By ProgBlog, Apr 30 2017 11:20PM

The Crystal Palace was originally built in Hyde Park for the first World Exposition in 1851, a structure designed to be temporary with the exhibition, themed around the industry of all nations, lasting from April to October that year. The success of the venture, attracting 6 million visitors (and subsequently spawning a litany of world fairs, the most recent of which was Expo 2015 in Milan) prompted architect Joseph Paxton to look for a permanent home for his Crystal Palace. He had tried to have the building remain in Hyde Park but, aware that there was considerable opposition from within parliament, he busied himself raising £0.5m to form a company to buy the building and a new site for its reconstruction. The materials that made up the structure were bought from building contractors Fox and Henderson (who had lowered their original Hyde Park bid in return for ownership of the materials when the structure was dismantled at the end of the Great Exhibition); the land chosen was an area of wooded parkland on Sydenham Hill and the Crystal Palace reopened in 1854.

Joseph Paxton
Joseph Paxton

The remains of the Crystal Palace, which burned down in 1936, are in the suburb of Upper Norwood, an area falling into four London Boroughs: Bromley; Croydon; Lambeth and Southwark. I moved to Upper Norwood from Balham while working at the Blood Transfusion Centre in Tooting. During 1985 I shared a basement flat in Colby Road, opposite Gipsy Hill railway station, with fellow Barrovian Eric Whitton; my friend Jim Knipe lived on the ground floor with his girlfriend Amanda. I’d shared a flat in Beechcroft Close, Streatham with Eric and Jim during my last year at university, so this was something of a reunion. From bass/guitar/reed organ/tin plate jam sessions in 1981, with the recruitment of Alistair Penny in 1984 we evolved into BCC2 and in 1985, augmented by vocalist Shirley Singh, became HTLVIII and played a fifteen minute set on each of three nights as part of a community revue. This fledgling outfit fell apart because Eric moved out to Clapham and my bass was stolen when the flat was burgled while I was on holiday in Tenerife.

HTLV III  in 1985
HTLV III in 1985

A further Crystal Palace - Barrow connection was future Hairy Biker Dave Myers, another Goldsmiths’ graduate who lived a short way up Gipsy Hill. The cost of renting Colby Road wasn’t too high in the overall scheme of things, but the facilities were challenging. The bedroom, at the back of the flat, was rarely blessed with sunlight and was consequently somewhat cold, though it was apparently ideally placed to receive a Sunday morning pirate radio show, Alice’s Restaurant, despite the transmitter being somewhere in ‘East London’. Alice’s Restaurant became London’s biggest rock station but at the time I discovered it, I was only interested in the two hours of progressive rock that I could pick up on my Technics SA-101 receiver on Sunday mornings, where I first heard Caravan’s Nine Feet Underground in full and promptly set off to buy the Caravan collection Canterbury Tales which included that particular masterpiece.

At the time, Upper Norwood was hardly the most salubrious of areas but it had all the right amenities. Gipsy Hill station was very convenient for trips into London and I could use it to get to work on the days I was too lazy to cycle (Gipsy Hill is long and steep!) and there were some good pubs selling good beer (the Two Towers at the bottom of the hill and the Railway Bell half way up were regular haunts); the library on Westow Hill was extremely useful; the Tesco supermarket where we’d donate food to the families of striking miners; some good restaurants (Joanna’s and The Penny Excursion, the latter frequently changing hands and cuisine after I left the area); and Crystal Palace Park, including the site of the former Crystal Palace with its poorly barricaded entrance to the undercroft of the former High Level Station, a hidden vaulted space of beautiful Victorian brickwork (Grade II listed) and, for fans of palaeontology, the dinosaurs on islands representing different geological eras on the lower reservoir, creating a snapshot of paleontological understanding in the mid 19th century.

Crystal Palace dinosaurs
Crystal Palace dinosaurs

My time at Colby Road drew to a close when the shower in the ground floor flat above leaked into the hall and my hot water pressure became so low it wasn’t practicable to run a bath. The landlord was an unpleasant individual who wasn’t interested in getting things fixed, so I eventually left in the middle of one night and stopped paying him any rent.

Crystal Palace Park was also home to the National Sports Centre and athletics track. A couple of my school friends had spent some time training there in the mid 70s and I became a member for the squash courts and still play there today, though I now better appreciate the brutalist architecture (Grade II* listed) and the concomitant egalitarian nature of the facility, bringing affordable leisure facilities to local residents; a new People’s Palace on the site of the old. The FA Cup used to be held on the football pitch which was where the athletics stadium now stands and Crystal Palace FC used to play there from when they were founded in 1905 until they were relocated due to WW I and moved to current ground Selhurst Park in 1924. I’ve been supporting them, through all their ups and downs, since 1995.

