edited by Iain Sinclair

Hamish Hamilton/Penguin 2006

Fifty contributors including: Ann Baer; J.G Ballard; Paul Buck; Brian Catling; Driffield; Bill Drummond; Tibor Fischer; Allen Fisher; Bill Griffiths; Lee Harwood; Stewart Home; Tony Lambrianou; Rachel Lichenstein; Michael Moorcock; Alan Moore; Jeff Nuttall; James Sallis; Anna Sinclair; Stephen Smith; Marina Warner; Sarah Wise. 655 pp.

Brother Paul/Paul A. Green


Citizens disappear constantly, along with their homes, artifacts, buildings and spaces. As your time-flow accelerates, old friends email the latest obituaries and the function of the writer becomes increasingly clear. You're there to count the dead; and re-count the missing landmarks. Scribe of mutability and mutation, you're only a memory-shaman, chronicler of the crumbling scrolls - destined yourself to become a mere neural trace in the world-brain, as the towers tumble around you.

And this is the role that Sinclair has taken upon himself over the years, since mapping the psychogeography of the East End in Lud Heat circa 1975. Like a London cabby he's grafted "The Knowledge" of the city labyrinth the hard way, walking the streets, exploring networks of memory and urban myth, making the connections with the city's evanescent past. Others – Will Self, Peter Ackroyd – have tried to muscle in on the territory, and have done so with a certain panache. But Sinclair remains the Guvnor, closest to the heat, the dead heat. In this extraordinary anthology he's invited poets to dredge the rivers of memory or dug up memoir fragments from the lore of the Jewish diaspora, pub chat of retired gangsters and the recollections of footsore book-runners.

The common theme is "disappearance", either of persons or places or objects, a brief that encompasses Kim Philby's vanishing act, Kafka's hair-brush, forgotten war memorials, obsolete trades, all those shadowy spaces of dereliction or decay. Many of the contributions are factual, even autobiographical. Others go back to the London of De Quincey or Blake. There are several overt fictions, as a few factions, urban mythopeia intermeshed with reminiscence. The collection is a riposte to official notions of "heritage" and the neatly packaged experience of “tourist trails”. It is like an assemblage of relics from bombed sites, the playzones of so many post-war London kids. If you have any previous connection with such material, the effect of this bricolage is weirdly interactive. You drop yourself right into it.

Iain Sinclair, edt. LONDON

Brother Paul:

London was the backdrop of my youth and like most environments, was only semi-visible when I was living in it. Now, exiled in rustic Hereford, my various fragments begin to mythologise themselves in brighter detail as I read. I recognize the faces of some of the old Poetry Buzzards from the sixties to the eighties, and I get ghostly flickers of some of the places where I/we flapped around and fell over each other, perhaps without recognizing each other at the time.

Iain Sinclair's Lud Heat


Thus the writer Paul Buck, last seen in Camden High Street in the early nineties (where we lamented the closure of the Compendium bookshop) recalls the book shops, music stores, galleries and jazz clubs around the Charing Cross Road, an artery of young-blood energies in the sixties. He was a model (alongside Charlotte Rampling) and a student at St Martin’s School of Art, right on the street, he was the right face in the right place. Colin Wilson had shown the way, mapping the zone in his 50s autobio novel Adrift in Soho. So Buck recalls places like Studio 51 in Great Newport Street, a club founded by the traditional jazz trumpeter Ken Colyer, at the point around 62-63, when Colyer and his purist trad disciples were facing the invasion of the early British rhythm and blues groups. The shaggy beards, duffle coats and long Wilsonian sweaters were being supplanted by Mod suits and sharp haircuts, as worn by the young Buck.

(I and my alter ego Brother Paul wandered between both camps)

The place which really opened the heads of so many young pretenders was the Better Books shop, celebrated here by Buck and poet Lee Harwood, who both served time behind its counter under the libertarian regime of the late Bob Cobbing. This bearded magus of sound poetry packed the shelves with small press poetry, and those imports from City Lights and Olympia Press that heralded the arrival of the Beats in London. Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti read there, Burroughs would drop by in his fedora. There were screenings of underground film, hatchings of artistic conspiracy – and incessant shoplifting by indigent poets. Buck recalls terrifying Happenings in the basement, orchestrated by the late Jeff Nuttall: “Laura Gilbert hanging upside down from a meat hook, suspended next to a whole side of a cow that had been strung up for a few days, left to fester…”. And Harwood can’t forget these sensory assaults: “…the art critics didn’t appreciate ending up covered in feathers nor did they appreciate an over-enthusiastic Nuttall associate pouring paint on them through cracks in the floor above.”

