Penny Reel on Stoke Newington Reggae Record shops in the 1970s

A while ago these images appeared on the North Sixteen Twitter:

I recognised them from a 1970s reggae documentary “Aquarius” as they are announced as being Stoke Newington (London N16), which is where I live:

(Footage starts at 4:50 but it’s well worth viewing in its entirety)

There was some interest about the exact location of these shots, as things have changed a fair bit in the meantime. I figured veteran reggae writer and lifelong Hackney resident Penny Reel would know. I grabbed him on the Chatty Mouth reggae forum.

Can you ID the locations of these shops in Stoke Newington taken from a 1976 film?

The top photo is Roy Shirley’s record shop cum studio on Birkbeck Road. The male in the doorway is Mr Shirley himself.

The bottom picture is Mr Johnson’s cafe on the corner of Sandringham and Birkbeck Roads. These two premises were within 20 yards of each other. In the back room of this cafe one could buy £5 deals of hashish and grass. It was the first Afro-Caribbean business on the street and is now a hairdressing salon.

Roy Shirley is pictured on the left of this photo. Back in the early 1970s, I used to go to blues dances in Birkbeck Road, off Ridley Road market, in the company of man like Ras Painter, Ras Paul, Gene Rondo, Sir Collins, Sir George, Roy Shirley and the rest of the Stokie rasses.

Many thanks, Mr Reel! It should go without saying that Stoke Newington has changed massively since I first visited in the late 80s, but it’s pretty much unrecognisable compared to 1976…

You should have seen Stoke Newington Church Street in the 1960s. Forget the Queen Anne villas and the “big houses”, back then it was a street of second hand shops. The whole area had lost its 18th century elegance and was now a slum street, full of thrift shops, second hand clothes and furniture shops, junk stores, indigent newsagents, cheap cafes, fish and chip shops, etc.

It was not until the Greenham Common lesbians moved in during the early 1970s, followed by the architects, media folk and squatters in the later ’70s that it turned into the wholefood, latte, sub-Hampsteadian parish it is today.

All the proles have moved to Herts and the provincial middle-class have temporarily moved in. However, once these people have children of five years old, William Patten school will not do for them and they will all move back to Devon, where they rightfully belong.

Penny Reel is the author of the essential Deep Down With Dennis Brown (Drake Brothers) which also includes a wealth of information about the reggae scene in London.

He also edited and wrote most of the 1981 Soundsystem Spashdown feature in the New Musical Express.



  2. “and they will all move back to Devon, where they rightfully belong.” Hey! We don’ want ’em down here lol!

    Actually, North Devon is pretty impoverished these days, unless you’re a trustafarian surf-shop or boutique hotel owner. Most of the London middle-class media and city burn-outs settle in (ptui!) Dorset these days. You can’t go to Bridport market, etc any more without tripping over dozens of the bastards, opening gastropubs, bistros, antique shops and organic farm-shops with their redundancy pay-outs.

  3. As a little nipper i was growing up on the guiness trust in stamford hill and my mum was making a few quid doing backing vocals on a couple of pretty poor reggae 45s, recorded in stoke newington, and put out on a label that i think was based right there in that studio. I may have got that wrong. If my memory serves me right the studio was pretty close to here:

    anyone got any more info on that?

    thanks for the link to that aquarius doc: i like the way its slowly paced – a different time…

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