The Apollo

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Local and social historian Tom Vague writes about the Apollo in All Saints Road.

In ‘Once Upon a Time there was a Place called Notting Hill Gate’, the normally hypercritical Wise brothers get quite sentimental about the old Apollo pub: “It had been an okay dive, despite the many nights of depression, all 57 varieties of lefties, alternative comedians, dumbo rebel musicians, the Apollo was the communal watering hole of vague libertarianism, which amidst all of its nonsense had something of an anti-competitive, anti-business air to it.”

When the West Indian RAF veteran Baron Baker first came to Notting Hill in the early 50s, he found the only place he could get served was in the public bar of the Apollo. From there he was directed to the Tavistock Road lodging-house of Mrs Fisher, who was known as the first Notting Hill landlady to rent to black people.

Mari Bown was in the Apollo with her father on the Queen’s coronation day in 1953: “I remember turning right into All Saints Road and crossing the road to a parade of shops which included a newsagents/ sweet shop… My next memory is of being left with my brother in a dark smelly place. I later came to understand that this was the Apollo pub and that we had been to a coronation party. Had a Lancaster Road street-party been moved indoors because of the weather or had the party always been planned to take place in this warm, but dark, smelly place?

“I remember being sat on a wooden box at a table. In hindsight, the box was an upturned bottle crate and I’m sure the board on trestle was laid with some sort of tea food. My brother was beside me during this curious event, but I don’t know where our parents were. Well, it was probably only daddy. At that time respectable married women, such as my mother, would not have wanted to go into a street corner pub; such were the social mores of the Irish living in that ghetto/neighbourhood at that time. I can’t really work out how my mother let my dad take us to such a place, let alone leave us there! In hindsight I wonder if she needed some peace to rest.”

In 1964 Ringo Starr was across Lancaster Road from the Apollo (on the north east corner) in the Beatles film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. Ringo first appears, to an instrumental version of ‘This Boy (Is In Love With You)’, on St Luke’s Road. From there he’s chased by two screaming girls down Lancaster Road to All Saints Road, where he goes into a secondhand clothes shop and comes out in beatnik disguise. After failing to chat up a beatnik girl, he’s eyed up by a policeman as he walks by Wragg’s cafe towards Tavistock Road.

The Apollo in its militant reggae days can be seen in the 1976 film ‘The Squeeze’, when it’s visited by Stacy Keach and Freddie Starr. All Saints Road also appears in the mid 70s film ‘Pressure’ and hosts Hazel O’Connor’s flat in ‘Breaking Glass’.

2017“Down here on the Frontline where Jah people gather just outside the clutches of Babylon, Aswad are at home; they’re local celebrities and so nearly every passer-by provides some sort of distraction. We spend an hour in the afternoon sun, watching, listening and waiting, before Drummie Zeb appears from a cluster of identikit dreads and with a slightly crooked smile asks: ‘Feeling the vibe of the Frontline yet? Seen…’ ” Lloyd Bradley of the NME meets Aswad on his All Saints Road trip in the run up to the 1982 Notting Hill Carnival. Shortly after this scene occurred the Apollo was closed down for serving more grass than beer.

The Time Out pub guide directed drinkers to All Saints, to ‘watch lots of unrelaxed policemen dressed as hippies selling each other Old Holborn in bank coin bags. Hello, hello, hello, wanna score, man.’

Viv Goldman reported pre-Carnival tension brewing in 1983 “among problem professionals, who’ve been hanging around on the street corner outside the Apollo pub, closed for months, that used to be a happening centre for all forms of social exchange, till Bass Charrington closed it down after too many horra shocka stories in the Sunday Nasty. They watch the police going by in twos like the animals in the ark, at 5 minute intervals, cursing them and sucking their teeth in annoyance, vowing vengeance for this hampering of their street sales, come Carnival.”

1983 turned out to be the most commercial yet, with body-popping, baseball caps, tracksuits and trainers succeeding skanking, dreadlocks and combat gear. Nevertheless, when Emotion sound-system outside the Apollo at the All Saints/Lancaster Road junction shut down on the Monday night, there was another riot. Notting Hill Housing Trust duly converted the pub into small business black co-op workshops in 1987, including the Mangrove/Metamorphosis/Apollo recording studios where All Saints the group formed.

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