Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Weekend Ahead in Brixton

Now all the fuss is over and the Sarah Burton dress has been revealed, we can get on with the rest of the weekend. Here’s what’s in store:

Tonight: The Come Dine With Me Royal Wedding Special at 8pm tonight gets contestants to host themed street parties – one of them is Vincent from Brixton and he’s hosting a mock-Martinique wedding party ‘with his guests expected to cross dress’. The party was actually filmed some weeks ago of course.

If you fancy something a little more exciting, Plan B is holding their ‘Bump!’ club night with electro/Italo disco duo Heartbreak.

Saturday: Wim Wenders’ 3D film about the modern-dance choreographer Pina Bausch, ‘Pina’, is showing at The Ritzy at 15.20, 18.10 and 21.30. It looks GREAT.

Monday: The Brixton Windmill is re-opening – join the procession from Windrush Square at 2pm, processing up the hill to the Windmill itself for the opening ceremony with Chuka Umunna and a ‘guest celebrity’ at 3pm.

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Tonight: Offline F*ck the Toffs Special

Fun event at urban 75’s Offline club night today in The Grosvenor, Stockwell – it’s the ‘F*ck the Toffs Special’, an anti-royal wedding party from 9pm. See here for details.

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Interview: Linton Kwesi Johnson

Eminent dub-poet, scholar and political-activist, Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in rural Jamaica and moved to the UK as a youth to join his parents. They were part of the “Windrush Generation” – people invited over to the UK to aid the rebuilding of the UK post-WWII

Debi Ghose, presenter of the Brixton Allstars radio-show, spoke to him 30 years after the Brixton Riots.

When you first moved to London, what did you think of the British culture and how you were accepted into the UK?

Well, those of us who came from the Caribbean were coming from a British colony, so the British way of life was not alien to us. We spoke the English language, we were socialising to the cultural institutions familiar to Britain, we studied English literature and knew more about English history than we knew about our own history! The actual culture was not difficult, what was difficult was the racial hostility that we met when we came here.

When did you join the Black Panthers?

I joined the Black Panther movement in the late 1960s. I became interested as a schoolboy – I think I saw one of the newspapers that they used to sell on a Saturday, then started to attend meetings and joined the organisation’s youth section. Around that time, there was a Black Power movement in the USA, which had been preceded by a Civil Rights movement by Martin Luther King and the Southern Leadership Conference, so there was a wave of consciousness of Black Awakening for young people on both sides of the Atlantic. Our generation felt that we could no longer tolerate the things that our parents had tolerated and we wanted to change the society, so we got involved with those organisations that we thought were more effective in bringing about racial equality and social justice.

What did being part of the Black Panthers give you?

Being a Panther was a life changing experience for me, because for the first time I discovered Black history; I learnt about African culture, I discovered Black literature in terms of creative writing, novels, poetry and so on. It opened up a whole new world for me and was a profound influence. It was in the Panthers that I learned about the rudiments of organisation – how one goes about mobilising support and building a movement for change.

Was it at that point that you started writing poetry?

I came to poetry through politics, as a consequence to my involvement with the Black Panther movement and discovering Black literature. I was inspired to articulate in verse how I felt, and how the generation of Black youth to which I belonged felt about growing up in a racialised society.

Can you explain what the Brixton Riots were retaliating against?

What was happening, for want of a better term, was racial oppression. People were being discriminated against and victimised. We were constantly harassed, intimidated, beaten, and a significant section of us were criminalised – some people even died in police custody. It was very difficult to get justice in the courts, especially magistrates courts where it was your word against a police officer’s. You stood a better chance of getting justice with a jury, but all that was poisoned by politicians exploiting race, like Mrs Thatcher who talked about Britain being swamped by an alien culture; at that time, it created an atmosphere which made it very difficult for a black person or any ethnic minority person to get a not-guilty verdict in a court of law. There was discrimination in the place of work, people were racially abused, in school we were relegated to a third class education, and so on.

How did you feel when the situation culminated in the riots?

It was a feeling of sheer exhilaration that we’d had the chance to fight back and to give the police a bit of their own medicine which we had been taking for the longest time. It was a feeling of power. It was a feeling that things would never be the same again, and that sense of power came from what had happened 6 weeks before that – black people had marched through the streets of London to protest the death of 13 young blacks in a racist arson attack in a fire in New Cross on the 18th of January. That big march was called the Black People’s Day of Action and happened on the 2nd of March, and 6 weeks later the Brixton Riots happened. So that sense of power that we had felt from seeing 20,000 people marching through London – you can’t imagine it. That gave us a sense that we could change our situation and help London to become a better place, and rid it of the extremes of racial injustice.

