Sunday, 22 July 2012
In the summer of 1984, James and Mary squatted a house by the canal in Primrose Hill. Surrounded by scaffolding, the house belonged to British Rail, had a crack in the side wall on the first floor that allowed a clear view of the path and water below and was as close to the railway line at the rear as a signal box. There were three floors, though, and the roof didn't leak, all of the windows were in one piece and it was detached from the neighbouring warehouse, which housed both the London Film Makers Co-operative and the London Musicians Co-operative. On a quiet night you could hear Lol Coxhill squeaking away at the LMC in between trains. Opposite sat a grimy, dark boozer named The Engineer which had a sticky floor, dartboard and an unwelcoming landlord.
James and Mary had to leave the Burn It Down collective and Finchley Road after they became lovers—James had been Ruth's partner of 2 years until he fell in love with Mary. She'd been celibate for two years and was healing a broken heart. James didn't know it, but he was working out a damaged relationship with his mother through his affair with Mary; both women shared physical and emotional traits, being small, dark and violent.
Mary was the youngest of three sisters, and the only one who lived in a squat, and embraced the squatting lifestyle.Her sisters were 'straights', and had 'normal' jobs as secretaries, went to the office every day and paid rent. The eldest sister, Maggie was married to a British Transport inspector, lived in Sussex and had two small children at the wage of 27. Annie, the middle sister, had been living with Martin in a flat in West Hampstead for a year, but in the late summer of that year, they were evicted.
It was the full moon that did it. Martin was a fantastic guitarist, but a serious depressive with delusions of being a werewolf. He was incredibly hairy, his hands and back covered with thick, wiry black hair, his face usually hidden behind a curtain of black bangs that made Phil Oakey's look like a kiss-curl. At first when he and Annie had started living together, she thought that Martin didn't like to go out during the day, which was fine with her, but they didn't go out very often at night either, preferring to stay in and make love. It took a few months, but eventually Annie figured out exactly how weird her boyfriend was, and then she tried to both ignore the weirdness and to assuage it by acting as normally herself as possible.
It was kind of Annie's fault that Martin became a werewolf. She loved his hairiness and started to call him 'Wolfy', and encouraged him to role play as a werewolf with her in the privacy of their two-room flat. Martin loved Annie but more dangerously, he needed her in order to continue to exist, so he really got into the role she wanted him to play. During the day Martin would play the most fantastic blues guitar all day and every day on his own. At night he'd howl—softly at first—to Annie as she cooked and after eating they'd make the two-backed beast in every corner and on every surface in their tiny rooms.
Annie and Martin's strange existence went on for months, the wild times interspersed with periods of complete shut-down for Martin, when he'd take to his bed and not move, talk, eat or drink for days, no matter what Annie did. The eviction came after neighbours complained about the terrible howling, crying and banging that went on until 4am on the night of a full moon, during what and been one of Martin's shut-down periods. By this time, he really believed that he was a werewolf, and locked himself into the flat—locking Annie out of it—in order to undergo the change and not hurt Annie. The 'change' that affected Martin had him tear off his clothes and trash the flat completely. Annie spent the night at the door trying to calm Martin down, sobbing and shouting at her lover.
Which is how Annie and the Werewolf came to live in the squatted house by the canal in Primrose Hill. Martin and James got on really well; 'He really likes you!' Annie would tell James every day on her way out of the door to work, dressed in her straight clothes, leaving her lycanthropic lover in his black-painted bedroom on the top floor. And it was true, Martin liked James. He liked him so much that he would only talk to James and Annie, no-body else, no matter what. Which made James uneasy, and feeling the weight of responsibility, he started staying at other squats instead of the house by the canal.
Naturally this made Mary annoyed, Annie disappointed and Martin perplexed. When James did appear at the house by the canal, it wouldn't take long before Mary and he were in a fight, which inevitably led to Martin howling and holding his head in a foetal curl on the stone floor of the kitchen where most of the fights happened, it being the main route into and out of the house.
