OnBlackheath: getting the balance right between music and nuisance

On Blackheath logoSo now we know the line-up: the OnBlackheath music festival being held on the Heath on September 13-14 will be headlined by Massive Attack, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Imelda May, and the Levellers.

Up to 30,000 people are expected to come and enjoy a weekend of music, a Kid’s Stage, a farmer’s market, Street & Fringe Theatre, ‘Walkabout Entertainment’ and a  ‘Food Village’ featuring Gizzi Erskine’s Chefs Club, at the western end of the Heath just south of the A2.

This festival, sponsored by John Lewis and promoted by the legendary Harvey Goldsmith, has had a long and controversial birth: in 2011 the Blackheath Society unsuccessfully challenged the license it had been granted by Lewisham Council in the courts. Originally due to be held in the midst of the Olympics, it has been postponed twice, from 2012 to 2013 and then again to 2014. Greenwich councillors have expressed concern to Lewisham Council (on whose side of the heath OnBlackheath will take place) about potential noise problems and the cumulative impact of OnBlackheath taking place in September, shortly after the Good Hope Festival, which was to be held on the Heath on 2-3 August. Although the Good Hope Festival was granted a license in March, its organisers announced in April that it would be postponed until 2015.Blackheath - new signs 2008

The OnBlackheath Festival had aroused more concern than the Good Hope Festival had. Some local people regret Lewisham’s decision to grant a commercial music festival a license in the first place, although others welcome southeast London’s first major music festival.

There’s a big difference between the commercial OnBlackheath (which is promoted by Harvey Goldsmith and sponsored by the John Lewis Partnership) and the Good Hope festival, which is organised by the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, set up in honour of Jimmy Mizen, a teenager who was tragically murdered in Lee in 2008.

But whether we like it or not OnBlackheath is definitely now going ahead. Following discussions with the organisers the Blackheath Society is now largely happy with the way the event is being planned, and Lewisham has attached a number of new conditions: no more than 15,000 people can attend each day (the organisers orginally wanted 25,000), noise reaching nearby homes can’t be any higher than 70 decibels, everyone must go home by 1030pm, and no alcohol will be served after 930pm. A recent Blackheath Society statement says that the society is now “looking forward to being part of the process taking this event forward, engaging constructively with London Borough of Lewisham on the detailed plans (which we are still awaiting) and addressing local residents’ concerns.” The society adds that they are pleased that there is “a commitment to a full review” after the festival closes.

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Baroness Thatcher: why the best reaction from the left is dignified silence

ThatcherBy coincidence, just a few hours after Baroness Thatcher’s death was announced on April 8th, a friend and I had tickets booked to see This House, a play by James Graham at the National Theatre, in which Mrs Thatcher is not portrayed on stage but whose presence is felt throughout.

The play’s subject is the desperate measures taken by the Labour Whips to keep the Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1970s in power. The small cast has to take its own desperate measures backstage, as the taut script requires many nifty costume changes from the drab brown suits of Labour MPs to the slightly smarter garb of the Conservatives, with a smattering of Liberal, Ulster Unionist, SDLP, Plaid Cymru and Scottish nationalist MPs thrown in for good measure.

Oddly, the only women who feature prominently on-stage are two young Labour women MPs, Helene Hayman and Ann Taylor, who are negotiating their way through the macho world of the Parliamentary Labour Party, just as Thatcher had done a decade before in the Tories. Read more of this post

What’s to be afraid of at St Paul’s?

Walking through the ‘Occupy London’ protest at St Paul’s one evening last week, what struck me was not how large it was but how small – a small crescent-shaped areas around just one corner of the cathedral. Smartly dressed in a new suit, I could easily have been mistaken for a banker. But I encountered no hostility or abuse, and saw no aggression of any kind – indeed the Camp is a place of bookstalls, neat tents. The only raised voices I heard were an animated discussion between two Rastafarians about whether or not the Occupy London protest was on a par with the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989.

I could see no graffiti – only posters tidily sellotaped up on the columns on the shopping arcade of the Post-Modern development alongside,Paternoster Square. Apart from some ordure left by a police horse on a pavement, I saw no rubbish, heard no loud noise, and saw no sign of access to and from the cathedral, or any other adjacent building, being impeded. City workers and Vergers in white tie from the cathedral walked by without any impediment. Just yards away from the tents, a sports retailer and a branch of an upmarket deli (called Paul, oddly) were trading as normal (so much for shutting down the capitalist system). Read more of this post