What was more important perhaps, in the long run, was the role the shop played as a focal point and meeting ground for writers and artists, and as a seedbed for similar alternative ventures, like Barry Miles’s Indica bookshop/gallery, where poetic insurrection was plotted to a rock and roll soundtrack. They inspired the jazz poetry groups, like the Word Engine, an odd fusion of my Anglo-Beat dada utterings and V Crane’s organ funk, gigging with future Cream wordman Pete Brown in the tiny St Martin’s Gallery, a venue so small that when people tried to dance to the poetry they knocked the paintings off the walls, to the alarm of the artists. As rising rents and the spread of corporate bookshops invade the Charing Cross Road, such haunts become ghostly memories, torn fragments of memoir. To quote Buck: “Each bookshop, when I’m standing outside it, is like a book case. Each offers memories and obsessions.”

Brother Paul remembers Studio 51:

Studio 51: a tiny under-lit basement. Its dark orange walls, plastered with album sleeves, posters and pictures of the Colyer band in its hey-day, might feel oppressive, except that it’s almost empty tonight, as Vincent and I check out Llew Hird’s Australian Jazz Band. It’s the classic New Orleans revival front line, Llew Hird smearing away on tailgate trombone, his wife Pam hunched over her trumpet, a clarinet swooping around her dogged delivery of some Bunk Johnson standard, while string bass, drums and that clunky banjo chug away behind them. They cluster in front of one ancient microphone, blasting out this raw but fervent recreation of a Crescent City nightlife they’ve never known; but it doesn’t work the magic of a year or two back, when the floor would have been full of Ackerites in bowler hats jiving with girls in flaring skirts. We’re more interested in the interval pianist Keith Scott, who can roll the blues. He plays with Alexis Korner, who’s igniting the R&B boom.

London: Studio 51

A few weeks later I’m back, this time with Dizzy, who has big eyes, a pony-tail and a boyfriend I don’t yet know about, to show her I’m hip with the in-crowd. And they’re all crowding in, for a blues jam with Brian Knight’s Blues by Six, Charlie Watts stone-faced in his button-down shirt behind the drums, Brian Knight shouting Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush” , backed by Korner’s hard-edged sax players, Dick Heckstall Smith and Art Themen. There’s a lot of twisting and shaking and finger-popping going on, some of it very approximate to the beat, and Dizzy is beginning to doubt my cool, despite my new Italian cord jacket. No matter, on the way out I get talking to Heckstall Smith and ask him about the latest face on the R&B scene, the wild alto-saxist/organist Graham Bond. But, with a mind-set still locked into the sectarian pedantry of the traddies, I have to ask him: “Exactly what style does he play in?” The man in the leather hat lugging the heavy horn looks exasperated: “He plays his own fucking style!” Time to own up, open up to the sixties.


Not all the poets worked in bookshops. Iain Sinclair did a brief stint as a stage hand, pumping out clouds of dry ice and sweeping up the scattered sequins, at the most lavish of Soho’s strip clubs, Paul Raymond’s Revue Bar, once the mecca for every Japanese tourist and middle-management ligger on the rampage. Stephen Smith’s probe into Raymond’s porn’n’property empire is both a history of Soho vice and a frustrated expose of the elusive Mr. Raymond, a millionaire who has “disappeared” as effectively as Howard Hughes in his last years. Although Smith lurks in the foyer of Raymond’s condo, he is unable to doorstep the tycoon, who is protected from intrusion by his loyal lieutenant Mr. Carl Snitcher. “To say that he spends most days in his dressing gown, dyes his shoulder-length hair yellow and doesn’t cut his finger nails is untrue…”

It’s also a requiem for the death of a West End institution. Smith eventually catches up with Raymond’s former artistic director Gerard Simi, who bought the club from Raymond and then was forced to sell it as Raymond put the ground rent up. “I have lived with spangles and glitter but I am not duped. I see through it.” Simi is nevertheless nostalgic for the plush ambience and extravagant floorshow pretensions of the Revuebar, with its upmarket clientele and choreographed routines of dÈcolletage framed by performing dolphins or roaring motorbikes. He felt it was a cut above the average striptease ritual.

The carnal commodity-trading of Soho is neatly evoked by the late Derek Raymond, aka Robin Cook, crook turned crime novelist, whose recollections keep popping up throughout the anthology. After various property scams, his venture into the bookshop world was strictly porno: “The very first day I was working a man dashed in with blood all over him and a gun in his hand. Luckily he ran out again. You got some very peculiar people. So much so that we had a notice up behind the counter saying THE FOLLOWING MPS WILL NOT BE SERVED… MPs used to come in and say it was for a parliamentary inquiry…”

Raymond – no relation of Paul - has the delusionary nostalgia, common among the older generation of criminals like Mad Frankie Fraser , for an era of “respectable” London crime. They’ll insist that a naked virgin could walk down the Mile End Road with a crock of gold on her head and no-one would touch her. Despite the well-documented history of extortion and violence, the trials and sentences, they still like to believe the Kray Brothers “kept order” in their East End territory and only bothered with rival gangs or people who didn’t give them “respect” like Jack “The Hat” McVitie or George Cornell, shot down in the Blind Beggar for calling Ronnie “ a fat poof.”

In one of Sinclair’s TV documentaries, Raymond chats in the saloon of the Carpenter’s Arms to the late Tony Lambrianou, one of the Kray enforcers, talking up their mutual mythology. As Tony has it: ”The villains at that time were more or less what the papers wanted them to be… they were immaculately dressed people. Never anything out of place. You prided yourself on that. That was what it was all about…”

But in a separate monologue, which ends the entire volume, Derek Raymond’s reflections are darker:’” They say the dead don’t come back. Sometimes I’m glad when they do and sometimes I wish they didn’t. But they come back anyway. It’s not like in real time, going down the pub where you might get on well with a geezer or you might get on badly – the dead come back either loving you or hating you. It’s a terrible thing when they hate you. You can’t keep the dead out. You can’t keep them out of a room, never mind your head...”

Brother Paul "adrift in Soho"

70s Soho: a night (or nights?) of pouring rain, erotic desperation and toxic liquor. The goggling punter wanders into a booth, probably off Dean Street, one of many pitching “LIVE SHOW 50 p”. But there’s some confusion. The show’s not quite there. You have to pay an extra fee and sign a members’ book. Micky Mouse will do nicely, sir…” Now I take you to club with girls, all the way.” Outside the smiling Maltese youth ushers you under his big umbrella. The way involves a damp detour through every back alley in Soho, accompanied by the steady patter of the rain, the murmur of one’s minder : “ We are going to the hot club, oh yes…” Another toll, to enter the haze of a fuggy cellar.” This is a respectable club, see!” On the narrow stage a girl goes through strobe-lit aerobics, removing a black-lace bra with the practiced detachment of a flight attendant demonstrating her life jacket. The taped glam-rock wows and flutters. Men in suits peer anxiously but the prerecorded intros and extros of an invisible MC with a broad Irish accent are meant to reassure them:” Now, we have Pamela for you, gentlemen… indeed a fine young lady…” Buxom Pamela tries a winning smile as she takes a bow. Nervous applause.

London: Raymond Revue Bar

The curtains jerk back and forth as each new talent takes her turn in the follow spot, in acts of increasingly odd performance art. A girl on a creaky swing yawns as she flies over your heads; a brunette in the role of an overheated female tourist discards her top and investigates a cardboard sarcophagus to unleash a bronze Nubian princess undulating in a g-string; and then a large blonde in a leopard skin lopes on stage brandishing a huge papier-mache club. At the climax of her act, she leans over the front row, breasts swinging, and solemnly lays this ceremonial mace on the bowed head of each punter, the Queen of the B-Movie Jungle knighting her slaves. And then the show starts all over again. Was it the Club Oriental, The Carnival Club, The Moulin Rouge? All stopped now. Even the Revue Bar has gone gay.


