The Shepherds Bush Empire dates from another era - but then so does the band that played there last night.
Yes, Jethro Tull! And yes, still 'Living in the Past' ... brave of Ian Anderson to have his former self on the big screen behind the band:
It was of course an old codgers event - one of the few concerts where the queue for the men's loo was longer (a lot!) than for the ladies'.
Ian Anderson is the only survivor from the heyday of Jethro Tull. But then he really was Jethro Tull. At 74, he can still skip around impishly and play a flute on one leg.
But the voice doesn't have the old strength or character. And please, Ian, time to give up on the phallic flute flaunting.
This was the first time I'd seen Jethro Tull in almost half-a-century. Let me more precise: it was 49 years, six months and seven days since I last saw the band.
On 18th March 1972, I was in the audience when Jethro Tull - supported by Tir Na Nog - played at Leeds University. I was 15 and it was part of their 'Thick as a Brick' tour (the title song featured in last night's set). I remember that the band took to the stage accompanied by all the roadies, all wandering around wearing matching full length coats with the collars up - the band then disrobed and the roadies retreated, and off we went.
This was what Jethro Tull looked like back in the day:
But then the audience looked a little different too!
And Jethro Tull last night closed with a rendition of their classic, 'Locomotive Breath'. Here's a bit of it:
A striking image of two linchpins of the British New Left just before the New Left was born. This photo is from early 1956, and shows Raphael (then Ralph) Samuel with the pipe and Peter Sedgwick standing over him. This joint profile carries the title: 'Red Idols'.
The article appeared in February 1956 in Isis, which I should explains was an Oxford students' weekly magazine and not an advocate of global jihad. The author was himself something of a Red Idol, Gabriel Pearson was secretary of the Oxford students' Communist group - the CP in Oxford at this time was highly stratified with separate groups for students, dons and the 'town'.
Raphael Samuel (1934-1996) had at this time just turned 21; Peter Sedgwick (1934-1983), was a little older - within weeks of his 22nd birthday. They were both keen Communists and emerging as important intellectual voices on the left.
And this 'Ralph' thing? Well, there are several versions as to how Raphael adopted this different moniker. One is that when Raphael enlisted in the North London Young Communist League, he wanted to go by a name which was familiar to young working-class comrades. Certainly, Ralph fits nicely with the pipe!
There were two founding sites of the British New Left. One was among Yorkshire-based historians in the CP, Edward Thompson and John Saville, who established a dissident journal within the party, the Reasoner, in the summer of 1956. This was just after the revelations about Khrushchev's 'secret' speech denouncing Stalin's cult of personality.
The third and final issue of the Reasoner appeared in November 1956 in the wake of the invasions of both Suez (by the UK, France and Israel) and Hungary (by the Soviet Union). Thompson and Saville were part of an avalanche of intellectuals out of the CP and in the summer of 1957, they established the influential New Reasoner.
Parallel to this, four Oxford students came together in the spring of 1957 to establish Universities and Left Review, another advocate of socialist humanism and more lively and engaging than the New Reasoner. Two of these four - Raphael Samuel and Gabriel Pearson - had just come out of the CP; the other two were on the left but never attracted to the CP, and both had come to Oxford from overseas, Stuart Hall from Jamaica and Chuck Taylor from Canada.
The New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review combined at the start of 1960 to become New Left Review, initially edited by Stuart Hall - and taken over a couple of years later, amid what some still describe as a coup, by Perry Anderson.
Raphael Samuel went on to establish the History Workshop movement. Peter Sedgwick joined the International Socialists, and became an expert in the life and writings of the Russian revolutionary and polymath, Victor Serge.
Leafing though issues of Isis in 1956, you can trace the shadow of the implosion of the Oxford students' Communist group - above all in this letter from Gabriel Pearson (who sadly died earlier this year).
Gary Pearson (yes, he too adopted a more demotic first name) was a regular contributor of verse to Isis. In December 1956, Pearson himself was the subject of one of the magazine's profiles with the title: 'Poet Idol':
And if you've made it this far, here's a bonus - an interview I did on Zoom with Chuck Taylor, the last surviving founding editor of Universities and Left Review, posted on YouTube with his blessing.
