North Kensington in West London changed forever following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster of June 14th this year. Already known for its street art, the area’s walls have become a canvas for tributes to those lost in the fire, a space for free expression and to vent rage, without a media filter. A semiotics expert and local resident, Chris Arning, looked at the possible meanings and genesis of a striking example of post-Grenfell North Ken street art… What is Semiotics?
Semiotics derives from the ancient Greek word semion, meaning ‘sign’ and is a subject devoted to evidence-based analysis of signs and meaning. It is a field that encompasses culture, communication and meaning and includes logos, branding and street art.
North Kensington is replete with street art. Of course there is always a flurry of artists before carnival every year, but since Grenfell in June, a lot of other types of pieces have appeared: the modified London Underground Love sign and a great Grenfell RIP on the corner of the Acklam Road on the left as you turn off from Ladbroke Grove towards Portobello – done, I think, by Code FC. Street art is the medium and message of anonymous resistance. It is done to show that whatever the official story, the streets is watching and people know what is going on – sgraffiti means ‘scribbilings’ (from the Italian sgraffio, to scratch) something that goes back at least to ancient Rome.
On the way home a few weeks ago, I happened upon a strange sign on a wall off Powis Square. It sort of stopped me in its tracks because there was an uncanniness about it, both familiar and eerie. I’m writing a book on semiotics at the moment, as you do, and I was intrigued so thought I’d take a pic and have since pondered what it might mean. I deciphered the letters tangled up together as RBKC. This is the old logo of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. You can still see it on some of the street signs of the borough.
I have reproduced the street art above, alongside an embossed version on a local street light.
Carlos Santana, Prodigy, Grand Master Flash. Whitesnake and Jellybean Benitez. What’s the connection?
The band Babe Ruth.
♩ ‘Chico Fernandes, Sleepin’ on his gun’… ♪
I’m honoured to have been able to conduct this interview for Urban Dandy and for DJs and music lovers everywhere as it is very personal to me meeting with a group that contributed to such a joyful time in my childhood. In fact, the whole thing turned out to be more of an insightful and flowing discussion with lots of laughs and a journey down memory lane really, making sense of musical things that at the time I was too young to understand. After listening to over two hours of raw audio, time constraints forced us to edit down some of the gems we received. That, coupled with the compromised audio (my fault) made it a task to expeditiously deliver these wise and inspiring words, but luckily, in no way did this affect the essence of our interview with the legends. We hope you enjoy.
Janita Haan is the lead singer in the band. Along with David Punshon Keyboardist, the two of them make up a significant portion of Babe Ruth. Both of them co-wrote and/or performed major parts in the composition of a host of great songs they released including the classic of 1972 ‘The Mexican’. Not that it’s all about The Mexican but that song, in particular, is a very important part of the band’s identity. If you’re not familiar with the cultural reach of the genre fluid masterpiece, it’s high time you explored it further as it is a cultural study in and of itself. Me: the song pierced my soul through a window called Hip Hop, for some it may have been Rock, Latin or maybe even a house mix. Yet the unintended world B Boy anthem was recorded here on UK soil, which makes it even more fascinating and dissident in its form, much in accord with the band itself-Babe Ruth.
Janita Haan: I‘m from England but my formative years were in California.
UDL: Do you think that had a lot of influence on your music?
Janita Haan: Oh yeah. I mean for me it was. I think I’d just finished high school but I wanted to sing, really wanted to sing, and around that time I was in the Bay area around Santana, Janis Joplin, Miles Davis,Sly And The Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane. It was lovely, it was just fantastic, musically for me, you’d get the feel of Candlestick Park, I used to bunk off school and go down with a frisbee to the park.
It was a magical time, especially when I came back to England the thirdSantana album had just come out,so all I had with me when Icame back was the album to make me break my way through, (laughs)I didn’t know anybody.
So I had to start from right at the bottom to make connections, I was only 18, it was pretty scary for me.
UDL: Was there a level of Intrigue about you coming from America to England? People are normally fascinated with someone being from somewhere else. Were you the American girl?