City of Disappearances pays its wary respects to the East End racketeers. But it also commemorates the now vanished Whitechapel Jewish community, dispersed by the Blitz and new patterns of post-war immigration, out to Stamford Hill and Golders Green. It celebrates their poets, novelists and prophets and the lost voices of the Yiddish culture in closed synagogues and empty meeting halls. Some figures have had a public profile, like the writer Emmanuel Litvinoff, who struggled out of the tenements and sweatshops of Mare Street “on a ladder of books” to chronicle a microcosm of East End life in his novels of social realism and one-off television dramas (now a dying genre on the BBC). Litvinoff walks with Patrick Wright down Brick Lane, where halal butchers have supplanted the kosher ones, and mosques replace the synagogues. He has no illusions that the old-time ghetto was a “frustrating and verminous place” that he aspired to escape from. “But you’ve lost a world, a living vital throbbing community, with enormous dignity, neighbourliness, fellowship and integrity.”

That elegiac note is also sounded in Rachel Lichtenstein’s essay on Avram Stencl, the ÈmigrÈ Yiddish poet. Having escaped from Berlin and the Nazis in the 1930s, he found refuge in Whitechapel , on the recommendation of a cab driver. He spent the rest of his life in a quixotic struggle to keep Yiddish language and literature alive. Living in modest rooms he wrote his poems in cafes, and edited Loshn un Lebn (Language and Life) which he sold outside the Yiddish theatres and markets. And he organized meetings, recalled by Lichtenstein’s grandfather: “He began the meetings with a loud bang of his fist on the table, promptly at three, and then a short speech, often based on current affairs, or something from the Talmud or Kabbalah… Meetings were noisy, demonstrative. No subject was taboo, as long as it was discussed in Yiddish.” The singer and violinist Majer Bogdanski was also a regular at these sessions. “Stencl nearly always wore a shabby old suit, tie and trilby hat and the pockets of his jacket bulged with poems and papers… He was charismatic… a very learned man, no rabbi could catch him out…” Stencl died in 1983, still determined to keep the Jewish culture of Eastern Europe alive and deny Hitler “ a posthumous victory.”

Another refugee who fought alongside Stencl for personal and cultural survival in the East End was Dora Diamant, recalled by Kathi Diamant. Dora survived Nazi persecution in Berlin, Stalinist purges in Moscow and internment as a suspected enemy alien on the Isle of Man. “In her battered suitcase Dora carried… her only treasure, a holy relic in the form of a man’s military style hairbrush, the only possession she had been able to keep of her love affair with Franz Kafka…” In post-war Whitechapel she kept the Yiddish theatre alive, producing, acting “deploying in front of a public to whom ancient, almost forgotten emotions had to be recalled…” But by the time of Dora’s death in 1952, that public was dwindling.

Brother Paul:

1982: We’re spending a fair bit of time walking the streets of the East End, as I’m jobless, holed up in a semi-derelict block of “industrial dwellings” with a bunch of drunken students/squatters who play the drums all night. It’s a tough manor, Shadwell. It’s not yet totally state-of-the-cool for the gentrifiers. The high warehouses on Prusom Street are still half-empty, most of their lofts with river views are yet to be colonized by TV producers and traders in futures. The Bangladeshi corner shop is heavily fortified and rarely open. A few Pakistani mothers scuttle past in their veils. But no rabbinical figures in skull caps.

In the laundromat fat white women cheerfully bellow abuse at each other and start a semi-friendly fight. “Never mind him, he’s in the corner reading his book!” Arm-wrestling skinhead dwarves cause a mini-riot in the Benefit Office. Don’t look, just fill in the paperwork. “You do very good forms, “ says the helpful Asian clerk behind his toughened glass screen, unaccustomed perhaps to claimants who can read and write English. Cathy has damaged her foot, slipping on the stairs from Ian Sinclair’s book attic in nearby Dalston. At the doctor’s surgery, there is a white line painted on the floor in front of the reception desk, where the GP operates his own version of the doctor/patient relationship: ” Don’t cross the line until I tell you, “ he growls, haggard and red-eyed, paranoid after too many run-ins with meths drinkers. “What are you doing here?” I could say that I’m searching in vain for the legendary warmth and camaraderie of the good old East End. The truth is that , like so many of its past immigrants, I’ve just been washed up here with about two pennies to rub together and delusions of a gold-paved London.

