Live at the Brixton Academy by Simon Parkes and JS Rafaeli
Friday 31 January 2014
One minute he was a humble punter trying to peek up Debbie Harry's
skirt at a Hammersmith Odeon gig, the next he was the owner of the venue which
was to steal the Odeon's crown. If Simon Parkes' autobiography – full of
raucous tales and Geezer-speak – is ever made into a film, it will be fun
trying to find an actor who can do him justice. When he wants to sound hard, he
can sometimes come across like Ray Winstone. But would Ray Winstone ever have
banked at Coutts?
Born into a well-to-do family from Lincolnshire which had made its money in deep-sea fishing, Parkes was an insider who turned himself into an outsider. A Thalidomide baby who was born with half his left arm missing, he went to school at Gordonstoun, haunt of princes, but soon discovered he was happiest bunking off to concerts down south. In 1982, deciding to strike out on his own, the 23 year-old stumbled into a deal which handed him the Brixton Astoria – once Britain's biggest cinema, but by then a vacant, decaying art deco colossus – for a mere one pound.
The brewery which held the lease was glad to get a burden off its hands. And as far as the music industry was concerned, Brixton was a place which had riots rather than rock star appeal. Yet over the next decade and a half Parkes transformed the Academy – a name he chose on a whim - into one of the hippest establishments in the country. In the process, he also helped revitalise the entire neighbourhood.
Rock fans will, of course, buy this book for its picaresque account of backstage encounters with the likes of Robert Plant, Eric Clapton and a monumentally capricious Grace Jones. Parkes and his co-writer, musician JS Rafaeli, have no end of yarns to tell. They are, you could say, the very British equivalent of the memoirs of legendary Fillmore promoter, Bill Graham. Yet the narrative works equally well as a non-fiction version of a Colin MacInnes novel, the quick-witted interloper learning how to stay afloat while fending off yardies and drug dealers who assume the cheerful, unassuming white boy is going to be a soft touch.
But Parkes, in the end, is his own man. Even if he has rebelled against his upbringing, he is happy to confess that his public school education gave him the “understated self-assurance” which carries him over one hurdle after another. No Thatcherite, he nevertheless finds himself admiring the Iron Lady's charisma when he comes face-to-face with her at a community entrepreneurs' gathering. And he recoils when he sees left-wing activists and council leaders cynically using Brixton's unemployed youths as pawns in their ideological battles.
Starting off with reggae gigs, he eventually turned the Academy's huge stage into a place where indie bands pulled in crowds at night and rock's aristocracy rehearsed stadium shows by day. He even acquired a taste for rave culture. Somehow he kept his idealism intact, more or less, until the moment in the mid-90s when, tired of dealing with the suits and the bean counters of a sleeker, more corporate-driven industry, he decided to sell up. Life was becoming too routine for a man who loved the sound of an audience letting rip.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 2 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 3 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
Poldark star Heida Reed says show is not that racy: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
House of Cards season 3: Claire Underwood is based on an eagle, says Robin Wright
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut