Forget Kate Bush – a dark star is born

While news of Kate Bush’s forthcoming gigs has sent baby-boomer bloggers into a frenzy, late-millennials have a new star to worship.
Banks prowled the stage at the Concorde in Brighton with a feline confidence that suggests she knows she has the audience exactly where she wants them.
Unveiling an unreleased track, Goddess, she told the audience:”Every single woman is a goddess.”
Some, it seems are more blessed than others.  Framed by a battery of blinding lights and a sea of dry ice, Banks swayed like a Balinese dancer, and at times her body seemed boneless. She made an O-mouth, staring into the mid-distance and pointed into the crowd as if defying them not to be bewitched.
Her voice range is limited and she knows this, keeping the tempo deliberately measured – you get the feeling her tone might thin out at a faster pace. Occasionally her guitarist,  Nate Mercereau, veered toward funk but the percussionist,  Derek Taylor, reined him back in.
The sound mixed Lana del Rey with Jessie Ware by way of the Weeknd. The synths burbled seductively and the arrangements never veered towards anything as vulgar as a hook.
Banks sings dark songs about loneliness, obsessive love, and happier times. Her future is bright.
This review was first published by The Argus March 31, 2014

A new life for the Brighton Hippodrome

The stage is set for a redevelopment of The Brighton Hippodrome

The stage is set for a redevelopment of The Brighton Hippodrome

For a city that likes to think of itself as ahead of the curve, Brighton&Hove  can be remarkably resistant to change.

The seafront is littered with stalled projects, from derelict Black Rock in the east to the appalling King Alfred leisure centre on the western fringes of Hove.

This week the metaphorical flags were put out to celebrate yet another development that won’t be happening. The Pavilion Gardens Cafe, in the shadows of George IV’s funhouse, has been saved from the bulldozers following a public outcry. To be fair, the public, in this instance, were right. The cafe is much-loved and well used by all walks of life in the city.

The worrying uncertainty over its future arose last year when the management at the Royal Pavilion Estate’s unveiled a masterplan for the area.

As part of the bid of Heritage Lottery funding, it was suggested the cafe could be housed in a new building as part of a visitor centre.

This plan, it seems, has been abandoned.

As ever, all sides are claiming victory. Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.

 “The Sewell family are delighted and relieved that uncertainty over the long term future of the café building and patio is at an end. We look forward to a new lease that secures our future in the gardens, where our café can form part of the valued heritage of the estate as a whole.”

David Sewell, proprietor of Pavilion Gardens Café

“The Friends look forward to working in partnership with the bid team to ensure the lottery bid is successful and the whole estate can develop in ways that serve all of those who love and value it. We are delighted to be recognised as partners in this process and will ensure that the community’s voice is heard as the estate becomes something we all are proud of.”

Paul Levy, on behalf of the Friends of the Café

“I’m delighted we have reached an agreement to work together. This project is vital to the heart of the city and needs the input of the Pavilion Gardens Café community to help shape a Royal Pavilion Estate for the 21st century. We will strive to preserve and recognise the contribution of the 20th century in the form of the cafe buildings and patio which are clearly so precious to so many.”

Brighton and Hove chief executive Penny Thompson, CBE

 “We need to develop the Royal Pavilion Estate, including the café, patio and Friends community, as something fantastic and sustainable for the 21st Century. I’m very pleased we are working together to find productive solutions to some of the challenges currently faced by the estate.”

Andrew Comben, CEO, Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival

Pavilion gardens Cafe

Flushed with success, campaigners have now taken the battle to the would-be developers of another site in the city.

Alaska Development Consultants want to turn the Grade II listed Brighton Hippodrome into an eight-screen cinema.

The £20 million plans will be considered by the council next month.

But a grassroots protest group called Our Brighton Hippodrome has launched an online petition and facebook campaign to block the plans. The petition has attracted thousands of signatures.

This time the protesters are wrong.

