The West Eleven Days of My Life

Vague #7
May 1993 The West Eleven Days of My Life
Notes from the Portobello Style Underclass
Notting Hill in Bygone Days – Happy Mondays
Stewart Home – Chelsea v Everton – Bugs and Drugs

The West Eleven Days of My Life: Notes from the Portobello Style Underclass

English Psychogeography tribute to/largely plagiarised from American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
and Performance by Donald Cammell

‘I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man, I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased…’

‘Same thing day after day – tube – work – diner – work – tube – armchair – TV – sleep – tube – work – how much more can you take – one in ten go mad – one in five cracks up’ used to be sprayed under the Westway between Ladbroke Grove and Paddington large enough to be seen from the tube… “I’m resourceful,” John Mead is saying. “I’m creative, I’m unscrupulous, highly motivated, highly skilled. In essence what I’m saying is that society cannot afford to lose me.” Mead calms down and continues to stare out the tube’s dirty window. “I mean the fact remains that no one gives a shit about their job, you’ve told me you hate yours. What do I do? Go back to Hampstead? Not an alternative. I mean, am I alone in thinking we’re not making any money?” Like in a movie another tube appears and John blurts out, “I’m in a co-op. I have a place in West Eleven, for Christ sake.”

He takes off the inexpensive looking Walkman from around his neck, still complaining. “I hate to complain – I really do – about the trash, the garbage, the disease, about how filthy this place really is…” He continues talking as he opens his new Best Save carrier bag. He places the Walkman in the bag and pulls out today’s Standard. “In one issue – in one issue – let’s see here… more IRA bombings, 10 year old killers, 3 million on the dole, pit closures, the homeless, various nutters, AIDS, crack…” He flips through the pages excitedly, then takes a breath and quietly says, his eyes fixed on a crusty down the carriage, “That’s the 23rd one I’ve seen today. I’ve kept count.” The tube pulls up at Ladbroke Grove and we make our way under the Westway back to Portobello. John asks without looking up, “So who’s going to be in Finch’s tonight? Let me guess. Derek, Mark Allday, Mark and Sandra, Bob – am I right so far? Maybe John the Transvision Vamp fan.” He slaps a hand over his forehead and shuts his eyes.

Finch’s – The shoes I’m wearing are Robot from Covent Garden. John and I walk down Portobello Road in the darkest moments of twilight and as if by radar move silently toward Finch’s. John hasn’t said anything since we left the former Anglo-Yugoslav caff. He doesn’t even comment on the ugly bum that crouches beside a skip on Blenheim Crescent. Mead seems nervous and edgy and I have no desire to ask him what’s wrong. He’s wearing a Crombie coat, a white shirt and black 501 jeans. I’m wearing a Crombie, a black shirt and black 501s. Once inside Finch’s we spot Mark Allday and Derek Harris at a table round the front. Allday is wearing a leather jacket and a Cagliari shirt. Harris is wearing a black drape coat and a black Marks & Spencer shirt. The two are hunched over the table, clutching their pints of 4X protectively in front of them. They wave us over.

“It’s 8 o’clock in the evening, right,” Allday is saying, in a voice that suggests this is not his first lager. “Kiddies are still watching, ain’t they. I mean, there’s ketchup all over the screen. A bloke’s got half his ear ’anging off, ain’t he. I mean, how’re the kids going to grow up? It’s not right is it?” “Definitely not,” moans Harris, absently downing his lager, then to me, “Ello, Chas. Well, son, how was the clientele tonight?” “Spot on, ’Arry. No aggravation,” I reply, overhearing Mead snarling, “Bastard foreign female” at the bar. “British justice,” Allday shrugs. “E’s a nutcase, like all artists, but I can rely on him,” I say glancing back at Mead, wanting a pint badly. He brushes past Donadoni, who offers his hand. Mead smiles, says something, moves on, strides over to our table. “Thanks, ’Arry, I call that equitable,” I say as he hands me my pint. “Here’s to old England,” Mead exclaims.

