This interview originally ran on the Something Curated website in December 2017
When Peckham Levels opens (the weekend of 8-10 Dec) six empty levels of the multi-storey car park on Rye Lane will be transformed. Franks, the rooftop bar and summer Spritz hangout will remain on the top floor. Downstairs a community-centric mishmash of artist studios, small businesses, yoga studios, markets and a hair salon will open up. And tucked among it all will be Ghost Notes, a new music venue from the team behind Peckham’s The Montpelier, south London pubs The White Horse, The Roebuck, The Queens Head and Borough restaurant Edwins.
A cafe by day, and music venue by night, the people behind Ghost Notes promise it’s a place that puts music and community first. (Kwake Bass, Seb Wildblood, the guys from local record shop YAM, and other south London residents form the bulk of their opening programme) The community is also celebrating the fact that after much to and fro-ing, Southwark Council has renewed the lease on the car park, meaning instead of Peckham Levels being a six-year long pop-up and being pushed out in time for the building to be demolished, it is safe for at least another 20 years. Refreshingly good news when the city-wide inevitability of gentrification always seems to be lurking ever-closer, and music venues and clubs must are increasingly at the mercy of cash-strapped councils.
So will this new good-vibes venue stay true to what makes Peckham so special? And can Ghost Notes successfully keep the encroachment of property developers into spaces where people just want to dance at bay? Something Curated picked the brains of Russell Porter, co-founder of Ghost Notes.
Something Curated: Tell us about yourself. How did you end up working on Ghost Notes?
Russell Porter: My background has always been in music. I grew up in a market town in the West Midlands during the 90s and learned about dancing in the back rooms of raves. In the very early 00s I moved to Brighton with my friend Will Holland (Quantic) where we made an album as The Limp Twins and played in the Quantic Soul Orchestra. I partied a little too much and ended up running away to London, where somehow I ended up as a producer on the Mercury Prize. I was there for eight years and was very much the Jazzer’s Champion, but I got lured into the world of pubs by my two best mates, Isaac Tooby and Neil Watson, and moved to Peckham when they took on the Montpelier.
SC: Who else is behind Ghost Notes?
RP: There’s five of us who make up Parched London; myself, Isaac, Neil, Shane Ranasingh and Michael Robinson. Isaac, Neil and I are most closely involved in Ghost Notes, though. Because we’ve known each other for more than twenty years we can pretty much guess what we’re each going to say next, so there’s never any bullshit between us; no politics and no hidden agendas. It does also mean that there’s never any hesitation in shouting “Dickhead” when it’s required, but I guess humility is a blessing.
SC: Is there a story behind the name Ghost Notes?
RP: There are a couple. A ghost note is the musical notation for the beats or notes you don’t play. You can call it syncopation or swing, or really push the boat out and call it essence of everything that’s good about music. I came across the term via a Duval Timothy tune of the same name. The premise is simple; Duval, who’s an exceptional dude and a wonderful musician, plays a chord progression not too dissimilar to Stakes Is High over the top of an instructional drum video by American drummer Bernard Purdie. If ever there were an example of something being greater than the sum of its parts, it’s this tune. It nails what I hope the venue is hoping to support – a Lewisham kid like Duval playing a Dilla-inspired lick over a YouTube clip of one of the world’s greatest ever drummers, and making it even better. In his front room. With a smoke alarm beeping in the background. That’s it right there for me.
SC: What are you hoping you’ll achieve with this new opening?
RP: From a business perspective, we’re trying something quite different in that we’re operating two separate and distinct businesses out of the same space: Ghost Notes, the night time music venue, and Wildflower, the daytime vegetarian and vegan canteen. Our main hope is that both businesses stand out for their inherent quality and integrity. From a more personal perspective, I’d like to help bring back that back room mentality which I think a lot of people are hankering for, not just for the heads that miss that vibe, but also for a whole new generation who absolutely get that mindset.
SC: What do you think Ghost Notes will offer Peckham?
RP: I really hope the venue provides a platform for the incredible community of young Jazz musicians operating out of South London. In all my years of being involved in music I can’t remember a time where I felt so genuinely excited about what was happening around me. There’s a whole crowd of really cool, really creative kids, and they’ve made Jazz a thing that everyone feels they can be a part of. For so long Jazz was just a bit of a joke for everyone else, it came with too many connotations. All this new mob from South – the 22a crew, Henry Wu, Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd, Joe Armon Jones and Max Owin, Alfa Mist… it goes on and on – have dashed all of that. I want Ghost Notes to become the neighbourhood spot for them to play, and the place where all the neighbourhood comes to listen to them.
SC: There can be quite a lot of doom and gloom about London’s nightlife scene – do you think that’s deserved?
RP: Yeah, in a lot of respects it is. I would absolutely swerve a lot of it, if I’m being honest. But I’m not the target audience for a lot of clubs, so in that respect it doesn’t really matter. It’s always the fringes that fascinate me, and there’s an abundance of amazing parties happening just out of view. There’s been a resurgence in people putting on parties and taking great pride in what they do – getting the sound right, making the place look good, ensuring the vibe is correct and the crowd is respectful, going deeper with their selections and aiming everything at the dancers. In that respect, London’s enjoying a renaissance, you’ve just got to dig a little.
SC: What do you love about Peckham?
RP: It’s home. I walk down the street and see friends everywhere, it’s like being in Trumpton or Albert Square or something. It’s changed a massive amount, of course, but the vibe’s still strong. And with regards to all the changes, I’ve only been here for 8 years so I’m in no place to comment. My neighbours and the locals at our pub The White Horse, people who’ve lived here all their lives, they love it. They love it because they’ve always been proud of Peckham, and for many years people would avoid it like a steaming dog egg. Now people are falling over themselves to get out of the train at Peckham Rye, and I think that means a lot to them. Shouts out to Dawn and Dorris on this one!
SC: Who else is creating great places to enjoy live music and dancing in London right now?
RP: I could do a big long list here and make sure I mention everyone, or I could just say Total Refreshment Centre. What Lex and the gang there have done and continue to do there is exceptional. To have the commitment, creativity and charisma to pull off all those different events – both at TRC and Church of Sound – should be a lesson to absolutely everyone working in or with music. If you don’t love it with all your heart and mean it with every ounce of your soul, don’t fucking bother mate. Massive love and respect, even if it is in North London.
Interview by Stevie Mackenzie-Smith