Janita Haan: Well, I suppose with California because I was a California hippy. At that point, I was back with my English family and that freaked them out cos I was just this wild child. They kicked me out after a bit so I had to find my own way, that was a bit scary but I knew I wanted to sing. I came across some lovely people along the way. Once I came across this little studio I can’t remember where it was but they would allow me to come after sessions at night because I had to work to earn some money to pay my rent, but I hadn’t much left after that (laughs) I had about two quid to get food and everything which wasn’t much. Back in the day, the tubes were not like they are now, you could hop on and off.
So this little studio place would let me go in after hours and practice with their mics, then I got enough confidence to answer ads in the Melody Maker. It was very scary I hadn’t been in a band before then.I answered an ad for a Band called March Hare, I nearly got the gig for that. I didn’t quite get it and the next one after that was for Shack lock… Babe Ruth used to be called Shack Lock. Dave Hewitt answered the phone and said ‘What are you like’? and I said I’m 5ft and I play the congas (laughs). Cos I hitched up and down California and one time I was out there with these Hells Angels and they had me play congas. So they came to… where did you come to, Finch House was it?
Dave Punshon: I think so, we turned up and all I remember is your tea set it was like really, really Mary Poppins, all quaint China and I thought ‘Wow! That’s ornate’. Continue reading →
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This document was recently published on the Home Connections website under the Royal Borough Of Kensington section. It attempts to clarify the councils intended mode of operation regarding rehousing the victims of the Grenfell disaster.
As odd as it seems, I fail to find a lack of integrity here. However, we feel that it’s the duty of everyone under social housing, surrounding the Lancaster West Estate in the w10/w11 area and beyond, to check this document for compliance.
You can click the image above to sign the petition.
Within only a few months of the Grenfell Tower tragedy at the Lancaster West estate, two housing groups have decided to join forces. For What? You may well ask but I’m not entirely sure. Yet it is no surprise that the two major housing associations have decided to merge without the agreement of their tenants. This will surely satisfy the personal monetary aims of Notting Hill Housing Group (NHHG) and Genesis’ directors to the tune of millions, leaving basic services and the everyday needs of the residents ignored yet again. It’s as if the services aren’t appalling already with ongoing infestations, leaks, mould, antisocial behaviour and cowboy-style half-done repairs.
Kate Davies – the CEO of NHHG is at the forefront of this deal and intends for the merger to go through as quickly and quietly as possible for reasons known to her and her associates alone. NHHG representatives told residents on Tuesday that there would be no changes to secure tenancies, and that these would only be changed by law. Hmmm, I’m sure their tenants, with no effort at all, could draw up a list of promises, by NHHG, that have yet to manifest. I’m not certain that these housing groups are in tune with, or even understand, the needs of the people and have a detached sense of reality. Although it may have been an attempt to make an emotional point to change elitist attitudes towards social housing, it’s not clear what was meant by the odd and (weirdly) prophetic statement below that Kate Davies made in 2015. Me? I think you’d be safer without it.
‘Either we need an appalling fire where some beautiful young children die, or a riot. We have to get people to feel differently about housing.’
Kate Davies, CEO Notting Hill Housing Group 2015
Remember, you can click the image above to sign the petition.
Wednesday 14th June was the day Urban Dandy was going to write up last week’s historic ousting of the Conservatives from Kensington in the general election. Twenty Labour voters, some from the Grenfell Tower, had contacted us with their joyful responses. North Kensington, so victimised for so long, had something to celebrate.
But the horrific events at the Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West estate overtook us, and our beloved North Kensington.
Urban Dandy was born on Lancaster West, where the spirit of defiance among the downtrodden inspired our name.
The estate has had serious issues, most significantly a lack of investment and a very negative attitude towards residents from the council. The neglect of the estate during my years there struck me as something of a cruel game – the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association (TMO) seemed to be actively against residents. So what should have been routine phone calls to resolve minor issues got nowhere, with a suspicion of a perverse pleasure being taken by the TMO. Nobody liked the TMO, nobody rated them, and today the anger against the organisation and their local authority overlords was everywhere.
