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Duramaney Kamara: actor in Boy

4 May

‘Boy’ at the Almeida is a ground-breaking show about what it feels like coming of age in austerity Britain. The play, written by Leo Butler, has a 27-strong cast of which 16 are making their stage debut, including an 18-year-old student from Islington, Duramaney Kamara. Interview by Nicola Baird

Duramaney Kamara - debut performance in Boy at the Almeida Theatre (c) Kwame Lestrade

Duramaney Kamara – debut performance in Boy at the Almeida Theatre. Whether you’ve seen the show or not you can join a young people’s free panel discussion this Thursday (5 May) with the writer. See how at the end of this interview.  (c) Kwame Lestrade

Duramaney Kamara is very different from Boy’s lost central character, Liam – and perhaps that’s no surprise when he admits that his mum was on stage when she was nine months pregnant, making him able to say “he was on stage before he was born!”. In fact it’s Duramaney, playing Lamari, who has just enough interest in track suited-Liam to give him a proper telling off (no one else seems to notice Liam). But as Duramaney wisely points out, “everything Lamari tells Liam he is saying to himself…”

The play has a host of characters Londoners will recognise – from mobile-addicted schoolgirls waiting for the bus home to non-English speaking road workers – so in his debut Duramaney also plays a teenage son in the doctor’s reception, toilet attendant, person in the crowd and Sainsbury’s worker.

It’s clear he’s chuffed to be on stage in his home borough, Islington. “Because it’s my first time on stage I thought doing the same thing every night I’d find boring. But it’s not! It’s new every night. It’s like life – you can’t get bored of life because you are living it,” he explains.

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week.

“We had 13 hour rehearsals,” says Duramaney explaining why it’s been so hard organise this interview when we meet on a Thursday lunchtime over an orange juice in the Almeida Café. For him life could be considered a bit less busy now that he is just doing a show every night at the same time as finishing off his final A level year studying Drama & Theatre Studies, Music and Music Tech at City and Islington College…

Clerkenwell Primary.

Clerkenwell Primary.

Duramaney lives with his mum and dad, both professional singers/musicians, just off Essex Road. He’s born and bred Islington: his early years were spent at Clerkenwell where he went to Clerkenwell Parochial Primary School on Amwell Street. “In year 3 or 4 we done a play at Little Angel,” says Duramaney. “We all had puppets and then my dad said I should do some drumming. I was shy but I did it…”

In fact Duramaney was only four years old when a bloke in a pub predicted he’d make a great trumpet player. “I was sitting in the Three Kings Pub, opposite St James’ Church, when someone gave me a cornet (a very basic trumpet) to hold. I started playing around with it and getting a sound,” he says, “so they got me a trumpet.”

Duramaney really likes to sing and MC, and as with all the instruments Duramaney plays – trumpet, piano, keyboard, guitar and percussion – he’s self-taught. “I tend to use my ears and then see if I can play it back,” he explains. His mum Basha Letsididi, a singer, originally from Botswana, taught him how to read music, but “I only recently started doing grades – I got a distinction in Grade 3 trumpet,” says Duramaney understandably proudly. He’s also had support from Richard Frostick from Islington Music Centre and his music teachers James Hunter at Bishop Douglass in Barnet, where he went to secondary school, and Jack Davis at City & Islington College, praising them both for “building my confidence.”

Music is a huge part of Duramaney’s life – after the show, and after his summer exams he hopes to spend a gap year doing “voice acting as well as other acting jobs” and working on his music projects. For now he has to be content with, “Our house being full of music. It’s either me playing my stuff – I listen to a lot of jazz, John Coltrane, Fela Kuti (from Nigeria) and I also play a lot of Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield and perhaps oddly for a teenager I like classical music. Mum will be singing or rehearsing and Dad is either fixing or playing drums…”

The company of Boy at an Essex Road bus stop. (c) Kwame Lestrade

The company of Almeida Theatre’s Boy at an Essex Road bus stop. Duramaney Kamara is in a grey hoodie. (c) Kwame Lestrade

The play’s the thing
Boy is a bleak play, it’s had 4* and 5* reviews, but it is an uncompromising view of the struggles many poorly educated white British teenage boys find themselves in, and is as relevant to Islington as to Crystal Palace where the writer Leo Butler lives. Most of the play revolves around life at a bus stop using an ingenious moving travelator (like they have in Yo Sushi and airports). There are moments – especially the start – which are very funny, but the overall impression is that Liam hasn’t a chance. So Islington Faces was curious if Duramaney knew any Liams, and what he thought of the show’s Liam…

“I do like Liam. At a point in life everyone can be a Liam. There’s a lot of pressure and you have to hide it. Some people grow up without a healthy household and they have to grow up fast. With teenagers it’s all down to peer pressure. People need to prove something to someone to get a thumbs up from their peer group. If you look at gang culture, there’s pressure from someone older to do something for that thumbs up. Other people get that thumbs up for getting an A grade,” he says.

“For Liam he’s got no guidance. Even his vocabulary is really diminished – he repeats what other people say. It’s heart-breaking the way he looks to other people,” explains Duramaney.

Liam is the teenage boy who has fallen through every safety net. Even if most of the audience longs to help him find the resilience to clamber back up, Cameron’s Britain is unforgiving. You’ve got to get on and make it when the odds are so stacked against you – with minimal support from parents who may well be separated, working Zero Hour contracts, dealing with mental health issues or completely distracted by money and housing problems.

The Union Chapel has been called a Tardis. Here is one of the upstairs rooms used as the bar for shows. CAPTION It was built in 1877 (on the site of the too-small chapel erected in 1806). Impressive past worshipers include Asquith (Liberal PM, 1908-1916) and the poet John Betjeman’s mother. Betjeman’s involvement helped save it from demolition in 1982. Many worshippers came from both right and left.

The Union Chapel’s bar.

Places Duramaney Kamara likes in Islington
“Islington is supposed to be a prestigious borough, but the crime rate shows otherwise.”

  • Angel is a big hub for me. Everything is there and it’s a nice place to go. We eat at Bombay Burrito on 357 Goswell Road and Nandos at 324 Upper Street. Five Guys, 71 Upper Street, is expensive but there are some nice pizza shops.
  • Rosemary Gardens on the Islington-Hackney border is a nice place.
  • I like Union Chapel. I sang there with the Islington Music Centre choir. Great acoustics!
  • The Almeida is nice. I did a workshop last year with the college at the Almeida, during Oresteia, which was really brilliant.
  • You can go anywhere from Essex Road – I found this out on the day before my 18th party day and I realised there were buses for everyone. There’s the 38 to Victoria, 73 to Oxford Street, 56 to Leytonstone, 476 to Tottenham, 21 to Lewisham and the 76 to London Bridge…

Confidence
Duramaney has a very different energy to Liam or the characters he plays in Boy, and he’s clear that’s because: ‘I’ve been taught by my parents to be independent and not to rely on anyone else.” But he admits he felt undermined by not getting a place at the Brit School, the Guildhall or the Royal Academy of Music. Thankfully he’s also finding that overcoming adversity can make you stronger – “I’ve learnt that there’s always a way,” he says with a big smile explaining how he hopes to study at Leeds College of Music… and, just for the record, a class of Brit School students (who would have been in his year) have come to see Boy at the Almeida.

It’s an interesting irony that such a bleak play should be giving Duramaney Kamara – and so many talented young actors including Frankie Fox who plays the lead, Liam – such a great opportunity to perform on as famous a stage as the Almeida. And you can join in too by coming to the young people’s panel event on Thursday 5 May, from 6pm, to discuss the ideas raised in Boy.

Find out more about Duramaney Kamara via soundcloud
https://soundcloud.com/dlk_the-genius/sets/new-garden or @DLKtheGenius

Thursday 5 May, 6pm come to a panel for young people exploring the ideas raised in Boy. It’s free and can be booked online – http://www.almeida.co.uk/whats-on/answers-back/5-may-2016
• Facebook /almeidatheatre Twitter @AlmeidaTheatre
Boy by Leo Butler is at Almedia Theatre until 28 May. Sign up to the email list at almeida.co.uk

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

Laurie Cunningham: football from Market Road to Real Madrid

6 Jan

Everyone has a story. This GUEST POST from Dermot Kavanagh, Sports Picture Editor of the Sunday Times, is a fantastic summary of Archway-born footballer Laurie Cunningham’s life. Few people know about Laurie, but he’s probably the greatest black footballer the UK has ever produced – signed by Real Madrid for £1 million in 1979. Dermot’s plan for 2016 is to crowdfund a book about Laurie Cunningham’s amazing legacy for England’s footballers. It’s 28 per cent funded, so let’s see if Islington Faces readers can help, see how here.

mag Mar.76

Sunday Times Magazine front cover March 1976 asks if Laurie Cunningham (who grew up in Archway) will be the first “coloured” player to play for England.

Laurie Cunningham was born and bred in Islington and it was in the borough’s streets and parks that he learnt to play football. Many people believe he is the greatest black footballer this country has ever produced, yet his name is largely forgotten today which is curious as he achieved great things during a period when football was blighted with explicit racism, when monkey chants, extreme verbal abuse and bananas thrown on to the pitch were seen as part of the game.

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

April 1977 England under 21 pic -the first black player to represent England at any level.

Laurie Cunningham from Archway made football history as the first black player to represent England when he was played for England under 21s in April 1977.

His story is a radical one.

  • Laurie was the first black footballer to play for England at any level when he represented the under 21s in a match against Scotland in April 1977  – and scored the winning goal.
  • Just two years later he signed for Real Madrid, the world’s most famous club, in a deal worth close to £1 million becoming the first Englishman to do so.
  • In between he formed part of a pioneering trio of black footballers* at West Bromwich Albion – dubbed the Three Degrees by boss Ron Atkinson – who changed people’s perceptions with their swagger and glamour. They proved to managers and fans that black players could be professional and effective, and in the case of Cunningham, succeed at the highest level.
  • He was killed in a car crash on the outskirts of Madrid in 1989.
laurie boy

Laurie Cunningham as a boy (date unknown).

Born in Islington
His story begins in Archway. He was born to Jamaican parents on 8 March 1956 in St Mary’s (now Whittington) Hospital on Highgate Hill. The family lived in shared rooms at Brookside Place N19, not far from the stark hospital buildings. His parents Mavis and Elias both worked locally.

Mavis, who arrived from Kingston as a teenager, had an aunt in Caledonian Road and found work at The Bristol Laundry on Holloway Road. His father Elias, an apprentice jockey back in Jamaica, worked as a metal moulder and engraver for a company on Amwell Street near the Angel. The family moved to Westbourne Road in lower Holloway for a brief period before settling in Lancaster Road, Finsbury Park in the mid ’60s.

Cunningham attended Stroud Green Primary and Highgate Wood Secondary Schools where his outstanding athletic ability quickly stood out and his speed and balance marked him out as something special. He played football for the district, London Schoolboys and a team called Highgate North Hill who went on an adventurous tour of Vienna in 1968. At just 12-years-old Cunningham was the star player and shone against the youth teams of professional outfits such as Rapid Vienna and Fortuna 05.

As a proven match winner his services were in demand as a “boots for hire” on the pitches at Market Road in Islington where the promise of a new pair of boots (or £5 cash) bought a guaranteed goal scorer for teams in need of a win. He played often for adult teams as a youngster, particularly Greek and Turkish ones, which would bet large amounts on the outcome of matches.

soul boy

Laurie Cunningham in soul boy garb – bespoke peg trousers paired with flat dancing shoes. c.1976.

He’s got soul
His interests were not just confined to football, he liked music too – he taught himself to play the piano as a boy – but most of all loved to dance.

By his late teens he was a leading light among a group of young black Londoners who found expression and identity in the burgeoning inner-London soul scene. The scene that grew out of pub back rooms and Soho dives had a dress code which included bespoke Great Gatsby suits, gangster hats and two-tone shoes, (referencing the zoot suits and hats of their parents’ era). These working-class dandies helped shape the dance music culture that spread across London and beyond and was where DJs Norman Jay and Jazzie B first started.

Fastidious about clothes, Laurie had suits made to measure by East End tailors or picked up vintage items in the flea market at Camden Passage in Angel where original 1940s suits and accessories could be bought from piles on the pavement. His elder brother Keith, a reggae man to his soul boy, was a member of the Sir Power Sound System from Holloway whose rallying cry “Sir Power on the Hour” helped pack out the Friday night dances held at Archway Methodist Hall.

Laurie’s London

  • Caledonian clock tower in Caledonian Park. On one side is Islington Tennis Centre and Haywards Adventure Playgorund. On the other North Road with the Gower School, Drovers Centre run by Islington Age UK and fabulous Pleasance Theatre.

    Caledonian clock tower in Caledonian Park opposite Market Road pitches.

    He would take part in kickabouts as a boy in Finsbury Park where weekend games began at noon and lasted until dusk in the summer. He also played at Market Road pitches and Highgate Woods.

  • Sir Power Sound System played at Archway Methodist Hall and numerous blues parties in Finsbury Park. Local rivals included Fatman out of Tottenham and Chicken in Stoke Newington.
  • Second-hand 40s clothes and post-war utility marked items were particularly prized, bought at Camden Passage, stalls at Camden Market or Petticoat Lane in the East End. Petticoat Lane was also good for finding flat-soled shoes for dancing.
  • Clubs were mostly in the West End, Crackers on Wardour Street or upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s. In north London Bluesville in Wood Green, the Tottenham Royal and the Bird’s Nest in Muswell Hill were all good for funk music.

By the age of 14 Cunningham had been spotted by scouts for Arsenal and was invited to train at Highbury twice a week. His team mates included future Gunners great Liam Brady, but, as was so often the case with black youths he didn’t progress beyond schoolboy. Arsenal let him go saying he was “not the right material” at the age of 16.

His manager at Highgate North Hill was determined to find him a club rather than see his young charge walk away from the game and landed him a trial at lowly Leyton Orient where manager George Petchey signed him on the spot, commenting “I’d never seen a 16-year-old like him before, he could do everything.”

It was at Leyton Orient that Cunningham rose to national prominence, but it was after moving to West Bromwich Albion for two years and forming part of the ground breaking trio of black players. Then in a stunning move he joined Real Madrid in June 1979.

At Real Madrid he won the League and Cup Double in his first season and reached the European Cup Final in 1981 where Madrid lost to Liverpool.

