A Saturday in London in the early 1990s

Here are me, Scott and Mike trying to be the Ramones.

Triumvirate

We called ourselves the triumvirate and were inseparable. We were also insufferable poseurs.

Triumvirate2

We spent most Saturdays going up to London. The day usually started here.

Image result for sutton surrey station

The highlight of the train journey came after we passed Clapham Junction and trundled past the hulking mass of Battersea Power Station, which was apparently being turned into a theme park. This classic view of the power station from the railway line is soon to disappear as the building is surrounded by steel and glass boxes for the very rich.

Image result for battersea power station from railway

Crossing the Thames, you could usually make out the floodlights of Craven Cottage and Stamford Bridge if you were quick. There are fewer finer sights in life then the glimpse of far-off floodlight. If all went to plan, we might be getting a closer view before the day was done.

From Victoria, we headed for Covent Garden. Mike was a dresser. He could carry anything off. He still can. Mike had a dapper big brother, Pete, who read The Face and I-D, and so Mike always seemed to know where to go. His keen sense of style didn’t always go down well in the suburbs; when he wore a pair of Adidas shell tops to school, kids in Nike Air and Adidas Torsion laughed at his protestations that he was the trendy one. Still, I was convinced enough to buy a pair of suede Kickers on his say so, and nobody took the piss that much.

We usually went to a few shops on Floral Street and then  Neal Street, maybe first visiting the Covent Garden General Store, which was full of entertaining tat.

We spent much of this part of the day traipsing after Michael into shops where saleswoman would assure him he looked the ‘dog’s bollocks’ as he pulled on another pair of check flares. If I was feeling bold I’d try on something in Red Or Dead or Duffer of St George on D’Arblay Street. On one treasured occasion, Mike’s brother Pete was so impressed by my red Riot + Lagos t-shirt from Duffer that he borrowed it for a party. This was probably the high point of my life as a style icon.

duffer

duffer

After watching Michael try on clothes, we’d go to Neal’s Yard, where we breezed past the weirdos in the skate shop on our way to the basement.

This was the Covent Garden branch of Rough Trade, a pokey den arranged around a metal spiral staircase, with walls covered in graffiti from bands that had played there. We loved it here. Music was one shared passion. Mike had got us into Sonic Youth, Pavement and Teenage Fanclub; Scott’s dad had a great selection of Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne and Neil Young. We all read the NME and Melody Maker and Select. This stuff mattered.

After a quick nose, we’d slip on to Shaftesbury Avenue and round to Cambridge Circus. There was a shop south of here on Litchfield Street that sold trendy Brazilian football shirts which we looked at but could never afford. Usually we headed north up Charing Cross Road to Sportspages.

imgresSportspages sold sports books, but we were only interested in the fanzines, which were scattered over the floor in untidy piles. Football was our other passion. I’d try and pick up the hard-to-find Cockney Rebel, a one-man Chelsea fanzine that combined football with an idiosyncratic take on pop and film culture. I went to Sportspages for years but never actually bought a book there.

After that, it was lunchtime.

Image result for bacon double cheeseburger

We lived for bacon double cheeseburgers.

Then we’d head down Hanway Street, past the Blue Posts on the corner, to visit Vinyl Experience, a huge place over a couple of floors which was covered by this fine Beatles mural.

Photo by Ronald Hackston

Photo by Ronald Hackston

At some point earlier, it had this fine sign.

vinylexperience

There were a couple of other record shops here – JBs was a decent one – and we’d often pop into Virgin on Oxford Street to check out the t-shirts.

From there, we strolled down across Oxford Street and cut through Soho down to Berwick Street, where three more record shops awaited – Selectadisc, Sister Ray and Reckless. Selectadisc was my favourite; although the staff were contemptuous, they were marginally friendlier than in Sister Ray and the choice was wider.

Reckless Records Berwick Street

Sometimes we’d see our schoolfriend Martin, who worked the odd Saturday on a fruit and veg stall in Berwick Street market for his uncle. I was always slightly jealous of this; it seemed an impossibly cool, proper London job for suburbanites like us to have.

Football was next. Despite having visited so many shops, we spent more time browsing then buying so rarely had many bags. Most of our serious record shopping was done in Croydon at Beanos.

What game we went to depended on who was playing, how much money we had and whether I could persuade Scott (Wimbledon) and Mike (Celtic) to fork out to watch Chelsea. It usually boiled down to Arsenal in the Clock End, where we could still pay the kids fee, or Chelsea in the Shed. Occasionally we’d duck into the ground at half time, when the exit gates had opened.

If we didn’t fancy Chelsea or Arsenal, or they were away, we’d head over to QPR, Charlton, Millwall and Fulham. Nobody ever sold out.

