The Soul Safari

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Never EVER in my life did I think I’d be getting myself into the world of one-sheet posters. Whether it’s a classic film or just some flyer artwork from a touring band, they are a blip in time or a testament of days gone by. They are a final salute to eras that we respect… And I love ’em! 

Flyer from 4-Star General, Carnaby Street, circa 1987

I’ve always been a collector of sorts. It must stem from my days of Star Wars: I was an avid collector who wouldn’t ever dream of even throwing the box away, let alone the cardboard inlay to a figure. I was hooked! Next up was hip-hop. Buffalo Girls had entered the charts and a couple of girls pogoing around to a scratchy beat, set to a backdrop of Bill Blast’s ‘Sky’s The Limit’ wall was then permanently engraved into my life. Thanks to Malcolm McLaren, the UK would never be the same again. We didn’t have the internet or even magazines to know what was going down, so a trip up the Central Line to London (catching the graff on the lines) was a field day in itself. Travelling up just to immerse yourself in some culture and forget the day-to-day mundane workings of your leafy suburban hometown was an honour. You’d be checking the latest kicks in Olympus Sports, then bop down to 4 Star General just to stare at the crazy import prices on what George had to offer. I’d be running from record shop to record shop in Soho with my hard-earned pocket money, scouting the latest stateside releases. Some days I just settled for a tape: I was that skint! But I couldn’t get enough of it. Later on, the vinyl bug hit hard: every last quid was hustled in one way or another in search of the perfect beat.

Great grandad George Lidbury, Deptford
During this time, I pursued a career in amateur boxing. I grew up in a family legacy of boxers whose origins began south of the water. A family of seventeen brothers and sisters that were born and raised in Deptford. My great grandad George Lidbury was a bare knuckle boxer. It was the 1930s and life was very different when it came to surviving in those harsh times. Boxing was a way out, plus it also put food on the table. It wasn’t long before my grandad, Joseph Lidbury, and brothers – Sonny, Wally, George and Teddy – also took up the Sweet Science of boxing.

They had all served in the Navy together and were renowned for their professional careers back in London. Lord Mount Baton even called upon Joe’s services out in the middle of the ocean: a US navy vessel pulled alongside them and called out their best boxers for a battle of their own. Mount Baton told Joe to keep schtum that he was pro, as his money was on him. As it transpired, Baton’s plan paid off and the Lord won a lot of money that day! After the war, Joe moved to Custom House, East London where he worked at the London Docks. He continued his career in professional boxing but he also delved into the murky world of bare knuckle fighting…

Brothers: Sonny and Teddy

Teddy Lidbury
You’re probably asking yourself, ‘Why is he babbling on about all this?’. Well, Joe passed away when I was just nine years old and I don’t have much to show of this history of the Lidbury family. I took up boxing out of respect for my grandad – that’s it. No other reason at all. They say that you are measured by how many people turn up to your funeral… Well, it wasn’t until that time that it dawned on me what the real Joe Lidbury was made of. To me, he was just like any normal, loving grandad.

Father and daughter, Joe and Carol Lidbury, Custom House, 1960s

There wasn’t hardly any evidence of their boxing careers – maybe one small trophy, some press cuttings from the Boxing News and a lot of cherished stories that even today are hard to comprehend. By that, I mean they are unbelievable but I can promise you they are true. I knew he was a man’s MAN. You could tell just by his swagger that he was a man of respect and you could tell he was a man of a thousand stories! Just by his nose spread right across his face, you knew he had been right through it. I was too young to understand it all, but I understood that. Anyway, this poster appeared and it was the last surviving artifact of his boxing career we had in our possession. I had already had a good ten years in the game and loved EVERY minute of it. So to uncover this treasure brought all the memories flooding right back. Later on, the truth started to unfold. Tales that you could only relate to a particular time and era.
On two separate occasions, he came across men wielding shotguns. He happened to walk into a shop as it was being held up and didn’t think twice about confiscating the gun as it was pointed at the shop keeper. Imagine it – ‘What you doing with that, you bellend? I’ll have that thank you very much!’ – snatches gun – ‘Go on son… Now do one!’ (or something along those lines! Haha!) and then calmly went about his business. We know this because the Asian shopkeeper made an entertaining speech at Joe’s wake. He even recalled how he knew Joe was filling his pockets up with items from his shop, but (in his own words) he said, ‘What could I do? He saved my life!’. The second time, he heard shots and it turned out gunmen had burst into his neighbour’s house and shot a man in front of his two children. Joe walks in and wrestles the gun out of their hands and throws it into a bush. The gunmen bolted. All this and he was well into his ’60s. But then that doesn’t surprise me. I also found out that he was still boxing bare knuckle at 55 years of age at Chelmsford Market! My uncle relayed that story, as he went as backup – he was in the ring with a gypsy half his age. Joe was hardly in his boxing prime but obviously he’d been around the block and came out of the second round with a head butt and a right hook to finish the fight in the opening seconds.