Injury curtailed his career and a recurring knee problem, that never seemed to fully heal, robbed him of his electrifying pace. Loaned out to various clubs across Europe but never settling anywhere for long he struck a melancholy figure in later years when he commented “Have you noticed how we have all dropped out of favour with England? And there are no black managers in the game. I wonder why? I don’t think black players have had a fair deal over the years.”

By 1988 he was back in the Spanish capital playing for Rayo Vallecano a second division team with a strong left wing tradition whom he helped gain promotion by scoring the goal that got them up. Although he only played one season for them his presence remains to this day in fans’ anti-racist banners that feature his image beneath the words, “Amo Rayo, odia racismo”, (love Rayo, hate racism).

On the eve of the new season he was killed in a car crash on 15 July 1989, aged 33 years.

real v barca

Shoot cover 2 August 1980 – Laurie Cunningham playing for Real Madrid.

Rewriting history
There is a growing awareness about the importance of Laurie Cunningham.

He is a pivotal figure in modern black British history who deserves wider recognition not just in north London but nationally. His talent and temperament he helped pave the way for a whole generation of black footballers. His brother Keith puts it best when he says: “My little brother was the greatest. He made it for all those black people, all those players, and he turned the crowd around. They loved him.”

Dermot Kavanagh is crowdfunding his biography of Laurie Cunningham, to be called Different Class: Fashion, Football & Funk, The Story of Laurie Cunningham on the site unbound.co.uk. There are varying levels you can choose to support and each person who pledges will get their name printed in the book, see how to help here.

Words*
The trio of black footballers, dubbed the Three Degrees (nicknamed after the Philadelphia female soul trio topping the charts at the time), were Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis who played for West Bromwich Albion in the late 1970s.

Enjoyed this interview?
Read more Islington Faces interviews about Arsenal, see:

Samir Singh, Arsenal in the community

Paul Matz, founder of Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

 

 

 

 

Colin O’Brien: photographer

2 Dec

Everyone has a story. In 1948 eight-year-old Colin O’Brien picked up his family’s Box Brownie camera and took a photo of his friends leaning against a car in Hatton Garden. From then on he was hooked by photography, soon graduating to a Leica. Now his new book of photographs showing the drama of everyday “London Life” – much of it in Clerkenwell where he grew up – is receiving critical acclaim. And it would certainly make a perfect gift for Londoners. Interview by Nicola Baird.

Colin O’Brien: “Growing up I didn’t know we were poor,” adds Colin “but I felt so safe. There were always Aunties and Uncles visiting and everyone knew each other. We didn’t have many books – now I have TOO MANY weighing my house down!”

Colin O’Brien: “Growing up I didn’t know we were poor, but I felt so safe. There were always Aunties and Uncles visiting and everyone knew each other. We didn’t have many books – now I have too many weighing my house down!” (c) Colin O’Brien.

“I do like people and I do like talking about my work,” says Colin O’Brien drinking cappuccino slowly at the uber-stylish Hackney Picture House in Mare Street. Colin was born in 1940 at home in Northampton Buildings, Clerkenwell (which no longer exist) to an Irish mother and father. “My parents were born in London – the Irish connection goes back one generation from them,” explains Colin.

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

“My family all worked in the area (then known as Finsbury) so my mother let them know the baby had arrived by hanging something in the window. I think it was just an old shopping bag!” says Colin who moved to Hackney in the 1980s to an affordable house just a 38 bus ride from his old Finsbury haunts. Over the years he has mostly been London based, although for a time he ran a bow-fronted antiques shop in Petersfield, Hampshire.

Victoria Dwellings 6 c

Colin O’Brien: “When we were living in Victoria Dwellings I would hear a bang, get the camera and then look down see a car accident and take a picture.” The huge block was on the corner of Clerkenwell and Farringdon Road. (c) Colin O’Brien

Life in Clerkenwell
“I grew up in Little Italy. It was full of Italian immigrants,” says Colin, “they came from a very poor area of Italy to a very poor area of London thinking that their lives would be transformed.”

Despite having a close immediate family, Colin knows little about his ancestors. “The Irish connection is difficult to trace as my mother was a Kelly and my father O’Brien. It’s like finding a Smith in England!” There is just one photo of his mother’s father who made the move from Ireland to join the Black Watch, a Scottish regiment. “It’s the only picture of him we had, and it shows this frail man wearing his kilt and looking proud. Then he came to London and had a family of seven – or was it eight – children. He died of pneumonia leaving my granny to bring all these children up on her own. She scrubbed steps to make money. I remember her in later life, very sick, bent double from arthritis but she’d be giggling away as she listened to the Bakelite radio, shows presented by Wilfred Pickles with the catch phrase “Give ’em the money Barney” and the first radio soap Mrs Dale’s Diary (begun 1943).”

Colin’s father was away fighting during the war. His mother, and her sister Winifred, mostly stayed in London, even during the Blitz. “For my safety they did go to Ifracombe, Devon in 1941, but they hated the landlady and so they came back to London saying they’d rather ‘take their chance’.”

Clerkenwell had the flimsy Anderson bomb shelters, so as “My granny lived in the middle of  Victoria Dwellings all the families from the top floors, and the families from the bottom would go to her flat. The grown ups would make tea, chat and reminisce. It was that feeling of being together, and being safe,” says Colin laughing because he knows all too well that it wasn’t safe – it was only luck that stopped the building being hit and killing all in it.

Fruit stall at Chapel Street market (c) Colin O'Brien

Check out the hats and prices at this fruit stall on Chapel Street market (c) Colin O’Brien

5 places in Islington where Colin O’Brien has taken stunning photos

  • Perhaps because Colin lived and played near Fleet Street he started taking photos when he was very young. “We wore short trousers and all had chapped knees in winter so we’d sit by the hot air vents by the Daily Mirror building on Saffron Street/Herbal Hill to warm up.”
  • Old Sadler's Wells prior to demolition. (c) Colin O'Brien

    Old Sadler’s Wells prior to demolition. (c) Colin O’Brien

    When we were living in Victoria Dwellings I would hear a bang, get the camera and then look down, see a car accident and take a picture.

  • I took a wonderful picture of a three-wheeled van toppled over in Clerkenwell Road.
  • My very first picture (taken in 1948 when Colin was eight years old) was posed. But Italian boys know how to pose.
  • Fleet Street was so close to our home at Michael Cliffe House that if I’d taken a picture of a storm from the window I’d run round to Fleet Street and let them look at the negatives – the Evening Standard and Daily Express would take them. Then the Brown Bovari Lightning Resistors company got in touch because they wanted to use my picture in an ad, and I got paid £15!

Through the viewfinder

Raymond Scalionne and Razzy in Hatton Gardens, in the lost borough of Finsbury. This photo was taken by Colin O'Brien when he was eight years old. (c) Colin O'Brien

Raymond Scalionne and Razzy in Hatton Gardens, in the lost borough of Finsbury. This photo was taken by Colin O’Brien when he was eight years old. (c) Colin O’Brien

By seven Colin was often out playing in the street, which soon after led to him taking that first seminal shot of his Italian friends posing. It was just the beginning.

