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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
 

The Frontline – the unheard of Notting Hill in their own words

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A new book by Ishmahil Blagrove is always a notable event, and the launch of The Frontline on 24 June 2022 was no exception. Subtitled A story of struggle, resistance and black identity in Notting Hill, the book is product of many years of work by Blagrove. It tells the stories, in their own words, of the black communities in and around Notting Hill, but specifically the ‘Frontline’ – All Saints Road, home of the famous Mangrove Restaurant and much more.

At 800 pages it’s a mighty piece of work, but don’t let its length put you off. It’s a compulsive read and a beautifully produced volume too.

After a foreword by Gus John – who performed the obligatory libation at the launch – and a few preliminaries, the book is entirely made up of short, well-chosen extracts from what must have been countless hours of interviews. The quotations are themed into 25 chapters, taking us from the immediate postwar period to 1999, but in truth you can open it at any page and immediately get absorbed, eyes widening, jaw dropping and chuckles rising as you read.


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This is real history, by real people, of a kind that’s exceedingly rare – the (mostly) unheard have finally been given their voice. And what distinctive voices they are, and what tales they have to tell.

Some of the interviewees are well enough known, as some have been referenced in other books, including Blagrove’s great work on Notting Hill Carnival. In the useful list of ‘Characters’ at the front of the book we find, for example, Alex Pascall, Andre Shervington, Ansel Wong, Ashton Charles… and all the way through to Wilf Walker. Many, though, will be new to anyone from outside the area, but no less fascinating. We meet musicians, community activists, conmen, gamblers, anarchists, artists, jailbirds, panmen and carnival organisers, among others.

The launch was, in its own way, spectacular. It was standing room only at the Tabernacle, the passion was high, the music (Smokey Joe giving precious vintage vinyl a spin) was well chosen and the good humour infectious.

Ishmahil Blagrove and the whole production team deserve our undying admiration and thanks for this important work.

  • The Frontline, edited by Ishmahil Blagrove, costs £25 and is published by Rice & Peas, ISBN 978 0 9545293 3 8, email: info@ricenpeas.com; tel: 020 7243 9191.

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