Essential Reading: ‘Live at the Brixton Academy’, Simon Parkes (2014)
The very first time I stepped on British soil – a couple of years before my imminent Eastern European immigrant invasion – was on December 17th 2011. My love picked me up from Gatwick, took me to her place in Clapham and two hours later we were on our way to the Brixton Academy for a Soulwaxmax party. And so it happened that my very first, very memorable on several different levels, London experience was not snapping away postcard-ready images of Big Ben but dancing under the Academy‘s cosmically atmospheric roof.
In the last chapter of ‘Live at the Brixton Academy’ venue founder and institution creator Simone Parkes says that ‘there must be hundreds of thousands of people whose first visit to Brixton was for a gig or club night at the Academy’. While at the time of my visit, the Academy wasn’t the original Parkes-run establishment anymore, the statement nevertheless holds true for this little music lover here.
And it wasn’t just my first visit to Brixton. It was my first visit to London. In a way, Brixton Academy and the merry bunch of Brummie strangers I shared a mini cab ride with that night – a first-time tourist’s much needed crash course in proper British English, filled with pricks, twats, tossers and wankers – showed me, in just a couple of hours, that this place might actually be the one for me. Two years later I got the one way plane ticket.
I’ve been to a couple more gigs at Brixton Academy since, including a second Soulwaxmas the following year, but the experience of walking into the majestic venue and looking up towards that glorious ceiling for the first time is still as vivid as that cold and miserable December night.
It’s no wonder then that I read Simon Parkes’ first-hand account of how the venue became the institution it is today under his eclectic, maverick-minded and at times downright insane management style in one breath. But then again anyone who buys a derelict former movie theatre in a freshly riot-stricken area with generally horrible reputation for 1 pound – yes, Parkes bought the Brixton Academy for 1 pound – must be insane.
Not one to be completely free of prejudice, I was slightly ticked off to find out that Simon Parkes was part of a wealthy family in the beginning of the story. ‘Not another one,’ I thought. ‘How not surprising at all.’ But the fact that it took only a couple more pages for my poshfobic being to warm up to Parkes and his character, is a testament to how well his lifelong passion and genuine enthusiasm for the music translates into the book.
I don’t know how much of ‘Live at the Brixton Academy’ was written by Parkes’s co-writer JS Rafaeli but to organize and retell a story that action-packed must’ve been a task as difficult as telling the gang member holding a gun to your head to fuck off. Which, of course, happened to Simon Parkes at some point, as it was the Brixton business custom of the time.
…and many other stories.
As I couldn’t help myself tweeting yesterday, ‘Live at the Brixton Academy’ is the epitome of a page-turner. Every chapter ends on a most delicious promise of absurdities to come and, having in mind the adventures you just ‘witnessed’ in the previous one, you can’t help but keep reading.
It’s with utmost pleasure that I add ‘Live at the Brixton Academy’ to our Essential Reading List, for it’s as much of a historical account of a music industry-defining venue as it is a lovingly retold story of a burning passion for music, societal shifts, culture clashes (way before the Red Bull ones), community regeneration, and above all – a whole lotta rock n roll.
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