Tuesday, 29 January 2013

1 - Tottenham Hale

1) Tottenham Hale

Seeing as this is where we are based, and the part of Tottenham that most of our customers will know best, we will start with Tottenham Hale. This area is the part of Tottenham that is least representative of Tottenham as a whole. Most people's opinion of the area is that it is a little bit of a thoroughfare. I wouldn't dispute that, to be fair. Many people get the tube to Tottenham Hale and change here to get the train to Stansted Airport, or Hertfordshire, and there are buses that go from the station to parts of London ill served by the tube, like Edmonton and Enfield. Many people going to Ikea change here also, so it does have a bit of a transient feel about it. However, with the recent redevelopment in the area, with about 1 in 4 people you now meet in the area being students, and with them skateboarding, roller-blading and even doing parkour in the area, it has given the area a really nice, youthful and vibrant feel.  A lot of it consists of beautiful nature, the river lee, Tottenham Marshes and the Walthamstow fisheries, photos of which are on the following link:

Nature aside, it is mainly made up of a few different parts.

There are 2 main housing estates that make up pretty much all of the housing in the whole area. The Ferry Lane Estate is a 1960's ex-council estate. It has improved a lot recently, and speaking as someone who was going to buy a flat in it, I think it is a fantastic place to rent or even purchase. At the time, in 2009, we were looking at a flat that was £148,000 for a 2 bedroom, good soundproofing and nice proportions, with fantastic views over the walthamstow fisheries,and only a few mins from the station. It was a lot cheaper than other flats that were in more up-and-coming areas, and there seems to be a surprising amount of city workers living there (no doubt taking advantage of the direct links form the nearby station to Liverpool Street). The aesthetics of the estate could be improved however, and since the pub and post office were ripped out for more housing, there isn't much reason for anyone else to go into it unless you live there, hence it can feel a bit cut off to the rest of the area.

Just across the river is Bream Close, a private estate that was completed in the 1990's. I lived here for about 4 years or so, and I think it has a much nicer feel about it than Ferry Lane, just in that the buildings are more spaced out, there is more natural sunlight as a result of the lighter tone bricks, and there is a lot more greenery. When the place was built, it was built with having more trees and patches of grass in mind, whereas the Ferry Lane estate has the feel of an estate that was built without green spaces being considered, and they have had to be crow bared into tiny patches retrospectively. One of the hidden gems in Tottenham Hale is that if you go down to the bottom of Bream Close, in early spring, there will be a few families of Geese living down there at the bottom. Many times I used to pop down there, where there is a picnic table at the end, and bring my laptop and complete e mails down there, while the Mummy and Daddy geese were walking around with a chain of 4-12 baby geese behind them. It was a nice way to spend a few hours. However, the proportions of the properties are not great. The ceilings are very low, and there is absolutely no outside space direct accessible from the flat. The soundproofing isn't amazing either. They are great places for crash pads, (and in fact a lot of the major airlines seem to have bought flats there so that their Stansted based pilots and air stewards can use them as opposed to hotels) but, in my opinion,  they do not lend themselves well to anything more long term. Cab drivers always speak very highly of the estate, and a lot of them will say that they have never had any problems there, and we moved there after were robbed (more of that later), as the police actually advised us to move there, saying how safe it was.

The Retail Park - which is home to big shops like PC World, Boots, B&Q, etc. The retail park is the main reason why most people come to the area. They get the tube from central London, or the train from Hertfordshire, exit the tube station, do their shopping, and then head back. A lot of them also drive there, especially on a weekend, as is evident from the traffic delays. There is a little cafe inside of Asda, and a Costa Coffee, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Greggs,  KFC and Subway for the shoppers, so they do not even need to venture further from out of sight from the tube station. Now, a lot of people I have spoken to have actually talked about the retail park negatively. They say it looks like a homogenised identikit area, with no personality. They say that it doesn't encourage people to investigate Tottenham High Rd. My personal opinion is that if people want to do a bit of shopping, there is nothing wrong with that, and they are still free to investigate the high road if they want to, no-one is stopping them. Also, from experience, I have seen so many people walk into the Ferry Lane and Bream Close estates wearing uniforms from the shops within the retail park to know that it undoubtedly offers a huge amount of employment to the local area. I'm not sure of the exact number, but I would estimate that there are about 400 jobs in the area as a direct result of the park. This, in itself, can only be a great thing.

Just north-east of the retail park, is the new Hale Village. I have to say, when it was announced, I was quite sceptical myself that it could be good for the area. Talk of cramming 1,600 flats into such a small area, well, it sounded like they were prioritising quantity over quality. However, since it has gone up, I have been pleasantly surprised, and actually think that it is a really great addition to the area. The buildings have a great splash of colour, and there is also a great little playground in the middle of the development, which has a bouncy, rubbery floor to it (I must confess, I actually walk through the playground on the way from the tube station to the studio, just so I can literally have a spring in my step...... *embarrassed*) Also, the shops that they have currently opened in the development are actually shops that the locals will benefit from, as opposed to shops that people will travel in on the tube specifically to use. The Tesco extra is very handy, especially as before Lidl had a shopping monopoly over the area, and with it there is a new cash machine, which seeing how unreliable the cash point at the petrol station was, was much needed. The new gym that has barely been opened for a few weeks now also seems to be very popular, and is cheap enough that it doesn't price out most people from using it.

