Saturday, 22 December 2012

The people known as overspill

The Park Springs London overspill estate, Gainsborough. From the Lincolnshire Echo October 31 1969.

'Everything had changed. Mrs Paxton went to the small town and found another town had been clipped on behind it, with rows of houses and no shops. The people in the sudden new town were known as overspill. Mrs Paxton hardly looked at them, once she had left the butcher and the chemist, and had picked up her bread. If she had to pass by the boundary of these ghostly new streets she looked away, and the children and cats that played there were no more real to her than figures in a cartoon.'

(From Alice Fell by Emma Tennant)

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Falling through the air with minimal resistance

It's been just over a year since I started this blog, and so far I've had nearly 4000 pageviews. I'm not sure if that's a decent score or not. And I have the grand total of 4 followers, including someone called Mrs Daniel who appears to be a bit of a Modette/60s garage popster (and who has fabulous bright red tights). Sadly, she doesn't write anything on her blog about these tights or the Nazz. She should. 

I don't get much, if any, feedback, but no-one else seems to be writing anything to do with the 60s council estate, and I enjoy doing all of this anyway, so I will keep going. And for those of you who do look at my blog, even though I might not know who you are - those of you who might happen to appreciate what I'm doing, and who like council estates, here is a little Xmas present, an aerial photograph (courtesy of Paul Kemp - thanks Kempy!) of the estate nearly in its entirety from 1972: 

If you click on the image, you'll hopefully get a larger version for you to pore over. I often stare at this photo, almost in an attempt to 'jaunt' (you'll know where I get that word from) myself back into this place and time. My house is amongst the staggered rows of houses that face the fields to the right. Here it is in blurred close-up, the house to the right of the path with the lamp post on the corner:

The uncanny thing about this view is that whenever it was taken (sometime in the late summer/early autumn of 1972 I think) someone or something was outside our house, under our living room window. I can't tell exactly what was there but I would lay odds on that little blurry shape being my mother sitting out 'on the front', as we called it, in the sun on a deckchair. This is something she often did, and I bet the front door was open, with the radio playing quite loud (in 1972, midday mornings on Radio 2 would be with Jimmy Young - "what's the recipe today, Jim?"). Believe it or not, this estate, with its layout of 'open-plan' lawns and open, communal, networks of paths and green spaces, was intended in those days to be safe, sociable, respectable even. And it was. When I was a kid, and when it was sunny and warm, nearly all the front doors here would be thrown open to let some warmth and air into the houses. People would sit out in the sun while kids bombed up and down the paths on their bikes. 

I used to sit out there also during the summers of 1979 and 1980, catching rays and reading books, after being made redundant from my first job as a computer operator for a local engineering firm that was owned by British Leyland. No matter - I was 19, and was given what seemed to me then to be a very handsome redundancy package and, better still, the time to read, to make music, paint, take photographs, go and see New Order play their second (or was it third?) ever gig at the Retford Porterhouse. I was friends with a small group of individuals who made up the sum total of Gainsborough’s 'post-punk' community: someone called Graham who played guitar, two hippy/punk brothers who didn’t seem to do much at all, Benny, and PPB - the Tim Buckley of the shires - who had a Teac Portastudio and lots of other useful equipment. Finally, there was my friend Dallas French, composer of the classic songs 'Babby Doll' and 'Fuck You I'm on the QE2 (with Meg Mortimer)' who was never quite going to be ordinary with a (genuine) name like that. We all cadged a rehearsal/recording space in a small, nearly derelict room at the back of an empty shop on Church Street, and constantly formed new and different combinations of the same group, based around whatever type of music we were all into at any given moment (which generally ranged from some dub reggae, Parliament, The Fall and The Associates). 

The creative fruits of this set of musical alter-egos appeared on a compilation cassette that we ‘released’ to a completely unsuspecting public early in 1980, called ‘A Gainsborough Selection Box’. The tape’s cover was festooned with Victorian photos of the town, and quotes about the state of Gainsborough in the age of Thatcher. We included a quote from Marcus Kimball, the then Conservative Member of Parliament for the town, showing 'concern' as Tories do in their typically hubristic, 'realistic', 'hard-choices' bullshit manner: "The town will recover from its present industrial trough but it will take some time". Benny (who had been to university) attempted some daft, NME influenced, Paul Morley-esque sleevenotes: 

‘Senses/senseless – Gainsborough indeterminate indifference feelings coming in letters endogenously/exogenously determined economic recession we drink slop and celebrate the celebate circle that is – Gainsborough.’ 

We did all of this because we could. Occasionally, we had to suspend composing and recording while one of us went off to sign on. 

And when I wasn't making music, I was outside my house on the Middlefield Lane estate in the sun, reading, listening to music, shirking, doing nothing really, just another young man amongst the steadily rising ranks of the new unemployed. I had a very particular sound world for those new days of unemployment - Selbstportrait, The Return of the Durutti Column, Colossal Youth, the second side of Before and After Science - languid, very self-contained, electronic landscapes. And the reading matter? To the Lighthouse, Le Grand Meaulnes, Southern Mail/Night Flight.

And, especially, my favourite back then - an almost forgotten book now by Emma Tennant called Alice Fell, a fantastic, mesmerisingly bizarre story of a girl growing up in the 1960s. 

I'm re-reading Alice Fell at the moment (and it's still staggeringly strange and beautiful, and very recommended) - and one year on from starting this blog and in the depths of yet another cold and dark winter, trying, desperately almost, to physically and temporally situate myself back outside my old house in the sun, in 1980, still on the edge of nowhere, opposite the field at the end of the estate, exactly where the town used to stop. How could I want to dream myself back to those early days of Thatcher, and to an estate that was on the verge of disinvestment and deterioration? Well, because it seems like a dreamworld in comparison to what we have now at the end of 2012. At least there was still something of the social, of the civic, and of polity in those days. And because it was real, and what I did with my time back then was real, and not some bloody 'blog-o-sphere' version of it. But I'll keep doing this blog nonetheless (even though at the moment I'm heartily tired of our pissy, prissy, on-line, twitter-ish and 'e-petition' forms of 'dissent' and 'resistance') because it does show just one instance of a possible and viable alternative to the cold and dark world that this callous, crass and venal Tory autocracy/plutocracy is busily making. Yes, that means you, Gideon - you and your chums can just fuck off, but to the rest of you, have a happy Xmas and a peaceful New Year.