LOndon: street mural

Later, the sun is shining and I’m wandering down Cable Street. Lee Harwood worked in the area for a while as a monumental mason’s assistant, wrote about it in his early poems. But the memorial in front of my eyes is a huge mural across the end of a terrace. It depicts the legendary street battle of October 4, 1936 when 3000 black-shirted British Union of Fascists, intent on marching to their mass rally, confronted the local Jewish population chanting, “THEY SHALL NOT PASS!” The mural shows a chaotic melee of clashing banners, police truncheons, improvised barricades, the Black-Shirts in retreat. A nagging thought: was my late Uncle Arthur, back then an intense young Black-Shirted office clerk, among them? It’s a piece of family history I’ll never disinter now. While I’m pondering and gazing, an old guy in a cap comes up. He smiles. “Yeah, Mosley tried to march down this street. But we stopped him!”


An ongoing theme throughout is those London persons who have wilfully disappeared, done a runner - now you see ‘em, now you don’t. Blink and they’re gone. Unsurprisingly, Sinclair’s contacts in the book-running underworld turn up a few of these, notably Driff aka Driffield, “the Bin Laden of the book trade”. Throughout the eighties and into the early nineties, his profile was high, both visually (yellow plus-fours, loud check suits, skinhead Number One haircut) and commercially (his near-libellous guide book to Britain’s used-book emporia). In fact at one point his profile was so vertiginous that he advertised himself as a fictional character, offering to appear in your novel for a small fee.

[Around 1993 I actually got a call from the man, doing some deal on a vintage Penguin Classic (“It must have the green cover!”) - but he seemed a reasonable person to do business with. He at least knew what he wanted – generally books about golf and suicide. I didn’t know about the queues of angry creditors and landlords out to get him or the contract allegedly taken out on him by an Asian family in Southall for dishonouring their daughter. Sinclair collates the rumours, stories of sightings, glimpses of a book-laden cyclist hurrying through the markets. And Driffield himself supplies a couple of brief memoirs of seventies London, conveyed no doubt through mysterious sources.]

Some disappearances are imagined, fabulated out of fragments of research and speculation. The film-maker Chris Petit contributes a cryptic, elegant piece about the CIA operative James Angleton and his attempt to pin down Kim Philby, the agent who defected to Moscow. Graham Greene makes a cameo appearance by proxy. “In the Red Lion off Jermyn Street, Philby told Angleton that Greene had once suggested a roving brothel as an intelligence front in Sierra Leone. Greene looked modest and said the proposal had been turned down. Greene’s new idea was to use an ex-pornographer named Scattaloni with Vatican connections.” Angleton has a painful, uneasy meeting with Philby’s abandoned gin-sodden wife Aileen. “Logic demanded that he, Angleton, should extract her confession and leave after killing her. The homicidal moment passed…”

Other items, like John Welch’s, track the fate of those who were desperate to appear, in print, as lauded poets; who hung out around the Arts Lab, were shoulder to shoulder with John Lennon; and ended up in little rooms with the phone cut off – or selling home-made souvenirs in Oxford Street. And/or disappeared, totally.

And then there are the vanished occupations: the fish-wives of Tottenham Court Road; Grub Street scribblers scribing for the pamphlets and penny-dreadfuls; rat-catchers and their adhesive mouse-traps; horse-drawn rag and bone men; “fairies” who dredged the sewage outfalls of Victorian London looking for valuables to salvage; “resurrection men” who supplied the medical schools with cadavers.

