City 4: Brighton


Midnight Drummer by Amelia Shepherd

Midnight Drummer by Amelia Shepherd

Brighton Rocks

 A wet and wind-lashed January Sunday sees me getting up in the dark and blundering around the Vicarage at 06.00 in the morning. I can’t actually believe I’m doing this, but I must. It’s been arranged. I load the car; activate the Satnav, type in the postcode and head for the London Road filling station.

Today’s trip will take me down to the South Coast, to Sussex, and the delights of Brighton or rather the dual delights of Brighton and Hove. It’s 182.5 miles and if the M25 behaves itself three hours, give or take. After filling up and flinging the Pogues in the CD player I hit the road. The rain comes and goes, like a toothache and finally subsides. A38, M42, M40, M25, M23 and then the A23 plug me into the city. I had arranged to meet Amelia Shepherd, Professional Photographer and friend , via Haber, of more than twenty years standing at 11.00. I’m an hour and a half early so listen to Nik Kershaw’s Greatest Hits and make up obscene lyrics whilst Amelia gets up and gets ready. She has had a little boy since last we met and I’m looking forward to finally meeting him.

At 10.30 Rico and I finally meet and he’s a rumbling, thundering, bundle of joy. After a quick catch up, Amelia and I say bye to Rico and dad Damian and hit the trail at 11.00 sharp. The rain is back and flogs us like errant sailors before the mast as we head for the front. Parking up a side street, we pay by phone and curse the parking wardens that patrol, like Death Camp Nazis, intent on bringing misery and despair. But it’s only a job, right gov.

Locking up we pound the pavements and get off to a flier

Location 1 is a memory link for Amelia, a whole street no less. It’s called Bedford Place and it’s where she used to live. I visited in 2011 on November the 11th, Armistice Day. We did an inspirational photo-shoot on the beach that I adored and used for my show reel. Wonderful eye and so inventive. Barrelling down the street we take in the sights. First up is a charity shop with a chipper workman who tells us that they’re re-laying the floor and putting up the prices to keep out the riffraff like us. It’s banter…I think. Then there’s the Taj Mahal. An Old Fashioned Emporium masquerading as a Fruit and Vege stall. All green and gold with rusty nails banged in all around the sign to stop rooftop intruders from penetrating the inner sanctum. Yeah. Peace and Love.  The local theatre group are putting on Joe Orton’s 1965 masterpiece ‘Loot’, in which I played Truscott and the poster features Glass Eyes in Loot’s Double O. Further Down the street and there’s a mosque, a cool pub called the Lion and Lobster and ooh dear someone’s been clamped.  We stop and snap the car and Meels on the steps of her old flat. Nostalgia flows like wine but on we trot. There’s a great view of the sea at the bottom of the hill from Amelia’s old flat and it’s calling to us.

Location 2 is the Brighton Bandstand or just the Bandstand, revamped in 2009, it was put up in 1884, a prime piece of Victoriana. The paintwork, lovingly reworked in white and dark green, sparkles, even in the rain. So ornate, so chi chi, it’s a huge hit with Brighton’s gay mafia who get married there in their droves from Wednesday through Saturday.  The Council, chasing the pink pound, offer the bandstand for hire at 550 English pound. It’s a snip. Gay or straight; if you must do it- get married that is- do it there. I love bandstands and this one, situated as it is right on the seafront, is no exception. Amelia has a special affection for it too. A few years ago she won a Photographic Competition with an image of an asylum seeker playing drums, in the bandstand, in the dead of night. Entitled Midnight Drummer, the piece, pictured above, is beautiful and evocative, juxtaposing old and new Brighton in an image that is both startling and challenging. An awareness of the outsider, of communities either lost, forgotten or excluded colours all of Amelia’s work, giving it a distinctive edge. Her first Exhibition about Asylum Seekers, called Silent Voice, was a collaboration with an Algerian man. It marries poetry and photography and creates work with both an aesthetic sensibility and a social conscience.

Hopping off the bandstand we make for Location 3, The Promenade. It’s a poncy French word for walkway but it's actually more of a runway as, day or night, sun or rain its throbbing with the underweight and overweight addicted to pounding the pavement at speed. Running. Never seen the point personally. It ruins your knees and you sweat and its antisocial. Ninety-nine out of every hundred runners is wired for sound, hermetically sealed from the outside world by a wall of noise. The rain, idling in neutral since we started walking, suddenly takes umbrage and flings its guts at us. Upon reflection trainers were not such a great idea. We shelter in a bus stop, which has benches at each of the quarters, and do a 10 minute sound bite into my I-phone. As a 4 it’s already a historical relic, fit only for a cabinet in a museum. I promise I will replace it and soon as we chat about Brighton’s Georgian Past. Frequented and popularised by the Prince Regent, later King George IV, Brighton flourished, re-inventing itself as a fashionable seaside resort and so it has remained for almost two hundred years.

Location 4 is nearby. Heading east, we pound the promenade, and splash gleefully, like sugared-up four-year olds, through the puddles. A colour-encrusted portacabin with a Victorian scene, replete with feathered ladies and top-hatted toffs serves as a carsie. We both need a sprinkle and a tinkle so head inside. The smell is not pleasant and, but for my cast iron constitution, would have turned my stomach.

Business done, I nip back outside wishing I’d brought me brolly and gaze at the sea, or rather at the pier, or rather at the place where the pier should have been but isn’t. Sorry I need to be clearer.  Brighton until quite recently had two piers conveniently labelled east and west. They might so easily have been called Tweedledee and Tweedledum but they weren’t.

The West Pier designed by Eugenius Birch in 1866, burned down in 2004. There had been numerous fires before that but the 2004 fire finally did for it and that was that. Or was it? Not absolutely, oh no. The Town Planners got their heads together. Bids were tendered and they came up with a bizarre but not unwarranted response to the death of the pier. Instead of rebuilding the pier they would leave its crumbling hulk to the waves and the wheeling gulls, a shrine to impermanence. The past is horizontal, they reasoned but the future is vertical. Best to build upwards into the future. The New Pier would be a vertical observation tower, the world’s tallest. On the bill boards one is invited to take a voyage to the Sussex Skies in the 360 degree glass donut that circles the tower. It’s Sci fi and futuristic. It’s Brighton’s future. The sky tower rises 450 feet or 137.16 metres in the air. You can enjoy the view, orbiting the donut for a 360 degree smorgasboard of delights or you can say ‘I do.’ Weddings? Oh course, why not. Is there anywhere in Brighton you can’t get married.

I love the place already and edging past the graffitied billboards, no doubt commissioned work, we edge towards the arcade. The East Pier looms in front of us whilst behind us, the still under construction sky tower like a minaret from the Arabian Nights dominates the skyline. It will be interesting to see it at night, all lit up like a Christmas tree. At the other end of the promenade is a big wheel, an echo of other wheels in other cities, white and grandiose and slowly rotating.  The wheel already seems like a distant memory, a throwback, so last season but the tower, despite initial misgivings I want to ascend. Yes I shall return. I make the pledge as I splash past various galleries, tarot parlours and evangelical vendors of fish and chips. Brighton I surmise is all about pleasure, the Snooty, Stylish South’s answer to Blackpool.

Meels stops at Location 5, The Arcade where as a kid there was a boardwalk and jingling jangling fruities and other delights already old and peeling in the 70s. Called initially the Old Penny Arcade, in the days when pennies were as big as fifty pees’, it is a corner of Brighton that is forever England, if only in memory. It’s all gone now, the fun rides and gambling parlours with shrieking games machines requiring you to shoot to kill, everything in sight, everything that moves have been carted off to the East Pier, the Palace Pier that still throbs with life . This whiff of nostalgia, like sulphur in the skies of a Victorian Factory town, we greedily inhale. Across the brown sea, violently churned, through the gunmetal grey sky Amelia points to the oldest delight on the pier, the helter-skelter. A red, white and blue pepper pot, closed more often than not. Back in the day it was three rides on a magic carpet for a quid. Only the magic carpet was a woven doormat, not a greased sledge and more often than not you got chaffed or carpet burned to oblivion. Not that that mattered. It was all part of the fun, all part of the shell-like shrieks and giggles of Brighton.  Past another donut this one a vertical sculpture on an outcrop of pavement we about face and cross the road. The traffic doesn’t stop or even slow and there seem precious few crossing points but nevermind. Nothing like a game of chicken in a hurricane to revive your flagging senses with an injection of adrenaline.

Location 6 is Middle Street (another street?) replete with nightclubs and jazz caffs. It’s gloriously dingy and disreputable. It slumbers in the day but kicks ass by night. Part of Brighton’s night-time economy, it doesn’t have the out and out sleeze of Soho in London but its certainly alluring, hip and eclectic. Meels reminisces about wild nights of round the clock clubbing but that’s past, for now, maybe for ever as twenties gives way to forties and motherhood. Standing under an awning we survey the street. I feel like a whore, Meely my pimp. There’s a Jewish temple aslant from us and I go to check out the inscription on the lintel. It’s in Hebrew. I understand the letters but can’t make out the words. Oh well, time and a dictionary will cure that. Meels drags me up the street, showing off the sights in rapid succession. Recently she did a project on female kick boxers called ‘Female Fighters’. She shows me one of the sites on a trail she blazed where she plastered an image of one of her Amazonian Warriors.  It isn’t there now. The walls of this city, of every city are a palimpsest,  old images papered over by new images which are in turn paper over by even newer images and so on ad infinitum.    

The clock is ticking down on our car park so we head for the high-street and buy lunch in some open all hours Sainsbury’s. I purchase sarnies, crisps, quorn scotch eggs and shortbread for pudding. Then we get back in the car and feast. The clock is still ticking as a Gestapo Traffic Warden appears from the cracks between the raindrops, a vulture in an ominous sky, circling, waiting  for our ticket to expire, so he can pounce. With seconds to go we hit the road, touting V-for Victory finger waggles like the English archers at Agincourt. Location 7 we drive by but don’t shoot up. Its’ Brighton’s Train Station perched on top of Queen Street, like the Bandstand, another Victorian fancy. Everyone loves a Train Station and my walking guide is no exception. Brighton’s train station is a picture and a poem. Just last week I made the journey down from London Victoria on a Modern day Rocket. Emerging from the carriage I was pleasantly impressed by the ironwork, the space and the light. Amelia concurs as she steers me round a flood, past a park a mile inland to our next location.