These are the only shops that are opened at the moment, but if it were up to me, and in case any of the developers are reading, I think the area desperately needs:

A Nando's style restaurant – currently, Pizza Hut is the only place where you can go to eat that isn't your typical fast food restaurant. If you want anything a bit fancier, then it's just Pizza Hut at the minute.

A Charity Shop - I'm a big lover of charity shops. I think they are great, in that they raise money for worthy causes, but also as they are a great way to spend 15 mins of a rainy day. Charity shops appeal to students, older people, people on a limited income, and people looking for something to do, and Tottenham Hale has a lot of each of these.

A Bank - If you want to go to the bank, you have to go to the high road at present. And when you do get to the high road by taking the quickest route, it's still a bit of a walk from there. Any bank that opens up in Tottenham Hale will have about 5,000-10,000 people who will be able to call it their local bank. Especially as there seem to be quite a few elderly people in the are, it would be a godsend to them to not have to get the bus to the high road.  Even people in nearby Blackhorse Rd would no doubt benefit. 

Another Pub - A few years ago, you had the Ferry Boat Inn, The Narrow Boat, and the White Hart. Now, we are down to 1, just the Ferry Boat Inn. Much as we love it (it's great value, warm & cosy and has a great history and architecture to it), it's a shame that it is the only pub in the whole area, and the area would be really improved by a second pub, so that you had a choice of the type of pub you wanted to visit. Having said that, about 10-15 mins walk away is the The Prince Arthur/Mannions pub, which is your best bet if you want to catch the football, and it is a nice enough old man's Irish pub, with cheap pints and a relaxed atmosphere. It's more in the Seven Sisters area though, but it is a place that is better than you would expect, and I am more than happy to recommend the place. A couple of bands who have rehearsed with us have also said that they put on live bands there, but as far as we know, they do not have their own PA system.

A live music venue! - There used to be one down the road in the Walthamstow standard, which was one of the most underrated venues in London (good sound system, nice size and directly opposite a tube station on the fast Victoria Line). But since that shut down to make way for a Turkish supermarket, there is a real lack of a community hub in the area. 90% of the population of the new development seem to be students, so a music venue/place to meet would have a captive market. The Fountain used to be based in Tottenham Green, and that doesn't have live bands any more, and these music venues that ave closed down have not been replaced. Plus, as  so many bands from Harlow, Ware, Cheshunt and the surrounding areas that come to us say that there are not too many music venues in these areas, and seeing as Tottenham Hale has direct links to Hertfordshire, it would be great for bands that are based in Hertfordshire who work or go to college in central London, and want to play a gig that both of their social circles can come to. To any naysayers who say that Tottenham would not be improved by a music venue, I would say to look at Brixton, Notting Hill and Brick Lane. All of these had flourishing music venues when they were less than prosperous, and the music venues doesn't seem to have stopped these places from improving dramatically in recent years.

A Post Office – The nearest one is in Tottenham Green, which is 15-20 mins walk, on Broad Lane, and you need to factor in a 15 mins wait there all the time, as it is so busy.
Independent shops – On the whole of the Tottenham Hale area, apart from a  couple of shops that are hidden behind a tall high rise residential block, I cannot think of any independant shops.  And I think that the area is much poorer for it.  It could drastically be improved by an independant record shop, boutique clothes shop, or even a delicatessan.   If you only have multinational chain stores within the area, then it sends out the strong message:  “If you want to conduct business in this area, you need multi million pound backing. If you do not have it, then don't bother, we don't want you”. 

And I just don't think that this is the way that it should be. Hale Village is at it's teething stage. Here is what I would suggest.  Set aside a shop, that measures about 1,500 - 2,000 square foot, and split it into different sections.  You wouldn't need to phyicially do this, even some paint or gaffer tape on the floor, could show the different sections. You could get about 40 sections of 30-50 square foot each, big enough for maybe a 8 x 6 foot slot.  That is big enough to have a table set up, selling excess clutter from around the home in a car boot sale style; big enough to set up a few stands for an artist to show off their artwork; for an old lady to sell some cakes she has made; or for someone who is skilled with a sewing machine to do alterations to clothes; even a tarot reader to give readings, or a massuse to give back rubs.   An indoor market, as it were.  There are literally hundreds of jobs that could be done.  40 units.  Charge them £5 per day each.  Lets say you had a 70% occupancy, which is the industry average, and the space would have £140 income per day.   Just for the empty space, as everyone would bring their own tables. No wages costs. All the businesses share the same electrical supply, the same light and heat, etc. We live in an age where people can set up a blog for free, or instead of buying hosting for their website, they can set up a Facebook page. From charging just £5 per day for each section, at 70% occupancy, that would be £980 per week. £50,960 per year. If you had it full, you could get £72,800 per year. More importantly, it would send out a great message to the people of Tottenham, that you can start a business with a £5 rent per day, a painters and decorators table from B&Q and some unused items lying around in the garage that someone might want, or a skill or talent that you have. 

I know first hand how much it can turn around your life to have your own business. When the riots happened in 2011, many people said that it was because lots of young people had no hope. What better way to give people who are unemployed the opportunity to build a small business than to say that they can start their business, and it if goes to the wall after 1 month, and they do not even bring in a penny of income in the whole month, they will have lost just £150 if they operated 7 days a week.  And lets keep this in perspective, £150, in that sort of context, is nothing.  The educational aspects, and the lessons learned from the setback alone would be worth it. It would give locals an opportunity of improved financial independence, would prove to be a great learning curve, would bring people into the area, and would still generate £50-£70,000 per year.   Big businesses have amply opportunity to conduct business in Tottenham Hale, what about the small businessman?  These are the exactly the people that the local council should be investing in, and by doing so, Tottenham Hale can benefit in the same way that Camden Market has experienced massive growth around it's markets.

Also, from an economic point of view it makes great sense.   The vast majority of larger companies started off as small companies.   Recent success stories such as Innocent Smoothies, The Gadget Shop, Sports Direct and The Body Shop shows that if there is a way to get people into buisness in the first place, the company could become a huge employer and tax payer in the future.   It also makes sense to spread the risk, so that instead of 1 employer employing 1,000 people, 100 companies can employ 10 people, or we could even have 1,000 people that are self employed.  Big companies, whilst providing essential employment to many, are like big ships.  It takes them a lomng time to respond to market forces, and it is therefore hard for them to cut their cloth accordingly.  Levels of beurocracy need to be cut through, and change can be mortally slow. Companies like HMV, Jessops, Woolworths and Game are all examples of companies that didn't have the ability to change as quickly as they would have wanted or needed to.   When a big company goes into receivership, there are multiple people becoming unemployed simultaenously, big bailouts needed, men in suits to check over the figuires and work out how it went wrong, redundancies, newspaper headlines, and many times the staff are the last people to know about it, so they are the least prepared for it.  Whereas with small companies, the kind that are being neglected in Tottenham Hale at present,  when a company runs into problems,  the stall holder can pack up his foldable table, pack up all of his stock in to a box, and get a cab home with it all, with no massive fall out.  There they can lick their wounds, and plan their next step, and best of all, because they were the owners of the companies, they will probably know what it is that caused them to go out of business, so there will actually be a lesson learned. 

Tottenham Hale Industrial Areas - And then finally, you get to the industrial parks, the MillMead Industrial Park, and the Lockwood Industrial park. You get all of the usual businesses on them, like Cash & Carry's, manufacturing: (A steel factory, several clothing assembly plants), house removal firms, double glazing factories, fast food preparation, a few cafes , a few car repair shops, with a strong presence for Kosher/Jewish businesses, as well as Turkish/Cypriot businesses. There are about 20 different music recording studios, with us being the only rehearsal studios, a photography studio, a vinyl pressing plant, and even a studio that specialises in fire breathing, stilt walking and sword swallowing!! It's not the sort of place you'd walk though to see if anything took your fancy however, you'd need to have a place in mind to go there for.

One of the upsides of the estate having so many businesses on the estate though is that the crime is very low. In fact, in 8 years of us running the studios, and having had over 12,000 sessions with an average of 4 members for each of them, we have never ever had any reports of any victims of crime. One reason for this might be, as I learned from a business on the estate, was that there is a lot of CCTV in the area, simply because lorries carrying a full load from Turkey/Eastern Europe don't want to spend 3 days driving across Europe, only then to have a risk of having any of their stock stolen!

The Best Parts: 
Bally Studios, of course!!
The Walthamstow. fisheries
River Lee, Tottenham Marshes, The Paddock Nature Reserve
The Ferry Boat Inn
Being 15 mins from Liverpool Street and 18 mins from Oxford Street.

Room For Improvement 
Lack of pubs
Lack of independent Shops
The one-way system can be chaotic on a weekend, but thankfully works have started to fix this.

Link to Bally Studios extended guide to Tottenham Hale.

Monday, 28 January 2013

A Tale of 8 Tottenhams

Unit 16, 17, 18.

MillMead Business Centre, MillMead Road,

Tottenham Hale, London, N17 9QU.

That's the address of Bally Studios. Tottenham Hale. As opposed to Tottenham. Not Tottenham Green, or Tottenham High Road. Tottenham Hale. Sometimes people ask, "why is it called Tottenham Hale, as opposed to Tottenham?"

Well, for a start, it was not really my choice. When I took over the business in 2005, that was the address. I did not really question the "Hale" part, I just accepted that it was part of the address. However, it is an important distinction, and it says a lot about the area in general. Tottenham Hale is very different to Tottenham: Tottenham as a whole is an incredibly varied area. In fact, it is pretty pointless asking "what is it like in Tottenham?" You may as well say, "what is it like living in North London?" Or "how do you find living in Haringey?"

Haringey is quite possibly the UK's most varied council borough. There was a show a few years ago with Kirsty and Phil from “Location, Location Location”, and they said it was the most varied in Britain, and I'd be inclined to believe them. In recent years, Haringey Council has been famous for a few things. If I am being honest, not all of them are good. The "Baby P"scandal happened in Tottenham, and it was the shooting in Tottenham of Mark Duggan that sparked the nationwide riots that happened in August 2011. The Broadwater riots were also in Tottenham in 1985. However, Haringey is also home to some of the finest parts of London. Highgate and Muswell Hill are in Haringey, and a three-bedroom flat in either of them will set you back at least £500,000, (unless you get a fixer upper) You can also get a three-bedroom flat in Tottenham for £165,000, despite them being in the same borough. Haringey straddles both ends of the social and financial spectrum, and Tottenham is also an area that has a feel of a collection of smaller areas, all banded under the same name. A 5 minute walk can take you through 3 of the areas, some of them are that close. Some are better than others. I've lived and worked here for 8 years, so I have a pretty good understanding of the area. And it is this huge variation in the different areas that makes it so intersting. For every mention in the newspapers that Tottenham will get for the London riots, there are also hidden gems, such as Bruce Castle....


which is in Tottenham! As is the All Hallows Church, which dates back to the 12th century


Yep, also in Tottenham. I always think that Tottenham can be best summed up by the fact that on the high road, just before you get to a one-way system, right next to the Kwik-Fit and new affordable homes that are being built, and directly opposite the Chinese takeaway and 3 separate hairdressers is a monument that dates back to 1600, slap bang in the middle of the road! And I mean literally, the cars and buses have to drive around it....

See, Tottenham can be funny like that. The vast majority of my time living and working in Tottenham, I look back on with a fondness that actually shocks most people.

“Where do you live? “


“Oh God, really? Wow, what's it like?”

Yeah, I've had that conversation a few times. Hence this blog post. Despite that impression, I've lived here quite happily. I used to live up in Foyle Road, Northumberland Park, Tottenham, in a fantastic Victorian property with great features, big back garden, and great bus links, before moving to Bream Close, Tottenham Hale, which was a few minutes walk to the station, and next to the Walthamstow fisheries

So here is a little guide to all of the different parts that make up Tottenham. Some of these boundaries I have drawn are unofficial, but are recognised by many people who live in Tottenham. Also, it is just my personal opinion about the areas, so do not be surprised if anyone else disagrees with me. However, they are all honest accounts of a part of London that I hold very dear to my heart. They are also very honest. I have had to point out the bad parts as well as the good parts. The only point in the blog post is to inform people honestly about the area. If I were to cover up the worst parts of the are, then it would be misleading. In fact, some of the best aspects of the area are actually in some of the least desirable areas. As I said, Tottenham is funny like that.

In coming weeks, on Monday of every week, we will be loking at each of the different parts of Tottenham, which are: 

1.) Tottenham Hale
2.) Northumberland Park
3.) Bruce Grove
4.) White Hart Lane
5.) Seven Sisters
6.) South Tottenham

7.) Black Boy Lane/St Ann's
8.) Bruce Castle/Lordship Lane


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Happy 150th Birthday to the London Underground!

Happy 150th Birthday to the London Underground!!

Today sees the London Underground celebrate it's 150th birthday, and looking down my Facebook timeline, it seems that a lot of the people that I have befriended over the last few years share my love of, in my opinion, one the world's greatest engineering feats: one of the most groundbreaking projects ever undertaken, and also one of the most endearing and evocative parts of one of the biggest and greatest cities in the world. It has almost become a cliche, that the London Underground, much like the Thames was in the 17th and 18th century, is the lifeblood of London. In fact, I think that this would be doing it a disservice. I believe it is not only the lifeblood, but also the city's beating heart.
It was the Tube that opened up possibilities in life to me, and allowed me to discover London over the last 15 years. My business relies on the tube, and on days when there is a tube strike or maintenance on the Victoria line, my business is routinely 40% down in takings and 85% down in profits. Days like this, whilst a major source of annoyance and an economic irritation, simply serve to show exactly how reliant we are on the London Underground. A few weeks ago, on Boxing Day, Arsenal had to cancel their home game against West Ham when the London Underground staff went on strike, and the network ground to a halt. When the London Underground stops, even multi-billion pound sport stops. One of the greatest testament to it's success is how much businesses routinely base their operating hours around its limitations.

The London Underground also acts as a marker in the sand for its era. Compare the intricate and ornate curved brickwork at Baker Street, with its intimate low ceilings and narrow walkways that were as much loved in 1863, when they were built, as they are now, and you are taken to an era when the train was the most glamorous of all forms of transport. To arrive in central London on the steam train was to arrive in style, and the station's beauty reflected this. Whilst the route from the train to the station's exit may have involved more stairs than necessary, the blow was softened by the gorgeous architecture and European style arches. Compare this to the modern logistical cathedral-of-bareness that is Canary Wharf tube station. Only 9 stops along on the same Jubilee line, but a world away in style and practicality. Here, minimalist, wide open expanses and multiple escalators take precedent over ornate and intricate architectural flourishes. In 1999, when the station was built, the need for quick transport, getting from A to B in the shortest amount of time and the prevention of overcrowding was infinitely more important then any reason to linger at the tube station. Times change, and with it too, so do our needs, and the tube stations that we build reflect this. In this way, our tube stations say more about London society then most of us realise. 

Much of our love for the London Underground stems from the fact we recognise its imperfections and plan our journeys around them. You only have to take the interchange at Green Park, and how many people avoid it like the plague, to understand this. But when you compare it to other cities transport hubs, it has a rare balance of style, substance, romance and practicalness that to me is unsurpassed. It also has some of the best names of transport hubs in the world. “Elephant and Castle” “Swiss Cottage” “Maida Vale” and “Picadilly Circus” trip off the tongue beautifully.

Much of London's definition comes from its tube stations. Tell a friend that you will meet them at Tottenham Court Road at 8 p.m. tonight, and it will go without saying that you mean the tube station, as opposed to the road. Even though the letters that came through the post box at home when I was growing up had Kingsbury written within the address, we had always considered that we had lived in Colindale, simply because the station was only a 10 min walk away from our front door, as opposed to Kingsbury's 15 min walk. This is illustrative of how whole swathes of London are defined by the London Underground system. Speak to someone in Pentonville, and more often than not they will tell you that they live in Angel or Caledonian Road. If someone says they live in Brent Cross, Marble Arch or St Paul's, you will think of the tube stations, as opposed to a shopping centre, the monument or a cathedral. Many parts of London are defined by the fact that they are not on the tube network. I once met an American woman, when I was about 19 years old, who had lived in London for approximately one year while studying. When she asked where I was going out that night, and when I replied "Cricklewood", she said "why don't you go out in London instead?" Upon telling her Cricklewood was in London, she said "Really? What line is it on?" Informing her that Cricklewood was one of the few places in London that was not on the tube network, she excitedly said "Oh wow, can I come along, I would like to see what that area is like!" Muswell Hill and Primrose Hill will usually have "the village-y feel" that many other parts of London do not have as a direct result of them not having a tube station. To not be on the tube system, is to be cut off from other parts of London, for good or for bad. 

I did not actually ever go on the London Underground until I was 15 years old, which considering that that was in 1998, looking back was quite surprising. Even though I lived in north-west London, I never really had a need to. I lived walking distance away from my school, and if any visits were paid to relatives who lived in London, then my father would drive. However, my love of London grew tenfold upon discovering the endless possibilities that life would throw my way, facilitated entirely by the London Underground. When I was looking for a property recently, South London was discounted, upon the fact that there was no tube stations there. Of course, the train networks run regularly. But it is just not the same. The beauty of the London Underground system is exactly how integrated into our life it is. There is no need to plan in advance, since the trains are so regular, and it seems to bend its services around your life. Remember this the next time you are downing the last half of your pint in one gulp in order to catch the 9:11pm from Herne Hill to Victoria Station, to avoid a 30 min wait for the next train. And this goes without saying for most Londoners. If you grew up in London, then much of your life is based around its arteries. When I was 16, one of my cousins from Ireland came over to London. Having spent his entire life on the farm, we decided to take him on the tube into central London. Upon walking down the steps into the station, he excitedly said to us "Wow, would you look at that, just as we are coming into the station, the train is coming along the tracks - what are the chances of that!!" It was only when we told him that the trains usually come every 3 mins, so in fact the chance of there being the train waiting for us when we got down to the station was approximately 1 in 6 that he said "but surely they cannot be that many people that you need 20 trains an hour?". When we got on, at Colindale, onto an empty train, his theory seem to be proved right. However, it was only when he was gasping for air at Euston, a few stops away from our final destination of Tottenham Court Road, that he understood exactly how much of the demand that the London Underground has created.

I still remember my 1st time going on the London Underground. I had an appointment at the Eastman Orthodontics Hospital in King's Cross, and I was as nervous about going on a train as I was as going to the dentists. For some reason I had always assumed that it would take a couple of hours to get into central London. Being a huge fan of the Britpop bands of the era, Blur, Oasis etc I had read in numerous magazines about Camden Town being the epicentre of everything that was great and, more importantly, cool, about music. However it was only when I was pulling into Golders Green that it suddenly dawned on me - Camden Town was only 7 stops away from Colindale. The night before I have calculated that it would take about 90 min to complete the journey. But here I was, 3 stops in and only 8 mins into my journey, and by my calculations that would mean that Camden Town would only be approximately 17-20 mins from Colindale. Now, I had barely met anyone in Colindale who had even heard of Blur and Oasis outside of a few close school friends,(bearing in mind these were the 2 biggest bands within this scene that dominated my life) and I put this down to the fact that Colindale was one part of the world, and Camden Town was, geographically as well as culturally, a world away. As I was approaching Chalk Farm, sense prevailed. There are probably 2 different Camden Town's!! There was this Camden Town, which I was approaching, which was probably the Camden Town that looks much like Colindale, with a Londis shop being something that someone would go out of their way to visit, and not a semblance of a guitar or record shop in sight; and then there was the other Camden Town, the one that was the Mecca for my greatest love. That was it! That can be the only explanation. 

However, upon pulling into Camden town station, I instantly sensed that this might actually be THE Camden Town. A man and woman, maybe in their early 30s, and with matching brightly coloured Mohican hair stepped onto the tube, craning their necks to duck down so that their hair would not get caught on the door. The man was wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt, and had a bolt through his nose. The woman was wearing a Ramones T-shirt, and had approximately 10 to 15 safety pins in each ear. There is no way that either of them would have been seen dead in Colindale. But here I was, 20 min away, and a world away, thanks to the Tube. That day, after going to the orthodontist, I decided to take a trip down to Central London. It is no underestimation to say that finding out that I lived within 40 min, door-to-door, of a road in central London that had approximately 10 guitar shops within 30 seconds walking distance was one of the most exciting moments of my life.

On 7th July, 2005, I, like most Londoners, was horrified by the terrorist attacks that took place on the London Underground system. The fact that the London Underground was chosen was, in some sort of sick way, a testament to the regard that even terrorists would hold the London Underground in. Nothing can be more iconic, be held as close to people's hearts and to strike fear into the entire spectrum of London's residents, then to choose it's beloved transport system as the target of an attack. At the time I was just setting up my recording and rehearsal studio complex, Bally Studios, in Tottenham Hale. My blood ran cold when I remembered a phone conversation I have had a few weeks earlier.

"Mr Mulvihill, we are going to need you to come down to the Moorgate office of the Princes trust on 7th July, at 9 a.m., to go through the meeting with the mentors, to help with any questions that you have. Is that okay?"

"7th July? Is that the soonest that you can do?"

"Well, we have either 7th July or 14th July, so if you want to get it out the way as soon as possible then I would recommend the 7th July"

"Someone I was speaking to said that you also had 30th June, the week before, can I not come down then? I am desperate to start the business as soon as possible "

"No, I am afraid not, as all the places for that day have been taken. I can always let you know though if anyone cancels? Is July 7th good for you then?"

"Yeah, go on then, I will see then!" With that I put the phone down, and it was 10 mins later I received a phone call, from the Princes trust, informing me that somebody had cancelled their session on 30th June, and would I like to take it from them? I gratefully accepted the unexpected vacancy, and was glad to have sped up the process by a week. However, maybe as a result of only discovering the London Underground later in life, I took the train from Tottenham Hale to Liverpool Street, and from there instead of going west to Moorgate, I accidentally went east to Aldgate. Checking back over my ticket a few days later showed that I had got the train from Liverpool Street to Aldgate at 8:48am, and the revelation in the news that one of the bombs have gone off between Liverpool Street and Aldgate at 8:50am terrified me. It terrified me for a few hours, but then afterwards I just got on with it, much like the rest of London. Bearing in mind that when the London Underground was being built in the 1860s and when machines that dug the hard clay earth away to allow the tracks to be laid broke down, workmen simply ran to a nearby shop and grabbed metal buckets and used these to scrape away the soil instead; it shows how the network's history is book-ended by a make do and try-to-make-the-best-of-the-situation attitude.

However, even this did not stop me travelling on the Underground, and I can honestly say that in the many years since those events, the thoughts of anything else similar happening have rarely crossed my mind, if ever. The London Underground is tough, and resilient. It has survived through 2 world wars, acts of terrorism, economic crisis and come out stronger than ever. The service is better than it has ever been and passenger numbers are officially at all-time highs. It's only weaknesses seem to stem from its unprecedented success. While transport for London have the headache of trying to accommodate Crossrail, and redevelop Tottenham Court Road station, both of which are universally seen as essential to solve the problems of overcrowding, we must never forget that the only reason that these problems have come up in the first place is because of the unprecedented success of the London Underground. Not even the most insanely optimistic person could have imagined in 1900, when Tottenham Court Road station opened to the public, that just over 100 years later, nearly 40,000,000 people per year would be using the station, and this was a number also reflected that many people go out of their way to avoid the station due to it is overcrowded nature. Tottenham Court Road is a shining example of exactly how the very point that people make to supposedly show the weakness of the system, in fact only backs up its unrivalled success. Where else in life can a service be labelled a failure because too many people want to use it?

There is no doubt though that in order to satisfy the demand that has arisen for the London Underground that expansion work needs to take place. Much as the London Olympics was deemed a massive success, helped in no small part by the staggering number of people who relied on the system, in order for the city to grow, so too must the network. The fact that successive governments have supported each other proves that even politicians, who are known to want to prevent throwing good money after bad, can agree on its virtues. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, we as Londoners have a lot to thank it for. And though we might grumble about the price, complain about its lack of 24 hour use, and bemoan the overcrowded trains we so often squeeze onto, the fact that today we are investing billions of pounds into continuing and expanding the fine work that was started 150 years ago, with trains that are better than they ever were, and passenger numbers that are consistently growing, simply proves how right they got it, by starting the network, back in 9th January 1963.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Ballys Favourite 50 albums of 2012

Bally's Favourite 50 albums of 2012

We thought that 2012 was pretty damn great year for music, and when it came time for us to do our usual list of our favourite 20 albums, it grew into a top 30 albums list.   Then a top 40 list.   Then a top 50.......

Our rules for the list were the same as for previous years

1) No bumping up friends albums into a higher position just because they are our friends (although this year, 11 bands we have worked with made the list,  but we stuck to the rule strictly.)

2) We can obviously only include the albums that we actually listened to, and even then, we had to listen to it 10 times at least.

3) The list was compiled on 20th Dec.  Frustratingly, we heard a few other albums after the list was compiled that we thought should have been included, but by then we had already started the countdown on Twitter.  The best was Martin Rossiter's "The Defenestration Of St Martin", which we would have put in the top 10-15 at least.   

Well, here they are!  We've also compiled a Spotify playlist with all of the albums on it here:   

Top 10.
  1. Mystery Jets – Radlands

    A truly coming of age album for Mystery Jets, recorded in a home recording studio set up in a country house by the Colorado river in the Westlake area in Austin, Texas . Southern USA influences run through it, most evident on the Gospel tinged “Sister Everett” and the country-esque “Take Me Where the Roses Grow”, while still retaining their signature sound in “Greatest Hits” and even straying into Bee Gees terratory in “The Hale Bop”. A great hangover album, (much of the first half of the album, despite being very strong, barely gets out of 1st or 2nd gear), this album was pushed into first place by the run of songs from “Take Me Where the Roses Grow” to "Lost In Austin", which is amongst the finest run of songs in years.  A classic case of a laid back, and less-is-more approach paying off spectacularly.

  2. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again

    The best debut album of 2012 and a close contender for album of the year. Bill Withers and Terry
    Callier are the most obvious reference points, but there is also a strong Nick Drake vibe running through the album, particuarly in songs such as “I'll get Along” and “Tell Me A Tale”. A soulful, laid-back-to-the-point-of-vertical album, full of incredible melody lines, emotion and the maturity of a long established artist, this is the album that should have won this years Mercury Prize. This generation's “Five Leaves Left”. 

  3.  Tame Impala - Lonerism

    You know when people say that Oasis sound like the Beatles? Unless there was a Beatles song that had 15 guitars on it that I have missed, it's pretty clear they don't, and it's a lazy association. However, if the Beatles were transported from their 1968 Magical Mystery Tour period to the present day, and their time machine landed them in the home studio of Dan Snaith from Caribou, this is the album they would have made. Marks of Todd Rundgren and the Flaming Lips are all over the album too. The most immediate album of 2012, an album you can that feels familiar on first listen, as well as being one you can immerse and lose yourself in, and still discover hidden qualities on the 20th listen. It is testament to the strength of music this year that it is only number 3. In most years, it would easily be number 1, and deservedly so. “Be Above it” is a fantastic opening track, “Mind Mischief” sounds like a song that should have been on The Beatles Antology 2, and the whole album has a feel of a fantastically produced album, that adds great style to songs that would sound great on an acoustic guitar. A rare case of an album absolutely hitting the mark on both style and substance.

  4. Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg
    Only 18 Years Old, born at the height of the Britpop scene, and already with a number 1 album to his name, this is an album that Eddie Cochran or Buddy Holly would have made if they were 18 in 2012. There is a feeling of the songs not being written to fit an album, (in the same way that Devendra Banhart's first 2 major label album do), with the style veering from rockabilly, to country, folk and everywhere in between. Lo-fi and spare production values, with most of the songs sounding like they could have been recorded on a 4 track recorder. If he ever decided to do a Syd Barrett and retire from music, he'd make a good living from songwriting. There is a refreshing honesty to this album, with strained vocals and his Nottingham accent evident throughout. It's an album that a teenage lad probably wrote in his bedroom, and is in the same vein as the Arctic Monkeys debut, in that he writes in a fantastical manner about the mundane events that a British teenager would come across. Brilliant lyrically, musically and delivered spectacularly.

  5. Of Monsters and Men – My Head is An Animal
    The album that took me by surprise the most this year. It's lyrical content isn't immediately obvious, but seems to be rooted with strong mythological content throughout, and the tight production means that the album has a strong uniformity. It's basically an angsty pop album, veering in mood from levels of positive giddiness, to wallowing weariness. From Iceland, and barely into their 20's, they have made the most coherent album of the year. The most obvious band comparisons are Bon Iver, Arcade Fire and Mumford and Sons, and their album combines a multi-layered sophistication, and the production is great throughout. Co-Self produced along with Jacquire King, (Tom Waits, Modest Mouse) this is an album that reveals itself slowly, (Little Talks is the only obvious single) and is strong throughout. The lazy would compare them with Bjork, on account of being from Iceland. The truth is that they wouldn't be too far away from the truth;.If she was asked to write an album to fit into the drive time Radio slot, it could possibly sound like this.

  6. Gaz Coombes - Here Come The Bombs
    The debut solo album from the Supergrass frontman, on which he plays all the instruments. If this album had come out in 1998, it would have fitted alongside “In It For The Money” effortlessly in style and quality. If every album released this year was whittled down to it's best 5 singles, this album would have been the best. Hot Fruit could have slipped into IIFTM, “Generator” sounds like a song left off of “I Should Coco” (it would be one of the strongest songs on that album) and “Whore” could have been recorded on the same day as Richard III, despite the 15 year gap between the two songs. It sounds like the album that it is; a first album by an artist who has established himself in a sound, but has a sense of liberation from going solo, and decides to take a few risks and push the boat out. Certain sections of this album may not have worked within a band setting, as they are so sparse that there simply isn't enough content to go around the various members, but there is a also a depth to this album quite unlike anything he has ever done in the past, and is has a lot more texture and production values than you would expect.  “Break the Silence” beats MGMT at their own game, and all in all, it is the most underrated album of the year by far.

  7. The Shins – Port of Morrow
    One of the most maligned albums of the year, (most press reviews were incredibly harsh on it) but unfairly so. I genuinely feel this is the best album of their career, and people who are pining for the sub pop days are cheating themselves out of a great album. “Simple Song” was one of the best singles of 2012, and while the album may not hit the heart as much as many other albums this year, it is still a fantastically entertaining album to listen to. And there is nothing wrong with that. They seem to be aiming for the stadium-full-of-lighters-waving-in-the-air vibe on many songs, notably “It's Only Life” (If Rachel and Ross went to a gig in an episode of Friends, and ended up copping off with each other, this is the song the producers would choose the magic moment to happen to). So if you're the sort of person who gets angered by bands who try to spread their appeal and set out to make an album to be consumed by the masses in industrial quantities, this album will probably do nothing for you. In the meantime, it's no skin off my nose, you are the one that is missing out on one of the better albums of 2012......

  8. Allo Darlin – Europe
    We thought that Allo Darlin's self titled debut album was pretty damn spectacular, and this second album continues where their last one stopped, both in sound and quality. Out of all if the bands on this list, Allo Darlin are the best example of a band that I genuinely couldn't imagine anyone not liking. In fact, if you were to say that you were not a fan of theirs, you'd probably be someone who would trot out the old “I don't like the Beatles...” line. So I'm sure that there are people out there who might not like them, but this album is so good that it is otherwise assumed you would be a fan, unless you state otherwise. The production on it is has a crystal clear, American-west-coast feel about it, and their songs simultaneously have a lightweight, breezy universal appeal to them, but at the same time, the album feels like a cult album, not dissimular to Weezer's “Pinkerton” or early Death Cab for Cutie while still in places sounding like The Beach Boys, Kirsty McCall, Real Estate or even The Thrills. Lyrically, the album is one of the strongest of the year, and it was pretty much one of the only albums this year that everyone at the studios loved, and whether it be tracks such as “Neil Amstrong,” with it's saccharine sweet and insainly upbeat optimism, despite it's quite meloncholic lyrical content ("They could name a star after you and you'd still be complaining,") or the beautiful heartwarming-despondency (if that is possible.....) of “Talulah”, this album is a triumph, and would have been in the top 3 on any other year from 2005-2011.

  9. Jack White - Blunderbuss

    This was the album that surprised us the least this year, in fact, you could have seen an album of this quality coming from a country mile off. Having built up a songwriting craft that is on a par with Bob Dylan's output from 1965-1968 with the White Stripes 6 albums, and having spread his wings with various musical projects such as The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs which, while being great acts, didn't reach the heights of the White Stripes output, mainly due to the lack of total control he could have over each of his albums, this feels like a natural progression. The fantastic album he produced with Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose is another obvious marker point. And this album is the accumulation of all of them. The snappy songwriting of the White Stripes? Check! The fantastic production values of Van Lear Rose? Check! The greatly improves musicianship of The Dead Weather/The Raconteurs? Check! One of the best albums of the year? Double-check!!

  10. Jason Lytle – Dept of Dissapearance
    Seeing as 2012 is the year the Grandaddy reconvened for their re-union gigs, you don't need many guesses to know what the starting reference point for this album is. If you liked Grandaddy, you'll like this album, if you didn't, you won't. It doesn't look to reinvent the wheel, just add a few more spokes in it. It is incredibly strong throughout, especially seeing as it is just his second album in 6 years, and whilst some parts of it feel like a parody of a Grandaddy album, it is a remarkably rewarding album. The lyrical content is kooky, as you would expect, and many of the songs have a familiarity about them that immediately makes you think he has re-worked an old song. If you're looking for obvious singles though, there are not too many of them, but that is probably because this album is more likely to be played as an album, rather than having choice tracks aired on radio. Much stronger than his first album, it is the album that confirms Jason Lytle as one of the greatest songwriters of our generation.


  11. Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
  12. Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament – The Violence
  13. Bahamas – Barchords
  14. Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
  15. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
  16. Ben Kweller – Go Fly A Kite
  17. Keegan McInroe – A Thousand Dreams
  18. Regina Spektor – What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
  19. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
  20. Bob Dylan – Tempest
  21. Antlered Man – Gifties 1 & 2
  22. M Ward - A Wasteland Companion
  23. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
  24. John Cale - Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood
  25. Howler – Give Up
  26. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
  27. Richard Hawley – Standing on the Sky's Edge
  28. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
  29. Beach House - Bloom
  30. Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man in The Universe
  31. Paul Banks - Banks
  32. Girls Girls Girls – Here Come the Bastards
  33. Darren Hayman – Lido
  34. David Lynch and St Vincent – Love This Giant
  35. Paul Weller – Sonic Kicks
  36. Tribes - Baby
  37. Best Coast – The Only Place
  38. Kyla La Grange - Ashes
  39. The Macabeees – Given To The Wild
  40. Melody's Echo Chamber - Melody's Echo Chamber
  41. Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
  42. The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the Radio
  43. Toy - Toy
  44. Saint Etienne - Words and Music by Saint Etienne
  45. Alt J – An Awesome Wave
  46. Band Of Skulls - Sweet Sour
  47. The Sick Leaves – Breaking Away
  48. Graham Coxon – A+ E
  49. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
  50. Zulu Winter - Language