Stewart Lee's Christmas message
Lee fondly imagines the formative festive experiences he should have had in London (but didn’t)
Like so many of my generation, I came to London in the mid-’70s in search of sensation; the legendary Hope and Anchor pub-rock scene of the Feelgoods and Ducks Deluxe; the then exotic delights of London’s take-away food community: Italian pizza, Indian curry, Kentucky chicken and Chinese Chinese; the availability of cheap speed; and, above all, the lure of a London Christmas. For was it not Brinsley Schwarz himself who said, ‘If an epicure could remove by a wish, in quest of sensual gratifications, wherever he had Eastered, he would Christmas in London.’
But even in the ’70s, so many of the London Christmas traditions that had duffed Dickens’s plum were fading. My first London Yule, Graham Parker of The Rumour took me to see the Hackney Christmas Rat. Every December 23, the Hackney Christmas Rat would poke his head up from an open sewer and indicate, through a display of interpretive retching, whether the children of Hackney had been naughty or nice. If nice, the rat would have spiced urinal cakes flung at him by Pearly Kings. If naughty, his head would be blown off with a sawn-off shotgun. In ’76, it was curtains for the Christmas Rat. Wired to fuck, Parker laughed so hard he dropped his peshwari and blew warm Truman’s down his whizzy konk!
Sometime between Christmas and New Year ’78 and I’m on Westminster Bridge with the Kursaal Flyers, awaiting the passing of the Danish Arse Barge. Ninth-century Viking connections meant that, each year, the Danish embassy sent a slow moving torch-lit barge along the river, festooned with elderly Danes dressed as Thor and Odin, elegantly baring their bottoms to the accompaniment of sombre bassoon music. A thoroughly ripped Will Birch was so amused he spewed a Directors into the river and lost a spring roll and a schnozwrap over the railings.
I have guzzled ampheto-nog at The Nashville with Kilburn and the Highroads, and dressed up as Tiny Tim with Eggs Over Easy for the Massed Camden Limp, fuzzed on Fuller’s and whites. But those days are gone. What have you got, kids? The Saturdays singing so-called R ’n’ B on Oxford Street, you barely buzzed on alcopops and plant food, and Hyde Park full of fake German fairgrounds, like pre-punk never happened. Merry Christmas, London. You’re welcome to it.
Watch Stewart Lee perform
We may not have punk and anarchy Stu but I will mostly be spending my time in dark dirty tunnels with like minded people distorting this boring thing called Christmas into a truly fluffy magical few weeks. (And I'll keep my eye out for the Christmas rat while I'm down there!)
I can't believe you met Kilburn and the Highroads, possibly the coolest band in world, i'm so jealous.
"spiced urinal cakes" .As cockney a tradition you'll find this side of bow bells,strike a light and no mistake.....
Mid-70s? Wouldn't that make you at least 50? Or were you cranked up on speed and gyrating to Dr Feelgood as an infant?
I had a few of these experiences like giving fags to Lee Brilleaux, picking up Ian Dury and placing him on the Torrington stage; seeing Julian Smedley fall through the same stage, going backstage at the Wardour St. Marquee with FBI (saw them 31 times), seeing Dire Ear at the Hope with four other people, catching one of Otway's buttons as he ripped his shirt off and so on, but I wasn't into the food so much. Happy days.