Chelsea at Arsenal, 1990

Chelsea at Arsenal, 1990

After football, dinner.

dinner

If we had time, we’d pop into the sweet shop in the Trocedero.

And then maybe a gig: at the Marquee or Astoria.

Or more likely home via Victoria, and then out to the Ship or the Firkin in Croydon.

A week or so later, we’d do it all over again.

shed

Many of these places no longer exist, and I’m not even that old. Or at least, I didn’t think I was.

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19 responses to “A Saturday in London in the early 1990s

  1. Oh man, SO MUCH NOSTALGIA. (Well, except for the football stuff, but all those shops, I went to all those shops.) I remember there used to be a bloke in Vinyl Experience who was the most *outrageous” flirt, I’m sure I ended up buying more records there as a result.

  2. An excellent piece; my unattached football and visits to the Marquee were ten years before yours, but a lot of overlap in the late 1980s and early 1990s when I returned to London. Thank you.

  3. I grew up in Sutton in the 90s and this basically echoes the entirety of my adolescence. I work in Croydon now and still pass by Middle Street from time to time and think back to the days I spent all my pocket money in Beanos. 101 Records is still around, which is some miracle. Great piece, thanks for the memories!

    • We were very lucky as we had friends who worked at Beanos who would let us buy things for under the marked price. I also went to the record shop in Cheam once or twice a week, the one on the corner of Cheam crossroads with the Batman sign.

  4. Aside from being about ten years older (and no football) this was similar to many of my weekends, too… Nostalgia, indeed…

    (and isn’t your Twitter avatar a photo of the sign a little old man would carry up and down Oxford Street?)

  5. Similar to previous commenters, I’m rather older, but I was still clinging on to what was left of my youth at this time so I know most of the shops you mention. I find it quite interesting how shops straddle eras. You mention the Covent Garden General Store and it actually came to mind the other day when I walked past the Marks & Spencers that’s now there. I don’t know exactly when CGS opened (maybe c.1980) but its heyday was the 1980s, and for some reason I have a very clear memory of being in there maybe c.1983-87; I’d gone in to look for Christmas presents and there was piped classical music and wall-to-wall knick-knacks, and I remember feeling depressed about Christmas shopping. My memory is that by the 1990s it had the feeling of being on the way out, but I’m not sure exactly when it closed.

    A shop that you didn’t mention was Interstate on Endell Street. It sold exclusively imported American clothes, backpacks and things like that. At one time, UK-manufactured Levi’s 501s were different (and considered inferior) to the American version, but you could get imported ones at Interstate. They also sold labels like Carhartt and Penfield, which were not distributed in the UK at that time, or at least not widely. The shop must have lasted maybe twenty-five years or so, but I noticed last year it had shut down.

    There was also American Retro on the other side of Endell Street. That shop had been around since the 1970s (or at the least original branch on Kings Road had) and I think it was quite good at changing with the times, even through the 1990s. But it’s gone now; again, I’m not sure when.

  6. Great pictures, similar experiences arriving from the North London suburbs, love that picture of Chelsea in the Clock End, weird that everyone is looking and standing in that direction, were they were about to open some more space on the terrace perhaps ? some familiar faces there too.

  7. Great piece and fab pics. To compare notes is silly, as I’m much older, but several points interconnect – not least suburbia, Soho, football, nightclubs, clothes and record shops and pubs.

    I was born in Kingston, so I had the same view of Battersea on my way up to Waterloo (still do, in fact, as I prefer to commute from Balham overland rather than risk the hell-hole that is the Northern Line first thing in the morning).

    A classic Saturday for us 15 year olds in late ’73 was to go up to Virgin at Notting Hill Gate, check out a few imports and indulge in a couple of spliffs. Then wend our way down Church Street to big Biba to take in the sights, sounds and smells.Soho was always for late-night movies, till we were old enough to get into clubs (hanging onto the coat tails of the punks), such as the Speakeasy. Drinks were reserved for the Ship (before a night at the Marquee) and the Intrepid Fox (lunchtime – by then i was working in Maddox Street).

    A late-Seventies highlight was being refused entry to the Vortex before a guy on the street said he’d take me and a buddy to somewhere he knew. Turns out to be the Global Village, where I happily dance away the night for the next 15 years or so. By ’88, I spending most of my time in D’Arblay Street at Black Market or Duffers next door. Some djs I know start spinning the tunes at Mash.

    When I start dating my (as she now is) wife, it’s back to Soho for booze, food, shopping, cinema, theatre (why not?), comedy, hair cuts and sexy trysts.

    The only places I hang out now is either at home with the family or up the Arsenal… 🙂

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  9. Angie Lawrence

    Really enjoyed this blog. Brought back so many memories when you talked about all the places you spent time with your mates, especially the clothes & vinyls shops, and the clubs, etc. Happy Days 🙂

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