Sunday, 10 January 2016

Swansong of the Gasworks

Over the Christmas period I reread Trampled Under Foot, Barney Hoskyns chronologically edited collection of interviews with members of Led Zeppelin and their entourage; it's a fascinating book that's a real page-turner.  Mention of the offices of Swansong in the King's Road inspired me to see if the building was still there, as I had a few hours spare and was staying nearby.  It is indeed still in existence, no.484 Kings Road opposite the World's End pub where the staff apparently spent considerable amounts of their time.  It looks refreshingly rundown - nearby was the famous Swinging Sixties emporium Granny Takes a Trip (more info on this blog which is well worth checking out).   Swansong was the record label set up by Zep for their records and those of label mates such as Bad Company, The Pretty Things and Maggie Bell - obviously Bad Company did very well for themselves, but there are constant complaints in the book that very little promotion was undertaken for the other acts on Swansong.  Maggie Bell became so frustrated that she was forced to become a secretary there just so that she could speak to Peter Grant.

In fact, according to the interviewees, the whole operation seems to have been fairly thrifty and shambolic: the offices were shabby and there weren't enough chairs to sit on if all members of the band turned up for a meeting.  One ex-employee Dan Treacy of the TV Personalities shares his memories here.  I used to be a regular at his club above the Enterprise pub in Chalk Farm in the mid-1980s where many fine nights were spent watching the likes of The Membranes, June Brides, Yeah Yeah No, The Go Betweens, Mighty Lemon Drops and lots of other C86-type groups.

Another character who appears in the book is John Bindon, employed as a minder/bodyguard for Grant during the notorious 1977 tour and involved in the unsavoury 'Oakland Incident' on 23 July when a security guard was badly beaten.  Bindon was an interesting character, a hardnut from Fulham who had extensive connections with the underworld and pursued an acting career in early life, most famously appearing in Ken Loach's Poor Cow and Roeg and Cammell's Performance.  He was found not guilty of murdering gangster John Darke in 1978 at the seedy Ranelagh Yacht Club by Putney Bridge.  Many of his Fulham and Chelsea haunts (some of which such as the Water Rat were also used by the staff at Swansong) have inevitably been turned into luxury apartments or changed function.  One such was the Gasworks, a louche-sounding establishment on Waterford Road in Fulham, frequented by local crims, musicians, films stars and Princess Margaret.  Some evocative descriptions can be found here and here, although both first-person accounts seem strangely similar in some respects.  Now yet another iconic development opportunity.

I also read the biography of Bindon by Wensley Clarkson, a fast-moving journalistic account replete with a number of amusing mistaken homophones: apparently using his famed prodigious member Bindon 'stirred the moose' at a society do; he regularly carried a 'sheaf' knife and also once enjoyed reading a book by 'an intellectual travel writer called Paddy Lee Firmer [sic]' (one of the Firm?).

Pics The Gasworks and the former Swansong Office (this one taken by me on 28 December 2015).

Inspired by all this I've been buying the vinyl reisssues of all the records up to Presence which I never owned in the 1970s, not being a big fan and also being fed up at the time with Stairway to Heaven.

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