"(Kim) Philby told Angleton that Greene had once suggested a roving brothel as an intelligence front"

London: Kim Philby, spy


“Write about disappearance. And London…” was the brief Sinclair gave his writers. Stewart Home , chronicling the disappearance of the Swinging London psychedelic scene, challenges some of its cosier representations. “The zombification of the British counter-culture at the end of the sixties has for too long remained a taboo subject.” For Home the late Alex Trocchi, MC of the 1965 Albert Hall Poetry International and doyen of “alternative London”, was a predatory junkie who’d turned his mistress (Home’s mother, the model Julia Callan-Thompson) onto heroin, with ultimately fatal results. Trocchi’s infectious nihilism and “death of affect” ( to borrow Ballard’s phrase from The Atrocity Exhibition) corrupted everyone and everything he was involved in. As a case study Home presents Trocchi’s State of Revolt event in 1969, captured on celluloid by Jamie Wadhawan in Cain’s Film. Despite the presence of such counter-culture icons as Burroughs and R.D.Laing “…both punters and participants shuffled through the Arts Lab looking like reanimated corpses intent on eating living human brains…”

Survivors from the era relate horror stories about Trocchi prostituting his wife to finance his habit, his indifference to desperate parents seeking out their junkie children at his pad, his endless dealing and proselytizing for smack, especially when dealing with women. There are lighter moments, as when Dennis Browne and Trocchi called on Eric Clapton: "My main memory of the visit is the Great Bluesman grouching out all afternoon over an Airfix kit he was trying to make (Lancaster bomber, I think)." But Home refuses to let Trocchi off the hook. “What you see is not so much the death of revolt, but death reified as a means of revolt… I remain almost literally Alex Trocchi’s illegitimate son and since the counter-culture is dead, we are post-modern zombies….”

"since the counter-culture is dead, we are post-modern zombies"

Trocchi as The Mekon


Losing one’s bearings, losing one’s ground– paradoxically a continuum, ongoing over the generations. Change is the only constant. The Camberwell Coliseum music hall makes way for the London HQ for Enron. And then Enron falls…. The Noah’s Ark pub in Streatham, in the fifties “a Teddy Boy hang-out and the scene of a bloody affray among members of the Brixton Chain Gang” becomes “ a haunt of counter-cultural dope dealers” and is finally torn down for office development.

Among the catalogue of the vanishing locations, graveyards and burying grounds feature , like Tripcock Flats, a dumping ground for sailors murdered by a local publican. “The ghosts of the sailors are said to dance a hornpipe every summer solstice,” to celebrate his hanging. Drinking dens are prominent like Maisie Bishop’s Tic Toc Club, supposedly frequented by Dylan Thomas; but so are genteel tea shops, like Derry and Tom’ s Roof Gardens, frequently used as a set in Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels. Indeed, Moorcock frequently introduces his characters into the locales he writes about here; and there are certain places he describes – vividly, lovingly, with details of opening times - which I am unable to locate in this current space-time continuum, like Zodiac House, residence of Count Zodiac, the albino Austro-Hungarian illusionist who died in an air raid on the Kennington Empire in 1941, while performing his Bronze Basilisk illusion.

The fabulation is more overt in Steve Beard’s lurid account of cults and secret societies in seventeenth century London that practiced self-castration, ritual flogging and Belial-worship, although he draws queasy parallels with the extreme behaviours of contemporary club life. Moorcock then introduces Count Zodiac into a detective story about highwaymen and cannibals preying on South London electric tramcars – a mystery that is solved by the Holmes-like detective Sir Seaton Begg. However. the most outstanding fiction in the whole book is a magickal novella by Alan Moore, better known as a graphic novelist. Rich in imagery and depth of arcane reference, yet very much rooted in a specific South London location (Shooter’s Hill) it takes the narrative of disappearance into a whole new realm.

In the end, City of Disappearances covers such a range of material that it’s almost impossible to encapsulate it in a review. I haven’t mentioned Anna Sinclair searching the history of a relative lost in the First World War, Marina Warner decoding the secret history of pub names, Tibor Fischer’s bleak fable about identity theft, Ballard’s curt dismissal of the whole city in favour of the Westway, elevated above the miseries of the streets. Inevitably this is a partial account, a shaky construct from my own tattered palimpsest of memories, my crumpled mind-map. But then it’s a book to get lost in. A lost city, mysterious as a ruin in the cryptozoic jungle.

© Paul A. Green 2/2007 | PG's website | PG's new novel THE QLIPHOTH



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