In preparation for the Bass Culture 70/50 event held at Goldsmiths on 29th May 2018 we wanted to try and find a way to bring together for visitors the rich history of reggae in South East London. This history circulates within the local community in ways that are often not documented or passed between local people often through street corner conversations. We decided to draw a reggae map of New Cross from this knowledge.
Returning to places in the area on foot and talking to friends and local people we have collated this history that we hope will be added to and extended. Using Google maps we assembled a rich document of words, photographs and music.
A favourite moment in drawing the map was our search to find Childers Street Youth Club which was a popular sound system venue in the 1980s. It is where Ghetto-tone sound system played Saxon regularly and it is mentioned in Lez Henry’s important history entitled What the DJ Said. It was here that that Lez was given his DJ name and dubbed Lezlee Lyrix by Loosh and Jackson. We returned one summer afternoon to try and find the site.
After both being led by our failing memories to the wrong place, a local elder helped us out. She pointed out the place where the club had been located. She said: ‘The young boys used to play music in there on a Saturday night.’ Lez replied ‘Yes, I was one of those young boys.’ We all three laughed and then she replied ‘well you are not a young boy no more’. The prefabricated building that the youth club was housed in has been knocked down and replaced with a new development but we managed to find the right place on the map for its historic location.
This fable is a reminder of how easily memory fails and how it is important to try and ensure that the details of how reggae music created and alternative public world in politically harsh and racist times is not lost. This is why we wanted to draw this map.
As part of the Bass Culture Event 70/50 held on Saturday 26th May, 2018 we also took a group of people for a reggae walk through this map. This wonderfully chaotic afternoon is captured in this film.
All this was a contribution to The Bass Culture Project led by Mykaell Riley (University of Westminster) which is a three-year AHRC-funded exploration of the impact of Jamaican and Jamaican-influenced music on British culture, covering the period from the mid-1960s to the present day. The research explores the profound ways in which the island’s music remade popular music in Britain – and was fundamental in the emergence of multi-culture in the British city and redefinition of the post-colonial nation.
Les Back is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre of Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Dr William ‘Lez’ Henry is Associate Professor in Law and Criminology at University of West London.
Photograph by Jonny Brogdale