A scrapbook of shared memories about moving to New York City. I interview some close friends to talk about their journey to the city, and discuss the people and the times we’ve experienced together…including the time we took a camper van to the Hamptons.
This award-winning episode reflects on that magical World Cup month in 2018 – and the adventures we had. From watching the early games in New York, Nashville, and Mexico, through to a snap decision to head to Russia for the Semi-Finals. Everything from dodgy visas, Russian Ultras, a Daily Mail front page, and lots of memories made. Come with us, on our optimism charged video diary of that beer-soaked summer.
This is a spin-off from the East Village Mates collection. See the original video here – vimeo.com/487001771 Twitter/Instagram: @orbiterlover
Colombia Tour, 1st – 19th November 2016: Medellin > Armenia > Salento > Cartagena > San Bernardo Islands
Starring: James Green, Will Anderson, Amelie Doyle & Rob Oliver
Drone footage by Shaun Kober
On my very first night in New York, after moving from London, I randomly stumbled in on the UG Comedy night in Lower East Side. Almost a year later, I bumped into its founder Todd Montesi. He was preparing to celebrate 9 years of the UG Comedy Club and asked me if I was interested in making a short documentary about the people involved and their dreams for the next 9 years. Here’s what we came up with.
This is the pilot for a short documentary series following the denizens of Lower East Side/East Village. More coming shortly.
Read more about the legendary UG Comedy Club here
Special thanks to Charlton Ruddock, Savvy Jaye and Nick Gentile.
After a stint away, I returned to the NW London pocket of Kingsbury (where I grew up) with fresh eyes. Look at the potential; a reservoir, eccentric cottages and castles, cheapest rentals on the Jubilee line, 15 minute tube ride to Central London and an actual genuine community that doesn’t live through local lifestyle blogs and urban farmers’ markets.
But wait, there’s more…greenery, history, celebrities and more boozers than you can shake a half bottle of Stella at.
INTRODUCTION: The brilliant basics
Sitting 8.2miles from Charing Cross (the centre of London according to black cab drivers), Kingsbury is one of London’s middlebrow areas. Not the roughest place to live, nor the poshest. The next Prime Minister won’t have attended its schools, nor will the next Ken Loach film be set on its streets.
Despite puzzled looks from those who boast of nosebleeds when venturing out of Zone 2, the type of people who move to Balham and define their “Londoner” status through Buzzfeed criteria, Kingsbury’s only a short ride from Central London. You’re not going to have a nosebleed, a stroke nor be confined to wheelchair for the rest of your life by jumping on the Jubilee line here.
Despite having a population of just 52,000, Kingsbury has changed the world more than most Eurovision-winning nations and has greater potential than wherever Time Out is calling out the ‘next Dalston’. It’s given us an England cricket and football captain, a Rolling Stone, a BRIT-award winning girl band and so much more.
It’s London, just condensed.
HISTORY: Born out of Ancient land disputes
Founded in 10AD, it was named “The Kings’ Stronghold” by Anglo-Saxon settlers. Meanwhile, Queensbury (next stop on the Jubilee line) got its name from a local newspaper contest in the 1930s. Just saying.
An important trading route, the area fell into the hands of the Knights Hospitaller. Being a Roman Catholic military order, it was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1540 with the land assigned to the dean and chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1544.
Many claimed the territory to be an independent state, free of royal intervention, and as a result the Kingsbury Liberation Front was formed. Forced to conduct their activities underground, they led several campaigns against successive kings and governments to win back sovereignty. However, their activity is thought to have ceased sometime around the mid-20th Century.
In my mind, it would be ideal if Kingsbury had assembled a standing army and fought for nationhood.
GREENERY: A suburban oasis
Despite perpetual development, Kingsbury boasts one of the highest ratios of green land. Fryent Way Country Park, a retreat from the surrounding London sprawl, was apparently where Charlie Watts would assemble his drum kit for a practice pre-Rolling Stones.
The Welsh Harp Reservoir, a popular rural retreat for the Victorians, is one of few SSSI within Greater London. Along with supplying the River Brent, it also contains several sailing clubs. Such is their obscurity, many lifelong residents don’t even know they exist.
