King’s Cross (Remix)
Swansea vs Kings Cross – Patrick Driscall
Years ago, I lived and breathed in that onion skin, inner city area called King’s Cross. This is the slice of London just on the edge of the city’s main centre. The place is named after a station called King’s Cross. My favourite haunt was an alternative LGBT pub called The Bell. To members of a marginalised community, it was a lifeline, an inspiration, and to some extent provided a family. In this article, I plan to relate a little of the energy and inspiration of that place, and King’s Cross as a whole, to Swansea.
The world is just like a great big onion.”
So sang Marvin Gaye in “The Onion Song”.
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell were the most successful duo by the late 60’s with such hits as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Your Precious Love,” and “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You.” However by 1969, Tammi Terrell was too ill from her brain tumor and she could no longer perform and record.
The Onion Song – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. Written by: Nicholas Ashford & Valerie Simpson. Produced by: Nicholas Ashford & Valerie Simpson. Arranged by: Paul Riser. “The Onion Song” by Marvin Gaye (Google Play • iTunes)
The first fundamental of successful city life: People must take a modicum of responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other. This is a lesson no one learns by being told. It is learned from the experience of having other people without ties or kinship or close friendship or formal responsibility to you, take a modicum of responsibility for you.” – Jane Jacobs
There will be more on onions later! Bear with me … Get a coffee maybe or some Joe’s Ice Cream?
It was whilst I was on Facebook that I first heard about the one-man show King’s Cross (Remix), by Tom Marshman, a show that uncovers the hidden histories of LBGTQ communities in London during the 1980s. Having lived, loved and breathed King’s Cross back in those days I was keen to see King’s Cross (Remix) in the hope it might recapture the full heat of the flames that were lit by this place in my youth. Sadly, work commitments would not allow it. It was with delight then, that I persuaded a friend, Rob Pateman, to write a review of King’s Cross (Remix) so that I, and hopefully readers of this website, might learn more about it.
Having read Rob’s review, I thought about how the show resonates with what is happening in Swansea right now, a rapidly changing city that is growing in confidence. Walking through High Street, with its new businesses, cafes, and regular cultural events, reminds me very much of the positive energy that was King’s Cross back then.
King’s Cross was known to many in the 80’s as a deprived largely forgotten inner city space, dissected by the three great arteries of Gray’s Inn Road, Euston Road, and Pentonville Road. It became a place of immense inspiration, a marvelous melting pot of people, full of energy and different influences. The diverse people I met there in my early 20s were astounding. Their vitality and identities, their politics and the music we all shared, are unforgettable. Connections made, if we look for them, lead to new and often progressive ideas. Inspiring conversations were had at the Bell and new and unusual alliances began to form. From design and musical partnerships to new activist groups, the results of these alliances were to include Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Their members often drank at The Bell and punters contributed their spare cash to this cause and others besides from the Liverpool Dockers to Anti-Apartheid.
Various Lesbian & Gay Marches London 1984-1989 © Lee Harrison single prints available: email@example.com Song: M People: Landscape of Love
Various Lesbian & Gay Marches London 1984-1989 © Lee Harrison
single prints available: firstname.lastname@example.org
Song: M People: Landscape of Love
Thinking it through, I thought this might also provide a chance to demonstrate some of that individual and community energy and how it’s influence reached out in so many directions; even as far as Swansea. I wanted Rob’s article and my words to reflect on these marginalized spaces often called deprived areas or the inner city. These areas are also get called “vibrant” as they gradually change and become gentrified. Rob’s review provides an overarching and highly relevant backdrop to my present hometown of Swansea, how it has struggled and flexed in changing times and particularly now to the many positive things going on in this beloved city of ours. Rob’s review is below, I hope you see it in context and most of all enjoy it.
Also available at https://vimeo.com/22972867 “The South Wales miners’ strike of 1984-1985 saw the formation of a curious alliance between a plucky group of young homosexuals from London and miners in Dulais Valley. In Dancing in Dulais, an initial wariness on the part of the young gays, the miners, and the miners’ families gives way, through sometimes delicate interactions, to a loving and purposeful solidarity.
All Out! Dancing in Dulais.
“The South Wales miners’ strike of 1984-1985 saw the formation of a curious alliance between a plucky group of young homosexuals from London and miners in Dulais Valley. In Dancing in Dulais, an initial wariness on the part of the young gays, the miners, and the miners’ families gives way, through sometimes delicate interactions, to a loving and purposeful solidarity. The unembellished videography captures well this fascinating-to-witness union of two disparate yet ultimately kindred groups. The “Pits and Perverts” benefit concert features the Bronski Beat.” PopcornQ Movies at PlanetOut.com
While you are looking, you might as well listen, linger and think about what you see.” – Jane Jacobs (journalist, author and activist).
