London Grilling: Rob Wray, Director of Elefest
Each year, London’s Elephant and Castle, SE1, is filled with inspiring creative people and an exciting atmosphere for Elefest. The festival brings together the best of London’s local talent in films, music, poetry and a whole range of other diverse art forms. We got speaking to Rob Wray, the director of Elefest, to hear what he has in store for this year’s festival and to relive some of Elefest’s highlights!
Image: Elefest Facebook Page
What exciting plans have you got in store for this year’s Elefest?
The most exciting part is that Elefest will be back this year. The festival had a year off last year – our first break in 13 years! It was a good opportunity to look back and reflect on how far we have come in that time and what the next steps should be.
How will this year’s Elefest differ from previous festivals?
This festival will feel different from previous Elefests because we’re hoping to hold one big (free) event in a central location. Castle Square and Elephant Park should be open and we’re hoping to use them.
What are some of your highlights from previous festivals?
There are so many memories and highlights it’s hard to pick just one. When we first set the festival up we wanted to be disruptive, to challenge people’s assumptions about what Elephant & Castle was and could be. It was generally thought to be dingy and run down. But in its heyday the Elephant was known as the Piccadilly of the South, because of its picture houses and music halls. My first love will always be film, so the outdoor screening of the “Wizard of Oz” on the Pullens a decade ago was pretty special. Also, screening Jamaican classic “The Harder They Come” followed by the legendary Don Letts playing a DJ set at Hotel Elephant (now the site of Mercato Metropolitano) was a high point for me.
But – it’s hard to beat the sight of a cyclist, late at night, slowing down to view a photographic exhibition we mounted in the roundabout subways. People used to rush through at night, afraid that something bad might happen. So, to see someone stop to have a closer look, intrigued to find something so beautiful in a much maligned space, made me feel we were achieving what we had set out to do.
If you could have anyone exhibit at the festival who would it be and why?
I’ve always tried to get actors and performers with links to the area to perform. Local actor Johnny Harris did a Q&A about ‘London to Brighton’ for us, and I’ve showed films by Chaplin and Michael Caine. But I’ve never been able to get Michael Caine to come down. I’d love it if he came. On the music front, I doubt we could afford them but if Basement Jaxx ever fancied a local gig, they know who to call…
You also run Long Wave Bar and Café which supports local artists. What can someone who’s never been to your bar and café expect?
The idea behind Long Wave was to try and provide a year-round home for Elefest, giving a platform for local artists; be it DJ’s, live bands, photographers or spoken wordsmiths. Like the festival, it has a laid back, unpretentious spirit and we want to show the best of the area to new people, guests or residents.
What exciting performances have you got coming up at Long Wave Bar and Café?
To get everyone warmed up and in the mood for Elefest this year we are starting a monthly night called “Elefest Presents”. We will be showcasing home-grown talent and inviting artists who have performed at previous festivals back as well. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for details.
What is your signature drink at Long Wave?
We have the Walworth Spur Cocktail (an old fashioned) which uses sarsaparilla from Baldwin’s down at Walworth Road. A special Saturday treat as a child was to be taken to Arments for pie and mash and, after, to Baldwin’s for a sarsaparilla. The original Baldwin’s used to be on the Long Wave site, so we knew we had to do it.
What makes Elephant and Castle the perfect location for the Long Wave Bar and Cafe?
I grew up in Walworth, went to school 100 metres from Long Wave, and have moved just over a mile in 44 years. So it’s perfect because it’s still home. I started Elefest to celebrate the Elephant and its culture(s) so it made sense to try and continue this whilst the area changes again.
Finally, what are some of your favourite hangouts in London?
I don’t get out as much as I used to. If I’m clubbing it’s Corsica Studios, in my opinion one of the best clubs in town. I still love Pie and Mash in Arments. Closer to where I live now, the small food traders in the Spa Terminus are worth a visit on a Saturday morning. And it’s great to see so many micro-breweries reviving the old Bermondsey brewing tradition.
Have you experienced the home-grown talent that Elefest has to offer? Let us know in the comments below and keep your eye on Elefest’s Facebook Page for Long Wave’s ‘Elefest Presents’ series and all the details of this year’s festival!