But that’s what makes Kingsbury so enigmatic. You could live here for 10 years and never fully uncover the seemingly endless alleyways and overgrown public footpaths that spring surprises. Be it a lost underground river, a shooting range or a WW2 air raid shelter, the depth of Kingsbury’s character will amaze you.
PUBS: They really matter
It’s well represented on the pub front with a total of 11. None of which serve food on breadboards or disingenuously encourage patrons to engage through games of Guess Who?
While they all have their unique offerings, here are ‘The Big 5’;
- The George: Was the place to watch England games from 1998-2006. Full-English fry-ups with pints of Stella before catching the bus into school during Japan/Korea 2002, a personal highlight. Nowadays, karaoke nights include heartfelt renditions of Fields of Athenry and Kingston Town, a subtle nod to the pubs glory days.
- The Wishing Well: Amongst perfectly poured Guinness, RTÉ’s Gaelic football coverage and Sunday night sing-alongs it’s done well to carve out an HQ for Kingsbury’s large Irish community. Formerly the site of a video rental shop, it’s still far more authentic than the visions of any O’Neill’s pub. Post-Christmas Day mass drinks before family dinner, an annual tradition.
- J.J Moons (Wetherspoons): Recently expanded from one shop unit to two, it’s Kingsbury’s busiest weekend pub. Its proximity to Kingsbury tube station makes it popular amongst younger drinkers. An interesting bookshelf serves the late morning/early afternoon crowd.
- The Green Man: While the paintings of seafarers on rough seas might need some explaining, its mounted agricultural hand tools hark back to Kingsbury’s farming heritage. Once famous for its beer garden, demolished for flats some years ago, its historic charm lives on through the wooden interior and snug area. A dated jukebox, Shakespeare’s Sister to Blur, ensures you never leave the pub’s mid-1990’s heyday.
- Jono’s: Formerly The Kingsbury Tavern, it’s only just reopened after serving as an illegal cannabis farm for the past decade. Recent launch was very successful, providing a much-needed boost to the Church Lane area. Certainly one to watch.
ARCHITECTURE: “When were they built, Sir?”
Kingsbury has some of London’s most eccentric architecture; 1920s semis, a POW-built village, post-blitz council blocks and Help-to-Buy new builds.
But it’s the designs of Belfast-born architect Ernest Trobridge that really impress. Ramblers from preservation societies come to squint at his renaissance cottages and castles built in the 1930s. One of his most famous designs on Wakeman’s Hill featured in the music video for Madness’ 1982 hit Our House.
This heritage can only be explored on foot, and so mainly enjoyed by local schools that can’t afford transport to more faraway fieldtrips. This architecture deserves more visitors than hoards of bored school children.
FAMOUS RESIDENTS: Where stars are born. Or at least go to school
Advertising legend Sir John Hegarty said, “Simply sitting on a bean bag doesn’t automatically make you creative”. Essentially, you don’t need to live in an area daubed in commissioned graffiti to be relevant.
Kingsbury has proven this. From sport to music, terrorism to technology, Kingsbury has already touched you in so many ways:
- Pre-Italia ’90, Stuart Pearce played for local pub side Dynamo Kingsbury Kiev, avoiding detection using the name Yak Jensen
- England cricket captain Mike Gatting was born here and went to the same primary school as Pearce
- Olympic boxing champion Audley Harrison lived next door to my mate, despite being introduced to the ring as coming from rough-as-fuck Harlesden
- Derrick Evans lived here too, both pre and post Mr. Motivator fame, and helped keep the local mums in shape with his evening workout classes
- Arsenal legend Paul Merson apparently used to stick his nuts in the pockets of the pool table at Kingsbury Town FC, challenging uncoordinated punters to have a free shot
Kingsbury High School does the music, producing:
- The original Sugarbabes line-up started here before being infiltrated and taken over
- No Doubt’s Tony Kanal (yes, No Doubt was a band and not the stage name of Gwen Steffani)
- George Michael, who included shots of Kingsbury in the music video for his single Round Here
- Charlie Watts, though mistakenly introduced on stage as The Wembley Whammer by Mick Jagger (Watts actually attended Tyler’s Croft school, which merged with KHS in later years)
- Chris Squire from Yes and Jet Harris from The Shadows knocked about around here too
- Jazz Warrior Courtney Pine
Actors. Terrorists. Murderers.
