Archive for the ‘South London’ Category

The ‘Cathedral of Electrons’ in Battersea

Friday, May 29th, 2009
Battersea Power Station 'A' 11th May 1934

The lop-sided Battersea 'A' Power Station 11th May 1934

It has occasionally been said that the rather sad and disgracefully neglected Battersea Power Station in South London looks a bit like a billiard table turned upside down. It’s not a particularly good discription – the proportions aren’t right at all. Although if it was a billiard table and the right way up and it was before 1953, it would have fallen over because it only had two legs.

Battersea Power Station as we know it today, with its familiar four chimney layout, was actually two individual power stations – Battersea ‘A’ and Battersea ‘B’ but constructed eventually in the form of a single building with the last of the iconic fluted concrete chimneys only being raised as late as 1955.

Most of the extraordinary detail of the power station, that once made the London writer Felix Barker to compare Battersea to the great church of Sainte-C├ęcile at Albi in the south of France, has now gone – obliterated, by over twenty-five years of seemingly complete indifference to one of London’s famous landmarks by the various property development companies who have sold it on rather than developing it.

The cathedral of rubble on 9th July 1981

The cathedral of rubble on 9th July 1981

During the 1920s electricity was supplied to London by small companies that were often dedicated to single industries or groups of factories. Any excess power was then sold to the public. However due to differing standards of voltage and frequency that were being provided, parliament in 1925, decided that the power grid should be a single system.

Several private power companies pre-empted the feared nationalisation (which wasn’t to arrive until after the war in 1948 with the British Electricity Authority) by forming the London Power Company which planned several very large stations for London. The first of these they came up with was in the Battersea area between the Thames and the Nine Elms Lane.

In 1928, with the architect Theo J Halliday in charge, construction started on the power station despite furious opposition by public figures such as the Archbishop of Canterbury. To appease the public, who were worried about the general size of the building and the pollution it might cause, the London Power Company hired the famous architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott of Liverpool Cathedral and the red telephone box fame. He was known to the press as ‘architect of the exterior’ and it was his idea to turn the previously planned square chimneys into the fluted classical columns we know today.

The initial construction of Battersea 'A'

The initial construction of Battersea 'A'

photograph of Sir Giles Scott in 1934

photograph of Sir Giles Scott in 1934

When Battersea ‘A’ started generating power for the first time in 1933 the brick solidity of the building was already getting fulsome praise from the public, as it has, generally, ever since. The huge beautiful red-brick solidity of the power station, along side Halliday’s extraordinary art deco interior, which included bronze doors showing figures representing Power and Energy opening on to a marble turbine hall, influenced the writer HJ Massingham’s brilliant description of the building as ‘the Cathedral of Electrons’.
Battersea Power Station's control room July 1933

Battersea Power Station's control room July 1933. The station would ultimately provide a fifth of all London's electricity.

Checking the Synchroscope in 1933

Checking the Synchoscope. It looked great but often caused cricked necks.

Battersea Power Station at sunset circa 1938

Battersea Power Station at sunset circa 1938

Work started on Battersea ‘B’ Station soon after the war, still under the auspices of the London Power Company. However by the time it completed building opened the UK’s electric supply industry had been nationalised into the hands of initially the British Electricity Authority which subsequently became, in 1955, the Central Electricity Generating Board and then finally (I think) the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1957.

The building of Battersea 'B' in 1951

The building of Battersea 'B' in 1951. 'One day, we will all have to wear day-glo high-vis jackets and hard-hats even when we're walking on the ground'.

The view over to the bucolic and rural sounding Nine Elms Lane. 14th February 1951.

The view over to the bucolic and rural sounding Nine Elms Lane. 14th February 1951.

In 1964 Battersea Power Station had a bad fire that caused power failures throughout London. Unfortunately it was due to be the opening night of BBC2 which in the end had to be delayed until the following day at 11am.

Incidentally Battersea Power Station is often described as Europe’s largest brick building but a quick Google describes two other buildings also as’Europe’s largest brick building’ – namely The Britannia Grand Hotel in Scarborough and the Malbark Castle in Poland.

