The early 80s in-house Island band Basement 5 were the post-punky reggae brainchild of Dennis Morris, the Bob Marley and Sex Pistols photographer who lived above the studios on Basing Street. Basement 5 also featured Don Letts and Leo Williams (later of Big Audio Dynamite), Richard Dudanski (of the 101’ers, PIL and the Raincoats), the Zigzag editor Kris Needs as their manager, and target logo T-shirts and badges. Dennis Morris later resurfaced as Urban Shakedown before returning to the dayjob. On All Saints Road Nick Jones managed the goth groups Sisters of Mercy, Skeletal Family and Ghost Dance. Screaming Lord Sutch turned into the Monster Raving Loony party leader in St Luke’s Mews off All Saints.
Eddy Grant recorded ‘Live at Notting Hill Carnival’ on Portobello Green – as the former Equal, found solo fame with ‘Living on the Frontline’ and ‘Electric Avenue’, celebrating Brixton’s Railton Road and Electric Avenue, rather than All Saints and Portobello.
‘Down here on the Frontline where Jah people gather just outside the clutches of Babylon, Aswad are at home; they’re local celebrities and so nearly every passer-by provides some sort of distraction. We spend an hour in the afternoon sun, watching, listening and waiting, before Drummie Zeb appears from a cluster of identikit dreads and with a slightly crooked smile asks: “Feeling the vibe of the Frontline yet? Seen…” Lloyd Bradley, the author of Bass Culture, then of the NME, meets local heroes Aswad on his All Saints Road trip in the run up to the 1982 Carnival. Shortly after this scene occurred the All Saints pub, the Apollo at number 18 on the southeast corner of the Lancaster Road junction, was closed down for serving more grass than beer. The early 80s Time Out pub guide directed drinkers to All Saints Road, to ‘watch lots of unrelaxed policemen dressed as hippies selling each other Old Holborn in bank coin bags. Hello, hello, hello, wanna score, man.’
In Once Upon a Time there was a Place called Notting Hill Gate, the normally hypercritical Wise brothers get quite sentimental about the old pub: ‘It had been an OK dive, despite the many nights of depression, all 57 varieties of lefties, alternative comedians, dumbo rebel musicians, the Apollo was the communal watering hole of vague libertarianism, which amidst all of its nonsense had something of an anti-competitive, anti-business air to it.’ The Apollo pub was duly converted into small business black co-op workshops in the mid 80s, including the Mangrove/Metamorphosis/Apollo recording studios (where All Saints the group formed in the 90s). The legendary bar in its militant reggae days can be seen in the 1976 film The Squeeze, when it’s visited by Stacy Keach and Freddie Starr – and Ringo Starr of the Beatles was across Lancaster Road (on the north east corner) in A Hard Day’s Night.
The Wise brothers described All Saints Road at the height of its Frontline notoriety as ‘a north London Casbah’ and compared the street scene with New York and Glasgow. Once upon a time, when the street never closed without police assistance, they recalled the ‘No Whites’ door policy of the basement shebeens being relaxed for women and particularly persistent Scotsmen, late night Rasta football sessions, and street fights in the style of West Side Story/The Golden Bough: ‘Young black guys, holding meat cleavers and machetes, would regularly square up to each other, urged on by their followers. There would then follow a ritual quadrille, to and fro across All Saints liberally peppered with the most basic of insults. Generally they were ritual duals and the cleavers rarely sank into flesh. It was really a matter of honour being seen to be satisfied without loss of face.’ In another Once Upon a Time All Saints anecdote, when cows escaped from a truck into the street a Rasta asked one if it wanted some grass.
At the 1982 Carnival Musical Youth appeared on Portobello Green, on their way to number 1 with ‘Pass the Dutchie’. At this point the procession route went clockwise along Great Western, Elkstone, Golborne and Chesterton Roads, Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park Road, then around Talbot, Ledbury, All Saints and Tavistock Roads.
