Rough Trade Books Extra Curricular - A little online amusement for abnormal times Randomise!

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Back in the summer of 2019 I was talking with Crispin Parry, a friend who runs an arts organisation called British Underground, about doing a showcase on the Brixton Windmill at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. We had worked on a bunch of events at this massive industry festival before, mostly ones that shone a light on new developments in British music, and it seemed there could be something in looking at how a run down, flat-roofed council estate pub at the top of Brixton Hill with a scary-looking dog on its roof had become the most important home of underground music in Britain. In the last few years Fat White Family, Shame, Goat Girl, Black Midi and countless others have emerged from its battered double doors, all of them South London bands with a DIY ethic and an independent mindset. Something was going on in there and it was our duty to let the people of Texas know about it.

I put out a tweet asking for votes to nominate the Windmill as an official SXSW showcase, Nina Hervé of Rough Trade Books saw it, and she asked if I would be interested in writing a short book on the history of the Windmill. At the time, my son, then in his last year at secondary school, was spending every evening either drawing in his bedroom or hanging out at the Windmill, so I asked if he would do some illustrations to accompany the book and the whole thing took shape. It was exciting.

Roof Dog would have come out to coincide with SXSW in mid March, after Crispin managed to scrape the money together to get the cream of the Windmill’s current wave out there: Sorry, PVA, Drinking Girls & Boys Choir from Korea, HMLTD and Black Country, New Road. Tim Perry, the Windmill’s legendary booker, was coming too. A bunch of penniless South Londoners would be enjoying breakfast burritos and morning margaritas in the dusty Texan sun and blasting the heads off a few hundred Americans at the showcase while they were at it. On our return we would launch Roof Dog: A Short History of the Windmill at—where else?—the Windmill. The Rebel, aka Ben Wallers of country/punk heroes the Country Teasers, would headline a set that also included a new favourite of Tim’s called Great Dad and various members of Goat Girl as DJs.

What could possibly go wrong?

Here we are, stuck inside and dreaming of a time when we can once again order a Guinness at the bar, be glared at by its current roof dog Lucky, and check out whatever bunch of freaks are turning the wardrobes of their addled minds into musical gold on the tiny stage in the corner of the Windmill. SXSW may be just a dream now. Our launch may have been kicked into the long grass of a post-lockdown world. But it will happen. In the meantime, I’m so glad that Roof Dog came out of all this. I hope you enjoy it.

Support The Windmill during lockdown here…

—A Playlist

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J-Mo at The Windmill
by Will Burns

I could talk, or write, about any number of incredible nights I spent down at The Windmill. Full houses and loud shows, drunk and druggy late nights, nights where being in a band felt like everything I’d imagined it would be when I was a kid in suburbia. For a few years, it really was a home from home, hackneyed as that phrase is, for me and a bunch of my oldest and closest friends. The bands we loved were always playing there and for a couple of years I helped run a monthly night, Sadder Days, with my band and another, much-missed, called The Tailors. Their singer Adam Killip and I met at school and had been through the usual musical mis-haps and aborted creative endeavours—grunge bands, skate-punk bands, hip-hop projects. By the time me, him, my brother and a few others had finally wound up living a few streets away from each other in South London, we’d all fallen, devout, into making music forged in our love of bands like Uncle Tupelo ( I was the Son Volt man, Adam was Wilco), Green on Red, Richmond Fontaine, Sun Kil Moon and Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. Anything , in fact, by Jason Molina.

For much of this period I worked in a record shop and one day a colleague called up to me and asked me to check out this customer order. The email had asked for three or four copies of a Magnolia Electric Co. CD boxset that was coming out. I can’t remember the email address exactly, but it included Jason Molina’s name—I thought it was probably a nutty fan, but could it possibly be him? Did he really live in London? Well, it was and he did. And when he came in to collect his order the manager at the time asked him if he’d come and play a couple of songs in the shop for that year’s Record Store Day. A few weeks before this my band had been offered, by Tim Perry, the booker at The Windmill, one of the best support shows we’d ever get—opening up for an American band I loved called Centro-matic. For some unfathomable reason Tim was always looking out for us like that, and thanks to him I got to play with, and befriend, all kinds of great musicians. Jason playing in the shop and the Centro-matic show fell on the same day.

