Strange Powers

There are over 240 new black majority churches in Southwark. Just off the Old Kent Road, in a grid of old warehouses and light industrial units, there were several glorious examples.

Just up from the Salvation Church of God & Stress Relief Centre, and next to a church represented by a logo incorporating an eye, a crown, and a cross, you will find the DIY Space for London, offering salvation of a different kind.

I walked through the doors and felt immediately at home. It was the kind of space that London seems to be expunging at a dramatic rate, and can only exist in the strange hinterlands yet to suffer the regeneration game. 

A co-operatively run social space for meetings, creative facilities, events, screenings, talks and the like, it’s been around since 2015 and I’m sad that I never heard about it before. It’s wonderful: there’s a record shop, fanzines everywhere, a cafe-bar, and lots of space to think, plot, meet, and create.

The purpose of my visit was a screening of Strange Powers, a documentary about the Magnetic Fields. This apparently came out in 2010, though again: this escaped my attention. I can’t think of a musician more suited to the documentary treatment than Stephin Merritt, and the film dealt beautifully with the relationship between Merritt and his friend/manager/bandmate/muse/antagonist Claudia Gonson.

I knew almost nothing about Merritt before watching the film; I worried that a documentary with footage shot over ten years would lift the curtain and ruin the magic. The band, along with other Merritt projects like the Future Bible Heroes, have played a huge part in my life. If I close my eyes there are moments profound and throwaway, all soundtracked by those ridiculous perfect songs.

I needn’t have. There are hints, teases and mini-revelations: it’s nice to know that half of 69 Love Songs was written in a New York gay bar called Dick’s, and that Merritt once got accused of being a racist by a blogger in 2006, back when blogging was a thing.

But what lingers is the support network required to allow this so-called genius to flourish: without these friends and comrades helping to bring his vision to life, those songs would have remained unheard and unloved.


Published by jamesofwalsh

My past blogs haunt the internet like ghost ships on a digital sea.

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