Box Brownie shot by Colin O'Brien of his mum on the steps going up to 118 Victoria Buildings. (c) Colin O'Brien

Box Brownie shot by Colin O’Brien of his mum on the steps going up to 118 Victoria Buildings. (c) Colin O’Brien

(c) Colin O'Brien

(c) Colin O’Brien

“I took pictures of what fascinates me. It’s where I lived at 118 Victoria Dwellings*. It’s my mum cooking or trying on a hat, or stoic Mrs Leinweber who lived beneath us waiting at 12.30 to dish out shepherd’s pie and peas with her huge arms.”

He also took striking weather shots which were often published in the Fleet Street press.

Few of the photos are posed, although Colin admits there’s one where “I asked mum to pose and she has her arms folded looking down the stairs as if to say ‘Not another picture, Colin’.” (see above)

Many of the photos were taken out of the window to show “What’s happening below in the street. I wasn’t Don McCullin going off to war or David Bailey photographing celebrities. I was quite provincial. I didn’t go south of the river and I didn’t travel. I photographed what I saw – people acting out the drama of everyday life.”

Light trails, crash (c) Colin O'Brien

Colin O’Brien: “Looking out of the window of my home was very important. I’d hear a bang, get the camera and take a picture. I don’t know how we afforded a Leica, perhaps my parents got it cheap.” This picture and others are in his new book of photos, London Life (2015) (c) Colin O’Brien

His photos have an incredible stillness, as if they are scenes taken from a film. But they’re not insists Colin, they are just everyday moments in post war London. “I like getting rid of the clutter that surrounds everyday life. Composition is all,” he says which is why he “rarely crops images.”

The drama isn’t just the charting of social history and often a time gone by, it’s affectionate hugs; kids posing or Londoners dwarfed by grand buildings. Some of the best known scenes are pure car crash art – taken just as the ambulance arrives with the cars on their side. “It’s a moment of before and after,” says Colin “a mise en scène”.

(c) Colin O'Brien

The drama of everyday life is in every shot in Colin O’Brien’s new collection of photos, London Life, including this picture. (c) Colin O’Brien

Photographer Colin O'Brien's Cannon S120. "I use it as a sketchbook. It's my second. The Gentle Author from Spitalfields LIfe dropped my last one into a pond. It survives anything, except a dunking."

Photographer Colin O’Brien’s Cannon S120. “I use it as a sketchbook. It’s my second. The Gentle Author from Spitalfields Life dropped my last one into a pond. It survives anything, except a dunking.”

Working in education
Colin has worked in education all round London, including the London College of Printing at Elephant & Castle (now part of the University of the Arts). “I failed the 11+ and any other person would think they were a total failure, but I still found a job – I had a nice personality – so in my early 20s I worked with the City Literary Institute and Mrs Daley sent me to Media Resources.” Soon Colin discovered you could be offered time off to study. He took a BA in Photography at Westminster Polytechnic (now university) and then an MA in Photography & Advertising at LCP* where he also worked. “It used to change it’s name so much my friend jokingly said Elsie Peed In The Tea (LCPT) when he answered the phone, baffling callers.”

Colin used a chunk of his retirement fund to run a two week exhibition in the OXO tower and was blown away by seeing the queues of people waiting to get in.

“My sort of pictures people didn’t want to have. Now people have a soft spot for the old days, it’s nostalgia – it wasn’t as good as they think! I took pictures of the threadbare years (the 1950s) and the down and outs in the street, but there are still down and outs, sometimes even sitting in the same places. I’m a poor boy from Clerkenwell but just last night I was drinking champagne at the new Leica store at the Royal Exchange where they are showing some of my photographs and I’m doing a talk on December 3…”

Traveller’s Children (1987) “the pictures were taken around London Fields over three weeks. On the fourth week they’d gone.” (c) Colin O'Brien

Traveller’s Children (1987) “the pictures were taken around London Fields over three weeks. On the fourth week they’d gone.” (c) Colin O’Brien

Must have memories
Islington is famous for it’s creativity – from Sadler’s Wells to Grayson Perry, never mind the many writers – but Colin O’Brien’s photographs dating from 1948 are not just beautifully composed works of art that you might want hanging on your wall, they are also an extraordinary social record of change. Colin has just released a beautiful new book, published by Spitalfields Life where he is contributing photographer. For anyone serious about art or a fan of real people in London then this is the book to put on your Christmas wish list. And just in case you don’t get given London Life, maybe you should buy one for yourself? Islington Faces did!

Words*

Victoria Dwellings was knocked down in the late 1960s. Colin says it was a vast block of flats which straddled Clerkenwell and Farringdon Roads and Herbal Hill. “Think of the number of people who were born or died there,” he says adding, “I’m taking an 85-year-old man back there soon to photograph him.”

LCP or the old London College of Printing is now part of the University of the Arts and known as London College of Communication.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

 

 

Simon Wilson: young entrepreneur from dellvo.com

25 Nov

Everyone has a story. Young entrepreneur Simon Wilson, 21, born and raised in Islington, is hoping to start a delivery service in the borough which will boost local businesses and make life sweeter for anyone with no time to go shop. Here he talks about how Islington has made him who he is, and his dreams for dellvo.com.  Q&A with Nicola Baird from Islington Faces

Simon Wilson: ready to launch a new delivery service in Islington dellvo.com

Simon Wilson: ready to launch a new delivery service in Islington dellvo.com

Q: What part of Islington are you from?

  • I was born and raised in Islington. I grew up in Archway. I’d wake up every morning to go to school determined to make money and learn. During school we weren’t allowed sweets or fizzy drinks, and we never had more than £1.50. So I would go to Tesco and buy up multi-pack crisps for £1 and 2 for 1 cans of cola. I would sell it and buy more until eventually people were coming to me for treats and sweets. I even employed two of my friends for £2 a day.
  • I attended Highbury Grove School, I remember spending hours after school studying for exams and hours of music lessons, and then going to relax. Playing football with my friends was when I started to be really active.
Q: Where do you live now & what have you been doing?
  • I live in Essex but I am always at my mother’s house in Archway. I like Islington and the vibes it brings.
  •  I have been a chef since 16-years-old and have studied to achieve professional cookery levels 2-4. I’m currently completing a foundation degree in microbiology and food science.
Q: What do you think of Islington?
  • Islington is a great area to live in and there are many things to do. I believe that Islington need more power for small enterprises. I think that the more people who use small merchants for a job the more it does for the community.
NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 
Q: What’s your business plan?
  • I plan to launch a delivery service that will start in Islington and expand throughout London. The delivery service will allow for affordable delivery to all of your local grocers, food store, restaurants and more. We want to build a platform that can connect you to all of your local shops where you can order online and have it delivered in minutes from ordering.  The best thing about it is that we will operate 24/7 so there is never a need to wait or complain.
  •  Delivery is a whole new industry being created and I plan on making it  happen in Islington. It all started when I finished work one day and was just to lazy to actually go to the shop. I thought to myself there must be a grocery shop that delivers, but there was none. I was really surprised. So that is how it all started.
  •  Hundreds of hour of research and development later I’m ready to create a company that provides instant jobs, boost sales revenues to small business and gives back to the community: we are dellvo.com it’s a unique name with an idea that makes sense.
Q: Why here? Why now?
  • Islington definitely needs this service because it is filled with working class people like me who just don’t have any time. Why not have a service like this?
  •  When you look around Islington you see your local butchers providing fresh meat for those Sunday roasts. Green grocers for the fresh veggies and international merchants. Not to forget that drunken kebab! Small businesses cater for the needs of every gender, and every race in Islington – that is why I feel my dellvo.com idea is built on promoting other small businesses. dellvo.com will launch later this month early December.  Just in time for Xmas… this will be our present to everyone in Islington.
Q: How to get in touch?
  • People can visit our website to contact us, at www.dellvo.com  or businessteam@bessons.co.uk
  • We are looking to raise funds to grow the business, but that will be at a later stage (if anyone is interested they should just leave an email).
 Susan Oudot: “Milner Square is very unusual – the architects were the same ones who built what is now the Almeida Theatre (1837), Roumieu and Gough - you either love it or hate it.”