Jason turned up to the shop, played a beautiful solo set, was gracious and strange and cool, and after he’d played a few of us went down the road to a pub. When the conversation turned to what people were doing later, I had to say I needed to push off, regretfully. I was sheepish about it, but said I had a band and we had a show that I had to get to for load-in. Jason asked where and I told him we were opening for Centro-matic at The Windmill. Jason could hardly believe it. He and Will Johnson (the singer-songwriter behind both Centro-matic and South San Gabriel) were old friends. In fact, he said, they’d just made a record together. Stay here, he said, I’ll be back in a few minutes. He came back and handed me a CD with a hand-drawn cover. It was a copy of the record. Don’t put it on the fucking internet or any of that shit, he said.

I got into my brother’s green Volvo estate at the end of Brick Lane, where he was picking me and some of our gear up. I put my guitars in the boot on top of his bass. We drove south across London and maybe I was a bit quiet. Unusually so. I told him about Jason’s set in the shop, how great he sounded, how his voice was so perfect and controlled, and about going for a beer with him. I could sense that maybe Greg felt like he’d missed an opportunity to hang out with one of his heroes. Don’t worry about that, I said. He’s coming to the show. Later that night, there we were, standing by the bar with this musician we’d spent hours of our lives listening to, and talking about. How else to put it other than saying it was one of the nights of our lives? He stuck around all night and talked about poetry and Merle Haggard and Warren Zevon and treated us as if we were his peers, when I knew we were just imitators, and mostly of him.

Later that year he came down to The Windmill again, when I played one of my last ever shows, this time solo. He came on stage and we sang Carmelita by Warren Zevon and I fucked the words up because I couldn’t really believe what was happening. We spoke on the phone a few times over that year too, and he would come by to see me at the shop. He gave me a book of Marvin Bell poems and a Merle Haggard songbook, both of which I still keep on my desk. I could tell he was in trouble, and I tried to help where I could—I bought some CDs from him for the shop, though we didn’t sell second hand CDs. The day I heard the news that he’d died I remembered those nights at The Windmill, when Jason seemed so bright and enthused and positive. And I think now sitting here in a wholly different life, about how the venue’s idiosyncrasies, about Tim’s bent for booking bands like Centro-matic and his support, his generosity to me, who’d done fuck all of note in the years since he’d first met me, had combined to produce that one night where we got to hang out with Jason, who for us, then, was as good as it got.

So meet your heroes I say, if they’re anything like Jason was to us. And if you can meet them on stage singing Warren Zevon, maybe somewhere with magic and stale beer and guitars ringing out in the air. Somewhere, in short, like The Windmill.

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All Dayer
by Babak Ganjei

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I Believe in Roof Dog
by Charlie Steen, Shame

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Tom Parry
by Ben Wallers aka The Rebel

I first met Tim in 1970 when we were both working undercover in Mayfair. He was just plain old Tom Parry back then, no accent, no glasses, much shorter and with only the one wooden leg; thinner hair, blonde I think it was; but it’s so hard to remember; smoked a pipe; no it was those little black cigarettes; always wore carpet slippers, never shoes; enormous nose with warts literally clinging to it but of course all this was before the nose job and his decision to convert. “Oh my God, you’re not serious!” I said to him that day in the club, appalled, outraged, shocked, did I say appalled, the French word for it is bouleverse, with an acute on the final ‘e’ if you have a computer with shift.

Fast forward to the 90s and I was managing a band called Country Teasers who specialised in deliberately showing off, well there was quite a fad for this in the 90s and we were all suddenly very rich. I couldn’t believe it when my band arrived by mistake at the wrong venue one night and there was Tim, now utterly changed, and with the assumed Irish brogue he still affects to this day, in an attempt to intimidate his clients. “That guitar’s too loud, it will have to be turned down,” I said, half in jest. And the rest—as they say—WAS history!