Visitors to the High Street in Swansea should most definitely look upwards as they walk along. Have a good look around you and take a long languorous look upwards at the buildings lining the street. You cannot fail to notice the curious range of architecture present which ranges across centuries of history right up to the here and now.
Cities depend on so many factors for their successful growth and sustainability. The factors for growth range from money to transport to location, industry, and business. Yet, in judging the appearance of cities we so often forget it is primarily the people that make for a thriving city. People are the essential factor in their success and when things go down their regeneration. People and communities living in cities make it breathe and develop.
We expect too much of buildings and too little of ourselves.” Jane Jacobs ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ (Originally published 1961) Random House Inc; 50th edition (13 Sept. 2011) ISBN-10: 0679644334 ISBN-13: 978-0679644330
Pre-war, the centre of Swansea town was along an axis around High Street and Wind Street. The German bombing raids during the so-called Three Nights’ Blitz; three nights of particularly devastating bombing in February 1941, flattened large areas of central Swansea and there was considerable loss of life. Whole and often elegant streets disappeared as well as many residential areas too. Great efforts were rapidly made to redevelop the city and a new building plan led to the town centre shifting almost half a mile, focussed not on High Street, but instead on Oxford Street and the grand looking Kingsway. High Street stubbornly remained though many buildings such as hotels and for example, the top floor of the old Woolworth’s building (now rebuilt with the site occupied by Argo) had gone. The High Street’s fortunes had changed overnight with shop businesses struggling, absentee landlords, and dereliction creeping in.
Connections made, if we look for them, lead to new and often progressive ideas.”
An onion’s skin is, perhaps, a good metaphor for a district on the margins of a city centre which seems to have less value, and yet breathes life into the city. I am probably over-extending the metaphor but stay with me. A piece of onion skin viewed under the microscope is made of a multitude of strong walled cells. Each cell is interdependent on the other for it’s strength. The onion skin is moist and succulent when the roots and rain (money, ideas, people, and conversation) help feed its cells benefitting ton the inner bulb or city centre with fresh energy. It becomes brittle and cracked when the withering sun (recession and crime) blisters and splits it, causing it to peel and blow away declining into dereliction and decay.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” (‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ by Oscar Wilde)
Inner cities are also places of enormous energy, flux and change. They are a zone where prosperity both rises and falls like the tides on a dock wall. People’s lives are submerged away from general view and sadly, sometimes, bright minds drown in a fog of stress, drugs, and mental illnesses. They are also often places of transit. People arrive into town at the train station or park their cars on the edge of the city. Many of these people are passing through whilst others stay around. The new arrivals come with high hopes of new jobs and often financial success. A few (often those with some sort of safety net) succeed. Others do not do so well and get caught in a spiral of poverty and decline. Despite the inner city being a place of mixed fortunes, what really sets it apart, is that it is a place for slowing down, looking around or simply stopping, before heading into the bustling city town centre. It can be a very human zone where marginalised individuals and communities mix and meet, People and communities meet with shared concerns and issues affecting them, sadly sometimes also in fear of others where they see one another as different. Yet the meetings go on regardless, fuelled by the naive hope of the traveller or the newcomer wanting connection or new roots.
These places and communities should not be undervalued since they represent fresh possibilities, an incredible opportunity for a meeting of minds across divides; be they differing opinions, racial differences, sexualities, status differences, creative thoughts or dogmatic opinions. The communities and spaces of King’s Cross provided just that kind of place. Rob Pateman’s review and these pictures and videos celebrate it.With the coming of the Cross Channel Tunnel link and eventually Eurostar linking London to Paris, the area underwent rapid change including the redevelopment of St Pancras Station and more recently King’s Cross station itself. Soon an overlay of trendy cafes, galleries, colleges, newspaper offices, quasi-gated communities and high-quality paving moved in. Hidden amongst these often booming businesses and spaces, there are still to be found, the places of old, hidden like strong bones buried deep in the larger body of flashy new buildings of concrete and glass.
Swansea folk are well aware of the multitude of positive changes planned for, or already happening in their city. These really will be exciting times for the city if fully funded. Thankfully, some of it has been. The range of city projects in this ‘Bay of Life’ includes the High Street Creative Cluster and Tech Hub in Swansea, a new City Waterfront including an arena and aquarium, a Digital Square and an Innovation Precinct in SA1 by the marina. An investment in the Hafod Morfa Copperworks will offer a fascinating heritage centre for visitors and there are high hopes for the landmark 1.3 Billion Tidal Lagoon too.
