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Archive for January, 2010

LAST OF THE LINE

BY KEIRON YATES

Gary Arber – The Last of The Line Listen Here

Let’s step outside Hackney for a moment and take a walk along Bow’s Roman Road. Between the upstart estate agents, mobile phone shops, Caribbean hairdressers and cab firms, you’ll find a shop that seems abandoned long ago. The green paint’s sun-bleached and peeling. The bay of the window holds a faded clutter of miscellany; paper pads, cd’s, staplers and sellotape.  The glass pane of the door bears the thin patina of an exuberant white serif-fed script:

“Est. 1897. W  F Arber and Co. Advance Press.”  At the bottom of the pane, a telephone number the exchanges abandoned decades ago: “ADVance 2067.”

A small sign, written in a neat but unsteady hand, is the sole clue the business may still be trading: “If the door is closed, please knock on the window and wait. I may be busy in another part of the shop.”

Wait, and when the door does open, you’ll be met by Gary Arber. Gary is an amiable old cove; tall, with a well kept head of hair and a curt wry smile that creeps from beneath his moustache, invariably he’ll be wearing his work uniform; an olive-green boiler suit and heavy black work shoes. Gary has a tale or two to tell about the family business he’s been running for the last sixty years.

In its heyday, at the turn of the twentieth century, Arbers took on pro-bono work for Sylvia Pankhurst and her radical faction of suffragettes. Printing for the cause of universal suffrage wasn’t a charitable act on the part of Gary’s grandfather but a job the old man couldn’t avoid: Gary’s grandmother, a close friend of Sylvia, wasn’t one to be argued with. The grandfather’s politics leant in a different direction.

Gary took over the business in 1952 when his father died. Prior to that Gary had been a career airman based at RAF Scampton, home of the dam busters squadron. As a byline during his time in the services, Gary took up radio broadcasting, running a “Down Your Way” style show on the base’s radio station and he now talks with a passion about music, ballroom dancing and recording technology.

Although Gary has moved with the times and works with digital press, the company is one of the few places in London that still uses a traditional letterpress. Down in the cellar a few of the old machines are kept in action most notably the Hiedelberg that arrived from Germany in 1939. Gary can’t be sure if the manufacturers ever received payment for the press. The machine arrived just as war broke out. Payment was sent to the British government who were supposed to send the money on, but whether they did or not no one knows. During the war Arbers became a major government contractor and one of the jobs they took on was printing cards for German POW’s to send home to their families – the cards were printed on the Hiedelberg down in the cellar.

Gary still gets asked to use the letterpress to print business cards and letterheads. “People say they like the embossed feel of work printed on a letterpress,” he says, “but they’ve got it all wrong. Good letterpress printing should be a smooth as baby’s bottom. To get that feel, because you can’t by new type sets these days, you have to apply too much pressure to the machine.”

At seventy eight Gary still works five days a week and will see the business to it’s end … which will coincide with his own. Gary is the last of the line of Arber printers and the keeper of an archive of memories about the family business.

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THE SONIC FASCINATOR

The casual stroller down Stoke Newington Church Street may well find themselves intrigued by a window ledge facing the road with what appear to be biscuit tins with planks of wood sticking out of them. They may then shake their head and make a promise to quit spending so much time in the nearby Old Shillelagh pub.

However a return visit will reassure them that they have not been the subject of absinthian visions, for these tins and bits of wood also have strings which enable them to make a sound that their maker Jonathan Free of Tintone Guitars proudly describes as an ‘uncontrollable noise.’ LISTEN HERE tintone demo

Jon has been working as a guitar repairer for years but only turned to making custom guitars a year or so ago when, stuck for a present for a friend, he made good use of some discarded table legs thrown outside his house. He had the idea of making a cigar box guitar as favoured by blues musicians of yore such as Eddie ‘one string’ Jones. However as he discovered “the English don’t really have cigar boxes, they prefer to drink tea and biscuits.

Since then he has concentrated on perfecting his art using the tricks that every guitar repairman has. He tries to use as many recyclable bits as as he can in his ‘sonic fascinators.’ These include old discarded strings, wardrobe rail fittings, suitcases and hardwood, he buys only the tuners new.

“I want them to look like they were made 100 years ago’” says Jon, ‘also I hate throwing things away that work perfectly well.” Even the slide is made from glass bottle-necks which Jon spends hours smoothing down.

Jon became interested in dismantling  and rebuilding guitars at an early age when his uncle gave him his battered guitar as a gift. Jon fixed it up

and amazingly it is still used today by his old friend Tom Collinan of Th’ Faith Healers.

Jon himself played guitar in the band Penthouse who disbanded a few years ago. This brought Jon back to tinkering with guitars for a living. He still gets on stage from time to time with Gin Palace, Hackney’s foremost hard drivin’ rock and Roll band.