The Hippodrome has stood empty and unloved since 2007. It was opened at the end of the 19th century as an ice rink and  converted into a theatre in 1902 by architect Frank Matcham. It played host to the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in the 1960s but its fortunes waned and it was a turned into a bingo hall before the doors were closed  for good.

The plans submitted to the council seem imaginative and sensible.

On its website, the developer states: “The design team, led by Russ Drage Architects, has worked tirelessly to create a proposal that satisfies the extensive requirements involved with a scheme centred on such a well-loved, listed property like the Hippodrome.”

Yes, it’s the kind of thing they would say, wouldn’t they.

But the plans are costed, sensible and achievable. If planning is granted, a dead building would be brought back to life.

It’s time to raise the curtain on a new act in the city.

Take a virtual tour of the developer’s scheme here

Pie in the sky or hope on the horizon?

Sparking debate: the planned i360 on Brighton's seafront

Sparking debate: the planned i360 on Brighton’s seafront

Some cities invite lurid headlines like circus clowns attract custard pies. My home, Brighton and Hove, is such as place.

In The Guardian last month Simon Jenkins neatly summarised the ugly blemishes that disfigure the city by the sea.

Jenkins’ piece was written in the hope that Brighton and Hove City councillors would give Eric Pickles a black eye by holding a referendum on council tax. In the end, that possibility fizzled out in an ignominious political compromise which allowed all sides to fool themselves that they have emerged victorious from a squalid debacle.

But this week, the committee rooms in Hove’s brutalist Town Hall witnessed the birth pangs of a monstrosity which may yet dwarf any of the hideous items on Jenkins’ list.

A huge observation tower is to be erected on the seafront near the rotting hulk of the West Pier. The i360, as it is known, will be funded by £36 million of taxpayers’ money. The Green administration will play banker in this risky process and hopes to make money by charging more interest to the developer, Marks Barfield, than it will have to pay back to the Government.

What could possibly go wrong?

The saga of this project has more twists than the helter skelter on the end of the Palace Pier. Marks Barfield, the firm behind the London Eye, expressed the desire to build an attraction on Brighton’s seafront back in 2006.

The plan was for a viewing platform that carries 200 people at a time up and down a 183-metre high metal spike. Money from the paying public would  generate much-needed investment for the shabby streets around the West Pier.

But the recession put the frighteners on private backers’ appetites and Marks Barfield was allowed to miss one deadline after another.

In 2012, the Greens in charge of the city pulled a new deal out of the hat – the council would draw down £14 million of funding from the government. The local enterprise partnership chipped in with a £3 million loan, leaving Marks Barfield to find backers to come up with half the funding.

Still no takers could be found, so the local authority has now agreed to borrow  £36 million from the Government  – more than twice the amount previously agreed.

There are many traders and residents who regard this prospect as far more hair raising than any view from a giant observation tower. Yet the policy was agreed by a committee of 10 councillors, with seven voting in favour and three voting against.

Only in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Brighton’s political scene could you find environmentalists teaming up with true-blue Tories to fund a tourist attraction paid for with public money which, if successful, will see the city flooded with emission-belching tourists and which, if it fails, will land the city’s residents with an enormous bill.

We may one day discover what the English Channel looks like from the top of a stick outside the Hilton Metropole hotel.

Right now, the view from here is anything but pretty.

*Published by The Guardian March 9, 2014

Note: Since this piece was published in The Guardian an on-line petition has been launched calling on the Public Works Loan Board – the public body that will administer the money – to refuse the council’s request for funding. At the latest count it had gathered more than 500 signatures.

Brighton’s menu is getting tastier


In a place long ago (before Facebook) when I started properly dating, a meal out involved a kebab from a van after the pub had shut. Restaurants were for people with more money and better manners than us.

By the time my girlfriend and I had graduated and found jobs, things had barely improved. A meal at a beautiful restaurant in Bath is seared in my memory for all the wrong reasons. We were spending a long weekend in the city and the restaurant was packed to the gunwales and as quiet as the tomb. The menu was in French. When I asked the (also French) waiter for a translation he looked at me as if I has told him the Eiffel Tower had been moved to Worthing.
You might think that eating out in Brighton has always been an informal affair but it is not so. In common with the rest of the country, until relatively recently, Pinkie, the malevolent protagonist in the 1930s version of Brighton Rock, and his poor girlfriend Rose would have felt at home with the options – cheap and cheerful or superb but stuffy.
How heartening then to witness the culinary explosion in the London Road area. Carlito Burrito, the brainchild of Andrew Barlow and Carlos Riestra, offers Mexican street food which is rapidly becoming the flavour of the month (I expect a branch of Los Pollas Hermanos to pop up in Churchill Square any day now).
It’s a short rhumba down York Place to Meat Liquor (pictured above)  where another duo, Yianni Papoutsis and Scott Collins, are experiencing the sort of overnight success that only comes with years of perfecting your craft. Their burgers are juicy, messy and delicious and if the experience overall is reminiscent of life inside a Marvel comic strip it is a million times more preferable to being served by the cast of Downton Abbey.
Walking London Road at night used to be a cheerless experience and, in truth, the rough edges have not been entirely smoothed over. You are still more likely to bump into a street sleeper looking for your loose change than a celebrity on the loose from the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame. No matter – some of my friends say this give the area edgy appeal and who am I to disagree?
The misfortunes of Preston Street on the other side of the city have been highlighted recently. The argument goes that the area needs major investment and a jaw dropping attraction to pull in the punters.
Perhaps the traders could take a leaf out of London Road’s book. Spruce up the shopfront and offer the kind of things – burgers, sushi, tacos – that people actually want to eat.
Now there’s food for thought.

Shame of city’s homeless deaths

Is the street a safer option than Brighton's hostels?

Is the street a safer option than Brighton’s hostels for homeless people?


Those who would instruct the rest of us on how to lead our lives are stubbornly blind to their own shortcomings.
Here in Brighton and Hove, the shameful conditions in which homeless people are housed make a mockery of the city council’s fine words about promoting equality through the provision of fair services.
Vulnerable people are dying in squalid conditions.
Figures obtained from the council reveal that in the last five years there have been six deaths in accommodation for homeless people in the city.
One death recorded was recorded in 17/19 Grand Parade on July 19 2011. Five deaths were recorded at the West Pier Project in Regency Square, on 14 November 2010, 28 November 2010, 7 October 2012, 12 September 2012 and 31 May 2013.
The causes of death were given as alcohol-respiratory arrest; ruptured oesophageal varices- blood loss; perforated ulcer; heart attack; and heroin, alcohol and benzodiazepine use.
It is not good enough to shrug one’s shoulders and ask, rhetorically, what else you can expect when you are dealing with people suffering from serious mental and physical health problems.
The council has outsourced the provision of temporary accommodation but it cannot abdicate responsibility. The budget for housing options/statutory homelessness and temporary accommodation including all staff costs last year was £3.4 million. Staff at the hostels must be better trained to deal with the complex issues faced by their residents.
When the so-called container town opened in Richardson’s Yard last year, I spent a night in one of the units and wrote about it for The Argus.
Chatting to a new-found neighbour, I learned about the scarifying experiences of people who live in the city’s hostels.
One housing professional told me he would rather take his chances on the street than in Grand Parade of the West Pier Project.
Extortion, bullying and theft are common.
My container-neighbour said: “At the West Pier Project, I saw a man I knew only as Nick, rolling around in agony clutching his stomach. The staff told me to leave him be. Two staff members picked him up and put him in a chair. They would not call an ambulance. They said he had malnutrition because he wouldn’t eat properly. I saw him taken out the next day in a body bag.”
How many deaths does it take, until the council decides the body-count is too high?

First published in The Argus: March 8, 2014