London. A sprawling, confusing mess that’s home to every flavour of humanity. Yet while Samuel Johnson may have famously opined that “there is in London all that life can afford”, many Londoners are increasingly finding their lives less than affordable. As luxury developments and unfettered gentrification start to sweep across the capital, the city feels like it’s approaching a significant tipping point.
Which seems like the perfect time for a new feature focusing on The Smoke. For while London has always had its problems, there’s also plenty about it that’s still worth celebrating, not least its deserved reputation for being a hotbed of creativity – especially when it comes to music. From Bowie to Burial, Winehouse to Wiley, it’s provided an almost incomparably fertile environment for musicians of every stripe.
We thought we’d ask some of the latest artists in that lineage for an insight into their relationship with Lthe capital. Today west London’s Gabriel Bruce steps up to the plate. The former Loverman man just released his second album Come All Sufferers, a diverse, dramatic collection of songs which sees Gabriel Bruce’s rich baritone conjuring thoughts of a Kensal Rise Leonard Cohen. Here he introduces his London, a place of Pokemon muggings, All Saints gentrification and the ghost of The Astoria…
Where you were born: I was born at St Mary’s in Paddington and grew up under the Westway down by Latimer road.
What was it like back then: West London has changed a lot since my childhood, my friends from primary school mainly lived in the Silchester Estate, in the tower blocks down toward Shepherd’s Bush (Grenfell Tower was the first place someone tried to mug me, I got cut a bit but got away without losing my shiny Charizard) or in all the Georgian houses up Oxford and Cambridge Gardens which were still housing trust and council flats – it wasn’t all Lattes and Sourdough then, more Panda Pop and Transform-a-Snacks.
The community was much more economically diverse and kids spent more time running around outside in the street, playing truant in Wormwood Scrubs, starting fires and getting mugged by bigger kids. It was a blast.
What is it like now: I left west London at 18 ’cause it was already becoming too expensive for me and lived in Hackney for 8 years. I’ve recently come back, living in Kensal Rise in a friend’s house where I pay a lot less than my flatmate could potentially ask for. It seems to me that this is just about the only way you can find a room in London. It’s my hometown and I can’t afford to live here, it’s sad and frustrating but the unfortunate reality.
The area itself is very different from when I was a kid. Lots of nice-looking mums in workout gear. Lots of white people. Lots of Lattes.
My Grandfather was an antiques dealer on Portobello Road, my mum still rents his old shop, I used to work on the market selling rare books – the market is a big part of my life in London. One of the most distressing changes in the area for me has been the systematic closure of independent businesses that can’t afford the spiralling rents and obscene business rates. When All Saints opened their flagship store they took over a whole arcade, putting 200 individual dealers out of business. More and more shops in the area are becoming chains, my dad’s local got rid of the carpet and now serves ‘tempura haddock, fried potatoes and pea puree’ for fuck’s sake.
Worst place you’ve lived in London: I lived for a while in abject squalor above a William Hill on Brick Lane. We had surrendered the kitchen to the cockroaches by the time we were evicted, but even that flat I loved.
What is the biggest problem facing London: Money, the Tories.
Do you see yourself living in London in ten years time: I see myself living in ten year’s time certainly! it dosen’t seem likely I would be able to afford London though.
If you couldn’t live in London any more, where would you go: I really like Idyllwild in California.
Favourite venue in London: The Windmill. I played my first ever gig there when I was 14 and my first show with my new band there last month.
Favourite rehearsal studio in London: Westbourne Rehearsal Rooms.
Favourite record shop in London: Rough Trade Talbot Road, Lion Coffee and Records in Clapton and People’s Sound on All Saints Road.
Favourite building in London: Canonbury Tower (above). It’s a beautiful Tudor building in Islington, Francis Bacon lived there, the one from the 1600s not the painter. I think it’s owned by the masons now.
Least favourite building in London: 20 Fenchurch Street, despite its hilarious capacity to harness the power of the sun as a death ray it’s really ugly.
Favourite place to eat: Vantra Vitao on Oxford Street serves really delicious vegan food. Frescos on Westbourne Grove do the best babaganoush in London.
Favourite place for a pint: I used to drink at the George on Wilton Way, it’s a good pub. All the ones I used to like in west London are shit now, they took out the carpet in the Cock and Bottle. The Windsor Castle on Crawford Place has a carpet, and they serve Ringwood.
Favourite place in London that no longer exists: The Astoria was the most magical place for me, and the Mean Fiddler downstairs. I used to go to Frog every week until they gave me a job there, then I worked there doing the sound in the upstairs room, my friends Sara and Nadia took over and called the night PUSH. I saw countless bands in those two venues, played there with my first bands, did awful DJ sets and threw up violently yellow sick into the urinals. I met most of my best friends there and learnt about performing and putting on a show. I cried when they tore it down.
Londoner you respect most, dead or alive: I mean, Bertrand Russell lived in London when he was teaching at LSE. He’s the person I respect most.
If you were mayor for a day, what one change you would implement: I’d let people be naked in the park.
Gabriel Bruce’s new album Come All Sufferers is out now on Virgin / Luv Luv Luv – head to the Gabriel Bruce website to buy it.