They say that if you go to sleep under a rock long enough in this ‘industry’ (wrong word) someone will eventually pick the rock up and find you under it. No pun on ‘rock’ like ‘Rock music’  there, or ‘Rock’n’Roll’. Fat White Family, South London culture boom, the miracle of the Windmill staying open despite the Great Fire and then The Plague double whammy phwoar—wouldn’t that be awful! Did I say fast forward already? Fast forward to the year 2000. I parked my hover egg outside the Laserquest and stared my laser-eye beams into the code reader. The Windmill was STILL open!

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The Windmill
by Pierre Hall, Speedy Wunderground

The Windmill, The Windmill
A dog on the roof
At 22 Blenheim,
it stands their aloof

The Windmill, The Windmill
The Theatre of Dreams
Except in the lavatories
Theatre of Screams

The Windmill, The Windmill
The Trail Of The Dead
Black Midi, Black Country,
Black room of black dread

The Windmill, The Windmill
A cavern of gak
Proves once you go South
Fuck knows when you’ll head back

It’s instilled, it’s instilled
That great things there they grow
And everything’s ‘burgeoning’
We’re all ‘in-the-know’

The Windmill, The Windmill
It’s all down to him
His second name’s Perry
His first name is Tim

The Windmill, The Windmill
We can’t be without
A place where the things that
we live for can shout

The Windmill, The Windmill
A dog on the roof
How much do we love it? Well look
Here’s the proof.

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When Seamus Stole Christmas
by Lias Saoudi, Fat White Family

It was Christmas Eve, Saul and I were on our way home, or on our way back to mine should I say. Saul didn’t have a place, if I remember correctly, and I was the only member of our posse that had any kind of income whatsoever at that time, and thus the only one wealthy enough to rent a room in Brixton. It was situated just past the prison, so to get there usually you had to stroll past the Windmill, which along with the Queens Head (where we were coming from) was very much our home turf.

Between us we had enough money left for a pint of Guinness each, and decided on the customary nightcap, hoping we’d find some familiar faces in there, maybe blag a spliff off someone out the back or something, but the pub was completely empty save for Seamus and maybe one or two of the other old timers propping up the bar. No luck, we supposed. We ordered our respective, final pints of Guinness and took a seat. Halfway through those Seamus approached us and slammed down a couple of Tequilas free of charge. Then another pair, then another and so on. We asked if maybe it was possible to have a couple more Guinness instead, but were met with an almost violent refusal “YOU’LL GET NO PINTS!” It was endless liquor or nothing, a peculiar code.

Having managed to get leathered for under a tenner we contentedly made our way towards the exit around closing time, Seamus wouldn’t leave it at a simple goodbye, however. He had a rummage through the till and pulled out four £20 notes, handing them to us in an act of yuletide spirit, the purity of which I haven’t seen since and probably never shall again. We called our drug dealer the second we were out the door, rendezvoused with Nathan at mine and spent the next five hours ravaging ourselves on pub grub. All three of us were due at Saul’s folks in Peckham the next morning for Christmas lunch. With the kind of hangovers that make you feel like you are sweating internally, what should have been an exquisite culinary odyssey (Saul’s dad is a chef) was rendered a diabolical struggle to keep from being sick or crying in front of his family. A happy Christmas indeed!

Photo:Lou Smith

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“Quite simply, the Windmill has transformed the lives of countless musicians, artists and fans of underground music by providing them a community space to explore, collaborate and thrive. Tim has consistently backed emerging talent and given it a voice. I for my part have found a niche amplifying that voice via my video work to a worldwide audience. Long live the Windmill.”

—Lou Smith, photographer/filmmaker

Head over to Lou Smith’s Windmill TV to see some of his films shot at The Windmill over the last few years.

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Otto’s Roof Dog Gallery