Andrew Weatherall: Shock Troops In The Conway Hall


As part of his guest edit, Justin Robertson promised to deliver us something rather special from the Guv’nor himself, Mr Andrew Weatherall. The recently displaced proprietor of the Scrutton Street Studios discusses the Knotty problem of gentrification in his own inimitable style. Andrew recently attended the discussion ‘’London is Changing’’ with Iain Sinclair, John Rodgers, Tom Bolton and Helen Parton, this is the report from the frontline. Plus some splendid photos from the now sadly departed Scrutton Street studios…

If you’re ever posed the question “why are you here?” by somebody with a thick French accent I defy you not to have a flash of existential angst. A nano-moment of metaphysical confusion.

If you’re ever posed the question “why are you here?” by somebody with a thick French accent and wearing a black polo neck sweater I double defy you. In my case the nano-moment must have manifested itself via the medium of micro-expression, a micro-expression read by my interrogator who rapidly qualified his initial enquiry.

I am a French journalist and I would like to know why you’ve come to this event.

It turned out that answers were as elusive to me as when I momentarily took his opening gambit to be philosophical. Why was I about to watch some writers and a blogger discuss the burning issue of “gentrification”?

I suspect it’s partly down to a feeling of confusion and when I don’t know what to think I feel the need to gather information,” I replied.

For many, an answer had been found only the weekend before. Gentrification was not after all the result of a complex blend of socio-economic factors, the vagaries of fashion and improved transport links to name but a few ingredients. Turns out it’s all down to a couple of blokes selling overpriced Golden Grahams in the Brick Lane area. [ News just in… It was more complex than was at first thought. It’s also the fault of another bloke who’s opened a Jack The Ripper tourist attraction.] Strong arguments I think you’ll agree but a big part of me wasn’t buying it.

I’m here because I’m one of the shock troops and shock troops are usually the first victims. As a victim I think it’s important to know what to feel.

Shock troops?” It was now the reporter’s turn to register momentary bafflement.

Grayson Perry in his Reith Lectures of 2013 described artists and musicians as the shock troops of gentrification. The first wave that sanitizes the battlefield and prepares the ground for the officer classes. I’ve had a studio in Shoreditch for twenty years but I’ve just been given my marching orders due to what I’ve been told is ‘redevelopment’. My services are no longer required.

Are you angry about this?” the Frenchman asked with a genuine hint of concern in his voice.

To be honest with you other people seem to be getting annoyed on my behalf. Deep down I knew about seven or eight years ago that my time was most probably up. It was the Saturday afternoon I saw the stretch limo disgorge its hen party payload onto the Old Street pavement but down in my bunker denial was beginning to set in and I felt increasingly like a Jungle dwelling Japanese soldier who refuses to believe the war is over.

It was a war that saw a fresh atrocity every day. A Ted Baker shop opening here, corporate “street art” appearing there. Luxury apartments springing up every fucking where.

A rapidly expanding charisma vacuum that if truth be told I and my fellow shock troops had to take a certain amount of responsibility for helping to create.

As I said there was a certain amount of denial but there’s nothing like a notice to quit to help you come to terms with the reality of the situation.

So what for you is the solution?” asked the Frenchman.

The solution for me my friend would be to have bought the building twenty years ago and to have sold it for an immoral profit a few years after the initial spotting of hens but I’m a shock trooper not a property developer. I’ve found another battlefield wasteland. Run down factories, giant broken extractor fans now the homes for oil slick pigeons. Shady looking yout’ hanging about at the end of the street. The glory of gloom as that nice mister P.Orridge once described it.

May I know you where you’re moving to?

I noticed people within earshot turn to await my reply. I also noticed that said people bore the uniforms of storm troops. 

No you may not,” I replied.

See a selection of photos from Andrew Weatherall’s old studio here.