Crystal Palace Bowl was the venue for the Crystal Palace Garden Party between 1971 and 1980, originally a concrete semi-dome structure with a small lake in front, located in a natural amphitheatre at the northern end of the park. Pink Floyd played there in 1971, featuring a band-only version of Atom Heart Mother and famously killing off all the fish in the lake when they attempted to inflate a giant octopus, pumping smoke into the water. Yes performed there in 1972, which must have been one of the first gigs for Alan White, and Rick Wakeman performed Journey to the Centre of the Earth during the 1974 Garden Party, where he used inflatable dinosaurs during The Battle but more dramatically, was admitted to hospital the day after the gig having suffered three minor heart attacks. He had intended to perform there again in June 2012 headlining a one day rock festival, but there were structural concerns over the stage and the event was cancelled.

This neatly brings us to the present. Upper Norwood has undergone something of a renaissance since the opening of the East London Line of London Overground in 2010. This linked West Croydon and Crystal Palace in the south to Dalston Junction in the north, via Surrey Quays and Canada Water. The ease of the commute to the City meant that the area was a prime site for gentrification and property prices were relatively low in the down-at-heel suburb; the parallels with Shoreditch (the Overground stops at Shoreditch High Street) are quite remarkable and it’s evident that hipsters have marked their territory around the Crystal Palace Triangle and that some of the old businesses have adapted to meet their needs. There used to be a rambling flea market down from Westow Hill, where amongst other things I picked up a copy of the 1972 debut LP by Tempest, featuring the extraordinary talents of the recently departed Allan Holdsworth. On the site of this former bazaar is Crystal Palace Antiques, where my wife likes to pick out reasonably priced art-deco items and I like to ogle the modernist furniture, at unreasonable prices, on the lowest of the four floors. There had been a spate of pub closures in the area but there’s now an even better selection, covering a huge range of real and craft beers. There used to be an ‘open mic’ gig every week in the White Hart (on the corner of Westow Street and Church Road) to which a friend from squash, a Brazilian drummer, invited me and although I brought along a plectrum, I felt I was too rusty to participate and I knew very little of the music they played.

There are a multitude of cafés and bars where it’s easy to find a decent lunch and a good coffee but there are also a couple of excellent second-hand record stalls. One is in Hayes Lane Market, a well kept secret just off Westow Street. Hayes Lane is a narrow, mews-like street where the terraced houses are resplendent with blooms and the market is a genuine flea market where it’s easy to while away many hours; the other is in the less well developed Church Road in the basement of Bambinos. Bambinos is run by Andy Stem and has been around for over 20 years, perhaps most famous for its leather jackets (the photo of Kate Moss by Mario Testino for Vogue.) Best of all, downstairs from the eclectic mixture of items that spills out onto the street, is the vinyl basement, run by Mark Hill of the Crystal Palace-based electronica trio Metamono. My most recent visit yielded the first two Steve Hackett solo albums, Voyage of the Acolyte and Please Don’t Touch; Alan White’s solo debut Ramshackled; the first Sky album; Phaedra by Tangerine Dream and an early copy of Switched on Bach. Mark Hill commented on Phaedra, suggesting he had been interested in buying it himself, and the connection with the excellent sub-section for electronica became clear; the last time I was there, about a year ago, I bought a copy of Aqua by Edgar Froese from a consignment of vinyl that hadn’t made it downstairs to the basement

I retain an affection for Crystal Palace; the record shops, the sports centre, the remains of the former palace, the football team. A great deal has changed since I lived there but it’s a much better place to visit now, and much easier. The local history is fascinating but better still, there are some genuinely friendly people who feed into the vibe, whether they’ve recently arrived or have been around for some time. It’s an uplifting atmosphere, very prog. ...Must be the prevailing wind from the coast...

By ProgBlog, Apr 20 2014 09:04PM

Lewes is a really pleasant place, nestled in the Sussex Downs and only 50 minutes from Croydon. The name Lewes has two possible derivations: either from a Celtic word meaning ‘slopes’; or from the Saxon word hlaew, which means an artificial mound. The local architecture features a fair amount of flint which fits in with the town’s air of gentility; there is an abundance of second-hand book stores including the warren-like and rickety Fifteenth Century Bookshop and a range of antique shops and flea markets, all of which are worth exploring.

There’s even a connection between Lewes and Crystal Palace. Gideon Algernon Mantell, surgeon and geologist, was born in Lewes in 1790. He discovered the bones of what he would later call an Iguanodon, famously misidentifying the thumb spike and assigning it to the nose of his animal skeleton, so that it appeared like a rhinoceros. A model of Mantell’s Iguanodon was erected in Crystal Palace Park and, as a publicity event, the Crystal Palace Company organised a dinner inside the Iguanodon on 31 December 1853, some months before the Park opened. Special guests included the scientists William Buckland, Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen and Mantell.