Location 8 is called Kick’s Martial Art Centre. It was established, and is still run by, Chris Kent, in the 1970s. Underneath the triumphal art gateway, with the Legend Kicks emblazoned on it, we pad round to the kick-boxing studio where Amelia practises her art with Chris’s wife Tiffany Williams. Unfortunately it’s all closed up but one can almost hear the echoing cries of the combatants as they kick and jab, hour after hour, building strength and skill, working towards that elusive contest. Amelia has a record of contact sports, having doing rugby at University, and as a black belt in kick-boxing, has fought ten bouts in eight years, winning eight, losing one and drawing one. Overall an impressive track record.  Female Fighters, her third exhibition, backed by the Arts Council was born here and it was here she also shot most of her female warriors before, during and after bouts or training. From the hundreds of portraits she chose just twelve icons and produced a powerful body of work. There were also interviews which explored issues relating to gender, body image and the relationship between physicality and femininity which formed part of a sonic backdrop playing in the exhibition space along with recorded soundscapes of training sessions.   

The cold begins to bite so we head back to the car and make for our endpoint. For our final destination, Location 9, we get to go on a Safari. En route we chat about Amelia’s previous four exhibitions and about a future fifth work she is currently shaping around capturing mothers with small children photographically. It sounds exciting and we talk about the need for art and artists to connect with and reconnect lost and scattered communities. Buzzing from our ever-freer associations we pass the Brighton pavilion, with its echo’s of the Raj and Empire and head out to Peacehaven, a small town outside of Brighton proper. The site of a bronze age barrow, dated at 3500 years old and also the site of Amelia’s second exhibition Peacehaven in III Parts has a fascinating history. It was established in 1916, by Charles Neville for retired World War I Veterans as a sanctuary of peace and calm after the madness of life in the trenches. It was also the site where Pinkie, the anti-hero of Graham Greene’s 1938 classic Brighton Rock meets his end, falling over a cliff in a fit of pique.

After filling up we park up, passing what was exhibited. It’s very windy now and the car shakes like Herby in the Love Bug. Our elevated parking pitch allows us a great view of the layout of the town. Situated on flat coastal land between 40-50 metres above the sea, Peacehaven lies about five miles eastwards from Brighton. After doing our final recording, we head back towards Brighton, observing the white chalky cliffs of Sussex, not merely confined to the Kentish Cliffs of Dover, and enjoy the sky, a darkening shade of grey, threatening not just storm but apocalypse. I whoop and whinny like a school girl on an outing as more of the south coast is revealed. It’s beautiful and dramatic, a natural viewing platform to watch the sun arc through time-space from east to west. I’d never considered it as a place suitable for Walk and Talk but I’m glad to say I was wrong. It’s as full of wonders as Tutankhamen’s tomb.  Rodean School passes on the right, on a rise. It is a brownstone Hogwarts minus turrets but with more elegance and class. An eye hospital for veterans flashes past, along with a golf course liberally sprinkled with Pringle-clad golfers in colours that are wholly Brighton. Then some bizarre structure that is being built out by the marina looms into view. We passed it on the way out and were perplexed. It could be a hotel or it could be a jail. We decide it is Brighton’s answer to Alcatraz and leave it at that.

I drop Amelia back home at 16.00 and after some business with a lost hand-bag (A handbag?) I make the return journey energised and thrilled. Brighton is a paradise of delights.   

Go there and soon.

Female Fighters

Female Fighters


Natalie Shepherd

14.01.2019 23:02

What a wonderful taste of your adventure together .
Missing you both 😘
Stu I would love to walk and talk with you again, it’s my first memory of you and your cloak 😍
Ps the traffic wardens 😂

Amelia Shepherd

30.01.2016 09:51

Absolutely loved being your Brighton city Stu. Our Brighton Walk and Talk journey was an insightful process. A wonderful adventure exploring the past and it's links to now. X

Stuart Goodwin

28.01.2016 17:28

Huge thank you to Amelia Shepherd for her outstanding contribution to the Brighton Chapter. Wonderful artist and a great friend.

Latest comments

14.10 | 16:13

I know. I see that it's all over but concealed. Not part of a cities authorised biography or daily propaganda.

14.10 | 16:09

Ah thia latter letter reminds me of a man Iknew in Lichfield - now departed totally - he too was being hounded and oppressed and taken to court for nothing. See it isn't just Leeds!!

14.09 | 02:52

A joy to read Stu. Not only an expert tour guide (I have walked the Scottish Highlands with you twice) but a masterful storyteller who merges time and place into a kaleidoscope of imagery & metaphor.

13.09 | 17:29

Its so lovely to hear from you Mike and Jan. Your offer is very kind as are your memories of the trip we shared.

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