The Warwick – Mead is saying, “It’s a right pisshole. Long hair, beatniks, druggers, free love, I worry about disease just walking into the place, I can feel it. Holy shit, there’s a goddamn cluster of crusties!” I get served and find Harris who is standing morosely by the dartboard. I hand him his pint of lager. Harris says nothing, not even thanks. He just holds the pint and mournfully stares at the dartboard and then he squints and bends his head down to the glass. “I’m leaving,” Harris shouts. “I’m getting out.” “Leaving what?” I shout back. “This,” he shouts, referring to, I’m not sure but I think, his lager. I start laughing, not knowing what he means. He’s becoming a drag so I go back to the bar. The back bar is packed and everyone looks familiar. Smoke hangs heavy, floating in midair, and the music is louder than ever.

I bump into Allday and Mead. “Grunge chicks,” Allday says. “No hardbodies.” “The Warwick sucks,” Mead shouts. “I’m gonna nudge that slag.” Suddenly Mead grabs my arm, “What the fuck is Derek doing? Look.” As in a movie, I turn around with some difficulty to see Harris perched on a table, trying to balance himself, and someone has handed him a pint glass and drunk or wired he holds both arms out and closes his eyes, as if blessing the crowd. He’s shouting something but I can’t hear what – the room is jammed to over-capacity, the sound level an ear-splitting combination of ‘Dirty Old Town’ and the constant din of designer crusty/grunge kids’ chatter – so I push my way forward, my eyes glued on Harris, still balancing on the table, eyes half closed, shouting something.

Embarrassed, I’m suddenly glad I’m stuck in the crowd, unable to reach him, to save him from almost certain humiliation, and during a perfectly timed byte of silence I can hear Harris shout, “Goodbye!” and then, the crowd finally paying attention, “Fuckheads!” Gracefully he twists his body around and hops off the table and leaps over some stools and starts running, the pint glass bobbing as he holds it to his side. He stumbles once, twice, in what looks like slow motion, but he regains his composure before disappearing through the door into blackness. “Harris, come back!” I yell but the crowd is actually applauding his performance. “Harris!” I yell once more, over the clapping, but he’s gone. Bob is standing nearby and sticks his hand out as if to congratulate me for something. “That guy’s a riot.” Mead appears behind me and pulls at my shoulder. “Does Derek know about another pub that we don’t?”

Date – “Hi,” she says. “It’s me, Sarah.” “So,” I say, “You’re coming round about 8?” “Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” she says slowly. “Oh no,” I moan. “What is it?” “Well, see, it’s like this,” she begins. “There’s this concert…” “No, no, no,” I tell her adamantly. “No music. I don’t like music.” “But this one isn’t like the others,” she lamely adds. “I know, I know,” I say. “Listen, we should all be allowed to do exactly what we want to do. If you want to go, go.” She pauses and tries a new angle. “I know it sounds corny but the band is one of the best you’ll ever see. They’re funny and wonderful and the music is so great and I just want you to see them so badly. We’ll have a great time, I guarantee it,” she says with dripping earnestness. “No, no, you go,” I say. “You have a good time.” “Tom,” she says. “I have a plus one.” “No. I don’t like concerts,” I say. “Live music bugs me.”

Finch’s again – Ordinary bitter I am thinking. Pint of Ordinary bitter in my hand I am thinking. Some speed. I would like some speed. No, some crack I am thinking… No one stands around outside Finch’s tonight. In fact the only person on Portobello is a crusty who sits by a skip, writhing in pain, moaning for change or food. Richie Bond greets me as I walk across the road from the City Lounge and pats me on the back saying, “How are you, John?” I nod, holding the door to Finch’s open, and shake his hand. Once inside, I head immediately to the bar and order a pint of Ordinary bitter. Joining Allday and Harris at the usual table, I say, “The best thing about this attractive chunk of urban village used to be that nobody knew about it. Now every rich white kid in London wants in on the Bohemian idyll.” I down my pint. Everyone stares at me uncomfortably. “I need another pint,” I say, getting up. “Guys?”