Later, after he'd disappeared never to be heard of again, Annie discovered that Martin's parents, who had been delighted when their only son moved in with her, had been prone to indulging in physically violent bouts of domestic violence. They'd fought viciously from when their son was a toddler until he'd been sectioned for the first time, aged 16 (he'd slashed his wrists). "Oh, he does that from time to time", Martin's mother droned to Annie down the telephone line. "He'll disappear for a few days, but he usually turns up in a police station or psychiatric ward. Isn't there a big one near you dear? At the Royal Free? I'd go and look there first if I were you. Do let me know when you find him".
Wednesday, 11 July 2012
The announcement of the Spirit of Talk Talk book from Rocket 88 Books reminded me of early Sunday mornings in various squats of North London in the mid-1980s. Having spent most of Saturday night and well into Sunday either making music or 'serving' behind the bar at Kafe Kollaps and bullshitting with 'customers', there'd always be a few bodies scattered around the communal spaces, chilling and listening to a surprisingly varied range of music.
Because this was before 'chill out' became a recognisable and marketable musical genre, and because we had only record decks and cassette players to provide the 'ambient' sounds, either whole LPs were played, or mix-tapes made up for the purpose of aiding the come-down from whatever chemically-enhanced high people had been on. Oddly, Talk Talk's second album, It's My Life received some Sunday morning plays in the large, brightly lit by sunshine (through four windows facing the Finchley Road) living room above the Burn It Down Ballroom.
That might be considered odd when you looked at the mix tapes that we blasted out in the Kafe or Burn It Down in the hours prior to the come down. They were invariably filled with the sounds of Killing Joke, Dead Kennedys, Crass, Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound, The Clash, Abwarts, Birthday Party, The Mob, Misty In Roots, Pop Group, Rip, Rig & Panic, Husker Du, Bronski Beat, Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul, Gang of Four, The Undertones…
Yet when the smoke cleared and the last body had been heaved out onto the cold slabs of pavement outside, whoever lived in the place would move upstairs for a last drink, toke or joke, just as the sun was making the moon look daft. As would be expected The Velvet Underground, the Stones' Sticky Fingers, Pink Floyd's Saucerful of Secrets and Meddle were regularly heard drowning out the birds and early morning traffic as they grew in volume outside. But we were an eclectic lot, and so Frank Sinatra (Where Are You?), Eric Dolphy (At the Five Spot), Synanthesia, Joyride by Friendsound and Nilsson's Greatest Hits might also be played along with the first Monkees album, Anita Baker's The Songstress, Ready For Teddy or Let's Get It On; each piece of vinyl was carefully placed on the turntable with much effort made to not smear anything on it by the person closest to the stereo and boxes of records.
Monday, 2 July 2012
Jerry the Junkie and Marilyn the Madam had their wedding reception at Kafe Kollaps. It was a double wedding—Jerry married Krysta from Poland and Maz got hitched to Goodman from Nigeria. The short ceremony had been held at Camden registry office with two witnesses and Fast Alan, who'd driven them in the Citroen Dyane to and from Euston Road. Once at the Kollaps, it didn't take long for Krysta's boyfriend to decide that the Mercs were too loud and so he took her home to Green Lanes. Goodman disappeared almost as soon as the car pulled into the space beside Raymond's Ambulance at the back of the Kafe.
Jerry was a Liverpudlian, and almost incomprehensible when straight. His nasal whine registered somewhere above middle-C and he mangled vowels and consonants as if chewing nails as he 'spoke'. But given an armful, and when he wasn't nodding out, Jerry spoke almost perfect English with only the slightest hint of what sounded like an Irish twang. He had arrived at the Kafe one day with the Mercs, and became their roadie, guitar-tuner and ineffective stage security. He weighed about 96lbs when wet, his cheekbones were the most dangerous part of his body (sharp) and when he tried to punch anything it looked as if he was throwing a bitch-slap with his eyes closed.
Jerry first met the Mercs in Berlin when he was there with Maz to visit her father. They'd been in Germany for three months when the Mercs moved into their squat. Maz was turning tricks to feed them both (ice cream, Rote Hand cigarettes and crudely cut smack, mostly). Her US serviceman old man had kicked them out of his digs two days after they'd arrived in the city. It was a real 'surprise' visit for him, though—he didn't know Maz existed until the two skinny, stoned Brits fell over his doorstep early one morning, with her calling him 'Daddy' and Jerry saying something that sounded like 'alllraynowinityouse'.
