Monday, 22 February 2010


London has its major locations for the performing arts ... the Old Vic and the National when it comes to theatre, the Festival Hall and the Barbican when there's music involved. And they're fine and important places, for sure. But they're not what really makes this city the thriving cultural hotspot that it is. No, it's the hundreds of tiny little venues which do that, the nooks and crannies and the upstairs rooms where new ideas can be tried out, fresh talents flexed, minority tastes catered to and old triumphs revived. These places might turn a small profit, but they're mostly labours of love, kept going by people who genuinely care about the branch of the arts they're into. And I've been visiting a couple of them recently.

Come out at Waterloo Station, head down The Cut past the Old Vic and you'll eventually come to a big, Victorian-looking railway bridge. And tucked beneath the left side of the arch you'll find the Union Theatre, which has been there for a while and which I've visited a few times. They were showing a revival of Doug Lucie's 1980's hit 'Progress' on this occasion, a darkly funny satire about one of that decade's oddest creatures, the 'new man.' The auditorium must only take a hundred people at a squeeze, and the occasional train rumbles overhead during the performance, but that only makes your evening a more unique occasion. And the Union has a nice little bar which gets very bustly once the show is over; you can even chat with the cast of the play you've just been watching. And when do you get to do that at the National?

Then on Friday I went with my old pal Andy Snipper to a fairly new music spot, the Map Cafe in Kentish Town (pictured; copyright (c) Andy Snipper 2010). Downstairs it's a cosy eatery with friendly staff and good, inexpensive grub, the latter a massive rarity in London. But go up a steep flight of stairs at the back and you find yourself in a tiny club, laid out coffee-house style but with a bar. Pianist Leon Greening was the act that night. He and his trio started out playing some fairly standard mainstream jazz, but were then joined by renowned trumpeter Damon Brown who brought a welcome breath of 'cool' to the occasion, and the set really took off. All of this to a 'packed house' of about two dozen fans, ranging in age from eighteen to eighty. It was a lot more fun, believe me, than any mega concert at the Festival Hall.

So let's hear it for small. You can't globalize it. You can't corporatize it. You can't even control it very much. Small is what keeps our culture genuinely fresh, and the world would be a ... well ... a very much smaller place without it.

(You can read Andy's review of the Map Cafe and Leon Greening here).

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Issue #4 of the great horror anthology Terror Tales is now out from Rainfall Books. It's edited by John B. Ford and Paul Kane, and I'm delighted to say it carries a reprint of one of my best early stories. I was living in Bayswater, five minutes walk from Hyde Park, back in 1983. The UK was headed into the affluent times of the mid-Eighties, but not everyone was benefiting by a long shot. In fact, I'd noticed a growing number of homeless people on the streets of my neighborhood ... I suppose the park was a big draw for them. And it struck me, very forcefully, that they had been shunted out of normal society so completely they were almost like a separate race. Which inspired me to sit down and write, fairly quickly I recall, a short tale called 'Discards,' in which I dealt with the whole subject in fantasy terms. I posted it -- yup, there was only snail mail in those days -- to Ed Ferman in New York, who wrote back a few days later telling me he was accepting it for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. And it appeared in the September of that year. How very good to see it in print again after all this time.

One thing, though. As regards those people living on the streets, the story hasn't dated in the least little bit. It is just as accurate and relevant today as it was twenty-seven years ago.

On a lighter note, Black Static magazine's distinguished fiction critic, Peter Tennant, has just released his list of the Best Horror and Dark Fantasy books of 2009, and Night of Demons is on it.