It’s later now and the crowd has changed. Finch’s is now filled with trendies, no blacks, no Irish apart from bar staff, fewer co-op guys, more actors from The Bill and rich girls lounging around, I sidle up to a couple, both wearing flares, and start off with a line like, “Cool clothes – haven’t I seen you at Subterania?” and one of them sneers. I continue, “I usually go to Subterania on Saturday night. There’s a really good scene going on, the people all know each other and everybody’s beautiful. Be prepared to get there early even if you are on the guest list, dress to impress. It’s one of the most celebrated nights in town. The queues are as famous as the night.” Two guys with long hair are sitting with them at the table. Both are wearing white Levi’s, puffa jackets and ski-hats. One of them is drinking Sol beer, both are glaring at me. I stick out my hand at a crooked angle, mimicking a rapper and take a swig from my pint of Ordinary bitter.

Co-op meeting – I’m sitting in the small hall of Kensal Community Centre. Mike O’Dwyer walks in, wearing an Ireland scarf, with a copy of Community Re-Charge held tightly in his fist. He nods and sits across from me at the head of the table. Soon after John Studholme walks in. John Mead is next. Someone is objecting to the last GM minutes because the date comes after the word ‘minutes’. An existential chasm opens up before me… Some time later a sudden commotion brings me out of my mindless delirium and I catch John Mead shouting, “Correspondence not answered!” A new guy is up for membership. He’s called into the meeting room to face the co-op. Mead begins the usual procedure, “Look, there’s been a mistake, you can’t have the room.” “What?” the non-member exclaims. “It’s not for rent,” Mead continues. “Wait a minute. The lady just said…” the guy persists. “Lady? Said?” Mead snaps, “I don’t tell her everything, my secretary. I’ve got a lot of work to do, got a lot of pressure. Listen, I gotta say goodbye now.”

“But the thing is,” the non-member pleads, “I got all my luggage – my stage gear – it’s all coming here from the continent.” “Your what?” John shrieks. “My luggage. My juggling, you know, stuff.” “Why don’t you go to a hotel?” Mead asks. “A hotel? You must be joking,” the new guy counters. “Look, I need a… I need a Bohemian atmosphere… I’m an artist… like yourself. How about on a nightly basis?” “Right, on a nightly basis,” laughs Mead. “You can’t stay here, old man. I’m not in the mood.” “Comical little geezer. You look funny now you’re 50,” the guy quips. “You’ll have to go. You wouldn’t like it here,” Mead replies curtly. “Not like it?” says the new guy, “That charming little basement suite? I paid for it. I love it.” “No, you wouldn’t fit in here,” says John. “I would. I’m determined to fit in. I gotta fit in,” the non-member concludes. “I see, it’s that bad, eh?” Mead concedes. “Well, that simplifies matters. You can stay, on a daily basis.”

Summer – Most of the summer I spend in a stupor, sitting either at my desk or in front of the TV, or standing outside Finch’s or in the Warwick. The bongo drumming got more and more unbearable. The crusties seem to multiply in August and trustafarians swamp the pubs. Life remained a blank canvass. I sleep in 30 minute intervals between disturbances from buskers, car alarms, women on the phone and untimely callers. I feel aimless, worn down emotionally with very low self esteem, things look cloudy, all I can see on the horizon is widespread apathy and disenchantment. Plus there are other things to worry about: the reintroduction of flares, Jobclub, getting run over crossing Westbourne Park Road, obsessive disorders, the state of the British film industry, getting to Hammersmith too late to sign on, bills, the increasing number of mad people on the streets…

Carnival – The living room and kitchen are crowded with people I don’t really want to talk to. Empty Carling Black Label cans and ripped up Rizzla packets cover the coffee table. I finish my second cup of tea and move to the window as the storm breaks, the crowds scatter and people run in blind panic down Portobello… On the second day I return from All Saints, pushing my way through to the barrier by the trendy hairdressers. I go to move the barrier and a cop stands in my way. I look him in the eye and spit out, “I live here.” He looks at me in a half threatening, half bemused way and doesn’t move. “I live here,” I repeat. “What is it?” He keeps looking at me. Tentatively I touch my hair to see if it’s messed up or out of place and to my shock and surprise I feel a baseball cap the wrong way round. I exclaim, “Oh Jesus, whoa!” and tear it off, staring at it crumpled in my hand, horrified. I throw it on the ground and then turn back to the officer and mutter, “Thanks.”

Another night – I wait for something to happen. I sit at my desk for close on an hour. Nothing does. Then the phone rings. It’s Harris. He lets me know that Adrian from Eastbourne wants to come out with us. “So?” I ask, lighting up a Marlboro, “OK.” “So,” Harris sighs, “Adrian doesn’t want to go to Finch’s.” “Why not?” I turn the sound on Baywatch down. “He was there last night.” “I know, so was I. What are you trying to tell me?” “That we’re going someplace else,” he says. “Where?” I ask cautiously. “The pub by the Hilton is where Adrian suggested,” Harris says. “It’s £1.20 a pint there.” “I’ll call you back,” I snap and hang up. Then Mead calls. “So, where to?” he asks. “The Star?” “Possibility, possibility,” I murmur. “Clive Allen drinks there.” “What do you want to do, Vague?” Mead asks cautiously. Thinking about it, thousands of miles away, I answer, “I want to…” “Yes?” “I want to… petrol bomb the trendy hairdressers.” “Besides that?” “OK, fine,” I say, snapping out of it. “The Star.”

Thursday afternoon – Ignoring begging crusties, begging crusties ignoring me, I move up Portobello past jeans stores, music blasting from inside, pouring out on to the road, people’s movements matching the beat of the song, a Madonna single, Madonna crying out, ‘life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone’, the rubbish collectors crawl by and I’m standing on the Colville corner scowling at them, but people pass oblivious, no one pays attention, they don’t even pretend to not pay attention. Now I’m lunging into Best Save, sweating and moaning and pushing people out of my way, foam pouring out of my mouth, stomach contracting with horrendous abdominal cramps, I rush up and down the aisles and round the corner, where I try to hide in Rough Trade and compose myself, muttering over and over to no one, “I’m determined to fit in, I gotta fit in,” and I trip out on to the street, bumping into JB and he says, “Hey, Jerry.”

I screech, my eyes rolling back into my head and while backing away I bump into a fruit and veg stall, collapsing stacks of apples, oranges and pears, that go rolling into the street where they’re splattered by the BFI truck and I’m laughing, delirious, offering a screaming market trader my off-peak travel card, then a 20, which he immediately takes and then I’m stuck in the revolving door of the Colville for 5 full spins. I pull away, horrified, stumbling out toward home, but people, places, stores keep interrupting me, a drug dealer offers me crack and I blindly wave a 50 at him and he says, “Oh, man,” and shakes my hand, pressing 5 vials into my palm which I proceed to eat whole and the crack dealer stares at me, trying to mask his deep disturbance with an amused glare. By the bogs, a busker with a dog on a piece of string, who is usually at this location, performs in front of a Scandinavian hippy couple, though I smell prey, and he seems fully worthy of my wrath, I move on in search of a less crusty target.

Bongo drummer – It’s misty out, sky on the verge of rain, the restaurants and art galleries down here empty, after midday the square’s remote, unreal, the only sign of human life someone playing bongo drums in front of the trendy hairdressers, a young guy with a ponytail, at his feet a hat with a fiver, damp, and some change in it, unable to resist I move up to him, listening to the drumming, he acknowledges my presence, nods, and while he closes his eyes – drumming more vigorously, leaning his head back during what I guess he thinks is a passionate moment – in one fluid motion I take the Magnum out of its holster and, not wanting to disturb anyone in the vicinity, I screw a silencer on to the gun, a cold autumn wind rushes through the square engulfing us and the hippy opens his eyes, spotting the gun, he stops drumming, his hands still on the bongos, I pause too, then say, “Why don’t you play us a tune, pal?” and nod for him to go on, and tentatively he does, then I raise the gun to his face and pull the trigger but the silencer doesn’t work and in the same instant a huge crimson ring appears behind his head, the booming sound of the gunshot deafens me, stunned, his eyes still alive, he falls forward on to his bongos, I pop the clip and replace it with a full one…

It was the best of the times, it was the worst of times

‘Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got, taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot, wouldn’t you like to get away?… Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came, you wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same, you wanna be where everybody knows your name.’