This wonderful little brooch, a little bigger than a 10p coin, dates from the First World War. It's a sweetheart brooch of the Machine Gun Corps, which was set up in October 1915 to ensure the more effective use of machine guns on the Western front and was disbanded in 1922. The corps' level of casualties was so high it was nicknamed the suicide club.
The badges aren't particularly rare or valuable - this one has the corps badge mounted on mother of pearl and is slightly chipped. It cost me a very reasonable £8.
Historian Penny Streeter has written about these brooches, which reached the peak of their popularity during the First World War. She says: 'These little brooches are miniature replicas of the badges of military regiments, naval units, the Royal Flying Corps and the RAF, generally known as sweetheart brooches because they were often given as romantic keepsakes by members of the armed forces to their wives and girlfriends before they left for the front.'
I found this brooch last week at an antiques stall in Cromford near Derby, and the location is as important to me as its charm and historical resonance. I have written a biography of a Derby woman, Freda Bedi, who made her life in India, where she was an active nationalist and leftist and later a Tibetan Buddhist nun. Her father, Frank Houlston, was in the Machine Gun Corps and died in northern France in April 1918. In this photograph, he is wearing the corps emblem on his cap.
There is not the slightest evidence that the brooch I bought was given by Frank Houlston to his wife - but nor is that out of the question.
It's not unusual in the Derbyshire Peak District to find villages with two Methodist chapels. It is unusual for these chapels to be just about opposite each other.
Methodism, a breakway from the established church, was itself prone to fissure. Wesleyan Methodism was always the majority strand, but from 1810 Primitive Methodism emerged as a more 'back to basics' style of Methodism. It was a lot of adherents, particularly in poorer congregations and in area such as the lead mining district of Derbyshire. The split within British Methodism was made good in 1932 when Wesleyans and Primitives came back together.
Here in Birchover, two imposing chapels - the Wesleyan Methodists being slightly older and (only) slightly grander - are on opposite sides of Main Street. What a tale must lie behind that rivalry. Neither is in use for worship today - though some of the Methodist chapels in nearby villages have managed to keep going.
There was a third place of worship in Victorian Birchover - though tucked away out of view. A small Church of England church, alongside a vicarage which is quite immense. You have to scour around to find them (in the track that leads from the Druids' Inn). And this church is still going - with a couple of Sunday services each month.
Why is it always the establishment that wins out?
This tower on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire's Peak District is altogether magnificent.
But what is it? A folly? A rather grand winding shaft for a long disused lead mine?? The tower of a church which has since disappeared (there's one of those in Hornsey, more details on request)???
Well, it's altogether better than that. This tower was built in 1832 to celebrate the Great Reform Act, the first step - more of a big leap - towards making Britain a representative Parliamentary democracy.
It's known formally as Earl Grey Tower - he was prime minister of the Whig/Liberal government which passed the act (and yes the same guy gave his name to Earl Grey tea) - and was built by one of his supporters. But this Grade II listed gritstone tower is generally known by the much more resonant name of the Reform Tower.
I've seen Reform banners, and indeed have a Reform plate ... but a Reform Tower, that really is grand!!
If you are on the look-out for the tower - and in spite of its height, it is easy to miss - it's close to the Nine Ladies stone circle.
This is the wonderful, imposing Sephardi synagogue in Cheetham Hill in Manchester. It was opened in 1874, is now grade II* listed and has been described by English Heritage as 'one of the highlights of Victorian Gothic architecture' in the UK.
The synagogue is no longer in use for worship. Cheetham Hill was once the heart of Manchester's Jewish community, but they have dispersed - just as London Jewry is no longer concentrated in the East End. Manchester is home to Britain's second biggest Jewish community after London.
The building now houses Manchester Jewish Museum, recently renovated and extended, splendidly so, and absolutely worth a visit.