Viv Goldman reported pre-Carnival tension brewing ‘among problem professionals, who’ve been hanging around on the street corner outside the Apollo pub, closed for months, that used to be a happening centre for all forms of social exchange, till Bass Charrington closed it down after too many horra shocka stories in the Sunday Nasty. They watch the police going by in twos like the animals in the ark, at five minute intervals, cursing them and sucking their teeth in annoyance, vowing vengeance for this hampering of their street sales, come Carnival.’
1983 turned out to be the most commercial Carnival yet, with body-popping, baseball caps, tracksuits and trainers succeeding skanking, dreadlocks and combat gear, and ‘police this year picked for their wimpish manner, with beards whenever possible.’ Nevertheless, when the Emotion sound-system outside the Apollo at the All Saints/Lancaster Road junction shut down on the Monday night, there was another riot. Aswad were recorded ‘Live and Direct’ at the ’83 ‘Notting Hill Gate Carnival’ in Meanwhile Gardens alongside the canal.
In the NME’s ‘What has Red Stripes and 600,000 legs?’ review, the 1984 Carnival was described as the best ever and the new Lord Mayor’s Show. After watching Aswad ‘playing to a bruisingly confined Meanwhile Gardens’, and judging People’s Sound on Oxford Gardens the best sound-system, Danny Kelly ended his report referring to a Nike billboard featuring the cricketer Viv Richards, ‘All is well in Viv’s kingdom.’
The NME found Neville Staple of the Specials and Funboy 3 with the reggae toasters Clint Eastwood and General Saint ‘in the basement of a cramped All Saints Road hangout’, where ‘the youth of Ladbroke Grove are relaxing, playing table-football.’ This was as he recorded ‘Pirates of the Airwaves’ with his former Two-tone label mate Pauline Black of Selecter. Neville Staple’s take on early 80s London pop psychogeography was: “Ladbroke Grove can be almost like uptown Jamaica and Brixton like downtown.”
‘When the Going gets Tough’ the soul singer Billy Ocean also frequented the frontline, and the dancehall DJ Eek-A-Mouse was reported ‘ensconced in a Notting Hill flat with a fresh bag of works for Greensleeves.’ At this point the reggae scene revolved around the All Saints Road Upfront record shop. Since the mid 80s Daddy Vigo’s People’s Sound shop has maintained the tradition.
ZTT’s Frankie Goes to Hollywood were finally dislodged from number 1 by the results of the most celebrated Notting Hill recording session of them all. On November 25 1984, most 80s pop stars – including Bananarama, Bono, Boy George, Phil Collins, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Sting, George Michael, Paul Weller, the local representatives Aswad, and Status Quo – crammed into the Basing Street studios as Band Aid for Bob Geldof’s Ethiopian famine benefit single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’
The first World Domination Enterprises single ‘Asbestos Lead Asbestos’ was released on the Karbon label of Nick Jones (of Step Forward and Sisters of Mercy previous) at 19 All Saints Road. The agitprop hip-hop rant, featuring the lines ‘we live on the westside’ and ‘if they’re lucky they’ll get put in White City’, succeeded ‘London’s Burning’ as the local anthem at the time of the toxic Tory tyranny of Dame Shirley Porter. The reggae frontline also hosted the Buzz club mag office and The Fred mag at number 5.
In Once Upon a Time there was a Place called Notting Hill Gate, the Wise brothers accused ‘the Mangrove boss’ Frank Crichlow and other community leaders of holding back ‘a midnight explosion of spontaneous anger’, after the death in police custody of a black man known as Crumpet, in favour of a demonstration. Nevertheless, the Notting Dale police station on Sirdar Road was besieged and shops and banks along Portobello Road were attacked. According to the Wise brothers, there wasn’t a Broadwater Farm-style anti-police riot in Notting Hill that year because by then the infiltration of yuppies into the area had disconnected the door-to-door riot bush telegraph.
