diamond geezer

 Saturday, October 29, 2005

What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day?
(Saint Etienne at the Barbican)

Back in July while I was wandering the lower Lea Valley taking pre-Olympic photographs, it seems I wasn't alone. Bob Stanley and Paul Kelly from understated pop group Saint Etienne were there too, filming the soon-to-be lost landscape for posterity. And on Thursday night they premiered their resulting drama documentary to an appreciative audience at the Barbican. To almost everybody else in the hall this was an evocative piece championing the disappearing industrial heritage of a forgotten corner of the capital. But to me it was a record of the wasteland on my doorstep (almost literally in one shot), and I spent much of the 45 minutes trying to identify the locations used. Look, that's the Eastway cycle circuit, and that's the the bridge over the City Mill River at Carpenter's Lock, and that's the used car scrapyard beneath the DLR at Pudding Mill Lane. When the film's silent teenage narrator set off on his implausible paper round, delivering newspapers to rusty letterbox after rusty letterbox, I recognised the route of his cycle ride as a geographical impossibility. This was a distraction, I admit. But the paperboy's presence wove a golden thread through the tumbledown grey architecture, linking old factories to waterways to allotments to greasy caffs. The carefully framed visuals highlighted the old and sidelined the new, transforming the bleak into the evocative. Local voices provided much of the commentary, chatting and reminiscing about how it was and how it used to be, with David Essex and Linda Robson drafted in as guest characters. And Saint Etienne performed the soundtrack live, often so well you forgot they weren't digital, which made the screening extra special. As the film neared its Thameside finale, Sarah's plaintive vocals bade the Lea landscape "Goodnight". Then, as the credits rolled, the hall burst into well-deserved applause. In seven years time the Olympics will have eradicated almost all of this film from real life, but I'm touched that the band have managed to capture so select a snapshot of my East End before it vanishes.

See the film at the Barbican (again) on 7th December (no live soundtrack this time, alas)
Observer review and interview (a recommended read)
Trent was in the audience too (and so was Suggs, apparently)
Hackney Wick's industrial history (plastic was invented here)
Mervyn Day (1970s West Ham footballer)
Saint Etienne (new single out Monday)

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