‘Last but not least, he hated with all the hatred that was in him the rising generation, the appalling boors who find it necessary to talk and laugh at the top of their voices in restaurants and cafes, who jostle you in the street without a word of apology, and who, without expression or even indicating regret, drive the wheels of a baby-carriage into your legs.’ JK Huysmans Against Nature

As going to the pub came back into fashion in the early 90s, ‘the previously shunned’ Finch’s, the Duke of Wellington at 179 Portobello Road (of Hawkwind previous) set the trend. At the peak of the pub’s revival in popularity the Elgin Crescent junction was regularly blocked by style victim trustafarians. Following on the coat-tails of Transvision Vamp and S-Express, Jefferson Hack stumbled in as he launched Dazed & Confused as a style postermag, possibly getting a Led Zeppelin nudge from the spirit of John Bindon (Moody in Performance). As the local Hendrix revival outfit Honeychild were described as a ‘new age Status Quo’, the basement of the Cage heavy metal shop next door (now the Finch’s toilets) was briefly squatted for a series of speed metal gigs. The Mutoid Waste Company was represented down the pub by Richie Bond, who formed a hippy/hip-hop alliance at the Fantastic comic shop over the road.

In an anti-Notting Hill feature in the style mag Arena, Alex Spillus singled out Finch’s as the hub of the trustafarian movement – 20-somethings living on trust-funds. In the area’s defence, the Absolute Beginners star Patsy Kensit (who lived on Lancaster Road with Dan Donovan of Big Audio Dynamite) told the Face in ’93: “I’ve lived here since I was 18… When I’m coming home and get to the airport at LA, I always realise how much I can’t wait to get back. You read these articles about W11 – they tend to be in Arena – but I think they’re written by guys whose girlfriend has run off with some Rasta living in Notting Hill Gate.” Nick Foulkes’ ‘Why I can’t abide/hate the folk on Notting Hill’ Standard article in ’92 featured a typical local caricature captioned: ‘baseball cap and long hair for that trust fund hippy look/constant look of smugness/local magazine (The Roughler) for keeping up with drunken exploits of one’s friends and, of course, oneself/other pocket, works of Martin Amis…’

London Kills Me, the Notting Hill acid-house film dubbed ‘Carry On Homeless’, fails as a Performance homage but is a realistic enough portrayal of the local rave scene. Filmed in the early 90s by Hanif Kureishi, London Kills Me features scenes on Chepstow Villas up the hill, in the Ground Floor bar at 186 Portobello Road (then the Colville Rose), under the Westway by the Portobello Green Arcade, in the flea market, and the Portfolio postcard shop on the corner of Golborne and Bevington Road (which appears as a restaurant, as it would in Notting Hill the movie in the late 90s). The acid-house squat on Chepstow Villas was a former property of the Tory MP Michael Heseltine, between residences of Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and Jason Donovan. After the Ecstasy-dealing story of Glyn Roberts’ 1988 ‘summer of love posse’ (who squatted a house on Ladbroke Grove) was re-enacted there by Hanif Kureishi, life imitated dubious art when the house was really squatted by a group of anarcho-ravers.

As the Warwick Castle at 225 Portobello Road had a style crisis over whether it was grunge or crusty, the pub fanzine The Roughler made a couple of last stands at the Portobello Star and the Duke of Cornwall on Talbot Road at the time of the ’92 Notting Hill Panto Drinkerella. The Roughler landlord Berny Walther presented the last local pub rock gigs, featuring Phil May of the Pretty Things and a hells angels revival, at the Cornwall on the Talbot Road/Ledbury Road corner before it was converted into the Dakota (now the Ledbury) bar-restaurant. Back in pub reality the Market Bar at 240 Portobello Road was the Golden Cross, the inspiration of ‘The Black Cross’ in Martin Amis’s 1989 novel London Fields, which in turn inspired Blur’s ‘Parklife’ album; as the dodgy old boozer was converted into the designer-gothic or retro-creole Market Bar, ‘the first of London’s new Bohemian bars’ – more or less the opposite of what Amis imagined in his millennial tale of literary toffs, market white trash and media femme fatality.

