a guy called Buffalo Bill,it is now a blog that apparently serves the cycle messenger community of London.  How hip can a cat get, we might enquire!

Seemingly a cross between Schott’s Miscellany and a sixth-form newsletter, its news pages cry “Posh John and Natt in Observer Woman!” and “10 motorcycle couriers killed in a year in Istanbul“.  The fact that it is only 10 a year is something of a miracle I would imagine.

The editor is apparently a keen bicycle polo player and represents Shoreditch at his sport (the cycle courier scene appears to be quiveringly trendy).  But it’s a fascinating read and I guess it’s about as close to the streets as you can get.  Err, dude.

Next in line is House of Pistard, whose truly punk rock strapline is ‘Destroying Cycling’ – an ambitious mission if ever there were one.  They have a mission statement that reads:


which is admirable in the extreme.  They are a clothing supplier and their hooded tops are de rigeur amongst the committed couriers of East London, but again the blog is a rich seam of city life and stories and events that stem from it.

Awlright! as Julian Cope would probably say.

The fixie scene is also a big part of the courier tradition, these guys having been the key users of fixed wheel bikes for many years.  Therefore another excellent site, Fixomatosis, caters for them.  Part blog and part photography, this site contains pictures of track and fixed wheel action featuring dudes with tattoos and punky t-shirts a plenty.

Messmedia is a American/Canadian site which again caters for the delivery industry, with some cool shots of what is supposedly the new trend in courier bikes, this:

The Butchers Bike 2009

The Butcher's Bike 2009

You see, the Surly Big Dummy isn’t just for laffs after all – if you want to cut it on the mean streets of Hackney, this is the new thing to have.

Finally a question – name any bands that were big into cycling over the years.  Kraftwerk are the obvious ones, and remember the Age of Chance??

A dodgy 80s indie band from Sheffield!

A dodgy 80's indie band from Sheffield!

2. Not Punk Rock – Decorum is the new Black!

Well all that is ok, and if you’re sometimes an excitable chap like myself then it is all very well, but sometimes there is a case to be made for relaxing and NOT trying to make the club speed on a run.  For these moments, all too common I’m afraid as I age, there is the unmistakably English Tweed Cycling Club, also based in the trendy East End of London.

The quintessential butchers bike

The quintessential butcher's bike

Putting us all in our place with the assertion that:

“Discerning cyclists realise that bicycle technology reached its pinnacle in the 1970’s and everything since is just marketing”

, the Tweed CC are chaps and chapesses with a definitely laid back view of the cycling world.  With a seemingly active membership and regular routes through London and the South East (my interest was piqued by the idea of the Dunwich Dynamo, where the club rides through the night, presumably dodging container trucks up the A12, to have a bracing morning dip in the sea at Dunwich in good old Suffolk.