Friday, 5 April 2013


My Tale starts in the summer of 1974. I had come back to live in a squat in Maida Hill, W9. A bit of a West London No-Man's Land, between Kensington and Maida Vale, and in the mid-70's full of short-let housing and empty properties...
This is an extract from the 1st Chapter:

"The squat had been opened up by the Prowlers some months before I arrived. It wasn’t the first time that I’d lived in the neighbourhood. The previous year I had been staying in another squat around the corner in Walterton Rd.  It had been in  the last year of a degree course I was taking, but for the final three months I had to make a temporary move; study was impossible for me in that house. Far too many distractions. So, with the exams finished, I had come back to the area,   looking to reinstall myself.  Over a half of bitter one night in the Chippenham Arms I had met Nick of the Prowlers, and he’d offered me a room in their house. I didn’t know him or the mate he was with: a very large, hairy, fat, bearded biker with a blotchy red face, and an incoherent mutter, but Nick seemed ok. Housing problem solved. Back in the neighbourhood and with my friends up the street in number 23, and round the corner in 101 Walterton Rd. I soon discovered that Nick had other strange acquaintances living with him apart from the Bear.  B.S.A.’s and Bonnevilles, benzedrine and booze were their loves. The entrance flight of ten steps was no problem for a befuddled biker with repairs  to do on his machine. A couple of planks leading from the pavement to the front door had apparently solved the problem. I never saw their entrance, but the proof was there. Two semi stripped down 750’s in the ground floor front room.

 "…as if throwing cats out of first floor windows was  normal practice…"

The only real problem I ever had with them was over a cat. It was before I’d met Esperanza and I was  living alone in my fine, first floor, front room. I didn’t know exactly how or from where it came, but occasionally a young cat would trip in through one of the front bay windows from an outside balcony. With a disconcerting assurance it would twine itself around my legs and settle down on a vacant cushion. Flattered by such a display of confidence in me, and happy to share my space with this part-time pet, I looked forward to these sporadic feline visits. One afternoon a friend of Nick came in to my room for something or other. He saw the cat and in one swift move picked it up and threw it out of the open window. I hit the roof as the cat hit the pavement, and all he did was stare at me in amazement, as if throwing cats out of first floor windows was  normal practice. I went down to the front of the house expecting to find, if not a mangled corpse, at least traces of the mishap, but there were none. Life in this neighbourhood, for cats and humans, required the full quota of lives.
There were few dull moments in 86 Chippenham Road, although generally the day was more peaceful than the night. It was usually after the pubs had shut that my companions would start to enjoy themselves. One night I spent trying to sleep as they fine - tuned a spluttering carburettor on the Bonneville, and another night of crashing and banging had given rise to the sorry state of the stairs. I had come down one morning with the banisters in a mangled heap in the hallway. But what was amusing was their own subsequent reaction to this their latest antic. When I came back later the same day it was all sheepish grins and “sorry ‘bout last night”. There they were, hammer and nails in hand, attempting to repair their previous night’s excesses.
Most of their escapades were harmless, but occasionally things did get a bit out of hand. I was in my room going about my business. A knock on the door. For some reason I never quite understood, the prowlers maintained a respectful distance from my area in the house.  It was Nick:
“Rich. Come up on to the roof. Have a butchers at this.”

We climbed out onto the roof and saw, ducked down behind a parapet, the Bear, as usual the front of his tee-shirt soaked with sweat and booze,  a couple of other Prowlers, a carton of wine, and a couple of joints on the go. A right regular little party, with everyone in a strange and overly happy  mood. There was an expectancy in the air, the reason for which I was soon to discover.
“Get yer ‘ead down and look out over there!”

Next to our abode at number 86, there was an empty plot and beyond it a derelict house looking as if it had not been touched since the London Blitz. It wasn’t really squatted but I knew that from time to time it was used as a doss-house by tramps. Suddenly, a shadowy figure sneaks out from the front garden, and within seconds a flash of fire erupts from a window. The basement  is ablaze in no time at all. My companions on the roof also erupt – in a cackle of mirth, heightened by the arrival of police and fire-brigade….  suppressed giggles like ten year old  kids. I confess that for me the arrival of the law is a relief ….what if the winos had been in there sleeping off their sorrows?? I should  have been down there to make sure they were safe, instead I’m dumbstruck on the roof like a courtier on Nero’s balcony..."

