Opinion

A Tribute to The Man Who Made East London Cool

By Alan Miller Last edited 7 months ago

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A Tribute to The Man Who Made East London Cool
Shoreditch and its surrounds wouldn't be the same without Gary. Image: Shutterstock

At the beginning of the month, early one Saturday morning, I got the kind of call that we all dread. "Gary has just had a heart attack. He's dead mate," Adrian Schiller told me. I screamed. I moaned groaned roared and cried. Of course none of it mattered as he was still gone. One of London's most prolific innovators, a cultural curator and poet and enthusiast of artists and creatives across all sectors, particularly the newest emerging young ones, heralded from Glasgow — but changed London forever.

Gary came here in 1980 and while attending South Bank University, was elected to the chair of the Social Events committee. He duly shook up the student party experience. After spending a few years in west London and Soho pioneering advertising and marketing with events, he moved to Shoreditch in 1990.

Gary Fairfull (left) died earlier this month

Back then, acid house had only been around a couple of years and Hackney was a very different place; only the Bricklayers Arms and the Cantaloupe (as well as of course Sandra's Golden Heart). Other than that it was a 'no-go area' all the way down Commercial Road.

Gary formed the first tech company to be based in east London, AMXdigital which among other things, webcast Orbital from the Royal Albert Hall in 1995. It was a first of its kind. This was the time of Dazed and Confused's ascendancy and Gary oversaw a weeklong webcast of events ranging from Bjork and REM from the Tram Shed — now of course home to one of Mark Hix's ventures.

It was perhaps though Gary's Place, his Cremer Street warehouse penthouse loft, that he became infamous far and wide. Actors, playwrights, aspiring artists, reprobates and an assortment of characters from across London — and Britai — descended on this shebeen. Gary would be telling stories, ever the raconteur. It was part of a re-birth for Shoreditch that has become world renowned. The foundations lay with key protagonists such as Gary.

Gary came to London in 1980, and would go on to help transform it

Over the years, Gary ran various venues, from the Plough Yard, to restaurants on Great Eastern Street. If you ventured in you would find Amy Winehouse doing an impromptu performance or just hanging out, along with Kate Moss, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tracy Emin, Sarah Lucas and many others. The 'YBAs' — Young British Artists — drew on east London as a landscape to impose their ideas and visions on, as well as being inspired by its ever changing history. At the heart of this were events with poetry and music, with Alabama 3 passing through and Lilly Allen, Jude Law or Keira Knightley chatting in the corner. But more importantly, there was Gary's enthusiasm for the next generation of creators to break through. He always provided a platform.

With Paul Day at Zigfrid von Underbelly, Hoxton Square

Gary's passion for art, life and consistently for people never failed to impress. Any walk across Shoreditch will mean you come into contact with a part of a legacy that Gary was responsible for informing. His friendships were iron cast and intertwined with his dedication to creative projects. He worked with Juan and Ernesto Leal of Red Gallery fame for decades and adored the septuagenarian Sufi-Celtic storyteller Don Eales, whom he performed poems for just recently at Paul Daly's Roadhouse.

Gary loved the possibilities of tech, which is why he liked Benjamin Southworth's 3beards and Tech City contribution so much. Nick Franco at 1185 Films captured a few of the special moments on film. But these mentions do not come close to the vast array of special relationships Gary had across London and beyond. From the new flats and apartments that now house so many to the street art and cafes, galleries and bars, Gary Fairfull's effervescent enthusiasm for the area, for staging ongoing events, for launching spaces and people, helped make this part of London known across the world.

Gary launched The King's Head members club

In more recent years Gary launched The King's Head and created a home for Arts Club East, above The White Horse table dancing club. Pop Ups. Time based art installations with happenings. Always changing. Always creating. Gary was seminal in helping at the founding stage of the Night Time Industries Association with introductions and connecting people, the 'Andy Warhol of east London' was forever making links. It was impossible to go anywhere in the area without people of all ages stopping him and recounting incredible stories. Among all of this, he passionately raised money and advocated to end homelessness and even got on his hands and knees to do so.

Hosting Arts Club East

It is perhaps poignant that a friend of his and someone beloved by so many of us all, Andy Weatherall, died so suddenly and in close proximity of time. Gary often had Andy playing. They were mavericks, always creating new platforms for all to experiment with. Fire Starters. It's why Rob Star decided he could open his own places up —- and look what that’s meant for us all…

Gary hosted Art for Peace regularly as well as helping to put on huge events with The Whitechapel Art Gallery. He loved food, from helping to find Mama's Jerk a new retail home in Morning Lane, Hackney, to excitedly rushing us in to Andi Oliver's restaurant in Stoke Newington, or Clapton Country Club. He was mates, it seemed, with everyone. From the guys at Vice to the leading crew of Mother Agency to many of the homeless people in the area. Always joking always conjuring up ideas and stories, Gary was always encouraging. His excitement for what was possible was utterly infectious.

Gary's work extended to food too, and places like Mama's Jerk

You could ask Dougie Wallace about Gary's continual encouragement of photography and art, or indeed the DJ and photographer Normski. Or Alex Proud, who knows a thing or two about photography, events, clubs and dining…

Le Gun has made an iconic frieze art piece with Gary in it, and of course Salena Godden could say it in a rhyming spoken word cadenza. Sir Harvey Goldsmith has called Gary a larger than life character who will be hugely missed. Irvine Welsh knew him well and told me "Gary was an inspirational force of nature. A Shoreditch pioneer who loved the party and the creative heads, he enabled us all to the max.

Gary was also a godfather to director, Adrian Schiller's child

"When you look at the district now and its metamorphosis into hipster central, it’s difficult to recast it as a semi-abandoned derelict twilight zone. Its ascendancy owes everything to people like him who made it cool."

For London to have become London, we need more people like Gary Fairfull. While he died too soon, many have come together to help create what will be The Gary Fairfull Foundation. This will provide mentors and help to emerging artists of all kind across many mediums as well as some funding.

Gary Fairfull, a great proponent of the arts

There is a Go Fund Me Campaign to bring in funds for The Gary Fairfull Foundation.

Alan Miller is on Twitter as @alanvibe.

Last Updated 25 February 2020