How long was it after the riots that you felt changes?

The changes didn’t come until the end of the ‘80s, beginning of the ‘90s – and those changes came largely because of the British State sitting up and taking note of the fact that Black people had some power. Not just because of what was happening in Brixton, because there were subsequent riots here again in 1985 and also in Tottenham, but these were national events because we had uprisings in nearly every major inner city area of the country; Toxteth in Liverpool, Moseyed in Manchester, Handsworth in Birmingham, St Paul’s in Bristol. The government’s response eventually was to put in place policies to speed up the emergence of a black middle class, and to take down some of the barriers. This happened under the watch of Michael Hesseltine, who was the Minister of the Environment, and they put in place “inner city urban renewal” policies, and that’s when the changes began to happen. I think the decisive event was the Black People’s Day of Action, because riots are spontaneous, but when you see a set of people who have been down-trodden, have the ability to mobilise nationally and put 20,000 people on the streets – that is an expression of power.

In this time of financial crisis, does it remind you at all of the situation in the ‘80s?

No, not at all. In the ‘80s, this country was far more polarised. A class war was being waged by the Tories against organised labour. Mrs Thatcher’s government wanted to claw back all the gains that the working class had won for themselves in the post-WW2 settlement. It was a period of heightened racial tension, you had groups like the National Front on the rise with their paramilitary wing – Column 88. It was a period when racist attacks were rampant, there was of course the New Cross fire when 13 young Blacks died – but we’ve moved on from that situation. There is no idealogical warfare going on in this country now. Once the Labour Party used to represent organised Labour, now all the political parties in this country represent corporate interest – they all represent business. The situation has changed, the context has changed, and in many respects things have changed for the better. Blacks have been instrumental in helping these changes, and in helping to change Britain, we’ve changed ourselves too.


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The Royal Wedding

The nation is well and truly in the grip of royal wedding fever. From a royal wedding knitting kit to a commemorative pizza, there are hundreds of ways to mark the occasion as the big day approaches. Joanna Hughes heads to Brockwell Park to find out what people in south London will be doing

Joseph, 48

“I’ll be going into the City. I’m meeting a couple of friends in Green Park. We’re going to enjoy the atmosphere. I’m having a traditional African costume, normally worn by kings, sent from Ghana for the occasion. I would like to see the wedding procession. I like Kate and Will as a couple and this is an occasion that comes once in a lifetime. I just want to be part of it.”

Sophie Rix, 28

“I’ve got the day off work but I’m avoiding the closed roads and heading out into the countryside for the day with my boyfriend if it’s sunny. We haven’t decided where yet, but it will be somewhere just outside London.”

Ursula, 24

”I booked my holiday to Sri Lanka before the royal wedding had been announced. I feel a bit disappointed now that I won’t be in the country to join in the celebrations and get together with my friends and family. I will try to catch it on the television at a beach side hut and will try to find some Pimms too! I guess watching it on the telly means I’ll get a great view at least.”

Tim Oakley, 31

“I’ll be on my stag do in Devon. It’s a good weekend because it’s a long one. That’s why I picked it.”



“I’m going on the ‘Not The Royal Wedding Cycle Tour’ organised by Bromley Cyclists and Pollard’s Hill Cyclists Group. I’ll be hoping for a nice day and avoiding the TV. Yesterday in Carphone Warehouse I saw there is even a royal wedding mobile phone.

Natalie, 28

“I’m so excited about the Royal Wedding! I’ve got a full on day. I’ll be starting out early at 10am to attend a street party organised by Battersea restaurant, Chez Manny, where we will be served with a traditional full English breakfast. By midday I’ll be popping in on a friend who is hosting a garden party in Herne Hill. Then for the afternoon I’ll be heading to a pub in Clapham to watch the afternoon processions on a large screen TV in a beer garden. In the evening close friends and I, are going to grab some fish and chips to round the celebrations off.”

Joanna, 32

“I’m a civil servant and work in Victoria so I’m thinking of going into work that day. There will be lots going on in Victoria. Where I live there is no community focal point so there won’t be a big street party.”

Kate, 32

“I’ve got an exciting day planned. I’m going to my in-laws who are having a street party in Weybridge. There will be bunting, barbecues and plenty of wine and beer. All the houses on the street are involved and inviting friends. Then in the evening we’re going to a wedding.”

Magali, 32 and Kerry, 36

“We’ll be driving to Cornwall to spend the weekend surfing for three days with twenty mates. It’s an annual event. It’s always the bank holiday weekend, but this year it’s great because we get a free day. Usually it’s grey and cold, but this year it looks like it could be quite enticing. Two of our friends are leaving at 7am so they arrive in time to watch the wedding on TV.”

John, 65

“I’ll be watching the wedding on the telly. I like the tradition. It’s a part of our cultural heritage. We might have some tea and scones in the garden after the wedding coverage if it’s a sunny day.”

Jenny, 29

“I’m looking forward to the royal wedding but mainly for the extra bank holiday. I’m taking the opportunity to be on holiday that week down by the sea catching up with friends and family. I imagine I’ll spend the day sailing and then out for dinner and drinks with friends in the evening.”


“I’ll be out of the country. I’m going to Grenada in Spain.”

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Maundy misery for market traders

Stuart Horwood, Chair of the Brixton Market Traders

Joanna Hughes reports on more problems for the traders as the Pope’s Rd car park is demolished

Brixton market traders who lost their battle to regenerate the Pope’s Road car park for customer parking faced more misery today.

Traders and customers coughed and sneezed from sawdust created by trees being chopped down and compacted on the site of former multi-story car park.

Stuart Horwood, Chairman of the Brixton Market Traders’ Federation, says he phoned Lambeth Council to complain: “The whole area is covered in sawdust and it is affecting customers and traders. It has caused considerable disruption. I’m very disappointed that this has been done without any consideration as to what happens here.”

Unfortunately Lambeth Council was not available to comment on this particular incident.

Lambeth Council’s Master Plan for Brixton commits to parking space in any redevelopment. But in February the council made an exception for retail giant Tesco building a new store and mixed redevelopment on Streatham High Road.

Tesco originally agreed with the council that building work would be done in phases so that Streatham’s popular ice rink could remain open to the public throughout. But despite record pre tax profits of £3.4 billion, Tesco’s request to save time and money by erecting a temporary ice rink for three years on the Pope’s Road car park was approved by the planning committee.

John Gordon, Secretary of the Brixton Market Traders’ Federation said: “It’s an absolute disaster. My takings are down by forty per cent and I feel incredibly angry that this has been done to suit Tesco which has masses and masses of car parking.”

Mr Horwood said: “I am stunned that an agreement with such a major bearing can be amended. It wasn’t knocked together overnight.”

A spokesperson for Lambeth Council said: “Tesco will provide 600 new jobs, 250 new homes and a new leisure centre. 33 parking bays will be built at Buckner Road for market shoppers.”

The traders have endured two-and-a-half months of demolition noise from 8am until 5pm every day. The demolition contractors used water jets to dampen down dust. But traders will still be left with what Mr Horwood describes as a “logistical nightmare” when they have to quit their own parking, also on the Pope’s Road site, on 31 July.

Lambeth Council will reinstate some trader spaces on Pope’s Road. It is also providing overflow car parking for traders at a new car park on Porden Road – also the only planned customer car park – a five minute walk away from the market. Mr Horwood said: “We will have to move from a site on which we can comfortably fit forty-two vehicles with only three blocked in, to thirty-five nose-to-tail spaces where virtually everyone is blocked in.” Where the spaces will be depends on a proper survey of the site which will map it out inch by inch.

A first-in-last-out policy will, Mr Horwood said, “be an absolute nightmare”, as fruit and vegetable traders arrive at 6am and leave at 4pm, while other traders do not start work until 09:30 and leave at 6.30pm.

A spokesperson for Tesco, who are in charge of the new ice rink, said: “This is one of the most exciting regeneration projects in London. It will create hundreds of jobs and will see fantastic new leisure facilities built for the local community.”

But this concession may not be enough. Anxious traders are yet to be convinced that customers with heavy bags will go the distance.

Families come to Brixton market to buy large items such as drums of cooking oil and sacks of rice. With no parking nearby there has been a huge fall off in custom and the market is being subsidised by £50,000 of council funding. Mr Horwood said: “With the cut backs the chances are funding may not continue. Although no one has said to us it is all over.”

He added: “The reality is people don’t mix leisure and shopping. They may buy a banana after they skate for energy but they won’t be doing a weekly shop. We’re on a knife-edge and if we don’t remain commercially viable, we won’t survive.”

And that’s why Mr Horwood has become CEO of the new Community Interest Company under which the traders will be trading from the beginning of the next financial year.

Community Interest Companies were introduced by the Labour Government under the Companies Act 2004, to allow businesses which help the community to run themselves as companies. Registered now at Companies House, the traders are negotiating delegated powers from the council to run the market themselves.

