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.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 Martha Stewart accuses Snoop Dogg of 'smoking for four hours' during Justin Bieber Roast
- 3 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 4 Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
- 5 April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
Gaza Banksy mural sold to 'conman' for just $175
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
Top Gear live to go ahead: Jeremy Clarkson to join Richard Hammond and James May... just don't call it Top Gear
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans