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Local and social historian Tom Vague writes about All Saints Road in Notting Hill.
The Wise brothers described All Saints Road at the height of its Frontline notoriety, when the street never closed without police assistance, as ‘a north London casbah’ featuring late night Rasta football games and street fights. In an All Saints joke of the time, when cows escaped from a truck into the street a Rasta asked one if it wanted some grass. According to the Wise brothers, the Ladbroke Grove skinheads co-existed amicably with the Rastas.
In 1984 the NME found Neville Staple of the Specials and Funboy Three with the reggae toasters Clint Eastwood and General Saint ‘in the basement of a cramped All Saints Road hangout’, where ‘the youth of Ladbroke Grove are relaxing, playing table-football.’ Billy Ocean of ‘When The Going Gets Tough’ fame was also on the frontline reggae scene, which then revolved around the Upfront record shop and the former Irish club Johnny Cleggan’s.
Denise Watson’s ‘Notting Hill Girl’ book recounts life on the line in the 80s; a ‘horror trip into the violent yardie gangster underworld, the darker side of Notting Hill Gate, kidnapping, murder, robberies.’ The story goes from the halcyon days of the alternative herb market Rasta Heaven W11 – featuring Bibs’ and Philsen’s cafes, the rankin’ taxi office, Roger’s shebeen and the Hole gambling den – through yardie crack war zone to gentrified Notting Hell. After the 1987 riot All Saints Road was subject to a £1 million ‘designer policing’ makeover.
Elisabeth Grice reported in the Times, somewhat prematurely, that the street’s crime problems had been ‘designed out’ with bulkhead lights, electronic shutters and laminated glass replacing the ‘dingy recesses’ and grilles ‘symbolic of the street’s fortress mentality.’ The deputy assistant Met commissioner Paul Condon said, “We would not claim to have eradicated drugs and crime but we have neutralised a very dangerous area.”
As police raided the Mangrove again in 1988, Big Audio Dynamite came up with ‘The Battle Of All Saints Road’ ‘cockney and western’ ballad, and Transvision Vamp got the ‘W11 Blues’. Wendy James recounts: “walking down the line, heading for the Grove to meet some friends of mine… left out of All Saints across Portobello Road, underneath the Westway and into Ladbroke Grove.”
In literature, Martin Amis’s late 80s books ‘God’s Dice’ and ‘London Fields’ feature All Saints scenes. Into the 90s Sinead O’Connor and Mick Jagger appeared upstairs at the Pelican pub on the corner of Tavistock Road. At 19 All Saints Road, on the northwest corner of Lancaster Road, Aki Nawaz orchestrated Fun-Da-Mental’s punk-bhangra-rap fusion, as his Nation label encompassed Cornershop, Asian Dub Foundation and Transglobal Underground. Aky was the drummer of the positive-punk group Southern Death Cult who became the Cult. Number 19 had previously hosted the offices of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ management company and the Sisters of Mercy manager Nick Jones’s Karbon label featuring World Domination Enterprises.
The All Saints girl group began in 1993 when Shaznay Lewis met Mel Blatt in Metamorphosis studios at 18 All Saints Road (formerly the Apollo pub and the Mangrove studios, now the Apollo studios); which was also frequented by Don-e, the Acid Jazz Young Disciples, and Ben Volpelierre-Pierrot of Curiosity Killed The Cat. Ron Tom, the studios manager and Tabernacle promoter, took tapes of Shaznay, Mel and Simone Rainford to ZTT at Sarm West studios on Basing Street. ZTT signed the girls as a group and they named themselves in honour of the street where they met. Shaznay recalled living off fritters at Bibs café, where Mel had a tab.
The Ripe Tomato restaurant at number 7, on the corner of St Luke’s Mews, was founded at the same time by Ethel Coley, another star of the musical ‘Hair’.
In 1994 All Saints Road was twinned with Vienda Street in Soweto at the Nelson Mandela election victory street party, and called ‘A Road to Nowhere’ in a Kensington News crack report. The Pelican pub at number 45 became a murder scene when Hungarian Frank Lazar shot dead a fellow drinker for no apparent reason. On the sleeve of the first All Saints single ‘Silver Shadow’ in 95, Simone Rainford, Shaznay Lewis and Mel Blatt were pictured on All Saints Road. But after two unsuccessful singles, Simone left and All Saints were dropped by ZTT. Shaznay and Mel then joined forces with the Appleton sisters, Nicole and Natalie, to cut a new demo including ‘I Know Where It’s At’ and ‘Never Ever’.
At the time of the last Wild West 11 shoot out on All Saints and the killing of Russell Christie (Linford Christie’s brother) in the vicinity in 1996, CCTV was introduced, the police launched a crackhouse crackdown and the Mangrove Trust had a crack outreach initiative. Wilf Walker put on the first All Saints Road Community Street Party, and Will Self wrote an All Saints drugs/restaurant crossover review in the Observer of the Sugar Club at number 33, the basement of which hosted the last blues club. As All Saints’ ‘I Know Where It’s At’ single was released in 97, they were described as ‘hip-hop-lite’ streetwise rude girls. By then the road had lost its street cred and become a ’boutiques and restaurants haven for style conscious young professionals.’
All Saints (the group) began 1998 with their second single ‘Never Ever’ topping the chart and winning two Brit awards. As they had three consecutive number ones, the girls maintained the road’s tabloid notoriety.
In 2000 Madonna was famously turned away from the Sugar Club restaurant at 33, but had more amicable dealings with the Portobello Music Shop at number 13, who put her on to Bob Tyder for guitar lessons. Paula Yates, ‘The Tube’ presenter, ex- of Bob Geldof and Michael Hutchence, died of drugs misadventure in St Luke’s Mews on the 30th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix on Ladbroke Grove.
In 2003 Amy Winehouse appeared on All Saints Road on the cover of the Carnival Time Out guide, looking virtually unrecognisable in Carnival mode. Like Madonna before her, Amy was impressed with the Portobello Music Shop. The following year, as the All Saints group were resurrected for their third album ‘Studio One’, the Time Out Carnival issue featured the new r’n’b/hip-hop stars Estelle and Shystie outside the Apollo studios (where All Saints formed). All Saints Road appeared in the yet to be released film ‘Hippie Hippie Shake’, shot in 2007, as the swinging 60s King’s Road with the Apollo studios appearing as the Chelsea Potter.
The street acquired a Rolling Stones link in 2009 when the Jade Jagger boutique opened at number 43, with a Stones-style lips sign, next to her local the Pelican. The All Saints fashion company, who previously clashed with the All Saints group over their tour merchandising, caused a Portobello market trader revolt with their acquisition of the antiques arcade on the corner of Westbourne Grove. In 2012 the Apollo studios hosted the punk film director Julien Temple and the local glam punk revival group Pink Cigar featuring Rik Mayall’s son Sid. The street has also hosted Tom Parker-Bowles. Eliza Doolittle was in People’s Sound record shop in her 2013 ‘Big When I Was Little’ video, and the Book & Kitchen shop opened at number 31. In 2014 the Pelican pub became the Red Lemon bar.
Jade Jagger’s shop was the first commercial property of Notting Hill Housing Trust, whose offices were next door from the late 1960s to the end of the 20th century. All Saints House, across the road, was opened by Princess Margaret in 1969 and remains Notting Hill Housing short-life co-op flats to this day.
Amy Garvey House sheltered housing on the corner of McGregor Road is named after the first wife of Marcus Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, who established the first Afro-Caribbean centre at 1 Bassett Road on Ladbroke Grove in the 50s. After the 1958 race riots and the 59 killing of Kelso Cochrane, she headed black community committees with Claudia Jones, who founded the London Caribbean Carnival in Euston.