A day of helping out at the scene raised many questions: where is the council’s organised response? Where is the prime minister? How can this have happened? Nobody on the estate, and it really is nobody, doubts that the long-term neglect of their housing is behind the disaster. Neglect is a political choice.
The UK is the first world, but within the first world are pockets of the third world. In the third world people don’t buy contents insurance and councils don’t install communal fire alarms.
All the questions will be addressed in time. Some truths we already have: North Kensington is a remarkable multi-cultural success story. It is the best of British, in which everybody is welcome. Today the community was out in force, in total unity, all ethnicities and all religions.
To fully recount the experience of the day would be impossible. So many moments of spontaneous human kindness and decency passed in the blink of an eye. So many tragic scenes were glimpsed in passing. So much love was shared between people. There was no separation, no melodrama, just an outpouring of humanity, brotherly and sisterly love, love for children and love of life.
The events will stay with residents forever: children being thrown from windows, phone calls made from the tower by fathers to say goodbye to loved ones, desperate residents switching their lights on and off to get attention as the fire spread. Many local people told me about the screams they heard coming from Grenfell Tower, and their feeling of impotence at hearing their neighbours perish.
Many people died today, and so many lives have been shattered. The community has not been shattered though, and so it is fitting that the art work for the celebratory blog on the Labour victory is used here instead. Come Unity.
Donations can be made at:
Al Manaar Mosque
Westway Sports Centre
St Clement and St James
Rugby Portobello Trust
Tabernacle Christian Centre
Google or call first to see which donations should go where.
It’s theage of uncertainty, overuse of the word ‘Terrorism’ and common sense gone digital. If what the astronomers tell us is true, we’ve moved light years away from the cosmic location we were at just four years ago and you can kinda tell. Yet Mario’s key cutters, Poundland, and Tesco’s all seem to have remained in the same location as I look through the eyes of a child.
The said amount of time has passed since we shared, right here on Urban Dandy, how the natural falling of a tree on our block inspired the locals to spill out onto the streets and finally make themselves known.
I don’t know if it’s time, frustration or just karma for me, but it seems that the neighbourly thing is at an all time low. The same eleven-year-olds that used to humbly greet me on my way out the door are now fifteen and just about neighbourly enough to replace those kind words with a nod and an ice grill and if I’m really lucky it may also be the waft of urban incense of the green variety. I can’t tell you how many times my doorstep has been littered with rolling papers, Subway sandwich wrappers, rappers and pitiful young girls, a few months into puberty and possibly a couple of years from single motherhood. They would exchange a type of loud poetry of the sailor type among themselves and upon any young ears that are unfortunate enough to be near their fruitless performance.
I remember the gradual build up to this and the times when my suspicions of drug activity were vague and unsubstantiated, but I never expected to be welcomed home with an offer to buy drugs on my own doorstep.
Yep, it’s certainly a different time and place in space and you’d easily be forgiven if you don’t remember the tree that considerately descended on the very same block, even though, at the time, it was the most activity we had seen and the main focus of conversation for months. Now two years on, teams of mopeds turn the streets into Silverstone as they wheelie up the track block dropping off their illegal supplies under the diffident noses of the police, the housing association, the moon and even the mid-day sun, for that matter.Rumours spread of the neighbours’ children having knife tussles in the street and of warning shots being fired in a place that celebrities could never imagine while they strut with all their pretense, trying to ignore the echoes of their own name. It’s hard to believe that one area could support such opposing lifestyles. But Notting Hill is such a place.
The local news is sometimes national news, depending. It could be about the actress Eve strolling through her new manor, a sixteen-year-old laying in a pool of blood, Rita Ora doing a photo shoot, or a mob of eleven police restraining a wannabe thug kid. Considering the later; this not yet man will no doubt only use this encounter as a badge to show the peer group that he has achieved a Netflix version of manhood. Meanwhile, the Beckhams will do the school drop off oblivious to this. But all of this in one stretch of concrete.