As ‘The Mangrove: 21 Years of Resistance’ banner came down in 1991, and 6-8 All Saints Road reopened as the Portobello Dining Rooms, Rastafarians were succeeded by trustafarians and the street name started to appear in more restaurant reviews than crime reports; then came the mid 90s crack drug crime revival. The Clash finally got to number 1 in ’91 with ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’, following the 1982 ‘Combat Rock’ track’s appearance in a Levi’s ad. Damon Albarn’s Kensington Park Road life began up the hill at the Portobello Hotel on Stanley Gardens, where he worked behind the bar as Blur recorded their first demo. The Rough Trade shop’s US punk roots came home to roost in ’91 when Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love called at 130 Talbot Road. On Kurt’s behalf, Courtney asked after Raincoats albums and Jude directed them to the antiques shop where Ana de Silva worked. For services rendered to the grunge cause, Kurt and Courtney persuaded Ana and Gina Birch to reform the Raincoats, to tour with Nirvana. Kurt wrote the sleevenotes for the re-issued Raincoats’ album and then shot himself before the tour.

Time Out ‘Get into the Grove’ with the ’92 Carnival king Don-e, touring the former riot zone between Westbourne Park Road and the Westway. In the basement tattoo parlour of 253 Portobello Road, adorned with pictures of Malcolm X, Bob Marley and Ice Cube, the new soul sensation declared: “This is where my homeboys is at. I live here, I’m here all the time ’specially when I’ve been doing all that madness, I come here and come back to earth again.” The 253 Culture Shack (then below Café Grove) on the Lancaster Road corner also hosted Red’s Rasta accessories stall (on the site of 15 Minutes rock T-shirt stall), Danny’s Dub shop, the office of The Grove (Ishmahil Blagrove’s 90s re-launch of the 1966 local mag, not to be confused with the later estate agent’s magazine), Oz and Gee’s; the street wear outfitters of Don-e, the Power Lords, MC Reason and Syndicate; and Dollar-Ride Cabs.

Round the corner at 253b was Roadrunner, and later Supra, the hip-hop/skateboard T-shirt shop now at 249 Portobello Road. Across Lancaster Road was the Stone City hip-hop shop at 61b featuring the Urban Café; outside of which according to City Limits you would find ‘clubbers, rap bands, hip-hop producers and Notting Hill trendies hanging out, looking for all the world as though they were on a New York sidewalk.’ Along Portobello, the Mau Mau Bar at 265 (which was part of the Motor City jeans store in the 70s) started out as ‘the Motown Majic Company’s Original Soul Bar’; featuring a 60s disco set-up, Motown record encrusted counters, Harlem Apollo James Brown and Martha and the Vandellas posters, and the ‘Majic’ stone which still remains outside on the pavement. The Tavistock Road square junction with Portobello Road was the venue of impromptu gigs and video shoots; including Don-e, James, the Dread Broadcasting Corporation, World Domination Enterprises, the Trojans, Freestylers and former Raincoats; hip-hop break dancing and rave tourist bongothons.

The Don-e Time Out Carnival tour stopped off under the Westway at the Malaysian café Makan at 270 Portobello Road (on the site of the hippy Free Shop), and inevitably concluded on All Saints Road at Metamorphosis studios (formerly the Apollo pub), where All Saints the group were forming. In the swinging 90s glamorama, the Makan café was a renowned haunt of Lenny Kravitz, S-Express and the DJ Judge Jules, summed up by Eg White in Time Out as “full of out of work musicians and pretty people wearing 70s clothes.” The Portobello Green Arcade, under the Westway along Thorpe Close, transformed the riot zone ‘Little Camden’ flea market into an international fashion attraction to everyone from Courtney Love to Ivana Trump. Souled Out in Unit 25 supplied 70s clothes to Kylie Minogue, Bjork, Deee-Lite, the Brand New Heavies, S-Express, Elton John and Take That.

Tania Kindersley’s chick-lit Notting Hill novel Goodbye Johnny Thunders was largely set in the fashion market and features the Portobello Café at number 305 on the cover. Needless to say, the book is about her trustafarian boyfriend, not the New York Doll who was along Cambridge Gardens in 1976. As the Portobello Café, the site of the Frendz underground press office retained some Bohemian atmosphere when it was owned by the Australian rock duo Nick Cave and Michael Hutchence. This stretch of Portobello appears in numerous pop videos and ads, such as Ian Wright and the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Do the Wright Thing’, the Sparks’ techno-Carnival and Mars Attacks Mini adventure ads, and the long-running Channel 4 trailer. Along the Westway, East 17 posed on the Acklam Road footbridge for some West 11 street cred. In another Portobello Road George Orwell connection, the Big Brother presenter Davina McCall worked on the door at Subterania at the celebrated Saturday night Choice club.