There’s a small museum on the High Street that holds some interesting local archaeological artifacts – there’s an Iron Age fort on Cliffe Hill that looms over Lewes and Lewes was important in Roman and Saxon times. Barbican museum is nestled under the part-ruined Norman castle and there’s another museum, also run by Sussex Past (the Sussex Archaeological Society), in Anne of Cleves House. It’s unlikely that Anne ever used the house – she was granted a total of nine Sussex manors as part of her nullity settlement in 1541. The building retains some original timber mullions, crown-post and queen-post roofs and the stairs are incredibly worn and uneven. There are temporary exhibits in the East Room, a potted history of Lewes in the Lewes Room and the Wealden Iron Gallery in the medieval barrel-vaulted cellar. Just to the south of Anne of Cleves House are the remains of the Priory of St Pancras.

Thomas Paine arrived in Lewes as an exciseman in 1768 and lodged at Bull House. Politics was a favourite discussion point in the town around this time, with topics ranging from the French Revolution, reform of Parliament, the Corn Laws, Catholic emancipation to American independence but radicalism seems to be embedded in the DNA of the town; during the Civil War Lewes had sided with the Parliamentarians. Lewes Puritans became Nonconformists and some became Quaker pacifists; George Fox was attracted to the town and preached at a meeting of The Seekers in Southover (Lewes.) The town returned Whig MPs until 1874 and the current MP is Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, first elected in 1997 when he overturned a 12000 Conservative majority. Though he doesn’t necessarily follow official coalition policy, he may find himself unseated in 2015 in a backlash against the Lib Dems for reneging on their pre-2010 election promises.

Paine came from a Quaker family and his ideas, set out in Rights of Man, form a coherent and compelling manifesto for social change and his writings (he was a great pamphleteer) were signed off with a rapier wit. Rights of Man was written in response to radical Parliamentarian Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France; Burke agreed with the revolution in the new colony but not the French Revolution. Paine saw that Burke was siding with the established ruling class and, with his understanding of the need for social justice, challenged Burke’s assertions, ridiculing the pomposity of the extant political class. Some people still regard Paine with suspicion and hostility. He had fought against Britain in the American war of Independence and advocated France going to war with Britain after the French Revolution but he is well regarded in Lewes, such that the local independent brewery, Harvey’s, produces the seasonal Tom Paine ale (in cask and bottle) in July and owns a pub called Rights of Man in the High Street. The range of Harveys ales is exceptional and I’m fortunate to have one of their pubs, the entertainment-less Royal Oak close to my place of work in SE1.

The pubs, historical sites, museums, bookshops and antique shops aren’t the only places to visit in Lewes. In 2013, The Guardian ran an article on the 10 best independent record stores in Britain and at the top of the list was Union Music Store, 1 Lansdown Place, Lewes, a haunt of Mumford and Sons. There’s also Octave Recorded Music Specialist and Si’s Sounds (formerly Rik’s Disks.) All three stores are worth visiting. Union sells instruments, effects pedals and clothes in addition to CDs and despite its self-styled image as a home of Americana, folk and country with no mention of prog, I rather liked it, finding it a very friendly store. The shop assistant put on S. Carey’s Range of Light, a multi-layered piece of chamber soft-rock that I thought was very fitting in that environment. Though I didn’t buy any music, I came away with a heavy gauge plectrum!

Since I’ve been coming to Lewes, the shop at 4a Station Road has changed hands a few times. My latest visit was to Si’s Sounds, where I picked up a 40th Anniversary CD and DVD of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick; a copy of Ian Anderson’s TAAB2 (CD and DVD) and a double CD of Soft Machine’s Six and Seven. Si is incredibly knowledgeable and though I was disappointed when I last visited the shop as Rik’s Disks, I shall certainly make a point of going in again.

Octave has a wide range of music. On previous visits I’ve bought 30th Anniversary King Crimson CDs in cardboard sleeves and a mini-box set of Vangelis’ three best known albums, Heaven and Hell, Albedo 0.39 and Spiral. I used to think the prices were very competitive but a new version of the anniversary TAAB from Octave would have cost me £10 more than the very good condition second-hand copy I bought from Si. Still, a town the size of Lewes with three independent record stores is quite remarkable. On top of these three are the CDs and vinyl that can be found in the flea markets and antique stores – last year I procured a pristine copy of Anthony Phillip’s album The Geese and the Ghost and in the same shop on my last visit, I nearly splashed out on Tangerine Dream’s Stratosfear. This appeared to be in immaculate condition but it wasn’t really on my wish list because this is a move towards a more conventional melodic album than the two rather experimental immediate forerunners, Phaedra and Rubycon, and a new CD wouldn’t have cost very much more.

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