Sunday, 6 December 2009

London Babylon and LED

Like half a million other Londoners, I was listening to Robert Elms on BBC London the other day. It was the Notes and Queries segment of his show; one query was, ‘Where was Brian Epstein’s house?’ and another was, ‘Where in the Kings Road was Nell Gwynne’s house; was it somewhere near a big gasworks?’

‘How odd,’ I thought, because both those questions are answered in my book London Babylon, which was on the verge of being published. I emailed the show and within minutes I was on air explaining that Brian Epstein’s house was at 15 Chapel Street, Belgravia and that Nell Gwynne’s house, Sandford Manor, was in Waterford Road SW6, and indeed it was next to a gasworks. It still is in fact, it’s hard to find but it’s there.

Robert remarked that the book sounded interesting and would I like to come on the show and talk about it? And I did. However before I did, I got an email from the producer of another London-based show from another radio station, Resonance 104.4 FM, who having heard me answering Elms’s queries was wondering if I would like to come in and talk on his show, Lost Steps, presented by Malcolm Hopkins.

I hadn’t planned to start marketing the book until the New Year, it wasn’t in any shops, and now I had two radio interviews in which to plug it, nice exposure but terrible timing; however you can’t turn down free publicity especially with my market trader mentality.

Background research was essential; I knew where I was with the Elms show; I’d been listening to it for years but Resonance 104.4? What manner of creature could that be? The web site reveals that the channel is staffed by volunteers, and that it is sponsored by the Arts Council and Wire magazine. A sampling of one day’s shows offered conversations with intellectuals about the Middle East, a live Country and Western band, a Pensioners show presented by the Deptford Action Group for the Elderly, a music and culture programme from a housing estate in N16 and avante-garde jazz from Chicago which included woodwind instruments ‘of extreme register.’ That’s what I call eclecticism though my dad might have less subtly called it a mongrel.

In one of the Lost Steps podcasts, Malcolm Hopkins delightfully reveals that those with the compulsion to discuss London arcana at every available opportunity are suffering from ‘LED,’ or ‘London Elms Disease.’ So now I know what I’ve got.

Of course when I met Robert in his plush new studios in posh Portland Place, I couldn't resist asking him if he knew what LED was. He didn’t and was thrilled to discover that he had a syndrome named after him. In the interview, he was charming and enthusiastic, talking the book up to the rafters, then when I stupidly didn’t give the web site address - that’s right, the book wasn’t in the shops and now I was making sure that no one would ever try and buy it by cunningly not providing the web site address – he gamely read it out the following day and gave the book yet another plug.

By contrast, the Resonance FM studio was a broom cupboard in grubby Borough High Street but the chaps in charge were equally charming, they let me waffle on for ages, then bought me a Guinness in the pub over the road afterwards and let me waffle on some more. Here I discovered that two of the three were involved in Housmans, the well-known anarchist bookstore in Kings Cross and that they were all into psychogeography, urban wandering, or more simply, walking, talking and drinking. Another enthusiasm was Situationism, which is hard if not impossible to define but suitably wonky.

This was all rather stimulating and definitely not your usual pub chat. But then Resonance is not your usual radio station.

You can hear my ramblings about the darker side of Swinging London on Lost Steps here

The Robert Elms broadcast is here

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