It turned out that 'Pop' might not have been Maz's father at all, but neither of them could be sure—he remembered an affair with a Liverpudlian redhead almost twenty years earlier while stationed in the UK, and Maz's mother's death had thrown up a diary which had his name and regiment in it, at a date that corresponded with Maz's conception, so… When 'Pop' caught Jerry trying to sneak out of his house on day 2 with a Military-issue pistol wrapped in a laundry sack, he flipped, laid Jerry out with one punch and searched the pair as he put them on the sidewalk.
That had been a year earlier, now Maz was established as a small-time Madam in Brixton with two girls and a half-blind 'maid' to run the upstairs apartment, and Jerry was lodged in a Housing Association studio with Big Janet a few doors away from the Kafe. The marriages were her idea, and she'd taken a percentage of Jerry's fee of £400. We'd been happy to hold a wedding reception—our first and only, as it turned out—with the Mercs supplying live music and Darlington Dave spinning the deck (he only had one) after their performance. It was to be a usual Saturday night for the Kafe too, closing only when everyone had drunk the place dry.
Jerry had become a skinhead when the Mercs auditioned for the Blue Coat Boy, and while it made him look like an Eastern European refugee with malnutrition, he took to the gear with enthusiasm. Mind you, he'd strongly objected to the cut at first, mostly because he knew that he'd no longer be mistaken for Blixa Bargeld any more—they could have been separated at birth. But, after nicking a couple of pairs of white Levis from Camden Market, he'd swapped a heavily stepped on £10 bag of skag for a pair of Doc Marten boots, and most days now almost looked the part. He borrowed my one good suit—a genuine 1960s-made, blue two-piece with drainpipe trousers and lapel-less three-button jacket—for the wedding. He also shined up the boots and put on a white Ben Sherman with a button-down collar.
Maz looked like she'd stepped out of a 1950s b-movie. Her style icon was Diana Dors, and she'd given up her smack habit in order to put on some curves months back, and she now filled out her two-piece tweed pencil-skirt suit, worn with seamed stockings and open-necked blouse, beautifully. Her hair was bundled up in a near-beehive 'do', her stiletto heels sharp enough to puncture a lung with a flick of her ankle. She had a loud laugh and a filthy mouth, and wanted to run her brothel on true socialist principles. Her customers were charged what they thought they could afford, or should pay, and every penny was shared equally between the girls and Maz. Which was why she also ran a few quick cons on the side.
Green card marriages were all the rage in the early 1980s, and checks on identity and follow-up on the arrangements must have been slack: this was Maz's second wedding in six months. She'd managed to get herself a birth certificate and accompanying National Insurance number in the name of a dead girl, born in almost the same year as she'd been. Throughout the night her voice could be heard firmly intoning, "Call me Gloria!" followed by a low, lingering chuckle. The Mercs threw in a version of the Van Morrison song for her and she clambered on stage to sing it with them.
One of the Kollaps collective, Stanley, a vicar's son from the West country was clearly in love (or lust) with Maz, and she knew it. For the past few weeks whenever she came North to discuss the wedding, Maz would flirt outrageously with him, but always either leave without as much as giving him a second look, or when she stayed the night, she'd enjoy a long tease with him. She'd disappear into a spare room in order to disrobe, and emerge shortly after wrapped in a towel in order to knock on Stan's door. She'd ask for cigarettes and the towel would 'slip' as Maz leaned across the threshold of his room. But as Stan froze in the doorway, she'd chuckle, tut, and turn away, padding back to her room with the towel trailing lower and lower down her back.
On her wedding night though, and after quite a few celebratory drinks and dances —some real close—with Stan, just as the sun was threatening to appear over the Arkwright Road, Maz fixed her eyes on him and said, "Right, it's my wedding night and the groom's fucked off. Are you man enough to fill in for him?" With a smile that would have outdone the emerging dawn, Stan escorted the bride to his handmade platform bed, tucked away in the attic of the Kollaps.