The highlight is the chance to see the synagogue itself, vibrant and resplendent, and a sign of the wealth and confidence in the mid-Victorian era of Manchester's Sephardi community (so of Spanish and Portuguese origin, and including much of the Jewish community in North Africa, the Arab world and India). Take a look -
I'm on a roll when it comes to CND ephemera. For the second time recently I've bought a CND-related item and found a CND leaflet inside.
Just recently I bought one of the first CND pamphlet's, historian A.J.P. Taylor's The Great Deterrent Myth - with on its cover a New Statesman cartoon mocking America's threatened use of the H-Bomb against the Soviet Union (hence the Russian bear).
Inside I found a press cutting, and a CND leaflet.
The leaflet seems to date from very soon after the launch of CND in November 1957. The famous CND peace symbol devised in 1958 is strikingly absent.
CND has still not achieved its goals. Britain remains a nuclear weapons 'power' - to its shame. But it has been one of the most effective of pressure groups, ensuring that the issue of unilateralism doesn't fade from public debate.
And the early CND was the political territory on which the British New Left developed - and that's quite something.
I was just leaving a second-hand bookshop the other day having made a few interesting purchases when I spotted on a top shelf three bound volumes of Socialist Standard. Wow! It's not often you see something like that.
The SPGB believes not in seizing power through revolution but in the Parliamentary road and stands candidates in elections - with a conspicuous lack of success. It is Marxist but not Leninist, and is opposed to the idea of the revolutionary vanguard.
And famously its declaration of principles hasn't changed since the party's foundation, including the 'hostility' clause, in which the SPGB expresses a determination to 'wage war against all other political parties'.
Throughout its long history, the SPGB has placed emphasis on soapbox-style outdoor oratory. In the earliest of the issues I bought there's a list of its London outdoor pitches and a rota of speakers.
Among the rota is Jack Fitzgerald, a legendary figure within the party and the closest it has to a founder ... and also Tommy Jackson, who later became a prominent Communist (and whose SPGB roots were sometimes hushed up in biographical notes about him).
In the month in question, September 1907, Fitzgerald is listed as having as many as ten outdoor speaking slots - and that's on top of the more formal indoor speaking engagements and branch meetings. (Jolly Butchers' Hill, by the way, was in Wood Green).
The copies in the volume - either four or eight pages - include the SPGB's line on the First World War ...
... during which it sometimes faced problems getting its message out.
And then there was the great drama of the Russian Revolution ...
... it need hardly be said that the SPGB disapproved.
I already have a lovely piece of SPGB ephemera ... this rather grainy postcard size photo of those attending the party's 1921 annual conference.
I do wonder who the three young girls are, so smartly dressed. The photo reinforces the impression of the SPGB as a very masculine party - the three girls apart, I can only see two women in the photo.
I knew and interviewed Harry Young, who - after fifteen years or so in the Communist Party (several of them sent in Moscow) - joined the SPGB in the mid-1930s and became one of its best-known orators. Towards the end of his long life, he was part of a split within the SPGB - a small group broke away complaining that the majority had deviated from the party's founding principles. (This all reminds me of the manner in which some US Supreme Court justices interpret the clauses of the American Constitution).
I wrote an article about Harry for the New Statesman:
In 2004, much to my surprise, I was invited to the SPGB's centenary knees-up at Regent's College in London - a pleasant, and pleasantly non-doctrinaire, occasion. SPGBer Adam Buick wrote up the event for History Workshop Journal.
It wasn't intended as a church spotting weekend, but that's how it worked out. We were in Romney Marsh, in the south of Kent close to the border with Sussex. And on the marsh, and nearby, there were some really wonderful churches:
St Rumwold's, Bonnington
St Rumwold died young. The hagiographical account is that he lived for just three days in the seventh century - he was a grandson of King Penda of Mercia. But he still managed to deliver a sermon. How's about that for a holy prodigy!
This church at - or to be more accurate, outside - the tiny village of Bonnington feels as if it's in the middle of nowhere.
It is one of four surviving dedications to Rumwold (or Rumbold). It's Grade 1 listed and dates from the twelfth century. The small graveyard incudes the burial place of the Labour peer, Lord Vaizey.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!