Mr Horwood said: “We can run the market on a much leaner budget and we’ll be free to seek outside sponsorship, re-brand and publicise on websites, shopping bags and door-to-door flyers.”

The traders paid tribute in particular to Brixton Town Centre Director Steph Butcher and to the wider council who have supported the traders’ company.

Mr Horwood said: “It wasn’t a total loss. It raised the profile of Brixton Market Trader’s Federation and we have gained the respect of certain council departments. We fought a good fight based on facts and figures.”

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Melodica, Melody and Me

Last week, Brixton band Melodica, Melody and Me released their single, ‘Come Outside’, at Brixton Jamm and it’s lovely:

Here’s a review of the band in The Guardian’s New Band of the Day (no.844)

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Brixton’s Best Food Shops

Rachel Manley, who runs the Breakfast Club, gives us a guide of Brixton’s best food shops

Brixton has arguably one of the best food markets in London and it just keeps getting better.

But with the men shouting ‘half price’ at you and the overwhelming selection, it can be a pretty intimidating place to know where to start… here are my recommendations for the best food shops in Brixton.

1. Nour cash and carry, Electric Avenue
Known as favourite shop in my house, the tiny entrance hides what I think is by far the best version of the generic shops along Electric Avenue. Worth a wander around, if only to make new discoveries in random corners. This is where I buy fruit and vegetables particularly huge bunches of fresh herbs including lovely thyme and dill, onions, garlic, ginger, chillies and packs of cherry tomatoes for 50p! I also buy spices, pomegranate molasses, chopped tomatoes, tinned beans, rice and lentils here. All much better quality than the supermarket and loads cheaper. You can also find huge tubs of yoghurt and labneh in the fridges as well as haloumi.

2. Wing Tai
The Chinese supermarket on Electric Avenue is really well stocked. I buy huge bottles of soy sauce and fish sauce, there’s lemongrass and Thai basil in the fridges and I recently bought everything I needed to make sushi for about £10. While the staff aren’t exactly friendly and they don’t speak great English, they will help you find what you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to ask!

3. Dagon’s Ltd.
There’s some pretty unappetising fish for sale in Brixton Market, dig a little deeper and you can find some fantastic stuff. Mash & Sons on Atlantic Rd is ok, but my very favourite is Dagon’s in Brixton Village. They’re always really busy (definitely a good sign) and they can offer advice on the type of fish to buy and how to cook it. Best of all, they’ll fillet and prepare the fish for you if you ask nicely. Salad Club also recommend Jeffries by Franco Manca.

4. Continental Delicatessen
Turn right out of Brixton station, keep going until you hit Atlantic Rd and the bright blue awning of Continental deli is right in front of you. It’s worth a visit for all the usual deli stuff, in particular the great cheese selection, delicious chorizos and Portuguese custard tarts. I also spotted homemade pestos in the fridge. Rosie’s Deli also has a nice selection of deli foodstuffs and you can get a cake and coffee while you’re there.

5. Giggly pig
Much like fish, finding meat in Brixton Market can be hit and miss. I tend to go to the farmers’ market on Brixton Station Road on Sundays as I know it’s all local and free-range. Although a little lacklustre, it’s worth it for the excellent sausages and pork from Giggly Pig. If you head down later on (after 1pm) you can usually get a good deal. There’s also a really good farmer’s market on on Saturday’s opposite Oval station.

6. Breads etc
Breads etc has been open in Clapham for a while and recently opened in Brixton Market. This is a chance to buy their top quality bread without the queues they usually have in Clapham, plus they do a mean brunch.

Sometimes I feel like I’m only scratching the surface, like when I discovered the fantastic chorizo in Continental Delicatessan or that you can get huge bags of ground almonds in Nour Cash and Carry. Where are your favourite food shops in Brixton? Leave suggestions in the comments.


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The Ritzy at 100

To mark the Ritzy cinema’s 100th birthday, Kaye Wiggins went behind the scenes with general manager, Rob Belfield

It’s hard to imagine the Ritzy on its opening night in 1911. The cinema, then called the Electric Pavilion, would have been more imposing than it is today: the main auditorium, which now seats 350, had 780 seats.

But it is not known what the cinema’s first visitors would have watched. Rob Belfield, general manager of the Ritzy, says he has tried to find the name of first film shown at the cinema, but could not uncover any evidence.

“There are records to show it was opened by the mayor of Lambeth, but unfortunately they don’t say which film was on,” he says.As he shows me around the cinema – early one morning, when it’s eerily quiet – Rob paints a picture of how it would have looked 100 years ago.