Simon Wilson who is about to launch a new business in Islington, where he grew up, is a fan of Upper Street and the Almeida Theatre.

Q: When you’re not busy with business what do you like doing?
  • My favourite things to do in Islington is to visit the local restaurants. I love Upper Street, especially Almieda Theatre and the restaurant next door – if I could go there every day I would.

To find out more about Simon Wilson’s new business or to contact him with questions if you are a potential supplier, driver, customer or investor go to dellvo.com

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

Charles Baron: born 1920 in Islington & still visiting the borough

18 Nov

Everyone has a story. Charles Baron is having lunch at the Highbury Barn pub – nothing remarkable about that, except he was born on 6 May 1920 to Jewish refugees from the Russian pogroms – 95 years ago. So what are his memories of pre-World War Two Islington and life in the airforce? Interview by Nicola Baird

Charles Baron

Charles Baron, who grew up in Islington, is a Freeman of the City of London, grandfather of 13 and now a great grandfather too – but he still enjoys trips to the Highbury Barn pub.

Charles Baron, 95, was born at home in 54 Colebrooke Row. Charles’ Romanian father and Lithuanian mother were renting the ground floor and basement. His parents (who spoke their home languages so had to talk to each other, and their children, in Yiddish) were both emigrées from the Russian pogroms who had met in the East End of London.

Islington-born Charles Baron with his wife Julia Baron and Charles’ daughter from his second marriage, Sarah Clay. Sarah: “We all like Islington, at one point myself and three of my six brothers were all living a quarter of a mile from where Dad used to live. Adam was on Upper Street, I was on Essex Road above Mosquito bikes and Marcus and Jason were on Roseberry Avenue.”

Islington-born Charles Baron with his wife Julia Baron and Charles’ daughter from his second marriage, Sarah Clay. Sarah: “We all like Islington, at one point myself and three of my six brothers were all living a quarter of a mile from where Dad used to live. Adam was on Upper Street, I was on Essex Road above Mosquito bikes and Marcus and Jason were on Roseberry Avenue.”

“When I was very small we moved to the second floor of 17 Chapel Street, which is now the market. My mother and father rented over the shop. I’m the youngest of four. My brother Louis Isaac was 13 years older than me; then there was Emanuel (who later called himself Earnest or Ernie) and my sister, Esther,” says Charles over a pot of tea outside the Highbury Barn.

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

It’s the last day of October and Charles’ extended family have met for Sunday lunch. His daughter Sarah Clay, who works at estate agent Hotblack Desiato, has introduced her Dad to Islington Faces. While we talk Charles’ adult children kick a ball with their kids around the paved area outside the pub and Mrs Lovell’s The Greengrocer.

Stallholders
“Islington was a very poor place,” says Charles who often helped his mother on her lace and embroidery stall at White Conduit Street.

“White Conduit Street was a Jewish community of shopkeepers, mostly selling clothes. My mother had to stand from 9am until 7pm – sometimes I minded the stall and spent freezing hours there in the pouring rain,” he says.

Because Charles and his Mum worked hard, cooking wasn’t a big part of family life. “She didn’t have time to cook,” he explains, “so she’d send me out to get the family fish and chips – It was thrupence: tuppence for fish and a pennyworth of chips. We’d eat bread at breakfast.”

xx

Baron Street as it is now where it meets Chapel Street market. The original Sainsbury’s was on the left. On the right there is still a pub.

“I used to look out of my window and enjoy seeing Baron Street opposite [his family name] and Sainsbury’s on the corner [now a betting shop]. There was a pub opposite too [The Alma]. Once I remember seeing a fat lady rather drunkenly cross the road to below my window. She then sat down and the next thing I knew there was a puddle surrounding her so presumably she wasn’t wearing underclothes!” says Charles who may have been used to outdoor plumbing (that’s what yards, or what we now call gardens, used to be used for), but was clearly shocked by a public pee.

His story seems so 21st century, covering Romania, Lithuania and even Sainsbury’s. I have to pinch myself to think of Islington nearly 100 years ago when one of the early Sainsbury’s was just a corner shop in Angel with rabbits hanging outside. Charles would be sent here to buy the week’s ration of butter (a quarter of a pound) which was patted out by the shop assistant.

Charles knows many parts of Islington well as he has also lived in Baalbec Road and Petherton Road.

Chapel Street stall holder Christopher Curtis, who sells old photos of Islington & football prints, holds up the 1920 view he has of Islington High Street when the Islington Empire was in its heyday.

Chapel Street stall holder Christopher Curtis, who sells old photos of Islington & football prints, holds up the 1920 view he has of Islington High Street when the Islington Empire was in its heyday. See the interview with Christopher Curtis, the Highbury Corner history man on Islington Faces.

  • Places Charles Baron knew in 1930s and 1940s Islington
  • I liked going to the Islington Empire*, near where Angel station is now. It was a theatre and music hall and had comedians.
  • I went to Sebbon Street School, off Upper Street [now called William Tyndale School]. I won a scholarship to Owens School. It has an Old Boys Society and I’m now Father of the House – we meet once a year.
  • I used to have to run away from gangs of anti-Jewish boys when I went to the synagogue at Lofting Road*. We used to walk and run everywhere.
  • I’m no longer interested in professional football because it’s all about money. We used to spend sixpence to go and watch from the Clock End. All the kids stood and the small ones were passed over the heads of the adults to the front. I remember liking Herbert Chapman (legendary Arsenal manager 1925-34).
  • My elder sister, Esther, played the violin to accompany silent movies at the Finsbury Park Empire. She learnt at school and then taught me and I got to like it. I didn’t take it seriously but I remember giving my squadron in the air force a recital and won great admiration. I’m am amateur musician but I was made a Member of the Musician’s Company so I am a Freeman of the City of London and can drive my sheep across London Bridge…  See more about what this means in this short video.

Just as Charles has no problem coming to Islington from his home in Lincolnshire, he’s able to slip backwards and forwards in conversational time.

20151031_155117

Highbury Barn pub as it is 2015.

1930s Islington
“My parents were not well educated and we had no money. My father ran away from Romania and somehow got to England. He worked as a storekeeper in a warehouse here,” explains Charles whose life chances changed dramatically when he was 11 and won a scholarship to Owen School (now Dame Alice Owen*) when it was based in Clerkenwell. 

After finishing school Charles got a job as a bank clerk working at a branch of the Anglo-Czechoslovak & Prague Credit Bank, at 48 Bishopsgate. “I took the job because they offered five shillings more than anyone else!” he admits to laughter from his wife Julia who clearly knows him very well. “I used to go to work wearing a suit that cost a fiver from a shop on Upper Street, tie and trilby. But when Hitler took over that bank I got the sack because I was Jewish.”