Monday, 1 April 2013


From the book's title it is pretty obvious that the "squatting movement" forms an important part of the tale.....especially that part devoted to The 101'ers. The band was actually named after the house number of the squat where we lived: 101 Walterton Road, and the group would be described at times as a "Squat Rock" band.
The tale doesn't aspire to being a detailed treatise on Squatting, but the reality of our living conditions, or should I say "way of life", formed an undeniable backdrop to the band's existence.

Extract from Chapter 1,  of  "SQUAT CITY ROCKS".
"Maida Hill, west London, summer 1974.  The area mostly dilapidated with rows of corrugated iron–clad houses awaiting an uncertain future. Streets of empty council houses mingling with boarded-up shops, a half empty hospital and the inevitable abandoned cinema, but it had a couple of good Irish pubs, while the sizeable West Indian immigrant population added a spice that the drab and drizzly Harrow Rd couldn’t quite douse… My house had known better times, but still retained traces of its former grandeur.  Number 86 Chippenham road, between Shirland road and Elgin Avenue. Squatted, but definitely classy. A flight of ten or so broad stone steps leading between a pair of Doric columns to the front door. On entering, your first impressions might begin to waver. A strong smell of petrol. No door to the first room on your left, and what was left of its door frame splintered and hanging off the broken plaster. Black oil marks on the floor led the way to a partially destroyed staircase.
The squat had been opened up by the Prowlers some months before I arrived......

Almost every central London borough back in the mid-70's would have its squatting community, and "community" is the relevant word. The fact that often a whole row or street of houses would be squatted, often (but not always) would result in a strong sense of community between the "occupìers". There was no doubt, in my mind at least, that the simple act of squatting was a "political" statement in itself. Maida Hill in 1974 had various "self-help" groups. The main political shove came from the brilliant Piers Corbyn who apart from editing the local EASY magazine organized multitudinous demos & events to further  local squatters' rights, and at the end galvanized a united opposition to the GLC's attempts at  mass-eviction of Elgin Avenue. There was the infamous squatting Estate Agents: "The Rough Tough Cream Puff Estate Agency"; the "Release" legal aid office up the road from us; but without doubt, socially the most important institution was "That Tea Room", the perfect place for a cuppa, a natter, and some good music...

                                                                                               ...That Tea Room....

As for the band, we would never refuse the offer to play a "Squat Bop", our affectionate term for the many parties/benefits/happenings that were regularly organized by the various London squatting groups. We wouldn't get paid, but apart from the opportunity to strut our stuff, it was a natural expression of solidarity with the broad squatting community.

Extract from Chapter 1 "SQUAT CITY ROCKS"

"...The houses that we took over came from various sources. The great majority belonged to the GLC, London’s municipal corporation. There were hundreds of houses, often a whole street, left empty for years awaiting re-development. Another landowner of note, especially in our area of west London, was the Church commission. Goodness knows how the gentlemen members of the commission rationalized their flagrant disregard for their Founder’s commandments, but there they were sitting on the deeds of millions of pounds worth of prime west London real estate, and most of the time quite happy to remain sitting on it while house prices rocketed hand in hand with the numbers of London’s homeless.

As I’ve mentioned the houses could be in an awful state of repair, so anyone who did decide to squat would usually have to put up with, putting it lightly, a  pretty basic standard of living.  Often the GLC would send in workers to trash the installations so that they couldn’t be squatted. Obviously this could be more or less of a problem for us, depending on the assiduity of the council labourers.  We quickly learned the basics of plumbing and even the electrics became less of an unknown. However, few squats in our Maida Hill neighbourhood had a bath, some were without a cooker, no carpets, no washing machine, dodgy wiring,  security of tenure just didn’t enter into the equation..."

In general terms, I suppose the relevance of the Squatting movement to the book  is that it represents the maximum expression of the "DO  IT  YOURSELF" ethos. 
The 101'ers were never a "PUNK" band  per se (i.e. in terms of style of music and image), yet in the run up to the Punk explosion of 1976, they were most definitely strong espousers of that Do it Yourself attitude that would become for me the most important aspect of the Punk phenomenon.

                                        Taken from "Squatters' Handbook, Dec'75".  Author unknown

Fellow occupant of 101 was photographer Julian Yewdall. Here is a link to an interesting photographic record of those times that he has recently published: