“Yeah the Grove it’s different. Nothing like it. It’s the royal Ghetto" -Dizzy Heights
Portobello Road winds through the community like an artery. It's a connector, it gives lifeblood to our history. We didn't need mobile phones back in the day. On a Friday - (because few of us worked normal jobs then) - we’d do the stroll. Up and down the ‘bella ultimately aiming for the Lisboa. Winding our way, giving the nod and of course stopping to get the low down for the weekend. “Where’s the party”? You had to set aside quite a long time as the stroll was about connecting, swapping news, catching up, blanking an X or lining up a new interest with a glad eye. On the way you’d pass through the tributary of Goldborne where there was everything from old forks and spoons to chucked out out retro furniture that wasn’t quite yet retro enough. Deemed just junk to all but the canny. Treasures in trash but always a bargain found. Once you made it to the Lisboa a seat inside was a premium. We’d always have the same moan as we’d perch outside with our hands wrapped warming around the prized coffee,
always served in glasses - we’d moan that the cafe wasn’t on the other side of the street which caught the sun. But no matter the weather we came every Friday. Work could wait.
That night in Buffalo style, flight jackets and Timberlands maybe we’d hit the Globe, the Tab - yet to be done up - or the Sub under the Westway. No need to make plans as we’d come from one of the many pubs lower down on Portobello, the Star, the Gold, the Groundfloor, the Warwick. Whatever was cool at the time. Your crew was always easy to track down as they’d be being circled by eager A&R guys trying to find tips or rising pop stars wanting the effortless cool the hood had. At that time there wasn’t much at the top end of Portobello just empty shops, if you were lucky you’d catch a system set-up in one. You paid your pound, no lights, no frills just a stack of speakers and the sweet smell of ganja. You could see no one, you’d just see the glint of the Red Stripe in the corner. It was the tunes, tunes like you heard nowhere else. They came straight from Jamaica via People’s Sound on All Saints road or Dub Vendor on the Grove. You may not have recognised the track, but you didn’t care as you got your bass fix, the rhythm rattling your toes through to your soul, rocking your eyeballs on the way and it was hot!
You may not have recognised the track, but you didn’t care as you got your bass fix, the rhythm rattling your toes through to your soul, rocking your eyeballs on the way and it was hot!
Saturday on Portobello was different. The tourists were there early we came late. No need to arrange anything, no messages to check, no rush, no problem! We just knew everyone was going to be there usually by the The Cross - the junction of Lancaster, especially if the sun was shining. The shops turned over pretty regularly but for a while it was Wong Singh Jones curiosity shop at one corner and the Market Bar at the other. You could get your beer and just hang. Parked nearby with his soul and swing tunes blaring, was the local funky dread, complete with red Camaro and beautiful model, the lovely Marilyn and always Dom Perignon. Late 80’s were the days of the Summer of Love so the chat was who had the secret number to find the rave.
We were living in a no stress style.
And then we all grew up. The pulse somehow seemed to fade with the bankers moving in, properties that people hadn't previously wanted got brought up with hefty deals. The peak of music business crashed with cocaine and in walked a greater addiction, technology, taking over like a smiling cat. Apparently better ways of connecting replaced our chance meetings and with it pound parties. No longer did the Trustfarian hang with Rastifarian because now we needed numbers, calendars and addresses when before a first name sufficed. In crept exclusivity and brands with rules at the door clubs, excluding the heart resulting in no soul.
The peak of music business crashed with cocaine and in walked a greater addiction, technology, taking over like a smiling cat.
We may lament these times where the haves now reject the creative heart but things come and go. We might be a bit excited with our technology but the children who are reflective of those times are a mix of wonder, looking out at the new world with their brown eyes, green eyes, light eyes of blue, a mixture representing tolerance. Making the world their own. They can still sense the family we made. It’s up to us to share the old school wisdom - shut down the playstation, forget the WhatsApp, let them sit on the curb and discover the music. Dance at Carnival. Talk to the smiles not hide, embrace living connections. Let's not forget our roots the culture that we created. Put down the phone and know that the Royal Ghetto is a place of possibilities. Let’s keep it real.
Fiona Austin was a music journalist in the 80’s. She’s now a successful psychotherapist with two children living in Ladbroke Grove.