These are not incidents but everyday life. It’s like a kind of trash bag made of diamonds. It’s odd knowing that Princes William and Harry went to the school up the street and just feet away from that ambitious parent attending a school viewing, hoping to give their child the same Prince Harry experience they may experience the polar opposite. It’s also a Big Issue magnet, a haven for the more ambitious of the homeless. I know this because it took me two years and some strong language to be rid of one such aggressive Big Issue seller and to have him accept that I was a regular guy. He eventually dissolved our tacit contract and moved on to more supportive folk to maintain his structure.
Home and Away
Elsewhere in the world there are at least a few miles between these classes. I find the choice to park in the centre of a spot that could hold two vehicles snooty and sub-civilised, but no less churlish than maneuvering a 60 lb leather sofa into a parking space in front of your own home, but who cares…Damn right it’s an environmental crime but not to be declared in Orwellian style with the hope of profit, but just to dispense a call for the raising of one’s personal standards, empathy and maybe a little shame. Yeah, the mice come out knowing that the neighbourhood ugly gives them hope that there will be a serving for at least four when they carelessly drop pizza and other food items on their own doorstep, but who gives a..?
The bigger picture
Truth is, beneath all of this is a fight between two demogra-folks, both too smart to actually realise they’re in a war over a silly name. I’m not sure who named Ladbroke Grove Notting Hill but the two gangs have both been co-living on the same turf for some time now. As Notting Hill gets written into the history books, Ladbroke Grove makes its own history reminding us of the area’s past like an immortal storyteller. Immortal because, much to the disappointment of some locals, it just won’t go away. This neverending story is what opened the doors to make it Notting Hill, (Ladbroke Grove or whatever you choose to call it) Marvin Gaye, The Sex Pistols, Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali, The Rolling Stones and all.
Rough Trade Records started out in Ladbroke Grove and without moving an inch has become Notting Hill’s musical pride and, somewhat organic, record shop. Yet who remembers when they sold NY W.B.L.S. radio mix-tapes and when people sprayed the bricks with Sham 69? How about, graffiti artist Futura 2000 knocking around with the Clash or Queen Latifa searching the crates for her little-known single?
Synonymously the neighbouring food equivalent would be The Grain Shop that still lives opposite Tavistock Square on Portobello Road, Notting Hill, or is it Portobello Road, Ladbroke Grove? Even regular healthy food got caught in this name politics and was changed to organic without its consent. Even though The Grain Shop still services the area for their food needs, the name of the food they offer, although it’s mostly organic, refuses to boast, because unlike most other things their attitudes have not changed. But you would have to remember Ladbroke Grove to know that. To know that the owners care more about the nutrition that they provide for their community than giving it a fancy name.
Then there’s The Tabernacle: it still sits in Powis Square but seems to be wanting to slide up the hill rather than down the grove. Thankfully it is regulated by culture. Every time a hundred pound designer Champagne creeps onto the drinks menu a Jerk Chicken wrestles it down to the ground, sometimes it’s a saltfish fritter fighting a salad or even an unexpected Chicken Saint Lucia being drowned by the soup of the day.
Yep, most of us are just casualties of a war of status and as soon as Notting Hill recognises that it’s Ladbroke Grove is the moment that Ladbroke Grove will see that it is Notting Hill. Gentrification will then become an organic process with the participation of locals. The area’s potential will then be clear and we can concentrate on bigger things like what the fuxit our exit from the EU actually means and how we need each other more than ever, NOW.
Whether it’s your micro neighbour or your macro neighbour we need constructive communication and not snobbery. Coming to accept that there is not, and has never been, a middle class may be a little hard to swallow for some but for God’s sake get over it quick because at this time if you’re not excelling to new financial altitudes whereby work is but a choice, then your choice of neighbours is not a choice at all. It’s Russian roulette, only now there are three slugs in the chamber of the proverbial gun to your head. It’s easier, far easier for somebody to complain about their co-inhabitants rather than to seek resolve with each other. Whether you dropped down from Knightsbridge with high expectations or you have never left the area and cannot quite grasp the gentrific change, it’s time to talk; otherwise, the government (or foreign corporate interests to be precise) will be only too happy to play your friendly mediator.