The aforementioned Church of Sainte-Cecile in Albi, however, is often described as the world’s largest brick building, and as France is in Europe, that’s the building I’m going for. Churches though, are meant to look great. Power Stations, whether they have two or four chimneys, generally, aren’t.

The Jam – News Of The World

Pink Floyd – video to Pigs On The Wing which include fantastic views of Battersea Power Station

Rowan Atkinson’s spoof of BBC2′s opening night

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Brixton and David Bowie’s early years

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

‘It’s time we were united and stood up for our curls.’

david-bowie-in-tweed
Opposite a graffitied skateboard park and just up the street from Brixton’s premier music venue – The Academy , is Stansfield Road where David Robert Jones was born in 1947. His family stayed in Brixton for just six years before they moved to the South London suburb of Bromley a few miles a way. Bowie went to Bromley Technical College and studied art and graphic design (incidentally he was taught by Peter Frampton’s father).
David Bowie’s first proper band, formed in November 1963, was called Davie Jones and the King Bees – and they released one single called ‘Liza Jane’ on the 5th June 1964. The band sold few records and soon split up due to their relative lack of success.
Davie Jones and the King Bees performing in 1964

Davie Jones and the King Bees performing in 1964

Later in the same year David appeared on the BBC’s Tonight programme, a current affairs show presented by Cliff Michelmore. He was asked to appear after starting the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to long-haired men.

The London Evening News reported on the society quoting Bowie;

“It’s really for the protection of pop musicians and those who wear their hair long,’ explained the founder and president, David Jones, of Plaistow Grove, Bromley. ‘Anyone who has the courage to wear their hair down to his shoulders has to go through hell. It’s time we were united and stood up for our curls.’ David is in the process of enrolling members. ‘Everybody makes jokes about you on a bus, and if you go past navvies digging in the road, it’s murder!’”

Bowie in 1965

Bowie in 1965

Bowie showing off his lovely long hair to Barry Langford 1965

Bowie showing off his lovely long hair to Barry Langford 1965

Bowie’s next band was Davy Jones and the Mannish Boys and after playing as the backing band for Gene Pitney on a Gerry and the Pacemakers’ tour they released a single in March 1965 – a cover of Bobby Bland’s I Pity The Fool. On the b-side, however, was Bowie’s first ever recorded composition called ‘Take My Tip’ (Jimmy Page was the young session guitarist).

The Mannish Boys’ manager Leslie Conn arranged for the band to appear on the BBC show Gadzooks! It’s All Happening but the producer Barry Langford insisted that Bowie cut his long hair. Bowie, of course, refused and Conn cleverly organised a protest outside the BBC with fans holding banners such as ‘Be Fair To Long Hair’.

The BBC eventually backed down on the condition that if there were viewer complaints the band’s fee would go to charity. No complaints were received and the band kept their fee. Over the next couple of years Bowie sang with a band called The Lower Third and subsequently a group called The Buzz. Success still eluded Bowie and both bands were short lived although making recordings for the labels Parlophone and Pye.

It was during this time that he changed his name to Bowie to avoid confusion with the singer in The Monkees and in 1967 he recorded an album as a solo project and called it simply ‘David Bowie’. Unfortunately the record again sold poorly and it would be two years before Bowie recorded again. During the sessions a novelty single recorded at the same time called ‘The Laughing Gnome’ which would became a number six hit when it was released in 1973.

david-bowie-cover

david-bowie-back-cover

In 1968 the choreographer and mime artist Lindsay Kemp let Bowie appear in his show Pierrot in Turquoise, it was said, in return for sex. Kemp was a fantastically camp character, very self-consciously avant-garde, and once described a performance of his at school (realistically setting the tone for the rest of his career!) -

“I first danced Salome in the dormitory of my boarding school, naked except for layers of toilet paper, heavily rouged with the red paint I’d rubbed off the wall. The boys in the top bunks played mouth organs, and I danced to entertain them. I was busted, of course, not for the decadence of my performance but for the wastage of school resources, namely the toilet paper.”

