Culture Talks… Mickey Smith, founder of South London Soul Train and CLF Arts Cafe

We caught up with Mickey Smith, founder of the CLF art cafe and South London Soul Train to find out a little more about the journey toward making one of the most enjoyable and welcoming nights in the capital.

To start us off, could you give a little background about yourself and what you do please Mickey!

“I was Born 1967 in Huddersfield from Jamaican parents. Parents were music junkies and threw monthly ‘blues parties’ at our house, where local Jamaicans came and danced all night to tunes usually played by my Dad or later us. I Grew up to a soundtrack of these party’s. Toots and The Maytals to Bob Marley, John Lee Hooker to Otis Redding, James Brown to Fred Wesley via Jimi Hendrix.”

“I studied Graphics post School years at Batley Art College before heading to London to study Art Direction at Hounslow Borough College, dropped out and got a job to learn my trade.”

Mickey started out as an Advertising Art Director and Designer in the mid 80’s, it was then that he found his love for Jazz & Be Bop, On-U-Sound and the Acid House scene. He then moved to Hong Kong at the beginning of the 90’s working as an Art Director, before leaving shortly after, looking for something more soulful.

“I was at a restaurant, played some Acid Jazz CDS and people got up on tables and started dancing, the room erupted and I thought, yeah this is for me. The Hong Kong scene was beyond lame and I thought I could use what I had learned in advertising and design do something about it.”

He immediately quit his job, going back to the same restaurant where he began hosting a monthly soul and rare groove overnight, ‘The Rebirth Of Cool’, which ran for the next five years. As the events grew in popularity, so did their capacity reaching up to 2000 capacity venues and hosting the likes of Gil Scott Heron, Lonnie Liston Smith, Galliano, DJ Krush + more.

After making the move back to the UK in 1997 the next five years were spent promoting events across the capital, including a live stage at Notting Hill Carnival. While taking a break in 2002 to work as a writer, Mickey developed the concepts for The Chronic Love Foundation and began working to make positive change on a global scale through ideas like Department for International Development. A few years later after bumping into Eileen Conn MBE of Peckham Vision, he learned of plans to knock down the former Bussey Building warehouse.

“We joined forces and set about a campaign to save the threatened building by putting it on the map, as well as working on numerous levels to positively re-define the perception and reality that was Peckham. We renamed the building with it’s original moniker, ‘The Bussey Building’ and started work by hosting and promoting the free CLF weekender – followed by numerous planning meetings, exhibitions, arts projects and theatre.”

“Almost immediately, the importance of the building was recognised and within three years the compulsory purchase order was thrown out and planning permission to create a new centre of the arts by The CLF. A completely self funded project.”

These days Mickey fills his days and nights running The Chronic Love Foundation, The Bussey Building, The South London Soul Train, Chronic Records and Rye Wax. “I am either coming up with ideas for new club nights, booking artists to play live, or DJ at nights I host.” If that wasn’t enough, Mickey also designs all flyers and artworks for his gigs, writes press releases for the events, and is now working on several screenplays and television projects, as well as working on campaigns to protect Peckham’s future.

“Pretty much go, go, go; twenty-four-seven, three-six-five!”

Over the years you’ve hosted some big names at the Bussey Building. Are there any nights that stick out as particularly memorable?

“That’s a tricky one. So many good shows. Bit of a selfish choice, but The South London Soul Train which I host has seen some amazing nights. But one that was personal to me, was booking, performing with and then watching Gil Scott Herons friend and musical collaborator of 30 years – Brian Jackson and The New Midnight Band, who were performing a Live Tribute to Gil Scott Heron. Me standing less than a metre away from Brian’s head on The CLF/Bussey stage.”

