Simon Parkes' book on the rise of the Brixton Academy is fascinating. Being a South Londoner and having actually attended many gigs at the Academy I was surprised that I knew none of the background to one of London's best venues.
The book is extremely easy to read and even at just over four hundred pages didn't take me more than a few reading sessions to complete. Parkes does come across as a very likeable person who was a genuine music fan wishing to create something special, and given the situations he encountered while creating the venue - especially during the mid-80's - he would have to have loved his work in order to keep him going.
What was interesting was how Parkes saw Brixton as a place. I am too young to remember the riots of the 80's but certainly know what even now nearly three decades later Brixton's reputation still exists so I can well believe that at the time he opened the venue this was something genuinely shocking.
After reading the book, you can’t escape the feeling that it’s actually a disappointment that venues don’t operate in quite the same way any more. Parkes even alludes to this towards the end of the book in relation to eye-watering ticket prices and the erosion on the ‘gig experience’.
I couldn't shake the feeling that there was maybe a slight creative licence taken when describing some of the shadier or dangerous parts of Brixton business, but it never took away from the impact of the story. It did, however, appear that Parkes reflects much more kindly on the 80s period of the Academy with well over half the book is dedicated to it.
There is nothing wrong with this as it is obvious that part of the excitement was the journey to the top - however, it did make the book feel slightly lopsided as Parkes appeared to sprint through the 90's. Overall, a well written and engaging book about what is correctly described as one of London's best venues by someone that had a passion, vision and drive to create it.