- The first two series of Grange Hill were filmed here (don’t even get me started on the rumours about why production stopped)
- Alice Branning in Eastenders
- Dhiren Barot studied here before he was arrested (whilst getting his haircut in Luton) for heading up Al-Qaeda’s 2004 financial services plot
- Convicted murderer James Hanratty studied here before being the last person to be hanged in Britain
It’s no coincidence that one pocket of London has produced this many artists, thinkers and musicians. There’s something about the area that stimulates a logical yet disruptive outlook on life. Or something like that.
You too could make your name here. Just like Oliver Goldsmith, who wrote She Stoops to Conquer at local Hyde Farm, and TV Pioneer John Logie Baird, who received the first continental television pictures at Kingsbury Manor. Aviation pioneer Amy Johnson, who learnt to fly at Kingsbury’s aerodrome, even has a block of flats named after her. Accomplishment is recognized and rewarded here in Kingsbury.
DEMOGRAPHICS: Everyone is, or was, related to former local boy Paul Merson
Okay, an incestuous bloodline of that degree may be somewhat exaggerated. Despite a close community that trades on mates-rates and lifts to school, Kingsbury is one of the truly diverse parts of London.
Aspirational Irish immigrants of the 1950s moved here from the same inner city Victorian terraces their Grandchildren can no longer afford to buy. They built our roads and repaired our post-war cities, but now live here with their valuable labour supply companies and plant hire contracts.
The 1970/80s saw Indian communities arrive that were determined to supply the country with the smartest minds and savviest businesses. They’ve left a legacy that extends far beyond the curry houses, resplendent saree shops and phone dealers that can also cut your keys and resole your shoes. This summer the local community raised £20m to build the world’s first ‘Eco-Hindu Temple’ right here in Kingsbury.
More recently Kingsbury’s been a big beneficiary of the expansion of the EU, with fresh waves of Eastern European manual workers, cheap loft extensions and Tyskie stocked off-licences.
TODAY: Former landmark elevated to convenience store
The Prince of Wales’ Bandwagon Soundhouse was one of the earliest heavy metal clubnights in London. An unknown Iron Maiden played there in 1979 and called their EP The Soundhouse Tapes after it. The site is now a block of flats with a Tesco Metro beneath.
Kingsbury is not exempt from globalization, having seen its character succumb to glass developments and generic chain stores. Increasingly becoming more bland and indistinct as time goes by.
The former jewel in its crown, Kingsbury Lido, was closed in 1988. Finally demolished in 1994, an overgrown cordoned off pile of rubble lies there today. While commonly accepted that the death of a child was the final nail in its coffin, its closure still fuelled further speculation;
- George Michael was found ‘cottaging’ in the changing rooms
- To make way for a theme park to rival Disneyland Paris (which opened in 1992)
- It’d become a prime target by the IRA (God knows why)
A minor victory over Globalisation
Whenever a McDonald’s closes, skeptical schoolchildren instantly ask themselves why; a local outbreak of herpes and the milkshake machine often being linked. Reasons behind the closure of Kingsbury McDonald’s include:
- George Michael was found ‘cottaging’ in the toilets
- It was haunted (why that would’ve closed it down, I don’t know)
- A Paedophile was found asleep in the children’s play area
Regarding Pizza Hut, “the first UK delivery unit opened in Kingsbury, London in 1988” according to FranchiseSales.com. For some parts of the UK, this would be a genuine achievement and be taught in schools through song and interpretive dance. Not here. No need. This town gave the world a Rolling Stones for God sakes.
FINAL WORDS: A Kingsburian’s summation
Ex-Sugarbabe Mutya Buena drinks in the local Wetherspoon’s. Paul Merson’s cousin works in a local hairdresser. Charlie Watts’ auntie lives in the flat below my gran’s. Some lad from school even featured in the Tulisa sex video.
But the vast bulk of Kingsbury’s success stories have rolled on (1990’s dance group Baby D being the last known celebrities still living locally). Evidently so when I failed to recruit any of them for the 2012 Olympic torch relay when it came through Kingsbury.