At present he makes one guitar a week though he can put one together in a matter of hours. The popularity of the guitars means that as soon as he makes one they tend to sell.  Jon has also made guitars for a host of musicians including Matt Verta-Ray and John Spencer of Heavy Trash, and Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth, his first with a magnetic steel pick up. “I think that’s the way forward” says Jon who says the best way to learn is to just to go your own way.

“You can just pick them up and amuse yourself, it’s a really amazing thing to do… that’s my motivation for making them I suppose.

Find out more at http://www.tin-tone.com

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Charlie Phillips reviews a film about CLAPTON legend Umit Mesut- featured in EEL 4, and owner of a sweet shop with difference.

All localities have their secret heroes. Secret to the non-locals, heroes to a very small number of true believers. Hackney has a lot of these. My favourite quick read is Hackney Today, where you often meet them, and they get their unasked-for dues. They bashfully take the devotion and disappear back to the margins, where all the fine action happens. Umit Mesut is one of those people, subject of a new doc where he’s visited by Tony Grisoni, occasional screenwriter to Gilliam, and regular popper-upper at Hackney cultural events. Neither man is entirely comfortable on screen, and that’s partly why this is a lovely and rather strange film.

And it’s a goodie is of course because Umit does something no-one else does – run a celluloid liberation studio-museum that also functions as a sweetshop, crisp merchant, and occasional vintage jazz mag vendor. Melih Kancelik subtitles his 20 minute movie “An entertaining documentary”. I’m not sure it’s entertaining as docs go exactly, but Umit’s play (play, not work, because it sure doesn’t look like work) definitely is. It’s the one place in the borough you can get all your films telecined, buy odds and ends of stock, pick up a vintage projector, and invite a man to come and put on a film show for you. And it’s unique in London for doing it so very cheaply. And with an air of part-friendliness, part-menace too.

Kancelik does justice to the atmosphere of the store, gloomily stacked-high with bits and pieces, and lets its star talk, like all good character docs should.  He seems bemused that he’s being made the star and so treats the camera with a friendly haughtiness, occasionally stealing a glance at its digital rudeness (Umit really does not like digital media at all, though the film’s main ‘revelation’ is that the resistance is cracking it seems). This is not a doc where you’re unaware of the camera’s presence. This is one where it seems to be sitting on everyone’s ankles, repeatedly poking in their eyes. Never more so than when Grisoni ‘spontaneously’ visits Umit for a chat. Or indeed with the dropping-in of customers, or a trip to the Rio. It doesn’t just look pre-planned, it looks like it’s been prophesised thousands of years ago and religiously rehearsed daily for months in preparation.

But that’s the joy of it. It’s a local filmmaker showing off his community to the world, about an idiosyncratic man devoted to collecting the power of images. What dialogue could do it justice? The undercut of this doc is too complex for anyone to speak out. It’s not about issues of obsession and technological change – films about film never really are. They’re always a melancholy visual tale of losing the past and the ongoing unappreciation of cinema. Celluloid and digital are twin formats which immediately capture the past and try to catch up – they’re both as sad each as the other.

Umit seems very sad. Tony seems a bit confused. So I love this short. And I’m not sad that his collection can’t go into a Museum Of Moving Image as he wishes could have happened – it’s quite beautiful that it might all get scattered to the wind again. It’s very true to the spirit of film history.

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THE EEL MEETS ALAN DENNEY

Listen to our interview with Alan here ALAN DENNEY INTERVIEW

Alan Denney has been photographing Hackney life since the mid seventies. Originally from Kent he came to Stoke Newington in 1974 and was immediately taken by the radical atmosphere and vibrancy of Hackney.

He specialised in photos of street life, focussing on the various different ethnic communities in the area at the time, many of whom of course are still here today, indeed Denney doesn’t think Hackney has changed much at all, especially for the areas poor.

Many of Alan’s photos capture the politics of the time,; protests against police brutality, The Rock against Racism movement as well as the everyday goings on around Dalston and Stoke Newington.

In the 80’s Denney became a social worker and a father, the political climate of the time wasn’t to his liking and as a result the photography took a back seat for a while.

As the nineties progressed, the ease and improvement in digital photography saw him taking photographs once more to compliment his outstanding  back catalogue. He began to put up some of these photos along with his archive material onto FLICKR a few years ago prompting much local interest.

The positive response to the site lead to an exhibition at Chats Palace in Autumn 2009- Alan’s first ever public showing. 

Alan still lives in Stoke Newington and never leaves the house without his camera.

You can see his photos at

www.flickr.com/photos/alandenney/

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“I’ve always been called Pinball Geoff ever since I was a young boy and played the silver ball.”

(more…)

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