“Where you’ve just come in, at the main entrance by the ticket desks, wasn’t part of the cinema,” he says. “It was the Brixton Theatre, which was bombed in the Blitz. After that it was used as a car park for the library, until 1994 when it became part of the Ritzy.

“The bit that’s now the restaurant would have been the box office, and the main auditorium would have stretched right back to where the bar is now.”

We head to the projection room above the main auditorium, a tiny room crammed with equipment. There is still an old film projector, although almost all of the films are screened from a neat digital box. “We’ve kept the film projector, but we don’t use it very often,” Rob says. “Now and again there’ll be a local filmmaker who will want to use it for a special screening.”

Below us, in the main auditorium, is a brand-new screen that can show 3D films and was installed just last month. There’s one problem with it, though. Because it is twice the size of the previous screen, it is too big to fit behind the cinema’s curtains.

“We had to stop the routine of pulling the curtains back at the start of a film,” Rob says. “There’s not much we can do about that. We still try to build anticipation in other ways, like dimming the lights.”

As we head downstairs for a closer look at the main auditorium, the history lesson continues. “The cinema nearly closed for good in the 1970s,” Rob says. “It was closed for two or three years and was becoming derelict, and the council was going to turn the whole area into a shopping centre.

“But a group of four local residents invested £10,000 in the cinema. They must have scrimped, saved and borrowed to do it, but they turned it around and it was reopened in 1974.”

Rob says the Ritzy has become more populist in recent years, showing blockbusters that it might previously have shunned. “We’ve definitely moved from arthouse to a more mainstream cinema now, because it’s what the community wants,” he says.  “When the new Harry Potter film is out and you’re not showing it, you’re not in tune with people.”

Despite the Ritzy’s local, individual, independent feel, 95 per cent of the films shown are chosen by the head office of Picturehouse, the national chain that owns the Ritzy and 18 other cinemas across the UK.

Rob insists, however, that he tries to give locals what they want, and often receives letters requesting certain films be screened. “I’ll always try to meet people’s requests,” he says.

And he is convinced that the Ritzy will not be taken over by a bigger cinema chain, or abandon the world cinema and small film screenings that set it apart. “We’ve got more than 10,000 members and they’re loyal, committed people who have strong opinions,” he says. “They’d be up in arms if the Ritzy became just like all the other cinemas.”

A tip – if you have a choice of screen, pick screen 5. It has plush new reclining seats and wine tables, but the tickets are the same price as all the others.

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Brazas: The Bar

One of our favourite Brixton restaurants, Brazas, wants to open its own bar and live music venue in the basement of their building. They confirmed the rumours when we were there last and now this planning application has appeared (thanks to Kaye Wiggins for the photo):

In case you can’t read it, the application says: “To add the basement at number 43 to the licensed area and to allow live and recorded music and late night refreshments”. Sound like it could be lots of fun – watch this space.

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The Brixton Week Ahead

A brass band welcomed the first swimmers of the season at the Lido


Saturday 2: The Windmill is hosting electro-pop band Bearsuit, while Upstairs at the Ritzy has BBC 1Xtra’s DJ Edu playing ‘old skool beats’ for Back and Forth (A Night of Pure Old Skool).

Sunday 3: Take advantage of free swimming at The Lido this weekend – but will not paying offset the cold? Brrr. To warm up, there’s free jazz in the evening at The White Horse.

Wednesday 6: This looks like lots of fun – a night of entertainment at The Dogstar with Heart and Lung Unit. There’ll be storytelling, comedy and live music from contributors such as Brixton novelist Alex Wheatle, singer-songwriter Marc Picton and comedian Chris Dangerfield. All for only £3. You can read a review of the last event here.

Friday 8: It’s Faithless‘ last ever concert and they’ve chosen Brixton Academy for the final goodbye. The gig is even going to be broadcast live at cinemas across the UK, although not at the Ritzy.

Saturday 9: Help the dedicated ‘Friends of Brixton Windmill‘ plant the herb garden at the Windmill, 10.30am-12.30pm, in time for the re-opening of the windmill on 2 May. No experience needed and equipment provided. Read their wonderful blog here.

Every Saturday, Plan B holds the Community night as a platform for ‘innovative house, techno, disco and other forms of electronics’. Tonight it’s the Residents Party, dedicated to those who have a long-term association with South London. Headlining are Foolish Felix and rising Camberwell star Kid Who?. And you can get on a £3 guestlist if you email with a list of names and the subject ‘Brixton Blog guestlist’.

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