A conceptual fly-through video that shows how Swansea could look after its multi-million pound regeneration.
A conceptual fly-through video that shows how Swansea could look after its multi-million-pound regeneration. Published March, 2017
Swansea High Street, though much smaller, has similarities to King’s Cross in being a place of transition. Visitors will have noticed the few remaining boarded up businesses in High Street many of which have now found fresh uses. The street is also, perhaps, lucky in that large parts of the street were bought by Coastal Housing under a plan (originated by Huw Williams, commercial manager) to attract creative industries with low rents, as a way to rejuvenate the street. An innovative partnership was formed between an early adopter from the Arts world (Volcano Theatre) and Coastal Housing. Funded by the Arts Council of Wales, under the Arts Council of Wales: Ideas, Places, People Initiative the consortium is leading a thoughtful and creative approach in rejuvenating the High Street. It is providing a tap root of ideas from the ground up, new initiatives, and projects to entrench the regeneration in a positive community centred method. The specific project ‘From the Station to the Sea’‘ is about the High Street and the role it plays in the consciousness of the city and the people living and visiting. The curve of the street echoes the river below joining the railway station through the shopping district and down to the waterfront.
There is another new and exciting game player on the court in the form of a new project called Swansea Scenes. The project which is an oral history project aims to celebrate and explore the rich history of the area. It will focus on uncovering and documenting the history of the communities which have used the social space, since the 1800s, ranging from Wales’ first cinema and the country’s first gay club, to music halls and live music pubs. A particularly unusual part of the project is to create a virtual museum at various sites in the city, and a new feature-length film documentary and digital archive.
Lives change, buildings get built, knocked down, demolished or worse still bombed in wars. Swansea has known all too much of this change having been severely affected and thankfully rebuilt after the second world war Blitz. What perhaps matters most to the successful, and hopefully respectful, redevelopment, is the quality of the spaces promoting interactions and connections between both the people who live here and visitors passing through. Whatever your religion, sexuality, race, ability, neighbourhood, or nationality , as a city of diverse communities it’s inhabitants can learn lessons from not only it’s High Street history and city wide communities, but also from stories elsewhere such as those of King’s Cross. The mix up of communities in King’s Cross created a rush of creativity, partnerships, environmentalism, political activism and much more that spread far and wide contributing to the city of London’s success. Witnessing so many local positive Swansea projects, artists, poets and influencers I am buoyed up by what is happening right now in Swansea’s High Street and hopeful that at least some of the right plans for change are in process for Swansea city’s ‘Bay of Life’ future. The right remix is potentially on the decks and it needs to be people and community illcentred. It is after all not what divides us, but what connects us that is crucial in creating interactional spaces in Swansea.
Witnessing the meeting of minds that is happening so often right now in Swansea, so many positive local projects, start-up businesses, gatherings of artists, poets, influencers and techies businesses and influencers meeting in Swansea’s High Street it is becoming clear that at least some of the right plans for change are in process for Swansea city’s ‘Bay of Life’ future. The remix is potentially on the decks with the DJ about to press play. The new plans need to be about people and community and their interactions to guarantee success. It is after all not what divides us, but what connects us that is crucial in creating future spaces for a Swansea Bay of the future.
DJ? Press play….
Kings Cross (Remix) review – by Rob Pateman
Transmitting, loud and queer
‘I am a conduit,’ says Tom Marsham at the start of his one-man show, his pale arms outstretched on the dimly lit stage. And so he proves to be, connecting to the Kings Cross of the 1980s and reflecting the changes brought to bear by the pressures of gentrification.
It’s a scenario all too familiar here in Swansea, here at The Bell, Kings Cross; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9_2jeYb3Vo Swansea and every other city in the UK. Those places have their own stories and will find someone to tell them. Luckily, Kings Cross has Tom Marsham, arms stretching out like aerials into the past. His reach is impressive.
Using the verbatim words of people who lived, loved, drank and danced in the area, he brings the vanished Kings Cross back to life with a mix of lip synching, music and video, conjuring up the streets and the stories that played out there. The effect is beguiling, amusing, incredibly moving.
What makes it remarkable is that this is not subjective wallowing. Nor a nostalgia trip. Marsham himself was not part of the King’s Cross landscape back then. He says he was too young, too provincial. But he’s mature enough, artist enough, to weave seemingly unconnected stories together and vividly recreate life in urban, edgy, dodgy King’s Cross.
