Seeing us through to the end of the year we’ve reached out to a number of our favourite artists and cultural creatives to join us in celebrating good things. A bunch of five things that make their world go around, inspire them or just need celebrating for what they are. There’s no theme here. It’s no kind of “best of year” round-up. These are just five things of the many things identified as making the world a better place to be. We’re all about positivity. Almost all of the time. We promise…
Stephen Coates founded The Real Tuesday Weld back in 2001 and over the ensuing years has honed their idiosyncratic “antique beats” until they sound like nobody else. We’ve been thrilled to host Stephen’s “track by track” guides to the two most recent TRTW albums (read those here and here) and we’re thrilled again that Mr Coates has shared a fascinating bunch of five with us here.
ST MARY WOOLNOTH
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many...
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
Before I came to London, various bits of it had already taken root in my imagination through songs, books and films. Ladbroke Grove because of a Van Morrison song and Absolute Beginners, The Westway because of The Clash and Michael Moorcock, Docklands because of The Long Good Friday. I didn’t fully get T S Eliot's The Wasteland, but the London lines above rather haunted me and one day after I arrived, I followed the route to the mysterious church of St Mary Woolnoth, one of seven designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the years after the Great Fire.
It's like a reverse Tardis. Massive, sombre and monumental on the outside, with the gravity of a tomb; tiny, light filled and delicate on the inside, a cube floating inside a cube. It stands at the junction of three ancient parishes: Langbourn, Candlewick and Walbrook, and hovers over Bank tube station. Somewhere below was a Roman temple and, before that, probably a pagan place.
Practically speaking, it is a haven from the traffic and rush of the city around it. Also now with a tiny cafe in the porch.
BRADLEY’S SPANISH BAR
There was a time when those who knew about this place used to keep quiet in case it got written up as a ‘must visit’ in a tourist guide. It felt like a secret to be enjoyed only by a few - a forgotten, retro refuge from the awfulness of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. With its excellent jukebox (probably the only one in the West End), red velvet basement and conspiratorial bar staff, it was just perfect for a second date.
Now, you want to spread the word. It's baffling that it has survived the ongoing grim redevelopment of the area - it surely can’t that much longer. Go while you can.
When I lived in Clerkenwell and was feeling a bit down and out, I used to lunch at the all-you-can-eat Thai buffet on Leather Lane and pop into a tiny red shop called International Magic for a bit of light relief. The Thai buffet has long gone but the shop clings on, as it has for 40 years. A family run enterprise, a grotto of wonder dedicated to the conjuring arts. The staff (all practitioners themselves) are always happy to demonstrate a trick or two. They used to teach magic in an upper stairs room – Harry Houdini, not Harry Potter style thank god.
Leather Lane market is busier than ever – it's now nearly all street food like so many others these days. I have mixed feelings about that - on one hand, it's great and London street markets have always changed with the times, but I do miss the guy who used to sell just-out-of-date batteries super cheap and the stall with last month's magazine for a quid.
Brompton is the grandest of the ‘magnificent seven' great gardens of sleep built by the Victorians in the mid 19th century to relieve the horror and health hazards of overflowing inner London churchyards. It's less famous than Highgate but more accessible than the others as it has a well-used pedestrian route running through its middle. Until the Aids crisis, I believe it was a well known cottaging location – there were several gay pubs and venues in Earls Court until recently.
When I first came to London, I saw the musician Epic Soundtracks sitting on a bench there not long before he died and I later sat on the very same bench with the pop artist Duggie Fields - not long before he died (must about something about that bench). In the early 70s, Duggie was the rather long suffering flatmate of the troubled and tragic psychedelic pied piper Syd Barrett and I always associate the area with that era.
We hold events in the chapel during our annual London Month of the Dead festival so I have spent a lot of time there. I see the cemetery as a field of stories - with each gravestone the last page in the story of a life. I wrote about one tomb - the Courtoy mausoleum - in particular, as it is rumoured to be (or contain) a time machine.
“This is the daring, titillating inside story of Primitive London!”
Beatniks, Mods and Rockers getting into a ruck, wife swapping, strip clubs, kung fu, wrestling – and er, hobby horse racing, what's not to like about this, the 1965 finale of a trilogy of Brit mondo films directed by Arnold Miller? (No.1 is ‘West End Jungle’ and No. 2 is 'London in the Raw’).
OK, some if it is obviously staged, but it's a funny, sexy evocative glimpse of early youth culture, the seediness of the swinging sixties and a Soho that is now long gone. Interestingly there are no hippies and the kids are mainly working class - the city was just on the brink of the psychedelic revolution. Check out the brilliantly cool score with beat tunes and a super groovy OST by Basil Kirchin.
Stephen Coates photograph by Paul Heartfield.