“Ultimate access and the concert was simply sublime. Real lump to the throat, soul moving business. Band made up of a cast of progressive musicals all stars [M1 – Dead Prez, Martin Luther – Ex The Roots, Reggie Washington – Bass Player and Legend, marque Gilmore – Drum FM, Joe Zawinul, Omar Sosa] all of whom truly did the music soul and heart of Gil Scott Heron justice. The Song “Lady Day & John Coltrane” with an intro from Brian Jackson [who co-wrote the song with Gil] being a highlight. True Musical History being told and made on stage for a new generation. Amazing.”

 Is there anybody who you’d really love to get down to play?

“At the very top of my wish list for the last 20 years have been David Bowie and Prince [done pretty much the rest of it]. And until recently I really thought I had a chance of pulling it off. Unfortunately the Gods seem to hate music at the minute and the greatest artists of all time are passing way too quickly. Such a loss.”

“That said, and in answer to your question – there are still a few legends left that are/have always been up there in equal first position on my bucket list. Top of that list: Stevie Wonder (and I am working on it!!!!!)”

CLF (the Chronic Love Foundation) aims to support global causes through local creative projects, tell us a bit more about the project and how it came about?

“The CLF is a commercial Humanitarian company, set up in 2003 by myself, drummer, producer and arranger, Marque Gilmore, Leading Barrister, David Malone and Daige Mahone, ex Vice and Sony Black Music Chairman. The CLF has been Run solely since 2005 by myself and partner Saija Kamaraianen; it’s purpose – to make positive global change through the implementation of creative projects in the commercial arts, that simultaneously re-educates and raises funds to target and help eradicate the world’s solvable problems. The New Millennium Goals if you will.” 

“The CLF’s headquarters are now the CLF Art Cafe AKA the Bussey Building, and we are finally at a point where we are equipping the spaces we will need to execute the projects that we truly think will bring about some major and wider reaching permanent global change. Something that isn’t a pipe dream, more a legacy project, which if executed correctly will literally generate millions of Pounds, Rubles and Yen to help those who are most in need permanently.” 

Having taken the Bussey Building from a warehouse to where it is today. Was there a clear vision when starting out, in what you wanted to achieve? Have you reached that goal yet?

“The answer is yes. Methodical is the word. I spend most of my days just trying to execute what I originally imagined when I started running The CLF/Bussey back in 2007 and we’re not quite there yet. Next few years should take me closer to my goal and put the CLF/Bussey where I truly want it to be – next level.”

Considering that a number of renowned venue spaces have shut down in London over the last couple of years, what are the pressures that these spaces come under to stay open?

“Numerous. From the basic financial pressure of staying open and paying the bills to the occasional over sensitive neighbour who wants to make your life a living hell. Then there’s licensing, the council, planning threats from government or private building applications [usually residential], threats from negative media, gentrification, regeneration, local politics. The list goes on and on.”

“If you engage with your local community, know and engage with the system, know your rights, and run a business correctly you are safe. There is no reason for venues to be closed across London – it’s up to us to stand up and fight for the right to enjoy music, art and culture. There are laws, let’s use them to protect ourselves and what we hold dear. And if the laws ain’t working, lets fight for them to change. I think someone called that Democracy. To quote Prez’ Obama – Yes We Can and some of us DO!”

“When you think of the amount of interest, love, passion and tech savvy followers that the music, arts and cultural industry of the UK has, it makes no sense that this same energy isn’t being tapped into and mobilised to protect our music and cultural heritage – This is one thing that The CLF intends to make happen.”

You seem to have moved around quite a lot over the years, have you got any plans to venture outside of London in the near future, or any plans outside of music?

“So many ideas, so little time, but yeah, the world has gotta be explored and I’ve got plans to see as much as I can, as soon as I can, as often as is possible. From a business point of view, looking at opening some new venues in the UK and possibly the states. In the future I see myself going back to one of my biggest passions; writing for and making film & television.”

To finish off, three tracks that you’re listening to at the minute…

Soul Rebels – Get Lucky

Truby Trio – Galacia (Zero DB Remix)

Soft & Wet – Prince 

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