I knew he wore his heart on his sleeve, so I was hardly surprised when I heard he saved a particular East London crime figure and blocked the path of an oncoming car that was sent to run the villain over. The story that I was lead to believe was that three occupants of the car knew Joe and out of respect for him they couldn’t bring themselves to go through with the plan. To this day, that particular family never forgot his actions and that he risked his life to save others. If you lived and breathed the OLD Custom House – Freemasons Road, The Peacock – if you remember the bike gangs that lived in the garages or dodged shit-filled nappies being thrown out the balconies of the old flats (I make no apologies, after all, this was the ’80s!), swam in the lido and drank in the legendary pub, The Gog – then you’ll know exactly what that area was all about. It has more stories and history than you can shake a stick at!  

The Gog, run by landlord Joe Lucy
I’m proud that I spent the early years of my life literally following Joe everywhere around Custom House. After all, it was worlds apart from the kushty suburbs of Essex that I was growing up in. My brother and I would follow Joe to the shops to buy some coal for our Nan or make trips to the ‘Spit & Sawdust’ club with our cousins to play space invaders. Even though it was a 40 minute journey down the road, to me it was a completely different planet: it was a lesson in the school of hard knocks. My parents sought pastures new and I thank them for that, but making the journey back to E16 every week was a taster of what REAL life was all about. I didn’t really grasp any of that schooling until later on in life, because to me, being totally oblivious to my surroundings, Custom House was one giant, concrete playground. 

My Nan, Connie, would hold court in her big chair that used to occupy the fireplace. She was your typical ‘Old School’ women – constantly wearing her blue sewing pinny (y’know the sort: vintage pattern with giant pockets). Like most nan’s of that era, she used to knit. She would also like a puzzle. But not any old puzzle: one of them giant ten-thousand piece headaches that were weeks in the making. Usually of an oil painting of a bowl of fruit with two hundred pieces that were the same shade. I remember one time when Joe (being the joker that he was) was playing with me. He was throwing me about the room and, like most kids, I persisted in him throwing me higher and further than the previous time. But this time he picked me up and launched me into the air and I’ve dive-bombed head first onto a three-quarter completed masterpiece a of puzzle! Of course, it had to be right in front of Connie just as she’s entered the room. The whole living room fell silent. Everybody knew how Connie loved passing her time with this hobby. And to watch her master creation explode into the air right in her face… It was like the icing on the cake. ‘Cast me blind’, Joe blurted out and he wiped his brow. He was in the shit, AGAIN! See, he always used to play dumb just to get himself out of mischief. Like the shopping list trick – forgetting the can of condensed milk, just to so he could reload on a few rum’s at The Gog that happened to be en-route. She was cool though, Connie: she knew his game. I remember jumping in her chair once only to find a big rolling pin type object down the side of her throne. ‘What’s this Nan?’, I asked.. She took it from my hand and gave a mean swiping action, then snarled, ‘If your Grandad or uncle Terry wasn’t around and somebody tried anything round here, they’ll get THIS!’. I looked at my bro and we both smiled. She had a bloody cosh!
So, basically my poster collection started right there, that day when that memorabilia was passed on to me.

Joe Lidbury boxing poster
It’s nothing spectacular in terms of design and it has succumbed to age and deterioration now. But it bares all the traits of the ’50s and represents a bygone era that I love. I understood how Iron Mike Tyson acquired his trademark ‘black shorts, black boots, no socks!’ It was a tip of the hat to the old masters. He studied the history of all the great technicians before him and took the mentality of ‘you have to go back to go forward’ and brought that ethos into his game. Just the old print block typeface on the poster takes me back to the golden age of British boxing and conjures up memories of the blood, sweat and tears of probably what is one the hardest and most respected sports on the planet.
It didn’t end there either. Next up, I purchased a Duran Vs. Leonard 2 poster from the famous ‘No Mas’ fight. It arrived though the post and to my surprise, the very next day I receive a call to say that Duran is coming to town for a dinner show the following week. What are the chances of that? Roberto Duran is coming to Essex? Maybe it was really meant to happen? Needless to say, I didn’t hang about: I got that shit signed! Since then I’ve been on a mission: boxing posters, film posters and music memorabilia from classic events. They are unique in a way that EVERYONE can relate to, take a step back from and admire, for they are a time machine into worlds that are simply unimaginable.

Duran Vs. Leonard 2 poster
Joe, Connie, Carol, Albert, Trudy and Star (The Dog)… Terry, Doreen, Simone, Tammy, Ricky and Snoopy (the Dalmation)… Donna, Barry and Ashley. Great Aunt Violet (thank you for the poster), Great Aunt Edna and Lee, Aunt Doll and Charlie next door… and, more importantly, Mum, Dad and Ralph –  I SALUTE YOU ALL! I’m proud to say I took up the challenge of what was laid down 100 years before my time, an accomplishment that I can safely say will be impossible to beat.
Joe never did get to watch his grandson climb through the ropes… but believe you me, he was with me every step of the way.

Wally Lidbury