War broke out in 1939.

“I was called up in 1940, when I was 20, and joined the air force. I was then away until 1946.” It was an exciting time for the soldiers who’d never left London before – but came with a great cost.

“One out of every two air crew was killed. One of them was my elder brother Ernie,” he says sadly. Charles was one of the lucky ones: working as a navigator on the Bristol Beaufighter aircraft, which took him to the Middle East, India and Burma [in what was East Pakistan and became Bangladesh] and saw him rise up the career ladder, finally becoming a squadron leader.

“The Beaufighter was a night fighter, one of the first aircraft to have airborne radar. Our job was to make lives as unpleasant as possible for the Japanese.”

After the war he went back to India to work in civilian jobs. Then in his 50s he qualified as a management accountant.

Although Charles only spent his young life in Islington, he’s had a surprisingly long connection with the borough because some of the seven children from his second marriage moved to Islington and family gatherings are still here. Gatherings are often large because Charles married three times and had eight children. He now has 13 grandchildren and his first great grandchild was born on 24 October 2015.

“I just had one daughter with my first wife, and she’s now a pensioner,” says Charles in disbelief as he finishes his cup of tea. Turns out that his daughter Rosalind is 68 and lives nearby too, in Stroud Green.

Charles married Julia in 1990, “a week before my 70th birthday.” The pair have just celebrated their silver wedding anniversary with a party at their home in Lincolnshire.

Islington Faces found it an absolute pleasure to meet Charles and his family and to hear a little more about Islington all those years ago. To realise that Charles may have even been drinking in the same pubs as George Orwell of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four fame (or just walking past each other on Highbury Fields) is a fascinating thought!

  • If you have any questions you’d like to ask Charles Baron about Islington – particularly the Angel area or Highbury Barn – in the 1930s/1940s do send a message to Islington Faces and we’ll see if he can answer them. Thank you.

Words*
The Islington Empire Cinema existed for six years (1932 to 1938) and closed down under the title of ABC Cinema in 1962.  It was on the site of the infamous Royal Bank of Scotland building.

The synagogue in Lofting Road (originally known as John Street) was opened as the North London Synagogue in 1868. It had around 200+ worshippers. It was closed in 1958 when the synagogue was amalgamated with Dalston. According to http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol8/p117 from the late 1860s many Jewish families moved into Highbury and Mildmay Park. In 1967 the Dalston synagogue was amalgamated with Stoke Newington and it was closed.

Dame Alice Owen School moved from Clerkenwell to near Hatfield. More about its history, including paying students beer money (!) is here.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

Susan Oudot: Corrie writer with a passion for Milner Square

7 Oct

Everyone has a story. Write what you know is advice for new writers – but Susan Oudot, bestselling author and series writer of more than 50 episodes of ITV’s Coronation Street, has used this maxim to explore her family’s memories of growing up in Milner Square just off Almeida Street. The result is an evocative film of Islington life between the 1935-75, called Through The Hole In The WallInterview by Nicola Baird

Susan Oudot: xx

Susan Oudot: outside 49, where her grandparents lived. She grew up in Milner Square and still lives in Islington. © Virginia Sedia

“Both sets of my grandparents moved into Milner Square in 1936,” says Susan Oudot at Cote café on Islington Green. “Milner Square had been built for people with money in the 1840s but as time went on the smoke and coal fires meant the outside of the buildings were black and looked quite sinister. As rail travel expanded a lot of the middle class moved out of London for the clean air,” she explains.

You can watch Susan Oudot’s 51 minute film,Through the Hole in the Wall, for free on Vimeo, see this link. 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/138173028 <p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/138173028″>Through The Hole In The Wall</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user5677390″>Dan Jobar</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>”>

Through The Hole In The Wall from Dan Jobar on Vimeo.

By the 1930s the once elegant Milner Square was a tenement – buildings with many rented rooms, no bathrooms and generally one toilet for four families. Bedbugs and rodents were rife.

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

“My paternal grandparents rented four rooms for their five kids,” explains Susan. “My aunt slept in the kitchen initially. People didn’t have bathrooms so they did their bathing in the sink, and the washing up and the clothes washing. They dried clothes in the back garden and hung up above the stove in the kitchen.”

By the time Susan was born conditions weren’t much different in Milner Square – nor were there washing machines or fridges. What tied families to the Square was the nearby factories, the ease of finding rentable rooms with controlled rents and the fact they liked living close to friends and family and the garden in the centre where the children could play.

 Susan Oudot: “Milner Square is very unusual – the architects were the same ones who built what is now the Almeida Theatre (1837), Roumieu and Gough - you either love it or hate it.”

Susan Oudot: “Milner Square is very unusual – the architects were the same ones who built what is now the Almeida Theatre (1837), Roumieu and Gough – you either love it or hate it.”

“I often wished I’d asked Mum and Dad about things, but both my parents are dead now,” says Susan. “But I still have my aunts and uncles around. Then I thought it would be nice to capture when all the family lived in Islington in Milner Square. If you say you live in Islington there’s an assumption that you’ve got new money and have bought an expensive house in a street that’s full of the likes of Tony Blair and Boris Johnson. I wanted to show what the area used to be like.”

Almedia Passage linking Almedia Street and Milner Square inspired Susan Oudot's film's title, Through the hole in the wall.

Almedia Passage linking Almedia Street and Milner Square inspired Susan Oudot’s film’s title, Through the hole in the wall. It’s still known as the hole in the wall.

Susan, who is part of ITV’s Coronation Street writing team and bestselling author of Real Women and All That I Am, decided to make a home movie to share with her family, but the project soon grew. “I thought it would be a shame not to show to others who remembered Milner Square. So I applied for Heritage Lottery Funding together with support from Islington Local Heritage Centre and Islington Age UK, who were interested in showing a film about Islington’s old days to use in oral history workshops.”

The 51-minute film takes us inside some of the Milner Square houses – which have high ceilings, but according to Susan are divided into much smaller rooms than when her family lived at number 41, and extended family at 9, 33, 35 and 49.

The film is like a catalyst for generating oral histories,” says Susan. “That’s why we showed a tin bath, medals and a Ration Book. People see Through the hole in the wall and then say ‘We want to make a film’ and it really helps in reminiscence therapy. It’s also being used to train people to run workshops so they can collect oral histories.”

Milner Square in 1956.

Milner Square in 1956 – back then residents didn’t have cars.

Milner Square timeline

  • 1837 – Islington Literary & Scientific Institute designed by architects Gough & Roumieu (now known as Almedia Theatre)
  • 1841-43 – Milner Square designed by Gough and Roumieu
  • 1897-1957 – British Syphon Company operating in Milner Square, see more here. The company then moved to Eastbourne, Sussex.
  • 1960 – whole square (46 houses) bought by a property developer for £77,000.
  • 1966 – Next door at Gibson Square controlled rents under threat and houses  go on the market for £8,000.
  • 1972 – Council compulsory purchases Milner Square and slowly moves families out.
Susan Oudot: “When I lived in Milner Square rooms were very spacious but conditions were not good. Now the rooms seem tiny. Local landlords who had tenants on controlled rents would use underhand tactics to get people out using winklers.”

Susan Oudot: “When I lived in Milner Square rooms were very spacious but conditions were not good. Now the rooms seem tiny. Local landlords who had tenants on controlled rents would use underhand tactics to get people out using winklers.”