Another pop star gathering on Basing Street for a sickle cell anaemia benefit single featured Aswad, Janet ‘Silly Games’ Kay, Imagination, Junior, the Thompson Twins, Tom Robinson, Sinitta, Paul Hardcastle and Paul Weller. The picture in the NME by the children’s castle playground at the Westbourne Park Road end was captioned: ‘In the Neighbourhood – It’s not unusual to find a street party going on in west London, although weekend frolickings outside ZTT’s Sarm Studios were rather more of a celebrity affair than usual round those parts.’ From hippy to hip hop Basing Street has also been a graffiti hall of fame. The later cyber-punky mural on the playground wall was left ‘bombed’ by critics of the commissioned street art until the 21st century block was built on the site.
At the time of the Operation Trident inner-city crime crackdown, according to City Limits, ‘streetlife and heavy policing in Notting Hill is a recurring theme’ on the Positive Beat ‘Known 2 Be Down’ hip-hop compilation, including the Krew’s Sir Drew and Rapski’s ‘Notting Hill’ track. The summer of ’87 saw the police ‘swamp’ All Saints Road with another series of raids on the Mangrove at number 8, as part of Operation Trident. This time Frank Crichlow was charged with possession of heroin. To the Wise brothers in Once Upon a Time, the accompanying installation of surveillance cameras and the closure of squatted ‘abandoned commercial property’ marked the start of Notting Hill gentrification: ‘Within days a house in McGregor Road, leading off the Saints, was to fetch £300,000. The very centre of Carnival revolt in the 80s had finally fallen and the light had gone out on the last remaining shambles of an urban trouble spot.’
On the first day of the 1987 Carnival a stallholder was stabbed to death. On the Monday afternoon the steaming attacks escalated and at closedown rioting broke out in the traditional flashpoint areas; under the Westway on Ladbroke Grove and Portobello; on All Saints Road at the Lancaster Road and Westbourne Park Road junctions. From there the disturbances spread out west and east to the Lancaster West and Brunel estates. The Wise brothers gleefully recorded street fighting on Elgin Crescent, ‘in the very heart of freshly conquered yuppie territory’, and the Blenheim Crescent/Kensington Park Road corner ‘where Sting has his business centre.’ The Sun headline, ‘Riot Yobs Slash Girl Cops – Horror at the Carnival’, was accompanied by a picture of a black policeman confronting a Rastafarian, as ‘helicopters with searchlights hovered overhead, following the marauding gangs as they tried to dodge police cordons.’
Lee Jasper recalls having to deal with a mas band sequin crisis at the Mangrove as the riot broke out: “The police were attempting to close down, fit up and destroy Mangrove and indeed the whole of Carnival. We’re on the verge of a major civil disturbance and people would be coming in and saying I don’t have any red sequins.” By the late 80s the Wise brothers considered ‘the Trinidadian costume-steel band merry go round – despised by the young blacks in the mid 70s’ to be little more than a job creation scheme and predicted the inevitable commercialisation of the 90s: ‘In some ways the organisers would like Carnival to be more like American festivals, where for instance Schiltz Beer sponsors a country and western jamboree in Tennessee.’ At the time of the ‘Notting Hill rapist’ attacks, echoing the 10 Rillington Place murders around the garden squares off Ladbroke Grove, and an increase in muggings in the vicinity of All Saints Road, the Wise brothers explained the 80s class war psychogeography:
‘London pathology has a different inflection from its New York parent, using the language of a downtrodden class that is twisted out of all recognition, to express a frustration with themselves and everybody else… generally it’s based on a resentment of literally everything in another person’s life. A perverted class antagonism becomes an obscene excuse to spit venom. You are knocked for being privileged, no matter what your circumstances are. For having money or not having money (you’re free that way), for having an incurable disease or for being in the best of health, for having the guts to stick a stretch inside or for having stayed on the outside. The awesome proportions of international capital and monetarism in London have brought out a submerged trait that mixes up class antagonism with spiteful deference to the rich. A few drinks and the beast is free, lashing out blindly to the right and left, saying and doing the unspeakable with little or no evident remorse. Nasty as these outbursts are, remarkably there is never really a racist side to them in Notting Hill.’