What’s more, lifelong Kingsburians now look to Bushey and Stanmore for the suburban dream in John Betjeman’s Metro-Land.
But the affordable rents, proximity to town and the tranquility of its parklands make for ideal living. Maybe even a place to invigorate the aspirations of London’s creative young and poor? Maybe a place to raise a family? Maybe even a place to visit to remind yourself of the importance of London’s suburbs. The potential is huge for those willing to make the trip.
Follow Rob @Orbiterlover on Twitter
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**Big thanks to Simon Phillips for all his help crafting this article**
My hometown of Kingsbury, North-West London, has given a lot to the world; an England football captain and caretaker manager (Stuart Pearce on both fronts, once played for Dynamo Kingsbury Kiev), an England cricket captain (Mike Gatting) and The Sugababes. Though sadly, it now only makes the news when one of its residents gets stabbed for his copy of Grand Theft Auto V.
But now the London suburb has a new set of heroes: the fruit and veg traders of its High Street, who bravely took down an armed robber this week. At 2pm on Monday 7th September, four men on mopeds ram-raided an Indian jewelers on Kingsbury Road. Managing to fill a laundry bag with gold and diamonds.
After an initial stand-off between locals and the gang, involving a meat cleaver being indiscriminately launched at the bikers, the shopkeepers believed to be from the Iraqi community gave chase. Using food crates and a shopping trolley, they managed to floor one of the culprits as he rode through the crowd. The police arrived moments later and arrested the suspect.
It was caught on camera and uploaded to Youtube shortly after. These guys don’t fuck about when people come to their ends to take liberties.
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Placing emphasis on celebrities having a good visual presence on Wikipedia may seem a little trivial. But Wikipedia is now the most common database for celebrities, so their images should reflect their legacies. But with Wiki’s copyright restrictions, actors normally default to amateur shots from the red carpet. Footballers favour fan’s photos from pre-season friendlies.
MPs regularly hire interns to manage their Wiki pages – so why do the below icons have such poor visual representation? Who’s managing theirs? Let’s sort it out.
Being both a national hero and the spearhead of English footballs transformation from the soggy 80s to sunny afternoons of Euro ’96, epic shots of Gazza are in no short supply; tears at Italia ’90, the dentist chair, the death-threat-warranting sectarian flute miming. Strange then, that the profile picture accompanying his Wiki entry is one from a webcam of him in a second rate hotel room, no doubt skyping Raoul Moat in prison, naked from the waist down.
It’s not impossible that Jimmy Five Bellies now serves as his social media manager, but given his recent leap onto Twitter, you’d think his team would have all bases covered.
Let’s sort it out.
But in a career spanning several Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup titles you’d think there’d be a better one then by the bins at Utd’s old training ground.
Let’s sort it out.
Bob Stanley (keyboardist in St. Etienne)
Okay, the fact I included his occupation in brackets perhaps suggests I’m pushing it with iconic status. But he was part of a Mercury prize winning band, that are actually pretty decent beyond their Neil Young cover.
So arguably deserves a better photo than one of him in his parent’s bedroom. It’s a photo you’d find between the pages of a second hand book; a photo that people say tells a thousands stories but sadly on its own merit actually does anything but.
Let’s sort it out.
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Ten years ago, student union DJs were pretty limited in their ability to cater for the masses. One option was to drop 500 Miles by The Proclaimers, and trust every group had at least one Scottish mate to jump around with. Thankfully Arctic Monkeys weren’t far behind with I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, a sort of Jumpin’ Jack Flash for Millennials.
Then came the fastest selling debut album and a demand for UK shows so great, friends of mine had to travel to Paris for any chance of seeing them live. Andy Nicholson was on bass but, in early 2006, left the band.
In the present, he’s making me a cup of Yorkshire Tea and giving a tour of his studio in Sheffield city centre; a kitchen, two recording rooms and his managers office. I was expecting (and hoping) to meet a kind of Hugh Grant character from About a Boy. Living off yesterday’s fame and fortune with nothing more than spare time to show for it.