It was a marginal, liminal place. The sort of place most people just passed through – usually as quickly as they could. Prostitutes and addicts lingered in doorways. The smell of weed, kebabs, and urine was overwhelming, an undercurrent of menace ever present. Through all of this pervaded an atmosphere of promise, optimism, and possibility. There were places where people could meet, such as The Scala, the local bookshop, the barbers, corner cafes and pubs and clubs such as The Water Rats, The Bell , Bagleys (later) Traffic, and more. Artists, politicos, community activists, educators, free spirits, freaks, and fantasists all flocked to Kings Cross – the lesbians and gay men among them finding a place of their own, at The Bell, a Victorian pub on Pentonville Road.
The Bell was a confederacy of many LGBT+ tribes. Rockabillies, punks, skinheads, Goths – anyone who didn’t fit into the mainstream lesbian and gay scene and didn’t really want to – all of them looking to dance, drink, laugh and love in the belief they could change the world as they were doing it. And they did.
Money collected by Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners in buckets outside The Bell was a lifeline for the mining communities in Dulais near Swansea. Many other groups and causes – straight, gay UK and international – benefited too.
The Bell crowd was young, just starting out in life, many of them on benefits. Money was tight – but so too was the community. And it needed to be to combat the impact of a hostile Tory government, a hate mongering press and the fear, confusion, and heartbreak of the AIDS crisis. These tribes, these voices, their hopes, fears, grief, and anger are picked up loud and clear by Marsham’s radar and retold in a pitch perfect performance.
There’s the woman who throws sponge bricks at the television every time Margaret Thatcher appears on it. “Televisions were more robust then,” she says. And there’s Mrs. Bridges, a former bar man at The Bell, recounting a death bed reconciliation with his former employer.
There’s also the Genetic Freak, beating the odds and AIDS, and the Middle-Class Public Schoolboy having his eyes and flies opened. And a Volunteer at Gay Switchboard fielding silent calls from someone struck dumb by fear of their sexuality. And there’s Suey Sue, taking on the developers and fighting to preserve something of the Kings Cross she knew.
The show has no plot in the traditional sense and the narrators’ stories aren’t told sequentially; they collide with each other, but in a way that’s seamless and coherent, each voice distinct, the cumulative effect evocative, visceral, fun.
It ends as all good things should – with an invitation to dance, on stage, against a backdrop of video footage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9_2jeYb3Vo of people on The Bell’s dancefloor in the 1980s. And the audience, many of us former Bell punters, got up to do our dance, our waists perhaps a little thicker than they once were, our hair considerably thinner and greyer, but our hearts and spirit as strong as ever.
But the King’s Cross (Remix), show shouldn’t be dismissed as a walk down memory lane for lesbians and gay men in their 50s who once hung around King’s Cross. There’s so much more to it than that. It’s stories resonate no matter how old you are, where you live or who you sleep with.
Derek Jarman’s video used as a backdrop for Pet Shop Boys’ MCMLXXXIX tour, subsequently released on a VHS tape Projections.
Derek Jarman’s video used as a backdrop for Pet Shop Boys’ MCMLXXXIX tour, subsequently released on a VHS tape Projections.
It’s about honouring the ghosts that infuse the places we live in today. About being aware of whose footprints we follow. About the choices and challenges, we face in making room for – and enjoying – the present and beyond. King’s Cross (Remix), is part of all our histories. Set your antennae to receive.
The show’s run at Camden People’s Theatre has now finished but new productions are being planned by around the country. Let’s hope it reaches Swansea.
When asked by Patrick Driscall if Tom Marshman might bring this performance to Swansea Tom said,
It would be a dream to take the show to Swansea and add other stories that connect up the 2 places; what was happening in Swansea and the surrounding areas, and what was happening in King’s Cross. I guess I would need more research for this to happen, but I think if there was a desire for this I would love to take up the challenge! “
In memory of Nigel Rees, native of Swansea, doyen of The Bell, life and soul of the N21 night bus.’
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And finally. For the dancers.
Here is a little taster feed of some of the music heard at The Bell for any 80s connoisseurs. The place was also often visited by many pop stars of note. I have to admit though this list really doesn’t do The Bell’s various DJs full credit. There were many more exciting, classic and often edgy tracks played back in the day that I was unable to find. It was also home to some great live music performances and will be featured in afilm Rebel Dykes. Anyhow, this an amuse bouche…
Founder – Swansea News Network: a community journalism start-up in Wales. Interested in community and with eclectic music interest.