After the ’87 Carnival riot debut of a new police clothing range featuring waistcoats with CS gas canister and plastic bullet pouches, All Saints Road was subject to a £1 million ‘designer policing’ makeover. Somewhat prematurely, Elisabeth Grice reported in the Times that the street’s crime problems had been ‘designed out’ with bulkhead lights, double-lock doors with spy holes and entry-phones, window locks, electronic shutters and laminated glass replacing All Saints’ ‘dingy recesses’ and the grilles, ‘symbolic of the street’s fortress mentality.’ The incoming deputy assistant Met commissioner Paul Condon said, “We would not claim to have eradicated drugs and crime but we have neutralised a very dangerous area… we now have the confidence to separate real racial attacks from crime.”
There were more calls in the press to ‘Stop the Carnival’ in 1988 following a steaming riot in Shepherd’s Bush after a pre-Carnival reggae festival on Wormwood Scrubs. As Alex Pascall’s term as Carnival chair came to an end, Victor Crichlow resigned as treasurer and Frank Crichlow was charged with supplying heroin. ‘The Cage’ bay under the Westway flyover by the Acklam Road footbridge hosted Mastermind v Rap Attack sound-system clashes featuring Chaka Khan, Lisa Lisa, Norman Jay and Tim Westwood. The third Big Audio Dynamite album ‘Tighten Up Volume 88′ featured ‘The Battle of All Saints Road’ ‘cockney’n’western’ track and a Paul Simonon painted sleeve depicting a blues party under the Westway and Trellick Tower.
In the last Mangrove trial Frank Crichlow was once more cleared of trumped up drugs charges. After that the police raided the Mangrove some more, causing further clashes outside the restaurant and 1989 saw the last Carnival riot around All Saints. At the 8 O’clock closedown on the Monday, according to the Standard report, ‘5,000 police, almost 600 in full riot gear with shields, and some police on horseback, fought running battles with pockets of revellers after trouble was sparked in the All Saints Road area. Within seconds they had to retreat under a hail of bottles and flower pots. Uniformed officers battled in vain to contain the trouble, drafting in riot police who sealed off a section of Lancaster Road. But they came under attack from two directions as youths in All Saints Road and Westbourne Park Road began hurling missiles.’
Through the night Notting Hill was lit by crane-mounted floodlights and helicopter searchlights, as 400 arrests were made in the clean up operation. The Private Eye ’89 Carnival report joked that ‘the world’s largest police festival passed off without serious incident last night. Even though the weather was overcast, it did not dampen the spirits of the quarter of a million Metropolitan policemen who turned out in their traditional fancy dress of tin hats and riot gear. As helicopters roared overhead, the ‘boys in blue’ danced with each other in the streets until the early hours, watched only by a ‘token force’ of Rastafarians.’
Transvision Vamp got the ‘W11 Blues’, beginning with Wendy James ‘walking down the line, heading for the Grove.’ After echoing the Clash and Hawkwind in encounters with police and thieves, she ‘strode on down the line to Grove… left out of All Saints across Portobello Road, underneath the Westway and into Ladbroke Grove, up two flights of stairs into a darkened hall…’ Rounding off the night, after Neneh Cherry and Tone Loc shoutouts, her flat is raided by the police. Martin Amis’s London Fields novel featured the Tavistock Road/All Saints Road corner shop Nagys’, which is burgled by Keith Talent (closed ever since). Amis wrote London Fields at his Notting Hill study house, further up Tavistock Road.
As ‘The Mangrove: 21 Years of Resistance’ banner came down in 1991, 6-8 All Saints Road reopened as the Portobello Dining Rooms, Rastafarians were succeeded by trustafarians and the street name started to appear in more restaurant reviews than crime reports.