However, this isn’t the case. He’s a renowned producer (with both Sticky Blood and hip hop outfit, Clubs & Spades), runs his own studio and has ran The Bowery, a New York-subway themed pub, for the last 6 years. He’s also bang into photography.
Tour of the office
Andy’s recently back from recording around the country, which explains the luggage lying around. His yellow bass guitar, that he used on the early Arctic Monkeys records, lies in an open case. It’s instantly recognizable from the music videos, though with the addition of “Andy” etched into its body.
“My favourite bassist, Paul Simonon of the The Clash, did the same with his. So one day I ended up doing the same with mine” he says, referencing the markings similar to those under the boots of Buzz Lightyear and Woody.
“I keep telling my wife to get that as a tattoo, on the foot. But she’s not up for that”
Like his old school mates, who now live in LA, his appearance has changed somewhat from the days of Lyle & Scott polo shirts. It’s more tattoos and bandanas.
“It’s growing up, I think. Growing comfortable in your own skin and feeling comfortable in what you’re doing. Regarding anything; photos, music, tattoos. You’re always pushing your boundaries.”
“I never intended to be covered in tattoos, but they all just spilled over. There’s no real psychology to it all, though you could have a field day trying to figure them out”.
Birds, nautical equipment and the words ‘Steel City’ to name just a few.
In the smaller studio, hanging on the wall, is a triple platinum vinyl record for Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.
I recall the time they cleaned up at the 2006 NME awards, when the Sugarbabes did a cover of I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor. Alex Turner thanked them on stage, before Andy joked “wrong key though”.
“What a dickhead thing to say” He laughs, shaking his head “what an unreasonable thing to say”.
I’ve only been here 10 minutes and it’s already clear to see the ‘band wit, reliably swift with a self-deprecating quip’ called out by Blender magazine all those years ago.
Despite confessing to knowing “little about technology” the main studio is pretty well kitted out with all the latest gear; drum machines, MacBooks, synthesizers. In the one corner sits the TV and Playstation where regularly Pro Evo tournaments take place.
“People say they like FIFA because of the names, badges and kits. Well why don’t they just go and watch Sky Sports, then?”
As one half of Sticky Blood with Jamie Shield, Andy collaborates with various artists including Tom Prior, Terri Walker, Jenna G, George the Poet and Mic Righteous.
“Through Sticky Blood we’re always working with local artists here in the studio who end up collaborating with Clubs & Spades stuff. We had a big collaborative push 10 years ago; it’ll probably come back around. There are loads of people doing loads of different stuff in this city.”
Clubs & Spades also provides him the excuse to get the bass out for live shows, a welcome return from the world of the laptops.
“I’d been in bands before. So me and Jamie moved on to experimenting with just laptops, syncing stuff and triggering things [for Clubs & Spades]. We did one show like that, and were like this is just…shit. It sounded good, but when you see two rappers on stage standing in front of two blokes on laptops, who look like they’re talking to each other on emails, it’s just not right. So we sold all that gear, and concentrated on adding a band feel to Clubs & Spades.”
Though it was never that big a jump from the indie album of his generation to hip hop.
“I’ve always listened to hip hop. Al’ will tell you, we used to listen Outkast, Dre, Ludacris before we could play instruments. Me and Helders used to go to Al’s house on a Saturday, to mess around making crap hip hop.”
He also recalls seeing The Strokes at Alexandra Palace, with Alex Turner & Matt Helders, and spotting Carl and Pete from The Libertines in the crowd – “somewhere there’s a photo of them two, with the three most excited kids ever”.
Andy carries his Fuji x100s everywhere. I flick through some of his most recent shots. The Lake District and his dog, Dolly. Then there’s one of him and Turner grinning next to a snowman.
“I went up to Al’s house a couple of days ago [who was back from LA for Xmas]. We built a snowman and his Dad took a photo. It’s always good to see him. He’s not Alex Turner to me, he’s just Al’. My mate I went to school with.”
Sitting on a Chesterfield, he takes me through photos I’ve curated from his site TwoGoldTeeth.
“I approach photos as I do music. Most things are computer generated these days to get perfection. The perfections are in the imperfections. I think that’s why people fall in love with demos. I’m all about it feeling right, not looking right”
There’s certainly some reoccurring themes: Sheffield, his studio, train stations, countryside. Like Britpop, he’s successful in making everyday facets of British life look remotely interesting.
“There are two sides. There’s the documenting side of things, like trips to Amsterdam. But then there are things I see regularly. I’m not documenting that I went to a chip shop, but it’s a regular site”.
So going through his photos…
“That was after me and my mate had just been to watch Sheffield Utd play Hull at Wembley, losing 5-3 in the semi-final of the FA Cup”
“What I like is it’s got the ‘The North’ written on the sign. At first it was about the sunset, not the sign, but if only I had taken it sooner would’ve got the full text in”
We move on. Next up is from the theme of travel.
“It’s very British. The train itself looks like it’s one of them old school carriages, where you’d sit opposite each other. But it’s not, it was a CrossCountry train to Cheltenham from Sheffield.”
“It’s about 6am, as we were just about getting off. Those houses look like red brick ex-Council houses that’ve been converted”
“It’s very Attenborough. There’s a place me and my wife like to go to, called Tamper Coffee, which is right on the corner there. This was Christmas Eve and we’d just met her parents in Tamper for some food”
Marcus (rapper from Clubs & Spades) describes how Sheffields graffiti artists from the 90’s have turned street artists. This piece is by Rocket01.
“That would’ve been a shit match, against somebody crap and the most interesting thing happening was back of his head. That’s Utd for you, football’s amazing you can’t keep your eyes off it”
“The ground is literally 5-minute walk from here. In fact I’ll take you up roof to show you”
Up on the roof
Up on the roof Andy points out Bramall Lane, where he attends most home games thanks to a friend at the ground. He talks through the skyline; an old BT building, the Grosvenor hotel (earmarked for demolition) and the surrounding valleys.
“They say Sheffield was built on seven hills”, pointing out towards the snow covered suburbs on the distant hills.
With an American Dad, he spent a couple of his early years in Santa Barbara but mainly grew up in Sheffield. First in Manor Park. Then Stocksbridge, where he met the gang. While the others lived in High Green, he moved to Hillsborough as documented in Red Lights Indicate Doors Are Secured.
As depicted in his photography, the City is changing and no more evident by the cranes and demolition going on around us. Next door they’re building a cinema/Primark complex.
“They’re always building something around here. Hopefully it’ll bring some people to this side of town. All they’d need to do is build an Apple shop and that’ll rejuvenate the whole area”. Marcus tells me they have BBQs here in the summer. The people down below on the street have no idea, “nobody around here looks up”.
The door to the roof opens, it’s Marcus’ sister who’s come to pay compliment to Andys leather jacket. After satisfactorily passing as authentic leather via the trusted smell test, Andy confesses its origins.
“I got this in Amsterdam, just in a shitty mens clothes shop” he says, scanning the street below “bit like that Blue Inc down there”.
Our conversation quickly descends into the British High St, the mysterious C&A in Amsterdam and the longevity of 90’s clothing; NaffNaff, Spliffy, The Sweater Shop. “Unless you chucked that gear out, it was never going anywhere”.
Andy’s kind enough to humor me with some stories of the old days. Like when David Bowie came backstage after they’d played the Bowery Ballroom in New York 2005, and they pretended to mistake him for the club promoter.
“We weren’t massive Bowie fans, some of the others might be now, but we just had a laugh going ‘thanks for the extra crate of Strongbow, you didn’t need to do that’”
I guess when you’re 19 years old, you say what you want. Time has moved on and nobody more than Andy. Constantly evolving as a creative conglomerate, he’s somebody who’s genuinely fulfilled in what they’re doing.
“I’m only 28. I feel like that I’ve not achieved anywhere near what I want to”.
Publishing a cookbook? Presenting a Ross Kemp-style travel documentary?
“To work with the best artists in the world, keep progressing, going to other countries to try new things, growing up, learning to play our instruments better. We’ll probably outgrow this studio soon, and look to build a bigger one”
“As we grow, we might get a few new band members, as coming from a live background I want everything to be live. Ideally with no backing track. It’s certainly getting there”
And with that we said goodbye, with him suggesting a museum and some local ale pubs to fill the void until the 16:57 back to London.