Monthly Archives: December 2011

Inside the Bank of Ideas

Last week, I paid a visit to the Bank of Ideas, the squat/community centre that has been set up inside an empty office building near Liverpool Street.

I didn’t know quite what to find inside, and while I expected a friendly welcome I was surprised by the  depth of organisation that has gone into the enterprise, owing as much to the methods of middle management as it does the spirit of the co-operative. This is organised occupation on an impressive scale. There were flowcharts, spreadsheets and white boards full of information and advice on every surface, with people running round spreading messages and sharing news. I’ve worked in dozens of newspaper offices where communication was worse than this. It’s energetic, unifying and genuinely impressive on every level.

All members of the media are asked to visit a room next to the entrance hall to sign in and get tapped up for donations (the Bank is run a voluntary basis, with donations and skill-sharing). It was here I spoke to one of the ‘caretakers’, Bryn Phillips, an earnest youngish man in music PR who informed me that they had decided to squat the building when they ‘discovered it was owned by UBS. After researching UBS they seemed the perfect target for a Situationist critique of the finance industry’. As a fan of Situationist critiques, I thoroughly approved.

The Bank, of course, taps into a long tradition of London communes and squats that seek to serve a greater purpose than merely place a roof over peoples heads – the best example is the squatting of Centre Point in the 1970s to raise awareness of homelessness – while its educational aspects, the Free University and regular workshops, recall the London Anti-University and Notting Hill’s London Free School of the 1960s, though I’d hazard a guess that neither was as carefully organised as this.

How long the Bank of Ideas will be allowed to remain open remains to be seen, but it should be around in the early part of next week at least. If so, I recommend you pay a visit quickly, before the dead hand of corporatism crushes another lowly outlet of fun and dissent.

Cockney Rebel’s Make Me Smile: exclusive pop trivia included in this post

There are some songs I have listened to all my life, without really stopping to think what they are about.

So it is with Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel’s “Make Me Smile (Come And See Me”), which I’ve spent around 20 years assuming was some sort of love song.

When I wrote about the song in this month’s Uncut, Harley told me the song was actually a rebuke to his old bandmates who asked for more money and then left him – he felt – in the lurch – shortly before he entered the recording studio. Harley’s response was to immediately write the accusatory “Make Me Smile” (‘Blue eyes, blue eyes, why must you tell so many lies?’) and sing it with a Dylanesque sneer, but bury the sentiment beneath a layer of perfect pop production. So a song written in a despondent stew made his fame and fortune and still follows him all round the world.

The favourite thing Harley told me though, was that one of the backing singers for the song’s famous ‘ooooh la la’ chorus was the actor and singer Clarke Peters, now better known as Lester Freamon from The Wire. You won’t find that on Wikipedia. Yet.

Drugs and dead babies at the Queen’s bookshop

Maggs Bros is a posh antiquarian bookseller on Berkeley Square that has a Royal Warrant and is supposed to occupy the site of the most haunted house in Britain, but it is also home to a small contemporary art gallery, located out the back and accessed via 50 Hays Mews.

The latest show is being curated by New Artists and features photographs by Richie Culver taken of London crackhouses. These are loosely based on Gustave Dore’s engravings of Victorian opium dens.

Opium Smoking

The exhibition also features Polaroids by Shorvon & Hunter that explore the demise of the Polaroid and newspapers as forms of media. It’s definitely worth a look if you are in the area before it closes on Monday, December 5.

If you do, you should also pop upstairs to see a selection of some items that Maggs’s counterculture expert Carl Williams is currently selling. These include photographs of William Burroughs taken by Brion Gysin in Paris and an extraordinary mural taken from an American street gang club house. You could also pick up a copy of Carl’s latest catalogue to see if he has anything you fancy, whether it be items to do with Crowley, punk or the Weathermen. Last time I visited, he showed me some pictures he’d just acquired of dead Victorian babies, but don’t let that put you off.