Capturing that Irish community spirit in 2016
Adam Shaw spoke to the south London indie band trying to revive Irish club culture of old
Bob Dylan famously sung that the times they are a-changin’. It’s likely that he wasn’t referring to Elephant and Castle but, if he were to pay a visit to south London, he might agree that it is definitely the case.
Maybe it’s for the better, maybe it’s for the worse, but one thing is clear – the area today is not the same as it was. It’s a phenomenon that has been well-documented across the media. Rehousing, gentrification, a loss of identity; London certainly is a different spectacle these days.
Communities are being altered and, given that this is Britain, the Irish are feeling the effects. This particular situation hasn’t been given a great deal of attention. But a second-generation London Irish group are hoping to bring it to the fore.
Elephants and Castles, through their single Red Lemonade and their EP What’s left for Larry and Janet?, show how their area has changed and how specific groups have been hit hardest.
“The area is changing and we basically wanted to comment on that and put it in an art form,” band member Chris Anderson said.
He and his friend, Rob Spencer, got together as teachers who share a mutual love of music and Irish culture. They witnessed first hand how things have developed and decided that it needed to be put out there for others to understand.
“We just thought it would be a good idea to write some songs,” Chris explained.
“We’ve had a lot of experiences with the Aylesbury Estate and we’ve seen how things have moved on.
“It extends to the Irish community because things that they will have been used to in the 60s and 70s aren’t the case anymore – their way of life has essentially been destroyed.”
Chris, whose mother hails from Roscommon, made it clear that the Irish scene continues to thrive in spite of difficult times.
“There’s still a fantastic sense of community among Irish people but they need certain things to carry on as they always have,” he said. “It might seem a bit outdated but social clubs and working men’s clubs are essential to so many people.
“It shouldn’t be something which is looked down upon and shifted out, it should be celebrated.”
The reality, unfortunately, is far from celebration. Families who were settled in Elephant and Castle have been moved on. New families are lacking in opportunities.
“These houses are built as luxuries now, they’re not for young families anymore,” Chris said. “And things are closing – pubs, clubs and bars, they don’t exist in the same way they used to, if at all. “Then you’ve got people who fell in love with south London and the next thing you know they’ve been packed off to Kent or Surrey.”
Nowhere was this more obvious than in the case of Larry and Janet. The duo, who form the title of the band’s EP, were real people. They came to London several decades ago but what they once knew is but a distant memory.
They’ve been sent further afield, while the scene they loved is no more. It’s no surprise that people are asking ‘what’s left?’ Chris was quick to point out that people aren’t rolling over and accepting their fate. The Irish community will continue to celebrate all that makes it great. It’s merely that things are different to how they were ten, 20 or 30 years ago. And this isn’t just in London; it extends to all parts of the UK.
“I grew up in St Albans and I remember the big social clubs,” he explained. “These were places where you could come and chat and share ideas. It’s so important to Irish people.” These types of spaces may be dwindling and this has been the catalyst for the band’s music.
Chris noted how songs have always been a unifying factor and the hope is that their message will have an impact on those who have been affected. And their sound, while not obviously Irish, carries a lot of the themes one thinks of when you’re taken back to the old pubs and clubs.
“It’s a cliché but we genuinely are trying to tell a story and convey the situation,” he said. “We love a waltz, we love a good sing song and we’ve been brought up on the concept of melody.”
They are trying to make waves in London purely for the love of music and celebrating a bygone era which, they believe, should be maintained. They are playing at The Good Ship in Kilburn on 2 December and two days later will be at Deptford Cinema. These are exactly the sort of places they hope to revive, though Chris appreciates that running a venue in this day and age is becoming ever more difficult.
“Places are closing down, times are hard. The Good Ship, for example, which is so important to some people, is at risk of closing,” he explained. “We just want to get people through the doors and to realise the impact these sorts of places can have on an area and communities.”
While the wider message is clear, the band is sticking to its Irish links, using it as a metaphor for the overall picture. They will be handing out custom bottles of red lemonade at their launch party and they make no bones about seeing Oasis, with their Irish heritage, as an aspiration.
They get involved with The London Ear on RTÉ 2XM where they revel in the abundance of Irish music coming out of the capital. And they, like so many who still enjoy the old social clubs across the country, are very down to earth.
They do not preach; they merely wish to draw attention to what is happening to their community. They play music because they love it and see it as a tool to spread a message. Above all, they want to make a difference.
The times may be a-changin’ but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
For more information, visit www.elephantsandcastles.london