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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
THE BERMONDSEY EVENT: Joe Brown, the Blockheads, Nine Below Zero, Albert Lee and Hogan’s Heroes
Southwark Park, Rotherhithe, London, July 8th 2006
“Buy the Bermondsey Beat T-shirt. Only five pounds. Buy the Bermondsey T-shirt and you can wear it in Benidorm and scare Northerners ….” We’re in South London, to be honest more Rotherhithe than Bermondsey, and it’s fucking ‘ard. Everyone seems to bristle with latent aggression – the tattooed men, the tattooed women, even the shaven-headed children. The de-rigueur accessory is some sort of slavering pit-bull terrier straining at the leash – they’re everywhere, adding to the sense of resentful antagonism that suffuses the atmosphere. This is largely white working class Millwall territory – “everyone hates us and we don’t care”. Fuck off.
Luckily this is Jozzer’s patch. His Manor. His gaff is round the corner from the park, and being in his presence is the equivalent of being in a war zone with a few battalions of the UN’s Blue Bereted best around you. So as they spot Jozz, sitting in his chair alternately snarling and sneering as the debris of discarded beer bottles builds around him, people break into smiles, wish us civil ‘how do you fucking dos’, and promise us that we’re in for a real treat. Which by and large we are – the deep seated violence only kicks off towards the end of the night, when the main area in front of the stage empties quicker than a school playground as a rammy breaks out behind the fairground. “It’s West ‘Am” shouts a youth, heading for the action; “You comin’ or wot?”.

Anyway it’s the annual Bermondsey ‘Event’ in Southwark Park, almost “the largest community music event in London” says the website. It’s a day in the Park really, with beer tent, fairground, solar powered French Circus, a few food stalls (mostly it’s picnic time) and, not surprisingly, a dog show. The reason for being here is the remarkable little line up of bands, including some of Whiskyfun’s favourites. Bizarrely the afternoon session is introduced by local boy, “disgraced comedian” Michael Barrymore (“If the council have paid him then I want my rates back” mumbles Jozzer), much to the bemusement of first act Albert Lee and Hogan’s Heroes. Lee of course, is the UK’s leading Country guitarist who was born in the wilds of Herefordshire. They ran through their stuff, featuring some tunes from Lee’s new album Road Runner, and ending with Lee’s signature tune, ‘Country Boy’. But to be frank it wasn’t too easy to make out what was being played as the sound was decidedly inferior unless (as we discovered later) you were right in front of the stage, and the pleasing breeze seemed to be blowing much of what there was (sound, that is) down the river. And Jozzer was still eating his lunch, a prodigious plateful of Bermondsey’s best bangers, and toying with a frisky Rioja, so we weren’t going anywhere without the UN. Which meant that we didn’t get the full benefit of Nine Below Zero, fronted by two of Bermondsey’s favourite blues-boys, ace guitarist Dennis Greaves and harmonica genius Mark Feltham. Jozzer still remembers when they used to play “daan the Apple and Pears”, a famous Bermondsey boozer which he, and many R & B fans used to frequent way back in the 1970’s. Here, once the sound was sorted, they played at a breakneck speed for over an hour, by which time the bangers, and the Rioja, were spent (as was the coke that we spotted two guys snorting behind the Portaloos in full view of the Old Bill). Anyway don’t turn down a chance to see Nine Below Zero, they’re tight and top quality, “still the business”, and are playing all over Europe at Festivals throughout the summer.
We needed to get closer for the Blockheads - not South London geezers of course, and what with all that Essex tosh, and two band members from Newcastle it was potentially a dangerous place to be. But as Jozzer led the lost tribe the crowds parted ‘till, uncannily, we were right at the front of the stage.

I wasn’t sure about the Blockheads as a festival band, but that close up they were simply brilliant. With or without the much missed Ian Dury their sophisticated and complex take on rock and roll is simply still best in class – driven by Norman Watt-Roy’s sublime Fender bass playing, Micky G on Hammond and Chaz J and keyboards and Fender guitar, and Dylan Howe’s cool groove drumming the performance was sublime. An increasingly ‘emotional’ (as they used to say) John Turnbull fronted with vocals shared with Derek the Draw, mixing Blockhead classics with new material from Where’s the Party?
It was as they ended that the fighting started, and as mayhem had its day the stage was quietly prepared for the headline act, London rock and roll veteran Joe Brown, devoid, after all of these years, of his Bruvvers. Joe, you may recall, had a string of not quite number one hits at the start of the sixties, and then resigned himself to being a nation’s favourite chirpy cockney. “What”, I slurred to Jozzer, “wash hish big hit?” “Who knowsh?”. Well Joe, looking as sprightly as he had when I last saw him in the late 1960s, wowed us with some well chosen bluesy rockabilly, an a cappella tune or two, and some notable playing on the mandolin. All surprisingly very classy – and indicating serious talent and technical abilities not, of course, suggested by the novelty act reputation – in fact Joe and his accomplished band went down a storm at Glastonbury a couple of years ago, always the key to musical rehabilitation. He has a new album out later this summer which might well be worth a serious listen. In the meantime Jozzer said “whasht wash it?” just as Joe broke into ‘I’m Henry the Eighth I am” – never a hit, but the song for which he will always be remembered – no doubt much to his chagrin. Then it all went wrong.
With the show running well over time the firework chaps decide to trigger the fuse, Joe was trying to play an encore (“fucking disgraceful I call it, said the DJ as we left for digestifs chez Jozz, “letting off fireworks when Joe wuz still playing”) but the sound men were cued for ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. So we got fireworks, Joe, Elgar, fireworks, no Joe, no fireworks, and finally the remnants of Elgar sadly playing out as, under the watchful eye of the mass congregation of the local Old Bill, we gathered the remnants of our day back onto Jozzer’s old dad’s costermonger’s cart and pushed it back home.
And looking back in retrospect what had we learnt? Well, you don’t have to pay £40 or more for a good day out in the park. And that once disarmed of prejudice (and music is a great disarmer) you can have a good old knees up with gawd blimey heavens knows who you like. That the Blockheads really do remain the benchmark in funk soul rock and roll, relaxed exemplars for all to follow. That you don’t need a burger king sponsor to spoil a good party. And that Jozzer’s doll Trizza makes a mean sausage bap. Ah yes Serge, we may have been knocked out of the World’s Cup, but we’re back here in Blighty, and we’re doing very well. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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