Contributing Editor: Debby Williams
Photography Courtesy: Evening Standard
This book is unlike any other music anthology, firstly it is autobiographical and secondly it is almost a love story except the love interest is a crumbling old building (there’s hope for us all then), formerly the Astoria circa 1929. Parkes describes his love at first sight of this magnificent edifice.
This is also a story of riches to rags to riches, of David and Goliath but enough of the clichés.
Born into a privileged background but hindered by medical blunder, he overcomes his challenges. This sets the scene for the rest of the book as Parkes describes challenge after challenge that he has to face on this journey.
The first ever rock concert he went to was Chuck Berry. He bunks off school to see it and almost doesn’t as he hasn’t got a ticket, this is the start of his crusade into the magic of rock and roll.
The events of the following fifteen years seem like pure happenstance but what transpires is a man with a shrewd business brain with his own sense of morality as with almost religious fervour, Parkes can see something that no one else could in the Astoria now renamed, The Brixton Academy. It is his ambition to make it THE primary venue for music in the UK.
The first ever gig at The Academy was Eek-A-Mouse, many reggae gigs followed such as Dennis Brown, Burning Spear and Gregory Issacs. He even convinced Lambeth council to bring Fela Kuti from Nigeria to perform. The book colourfully describes The Academy’s clashes with the local gangsters, the police and even his bank (the legitimate gangsters). His staff becomes his family and between them, they come up with creative ways of generating money, disguising large sums of money and generally avoiding getting their heads kicked in. At that time it was still very difficult to break through the British music industry who preferred to use the established music venues in London.
Punk literally explodes onto the music scene groups such as The Cult and The Clash eventually post punk bands like Orange Juice, The Style Council, and the crazy Iggy Pop all played on the hallowed stage.
Parkes hit upon the idea to rent The Academy out as a rehearsal space and witnessed Billy Ocean, Wham, Culture Club, Ozzy Osbourne performing, sometimes only to him and his crew. Next came the benefit gigs and hedonistic DJ nights where even the superstar Miss Diana Ross performed on the Brixton stage.
The book shows an insight into the professional rivalry between the music impresarios of that time. It illustrates that business is just business, nothing personal and how mutual respect became friendships.
Music aficionados will love the descriptive references of the live gigs especially when finally rock nobility like David Bowie and Eric Clapton are finally kicking down the doors to perform and rehearse
at The Brixton Academy.
Parkes writes in an amiable tone, you are right there with him from page 1 as he draws you into his adventures.
This is a must read book.