If you’re like me and have lived in any of the other communities that are globally accepted as parallels, you’ll know that there is not another area on earth like this one. New York, Paris, and Los Angeles all boast of multiculturalism but even as diverse as they are, the local cultures have enough distance between them to never meet. Not so with us, just look at the size of our streets, somebody sneezes, you feel it across the road. We live in a very claustrophobic space of scraping buses and folding wing mirrors but with that comes the unique advantage of having to interact and survive within each other’s world, without each other in this little village. It makes sense for us to finally define it ourselves with the help of those who bring their foreign experiences if they are only willing to introduce themselves and share rather than seize real land, by any other corporate term.
I believe that on this third rock, in this western hemisphere, in this Royal Borough, while the world divides itself in the hope of the government submitting a plan for re-uniting it we have the potential to become a beacon to the world but we have to stop the selfishness and start participating, preserving, embracing and becoming curious about our homies, and each other’s welfare not farewell.
Dedicated to: *The Krew: Shaban, Drew, Kevin Wez, Nicky and Jeff (RIP). Song: The Escapades of Futura 2000 – Futura 2000 and The Clash
As a child growing up in the Ladbroke Grove area (Notting Hill), one of my earliest memories of the music scene, besides my father’s need to glorify the bass of The Mighty Diamonds every Sunday morning, was DBC radio. Being influenced as a child by their presence on Portobello Road every Saturday morning, I had to attribute a large part of my ongoing love for music to those earlier experiences. It was only natural that Urban Dandy, an authentic voice for the Grove’s past, present and future, should eventually catch up with the man who pioneered such an influential station…
The architect of the revolutionary radio show, posse and collective: After sitting in The Tabernacle for a short while, Lepke arrived ready to lay down the station’s rich history. Unfortunately for me, time wasn’t on our side. Lepke told me he had about half an hour so, I got my Magnus Magnusson on. So, Lepke, you have 30 minutes on the story of DBC Radio starting …now.
UDL- What does DBC stand for?
Lepke- DBC stands for Dread Broadcasting Corporation. It’s a pun on the BBC. It was a friend of mine called William who came up with it but it was originally called Rebel Radio.
UDL- Okay, and when did DBC start, who’s idea was it?
Lepke- I started it on my own then my sister and a few of my close friends came on board. I was on my own for six or seven months then a friend called Douglas, aka DJ Chucky, came on for a few months, then a third DJ called Lloyd Rainford, or Doctor Watts, came in. He knew how to build amplifiers and he set up the system. Then we kept adding people and varying the music, it was reggae at the start then went to Soca and then Jazz, original music really and of course then Hip Hop and Funk. You couldn’t get that music on the radio, you might hear a bit, maybe a little on Radio One but no Soca and hardly any Jazz. Hip Hop was breaking through at the time. The first Hip Hop show was with The Rapologists: Early Daze and Flakey C, then Neneh Cherry came in.
UDL- I read online that DBC was the first black pirate radio show.
Lepke- It was the first black radio station owned by black people in Europe. As far as I know there was no other black-owned, black music radio station in Europe. There were stations playing black music but not owned by black people.
UDL- Did you guys have a presence at Carnival as well?
Lepke- Yes. I went to the first carnival as a kid. Later on, I had a spot by Ronnie Biggs (on Portobello Road) in the 70s, then later I got a spot outside Honest Johns record shop, he handed me the keys. Then we had a spot by the print shop opposite Honest Johns. As far as we know that was also the first live broadcast in the carnival. That was when Wilf Walker used to run the carnival. Any time major artists would come through like Bunny Wailer, The Mighty Diamonds, Burning Spear…he’d put us on the show so we got well promoted. The flyer would say DBC on it, through that he’d give us control of the stages.
