A lowering sky and squalls of rain. ‘Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into…’ is the received wisdom of the band. Canning Town, London, E16. This is a bit of a wasteland, metaphorically and actually. Canning Town is where the Royal London Docks used to be, and is in the five percent of most deprived areas in the UK. This space is a temporary one before developers move in in five years’ time. And the Canning Town Caravanserai project aims to bring local people into it, to build a local economy: selling their products and sharing ideas from pop-up kiosks. The principle is based on the Caravanserais which lined the Silk Road from Asia to the West, offering rest, food, water, trade and entertainment. Ska Toons is the entertainment.

Silvertown Way is a wide new  road, overlooked by the elevated new station, the new cable-car line crossing the Thames, big old pylons, and the afore-mentioned dark clouds. We’re to provide the music  for the mostly young designers, makers and entrepreneurs gathered to pitch their ideas to the Dragons (as in Dragons’ Den) and win rent-free kiosks. There’s a trade school under a plastic awning, mostly protecting them from the rain. The band is to perform in three kiosks: keyboards in the left plywood box, drums bass and guitar in the middle box, horns in the right box. We have to crane round the partitions to count off a song, and we’re fairly together. Musically, anyway. And we play well, despite our boxed-in-ness. Perhaps we should always be boxed…

People wander in through the oriental-style cut-out gates, attracted by the sound. They don’t come in too far though: perhaps they think it’s not meant for them, though it is. Davey, in West Ham football shirt and Special Brew can, sits by the entrance, nodding, and eventually dancing, and calling out for a Prince Buster song. As he loads his car, Martin is harangued by a local racist, complaining how the area has changed – “it used to be just us” (meaning white people), and leaves with the rallying cry – “Up the National Trust!” (sic).

http://caravanserai.org.uk/
http://www.skatoons.co.uk

(He meant National Front, a defunct English fascist organisation. The National Trust owns and manages historic British houses, gardens, coastlines, and is a thoroughly GOOD THING.)

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