Hammersmith Guerrillas by Derek Harris (plagiarising Stewart Home plagiarising Richard Allen)

Senses recoiling in disgust I curse the hoover, blaming it for its impractical shape as I remember that spring day in 1985 that I carried it to London slung across my shoulder gun-like on a rope. Even in those pre-recession days of the mid-80s, money was tight for me. So tight in fact that I had gratefully accepted the old vacuum cleaner as a gift, despite the fact that I knew I would have to bear the ignominy and embarrassment of carrying it across London on public transport for everyone and their sister to see. The ride across London over, the hoover safely at home, I remembered that Psychic TV were playing an all-dayer at the Hammersmith Palais, ‘might be worth it for a laugh’ I thought, as I tied up my 10-hole Dr Marten boots, the Pally was only 15 minutes away by foot. Reaching Shepherd’s Bush Road, my destination lay just beyond the police station and the dole office, Hythe House as it was called, I gobbed on the pavement as I thought of all the indignities that the jobless of Hammersmith and Kensington had had heaped upon them within its walls.

“Hi Derek, how’s it going? Do you wanna buy a fanzine?” “No thanks, Tom, I’ve already got that issue,” I lied. “See you in there,” I said as I pushed past Tom and his mates standing outside the pub next to the Palais. As always it was overflowing with gig-goers trying to get as pissed as possible at pub prices rather than paying the inflated tariff for watered down lager inside the venue. The gig had been sold out weeks in advance and had attracted PTV fans, or Tellies as I preferred to call them, from as far away as Europe and even Scandinavia. “Got a ticket?” “Nah mate, guest list.” “Oh yeah, here it is, go straight in Mr Vague.” I smiled with self satisfaction, my guess that that middle class west country tosser Vague would be on the list was unerringly correct, Xmal Deutschland were off the road and it was a fair bet he’d turn up to an event like this.

Inside the venue, patchouli oil hung thick in the air, shaven-headed tellies were everywhere, relating the events of past Psychick Youth rallies and grasping copies of the limited edition LP that PTV had made specially available for this gig only, in limited quantities for the special price of £6.66. Just then, the stage lights went on and Genesis P Orridge made his entrance, the masked ranks of tellies surged to the front of the stage eager to be as close to their leader as possible. “Good evening, London, how’re ya doing?” P Orridge’s voice boomed out of the PA. “This is a little number that y’all should know,” and PTV thundered into their first song. With its hypnotic, rhythmic beat the tellies began to sway, Genesis P Orridge’s electric guitar solos sending shards of sound knifing into the auditorium, and amidst the cacophony a chant began to emanate simultaneously from stage and audience, joined as if one, “Ov power! Ov power! Ov power!” Psychic TV were crap. Rock’n’roll with a new haircut, the same old thing, it was time to leave.

“But I am Tom Vague. I must be on the guest list, I’ve come to do an interview for my fanzine.” “Get up off the floor and fuck off or I’ll hit you again,” John Curd, the tall man with the fists was not to be taken lightly, for 15 years he’d promoted gigs in every toilet and ballroom in London and then some, he knew just how to deal with liggers. “Alright Derek, enjoy the gig? I didn’t see you come in.” “Yeah, not so bad John, the gig was alright but I’ve seen it all before. Lay off this guy will ya, I think he’s had enough.” “I’m really sorry Derek, I didn’t realise he was a friend of yours, if I’d known…” “Don’t worry about it John, we’re leaving,” I said as I helped Tom up from his knees and out of the doors. “Thanks for calling him off there, Derek, for a minute I thought he was gonna confiscate my fanzines. You’re a real good mate, let me buy you a pint.” “Make it 2 and a packet of chips,” I said as we turned into Hammersmith Broadway, its car fumes eradicating the stench of patchouli from my nostrils.


Tom Vague
(Vague Publishing, 1993)

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