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Resident & Promoter of Portobello Live
I’ve a very colourful history on Portobello Road. I grew up in Holland Park from the age of seven. I spent a lot of time in Holland Park with friends that went to school there, and when I should have been revising I spent an awful lot of time in the park. We used to come every weekend to the market to buy second-hand frocks, and now of course now they are “vintage” – they were much cheaper then! I started my whole teenage socialising years on Portobello Road. I guess in those days, we partied more in people’s houses more than people do now. We used to have friends up and down these roads who would just hang out every and all weekend. We go home on Friday. Friday nights, supper with family. Saturday we come to Portobello Road and we get home just in time to scribble an essay on Sunday night. I’ve trod these pavements for 40 odd years and when my son was at our local primary school I worked as a therapist at Parkside clinic, which is an NHS mental health clinic serving the Portobello community. More recently I’ve worked on several pop up art exhibitions around the area.
I’ve seen it change a lot. Some areas like All Saints Road, where you didn’t want to go on your own, have completely gentrified. There were a lot of people who wanted to invigorate the area but keep the spirit of it. Like when 192 was opened. The architect of 192 lived on Powis Square, next to David Hockney actually. There were establishment figures creating really nice venues in the area but retaining what was cool about it. When 192 closed back in the 80’s, it was kind of an end of era for a lot of us. When Vince Power lost the KPH license at the beginning of April this year the area lost another piece of its heart and soul, as a pub with over 100 year of local history gets turned into another estate agent. What’s happening now in Portobello Road is you see landlords have got insanely greedy and all the individual designers and shops that made the area so desirable can’t sustain their rents. So you’re getting Oxford Street dross and people are going to come here and buy the same lousy t-shirt that they can buy in Oxford Street. Now the 20th Century Theatre has just been sold, that’s a huge piece of history that’s going to be knocked down and turned into flats. It happens little by little and places that you love, just getting replaced by places that you’re indifferent to. Every time I leave my house, I’m scared that when I go back there’s going to be a Tesco’s! Venues have changed also. The Electric Cinema was under threat and what Soho House did was great. They put money into it and preserved it. Had they not done that, it would have probably collapsed but mostly the people who go there are people who come to the area. They’re not living here actually, not from the area, but they think it’s cool to have a club on Portobello Road. It’s an odd metaphor for the area… that they want to come here because it’s cool, but then push out the whole element that makes it cool.
You’re never alone. If I walk down Portobello Road, from one end to the other, it takes me hours because I always stop and meet friends and chat. You’ll never be lonely if you live in this area. There’s always people to talk to. Everybody’s always telling you, “Did you know about this event? Did you know about that development meeting?” and really share the community spirit in a way of a true market street. That’s still there, but it’s just the conversation is a bit more grim. There’s less optimism. There’s less hope. There’s a lot of concern for people’s welfare in the future. Just the market holders don’t have their stalls anymore. All those back street garages have been turned over and turned into expensive flats. I’m only one person and I don’t have any political clout but I do have passion for this area. It has been very good to me, gave me fantastic friends, brought up my kid. One of the ways that I can put something back and show my gratitude is to work with local events like Portobello Film Festival and Portobello Live Music Festival; to align people that this is an area with the huge amount of great creativity and talent and to remind people to come here, that it’s worth coming to. And there are new galleries coming back to the area to check out, like Serena Morton Gallery and Westbank, who support both the local and international arts community.
It was started last year by a local promoter Micky P who’s been promoting music and cabaret and spoken word in this area and London all his professional career. He realised that there were various levels of talent working in this area and still living in this area, from the totally unknown guys sitting alone in their living rooms strumming and writing right through the Clash, Sex Pistols and people who started at the Acklam Hall (now called Mode) back in the 70s, when punk rock first reared its head. He realized that all the venues in this area are competing with each other to put on the best local music and get the best acts. So instead of competing, why don’t they all become part of one big umbrella where they would all be putting on acts curated by different musicians who know those venues and the types of artists who performed there all for one small fixed price, like a festival… except you go home at night and sleep and come back the next day refreshed, eat delicious street food at Acklam Village and around the area and have a really lovely time! We’ve got wonderful support from our local brewers The Portobello Brewing Company too. It kicks off the spring on the first May Bank Holiday on May 1st and 2nd. It’s a celebration of what we loved about the area in the first place.
Portobello Live, 1-2 May 2016, www.portobellolive.com www.portobellofilmfestival.com Photography courtesy of Oliver at Lumiere Digital (www.lumieredigital.com)