In scrubs one time they had a super tent run by Alex Pascall, Melody Makers was there and Freddie Mcgregor and with me being me, I decided to put it on MW (medium wave), we were still on FM but I hooked it up so that the prisoners at scrubs could tune in too. They couldn’t really hear it from where they were.
I used to try to link the stages up too. There was the Meanwhile Gardens stage, the tent on the Portobello Green, The Tabernacle stage and the Super Tent at Scrubs. We were broadcasting from the Super Tent so we had links to all of the stages. I controlled it from the print shop location on Portobello Road. I’ve still got most of the tapes from 1980 to 1984, I’ve got lots of the tapes. Some have made it onto the internet too. People recorded it so it went abroad.
UDL- There is a mention of DBC on the New York Zulu Beats Show with Afrika Islam, was there a connection there?
Lepke- I wasn’t aware but the person who was responsible for that was probably Jollie Mcfee. He used to make badges for all the punk groups and he was also on Portobello Road. I used to go see him and one time I saw all these wires under his desk and asked what it was. He told me it was a transmitter but it wasn’t working. I asked him what he wanted for it. So I bought it and he gave me the contact who could fix it. He came to my yard, fixed it and showed me how to rig it up, he used to play Rocker Billy music and he later became a Dj on the show. They used to call them anoraks because they used to always wear anoraks. They would wear anoraks while messing around rigging up in the bushes. In the fields, everyone wore them to shield them from the wind and rain so I also became the first black anorak.
UDL- How long did you guys reign and when did it end?
Lepke- It ended in ’84 but people think it ended because of a raid, There was a raid but it wasn’t because of that. We joined a group called the Free The Airways Campaign. In between that we still used to play Glastonbury. We were also the first Reggae sound to play an all night Shabeen at Glastonbury and also to broadcast from Glastonbury. So the owner would give us the main stage so we were also the first to do the main stage. We played it with Aswad.
UDL- (I’ve started so I’ll finish). It seems like the area has so many firsts, there’s a strong original energy there.
Lepke- The ley lines.
UDL- Yeah I’ve heard that before.
Lepke- But the reason we stopped was the government told us if we came off the air by a certain date (they gave us a date) then we could apply for a license, most did and it was bullshit. They took my Sister on board. First, she did a guest appearance on radio 1 and then John Peel put in a word his heads to do this. It turned out I was his favourite DJ. I think it was on his 50th birthday they did this surprise for him. They put the decks up brought him in and I jumped up from behind the set and started playing some reggae roots. He was happy.
DBC came in two parts. After the station closed I started JBC. One of the last DJs I brought on, Stanley Burns, also known as The Challenger, asked me why I didn’t continue. I told him that I couldn’t do it in that same name then he told me he had premises so we hooked up and started JBC. I’ve done a lot of others too, I did Grove FM, Globe FM, it had a small transmitter but it went out local. We set up one in St.Lucia too. They named the station Enola because that’s the true name of St. Lucia, after a while, the government gave them a break and they’re still on today. It was such a good transmitter I think they’re still using the same one.
Time’s up. (Stepping out of Mastermind mode)
Well there you have it, as short as our talk was, If anyone can break down the history of DBC radio and the host of other artists that could attribute part of their success to this early music revolution, it’s Lepke. As you can now see, whether it’s ley lines or just living in the best area on the planet, the Grove is never short of firsts to note. Nowadays we have internet radio, (Portobello Radio in particular) done with an air of safety and exposure in comparison to the days that posed the possibility of the dreaded police (Babylon) raid. We’re hopeful that at some future point we will resume this history lesson with Lepke, but in the meantime you can catch the 80s vibe below.
“Литературное кафе” — блог Алексея Марковича, где автор выкладывает фото и видео со своих творческих встреч, а также спектакли, поставленные по его произведениям. MarkovichUniverse СОБАКА gmail ТОЧКА com