Lights, camera, action
Filming was from 29 June – 5 July (2015) in searing heat. “It was the only hot week this summer, 85 degrees,” she says laughing. “But the trouble with the project growing was that we had to do things properly – get release forms, organise to film in people’s homes, buy in archive film and music. People were so lovely – in Milner Square they were out watching, Angel Studios on the corner of Upper and Gaskin Street gave us a studio to record in, our director Chiara Messineo worked like a Trojan and people like our editor Dan Jobar worked for nothing and tackled the edits after finishing his day job.” http://www.angelstudios.co.uk/

 Susan's uncle Ron Oudot said on film XXX (c) xx

Susan’s uncle Ron Oudot is one of the stars of her film Through the hole in the wall. © Virginia Sedia

On set were Susan’s uncle Ron Oudot and her aunt Pat Cox. Susan’s  husband, sci-fi novelist David Wingrove became the chauffeur. Two of Susan’s four daughters and her sister stepped in as Production Assistants. “It was much more work than I expected – I was producer, narrator and also catering for 14 people every day. I bought a lot of M&S sandwiches!”

Susan is a serious grafter – she had her first paper round at 12, was waitressing by the time she was 14 and reckons as a youngster worked in a number of Islington’s shops including M&S, Clark’s bakery, A&A Shoes, Sybil Richards and William Hill’s. Even now she has a tight cycle of writing which includes pitching Corrie story lines, writing Corrie episodes, working on novels, film and even some writing coaching. Making this film was on the list marked “and other things” – but she had a strong desire to create it because she lived in Milner Square until her parents were offered a new flat in 1972 following Islington Council’s compulsory purchased order.

“I asked on the film what word people would use to describe their time in Milner Square, and all say it was ‘happy’. Things are different when you look back and are not feeling cold or hungry, but outweighing these things was the sense of community. You had all your family around you. No one had any money, and no one had a clue that there was anything different – as your friends lived in similar conditions,” explains Susan who still lives in Islington.

Susan Oudot met Islington Faces at Cote on Islington Green.

Susan Oudot met Islington Faces at Cote on Islington Green “It’s quiet in the morning so a good place to talk.”

Places Susan Oudot likes in Islington

  • I go to Chapel Market for my fruit and veg – I worked in three or four shops as a kid and I’ve got friends who’ve got stalls. My mum shopped at Chapel Market when it was much bigger – stretching from one end to the other, but that was before Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.
  • I love Milner Square.
  • We used to go to Highbury Fields when I was at school to do sports. Then I took my daughters there for Sunday picknicking , to play tennis or swim. I do power walking and go to the gym at Highbury Fields now.
  • 20150929_113523I love Screen On the Green and had the launch of Through the hole in the wall there in September (2015). When I was kid it was The Rex and a bit of a flea pit with flashers, so we’d go to the Carlton – that’s the one that looks like an Egyptian Palace on Essex Road. But we liked it because you could bunk in at the back.
  • I have to include the Emirates – I’ve got a season ticket. Arsenal is a big part of my family.

 

Brain Coombs, former Milner Square resident, had many stories about life Through the hole in the wall. (c) xx

Brain Coombs, former Milner Square resident, had many stories about life Through the hole in the wall. © Virginia Sedia

All change
Life for Milner Square residents changed dramatically in 1972 when Islington Council made a compulsory purchase order and gradually moved people out.

“People had lived in very poor conditions,” says Susan. “When they were offered the opportunity to move into new estates [in Islington or new towns like Milton Keynes and Stevenage], into a new, self-contained flat with a bathroom, boiler and central heating they were happy. People didn’t realise they would lose their sense of community.”

Susan’s mum and dad went to the new estate at Blundell Street opposite Pentonville prison where there was no place for kids to play. Unusually her grandparents took the flat upstairs so she still had family around. But they quickly noticed that “neighbours would come home and go into their flat, that’s when people started to miss knowing everyone and the sense of community that brings.”

Where the factories used to be on the Milner Square/Barnsbury Street end.

Where the factories used to be on the Barnsbury Street end of Milner Square.

 

N1 factories
The film also captures the years when Milner Square provided many local jobs. Susan remembers watching men working molten metal until Richford Iron Foundry closed down. In the film interviewees also talk about the British Syphon Company factory at Waterloo House, just off Barnsbury Street, and shows women on piece work folding greetings cards for the Kardonia Factory, that replaced it. Both factories have been converted to housing – as has Susan’s old school, Barnsbury School for Girls.

Money talk
“With the ridiculous amounts of money being asked for flats it’s hard to imagine who can afford to live in Islington now – how can a two bed flat in Milner Square be £800,000? We’ll be seeing more and more people who’ve got money, but can’t now afford Notting Hill or Chelsea, move here. There’s so much talk about Housing Association places having to be sold off but if we don’t get more social housing built where will people on middle and low incomes in Islington live?”

It’s a question a lot of us are asking.

Given Susan’s track record writing Corrie episodes – you may remember the one where Corrie’s best-loved couple, Ron and Hayley, have to face up to pancreatic cancer and suicide – it should be no surprise that Thorough the hole in the wall manages to simultaneously take a sympathetic look at one-time Milner Square residents; inspire oral history in the borough and take a pot shot at Islington’s over-heated housing market.

Do have a look at the film, there’s a link at the top. Or write a comment below to share with other Islington Faces readers about your memories of Islington between 1935-1975.

  • Through the hole in the wall: life in Milner Square 1935-75, produced and narrated by Susan Oudot, directed by Chiara Messineo, cinematography by Andrew Dearden and edited by Dan Jobar can be watched for free at Vimeo (see link at top).
  • Join the free screening and Q&A at Islington Town Hall on 25 November at 6pm. Call 07890 992073 for details.
  • Susan Oudot has written two bestsellers set in Islington including Real Women and All That I am (Real Women 2) which were both turned into TV dramas. See her Amazon page here.
  • @sudotcorrie

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

Garry Kennard: artist, writer and mountaineer

16 Sep

Everyone has a story. Holloway-based artist Garry Kennard – the man who mixed up art and neuroscience for anyone to enjoy at the Winchester Festivals – was born in 1948 at home in a council flat off Upper Street. He’s spent years away from Islington but now he’s back painting, writing and planning his next trip to the mountains. Interview by Nicola Baird

Garry Kennard at the summit of Moel Siabod, a mountain in Snowdonia. (c) Garry Kennard

Garry Kennard at the summit of Moel Siabod, a mountain in Snowdonia. (c) Garry Kennard

It’s possible that one of Garry Kennard’s proudest moments was when the Islington Gazette ran a story about a brave “climbing pensioner” who had scaled a mountain just a few months after having two new hips. Garry, 67, is amused by the word pensioner, and explains he wanted to make sure the Whittington Hospital got the credit for his fitness. Besides there’s a lot Garry could wave his walking sticks about triumphantly including his paintings, essays and the Art & Mind Festivals.

