Back in 1982, Simon Parkes, a one armed private school graduate from Lincolnshire settled a deal with Watney’s brewery company to purchase the derelict super cinema known as the Astoria for the bargain price of £1. Over the following 15 years Simon would begin to transform not only the abandoned cinema into one of Britain’s number one music venues, but also the musical background of Brixton all together.
With the help of writer/musician JS Rafaeli, after falling ill and coming close to death Simon felt it right to tell the tales and tribulations of how he built The Brixton Academy up from nothing, how he changed Brixton’s scene, and how having absolutely no idea about the music business or the geographical location of the Academy helped him to slip out of more than one sticky situation.
After the demise of his family’s fishing empire, meaning the loss of any financial backing Simon couldn’t allow the Astoria to slip away from being his dream venue. After striking the deal to take the place off the brewery’s hands with the stipulation of a ten year drinks contract he set out to restore the building to its former glory. With the help of a half cut punk rocker squatter called Mike Henley and a few of his friends, working long days and nights they managed to patch up the building and gain provisional licences to begin putting on the much anticipated first gigs of The Academy.
At the time Brixton held host to the biggest West Indian population in London, and having struggled to book any rock ‘n’ roll gigs he decided that he may as well cater for the local crowd. Putting on low key reggae acts like Eek-A-Mouse eventually moving onto booking huge stars like Dennis Brown and Bunny Wailer, as you can imagine the bigger things got, the more intense danger would occur.
With promoters trying to scramble out of the office window and roadies pointing pistols at Simon’s head for a miss payment of a mere ten quid, the road was clearly quite a bumpy one from the start.
As time went on and the Academy’s popularity grew, so did its fan base. With the buzz and hype surrounding Brixton because of the Academy more popular acts from different backgrounds began to draw an interest in playing the venue. Notably in its mature days it saw The Clash, The Rolling Stones and The Smiths pack out the venue with people.
Simon’s struggle throughout his years of ownership at The Brixton Academy were no doubt a rollercoaster ride. His slow transformation of a dilapidated building to a venue that artists would beg to play at is truly something to be marvelled at. When reading ‘Live at The Brixton Academy’ you feel completely immersed in every situation that arises in the book. The characters he meets, the horrific incidents him and his security had to deal with and the sheer “what the fuck?” stories that Simon has to tell will leave you unable to put this book down for more than a couple of hours.
Giving you an insight into the culture and music culture of South London, as well as the gang warfare and excitement of starting something from absolutely nothing, Live at The Brixton Academy is not only a 10 out of 10 book, it is an encyclopaedia of stories that we could only wish we’d been a part of.