Bowie 'in mime' at the Middle Earth Club, 19th May 1968

Bowie 'in mime' at the Middle Earth Club, 19th May 1968

Kemp and Bowie had a very close working relationship and Kemp would become a huge influence on the future star especially in the creation of alter ego characters on stage . Thus Kemp, indirectly through Bowie, influenced an innumerable amount of performers and bands over the next twenty years or so.

After a few weeks of performing together in Pierrot in Turquoise Bowie disappeared one night with the artistic director of their show – a woman called Natasha Korlinov. Lindsay Kemp was devastated and tried to commit suicide by cutting his wrists, failing however in his attempt. Two months later Bowie returned back to Kemp, but unfortunately this time it was the turn of Natasha to try and kill herself, eventually surviving an overdose of sleeping pills.
In 1968 Bowie, as a solo mime artist, opened a show for Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex – the performance was apparently a version of the Chinese invasion to Tibet. Performing with Bolan meant that Bowie was introduced to Tony Visconti who was producing T-Rex at the time. Bolan and Bowie were at similar stages of their career – both incredibly ambitious but wavering between different musical styles and ideas – but desperately looking for an approach that would find them success. Visconti became the catalyst that realised this for both of them.
During the same year Bowie, with John Hutchinson and the ballet dancer Hermione Farthingale, formed a multi-media band, initially called Turquoise but subsequently known as Feathers.
David Bowie and Feathers at Trident Studios, London 1969

David Bowie and Feathers at Trident Studios, London 1969

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Bowie and Farthingale were soon seeing each other and this may have been Bowie’s first serious relationship in his life. Unfortunately Hermione soon left Bowie, running off with a male fellow dancer – Bowie later wrote;
“I was totally head-over-heels in love with her, and it really sort of demolished me..it set me off on the Space Oddity song”.
It took him along time to get over Hermione and his next album contained two songs about her – Letter to Hermione and Occasional Dream. The album also contained the song Space Oddity which was to become the reason for Bowie’s first brush with fame, something he had been seeking for years.
The song was written in 1968 but was planned to be recorded and released to coincide with the lunar landing the following year. A plan that worked and the BBC eventually used the track for their coverage of Apollo 11 and the first moon landing in 1969. Considering the importance of the event (men landing on the moon, not the BBC playing David Bowie) the BBC wiped the tapes of the moon-landing a few years later.
Space Oddity famously used the cheap, portable battery-operated Rolf Harris advertised stylophone – Marc Bolan later wrote;
“I remember David playing me ‘Space Oddity’ in his room and I loved it and he said he needed a sound like The Bee Gees, who were very big then. The stylophones he used on that, I gave him. Tony Visconti turned me on to stylophones. The record was a sleeper for months before it became a hit.”
Ironically Visconti saw the song as just a novelty and left the production to an assistant Gus Dudgeon who would soon become famous as Elton John’s main producer. The original video made for song actually features Hermione Farthingale.<span class=”lb-half”></span>
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Bowie put the finishing touches to Space Oddity while living with Mary Finnigan (as a flat-mate and occasional lover) at Foxgrove Road in Beckenham, South London. Finnigan and Bowie ran a folk club on Sunday nights at The Three Tuns pub in Beckenham High Street but the night slowly turned into what became to be called the Beckenham Arts Lab. During the summer of 1969, The Arts Lab hosted a Free Festival at a local park. The festival was later immortalised by Bowie in his song Memory of a Free Festival.
An unshaven Bowie organising free festivals at Foxgrove Road, Beckenham 1968

An unshaven Bowie organising free festivals at Foxgrove Road, Beckenham 1968

In 1969 Bowie met the 18 year old Mary Angela Barnett (he later said that ‘they were fucking the same bloke’ – the record executive Calvin Mark Lee) and they were married in the Bromley Registry office on Beckenham Lane in 1970. He was by now well on his way to become the rock superstar he had spent years craving for.
David, mum and Angie at Beckenham Registry office

David, mum and Angie at Beckenham Registry office

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