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

Holloway icons include neighbours as well as “the guy from the kebab shop, and a guy from the bike shop who never even saw his painting, Alex who runs the Euro Café round the corner, my doctor. They can be seen on Garry Kennard’s website and have been exhibited at Robert Devcic’s GV Art Gallery and at the Holloway Arts Exhibition run by Rowan Arts at Hornsey Street. “I tried to get autobiographies but only managed with half the people.” See the whole collection at www.garrykennard.com

Holloway Icons include neighbours as well as “the guy from the kebab shop, and a guy from the bike shop who never even saw his painting, Alex who runs the Euro Café round the corner, my doctor and Jeremy Corbyn (bottom right).” They can be seen on Garry Kennard’s website and have been exhibited at Robert Devcic’s GV Art Gallery and at the Holloway Arts Exhibition run by Rowan Arts at Hornsey Street. “I tried to get autobiographies but only managed with half the people.” See the whole collection at http://www.garrykennard.com

The Holloway Icons – 39 portraits of people who lived or worked close to Garry Kennard – are an impressive collection of shopkeepers, residents and local superstars Jeremy Corbyn, MP and Arsene Wenger.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP by Garry Kennard - part of the Holloway Icon series. (c) Garry Kennard

Jeremy Corbyn, MP by Garry Kennard – part of the Holloway Icon series. (c) Garry Kennard

With the exception of Jeremy Corbyn “who just looked too grim”, most portraits, even the children, stare unsmiling out, wreathed in gold as if they are uncomfortable deities. The icons were painted by Garry who was born into what he calls “a pretty rough working class Islington at the back of the Town Hall. Wakelin House, Sebbon Street is a ‘30s block and it’s still there. When I was born there was no hot water, we used a copper thing to heat water.”

Although home life was fun, he didn’t like the area much and admits: “I left home as soon as I could by moving to Belsize Park.”

For years Garry moved around London avoiding Islington. He then spent 10 years rebuilding two houses in the Corbieres Hills near Perpignan, France. “They were used as a gite and for exhibitions and concerts. But the area was exactly like the sort of society portrayed in the film Jean de Florette (1986), which meant when we made friends with a few people, we also made enemies with others, it wore us out.”

Zenobia* the cat stays cosily asleep throughout Islington Faces interview with artist, essayist and mountaineer Garry Kennard.

Zenobia* the cat stays cosily asleep throughout Islington Faces interview with artist, essayist and mountaineer Garry Kennard.

It was while drawing trees in France that Garry had his moment of epiphany. “I’ve always been a painter and in France I became very interested in the way works of art have their effect on the human nervous system. I looked on the web and found that really serious neuroscientists were also looking into this. So I started writing about it from an artist’s point of view. I’ve always written a lot of letters and so I wrote to Rita Carter, author of Mapping the Mind asking what the public knew about this. She said ‘not a lot’.”

The pair met, became friends and dreamed up the idea of regular festivals which combined art and science in a unique way, see more about these here. After securing £60,000 of funding Garry based himself in Winchester where he ran Art & Mind Festivals from March 2004 until October 2009. The first festivals were sell-outs and attracted luminaries from both the art and science worlds, in part because of patronage from two celebrity scientists – Richard Dawkins and world renowned neuroscientist V S Ramachandran – but also because of the mix of lectures, discussions and performances, or as Garry called it “the theatre of discourse”.

Garry might have stayed in Winchester if funding hadn’t become too difficult and that he hadn’t met his current partner, Erif, who he describes as a “city girl” who wanted to go back to London to a flat she owned in Islington. “It almost felt like a defeat,” he says with a smile, “but I got over it immediately.”

Garry Kennard in his studio, just off Holloway Road.

Garry Kennard in his studio, just off Holloway Road.

Places Garry Kennard loves in Islington

Chapel Market (c) Isabel Vandergert-Wilson.

Chapel Market (c) Isabel Vandergert-Wilson.

“My middle brother still lives in Islington off Essex Road.”

“I first remember going to Chapel Market with my mother when I was very young. She did a lot of shopping there. It’s not changed much, they’ve still got the pie shop, though they used to chop eels up outside.”

Manze’s Eel, Pie & Mash Shop, 74 Chapel Market, N1 – reviews on Yelp here http://www.yelp.com/biz/manzes-eel-pie-and-mash-shop-london

“I like to go to Cass Art off Essex Road. It’s enormous and you get good bargains.”
66-67 Colebrook Road, N1 https://www.cassart.co.uk/

“One of my favourite places is Whittington Hospital. I like to give them publicity as over the past 18 months as they’ve been marvellous – I’ve had two hip replacements, a kidney stone out, a perforated colon and I’ve been circumcised. Within three months of my 2nd hip operation I was climbing in north Wales and then skied in France.”

Whittington Hospital is on Magdala Avenue, N19

“I went to Queen’s Head School – a terrible secondary modern. You’ll know it as Islington Green (or even COLA, City of London Academy). But I met an art teacher there who saved my life!”

 

Moel Siabod 1

Climbing in Snowdonia. (c) Garry Kennard

Garry’s tenaciousness is most obvious when it comes to his passion for mountains. With Islington’s highest hill at 129ft (443m)*. It’s no surprise that it was elsewhere – on a trip to Switzerland with his second wife to see the Eiger – that he first wondered what it would be like to climb a mountain. It wasn’t long before the mountain bug was so strong that Garry could describe himself as “a mountaineer and occasional extreme rock climber”. He climbed in the Alps and then led expeditions in 1984 and 1989 to the Himalays. Here with Sherpa guides and his friend Mark Adams, Garry tried to try to climb the 6,620m (21,719ft) Kande Hiunchuli mountain in Nepal. Both times his team had to turn around 600m (1,968ft) from the top.

Impressive mountain library.

Impressive mountain library.

When Garry was 62 his team tried again, and were still thwarted. You can see pictures from the last expedition here.

I gave my stuff away,” he says, but it’s clear he hasn’t stopped thinking about the unclimbed Kande Hiunchuli, or properly retired. “On Google Earth I’ve seen a new flatter route which no one knew about,” he says. Any new expedition may be stymied by a lack of the £6,000 it would cost to make the attempt, but in case this problem can be solved some fitness training has already begun – within three months of Garry’s most recent hip replacement he was climbing in north Wales, and this August (2015) he was rock climbing on Lundy Island. “I also train by getting up Highgate Hill as fast as I can. Since my first hip operation I’ve made 58 ascents.”

Inspiration for the lemon tree suite.

Inspiration for the lemon tree suite.

In quieter moments Garry is working on the growing collection of works he calls Lemon Tree Suite – watercolours and drawings done on A3 white paper linked by the little lemon tree in the corner of his studio. See some of the pictures here .

20150902_155117

In Garry Kennard’s studio.

As Garry points out “most of my new work is based in this house or sometimes the view from the garden – so it’s very local.” Even if the photographs are of huge climbing victories around the world from the Old Man of Hoy in Orkney to that unconquered peak in Nepal, it’s Garry’s own large paintings done in Islington of Islington – a triptych of trees reflecting into water or sky along the New River – that dominates his cosy sitting room and in the studio it’s the Holloway Icons.

Garry is a man who has a huge capacity to think, talk, debate and then tell the story another way using colour, while anticipating the work the viewers’ minds will have to do too.

Words*

Zenobia – a famously beautiful 3rd century warrior queen who lived in what is now Syria.

Highgate (north) hill starts in Islington and ends in Haringey. It is 129m (423ft). The tallest hill in Greater London is Westerham Heights, Bromley is 245m (804ft). The hills around Crystal Palace are 110m (361ft) and 112m (367ft)

Over to you

If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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